at the factory noticed two additional workers. The overseers in
charge of production did notice an increase in efficiency, but
they certainly weren't going to complain about that. Frankly,
they were relieved. The Hageshoni demons responsible for
gathering and distributing the factory's weapons output (the
term “corporate” hadn't entered the lexicon in Enriel yet) were
griping about the decline in both quantity and quality of the
output, but the overseers hadn't been able to pinpoint a cause.
Therefore, this rare good day was music to their ears.
workers caught on quickly and enjoyed the job immensely. The
conditions were abominable- little light made it from the high
windows through the smoke to the shop floor. Most of the light
came from the fires, blinding nearby laborers whenever flames
burst. The whole place smelled of coal, iron and sweat. Still,
it was hard for Blaine and Bryce to say this was a poorer
working environment than they were used to.
their new co-workers looked at a newly forged pike with a
critical eye. He nodded, somewhat surprised. “Not bad for your
second try. Have you done this before?”
set down his hammer and wiped sweat from his brow. “Nope, but
I've read up on how to do it. Just in case it ever came up.”
put it on our pile. I don't think we can pass off the first one
keep it?” Blaine asked eagerly, picking up his initial attempt.
Rather than rounding out to a point, the pike vaguely resembled
a question mark.
done playing around?” Bryce said. His try somehow became an
ampersand. “It's gotta be time.”
said we had to stay on schedule.” Blaine turned to the worker.
“Think I can squeeze a sword in?”
answer was no, as evidenced by Bryce's watch beeping. Blaine
frowned. “Aww... time flies when you're having fun, huh?”
shook his head, held his watch into the air with one hand and
started swirling it into the air. The sound of the beeping
amplified and carried out through the entire factory. At once,
three-quarters of the labor force dropped what they were doing.
Several picked up a sword, pike or halberd from the floor. Those
who didn't react at first were filled in quickly enough. They
joined in, most not wanting to be left out, others not wanting
to argue with the burly co-worker with the sword, pike or
exited the building as one. Some made a pit stop to raid the
surplus of fresh weaponry forged that day. These guys just
weren't as romantic about utilizing a weapon they themselves had
created. No matter: the stockpile was large enough for
everybody, and soon the whole roster was outside and awaiting
pinched his earlobe. “Phase one complete,” he whispered.
so we got them out here,” Blaine said. “Now what do we do until
the Hageshoni respond?”
Bryce looked around. Now that everybody was outside, they were
waiting for the next step. Labor strife was a new concept to
them. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly Bryce's area of expertise
either. “I dunno. Keep them riled up, I guess.”
marched to the front of the mass, quickly followed by Blaine. He
turned his back to the mob to cast a voice amplification spell,
then faced them. “Men!” His voice, while loud, was hardly
boisterous, but it got their attention. “This is the day you've
been dreaming of. The day the chains come off and we all become
all he could remember from the speech he had rehearsed the night
before. Everything that he thought of saying after that was
ripped off from Aragorn's speech in Return of the King or
involved breaking into a song from Les Miz.
noticed the delay. “What's up? You were doing good.”
turned the amplification off. “Yeah, that's all I got. You got
looked at the men. Either what Bryce had said was enough or
Reggie's instructions had been successfully passed around: they
were at attention and waiting for the next step.
before anyone up front realized it. At the factory's entrance, a
few pikes were brandished and a small commotion caught the
attention of the minions. They shuffled their way through to the
back and found a well dressed man with a halberd under his chin.
His hands were raised.
going on here?” the man asked.
strike!” Bryce said in a pleasant tone. “We're done working for
you until you-”
what?” replied the man. “And who are you? You don't work here.”
is Bryce and this is Blaine. We're experts at unfair working
conditions and we're putting a stop to it now. These men don't
return to work until our demands are met.”
stared back at Bryce, then sighed. “What are your demands?”
smirked back, then realized that nobody had gone over that part.
Still exuding confidence, he turned to Blaine. “Blaine, explain
Blaine was exuding confusion more than confidence. “Um... well,
he's not the one who can make the call on this, right?”
does you no good holding me hostage. You have to talk to my
supervisors,” the overseer explained.
pointed excitedly. “Yeah, yeah! Get a hold of them and let them
know what's going on. Tell them we need to, uh, start
negotiating right away.”
he didn't do anything. After an awkward, lengthy pause, he
asked, “Well? Aren't you going to let me go?”
was shocked. “Why should we let you go?” Bryce asked.
else am I going to get a hold of the management? What, do you
think I'm psychic or something?”
no, of course not! On your way!” Bryce grinned stupidly as the
men lowered their weapons and the overseer ran off to hopefully
tell somebody that this was happening. As he didn't appear to be
Hageshoni himself, he seemed just as liable to take the rest of
the day off.
didn't, although the process of contacting corporate turned out
to take a lot longer in an age without phones or e-mail. It took
more than an hour for anyone to show up. Thankfully, corporate
came through: the negotiating party was an equally large number
of soldiers brandishing melee weapons of their own. Only a
handful were orcs. The good thing about that was that it meant
that the Puurxian and elven offensives likely worked to thin out
or reposition the bulk of the Hageshoni army. The bad news was
that these were likely Hageshoni demons, and therefore magic
way it unsettled the workers. And Blaine. “So Bryce... think of
any good speeches?”
shook his head. “Just one.” He re-cast his amplification spell
and shouted, “Fear not! Today we celebrate... our independence
secret about impenetrable fortresses is decorating them in just
the right fashion to make the twenty-foot walls, arrow towers
and moat look like aesthetic choices. In the case of Endrell's
city hall, which under Hageshoni rule had become de facto
imperial palace for all of Enriel, a dazzling ivory paint job
and towering minarets left the townspeople downright proud of
the structure symbolizing the unbreakable power of their
conquerors. Nobody questions why the towering minarets also have
same time, as powerful a metaphor as the building was, it also
had to be open for business so the Hageshoni could carry out
their unbreakable power. Evil overlords tended to be hands-on
governors. Deep within city hall, Supreme Commander of the 10th
Division of the Glorious Hageshoni World Brigade Herrod Erlon
(and yes, that whole title is printed on the nameplate on his
desk) had enjoyed every minute of the Hokoni revolution effort.
He was less thrilled that tensions were still boiling under the
surface even after the Hokoni ran home in defeat. The silly
insurrections by the “lesser species” in Enriel were delightful
and all, but the feeling of civil unrest in Endrell was no fun
whatsoever. He liked fighting armies, not minds.
exactly who was responsible for letting it get this bad, and
called him in once he received word of the next crisis.
the good word, Commander?” Claude asked, faking a smile.
McClellan...” To the best of Claude's knowledge, Commander Erlon
had never called anyone by their first names. “...remember your
suggestion of increasing promotion of the Hokoni rally in order
to draw any and all potential insurgents out of the woodwork so
we can destroy them in one fell swoop?”
course. If only-”
bomber, which I will remind you was something we knew we'd only
get one attack with before the Taskforce installed an embargo,
dropped its payload within an acceptable range of the target.”
sighed. “As we say on Earth, close only counts in horseshoes
and... well, never mind.” He coughed. “I will admit the reaction
was far more defiant than I would expect from such a passive
“Exactly. Between all the propaganda and whatever movement is
succeeding the Hokoni, we're seeing more resistance to our rule
than ever before. None moreso than today.”
going on today?” This must have been the point of all this
ranting, so Claude played along.
entire workforce at the forge, at once, dropped what they were
doing, took arms and are refusing to return to work.”
raised his eyebrows. “They went on strike?! Remarkable!”
the language I'd be using, Mr. McClellan. And they haven't
struck yet. Our troops have been deployed there and are ready to
take them down at a moment's notice, but as of yet there has
been no strike.”
not to grin at what the amusing confusion in terminology, Claude
asked, “Well, what are their demands?”
McClellan, this forge is one of the most important operations in
the world. Several conflicts depend on the quality steel coming
out of there. That factory is far too important to cave into the
demands of these miscreants.”
them isn't a prudent solution either. Which is why you called me
as your record has been so far, this situation is better handled
by an Urayoni. Just don't expect a long leash.”
then.” Claude stood up. “Lead the way.”
followed Commander Erlon out the door, down several flights of
stairs and to the lowest level. About a dozen or so people were
mingling about the corridor, most just doing their jobs. A young
man and a young woman paid particular attention to the
retreating demons. One of them stared at Claude. For a second,
she thought he made eye contact.
young man docked into an alcove and pinched his earlobe. “Elvis
has left the building,” Giles reported.
pinched hers too. “Molly, wait. I think Claude saw me.”
telepathy, Molly answered, “Are you sure?”
so. I wasn't expecting him to be there. Is that bad?”
“Possibly. For now, get into second position and wait for more
the moat, making use of a very large invisibility circle, Molly
turned to Frank. “We may need to abort; Renee may have been
why I sent her and Meg. They weren't in the square. Nobody would
almost blurted otherwise, but managed to bite her tongue and
rephrase it to, “Somebody that knows Renee was there. He knows
she's in the MST”
could anyone possibly know Renee is with us?”
was it Claude?” Troy asked Molly. She turned to him, frowned and
that? Does someone in the Hageshoni know you all?”
grunted. “Why fear a weakling like him? It is time to strike!”
With magic, he flew over the moat, ascending high enough to
switch spells at his apex. He fell now, but lunging at the
walls. He cast another spell that would allow him to pass
through the ivory walls that appeared to jut out of the water.
not these walls, exactly. He smashed into them and fell into the
“Anti-magic walls,” Frank said. “I thought you said you dealt
with these before. Troy, get that water away from him. It's
or not, Troy had no trouble sweeping away the water surrounding
Donovan. It created a nice 'parting the sea' effect that Troy
was particularly proud of. It also exposed the ground underneath
while we're at it, Meg?”
mean Morgan!” Morgan replied, grinning and magically tunneling a
hole into the exposed earth. As the tunnel wrapped under the
walls, Reggie climbed through it, then popped out a few moments
later, flashing a thumbs up.
pointed to Meg, who took over from Morgan and pinched her
earlobe. “Giles, do you and Renee have the silencer up?” She
nodded to Reggie.
away!” Somewhere inside, the floor exploded.
Troy and Carmen secure the perimeter. Everybody else, dive in!”
did. Reggie, Meg, Kathryn, three of Reggie's girls and Yuki, the
latter sneaking Donovan an antidote for the poison he had taken
a bath in. Donovan followed, as did Molly, though a little
hesitant. Frank went last. As soon as he reached the other end,
he gave Troy the all-clear. Troy stopped Moses-ing as Carmen
used an air spell to keep the moat from covering the entrance
(and emergency exit). That gave Troy time to strengthen and
reinforce two ice walls that contained the water and allowed him
and Carmen to take a breather.
was no breather inside as the troop marched past the armies of
clerks and lobbyists. There were only a couple security guards,
and they went down easily enough.
that wasn't too hard. Is this really all they had?” Reggie
rest are upstairs. That's under a negator. We need to smash
that, seize the entrance controls and lock the place down.”
isn't the negator affecting the lowest floor?” Renee asked.
ever try doing paperwork without magic? Now that's a
labor strike waiting to happen,” Molly replied.
factory had not yet erupted into violence, although neither the
striking workers nor the Hageshoni army were giving any ground.
The Hageshoni were silent and intimidating and looked like they
were content with that, when in reality they were just waiting
for orders. The workers operating directly under Reggie were
leading their brethren in song. As they had learned it from
Reggie, the song of 'unification and inspiration' was actually
just the riff from Seven Nation Army.
Commander Erlon and Claude arrived, rather than pinpoint an
actual leader, Erlon just made a general statement at the
masses. “Attention! Return to work or face our wrath!”
it! We aren't scared of you!” Bryce shouted back. Blaine turned
around to make sure all the workers were still singing and not
being totally scared.
nose wrinkled when he saw the minions. “You two? Really?”
know them?” Commander Erlon asked.
Not exactly the two I'd suspect to be rabble-rousing.
Something's going on.”
dispose of them quickly then.”
stared at the minions, then the army. He then replied, “It won't
be quickly enough. Let me handle this.”
waiting for Commander Erlon's assent, Claude approached Bryce.
“All right. What are your demands?”
scoffed. “Ha! Like you're going to give us anything. What's the
use in telling you?”
you here anyway?” Blaine asked.
if you actually wanted to negotiate, you wouldn't have an army
of thugs here.”
smiled and turned around. “Commander Erlon, please remove your
thugs... er... troops.”
you're joking,” Commander Erlon replied.
wanted an Urayoni solution and I have one. A Hageshoni would be
better suited for, say, the attack going on back at the palace.”
attack? Do you know something!?”
“Taskforce members leading the strike. Taskforce members spotted
in the palace. How good's your math?”
the insult, Commander Erlon worked it together. It took a while,
but it came to him and he sneered and gritted his teeth. “We
can't just let this revolt continue unsupervised!”
let's end it.” Claude turned back around. He looked not to the
minions but to the closest man who actually looked like he
worked at the factory. “Sir, what are your wages and average
reason, this man had a Scottish brogue. “We toil all day in the
hellfire, sun up 'til sundown everyday. And for what? For
crumbs! A pittance, I tell ye!”
eyed Commander Erlon. “Sound about right to you?”
Commander Erlon folded his arms. “I couldn't understand a damn
thing that man said.”
Urayoni ran through the list quickly. “Seven day workweek, dawn
until dusk, hazardous working conditions.”
Well, yes. Plus fifteen minutes for lunch and fifteen for a
smoke. What are they complaining about?”
the gentlemen, Claude grinned and said. “We'll offer you a ten
percent wage increase and one day off a week.”
shook his head, dismissive. “That's it? Are you serious?”
Commander Erlon shouted. “Give them the whole factory, why don't
backpedaled and whispered, “Commander, you really need to get
these troops to the palace. This revolt is a distraction.”
Seething, Commander Erlon spat, “And how do you know?”
the Taskforce members are the only ones rejecting it.” Gesturing
to the mob, Bryce and Blaine were utterly disgusted at Claude's
proposal. The workers were downright giddy.
Scottish guy was on cloud nine. “My, a whole day to spend with
me wee ones. When can we start?”
took it as a good sign and shouted to the mob, “So do we have a
cheering was answer enough. Commander Erlon grumbled, but gave
the order to withdraw. As the troops marched away, the workers
celebrated with a song of labor unity. We know it as Chelsea
and Bryce just looked at each other nervously as Claude
approached them. Smug, he said, “So, let's iron out the
paperwork and get these boys toiling again.”
the second floor of the palace, Crystal, Candace and Cammy went
after the negator. Meg and Giles went for the entrance controls.
With the negator in full effect, it was going to take a while.
That meant holding off the bulk of the security guards with
nothing but ineffective smiters and Kathryn's staff.
first guard Kathryn faced blocked her staff with his bare hands
and kicked her in the stomach. She doubled over.
that's not usually how it goes,” she coughed.
fending off a guard of his own, Frank said, “Magic enhances your
physical abilities, doesn't it? You might notice a diminished
groan, Kathryn replied, “Thanks for the head's up.”
when it came to direct physical contact, even five muscular
Hageshoni guards were a tough match for the remaining troops.
The idea was to hope Meg and Giles came through and prevented
any backup from arriving, and hold on until the negator was
destroyed. They were barely doing that.
had had all day to outlast the guards and Reggie's girls had any
clue where the negator was, things may have turned out
different. As it was, only two of the guards had been knocked
out when an entire army started pouring in from every entrance.
snickered. “And more opponents stream in to their deaths.”
don't think so.” Molly looked around and concluded that escape
was impossible unless they had magic. She tried firing an energy
bolt; they did not have magic. The seven of them lined up
against the only wall with no doors and threw their smiters to
Commander Erlon strolled in, chest puffed out as he sauntered
past the three lines of soldiers. “Did you really think you
could outwit the entire 10th Division of the Glorious Hageshoni
World Brigade?” he asked.
Frank said. “We really did.”
warned you that we were sniffed out,” Molly mumbled. It may not
have been loud enough for Frank to hear, and Molly wasn't sure
if she wanted him to.
guess, using civil unrest to distract us while you stage a
hostile coup of the palace?” Erlon gloated as if he had figured
it out himself.
nothing to do with the strike,” Reggie said. “Just heard about
it and saw an opportunity.”
effort to exonerate them, but wrong again.” Claude burst into
the room, but there were so many soldiers in the room that
nobody heard him. He squeezed his way through everybody.
and Renee steeled themselves to prevent an outburst in front of
Frank. Kathryn failed to, but merely muttered a generic, “You
was saying, there's no sense trying to protect the laborers. As
it turns out-”
was interrupted again. This time it was Giles and Meg coming
through a different entrance. Unsurprisingly, they were
wow...” Giles marveled at the additional enemies in the room.
“Boy, did we get turned around!”
we should have tried the stairs,” Maple mumbled as they raised
their hands and joined their allies along the wall.
there anyone else that we need to check into the dungeon?”
Commander Erlon asked. “Or will we need to thin out the numbers
beforehand?” Renee gulped. Everyone could guess how they thinned
out the prison population here.
missing,” Claude said. Before Frank could ask how he knew Troy,
Claude continued, “But unfortunately, it's a moot point.”
fell over the room. There were few scenarios where it was
unfortunate that it didn't matter that Troy was missing. Giles
had to ask, “Unfortunate for you or for us?”
didn't answer. “With the ruse exposed, the strike organizers saw
no need to pretend they weren't connected to this little attack.
While they agreed to my terms in general, they did insist on an
unfortunate bit of language.”
was staring at Giles, the term 'unfortunate' was again vague.
“What, did they sell us out or something?” Kathryn asked.
“Unfortunate for us!” Claude hated having to clarify himself.
“They insisted on a safe passage clause for anybody that
happened to be trespassing on state property today.”
Commander Erlon was livid. Without making eye contact, Claude
handed him a contract. He skimmed it through, then slammed it to
the ground. “That's what I get for relying on your kind. Some
factions would rather not be taken in by fine print.”
what just happened?” Kathryn asked.
Blaine and Bryce just saved our asses,” Molly replied. She
turned back to Claude. “Those two really stood up for us like
glanced briefly at his grumbling superior before staring back at
Molly. “That's the thing about a good minion, Madam. One can be
stubbornly loyal, even when it isn't expected of him.” He raised
an eyebrow to remove all doubt.
“Guards!” Commander Erlon barked. “Escort them off the premises.
And if any of them ever show up again, kill them on sight.”
troop wasted no time following them out. As Reggie passed the
commander, he said, “Oh yeah, you might want to track down my
girls upstairs unless you feel like splurging for a new negator.”
Commander Erlon glared at Reggie, but obeyed.
cleared out in a hurry, leaving just the commander and Claude.
Claude picked up the contract and straightened out any crumpled
pages. “We should consider ourselves lucky. Had you just
attacked the workers like I'm sure you were planning to, this
building would be under MST control.”
Our labor expenses at the factory went up fifteen percent,
productivity is down one-seventh and thanks to your poor
negotiating you let them all go. Tell me why I shouldn't have
you discharged on the spot.”
shrugged and flipped to a page in the contract. “If you look
closely, you'll see that news of both their strike and the
resolution are to remain confidential, which will avoid repeated
incidents around town. Also, this minor concession is sure to
take the momentum out of any anti-Hageshoni sentiments in town.
They hate you just a little less now. Plus I trust that you'll
increase the defenses here, and that the MST knows it and will
shy away from future attacks.”
away, he added, “Just because there were no shots fired doesn't
mean we didn't just win the war.”
McClellan...” Commander Erlon's voice remained testy. “I said
tell me why I shouldn't have you discharged on the spot.”
turned around. “That wasn't argument enough?”
Hokoni are gone and you claim that we've won the war. Therefore
I no longer see any use for you. Prepare for reassignment. I'll
be contacting your superiors immediately.”
marched back to his office before Claude could protest. He
didn't. He wasn't sure if he wanted to. Given how little respect
he received for navigating the Hageshoni out of that situation,
this was probably a good thing. Claude was just frustrated. He
left the palace, already imagining a way to let out his
devastation of the operation's failure was no more apparent than
in the revelry at Reggie's Endrell headquarters. The factory
workers were still unaccustomed to civil disobedience, so
breaking the terms of confidentiality were out of the question.
Still, they were thrilled to have fought and earned working
conditions that were slightly less oppressive, and they had to
meant precious limited space for Frank's troop to grumble about
how poorly it all went. The concessions at the factory were
hardly a sign of change, yet pacified the locals and denied
Frank the swell of popular support he'd need for radical
upheaval. Even if Endrell did see more labor unrest and earned a
better way of life, such a transformation would take forever and
carried no guarantee that the Hageshoni would be swept out of
power. That's what the MST needed, and a content population made
that less likely.
Frank's dismay, few in his troop were grumbling with him. Reggie
and his unit were among the celebrants dancing along to the
local music (either some of the workers had instruments stashed
away or they hired a band on very short notice). They stood no
actual benefit from the agreement, but damned if they were
saying no a party. Kathryn and Renee weren't center stage, but
they were watching in amusement and nudging Molly to do the
same. Giles was doing one better, trying to get her to dance.
Frank was surprised that she was even putting up with it.
was grumbling. That was encouraging. In fact, everything Frank
had seen out of Donovan so far had been encouraging. Wait, hear
this out: while unsuccessful, Donovan tried to trick the Hokoni
into an alliance. He and his minions were so flashy helping the
townspeople during the bombing that they swayed several into
joining the local movement. And for all Frank knew, those
minions really had been the ones who saved their skins with some
clever negotiating. It was all smoke and mirrors, but with Frank
desperate to find some way to continue the fight, he was a key
component in his Hail Mary pass.
everybody else otherwise engaged, Frank whispered to him,
“Donovan, can I have a word?”
went into a private office, Donovan taking several glances over
his shoulder to make sure they weren't seen. Frank didn't care
all that much; he just wanted someplace quiet. Once the door
closed, Frank asked, “What's your impression of the mission so
utter disaster,” Donovan spat. “How can they celebrate after
such a thorough defeat. And barely with a chance to fight even!”
couldn't have said it better. I hate to say this, but with the
Puurxan and elves gone and the locals sated, we're running out
of paths to victory. We really only have one chance, and it's
not something I can throw an entire unit at.”
grinned. “Ah... are you suggesting only I am capable of the
treachery necessary for this?”
much treachery as personality. You seem to have an ability to
gain support from the town. And given how Blaine and Bryce were
able to bail us out-”
they have been reprimanded for. Next time I insist that we fall
ignored that. “If you have smart kids like that as minions, it
says an awful lot about your charisma. Such charisma will be
necessary to win over the dwarves in Tulas.”
nodded. “Ah... in need of another legion to die for the cause?”
like to put it in those terms, but yes, we do need additional
force. If the Hageshoni value the factory in Endrell so much
that they'd resolve a strike peacefully, their relationship with
the dwarves may be strained. I want you three to travel there,
find out, and if possible gain their support.”
dwarven army at my command? Surely that will lead to conquest.”
He stood up. “We leave tonight.”
recoiling at the sudden movement, Frank nodded. “Yes. I'm sure
your minions will scour up directions. Have them report back to
me. In the meantime, we'll be returning to base before Commander
Erlon can send his forces after us.”
one to take the Hageshoni at their word, Frank insisted on
having someone guard the entrance. Troy drew the short straw.
After convincing his dad that doing a patrol outside would be
quite suspicious, he settled into the reception desk. It meant
missing all the fun inside, but he wasn't in a party mood. Like
Frank, Troy saw it as nothing but a failed mission as well. And
he spent the whole time outside, so couldn't feel the same
relief over the agreement bailing them out.
It was a
boring job, but Troy managed to stay alert enough to leap into
position after hearing a knock on the door. Trigger at the
ready, he shouted, “Who is it? We're closed.”
envelope appeared under the door, flying in the air and
fluttering around wildly as if caught in a breeze. Being
indoors, there was none, but the paper made a show of it anyway,
dancing through the air until it finally evaded Troy's hands and
flew into his face.
envelope was addressed to 'Madam M. Pearson.' For a moment, Troy
wanted to rush out the door and find the messenger, but
understood how terrible an idea that would have been. Instead,
he went inside to deliver it, understanding that this action may
have been equally terrible.
Molly?” For once, the sight of him didn't appear to ruin her
she replied, “Problem outside?”
He handed her the letter.
chuckled. “'Madam...' they're so formal here.”
that from...?” Renee watched eagerly as Molly opened it.
assume so,” Molly said, far more neutral than anybody else. The
moment she pulled out the letter, she glanced at Giles and
Renee, then stood up and left for the reception area.
followed. She was staring at the paper inside, but stopped when
she saw him. She rolled her eyes and said, “My intention was
still supposed to be watching the door,” he said, just as
hostile. He walked past her and reclaimed his seat at the desk.
“What does Claude want?”
she finished scanning the letter, she replied, “He wants to go
out for a drink.”
raised eyebrow, Troy said, “Really? After all that, now he wants
to be sociable?”
scoffed and shook his head. That prevented him from noticing
Molly unlocking and opening the door. “Where are you going?” he
blinked at him. “I'm going out for a drink.”
jumped to his feet as Molly disappeared behind the door. “Wait,
you can't just leave! He's a demon! He nearly got us killed! And
besides that we have a curfew. What am I supposed to tell Dad?”
poked her head back in and said, “You're not supposed to tell
him anything. Understood?”
wait up!” Molly sang, slamming the door behind her.
wasn't sure if it was coincidence or design that Claude chose
the same tavern where Reggie and his girls had first met Graham
and Arthur. It was certainly the only one she could find. It was
half-filled, but late in the night and the barstaff were getting
a head start on picking up chairs. One of bartenders looked at
Molly with mild revulsion, unhappy that yet another customer had
arrived to prolong her night.
found Claude, silently signaling her over to a corner table. The
surrounding tables all had chairs on them.
smiled as she sat down, “I wasn't sure if you would actually
come. Or even if he'd let you off the leash.”
assumed it was something important. I doubt your people would be
happy to see us convening.”
pausing to let Molly ordered a drink, Claude said, “Not really.
Just wanted to chat before I head off.”
“Discharged, to use their parlance. My solution wasn't
appreciated by the management. I have no complaints though. I'm
quite happy to leave this place. I hope you are too.”
scoffed. “I wouldn't put it past Frank to keep trying.
Impressive solution though. Not only does it take away our
element of surprise, but also stems popular support for
rebellion. The Hageshoni would have never considered it.” She
paused to accept her drink from the barmaid, then eyed him. “I
told Frank to abort the mission as soon as Renee saw you.”
nodded. “Had I not spotted her, you would have probably
succeeded. It was a good plan to use against the Hageshoni. I'm
assuming Frank would have traded the lives of all those factory
workers for control of Endrell?”
doubt it. He certainly didn't care about the Puurxan.” Molly
took a long drink. “So were they suspicious about the escape
clause or are we still pretending it was Bryce and Blaine?”
thinks I'm incompetent, not treasonous. He's angrier about the
workers, to be honest. He'll make sure you can't get in again.”
suppose this is the part where I'm supposed to thank you for
saving us. We'd all be pretty much dead if you hadn't, would
suppose I could chalk it up to professional courtesy the way you
pretend to. But we both know that doesn't exist in this
paused, looking Molly in the eyes. “That whole invasion really
put things into place. It's fine to squabble over territory and
grimoires and such. It's in our nature. But why are we killing
each other over it? And who's really dying? Certainly nobody
suggest that Kurt wasn't important,” Molly spat.
and his friends and family, sure. But to the MST? I'll give you
a better one: who was Marie important to?”
wanted to suggest Kathryn, but the fact that she was already
resorting to a friend, and not even a best friend, proved his
spells out everything. I was quite complicit in executing my
orders and leading that invasion. I made your lives hell and I
do not apologize for it. Troy and his group broke every rule in
the book trying to rescue you and Renee. Look who died.”
“Clearly, Troy's actions-”
than sneaking out, Troy's actions are consistent with what MST
leadership would recommend. And Sho or anyone in the Hageshoni
would probably do the same thing.” He shook his head and sighed.
“You know, I should have done more to help her. We came from
very different places, but we were both Urayoni. She was fine at
what she was sent to do. She could easily pretend that none of
us knew magic. But when everything changed... it was unfair to
expect her to adjust. I should have helped her sort things out.
Maybe she wouldn't have put herself in that position.”
nodded. It made a lot of sense, even if it was strange to think
about the invasion from a demon's perspective. While it
certainly didn't absolve Troy, she was also surprised that
Claude would blame his own faction for Marie's death.
doesn't speak very well for your faction.” She leaned in and
cracked a smug smile. “I thought you were still trying to sign
jumped back in his seat and stammered, “Right... I forgot about
that. Although that was not a required part of the mission...
which is technically over anyway.” Regaining his composure, he
added, “Besides, it's not like you'd actually join us. For all
your protests, you still serve loyally.”
don't know that. Frank would have my head if he found out I was
said you asked him to abort your mission. Yet you still carried
it out when he refused.”
care about the mission. I just want to go home. Disobeying Frank
isn't going to help that.”
grin flashed on Claude's face. “Really...” Molly wasn't sure if
he was amusing or didn't believe her. “...how about we put that
to the test?”
set down her drink and readied her trigger finger. She had no
idea what Claude was planning, but she knew well enough to stay
on guard with a statement like that.
no longer have any interest in what goes on here, I'm going to
tell you how to beat the Hageshoni.”
relaxed her finger, but narrowed an eye. “What? What do you
all under the impression that taking control of Endrell is the
secret to defeating the Hageshoni. It's useful, of course, but
the real source of their power is nowhere near here. It's also
vulnerable to a surprise attack.”
And you're just going to tell me? What's the catch?”
still have to tell Frank. And then you still have to go through
with the attack. While it's the easiest path to victory, it's no
looked around the room, then again asked, “Okay, but what's the
let out a cackle. “Oh, this will be fun. Okay, so there's a
temple in the middle of Ursu. You know, orc territory. It's
called the Shrine of Laug and it's a holy site for the orcs.
Whoever controls it holds dominion over the orcs. Orcs are
forbidden from waging combat on their sacred ground, so the
Hageshoni have to defend it themselves. They won't make it easy,
but if you catch them off guard... you've got a shot.”
Molly's mouth opened wide, Claude stood up. “I think I better be
going now.” He took two steps away, then stopped. Without
looking back, he added, “Although I really should stay and see
how this plays out.”
Molly snapped out of her shock in time. She stood up and marched
up to him. More stern than any order she had given him in
student council, she barked, “Claude, this is my final command.
You are to leave here immediately. If what you just told me is
true, the Hageshoni will not let you get away with that.”
didn't see the severity of it. “By the time anything comes of
it, I'll be well off their radar.”
care. Get out. I saved your life when I didn't turn you in. You
saved ours when you let us go. I need to know that no matter
what happens, one of us was able to get out safely.”
couldn't protest that. Claude could see it meant too much to her
to take lightly. So he smiled and extended a hand. “I guess I'll
be off then. It's been an honor working for you and a delight
working against you.”
shook the hand and nodded, but as he started to walk away, she
called out again, “What's the catch?”
stopped and looked back at her. She continued, “Why would you
tell me something that important? If the information's correct,
we win. You realize that, right?”
course. I don't care who wins. Likewise, you say you just want
to go home.” Claude shrugged. “If you want to go home, all you
have to do is not tell Frank.”
the catch. And as Claude left the bar, leaving Molly's life
forever, she knew it was a nasty one.