Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 7

CHAPTER: 5

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 58: Home Sweet Home


Session One

At 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 as well.

Even so, 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.

“So how much have you heard about what's been going on with us?” Troy asked.

Frank 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.”

“Well, to be honest, Kendrick ended up being the least of our problems.”

“Right, right. But what surprised me most was that you specialized in water attacks.”

Troy looked down to his trigger finger. “Oh... uh, yeah, it seemed to work best for me.”

Frank nodded. “Sounds like Alicia's way of doing things. I'd have had you spitting fireballs until you were sore. Maximum impact, you know.”

Behind him, Mindy said, “C'mon, Meg, you're not gonna let that stand, are you?”

Meg 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.”

“High road's for sissies!” Morgan replied, adding with a snicker, “...and water Thrusters.”

Frank only glanced back at them briefly and said, “Feisty unit you've got there, Meg.”

“You're not weirded out by that at all, are you?” Troy asked, unsure whether to be impressed or disturbed.

“No, but it will take me forever to learn all of their names.”

Eager to get back on track, Troy said, “But have you been here all this time?”

Frank nodded eagerly. “Yes! It's just a shame you weren't able to come along.”

Troy 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.”

“It's an honor,” Frank replied. “I was elated to receive this opportunity. And it sure beats working for Uriel.”

Now 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?”

Frank 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.”

Facing forward again, all Frank said was, “You shouldn't undervalue the significance of this world.”

“I guess I'm just surprised that this world was worth such a drastic lifestyle change,” Giles said, stealing a glance at Troy.

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.”

Frank 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 it?”

With a smile, Giles winked at Meg and telepathically replied, “Nope.”

Although 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.

Facing forward, Frank thought aloud, “Molly really shouldn't be lagging like this.”

This 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 place gracefully.”

Frank let it go and continued along. In the back, Molly's eyes were still fixed on him.

“Kinda wish I could hear what they were saying,” Kathryn said.

Yuki replied, “Want me to make a-”

“No!” shouted Kathryn and Molly.

With Yuki silent, Renee leaned towards Molly and asked, “So did you really know he was going to be here?”

“Of course I did,” Molly replied, still staring at Frank. “This whole thing was probably his idea.”

“Why didn't you tell any of us?” Kathryn asked.

“There's 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.”

Kathryn furrowed her eyebrows. “You really do need us here, don't you?”

Molly sighed. “I can't condone Marlowe's actions, but I'll admit I wasn't exactly unhappy when I heard what he did.”

“Well, 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.”

Still staring straight ahead, Molly replied, “I have so many things I want to say to him that I wouldn't know where to start.”

“Troy seems to be doing okay,” Yuki said. Indeed, Troy was back to conversing with his father normally.

“Ditto that for Troy,” Molly mumbled in disgust.

 

Session Two

The 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.

“You can 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.”

That got 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.

The only 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.

Enough 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.

Frank 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 start there.”

“Come 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 a bit?”

Unmoved, Frank started down the right hallway. “Business first. The sooner we can get you all on Lucidrol, the better.”

“We get Lucidrol? Sweet!” said Renee.

They 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.

“Boy, this room got dropped in out of nowhere,” said Kathryn.

“Yeah, 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.

“I only have fifteen. Yuki, do you have enough of your own?”

Yuki pulled a pill bottle out of her satchel. “Yep, I got my fix.”

“Hey, you got a new bag!” Renee said, gawking at the cute kitten face sewn into Yuki's red sack.

With a wide grin, Yuki replied, “Grandpa bought me a new one while I was visiting. It's even lighter than the last one!”

Frank, 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?”

“Total mind screw,” Reggie said, reading the list of active ingredients on the bottle and nodding in approval.

Meg slumped her shoulders and closed her eyes. “Guess I get the grand slam,” she groaned. “My stomach will never forgive me.”

“Don't worry about it,” Yuki said, attempting to reassure her. “The nausea goes away after a few days.”

Once 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.

“I'm... sure this will go down fine,” Molly said. She quickly swallowed her pill without water. Then she winced and massaged her throat.

Pill in 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 find towels.

“Suppose I'm next then?” asked Meg, pills in hand.

Troy was confused. “Wait, you're a water specialist. Can't you do the same thing?”

I 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.

“Fire two,” said Mindy. And Troy hit her.

“Fire three,” said Morgan. Ditto.

Maple 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.”

Then her body convulsed and she fainted.

 

Session Three

She didn't seem to be conscious, but Meg's body was still twitching. Troy stepped closer, but Giles, Kathryn and Molly surrounded her first.

Giles lightly slapped Meg's cheek. Raising his voice, he said, “Maple? Meg? Morgan? Anyone there?”

“Great, one day in and we're already down somebody,” Kathryn muttered.

“Four somebodies, actually,” Troy replied.

Molly looked up at Kathryn. “Don't suppose you happen to know CPR?”

Before Kathryn could answer, Giles said, “She's still breathing... kinda. The proper question is do you have a stomach pump?”

At once, 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 help.

“What's the problem?” Frank asked, kneeling to look Meg over.

Molly glared at him, but only sounded slightly annoyed when she answered, “She's going into convulsions.” Meg twitched some more to illustrate.

Frank looked at her. “Don't you have a healer?”

Unable 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!”

“Don't you know a poison remedy?” Frank barked.

“Yes, but Lucidrol isn't poison.”

From out 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.

It threw Frank off guard as well. “There might be some in the storeroom.” With a slight head jerk, he motioned for Reggie to follow him.

Along the way, Reggie turned to Yuki and said, “Start on that antidote potion, babe. Be right back.”

While 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.

Reggie 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!”

Not only did Reggie take his time walking back to Meg, it was more of a strut when he did.

“Toss a pinch of this in there,” he told Yuki, handing her the vial.

Yuki 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?”

“Not like she can get any worse.” Yuki shook her head, sprinkled in some of the powder, pursed her lips and blew into her tube.

Nothing 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.

There 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.

“Guys, I think you'll have to go without this time around,” she mumbled.

Nodding, Morgan replied, “Yeah... I think can live without talking to those freaky cat things.”

“You all right?” Giles asked, on his knees. He forced a smile.

“Give me 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.

“Oh yeah! Winning!” Reggie exclaimed, luring Yuki into a high-five. “Score one for the Crafters.”

“How did you know that was going to work?” Renee asked.

“Yeah, I've learned antidotes for a few poisons... but Lucidrol?” Yuki said.

Grinning 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.”

“Good 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.”

As Frank marched back to the entrance, Kathryn patted Meg on the shoulder. “You're my new hero.”

Mindy managed to faintly reply, “Heh... just tryin' to help!”

When 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.

“The jet lag always gets you,” said Giles, suddenly looking out the window with her. She jumped.

“Yes, most worlds small enough to only require one time zone run on Greenwich time,” Frank said. “It's nine pm right now. You'll adjust.”

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.

“You said it's 9:00?” Kathryn asked. “Guess we missed dinner then, huh?”

Frank 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 hungry.”

Raising his voice, but not to the point of being harsh, he called out, “Lania?”

From a 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.

“Is there anything you can whip up for our guests before bed?”

Lania 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.

As dishes started to rattle in a nearby room, Reggie looked back at Frank. “Sweet,” he said with a grin. “You have a catgirl maid?”

Frank shook his head and replied, “No, sir.” He gestured to the kitchen. “That's my wife.”

 

Session Four

They 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.

No one 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.

Noting 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.”

“The rest of us aren't doing so hot either,” said Mindy, clutching her head.

Frank nodded. “Right. I'll show you to your dorm.”

“I'll go with,” Molly said. “I'd like to see how bad the sleeping arrangements are.”

Taking 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 secret passages.

Renee 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.

Quickly, 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 alone.”

With a quick glance at Troy, Kathryn followed. “Yeah, good call.” Yuki was right behind her.

Troy stood up and tailed them. “You know how to cook?” he asked Kathryn. She didn't answer.

The 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 room.

“Anything we can do to help?” Renee asked.

Lania made only brief eye contact before looking down. “You shouldn't feel obligated to. You are our guests.”

Kathryn shrugged. “Eh, we're bored.”

It took a moment to process, but Lania nodded. “In that case, there is some cheese in the cold box that should be sliced.”

Kathryn 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.

Beside herself, she mumbled, “It's cold...”

“Yes,” Lania said, not looking up from her preparations. “Don't you have enchanted cold boxes in your world?”

“Yeah, but they're not enchanted. We call them fridges.”

Lania paused and looked at Kathryn and Renee. “But how would they work if they don't use magic?”

Renee 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?”

Since 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.

“Mmm...” 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.”

Renee smiled and set the bread on the counter, “See, this'll be fun. It's probably not all that different from...”

She 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 left.

“Thank 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.”

“Don't mention it,” said Kathryn. “Lania was it?”

“Yes. I'm Frank's wife. It's nice to meet you all.”

While 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 his expression.

“So, how'd you two get together? Guess it's just a bit jarring. You don't look much older than us.”

Lania smiled. “Thank you. As a matter of fact, I'm ten years of age.”

So much for legal. That statement made Kathryn lose control of her knife for a second. It sliced her finger and she yelped.

“Oh my, are you all right?” Lania asked, setting down her own knife.

Kathryn 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.

They 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.”

Troy stepped forward slowly, practically automatic in his approach to the counter. He gave no thought to Kathryn's order, but he repeated, “New... mommy?”

“You okay there, Troy?” Renee said, adding a snicker.

Lania looked puzzled and looked at Troy, about to say something. She stopped herself and returned to slicing the unidentifiable pink meat.

“I 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.”

“Only by seven years...” Troy mumbled, not necessarily to his stepmother.

If Lania 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.”

Now Troy's knife slipped, striking hard against the countertop, luckily avoiding flesh.

“Do you 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!”

 

Session Five

If Troy 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.

Troy 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.”

She fell 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.

He wasn't amused. “I'm sure marrying a five-year-old catgirl is perfectly acceptable here,” he replied.

Kathryn nodded. “Keep telling yourself that. Hell, it might even be true. Does it make you feel better?”

Troy looked away. “I'm sure I'll get used to it.”

So did Kathryn. She also rolled her eyes. “You always do,” she mumbled.

He 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.”

“Yeah, 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.”

He 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.

Instead, 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.

“How's the sleeping arrangements?” Kathryn asked her. Molly just stared back unhappily and shook her head.

“Don't worry, girls,” said Giles, upbeat as ever. “Reggie's unit checked into their room too. He said we should drop by later tonight.”

Kathryn 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.

“Where's everybody else?” Frank asked. He was still standing, and saw Donovan as he turned around. His expression didn't change.

“Renee 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.

“She's 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.

Frank 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.”

The 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.

They 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.

Lania, 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.

The 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.”

Renee sighed. “I know. Lania explained it to us too. It's not as fun though.”

“I don't 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.”

“Why's 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?”

Molly 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 guess 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.”

By now, 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.

The 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.

Lania 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.

She 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.”

Frank 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.

A much-appreciated diversion came as a squeaky, unfamiliar voice popped into the room and said, “Are they all here?”

A grin 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.

“You're 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.”

Renee's face lit up. “Oh wow! Is he...” She dropped off the sofa, onto her knees and shuffled across to him.

“He's human. Apparently we've got the dominant genetics.”

Indeed, 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 one.

Frank turned to Troy, pulling Toma away from Renee. “Toma, this is Troy. He's your big brother.”

Toma 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.

 

Session Six

He hoped 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.

Three 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 moved on.

The 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.

He tried 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.

Troy 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.

“That 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 neither commented.

Troy didn't look at her, but he did sneer. “Bet you're loving this as much as Kathryn.”

She stared straight ahead. “Don't you find it at all odd that he seemed to be more excited about seeing me than you?”

“Little bit,” Troy replied, determined to keep his eyes on the ceiling. “He did train you, right?”

Molly 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.

She did, however, turn away with a guilty look when she added, “I would be lying if I said I didn't feel the same way.”

Troy sat 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.”

“I do,” 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.”

“Because 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.”

“You 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.”

Molly 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.”

He stood 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.”

Her eyes 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 left?”

Hesitant, he asked, “What are you talking about?” But he already knew.

“Marie... Kathryn...” Molly gritted her teeth. “Renee...”

“You should be thrilled about that. You didn't want us together to begin with.”

“And do 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.”

“Why do 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.”

“If my 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.”

“It 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 was.”

Molly tried not to react. That was good to hear, but she knew there was a catch.

Troy 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.”

He 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.

“I've 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 disagreeable disposition.

Molly furrowed her eyebrows and put on a tough face. “Don't tell me we have to house you too.”

“No, of course not. Just wanted to pass on that Reggie's room is now open.”

“And why would I care about that?” she asked.

His 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.

The more 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?”


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