longer questioned it when Marlowe called for her. Getting calls
on her phone, calls on her ear and even calls to go to Indiana
were pretty routine nowadays. It wasn't that she trusted him any
more- quite the opposite actually. She just assumed he was up to
something devious and didn't think on it much until she could
find out what it was.
matter how accustomed she was to Marlowe, getting summoned to
Central was still a bitch. She drove through the countryside,
dismayed at how she was getting used to this trip. It wasn't fun
or at all remarkable, but naturally felt shorter the more it was
taken. The more landmarks she recognized along the way, the
worse she felt about such an excruciating drive becoming part of
companion wasn't helping. Donovan faced straight forward,
motionless. If it weren't for his eyes being open, Molly would
have assumed he was asleep. For all she knew, he still might
didn't find it all that odd that Marlowe had requested that he
tag along. The circumstances behind his possession had never
been addressed much in the two months since the incident. What
she found odd was that this trip took two months to happen.
Nothing was fresh in their memories, not that Donovan had any to
begin with, and with only a month until the next academy
session, what was the point in requesting a visit now?
the familiarity with the drive, Molly was still bored by it. She
resorted to small talk, hoping she would get something out of
it. She could even handle being irritated at this point. “So how
have your training bouts been going?”
snickered. “Excellent. I am starting to gain the upper hand in
“Really?” Shockingly, Molly found herself surprised and
genuinely interested. While she had no patience for dealing with
either Donovan or Troy, she fully condoned them beating each
other up. Knocking heads with Yuki on healing duty was a really
good idea that she was probably going to get credit for, and
wished she could accept. The fact that it also involved
inflicting pain on each other was a bonus.
“Indeed,” Donovan said. “He may have power, but he is no match
for my wits.”
a very unusual way of putting it, but the numbers bore it out:
Troy was immensely talented at unleashing raw water magic, while
Donovan's lack of demon assistance made him rely on his skills
as a Weaver. The fact that he was keeping pace with Troy was
actually quite encouraging.
Academy was dead, as always. Molly was now more used to seeing
it like this than the upbeat college atmosphere almost every
other student was used to. No matter how much she preferred
things quiet, this still felt like work. In spite of Donovan
demanding they teleport, Molly insisted on walking. It gave her
a chance to stretch her legs out, collect her thoughts and delay
whatever Marlowe had in store for them.
still arrived, however, and Marlowe greeted them warmly.
Donovan! Glad you two could make it! Have a seat.” They did,
wordlessly and not reciprocating the warm welcome.
is it this time? It's a bit late to re-open the possession
incident,” Molly asked.
waved her off. “All in good time. How's life for the new
graduate? Have you told your parents yet?”
bit of a shudder, Molly replied, “I'd prefer not to.” She wasn't
sure if she feared them freaking out about it or them accepting
it too readily. Either way it was bad.
shouldn't wait too long. They might start asking about your
plans in life. College only buys you a few years.”
didn't drive five hours to see a guidance counselor. Why are we
as you guessed, I did have a couple questions about the events
leading up to Donovan's possession.” Marlowe turned to Donovan.
“Now that you've had some time to recover and school's not in
the way, it would be nice to clear some things up. Namely what
exactly triggered the possession and if there was anything that
came up in your discussion with the Hokoni figure you spoke
sneered. “He insulted us.”
can believe. Anything particular?”
refused our assistance in his quest for vengeance because I
refused to be his puppet.”
leaned in. “Quest for vengeance? Did he say against whom?”
He was plotting a vendetta against the Hageshoni.”
wide grin, Marlowe continued. “Did he say why he wanted
moved closer, as if this was new information and not extensively
documented: “It was one of them that eliminated Kendrick.”
coughed. “Why does any of this matter to us? You could have
asked us about this weeks ago instead of dragging-”
a finger up to silence Molly, Marlowe continued, “Was this demon
named Grandon Crostell?”
flared his nostrils. “You know him...”
top Hokoni official. Of course I know him!” Marlowe sat back,
still grinning. “I'm sure Molly's heard of him too.”
turned to Molly, who didn't flinch. “Name rings a bell. But
again: what does this have to do with us? Whatever he and
Donovan were discussing fell through. Not only that, but we
already took out Sho.” She rolled her eyes and sighed; there was
no getting around spinning it dramatically. “So, if we must use
such terms, Kendrick has been avenged.”
nodded, happy to see Molly playing along. “Indeed. But you guys
took him out, not the Hokoni. And it was the Hageshoni as a
whole who orchestrated the attack on your school. So they're not
sense, I guess, but now you're just speculating. And again...
what the hell does this have to do with us?”
not speculation, Molly.” Marlowe folded his hands. “Grandon
Crostell is leading a Hokoni army in an attempt to conquer a
grunted, mumbling, “We should wipe them both out.”
“Excellent idea!” Marlowe boasted. “And to answer your question,
Molly, that's your new field assignment!”
first, Molly was merely stunned at the sudden reveal of her
unit's substitute field assignment. While she had considered the
possibility, she had expected the trip to be primarily about
Donovan. Announcing a field assignment could have been done over
that Skype thing. She didn't freak out over the assignment
itself, as it couldn't possibly be as immense as eliminating two
demon armies at once. Then again, it was Marlowe so nothing was
led Molly and Donovan to the temporary command center. Donovan
should have remembered it as the one Uriel had used to monitor
the whole Urayoni thing, but he said nothing as they entered.
Reggie and Meg were already inside.
this for reals this time?” Reggie said, leaning back in his
is,” Marlowe said, seating down and gesturing for Molly and
Donovan to do the same.
Giles?” Molly asked Meg.
Besides, this is Guardians only!” replied Mindy, ignoring the
fact that she herself wasn't the guardian. “Why's Donovan here?”
“Enlightenment,” Marlowe answered. “He was the sole witness to
the incident that seemed to spark this opportunity.”
“Opportunity?” Molly narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said
something about stopping a Hokoni invasion.”
“Stopping? Not at all! This invasion could be our biggest break
in years! We've been trying to regain control of Enriel since
forever and we might be able to make a stab at it now.”
a Hokoni invasion going to help us?” Meg asked.
they thin out the Hageshoni to the point where we can swoop in
and take over.”
thought this out. “So in other words... we're not fighting the
finished the thought. “...we're fighting both the Hokoni and the
not sweet!” Morgan shouted back. “But I wouldn't mind some
it was a Hokoni who got us all stuck with Meg,” Mindy added.
held a hand up. “You're expecting us to go in, alone, and fight
two armies on the assumption that they will thin each other out
chuckled. “This is a punishment, remember.” After the glare,
he backed down. “Actually, by the time we get to that part, I
understand we'll have plenty of troops ready to charge in and
help do the dirty work. You'll be working with our commander
there sowing the seeds, so to speak.”
elaborate,” Donovan said. Despite his low voice he seemed to be
interested, as if it were some underhanded deal.
had a peacekeeping team in there for a long time. Too small to
take on the Hageshoni controlling the world, but strong enough
not to be taken lightly. The Hageshoni put up with them because
they don't want to risk getting drawn into something bigger.”
if there's a team in there already and troops ready to be sent
in at the right time... what are we for?” Meg asked.
prep stuff. Scouting, defending against anything hostile...”
Marlowe thought for a moment and added, “The Hokoni are big on
propaganda, so we may have to whip up some of our own to get
support from the natives. If we send the big guns in now the
demons will get antsy, but they wouldn't think anything of you
guys. Wouldn't be the first time we've had field assignments in
nervously raised a hand. “Um, it still sounds like a big
mission. Is there something about this place that we need to
shrugged. “Resource denial, probably. There's stuff in there the
Hageshoni can use. We don't want them to. They can't all be holy
sign me up,” Reggie said, rubbing his hands together. “When do
“Monday.” Marlowe made sure to look away from Molly and whatever
was on her face. “Sorry it's short notice, but this just came up
and the commander there doesn't want things to go unchecked for
does pose a problem,” Molly said calmly. “Two of my students are
we can fix that.” Marlowe grinned. “Try me.”
with her family in Japan. She won't be back for-”
pinched his ear before she even finished. “Get a hold of the
Shizuka house in Japan. Tell them we need to kidnap Yuki next
week.” With that bit of telepathy out of the way, he turned back
to Molly. “That was an easy one. Her grandfather has a private
telecopter. She could be here in an hour if we wanted.”
feeling deterred, Molly hesitantly tried the second. “Kathryn is
going to a basketball camp next week at Ohio State.” Marlowe
raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, but Molly continued, “This has
serious implications on her ability to attend college, so I
would not want to pull her out of... it would be a detriment to
opened his mouth, but paused. The stern look on Molly's face
changed his approach. “Well, we were of course hoping she would
have to be our unit?”
Not only was Donovan there when the first shot was fired, but
all three of your units have experience fighting one or both of
these factions. The commander in Enriel was very excited about
didn't care. “What if she refuses?”
you still have five in your unit, so it remains a legitimate
operation. Kathryn should be aware that this may impair her
ability to graduate down the road.”
I don't think she'll mind.”
she's comfortable with that, then I suppose we'll let her skip
if she must.”
nodded. That was going to be a fun chat.
there are no other questions, I'll let you get to packing! I'll
e-mail you all the paperwork tomorrow.” With another grin,
Marlowe walked out of the room.
back, Molly looked at Donovan, glaring idly at the door. They
had been there a total of twenty-eight minutes and were already
released to make the five hour return trip. She wondered if
Donovan would mind if they stopped by that nice Greek restaurant
on the way back.
snickered, “Man, knocking heads with two demon factions at once.
Sounds like something I'd pick normally.”
try not to slack off, okay?” said Meg. “I'd like to actually
pass this one.”
we fail, I'm in school another year. Nothing bad happens.”
nothing bad ever happens on field assignments,” said Mindy.
Somehow Molly and Reggie felt Meg and Morgan echoing her from
the same body. Reggie snickered. Molly felt sick: not only was
she staring at a lofty field assignment, the two units working
with her had the most notorious winless streaks in the school.
always, the devil was in the details. Not that Molly was
enthralled with the idea to begin with, but the e-mail with the
assignment summary, list of preparations required and extensive
waiver forms made it all that much worse. No matter how leery
she was of Marlowe, she still continued to fall for his knack of
making the most drastic actions and dire news seem like trivial
wasn't until she got home and actually read through everything
that she realized just what they were up against. True, the
troop would be merely (or perhaps allegedly) used in support
only, but it was still a hostile world, soon to be wartorn, with
few modern amenities. One of those old school medieval European
places if she read the brochure right. The culture shock alone
was scary enough.
wasn't sure if her unit would adapt. She wasn't sure how well
she'd fare either. Gripes from Renee about the lack of internet
access were cute; lack of sanitized drinking water was another
matter entirely. Her brief stay at the Urayoni compound was bad
enough, and even they had indoor plumbing. The guide to Enriel
neglected to mention having such a luxury.
could tell immediately that this would be a stressful,
aggravating process. For purposes of her own sanity, Molly
quietly wished Kathryn could have come along. At least then they
could bitch about it all together. Molly had come to appreciate
having such a sounding board already, and knew she would miss it
have castles there? Like honest-to-God castle castles?” Renee
said, reading through the pretty pdf provided by the Enriel
Visitor's Center. It suckered Renee in pretty quickly. It was
why Molly could only get so much from her sister. When they
arrived and inevitably living not in an honest-to-God castle
castle but some dirty cottage, Renee would certainly be
providing her share of the stress.
“Apparently,” Molly replied. “Standard medieval fantasy setting
by the looks of it.
scrolled down and gushed at the picture of a majestic griffin
flying past a waterfall. “Awesome...” Molly noticed some
conflicting shadows: the griffin was superimposed over the
backdrop. She could only wonder how the Enriel Visitor's Center
had access to Photoshop.
her dad cried from downstairs. “Kathryn's here to see you!”
her up!” Molly shouted back.
didn't tell me Kathryn was coming over,” Renee said, eyes still
fixed on the screen.
some things to discuss privately.”
didn't get the message and was still reading through the
brochure when Kathryn arrived. “Oh God, Kathryn, you've got to
see this place,” she said.
pass. Not really up my alley.”
you might miss this. It looks awesome.”
coughed to draw Renee's attention. “If you don't mind, Renee...”
you're trying to talk me into going, you might want to keep her
around,” Kathryn muttered. “She's a good cheerleader.”
away, Renee,” Molly said, harsher.
at Molly, Renee hopped off the desk chair and walked out. “You
don't have to be mean about it,” she mumbled.
out of the way, Kathryn said, “So all this and you're still
going to try to get me to go along?”
“Officially, yes,” Molly replied coldly, flipping to a different
page on her computer. “As Guardian, I must caution that missing
this may make it impossible for you to graduate the academy, and
that the MST has little patience for dropouts.”
Molly? This act again?” Kathryn sat on the bed, folding her
arms. “Yeah, I'm scared of that recalibration thing, but I don't
want my future to be with those guys. This camp is my future.
This is what I want. So don't try to pull anything.”
“Unofficially, I think you should do what you want,” Molly
turned back to Kathryn. “Usually they don't budge with stuff
like this. At least they gave you an opening if you want to skip
this. Take it if you must.”
must? Jeez, don't give me a guilt trip. You know how important
this is to me.”
nodded back curtly. “Right.” Sighing, she added, “I guess both
of us have given far too much to the MST. Sad that either you or
me get to be selfish this time.”
“Selfish?! I...” Kathryn stopped before she got too livid. She
pieced it together. “You really want me to go, don't you?”
care what Marlowe or the brochures say, this is going to be a
very trying trip. Having you around would make things far more
tolerable. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't think twice about
letting you skip it. You attending would be more for me than for
stared back for a long time. Molly could tell she was thinking
about it. It was killing her, but she was thinking about it. It
killed Molly too. This decision should have been easier, and
Molly was going to feel bad no matter which way it went.
Kathryn shook her head and mumbled, “I can't.” She stood up. “I
need to get my life in order and the farther I get from the MST,
the better. I mean, it's silly that every time I go to Central
they use a basketball camp as a cover story. Now they don't want
me to go to one for real. I can't miss an actual basketball camp
by saying I'm going to a fake one.”
nodded and took a sheet off her printer. Scanning it, she said,
“Looks like this fake one's in Spain.” She handed the sheet to
“Wonderful.” Kathryn took only the slightly glance at it before
crumpling it up. “You're not pissed off, I hope?”
her head, Molly said, “More like jealous. At least you have the
chance to skip this.” Chuckling to herself, she added, “And a
returned home angry with herself. She knew she had made the
correct decision and, in all honesty, it shouldn't have been a
difficult decision at all. It was a no-brainer choosing her
preferred career over whatever the MST called a field
assignment. She was angry about how much it bothered her.
matter how much it had been dressed up, the assignment sounded
rough. Both Kathryn and Molly saw it immediately. Originally,
Kathryn scoffed at it, determined to play hooky no matter what.
That changed when she realized that Molly had a similar
reaction. Molly had to go through with it, stuck as the MST's
pawn for some opportunistic land grab.
Donovan accepting a demon, Kurt's death, the Hageshoni attack,
the student uprising and trying to survive high school after it,
Molly had broken down. Kathryn saw that, and liked to think that
she was providing at least a little support. It seemed that
Molly was starting to lean on Kathryn more and more, and Kathryn
was happy to be there. She was pretty broken down herself, after
still hadn't expected that Molly would hope for Kathryn to tag
along. Even as Molly discussed it with Marlowe in advance and
had all the consequences laid out, clearly she was still wishing
Kathryn would bite the bullet too. It made sense too, since much
of the stress would probably be something she could laugh at,
like the backwards world where they would be staying. She could
certainly help with the mission itself, particularly whatever
combat was involved, although Kathryn did not want to think
about that. Those aside, the rest of it sounded like a situation
best handled with humor, like several she had helped Troy
years with Troy ultimately convinced Kathryn to skip. She had
spent so long helping Troy through his problems, propelled by
this nagging desire to help those who needed it. He had
certainly needed it, but the more she learned about him, the
less she felt he had deserved it. That shouldn't have had as
much of an impact on whether or not to help Molly, but Kathryn
had sacrificed far too much to blindly give more. She had to
start getting her own life back in order, no matter how guilty
she felt about it.
wasn't used to putting herself before others. No matter how
correct she was in securing her own future over risking it to
provide moral support, Kathryn was still prioritizing herself.
It just felt wrong.
solace she could take was that it was done. She didn't care what
consequences it had with the MST. If this was grounds for future
memory recalibration, she was starting to come around to the
idea. As bad as Molly said it would be, at least she would be
rid of it all. With her future to look forward to and Troy out
of the picture, Kathryn could deal with the possibility of not
remembering Kurt. Another selfish thought, she knew, but she
would probably end up better off in the end.
was going to be selfish, Kathryn wanted to go all out. With any
luck, she could commit herself at camp and not worry about how
everybody was doing in Enriel. Basketball was one of the few
things she could lose herself in, and she hoped this would be no
exception. These camps had been used as her alibi for so long
she looked forward to actually attending one, even if it wasn't
actually in Spain.
phone rang, jarring her from her thoughts. She was happy for the
distraction. This wasn't something she wanted to dwell on
forever. “Hello?” she answered.
“Kathryn?” It was a man. The voice sounded familiar, but it took
a moment to place. After she affirmed he said, “Jim Matson, The
Ohio State University.” She was instantly hushed: this was the
head coach for the women's basketball team. Knowing all the
restrictions in place about coaches calling recruits, this call
must have been important.
she wanted to be answering to this guy in a year and she perked
up quickly. “Hi, Coach!” Her enthusiasm was not artificial.
not yet. Planning to start tomorrow.”
Well, I just heard that you got chosen and wanted to say
was just confused. Whatever being 'chosen' meant, this was the
guy she wanted to choose her. “Pardon?” she asked.
I meant getting picked for Sevilla's overseas development
program. Some pretty good players have come out of that. One of
last year's picks is playing for Tennessee next season. It's a
gritted her teeth. Was the MST getting too far ahead of itself
in covering its bases? Or was this a preemptive strike?
yeah, I guess but-”
coach interrupted, “Shame you won't be at the camp next week, I
was really hoping to see you in action. Tried to catch you this
year. Heard you had a rough spring. Either way, they're pretty
good about getting us tape. You're still high on our watch
Kathryn could do was stew silently. Much as she wanted to lash
out and kill somebody, it wasn't about to be her ideal future
yeah, good luck, we'll keep tabs on you and stay in touch. Make
sure to stay out of trouble, turn down anyone offering you big
piles of money. And for God's sake, stay away from tattoo
yeah, thanks,” she mumbled. And that was that.
down on her bed, still trying to process what had just happened.
In theory, none of her future aspirations were actually
jeopardized. The coach seemed quite content with the development
and was still interested in signing her. It was still a dirty
move, no matter who was responsible.
phone rang again. Numb, she answered, “Yeah?”
Marlowe. “Get everything straightened out with the coach?”
jumped up and snapped back, “How the hell did you get my
mind that. Molly informed me of your little dilemma. Amazing how
everybody underestimates our ability to sell absences. Really,
your camp conflict was no trouble at all!”
was livid. “I wanted to go to that!”
Well, duty calls.”
still skip this you know. Just because you got me out of the
brushed that off effortlessly. “True, true, but what does that
accomplish? Molly doesn't get your help, you don't get your camp
and we don't cover your tracks.”
right. Like you'd be able to prove I was playing in Spain over
fudged website and a little video editing go a long way.” She
could picture his mischievous grin through his voice. “Same
thing happened with a freshman last year and it worked out
great. I hear she's playing for Tennessee next season!”
logistics behind getting everybody to the launch point seemed
simple on paper. Molly had assumed it was the same as driving
the unit to a normal session at Central Academy. There were,
however, complications when it came to inter-dimensional travel.
the holdup? You can't just teleport everything like we always
do?” Troy asked. He had his bags laid out on the sidewalk
outside Molly's house.
read a printout carefully and shook her head. “That's what I
thought. Apparently the odds of getting both these bags and
ourselves to the MST compound in Enriel in one night aren't so
immediately started scooping up as much as she could off the
sidewalk. “Forget it, I'll carry it.” With too much in her arms,
she tried to grab a trunk and dropped it all.
took a step towards helping her, then stopped himself. “What do
you mean?” he asked Molly. “They might screw up getting us there
continued reading. “The compound is near the transporter, but
not directly on it. It's still a hike and apparently they would
rather we have our bases covered in case we get... interrupted.”
as that sounded, Donovan nodded. “Ah... so we are to take a
day's worth of provisions...”
“Something like that,” Molly replied. Donovan snapped his finger
and Blaine got to work.
nodded and opened one of his bags. Renee stared back, daunted.
“Is it really that dangerous that they want us to expect
something like that?”
other half of it is preparing for the possibility that the bags
don't arrive on time. It's not as instantaneous due to customs.”
they think we're going to smuggle stuff in?” Troy asked.
wouldn't put it past Reggie,” Molly muttered. “But it's probably
more for our clothes. You never know with these worlds. Who's to
say villagers won't take up torches and pitchforks at the sight
Renee peeked in her bag. “Oh boy.”
an example.” Molly leaned in to see into Renee's bag. “That's
why other magi sift through it and decide what's not
appropriate. Expect a few magical alterations.”
Troy held out his mp3 player. “If they freak out over clothes, I
don't suppose they like modern technology either.”
furrowed her brow and read through the sheet. Then she shrugged.
“No, but you're not wearing it. Keep it to yourself and you're
fine.” She pointed at it. “Better make sure it's charged
stared at it, then started digging through his bags. “I have a
car charger. Would it be all right if I-”
re-zipped everything and muttered, “Why'd I even ask?”
was good. I didn't take any of that stuff,” Renee boasted. “All
I've got is my cell phone.” She held it out; it was a smartphone
that played both music and games.
phones don't work in medieval fantasy worlds,” Molly stated,
annoyed that this had to be pointed out to Renee. “That's why
they advised us not to bring them.”
sheepishly pocketed the phone, then picked up her 'day's worth
of previsions.' It weighed a ton. “Well, I'm ready.”
let's go,” Troy added, shouldering his much lighter bag.
didn't ask if Donovan was prepared. She activated the circle and
sent everything off. Troy and Donovan didn't even watch their
possessions leave the plane of existence. Instead they jumped in
the van. Renee only watched in case it was the last she ever saw
of her stuff.
the driver's seat once again, Molly turned to her co-pilot.
“Looks like we were supposed to keep a bag with us anyway.”
clutched the duffel bag around her shoulder, still staring out
the passenger-side window. “Great,” she mumbled. “Let's get
started the van and pulled out. Once in traffic, she said, “I
don't like how it happened either, but if it makes you feel
better I am glad you decided to come.”
her head, Kathryn replied, “You know that place in Spain I'm
supposed to be going to? I checked their website and my name's
on the roster. It's disgusting.”
to get upset about it, Kathryn,” Renee said, attempting to be
reassuring. “Marlowe's screwed all of us over.”
“Speaking of which...” Donovan said, pausing dramatically.
“Where is our healer?”
meeting us there,” Molly replied. “I assume she's been briefed
on everything.” As soon as she said it, she realized she
probably shouldn't assume anything, especially when it came to
informing a prominent magic family about its young scion's
perilous mission abroad.
be a long trip without her,” Troy mumbled.
long trip anyway,” Kathryn mumbled back.
the extent of the conversation for the next hour or so. It felt
appropriate to Molly, who drove on silently as the four
passengers tried to occupy themselves without creating a scene.