Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 7

CHAPTER: 1

1 2 3 4 5

Chapter 54: Shakedown


Session One

The trail to stopping the Yovoni's secret plan was leading Vincent Wagner in a very undesirable direction. He didn't have any specific beef against Houston, but the city didn't have the same Wild West reputation as other spots in Texas. One of his dreams was to make it with someone in a cowgirl outfit and this mission seemed like a golden opportunity. Sadly, that seemed to be passing him by.

In all, the mission was far less exotic than he was used to. Vincent had become a leading MST expert on the Yovoni faction. As they used sex to generate everything from revenue streams to political scandals to mass distractions on the internet, Vincent was used to getting enough action to exhaust James Bond. This felt like actual work.

For starters, the objective was quite serious. The Yovoni had tried to infiltrate Central Academy with an eye towards reviving the Mynoni. The faction had never seemed all that interested in the world's destruction before, so it was an eye-opener. Whatever they were planning, it was imperative that Vincent stopped it. He shrugged off such pressure with flair, but it was kind of a buzzkill.

Vincent started with the tips he had received from Terrance and slept his way from there. The nice thing about the Yovoni is that the local network of seductresses very much enjoy their work and are susceptible to the same tricks they turn. Through this, he learned the location of their Houston base and infiltrated. After 'thanking' the inside informant that got him this information, he was off to work.

Some secret agents carefully slink through their missions, avoiding detection with their silenced pistol at the ready. Vincent strutted around like he owned the place. And while spy jobs like these were usually middle-of-the-night runs, he waltzed through at eight in the morning. These were typically creatures of the night, and were pretty well conked out during more respectable hours. The few that he met along the way assumed he was some sort of supervisor. Maybe a pimp. They smiled at him, he winked back and continued effortlessly.

Despite the ease of his mannerisms, he wasn't finding much. Procuring useful information was a bit of a wild goose chase, and Yovoni ladies weren't naďve enough to give away crucial secrets during bedside chatter. That stuff had to be found the hard way and it wasn't jumping out at Vincent. He uncovered plenty of other things- a cache of ecstasy in the breakroom condiment rack, a laminated pocket-sized guide to the Kama Sutra and no less than three adult film sets. He left his business card at each of them.

After an hour of hunting, he found the part of the complex that looked closest to an office. The windows were dirty, the lighting was bad and there were stacks of folders scattered on tables everywhere, but it had desks and filing cabinets and thus was worth a closer inspection.

Vincent rifled through the filing cabinets, smiling as he saw several familiar operations- most were demonic, and all were recent missions that he had either heard about or personally foiled. He knew he was getting closer. Unfortunately, none of the folders had anything relating to the Mynoni. Slamming the file drawer, he stroked his beard and looked around. If the loose paperwork was any indication, the room hadn't been organized in months.

“Heh,” he chortled to himself as he looked at a nearby table. The top folder on the stack read, “Mynoni Plan: Confidential.” Vincent grinned, cast a spell to check the folder for curses or barriers, and picked it up when he detected none. Skimming the first few pages, he saw a picture of Terrance paper-clipped to page four. Vincent had scored.

“Hello, Vincent.” He stopped and grimaced when he heard her voice. Still holding the folder in his left hand, he turned around and smiled at the woman sitting on the desk behind him. Her long, poofy brown hair extended to her shoulders. Vincent was surprised that her black dress covered her shoulders, and most of her upper body for that matter. Had it not been for the high hemline, accentuated by her crossed legs and stilettos, it would have been a fairly modest wardrobe. By Yovoni standards, it was.

“Madame Aisha,” he cooed, clutching the folder tightly. “Head of Special Yovoni Operations and Conquests. Been a while, babe.”

Aisha smirked. “You know, I was beginning to wonder what happened to Terrance. But when half the girls in the district are fawning over their latest acquisitions and they all seem to match your very... distinct description...” She looked him over. His eyebrows flared. “...I had a feeling you were involved. Pretty bold sending someone as infamous as you for something as crucial as this.”

“Oh, you know you want me.”

She coughed. “There will be plenty of time for that later. As you can imagine, this operation is far too important to be screwing around.”

“Judging from your minions, I'd beg to differ.”

Shrugging, Aisha said, “I knew you'd make it this far, Vincent. No sense denying them some enjoyment. We're pretty casual around here.”

Vincent nodded. “I see that.”

“Besides, even you can't stop us forever. There are plenty of desperate academy students out there willing to tail the Mynoni for a little tail.”

“But why do you want to get those cats involved?” Despite his jive-talk, Vincent used a serious tone. “They ain't exactly a good fit with your workplace. Not exactly... casual, as you put it.”

Smug, Aisha replied, “But they succumb to charm spells just as easily as the next person. And if they don't obey their liberators... certain potions go a long way.” She grinned and stared at Vincent. “Wouldn't you say?”

He knew what she was implying, but didn't know why. “I'm not dumb enough to drink the Kool-Aid that you ladies keep trying to serve me.”

“Cognac, dear.”

“Smelled delicious, but I turned it down. You don't get to be this... infamous falling for easy tricks like that.”

Aisha pointed at the dossier. “But you're clutching that folder awfully tightly. Not every potion needs to be imbibed.”

Funny how that's always when it seems to take effect. Vincent rubbed his hands across the file and felt just the slightest traces of powder. He began to feel mighty sleepy.

“Good night, Vincent,” Aisha cooed as he started to tip.

Simultaneously rattled and impressed, Vincent muttered, “Damn...” as he fell.

 

Session Two

Two days into his exile and all Troy could think about was how stupid the whole thing seemed to him. It was getting into April now, marking a month and a half since the whole Urayoni thing went down. It had been a month and a half since he killed Marie and suddenly everybody was getting all pissed off about it. Just when he had started to get it out of his head. Like that, he was out a best friend, out a girlfriend and alone.

It wasn't the loneliness that ate at him. Troy was never a social butterfly, so sitting alone didn't kill him. It was the reasoning behind all of it. He felt like he was being punished for doing his job. He had set out to rescue Renee and did exactly that. It bothered him that suddenly Renee found fault with something that at the time seemed like a necessary and logical step.

The whole course of events left him unwilling to fight to get Renee back. Troy found two possible routes to achieve that and neither seemed pretty. One was full groveling, apologizing profusely until she took him back. He couldn't bear to do that, particularly since he wasn't convinced that he was wrong. He had a few doubts over whether it was the right choice, but he saw it as enough of a gray area that he couldn't understand why Kathryn and Renee were so pissy over it. So he probably wouldn't be able to pull off the sincerity needed for the utter repentance that seemed to be required. That and he hated the fact that utter repentance was required at all.

The second option was making Renee understand his mindset. That was problematic since he would have to stand by his decision and convince his new girlfriend that he was completely justified in killing his old one. He couldn't go that far either. In fact, he wasn't willing to get so worked up over the whole thing. So unwilling that he was willing to give up Renee just so he wouldn't have to deal with it any more.

Kathryn, however, was another matter. While Troy more or less shrugged off Renee leaving him over this, it was Kathryn's response that made him angry. Losing a relationship that officially lasted less than a week was unfortunate, but Troy and Kathryn had been best friends for several years and she abandoned him after a five minute argument. Not only that, but her sudden loyalty to Molly was another dagger. Troy wanted to talk to Kathryn, and it involved neither apologizing nor justifying. He wanted to give her a piece of his mind, away from Renee or Molly.

The Pearson sisters appeared to have assumed the role of 'Kathryn's BFF' as the three were mostly inseparable at school. The only time he could get her on her own was during class, and that didn't work out so well. After tossing several crumpled sheets of notebook paper at her, he whispered, “Are you going to talk to me or not?”

Angrily, and a little too loudly, she replied, “No, Troy, I'm not going to talk to you. Thought you'd have that figured out by now.”

This got the teacher's attention. “Kathryn, Troy, would you please not interrupt the class with meaningless drama? There is no place for that here.” Clearing her throat, Ms. Cohen added, “Now let's start reading act two. Kathryn and Troy can play Oberon and Titania.”

Troy rolled his eyes. Despite the embarrassment of being called out, it was a weak punishment. He flipped to the right page and started reading.

Ms. Cohen interrupted him, “Sorry, Troy, I meant that she's Oberon and you can be Titania... queen of the fairies.”

He narrowed his eyes as the rest of the class laughed. At least he had fewer lines.

The next day, Troy caught another opportunity after school where club schedules were aligned in such a way that Renee could go straight home while Kathryn had a short break before practice. He found her in the hallway downing a sports drink. She saw him coming and grumbled to herself, but didn't move.

“So explain why you won't even talk about this. I mean, one little argument and you don't want to talk to me again?”

Flippant, she replied, “That about sums it up, yeah.”

“It's not like you can avoid me forever. We still have to go to Central and do our-”

“Bad place to start, Troy.”

“It's true, though. Unless you're quitting it the way you keep saying you want to.”

Kathryn stared at the floor to avoid making eye contact. She probably could have pulled off the glare at this point, and didn't want that kind of power. “Just because I want to doesn't mean it's a good idea.”

“So what it amounts to is that we're in this together,” he said firmly, “We're going to have to work this out.”

“I'm on a billion teams, Troy.” Kathryn paused to toss her empty bottle toward the trash bin ten feet away. Swish. “You think I like every single person I have to play with? No. Some of them are real bitches, in fact. Doesn't stop me from working with them. But I'm not hanging out with them when we're not playing. Just because we're on the same team doesn't mean anything. Donovan's on our team, for Christ's sake.” She sighed. “If that's all you're worried about, I can assure you that I won't try to get you killed.”

She started to walk away, grumbling, “Not that I can expect the same from you.”

“Hey!” Troy shouted, grabbing her shoulder. He pulled her around and let loose: “You can disagree with what I did all you want, but why would you think that I don't care about you? And how can you say I turned on a friend when you're being a pretty lousy one yourself?”

“Troy, I just...” All the anger in her face seemed to disappear instantly. Now it was pain. “Disagreements are one thing. But what you did is just...” She shook her head, trying to stop her eyes from welling. “I don't know if I can call you a friend anymore.”

Troy was expecting something along those lines, but it still struck him how upset she was to acknowledge it. Trying to tone things down, he said, “Look, I'm sorry, okay? My back was to the wall and I just... couldn't come up with that one magic option that would have made everyone happy.”

Kathryn calmed down too, but didn't ease up. “And that's just it. It's the option you did come up with. The fact you even thought about it... the fact that you actually went through with it... it says a lot about you. More than you think.”

“Well...” Troy turned away. She was making this really hard on him. “What do I need to do then? Are you really going to ditch me completely over this? Never going to forgive me?”

“It's not about forgiving you, Troy. I can do that easy. It's just that I always looked at you a certain way. And just sort of assumed certain things. But now you've got some skill and a little confidence and look what happened. You think that it's okay to do that sort of thing to your friends... and I don't want any part of it. And let's face it, I don't need you and you clearly don't need me anymore.”

Kathryn sighed and said, “Anyway, I gotta get to practice. I decided a while ago that I'm not going to preach about what you did. I'm taking it for what it is and leaving it there.” Walking away, she mumbled, “See you around.”

And that was that. Troy was angry enough to shout back about her sudden change of heart, and her sudden loyalty to Molly, but a sudden crowd in the hallway killed that thought. He forced his way back to his locker, still grasping at how quickly it had all happened, and how Kathryn had every intention to make it permanent.

 

Session Three

As bad as Troy was doing, Donovan was faring far worse. He still had no memory of the whole ordeal, so it was still a bit of a shock to suddenly be without the muscle behind his magic. The demon was gone, just as Donovan was starting to experience some of its personality. It was one fewer voice in his head, but it felt like he had lost a friend.

In particular, the timing of Donovan's blackout was terrible. His father had just detailed how the secret to success and true conquest was to gain allies, which would channel into power. Donovan had done the exact opposite, and just as he was dwelling on that fact, he wakes up days later with fewer opportunities to collect friends and a sudden loss of everything he had achieved.

While it was never explicitly stated, clearly the MST didn't trust him, which per Vincent's law was bound to make it difficult for Donovan to succeed with them. And there weren't too many demons dropping by these days, not that he had ever found one that he could see himself working with. World domination was looking more and more like a hopeless cause.

Once again, he was not permitted in the dark room. Whatever his demon had been trying to accomplish in there, there were too many lingering effects for Donovan to be safe until Marlowe could analyze everything properly. So Donovan had to find a new haunt, and most of the good places in the school were already occupied. The cafeteria didn't provide any privacy and the lavatory was always taken up by the delinquents smoking during class.

At one point, he thought it genius to build a small hideout amidst the rafters above the school auditorium. He could easily fly up there, but there was no room to maneuver along the beams and little chance of him balancing for any length of time. Despite the small engineering marvel that Blaine and Bryce produced in the makeshift fort up there, Donovan abandoned it after two days.

It took some roaming around, but he finally found a nice hideaway where he could meditate and read up on his dark magics in peace. The place had several nice amenities that would serve him well in his future endeavors.

“Oh... hi Donovan, what are you doing down here?” Yuki asked as she stepped out of the elevator into the student council lounge.

Donovan was too busy scanning the bookcase to react. “Have any of these manuscripts proven useful in your quest for power?”

“I thought those were just for decoration. Molly said Claude put them down there.” Despite the casual conversation, she kept her distance. “You're not going to try to kill me, right?”

The thought crossed his mind, but he figured that it was a good time to try that whole allies thing out. Not that he could resist using her fear to frame it. “Perhaps not,” he replied. When she took a nervous step back, he said, “As you may know, I am currently in need of a new lair.”

Yuki paused. “Oh... for what?”

“Research... experimentation... meditation.” Donovan drew out each of those, as it was hard to describe what he actually did in there. At least without using the word 'brooding.'

“Does it involve demons?” She inched forward.

“I seem to have exhausted all opportunities with demons. There is nothing to be gained from the likes of them.”

Yuki sighed and walked past him, sitting in one of the chairs. “Well, I'm fine with it then. Molly and I are the only ones who know about this place, and she's only in school a few hours a day. If you want to stay down here and work on your magic training...”

She pulled out a gigantic textbook out of her satchel. “Hell, that's usually what I'm up to down here.”

He grinned. “Excellent. Perhaps you have some use after all.”

Yuki looked up at him, face frozen. It took her a few moments to brush that off. For a moment, it didn't look like she would. Then she wagged her finger at him, suddenly serious. “In return, I want one of your minions.”

“No deal,” he blurted.

“Only once in awhile. It's hard to tell how effective my potions are unless I can try them on somebody.”

Donovan looked away and pondered the pros and cons of this.

“Hey, you said you needed to train! You can try to hurt them and I can try to heal them!” Yuki said, far too enthusiastically.

“That... I can agree to.”

“Great! Just don't do anything too wild. I still haven't gotten advanced healing down yet. There's a tricky-”

Too late. Donovan was already up. “Blaine!”

“Sir!” said Bryce.

“Stand over there and remain perfectly still.”

“Um...” Hesitant, Blaine looked over at Yuki, busy working on her potion. “You didn't tell him about last week, did you?”

“What do you mean?” Yuki replied. “How you helped us beat him?”

Donovan glared at Blaine, who cowered even before facing him. “Go,” Donovan snarled.

Blaine sighed and took the short march of death, standing in front of a hallway and closing his eyes. “Ready, sir.”

After charging up a big black ball of pain, Donovan fired. The energy ball limped out of his hands, petered out halfway to Blaine and dropped. It bounced off the floor twice and hit Blaine in the legs. It was still enough to bowl him over.

Yuki stopped her mixing, blinked, then turned to Donovan. “I can see why you need the practice.” Despite the scowl on his face, she added, “Can I bowl the next frame?”

 

Session Four

Now that it had been recognized as such, Troy bore his cross of solitude with a solemn sort of pride. He wasn't happy about sitting at what was still a large segment of table alone, but he was never one for dramatics. Troy ate quietly, quickly and with a steeled face that suggested nothing amiss. Once finished, he buried his nose in a textbook, many times one from this school. Passing observers would think this was how it always had been and how it should always be.

That was a correct diagnosis for Molly, still compelled to watch him from a distance. She and Kathryn watched him for entirely different reasons.

“Don't get any thoughts, Kathryn,” Molly said.

“I know, I know,” Kathryn had long since gotten used to Molly's ability to see through her. “It's like instinct. I feel like a goddamn mother.”

She was hurt enough by Troy's attitude to stay confident in her decision, but watching him bear this so stolidly when he couldn't possibly accept it hurt more. It triggered something when she saw someone, anyone, so clearly in need of a friend. At times she wanted to march back, give him another scolding and forget all about it. Kathryn had to remind herself that he hadn't earned it, and she doubted whether or not he really needed a friend at all.

Renee picked up on this too. “He puts on a brave face, but I bet he's-”

“Completely willing to accept it and move on,” Molly replied, drawing Renee and Kathryn to her. “Nobody's in his corner. He's going to swallow his pride and accept this as the new reality.”

“Lucky him,” Kathryn muttered. “Wish we could.”

“Simply a matter of not turning around. If you need help avoiding him, Yuki can switch lunch-”

“None of that now.” Kathryn raised a finger. “Gotta get you off of those evil council powers. It's a bad habit.”

“Yeah, what are you going to do at college?” Renee asked.

“Marietta's fairly small,” Molly replied, straight-faced. “I'll figure something out.”

“Besides, it's not like we can avoid Troy forever,” Kathryn said, resisting the urge to turn around. “When are we getting called up?”

Molly sighed. “I'm expecting a call any day now. The MST lost contact with Vincent two days ago.”

Renee and Kathryn knew this was serious as Molly pronounced Vincent's name correctly.

“Any longer and I'm sure they won't wait to send in the reinforcements.”

Kathryn shook her head. “Between what went down with Troy and Donovan, do they really think we can work together?”

“That's one drawback of the Donovan incident being officially off the record. They will sometimes take internal issues into account with field assignments, but they can't here.”

“Troy being a douche isn't enough of an internal issue, I take it?”

Molly heaved a sigh. “On the contrary, they're all for it.”

Eyes rolling, Kathryn said, “Surprise surprise.”

“You don't know the half of it.” Molly reached under the table and pulled out a file folder.”

Kathryn leaned in and asked, “Where'd that come from?” Molly stared back blankly until Kathryn's brain recovered. “Man, you'd think I'd be used to this by now.”

Molly opened the folder without verbal comment. “As a guardian, I'm not supposed to share exact progress analytics with you. Something about not letting you precious snowflakes worry about grades. But they are squarely behind one horse.”

Renee and Kathryn hovered over it, but the sheet Molly had flipped too didn't list simple letter grades or number scores for everybody. Instead, it was a complex box graph with several measurements. Even without a translation, they could see that Troy had far more boxes filled in than the other five.

“In short, the MST not only supports Troy, but considers him the ideal student. If he graduated next year, he would be a strong candidate for top of the class if I bothered to fill out the paperwork Marlowe sent me.”

While Renee only nodded in dismay, Kathryn was busy with the other charts. “Huh... some of my boxes are actually filled in. I'm surprised.”

“Everybody had an uptick this term. Even Donovan.”

Renee scanned hers, noting, “I'm not doing half-bad. The book?”

“More than likely. Your big upswing was January. As was Donovan, which will make things interesting without his demon. Yuki's been more committed, but Kathryn surprised me.”

“I assure you I have not been more committed to learning this stuff.”

“I know.” Molly flipped a few pages. This was a line graph. All Kathryn could make of it was that it concerned her, started out low, then shot up recently.

“Weird. You don't think they graded us on charging in to save Renee, did they?”

“Only their marks on character, which you would think would go down.”

“Did they?”

“Yours and Donovan's couldn't get any lower.”

Kathryn grinned. “Awesome.”

“Troy's went up.”

Kathryn stopped grinning. “Of course they did. I can guess why.”

Molly nodded slowly. “I did. It explains his character score going up, and your overall score going up.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your illegal Urayoni invasion was not a factor. Our actions in the Hageshoni attack, as with most of our extra-curricular activities, certainly were.”

Kathryn's face started to turn green. “You mean...?”

Molly took a long, sad breath breath before looking into Kathryn's eyes and saying, “You single-handedly defeated a Hageshoni operative in battle. You may not consider that your finest moment, but the MST would disagree with you. As far as demonstrating your particular combat style-”

“Stop it,” Kathryn said, turning away. “I don't want someone to analyze my 'combat style' or whatever. I never want to go through that again.”

Renee patted Kathryn's hand. Molly closed the folder. “I just wish the MST was looking for kids like you. That would make this all so much easier.”

 

Session Five

Molly was in the middle of history class when her earlobe started wiggling tremendously. Yuki considered Molly's class attendance vital to her rehabilitation into normal society but at that point, Molly didn't care. She packed up her bag and walked out of the room with seemingly no provocation. It wasn't like her teacher was going to question it.

The hallway was quiet enough for her to answer it while she made her way to the student council office.

“Hi, Molly, it's Marlowe. Got a minute?”

She was used to far more official telepathic conversations, but she was also more used to dealing with Uriel's office.

“I'm in the middle of class.”

“Perfect! Think you can get on Skype in an hour?

Molly reached the office and sat in Claude's old desk. Yuki hadn't bothered looking for a replacement since the populace was still generally obedient. Who, what or where is Skype?”

“You've never heard of Skype?” Marlowe replied, surprised. “You're almost as bad as Jonesy. Ask your sister. I understand she's with the times.”

“She's in class too.”

“Please page her. This can't wait.”

“Fine. One hour you said?”

“Yes. I'll get you my account name when you're hooked up.”

The conversation ended, but the noise drew Yuki from her office. “Oh, Molly! You should call me if you need to use the phone. Don't want anybody seeing you in there and thinking we're in cahoots.”

Molly shook off the admonition and replied, “Telepathic message from Marlowe. Apparently I need to get Renee in here.” She gestured to Yuki. “If you please.”

“One sister coming up!” They walked into Yuki's office, where Yuki pressed the intercom button. “Would Renee Pearson please report to the student council office? Repeat, Renee Pearson to the student council office. Thanks much!”

Molly flared her eyebrows. “Are you that nice about it when you're taking someone down?”

“Doubly nice, actually. What do you need Renee for?”

“Marlowe says she can get me on something called Skype.”

“You've never heard of Skype?” Yuki waved a hand dismissively. “Hell, I can do that.” She pushed the intercom again. “Never mind, Renee, I'll take care of it.”

“Aw, I was bored anyway,” said Renee, walking out as quickly as she had teleported in.

“So what is it?” Molly asked.

Yuki pulled it up on her desktop computer. “Skype is a peer-to-peer network for voice, video and text conferencing.”

“In other words, it's a phone on the computer.” Molly rolled her eyes. “If he had said that, I could have figured the rest out.”

“The MST uses a more proprietary system over the Moogle network, but if you're not patched in, I guess the good ol' internet will work.” Yuki clicked some more. “There you go. Steal a webcam and mic from the computer lab and you'll be all set.”

Molly looked it over. It seemed simple enough. “How long will that take?”

“Five minutes.”

“We have an hour.”

“Let's grab lunch. My treat.” Yuki grabbed her jacket and put her hand on Molly's shoulder. “Pick the spot.”

Molly shrugged and chose a nearby sandwich shop as it was the only place actually accessible via teleportation. The conversation wasn't much to speak of as Marlowe using telepathy to request a conference was significant enough to make her apprehensive. Whatever it was about, and she had an obvious subject in mind, it was a big deal.

Even so, they spent enough time there that Yuki had to scramble to get the necessary devices acquired and installed in time. She was testing the service when Molly got the earlobe wiggle and the contact information.

“Maybe we should do this downstairs,” Molly said.

“Can't. The wi-fi's terrible,” Yuki replied.

Molly connected and entered the conference. There were three other faces: one was Marlowe's, one was Meg's, and one was a generic blue face that must have meant audio-only.

“I assume that's Reggie?” Molly asked.

“No,” Marlowe said, “Reggie's actually in the office with me.”

Reggie's forehead blocked the screen and his voice burst in: “Hello out there in radio land. This is Reggie with all your lovin' advice.”

“And you asked why I preferred to do this from my dorm,” Meg said.

Marlowe seized the mic. “Our mystery guest, incidentally, is the district commander for Texas. He's been heading Vincent's Yovoni operation.”

A muffled buzz came from this computer, followed by a 'call dropped' indicator.

Sighing, Marlowe said, “Well, he tried, so he's one notch above Uriel. Anyway, to summarize, we haven't heard from Vincent Wagner for a couple days now. When he last reported, he was about to infiltrate a Yovoni compound believed to be responsible for contacting Terrance. It would be really nice to have some further details on what we need you to do, so excuse me while I try to contact our fearless commander.”

While Marlowe stepped aside, Reggie took the mic again. “Our first caller is Meg, a poor girl with a body inhabited by four people! That's gotta be hell on your sex life.”

Meg glared through the computer at Reggie, but even Molly could pick up on her blush. At least until Mindy blurted, “Yeah, tell him, Meg!”

Thankfully, the fourth connection was not only restored, it had video to go with it. Molly's eyes bulged.

“Well, there's enough here for all four of you, if that's what you need,” Vincent said. “Happy to be back!”

“I thought you were...!” Molly said.

“Eh, got in a bit of a pinch there, but nothing Vincent Wagner can't take care of! A couple stunning spells and my stunning looks took care of it. I'll spill the beans later, but long story short is that the plot's uncovered, Madame Aisha's caught, and the world is save for love again! Oh baby!”

Even Marlowe was stunned, but he smiled and nodded. “Well, they don't call you one of the best for nothing. So no need for backup then?”

“Nope, we are good to go! Read up on the saucy details when the report's out. You won't be disappointed. I'm gonna hit debriefing, then take the district office out for drinks. They say there's a nice place in town where the waitresses dress like cowgirls. Sounds like fun. Over and out, bitches!”

The images on Molly and Meg's cams were exactly the same: views of their scalps and their foreheads firmly planted on their desks. It wasn't as if they wanted to go on this assignment, but the circumstances made it seem awfully inevitable. To have it retracted that suddenly, in that fashion, by that man... it was a headdesk moment.

Marlowe shrugged and chuckled. “Well, I guess that's that then. Guess we'll have to come up with another one for you. Talk to you soon!”


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