Frank's advice, Crystal threw down a couple illusion mirrors
behind the group once they were on a path narrow enough for that
sort of thing to work. He was very particular about not being
followed, no matter how much he claimed that the Puurxan weren't
that bad. Then again, those orcs were probably bound to wake up
it was a leisurely hike. Despite the stern urgency in his voice
and on his face when he first arrived, Frank now revealed that
he did, in fact, have a sense of humor, smiling and joking with
anyone at the front of the procession with him. That included
Reggie, Meg and Giles, but primarily Troy. He was quick to try
to catch up on things.
much have you heard about what's been going on with us?” Troy
faced forward as he replied, not really looking over to Troy.
“Part of the background information for the operation included
details on Kendrick's activities, so I got caught up pretty
quickly. I'm not surprised you were able to handle him, though.”
to be honest, Kendrick ended up being the least of our
right. But what surprised me most was that you specialized in
looked down to his trigger finger. “Oh... uh, yeah, it seemed to
work best for me.”
nodded. “Sounds like Alicia's way of doing things. I'd have had
you spitting fireballs until you were sore. Maximum impact, you
him, Mindy said, “C'mon, Meg, you're not gonna let that stand,
shook her head and smirked. “I'm in no mood to get into an
elemental argument with our commander today. I'll just politely
remind him that one of the guardians on this mission is a water
Thruster as well.”
road's for sissies!” Morgan replied, adding with a snicker,
“...and water Thrusters.”
only glanced back at them briefly and said, “Feisty unit you've
got there, Meg.”
not weirded out by that at all, are you?” Troy asked, unsure
whether to be impressed or disturbed.
it will take me forever to learn all of their names.”
get back on track, Troy said, “But have you been here all this
nodded eagerly. “Yes! It's just a shame you weren't able to come
smiled back, but tried to change the subject. He knew the reason
he wasn't able to go along was his mother, and didn't want to
delve into that territory. Instead, he asked, “It is weird that
they'd move you all the way out here at random like that.”
honor,” Frank replied. “I was elated to receive this
opportunity. And it sure beats working for Uriel.”
Giles stepped in. “Pardon me for saying, sir, but it seems more
like exile. I mean, the commander part is good and all, and I'm
sure the pay is better...” Frank nodded, but frowned as he
listened. “...but this is kinda the boonies out here. I know
it's valuable to the Hageshoni, but how much strategic
importance does it have to us?”
kept walking, but narrowed an eye at Giles for a long time.
Breaking up an awkward silence, Meg smiled proudly and said,
“Like you said- feisty unit.”
forward again, all Frank said was, “You shouldn't undervalue the
significance of this world.”
I'm just surprised that this world was worth such a drastic
lifestyle change,” Giles said, stealing a glance at Troy.
wasn't happy about it. “Just stop it,” he said. “I know what
you're getting at, but just let it go. You don't need to get
into any of that for my sake. It's okay, really.”
flashed a quick smile at Troy as they walked silently. At least
they seemed to be silent. Meg pinched her earlobe. Through
telepathy, she asked Giles, “That wasn't for Troy's sake was
smile, Giles winked at Meg and telepathically replied, “Nope.”
Frank couldn't hear that, he very well could have been thinking
along those same lines. He looked over his shoulder. Molly was
pulling up the rear with Renee, Kathryn and Yuki. She was a good
distance behind, with Donovan and Reggie's girls providing
plenty of buffer space.
forward, Frank thought aloud, “Molly really shouldn't be lagging
time Reggie offered the save, brushing it off. “Eh, she had a
long drive to get here. And it's not like we eased into this
let it go and continued along. In the back, Molly's eyes were
still fixed on him.
wish I could hear what they were saying,” Kathryn said.
replied, “Want me to make a-”
shouted Kathryn and Molly.
Yuki silent, Renee leaned towards Molly and asked, “So did you
really know he was going to be here?”
course I did,” Molly replied, still staring at Frank. “This
whole thing was probably his idea.”
didn't you tell any of us?” Kathryn asked.
enough angst over the mission itself before the complications.
Besides, I didn't want to pressure you to skip your camp any
more than I did.”
furrowed her eyebrows. “You really do need us here, don't you?”
sighed. “I can't condone Marlowe's actions, but I'll admit I
wasn't exactly unhappy when I heard what he did.”
we'll survive. Him at least. Not sure what'll happen if we keep
running into those cats.” Kathryn looked back- no cats. “I'm
surprised you contained yourself so well back there. Thought you
were going to go off on him.”
staring straight ahead, Molly replied, “I have so many things I
want to say to him that I wouldn't know where to start.”
seems to be doing okay,” Yuki said. Indeed, Troy was back to
conversing with his father normally.
that for Troy,” Molly mumbled in disgust.
trail didn't seem to be leading anywhere. It was still a hilly,
forested area with no sign of civilization in sight. There were
no rooftops, no infrastructure, not even a security post or
something. Yet Frank stopped in the middle of the path and said,
“Here we are. Just a moment.” And then he vanished.
Everybody looked around. For all they knew, they were still in
the middle of nowhere. Giles claimed there was a village farther
down the hillside, but nobody else could make it out. In every
other direction was seemingly impenetrable forest.
come in now,” Frank said impatiently. He was standing on the
edge of the seemingly impenetrable forest, inside a frameless
doorway. When everybody stared back, perplexed, he added, “In
fact, please hurry as I don't like leaving the front door open
for too long.”
the team moving. They stepped through the doorway and Frank
closed it immediately. They were in a large entryway that looked
like a hollowed-out log cabin. Curiously, while the door
vanished, there were still windows on that wall. They looked out
to the same path they had left. Giles said he could still see
that village. Again, he was the only one.
adornments on the walls were a series of colored hexagons- three
per wall, each sequenced purple, tan and black. It was an odd
and distracting choice of decoration given the log cabin theme.
of the group had been staring at them to prompt an explanation
from Frank: “Make sure to note those. For security reasons, we
don't open the front door unless we're expecting visitors.
Teleportation is the easiest way in, and only permitted in and
out of this room. The shapes on the wall are our security
system. There's no way to teleport into this room without
visualizing one of those sets. We change the colors and shapes
regularly to mess up anybody with no business here.”
“Clever,” Giles said. Candace stared hard at the colors to make
sure she had them down.
pointed at the two sets of double doors on the opposite wall
from the windows. “Left door leads to the living quarters. Right
side leads to the meeting, training and supply rooms. We'll
on, seriously?” Kathryn moaned. “We nearly get killed by a bunch
of cats, then have to hike two miles and we can't even chill for
Frank started down the right hallway. “Business first. The
sooner we can get you all on Lucidrol, the better.”
Lucidrol? Sweet!” said Renee.
followed him down the hallway, passing several doors labeled
'Command Center,' 'Conference Room' and the like, finally
entering the medical facility. It was a small room and the whole
group had to squeeze to fit inside, but it looked modern enough.
It was clean and the equipment inside appeared sterile, a stark
contrast from the log cabin motif they had been walking through.
this room got dropped in out of nowhere,” said Kathryn.
we didn't really care for the medical technology in this world
so we snuck in an upgrade,” Frank said. He opened up a cabinet
and pulled out a tray. It held fifteen pill bottles. Frank set
it on a table and started passing out the drugs.
have fifteen. Yuki, do you have enough of your own?”
pulled a pill bottle out of her satchel. “Yep, I got my fix.”
you got a new bag!” Renee said, gawking at the cute kitten face
sewn into Yuki's red sack.
wide grin, Yuki replied, “Grandpa bought me a new one while I
was visiting. It's even lighter than the last one!”
ignoring their conversation, hesitated before handing a bottle
to Meg. “Uh... do you get one or four?”
Straight-faced, Meg answered, “Depends. Does it screw with my
mind or my ears?”
mind screw,” Reggie said, reading the list of active ingredients
on the bottle and nodding in approval.
slumped her shoulders and closed her eyes. “Guess I get the
grand slam,” she groaned. “My stomach will never forgive me.”
worry about it,” Yuki said, attempting to reassure her. “The
nausea goes away after a few days.”
everybody had their Lucidrol prescriptions, the next stop was a
drinking fountain, sink, or whatever dispensed water around
those parts. It ended up being a simple water basin at the far
end of the compound. It was full of less-than-sanitary water and
a single ladle. Reggie put the pill in his mouth, picked up the
ladle, flicked off the bug on top of the water and drank. Then
he passed the ladle to a disgusted Molly.
sure this will go down fine,” Molly said. She quickly swallowed
her pill without water. Then she winced and massaged her throat.
mouth, Troy skipped the ladle altogether and cast a spell to
shoot a small stream directly from his fingers to his mouth. It
tasted bitter, but it was probably cleaner than the basin.
Everyone else asked Troy to shoot them as well. He only missed a
couple times, but Cammy and Carmen laughed it off and went to
I'm next then?” asked Meg, pills in hand.
confused. “Wait, you're a water specialist. Can't you do the
am. The others aren't. Let's get this over with.” Meg put the
pill on her tongue, closed her eyes and opened her mouth. Troy
hit the target with a quick burst. By now, he had this down.
two,” said Mindy. And Troy hit her.
three,” said Morgan. Ditto.
held up a hand, then wiped some errant spray from her lips.
“Actually, I think I'll take my chances with the basin. I don't
like being shot at.” She walked over to the basin, checked the
water in the ladle carefully, then took a drink. Nodding, she
said, “Yeah, that's easier.”
body convulsed and she fainted.
didn't seem to be conscious, but Meg's body was still twitching.
Troy stepped closer, but Giles, Kathryn and Molly surrounded her
lightly slapped Meg's cheek. Raising his voice, he said, “Maple?
Meg? Morgan? Anyone there?”
one day in and we're already down somebody,” Kathryn muttered.
somebodies, actually,” Troy replied.
looked up at Kathryn. “Don't suppose you happen to know CPR?”
Kathryn could answer, Giles said, “She's still breathing...
kinda. The proper question is do you have a stomach pump?”
they all looked back down the hallway towards the medical
facility. Frank was rushing towards them, followed by Renee. She
had apparently done the smart thing from the start and ran for
the problem?” Frank asked, kneeling to look Meg over.
glared at him, but only sounded slightly annoyed when she
answered, “She's going into convulsions.” Meg twitched some more
looked at her. “Don't you have a healer?”
to decide if this was a good point or not, Molly turned to Yuki.
Throwing up her hands, the healer said, “I've never heard of a
potion for OD'ing on Lucidrol!”
you know a poison remedy?” Frank barked.
but Lucidrol isn't poison.”
of nowhere, Reggie asked, “Yo, got any finchseed extract?” He
had been standing off in the back the whole time with his girls.
Molly wasn't even sure he had been paying attention. In fact,
she still wasn't: for all she knew, this could have been a
completely unrelated request.
Frank off guard as well. “There might be some in the storeroom.”
With a slight head jerk, he motioned for Reggie to follow him.
the way, Reggie turned to Yuki and said, “Start on that antidote
potion, babe. Be right back.”
Frank hustled back to the medical room, Reggie strolled
leisurely. By the time he arrived, Frank was rapidly scanning
labels of assorted jars and bottles in a cabinet. “I'm not an
expert on these scenarios, but it does seem to call for some
urgency,” Frank said.
brushed him off. “Eh, it'll take her a sec to get that potion
ready. No rush.” After a moment's glance at the cabinet, he
reached in and pulled out a tiny vial. “Ah, here we go!”
did Reggie take his time walking back to Meg, it was more of a
strut when he did.
pinch of this in there,” he told Yuki, handing her the vial.
looked over the vial. Other than a worn label identifying it as
finchseed extract, she had no clue about what the generic brown
powder was or did. “Are you sure?”
like she can get any worse.” Yuki shook her head, sprinkled in
some of the powder, pursed her lips and blew into her tube.
happened. Granted, nothing was supposed to. Antidote potions
didn't have that sweet fizzing of chemicals reacting with magic
that healing potions did. Still, with everybody staring at her
silently, a little reassurance would have been nice. Yuki handed
the test tube to Giles and he poured it down Meg's throat.
was silence as the potion worked its magic. Such things weren't
quite instantaneous. Everybody watched nervously, except for
Reggie, who leaned against the wall, stretching his arms and
neck. Finally, Meg's eyes creeped open and the convulsions
stopped. She groaned, loudly.
think you'll have to go without this time around,” she mumbled.
Morgan replied, “Yeah... I think can live without talking to
those freaky cat things.”
right?” Giles asked, on his knees. He forced a smile.
a couch, a few hours and a bucket and I'll be good to go.” Meg
sat up. Giles and Molly helped her to her feet.
yeah! Winning!” Reggie exclaimed, luring Yuki into a high-five.
“Score one for the Crafters.”
you know that was going to work?” Renee asked.
I've learned antidotes for a few poisons... but Lucidrol?” Yuki
widely, Reggie boasted, “Read the ingredients on the back of the
bottle. Once you know what's in it, it's just quick thinking
and, oh, five years of herbology.”
work,” Frank said, too sharp to count as earnest praise.
“Unfortunately, this does disrupt our schedule somewhat. I was
hoping to have a short meeting with the guardians.” He looked
over at Meg, clutching her head as Giles supported her. “That
doesn't appear to be a good idea now. It's as good a time as any
for you to get situated and familiar with the quarters.
Guardians, we'll meet here again tomorrow morning. Follow me.”
marched back to the entrance, Kathryn patted Meg on the
shoulder. “You're my new hero.”
managed to faintly reply, “Heh... just tryin' to help!”
they reached the windows at the entrance, they were surprised at
how late it was getting. The sun was already descending in the
distant horizon, shading the hillside in a dusty orange. Molly
checked her watch; it was only 4:00.
lag always gets you,” said Giles, suddenly looking out the
window with her. She jumped.
most worlds small enough to only require one time zone run on
Greenwich time,” Frank said. “It's nine pm right now. You'll
Everybody followed him down the residential hall. Unlike the
business end, it opened up immediately into a large living room,
with plenty of chairs, couches, sofas and table to accommodate
an entire troop. Unlike the command area, the rustic interior
felt quite appropriate, making the place feel like a hunting
lodge. It even had a fireplace, although it obviously wasn't
getting any use in the summer. Meg, Giles, Renee, Reggie and his
girls sat down immediately.
said it's 9:00?” Kathryn asked. “Guess we missed dinner then,
nodded. “We'll have some help coming in tomorrow to make sure
you're all fed, but I'm sure Lania can find something if you're
his voice, but not to the point of being harsh, he called out, “Lania?”
corner of the room, a Puurxan girl stepped out. She looked
similar to the feline creatures they had fought earlier that
day, but with a smaller build, a lighter tan fur and a pale red
dress instead of a brown tunic. Her eyes were softer, and faced
the floor as she walked into the room.
there anything you can whip up for our guests before bed?”
nodded. “I'll see what I can do,” she said. Nobody could be sure
if she was actually speaking English or if the Lucidrol had
kicked in already.
dishes started to rattle in a nearby room, Reggie looked back at
Frank. “Sweet,” he said with a grin. “You have a catgirl maid?”
shook his head and replied, “No, sir.” He gestured to the
kitchen. “That's my wife.”
tried not to look disgusted and offended after learning who
Frank had married in this world. They really did. Reggie and his
girls didn't seem to have a problem with it, although the
naughty grin on Cammy's face still suggested that this was
pretty deviant behavior. Not only was Lania not human, she would
have barely passed for twenty if she was. Until Frank's news,
Reggie had considered hitting on the cute young thing.
was more stunned than Troy, of course. Not only had his father
remarried, but he remarried... that? He stared back at Frank,
shocked at the revelation as it finally sank in that his father
really had left Earth, starting a new life in Enriel with no
regard to anything he had left behind. Molly just shook her head
and clucked her tongue, not particularly surprised.
Troy's reaction, Giles raised a hand. “Um... we should get Meg
to bed. I don't think she has much of an appetite right now.”
rest of us aren't doing so hot either,” said Mindy, clutching
nodded. “Right. I'll show you to your dorm.”
with,” Molly said. “I'd like to see how bad the sleeping
Meg's bag, Frank led her, Giles, Molly and (for some undeclared
reason) Reggie's unit. With them gone, Kathryn and Yuki sat down
and tried not to make eye contact with Troy, who continued to
search the floor for his missing jaw. Donovan walked around,
stopping to scrutinize each furnishing carefully. He kept
himself busy tugging on a shelf full of books in search of
wasn't nearly as tactful. “Huh... totally didn't expect him to
be the furry type,” she thought out loud. While turning to
Kathryn or Yuki for affirmation, she accidentally caught sight
of Troy. He was glaring at her.
she stood up. Louder, she said, “You know, I should see if she
needs any help in there. Can't expect her to feed all of us
quick glance at Troy, Kathryn followed. “Yeah, good call.” Yuki
was right behind her.
stood up and tailed them. “You know how to cook?” he asked
Kathryn. She didn't answer.
kitchen was small, especially for a building expected to house a
troop's worth of magi. It was dark and foreign, with a narrow
walkway lined with cupboards, an oven, a basin and plenty of
counter space. Lania was slicing up a hock of unidentifiable
pink meat. She was surprised to see the visitors pile into the
“Anything we can do to help?” Renee asked.
made only brief eye contact before looking down. “You shouldn't
feel obligated to. You are our guests.”
shrugged. “Eh, we're bored.”
a moment to process, but Lania nodded. “In that case, there is
some cheese in the cold box that should be sliced.”
and Renee passed her and tried to find this cold box. Spotting
their trouble, Lania pointed to a large cupboard next to the
oven. Renee opened it and found several trays of meat and
cheese, along with jugs and bottles full of various beverages.
Kathryn reached in to take the cheese and, to her surprise, the
ordinary cupboard was as cold as a modern refrigerator. There
were no mechanisms suggesting that this was possible.
herself, she mumbled, “It's cold...”
Lania said, not looking up from her preparations. “Don't you
have enchanted cold boxes in your world?”
but they're not enchanted. We call them fridges.”
paused and looked at Kathryn and Renee. “But how would they work
if they don't use magic?”
said, “Well, there's this thing called freon that...” Lania
stared back blankly and Renee realized it wasn't worth the
effort. “Actually, yeah, they're magic.”
Accepting the answer, Lania returned to her platter. “There are
knives in the second drawer from your left. Can one of you get
the bread as well?”
Kathryn had already fetched a knife and started slicing the
cheese, Renee sought, and found, a bread box on the opposite
counter. She took a loaf from inside.
Kathryn's satisfied hum drew more eyes than she had expected.
“Oh, just trying this cheese. It's pretty good. If you've got
magic fridges and stuff, maybe this place ain't so bad.”
smiled and set the bread on the counter, “See, this'll be fun.
It's probably not all that different from...”
stopped when she noticed the loaf she had just set down.
Apparently, in spite of Enriel's use of magical cold boxes, the
world had yet to innovate the concept of sliced bread. She
sighed and retrieved a knife from the second drawer from her
you again for helping,” Lania said. “Starting tomorrow we'll
have food brought in for you, but we weren't prepared for a
large meal tonight.”
mention it,” said Kathryn. “Lania was it?”
I'm Frank's wife. It's nice to meet you all.”
talking to Lania, Kathryn cheated and kept an eye on Troy. He
was hanging around the back of the room, eying Lania carefully.
It was hard to frame this girl, not completely human and not
definitively legal, as his stepmother. Kathryn got a kick out of
how'd you two get together? Guess it's just a bit jarring. You
don't look much older than us.”
smiled. “Thank you. As a matter of fact, I'm ten years of age.”
for legal. That statement made Kathryn lose control of her knife
for a second. It sliced her finger and she yelped.
are you all right?” Lania asked, setting down her own knife.
clutched her hand. Blood was still trickling. Wincing, she said,
“Yuki! Bandage!” Yuki urgently reached into her satchel and
pulled out a first aid kit.
went off to a side to treat the wound. It was nothing serious,
but it pulled Kathryn from prep duty. “Hey Troy,” she shouted,
wincing once as Yuki applied an antiseptic to her finger. “Make
yourself useful and help out your new mommy.”
stepped forward slowly, practically automatic in his approach to
the counter. He gave no thought to Kathryn's order, but he
repeated, “New... mommy?”
okay there, Troy?” Renee said, adding a snicker.
looked puzzled and looked at Troy, about to say something. She
stopped herself and returned to slicing the unidentifiable pink
apologize for that. I often forget that humans age differently.
Even though I'm considered an adult in my tribe, you are all
probably older than me.”
seven years...” Troy mumbled, not necessarily to his stepmother.
heard it, she didn't react. Instead, she explained, “We are
considered adults on our fifth birthday. That's when I was
betrothed to Frank.”
Troy's knife slipped, striking hard against the countertop,
luckily avoiding flesh.
want me to do that?” Yuki asked angrily. She held up her first
aid kit. “I don't have a whole lot of supplies in here and we
can't burn them all our first day!”
had any prayer of keeping his composure, it wasn't going to be
in the kitchen. He excused himself quietly and returned to the
living room. Donovan was seated in the corner, reading a thick
leather-bound book with no identification. He didn't even look
up when Troy sat down on the sofa.
didn't get the chance to dwell on his ten-year-old feline
stepmother. Kathryn followed him in moments later, nursing her
bandaged finger. “Let's just let those two finish up.”
into the softest chair in the room, looked at the ceiling and
took a long, deep breath. Troy watched her get comfortable for
what must have been the first time all day. She sat up suddenly
and smiled at Troy. “Hell of a trip so far,” she said mockingly.
wasn't amused. “I'm sure marrying a five-year-old catgirl is
perfectly acceptable here,” he replied.
nodded. “Keep telling yourself that. Hell, it might even be
true. Does it make you feel better?”
looked away. “I'm sure I'll get used to it.”
Kathryn. She also rolled her eyes. “You always do,” she mumbled.
turned back to her. Her tone of voice, simultaneously cheerful
and disdainful, was familiar, but he wasn't used to hearing it
used against him. “Bet you're loving this.”
kinda,” she said with no shame. In the same tenor, she looked at
him and added, “But to be honest, I'd probably get a kick out of
it even if I didn't think you were an asshole.”
wanted to respond. He almost did. But he knew that it would have
only led to another argument, another shouting match and more
things to stew over angrily. Troy had enough on his mind
picturing his father married to Lania. He didn't want to pile on
everything Kathryn would say. Not having her as a friend was
simply unfortunate; it only tortured him when she was openly
angry at him.
he waited. A few moments later, his father returned and lingered
in the living room. Giles followed, as did Molly, who sat on the
edge of a couch closest to Kathryn.
the sleeping arrangements?” Kathryn asked her. Molly just stared
back unhappily and shook her head.
worry, girls,” said Giles, upbeat as ever. “Reggie's unit
checked into their room too. He said we should drop by later
couldn't tell if he was trying to cheer them up or make a pass
at them. Either way, she appreciated it and smiled back.
everybody else?” Frank asked. He was still standing, and saw
Donovan as he turned around. His expression didn't change.
and Yuki are helping...” Troy stopped. He choked up before he
could finished the sentence. What was he supposed to say?
'Lania?' 'Your wife?' 'Mom?' All three sounded weird, even her
name. Instead, he copped out and said, “...in the kitchen.”
Frank just grunted and sat down in a free chair.
nice,” Kathryn said to Frank, her smile more mischievous than
polite. “Good catch there, Frank.” She anticipated the angry
glare from Troy and ignored it, but the one from Molly almost
made her burst into a fit of laughter.
didn't notice their reactions. He nodded to Kathryn and said,
“Thanks, but it didn't work that way. When I got here, I set out
to make peace with the local Puurxan tribe. They're pretty
suspicious of human magi, but I won them over and was asked to
become part of their tribe. One of the conditions was that I was
betrothed to their elder's daughter.”
story didn't completely satisfy Troy or Molly, but they both
nodded. It was far more noble and understandable than if Frank
had simply been, pardon the phrase, hunting for pussy.
were almost going to say something in support until Frank added,
“So in a way, Lania's not so much a catch as she was an
offering.” Neither Molly nor Kathryn appreciated that. They
slumped back in their seats and folded their arms.
Renee and Yuki entered, each carrying a platter that they set on
a table in the center of the living room. All that work for
sandwiches starring the unidentifiable pink meat. Conversation
stopped as everybody assembled their dinner and returned to
their corners. At some point, Blaine appeared and created a
double-decker, then walked it over to Donovan and vanished.
unidentifiable pink meat was foreign, yet somehow tasted rather
ordinary. It didn't taste at all like chicken, but everyone got
the impression that the equivalent joke in Enriel was that
everything tasted like this unidentifiable pink meat. After
finishing half her sandwich, Kathryn said, “So Renee, looks like
you were wrong. Frank got hitched to make nice with the locals.
Wasn't what you were thinking.”
sighed. “I know. Lania explained it to us too. It's not as fun
want fun,” Molly said, under her breath to avoid Frank or Lania
hearing. “If it's for expediency's sake, I can deal with it.
Just don't expect me to get over the fact that he remarried a
year after arriving here.”
it so important to you?” Renee lowered her voice as well. “I
mean I can understand Troy freaking out over this, but why do
you care so much?”
stared at Frank, sitting next to Lania and making friendly
conversation with Giles, Yuki and Troy. The man appeared to be
pleasant enough in this setting, but it was the little things
that Molly noticed, such as Troy's uneasy glances at Lania.
Also, while Frank frequently smiled at Lania during their
chatter, she never once looked him in the eyes.
I'm still hoping that my perception of him is wrong and that he
isn't a sorry excuse of a person.” She looked down. “I've yet to
see anything to change my mind.”
the main conversation had taken a turn for the awkward. While
Lania wasn't looking at Frank, she was transfixed on Troy. Troy
was fixated on her as well, but the more he examined her, the
more conflicted he felt. He couldn't help but consider her
pretty, but that made it all worse. As human as many of her
features were, and as attractive as humans would consider them,
she was most certainly not human. That's what bothered Troy the
most about Lania: he was both attracted and repulsed by her at
the same time. This was his father's new wife.
staring contest had come around when Frank began the proper
introductions. Lania was surprised that Troy was his son. “He
did tell you about me, right?” Troy asked.
looked down. “Um... yes. Our tribe does not permit separation
after a child has been produced, so it was kept secret until
after we were wed. But it has been mentioned since.” Frank
stared straight ahead, nodding along.
turned to him, but kept her eyes down. “What surprises me is
that you never mentioned that Troy would be joining us. You had
said several times how happy you were to be seeing Molly again.”
continued to stare forward, but stopped nodding. Now he was more
concerned about not turning to note Troy's reaction. He did take
a quick glance at Molly, who turned away from him.
much-appreciated diversion came as a squeaky, unfamiliar voice
popped into the room and said, “Are they all here?”
flashed on Frank's face and he turned around and picked up the
toddler, setting him on his lap. The child looked around.
Everybody stared back at him.
supposed to be in bed, but I suppose I have to introduce you,”
Frank said, still grinning. He looked up at Molly's group seated
across from him. “This is our son, Toma.”
face lit up. “Oh wow! Is he...” She dropped off the sofa, onto
her knees and shuffled across to him.
human. Apparently we've got the dominant genetics.”
he was human... mostly. He had sandy hair much unlike Frank's
and an awkward hobble in his legs when they kicked from his
father's lap, but otherwise he appeared to be a typical boy of
two or three years. Renee started playing with him as if he were
turned to Troy, pulling Toma away from Renee. “Toma, this is
Troy. He's your big brother.”
waved back, but said nothing. Neither did Troy. He was staring
into Toma's eyes. As human as he appeared at first glance, his
bright green irises with slightly-slitted pupils were a
noticeable departure. He had his mother's eyes. And it scared
the hell out of Troy.
he hadn't created a moment downstairs, but Troy needed time to
adjust. Time away from everybody to let him accept this new
reality. He was years older than his new stepmother and his
half-brother had golden eyes with slitted pupils. It was a bit
more than he expected from this world, which itself hadn't been
nearly as bad as it probably could have been.
Upstairs, he found himself in a long hallway. The left wall was
covered with framed artwork, much of it themed around classical
magic- ancient wizards with ridiculous beards launching
fireballs into bands of marauding orcs. The first couple Troy
looked at were actually pretty cool, he decided, but he was in
no mood to critique art.
doors lined the right wall, each a considerable distance apart
from each other. The first door was closed and Troy could hear
excited murmurs and laughter from inside. Within the hour, this
was destined to be the new Reggie's room. The second door was
closed with silence behind it. Not wanting to disturb Meg, Troy
third door was open and Troy entered. He was immediately
repulsed when he saw six cots spaced very evenly in the dull,
dark quarters. Apparently the entire unit was sleeping in the
same room. He recognized his own luggage at the foot of one of
the cots and sat on that one. Troy fell backwards on it and took
a deep breath. At least it was comfortable.
not to think about the situation too much. It was what it was
and he knew he was going to have to suck it up and deal with it.
This was his method achieving that. It was all about getting
used to those faces, not dwelling on how old Lania actually was
and viewing her only as the next woman his dad married.
heard somebody approach, but didn't say anything. He wasn't sure
who it was and wasn't sure if he cared. He couldn't rely on
anyone else in the house to be a fair sounding board anyway. The
footsteps entered the room and Troy tried not to respond when he
saw who they belonged to.
was...” Molly stopped to fish for the right word. “...unusual.”
She sat on the bed next to Troy. Judging by the luggage in front
of it, it was hers. Both found that incredibly awkward, but
didn't look at her, but he did sneer. “Bet you're loving this as
much as Kathryn.”
stared straight ahead. “Don't you find it at all odd that he
seemed to be more excited about seeing me than you?”
bit,” Troy replied, determined to keep his eyes on the ceiling.
“He did train you, right?”
nodded, even though Troy didn't see it. “He thinks of me as if
he was my father.” That got Troy to look at her. She was neither
proud nor ashamed of that fact, only acknowledging a truth.
however, turn away with a guilty look when she added, “I would
be lying if I said I didn't feel the same way.”
up. Even with as little as he knew about the two of them, it
still made sense. He had only one issue with it: “But I thought
you said you hated him.”
she snapped back. “He was harsh... abusive at times. Made it his
priority to make me some unthinking slave to the MST. And after
all that he abandoned me.” She shrugged. “Abandoned you. And
your mother.” She looked around the room, rustic yet cold. “Just
for this place. The real question is why you don't hate him.”
he's my did,” Troy said. Molly turned to him sharply. He didn't
flinch. “I'm sure he had a good reason for it. There must be
something about this place that's important.”
heard what they said,” Molly replied. “He came here just to give
us a presence in the off chance we might someday disrupt a
supply chain. Does that sound so important? Especially when it
involves marrying whatever Lania is just to build goodwill.”
was surprised that Troy didn't look away. He stared right back
at her, angrier for an unexpected reason. “I know what you're
trying to do,” he said, eyes narrowed. “You're trying to turn me
against Dad like you turned Kathryn against me. It won't work.
I'm not afraid of you anymore.”
up and walked past her. Somehow, he found it easier to accept
Lania and Toma knowing Molly didn't. “And for the record,” he
said. “It sounds important enough to me.”
didn't follow Troy out. She could barely stand to look at him
anymore. Still, she couldn't let it end there. “You haven't
learned anything, have you?” Even without turning, she knew he
had stopped. “How much more do you need to lose before you
figure it out?” Now she turned to him; he stared back at her,
seething but listening intently. “How much more do you have
Hesitant, he asked, “What are you talking about?” But he already
“Marie... Kathryn...” Molly gritted her teeth. “Renee...”
should be thrilled about that. You didn't want us together to
you know why? It's because I saw it all coming.” She shuffled
her legs, swinging them around to the other side of the bed. “If
anyone was capable of doing something as heartless as what you
did to Marie... it would be the son of Frank Monroe.”
you keep saying that?” Troy shook his head. “Look at everything
he did for you. Everybody thinks you're so special. That's only
because of him.”
life would have anything left over, I'd give this up,” Molly
said sadly. “But it astounds me that you can tolerate that man,
even when he favors me over you... just because of magic.” She
turned away. “You're his son... and on top of that you hate me.
That should tear you apart.”
does,” Troy said. Molly turned to him suddenly. “I hate it. I
hate the way he seemed so devoted to training you. I remember
growing up, wondering why Dad was always working late. I didn't
know he was with you but I still wanted him to be home. It
bugged me then and it bugs me even more now that I know where he
tried not to react. That was good to hear, but she knew there
was a catch.
delivered: “But if that's how it is and he thinks that you're so
amazing that he'd rather have you for a kid than me... I guess
it means I have to step up my game.” Molly slumped over,
instantly dejected. Troy didn't notice and said, “I'll just have
to show him what I'm capable of. I'm not going to let him down.”
turned and left, presumably back downstairs to greet his new
family properly. Molly just sat there. She shouldn't have been
surprised by his response. It was typical Monroe- abandoning the
important things for some misplaced priority. It hurt this time
because she tried to level with him to his face, and he flatly
dismissed everything right back at her.
“Asshole,” Molly muttered, a little more loudly than she should
have. She regretted it and looked to the door to make sure
nobody heard her.
been called worse things,” Giles said pleasantly, stepping into
the room without asking. Molly wondered what Giles could have
been called and why. He didn't strike her as having a
furrowed her eyebrows and put on a tough face. “Don't tell me we
have to house you too.”
course not. Just wanted to pass on that Reggie's room is now
would I care about that?” she asked.
smile grew. “It's a stressful assignment. Just letting you
know.” He patted her upper arm. She was too busy glaring at him
to shudder his hand off. “Care to join us?” he asked.
she glared, the less she felt like fighting it. At some point,
Molly stopped caring. She stood up, shook her head and said,
“Fine, what the hell?”