sixteen students into the small command center was impractical,
even if there were only thirteen bodies. So Molly's printout
instructed her to go to a more appropriate room for the
briefing. She trudged down the hallway in search of the right
room number as her unit followed. When she saw which room it
was, she sighed.
“Figures,” she mumbled as they entered the makeshift courtroom
for all their previous tribunals.
the tables had been shoved against the wall and replaced with
enough seating for everybody. Meg and Reggie's units were
already there. So was Yuki.
time you got here! I was starting to get worried,” she chirped.
checked her watch: she was five minutes early. Not as punctual
as she usually tried to be, but worrisome? “We hit road
construction,” she replied. “When did you get here?”
how?” Renee asked eagerly.
answered Renee's question first: “Magic. And I've been here for
new arrivals sat with Yuki, but Meg started chatting with Molly
his backpack down, giving himself a respite from lugging it
through the administration building. It made him notice that
Reggie and his girls had packed light. To be precise, only
Candace had anything, and that was simply a small duffel bag.
turned to Reggie. “I thought we were supposed to keep a change
of clothes on us.” Reggie smiled and pointed at Candace's bag.
smiled. “Oh I get it! Bag of holding?”
a bag of holding?” Candace asked.
just say we packed light,” Reggie said. He also winked at Troy.
“And that you might want to cheer for us having to camp
I could hug you,” Kathryn muttered. “With you, I can survive
in dismissive humor, Reggie said, “A hug? Cute.” Wrong as it
was, it made Kathryn smile.
didn't last long as Uriel and Marlowe entered the room through
what had always been presented as the entrance to some judge's
chamber. Apparently it wasn't.
you're heading this up?” Molly asked, confused.
Uriel replied, “No, but some commanding officer needs to brief
you.” He darted his head towards Marlowe. “Somebody believes he
can drag me here from Cincinnati whenever he feels like it.”
Grinning, Marlowe shrugged, “The commander in charge of the
operation is already stationed in Enriel and the bigwigs making
the calls aren't here either. Normally this is a job for the
chancellor, but he's at a golf retreat in Phoenix this week.”
supposed to go to that,” Uriel mumbled.
got you too, huh?” Kathryn replied. Marlowe covered his mouth
and chuckled to himself.
flipped open a folder and raised his voice, not looking up at
the troop in front of him. “Anyway, did the three guardians get
the e-mail that was sent about the world you were assigned to?”
and Meg nodded. Reggie said, “E-mail? You think I have a
Uriel, you're finding common ground with everybody today,”
shot Marlowe a nasty look, then handed a spare packet to Reggie.
“Anyway, that has the basic information about Enriel and what to
expect. You were all told what to bring. If you didn't... too
summarized the exact scenario: the Hageshoni had taken over
Enriel a century ago and have been using it to produce
time-appropriate weaponry for waging war in other medieval
fantasy realms. Apparently broadswords and maces produced by
modern war factories just didn't feel right. Taking this realm
back would deal a serious blow to Hageshoni campaigns
Hokoni invasion appeared to be a short-sighted attempt at
revenge over Kendrick's murder. They lashed out and did that
sort of thing once in a while. On their own, they were doomed to
failure. But they would at least get the Hageshoni to work up a
sweat defending themselves. Once they whittle each other's
armies down, the MST had a golden chance to swoop in and rid
Enriel of both factions.
assignment: scout ahead to provide MST generals a blow-by-blow
of this invasion, including the power both sides have at their
disposal. Furthermore, stir the local population against the
invasion in an effort to counter the inevitable Hokoni
propaganda campaign. Given the local disdain for the Hageshoni
establishment, the MST will have an easier time gaining support
when they invade.
raised a hand. “Sounds um... pretty nasty.”
shrugged. “Sounds like a typical field assignment. How much
fighting will we have to do?”
should be minimal,” Uriel said, “We'll be pretending to keep the
peace in this phase, so neither faction would be interested in
looked at Marlowe, who nodded in response. That was enough to
Uriel to turn back and add, “That being said, this is the
Hageshoni and an agitated Hokoni faction we're talking about. So
be on your toes.”
grinned. “What Meg meant was that we're eager to go kick some
cheered and leaned in for a high-five, but Meg left him hanging.
“No, it really wasn't,” she replied.
Uriel looked through his notes. “Looks like the transporter is a
couple miles from our main base of operations. Unfortunately,
you will have to get yourselves there the old-fashioned way. I'm
supposed to give one of you a navigational aid that will lead
you to our base.” He turned to Marlowe. “Please say you know
something about that.”
smiled. “I know better than to trust you with technology.” He
held up a small circular device. “Who wants it?”
and Donovan eagerly volunteered. Marlowe wisely chose Renee.
Looking it over, she made the obvious parallel. “So I'm assuming
this works like a GPS?”
a GPS?” Uriel replied.
replied better. “Precisely. It's powered by magic, of course,
but the coordinates have already been entered. Just follow the
reading and hope the terrain isn't rough.”
there are mountains, you are free to fly over them,” Uriel
replied. “Magic is more commonplace in this realm, so there is
no need for hiding your powers or going into displacement.”
Donovan grinned, Uriel added, “That being said, don't overdo it.
Regardless of who is or isn't trying to attack you, we recommend
a low profile whenever possible. Any other questions?”
raised a hand. “How long will we be there?”
the job is done or you are no longer useful. When you arrive at
base, the residing commander will be in charge. He will be
evaluating your performances. Just remember that you are there
to complete the mission as a group, not to impress the judges.”
looked over the troop one more time. Some were anxious, some
were bored and some were eager to get out there. Nobody had any
questions... at least none that they thought he could help
nodded. “All right then. Let's go.”
when they were sneaking off to the dimensional transporter to
rescue Renee, it seemed to be in an ordinary dark hallway in the
administrative building. Marching down that same hallway in full
light and the academy's blessing, it appeared a bit more regal.
Along its high ceilings and hung on fresh paint job were framed
pictures of important people, places and times in Central
Academy's history. What then seemed to be an odd layout now
appeared to be a perfectly logical terminal.
“Everybody step on the platform and make sure all bags, straps
and limbs are within the perimeter,” Uriel said, motioning for
the troop to step on.
Chuckling, Morgan replied, “Not like we haven't done this
turned to Molly. “Reggie and Meg already know this, but while on
assignment you are authorized to use telepathy to communicate to
your unit, and back and forth between the other guardians.”
about us?” Renee asked.
know how to do it, knock yourself out!”
over a file, Uriel said, “When you arrive, there will be a
brochure rack with maps to the area. If you don't already have
information, I suggest you raid it. There is also a bathroom
there. You should all use it, since you may not see another
decent one for some time. Try not to be seen as you leave as we
prefer to keep the location of the transporter and home base a
secret. Changing the location of a dimensional transporter is a
nodded. “Yep, so lay low until you are a ways away, then use the
navigator to get to base ASAP.”
paused for about one second to allow for last-second questions.
When they received none, Uriel nodded to the control room and
the platform started glowing.
last, we go into the breach,” Donovan said. Mindy smiled and
white light surrounded them for a few seconds. There was also a
low humming that they felt more than heard. Given how complex
the process was, interdimensional travel was awfully silent, and
no more disorienting than routine teleportation. The light
subsided, the platform dimmed and they found themselves on the
this terminal was a good deal fancier than the one outside
Lumine Keep. It was well-lit, especially for a world without
electricity, and resembled a small Amtrak station. One serving
smaller cities that didn't sell tickets at the window. The more
savvy among the group, namely Molly, Renee, Giles and Reggie,
found and rushed into the restrooms the moment they saw them.
Yuki and Cammy raided the information table, but most took a
seat and waited.
guardian using the facilities, Carmen stared at Donovan. She
looked disappointed. He noticed eventually and completely
misinterpreted. “You seem to be in awe of my presense.”
Shrugging, she replied, “I was hoping for a full reunion. You
didn't bring the other two along.”
suppose you can drag them across dimensions, huh?” Meg said.
remained silent. Meg clicked her tongue. “Thought so.”
have thought about that before we left,” Troy said. “We could
always use a couple minions.”
putting it lightly,” Kathryn said, scoffing. “I mean, how the
heck are we supposed to rally the locals across an entire
world?” She looked around and did a quick count. “There's what,
thirteen of us?”
check your math!” Morgan shouted.
you're forgetting a couple!” added Mindy.
shook her head. “Fine, sixteen. But still!”
came the united call from Blaine and Bryce. Everybody turned to
them. And Donovan.
grinned at Meg, then Kathryn. “I believe the numbers are now in
our favor,” he gloated.
Groaning, Kathryn said, “Okay, eighteen! You're missing my
you call them now and not before?” Troy asked Donovan.
chuckled. “Why indeed...”
Donovan playing for laughs again?” Giles sat down next to them.
With him back, Troy rushed off to use the facilities. “Good to
know we have someone keeping morale up.”
snickered. “Heh. Morale. Funny.”
a while for all the girls to filter through the bathroom.
Although Renee and Yuki were eager to get out there, Molly made
everybody wait until everybody was done so everybody could stick
it mattered as there was nothing but untouched wilderness when
they opened the door. They were in a woodland area, with clumps
of deciduous trees surrounding them, save for a narrow clearance
that stretched in either direction. It was consistently ten
yards wide, with only slight bumps here and there. To the left,
it stretched down a hill and seemed to fork off several times.
To the right it went uphill past their line of sight. The grass
was neither groomed nor wild. It could have used a mowing, but
despite the setting it looked like it had received one in the
at least we have a path,” Meg said.
shook his head. “You'd think they'd make it look somewhat
up the hill or down?” Troy asked.
that's me, isn't it?” Renee fumbled with the navigator. It
displayed a single blue dot in the upper-left of the circle.
Pretending she knew what it meant, she pointed to her upper-left
and proclaimed, “That way.”
pointing at a dark, impenetrable stretch of forest. Troy
imagined lightning striking inside it.
then...” Meg stared at the trees and folded her arms. “Around,
over or through?”
“Around,” said Maple.
“Through!” exclaimed Mindy.
stared at them and said, “He said we had a couple miles to go.
Let's follow the path as long as we can.”
stop arguing. It's freaking me out,” said Crystal.
conserve their energy and keep their sanity, Giles won. He and
Molly led them down the path until they reached the bottom of
the hill. As soon as Giles rounded the corner, he stopped and
back up, tripping the whole procession in the process.
fell over Yuki, shouting, “Hey, down in fr-” until Molly cast a
spell silencing her.
pointed to Crystal, who got the hint immediately. She pulled out
one of her mirrors, stepped over Yuki and Cammy and threw up an
illusion wall to hide them.
sooner had she put it up than two ugly monsters walked by. They
were humanoid and walked on two legs, but their grotesque
Actually, forget the description. Everybody recognized them as
orcs and you would too.
of orcs stared straight at the group, certain they had heard
something, but Crystal's illusion held and they shrugged it off
and continued walking. Everybody shuffled into the woods for
proper cover, prompting the orcs to turn around again. They
shook their heads and marched along. If they had weapons, they
were never unsheathed.
they believed they were out of earshot, the chatter began. “Why
does every world we go to have to have orcs?” Crystal asked.
pretty well established that MST terraformers are all giant
Tolkien geeks,” Molly deadpanned.
the world we hit last year had orcs... and that was basically
steampunk,” Giles added.
talk,” Donovan said. “They're getting away!”
stepped out of the brush and readied his trigger. Molly cast a
spell tripping him into the grass.
supposed to be laying low, remember?” Once she left the woods,
everybody else followed.
know,” Morgan replied. “What do you think they were up to? Can't
want them snooping around too much.”
do we know they're bad guys?” Yuki asked.
Everybody stared at her blankly. Finally, Reggie answered,
they're not demons,” Giles said. “We don't know who's allied
with whom here.”
scratched her chin. “They didn't say anything about what do with
attempted to peer through the woods at the departing monsters.
“They didn't look that hostile.”
orcs!” shouted Morgan, immediately getting shushed.
instructions were to lay low and not to engage demons.
Unprovoked attacks on the natives should have been right out,
but again- they were orcs.
not uniform across every world. There are clear variances in
their physical traits, habits, capacity for speech and ability
to function in civilized society. It doesn't matter: the MST
recognizes all orcs as hostile creatures that may be disposed
without repercussion. Magi can (and often do) rack up a dozen
hunting them under a flimsy self-defense argument. Normally such
an injustice prompts an organization to fight for their
recognition and protection... but they're orcs and no such
movement has gained legs. Likewise, because they're orcs, there
has been no noticeable population decrease in spite of what is
essentially perpetual genocide.
Morgan's shouting caught their attention and the orcs returned
to investigate. The entire troop stared at the two orcs. The
orcs jumped and ran like hell.
that solves that,” said Troy.
have if Donovan didn't chase after them, shouting, “You think
you can escape?!”
continued to run as Donovan charged an energy ball and fired at
them. It hit one orc in the back, knocking him over. As it
clutched its back, the second orc stopped and turned around.
time, Troy, Molly and Giles had caught up to Donovan. “What the
hell are you doing?!” Molly shouted. The standing orc snarled at
her as the fallen one got to its feet.
you don't know how strong they are,” Troy added.
chimed in, “Actually, they're unarmed and very few worlds
feature magic-wielding orcs, so his odds are pretty good.”
his point, the orcs just stood there, snarling angrily at them.
They seemed to recognize that engaging the group head on was a
bad idea, but wanted to at least get their point across.
volley came from behind, in the form of a giant rock that flew
over Donovan's head and flattened the orc that had been, until
other orc looked over the damage, stunned at the sight of his
now unconscious companion. He turned back and got nary a snarl
in before Donovan hit him with a second blast. This finished him
sighed and turned around. “Morgan, was that really necessary?”
“Probably not,” Morgan said, chuckling. “Hell of a shot though!”
and Kathryn arrived and looked over the orcs. Kathryn shook her
head. “So, we just laid out two defenseless... things. What's
smiled. “Why, we loot their stuff of course!”
started sifting through the orcs' pockets, Kathryn turned back
to Molly. “Doesn't anybody spot a problem with this?”
They're orcs,” Molly replied.
“Besides, they might have neat stuff,” added Giles.
count on it,” said Yuki, far more certain that the statement
implied. Everybody not looting turned to her. Hands on her hips,
she explained, “Didn't you hear them? Before we knocked them out
they were trying to tell us they were robbed!”
right!” Renee stood up. “No bags, no weapons, pockets are
empty.” She looked down at them. “Boy are they having a bad
this earned them minimal sympathy. “Wait... you mean your
Lucidrol works on orcs too?” Troy asked Yuki.
“Anything advanced enough to wear clothes,” Yuki replied. “They
were trying to warn us about the bandits running through here.”
we're not hunting bandits,” Molly said, turning around and
walking back toward the junction. “This way, I presume, Renee?”
Consulting the navigator quickly, Renee followed her sister.
“Yeah, but is it safe to travel on the roads with bandits
around? Especially if they can beat orcs.”
didn't have much difficulty beating them either. And we probably
outnumber them.” Molly reached the junction and looked around.
Her unit, Meg and Giles were behind her. Reggie, his girls and
Donovan's minions were nowhere in sight.
“Wonderful,” Molly muttered.
for outnumbering,” Meg said, clicking her tongue. “Wonder where
they ran off to.”
think I know!” Mindy exclaimed, giggling.
Kathryn dismissed such indecency. “No... I don't think so.
Blaine and Bryce are gone too.”
them,” Troy replied.
“Actually...” Concerned, Renee cast a spell flattening a bit of
brush and giving them a better look into the woods. They found
Reggie up against the nearest tree.
also found one of the bandits. It was a bipedal cat creature,
the size of a small human, with dark fur, a simple tunic and a
dirty brown bag over its shoulder that looked like it should
have been (and likely originally was) with the orcs. Despite the
mostly human posture, it had a tail, a distinctly feline face
and paws armed with a set of sharp claws. One of them was
pressed against Reggie's throat.
credit, Reggie seemed pretty chill about the whole thing. He
leaned against the tree, grimacing but not showing any signs of
panic. His eyes were fixed on his assailant, but weren't wide,
closed or otherwise frightened.
thing took its eyes off Reggie just long enough to acknowledge
that it had been discovered. Then it resumed screeching at
Reggie. If the sound bore any resemblance to a cat, it was an
extremely hostile one.
spectators recoiled at the sound, then turned to Yuki. She
answered, “We're being mugged. Do I need to spell it out?”
chortled. “So, do we take him out quickly or make him suffer?”
he could start up a spell, Giles stopped him. “Donovan, no!”
Given the hostage situation, Giles was only the first to
intervene. Only he added, “That's a female.” Amidst the confused
looks, he explained, “Males don't gather in packs like this.”
this helped. Renee nervously looked around. “Packs?”
couldn't nab all the others on her own, could she?”
Actually, most of them had forgotten about the girls and the
minions. Just as well, as Reggie was in the most visible danger
and thus was their top concern.
creature snarled again. Molly and Meg were quietly hatching an
actual plan. “How's your accuracy?” Molly asked.
bad, but just in case, can you get a shield that only protects
Reggie?” Meg replied.
we can always heal him later.”
nodded and readied a deluge of water. The creature wasn't paying
too much attention as she seemed to know better than to take her
eyes off Reggie for too long. A well-placed water blast would at
least dislodge her long enough.
happened, however, as Troy screamed several yards away. While
everybody was either planning or freaking out, Troy had taken
flank directly behind the creature. Only now a second feline was
all up in his face, swiping furiously at him. His shirt was
already torn at the shoulder. Troy fired an ice spell, but she
held up her arms and resisted it, looking merely uncomfortable
and angrier until he cut it off. Then she tackled him.
launched a rock attack at them, not particularly concerned with
whom it landed on. It bounced off the cat's head and while it
struck Troy in the arm, it did the trick and separated the two.
Troy bounced up and rejoined the group.
are you okay?” Maple asked as Troy clutched his arm.
Thankfully, it wasn't his casting arm. A second ice blast was
enough to keep the pesky feline down.
me!” Yuki shouted, drawing Troy's attention and an apologetic
bow from Maple. She pointed at Reggie's captor, now standing
behind him, arm wrapped around Reggie's neck, still with a claw
to his throat. She was snarling again.
sighed and translated, “Do I really to explain that knocking out
her friends is pissing her off even more?”
listened. Giles teleported in front of them. Despite the cat's
unhappy reaction, Giles held up his hands peacefully. “Okay,
just tell us calmly what you want us to do.”
snarled back. In the unlikely event that it did understand, it
didn't appreciate the intrusion. Not that it mattered because
Giles was merely a distraction. Donovan appeared on the other
side and fired a point blank shot into the cat's side. Giles
felt the side of his neck. The cat had drawn a little blood on
her way down, but it didn't bother him. He rubbed it off and
raised his hand for a high-five. “Good stuff!”
accepted the high-five. Donovan just walked away and stood over
the cat creature. She was wincing, so it was definitely a
successful attack, but she was still very much conscious and
very much pissed.
his hips, Donovan gloated, “You think you can pull a fast one on
me? Fool!” It snarled back.
stepped in, readying her staff. “I can mop this up.” She brought
the staff down for a quick bop to the noggin, but the cat threw
her hands up, grabbed the staff and tossed it over her head...
with Kathryn going along for the ride. Kathryn landed hard on
her back and suddenly she was the one wincing.
damn...” she muttered, turning around quickly in case the cat
was getting to her feet. She was, seemingly unharmed by
stood in front of Kathryn and the rest of the group surrounded
the opponent, Giles said, “Oh, I get it...”
what?!” Meg shouted back.
magic is unfocused, spread throughout their bodies to amplify
situation not required everyone's utmost attention, he would
have gotten several blank stares. He still picked up on the
silent confusion and summarized, “They use magic like Kathryn.”
I use magic how?” Kathryn asked, still on the ground.
guys? Troy hadn't surrounded the original yet, which was good as
he was the first to spot the rest of the band sneaking out of
the forest. There were three of them. Troy elevated the ground
in front of them to create a wall. They jumped on top of it.
they have the high ground...” Molly muttered.
“Amateur,” Morgan muttered, charging up a supplement to Troy's
wall. The wall grew taller and surrounded itself in stone. The
feline bandits jumped off, sliding down the wall to the other
side, landing a few yards in front of Troy and Morgan.
good that did,” Troy said. The earth-based thruster simply
smiled and tapped a palm again. The whole structure collapsed,
forcing the bandits to leap out of the way to avoid being
cleared away the resulting dust cloud, they pounced on him. This
time Meg was there with a water blast that at least hindered
them long enough for Troy to finish the job.
It was a
useful distraction for the implied leader of the group. The
moment everybody looked at the chaos, she jumped on Renee,
striking her in the back. The claws didn't break through, but
she still went down.
was the only one who never turned. “Perhaps one more!” he said
as he fired. The feline slashed it away and leaped after him.
Molly hit her in midair. Donovan added another as she was
writhing on the ground.
down,” Molly muttered, turning around to find the remaining
three engaging Troy, Meg and Giles. Troy and Meg were holding
them off fine. Giles... not so much.
stayed away from the front line, instead hovering over Kathryn.
“So if magic feeds their physical attacks, would healing potions
shrugged. “You'd have to ask Giles.” At that moment, a sharp bat
to the head knocked out Giles.
isn't going so well,” said Kathryn, slowly getting to her feet.
Morgan hurled a giant rock at the enemy (and missed), Maple took
over and turned to Yuki. “I know a potion that works on physical
attacks. Once we're-”
out!” shouted Yuki. Maple turned around as a cat tackled her to
the ground and scratched the hell out of her cheek.
kicked the monster away to prevent further damage, but Meg
stayed down and inspected the blood on her cheek. Wincing, she
said, “Maple, what did I say about taking over during battle?”
sorry!” Maple cried.
and Molly joined Troy trying to hold off the enemies, firing
shots to keep them at bay, despite them being too quick to
catch. One caught up to Molly, but a bruised Kathryn arrived to
intercept. As she struggled to fight it, she was surprised that
such a dainty creature rivaled her in strength.
it gave Molly a chance to breathe. “Reggie, if you're not hurt,
a little support would be...” She turned around. “Reggie?” He
had vanished again.
heard something strong connect with somebody and turned back to
the battle, but it was Troy landing an ice bolt, not that it did
much. Still, he stepped back, reared his arm and shot a spell
into the air.
know how strong this will be so you might want to get a shield
up!” he shouted... just as it kicked in and a small rainstorm
engulfed the battlefield.
just rain. Don't... ah!” Molly put a shield up immediately as
the first raindrops scalded her arms. “What the hell are you
the cats had felt it as they were howling in pain and cowering.
Unfortunately, Donovan was too busy with his shield to attack
them and Kathryn was affected just as much.
dammit, Troy!” she shouted, huddling close to Donovan to borrow
his shield. On the ground and still reeling, Meg really suffered
as the rain irritated her injury. She went through some serious
agony before Mindy could get a shield up.
that was originally fighting Troy howled as well, but responded
by charging forward and tackling Troy, knocking him down and
killing the spell.
was tempted to let her go crazy, but grumbled and used a spell
to knock her off of Troy. Part of it may have gotten a piece of
him too, but she didn't care. The cat creature snarled back and
dove after Troy again.
when the fireball came in, a precise strike that hit the feline
in the side. She rolled around, trying to extinguish her flaming
fur. As soon as she did, she bolted. Two more fireballs came in,
one hitting a second cat in the head and another narrowly
missing a third. Regardless of how on fire they were at the
moment, they all scurried off into the woods.
Kathryn and Molly looked around for the source, Donovan raised
his arms in triumph. “They should know better than to challenge
his shield was no longer up, Kathryn got the hell away from him.
“Where did that come from? Was that Candace?”
one was Candace again?” Molly asked.
one. I think she was the fire type.”
clutched his head and got up. He wasn't scratched up too badly,
but had a nasty headache. “The hell just happened?”
looked away. “You damn near burned our faces off!”
is it over?” Maple asked, cowering on the ground.
Molly looked around for the mysterious benefactor. “If you
really have a potion that works on physical attacks, you might
want to get started on it.”
the first one,” Meg replied. Maple nodded and limped off to
start working on them.
when Molly spotted him. He was standing against a tree, arms
folded and staring at her intensely. He had grown a thin beard
and he wore his brown hair longer than she remembered. Although
he was now undoubtedly in his forties, somehow he seemed even
more handsome all these years later. Either way, she recognized
him immediately as Frank Monroe.
their eyes met, he walked up to her. Molly gritted her teeth and
tried not to make any sudden movements as he approached.
Dad?” Troy said, mouth agape. After seven years of nothing but
birthday cards, there was his father in this completely random
world, somehow in a position to rush in and save them from
whatever those cat things were. Despite this, Frank wasn't
looking back. He approached Molly, who steeled herself for
whatever he was about to do.
hugged her, holding her for a while but not showing much emotion
in doing so. Molly was shaking, barely able to keep herself from
losing it completely. Whether that meant bursting into tears or
laying waste to the scene was anybody's guess.
nice to see you again,” he said, releasing her but keeping his
hands on her shoulders. She didn't look up.
didn't notice as he was busy surveying the field. Sterner, he
added, “Although I'm disappointed that you were having so much
trouble with a few bandits. I expect better.”
head drooped. “Yessir,” she mumbled.
being ignored, Troy stepped closer. “Dad? Is that really you?”
he asked, loud enough to get his attention. It worked, and Troy
added, “What are you doing here?”
stepped back and looked at Molly again. “You didn't tell your
unit that I was going to be your field commander?”
still down, Molly hesitated, still shaking a bit. Then she
replied, “I didn't think it was important.”
grin, Frank said, “Well, I suppose you're right about that.” He
turned back to his son and explained, “I've been stationed here
the last several years. I know I haven't been able to reach out
much, but I've been keeping an eye on your progress. I like what
I've been seeing so far. Good work.”
everything, the compliment made Troy smile. He nodded back and
said, “Thank you.”
raised an eyebrow and added, “Just don't plan on sneaking off on
any daring rescue. That's not happening on my watch.”
despite everything, Troy chuckled. “Right. Of course.” Kathryn
scoffed at him and walked towards Molly.
over the field, Frank folded his arms. “Where's everybody else?
Did you get separated?”
crap!” Kathryn exclaimed. “Reggie's girls are still gone!”
frowned. “Reggie appears to have disappeared as well.” She was
about to say something else, but a loud set of giggles emerged
from the woods. Out stepped Reggie, with his hands around
Candace and Cammy's shoulders. Carmen and Crystal followed, arms
around Blaine and Bryce. They all seemed pretty happy.
to get kidnapped more often!” Bryce said.
hell happened to you guys?” asked Meg, nursing Maple's healing
cat things got us from behind and dragged us into the woods,”
nodded. “Tied us up and everything. It was kinda hot.”
guys see where they went?” asked Candace, before scanning the
cleaning and seeing Renee and Giles unconscious and assorted
wounds on Kathryn and Troy. “Oh... never mind,” she added.
rubbed his neck and smiled at Molly. “Yeah, sorry I disappeared
there. Kinda wanted to get my girls back. You know how it is.”
narrowed her eyes and looked away, catching sight of Troy. “Not
really,” she muttered.
“Unfortunately, they did get away with our overnight bag,” said
Candace. “So we need to find that base before dark.”
problem,” Frank said. “Once everybody is revived and healed,
we'll head back immediately.”
Reggie smiled and walked up to Frank. “Are you Frank Monroe?”
The older man nodded curtly. Reggie shook his hand and motioned
to his harem. “Awesome. I'm Reggie and these are my girls.”
frowned at Reggie. “You knew my dad would be here too?”
turned to Troy. “Wait... he's your dad?”
back, Troy said, “The name Monroe's a pretty good hint.”
think I know your last name?” Reggie pointed to his girls again.
“I don't even know their last names!”
the subject, Cammy asked, “So, uh, what were those things
anyway? They're pretty strong for a bunch of catgirls.”
called Puurxan,” Frank said. “They don't use spells, but magic
amplifies their bodies to give them surprising levels of
strength and damage resistance.”
you!” said Giles. It was the first time anyone could notice he
was conscious. They ignored him anyway.
continued, “They aren't all that aggressive. Don't judge the
entire race by a few bandits. You'll get to know them.”
we will?” Kathryn asked.
Chuckling to himself, Frank replied, “Yeah.”
Maple revived Renee, who sat up, shook the cobwebs out of her
head and saw Frank. “Oh, hey, new person. Good guy, I assume?”
Monroe. I'm your field commander. If you can walk, let's get
like a plan to me!” Renee took a couple steps, then stopped.
“Wait, did you say Frank Monroe?”
And if Molly hasn't explained everything already, there's no
sense doing it now.” He turned around and started marching.
Everybody followed him. Some right away, but it took Molly a
little longer to feel compelled to move.