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Working Together in Shadow River
by Peter L. Ward
(Winner, 3rd Place, 2013)

Two students of Madame Ona's School for Girls are given an off-campus assignment: to assist Sergeant Alawen Banks of the city watch in capturing The Owl, while working with a group that includes someone with whom they share an unpleasant history with.


"If you will please excuse me, I should freshen up. It has been a while since I had gotten here, after all." The girl in her mid-teens explained to the elven noble she was conversing with. Her grey eyes were set in a pleasant face framed with wavy strawberry-blonde hair and a fancy cerulean dress adorned her frame. Around her slender neck was a rather eye-catching necklace of sapphires. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all, Lady Elyssa", the elven noble replied with a smile. "It's been a pleasure talking with you. I don't get to meet too many people of Winnowite nobility, let alone one favored by his majesty King Slanc such as yourself. I hope we get the chance to get to know each other better sometime soon."

"I hope so too." Elyssa replied before turning to another girl in her mid-teens. This one, in contrast, was dressed in a plain black dress in contrast to Elyssa's elaborate blue one, paired with a white apron and cap. Also in contrast was the other girl's darker skin tone compared to Elyssa's fair complexion, and the sapphire blue tresses worn straight in comparison to Elyssa's wavy blonde. "Attend me, Shara." Elyssa said to the other girl, indicating one of the spare rooms off to the side of the main chamber where the party for Shadow River nobility was being held.

"Yes, my lady." Shara replied as she followed Elyssa, her pleasant expression perhaps not quite so genuine upon closer inspection. As they walked to the side room, Shara gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod to one of the performers hired to entertain the party, a creesh bard who excused himself politely and moved over to a location not too far from the room in question.

Once inside the room, both girls let out a sigh. "You're enjoying this way too much, Elyssa." Shara told the other girl.

"Sorry, but that's how things go, Shara." Elyssa retorted. "You know we've got to play the roles for the plan to work. Do you really think it would work with you playing the noble, especially considering that I actually come from nobility myself?"

Shara let out another sigh. "Sorry. It's just that I don't like this plan at all."

Elyssa favored Shara with a sympathetic look. "I know. It's not pleasant. However, it is what our assignment is…"

*****
[Two Days Earlier]

Elyssa and Shara walked down the school's main hallway, having been summoned to Madame Ona's office. Both girls, from Winnow, were second-year students of the magical girl school run by Madame Ona in Shadow River's Old City district. As they had been in the middle of classes, both girls were in their magical girl outfits. Elyssa being in a pink pleated dress with white trim paired with white stockings and boots, while Shara wore a red dress with black trim, black stockings and boots, and a black costume mask. Both girls wore worried expressions however. After all, being summoned to the headmistress's office could give one reason to be concerned.

Dutifully, however, they both entered the office once they reached it, to find Madame Ona at her desk and two others in the office with them. However, the others weren't students or faculty. One was a female centaur in simple brown suede clothing, with green eyes and her chestnut-brown hair worn in a braid, and the other was a blue slime whistling happily. "You sent for us, headmistress?" asked Elyssa.

"Indeed." nodded Madame Ona. "Elyssa Halda, Shara Rosefield, I have a special assignment for you. This is my friend, Lema Cirros, and her partner Jerry. They're freelancers and I'm going to assign the two of you to work with them and their team for a particular job over the next few days."

Both girls blinked at this. "Headmistress, what about our classes?" Shara asked.

Madame Ona gave a slight smile. "Don't worry about them, since I'm the one giving you two the assignment. I feel that the two of you need some experience with working with a team of adventurers, and Lema here has given me the opportunity to arrange for that. You two have special potential, though not even I know much about it yet. However, you need experience and knowledge, and some of that you only get hands-on. Don't worry. This won't take you out of the city or anything like that. This is just a matter of learning to work with a team of different people, some you may like and some you may not. However, you need to learn to work together with others in carrying out a task and this is a perfect opportunity to do so."

Lema took the moment to address the two students. "Shara, I'm told that you work part-time at Gottle House, is that correct? Perhaps that would make for a good place for you and Elyssa to meet the rest of our team, as well as the person who will be hiring our services. Does meeting during the lunch hour sound good to you two?"

While Shara nodded in the affirmative, Elyssa looked apprehensive. "Maybe another place might be better?" she allowed herself to ask.

Lema arched her brow a bit. "Any reason why? It's a spot that's familiar to at least one of you, as opposed to some random tavern out somewhere in the city that neither of you know about?"

Elyssa sighed. "It's just that I'm not exactly welcome there."

"Because publically you're supposed to be training to be a demon huntress and Gottle House is a haven for Winnowite demons and demonspawn, correct?" Lema replied.

Shara let out a gasp. "How'd you know that? That's supposed to be secret!"

"When you get around, you pick up a little knowledge here and there." Lema replied evenly. "While the vast majority of the public doesn't know about Gottle House, adventurers like Jerry and myself pick up tidbits in the course of our work and this just happened to be one of them. Anyway, consider it part of the training, at least where you're concerned Elyssa. Occasionally you'll have to deal with meeting in a place that's not exactly favorable to you. This is a great time to get used to such circumstances since, while they're uneasy about you, the people at Gottle House aren't out to kill you either, unlike some meeting spots you may find yourself in."

While Jerry burbled in agreement like only a slime could, Madame Ona spoke up. "Then it's settled. You two go back and finish out your classes for the day. After that, the next few days you'll be excused from classes as you meet with Lema and her team, and follow through with your assignment. Understood?"

"Yes, headmistress!" Shara and Elyssa chorused before leaving the office.

"Thank you for taking those two on, Lema." Madame Ona said once the door closed again. "I hope they won't be too much trouble for the two of you."

"It shouldn't be a problem." Lema replied. "If you have faith in them, that's good enough for us."

Madame Ona chuckled. "Still, I have to wonder how those two will take to having to work with that satyr you're teaming up with lately, considering his past."

Lema shrugged a bit as she got up on all four of her legs, Jerry hopping onto her back with an amused whistle. "That is part of the exercise as well, learning to work with people you don't like."

*****
[One Day Earlier]

"Hey, Shara, are you sure about this?"

Shara turned to Elyssa as they walked down one of Shadow River's many streets, making their way from their school over to Gottle House in the New Town district. Being out of school, the two were dressed in their casual clothes rather than their magical girl outfits, with Elyssa wearing a fashionable blue dress while Shara blended in better with more common clothing.

Gottle House was a tavern popular with Winnowites residing in the city, particularly those of the demonic persuasion. Despite what the term "demonic" might conjure up in people's minds, the demons of Winnow and their spawn were hardly evil, well, for the most part. The original ones were simply summoned from other worlds to satisfy the desires of the bored Winnowite nobility that brought them to the world of Uresia, of which Winnow was but one kingdom in. Once satisfied, the bored nobles allowed them the option to remain in Uresia to live out their lives there. This was generations ago and many had bred with each other or with the locals over the decades.

"Yeah." Shara replied. "It's not as if we have much choice in this, since this came from the headmistress herself. I already talked with Mr. Vantoya about this and he's okay with it. He and his wife will make sure you're not harassed while you're there. Besides, they're more comfortable with you these days. Maybe not 100%, but more than they have been in the past. Since I'm willing to give you a chance and be your friend despite the whole demon hunter thing, they're willing to trust me and give you a chance as well since nothing's happened over the past year or so where you're concerned."

Elyssa frowned a little. "Thanks. I mean, when I first came over, I had bought King Slanc's line about demons hook, line, and sinker when I was awarded the role of star demon hunter and given a full scholarship at the school here, so of course I gave the Winnowites here good reason to hate me, including you. It's only because you kept being friendly during our first year and actually saved my skin during that class exercise that I began to realize that you and yours are people too and that maybe King Slanc was feeding everyone a line at the very least."

"Don't worry about it." Shara said. "I mean, I was a little worried too at first, but I figured that most people back home don't really know what's going on. At first, you didn't realize I came from a demon family either."

Elyssa allowed a slight smile. "Well, until you started throwing around fire magic, not to mention summoning that hellpup of yours. Those were pretty much giveaways there."

Shara laughed a little awkwardly. "Well, I guess those couldn't be helped. That reminds me, did that kitty of yours give you a hard time about this assignment yet?"

"Oh yeah." Elyssa admitted. "Aria gives me a hard time any time I start to even slightly deviate from King Slanc's agenda, and it's been happening more and more. You noticed that she's not with us, right? She's sitting this out just because I'm meeting with you and the others at Gottle House."

"Speaking of which, we're here." Shara informed her friend and teammate. "Just stick with me and it'll be okay." she said as she opened the door. Inside, Gottle House was busy with the lunch crowd, the Vantoyas and their crew serving customers their meals. At first, people in the crowd were happy to see Shara since she was a popular part-time worker there, but became apprehensive when they saw that Elyssa was with her. News traveled fast and early when Elyssa was sent to Shadow River by King Slanc, and even though she was not a full-fledged demon hunter, they were still nervous since they weren't sure what she'd say or do when the time came for Elyssa to return to Winnow, especially since she knew that many Winnowite demons moved to Shadow River to avoid King Slanc's building war against them.

Mrs. Vantoya saw their arrival and moved to intercede before anything came up. "Hello Shara. Hello Elyssa. Your friends are waiting upstairs in the third room on the second floor." she told the two girls.

"Thanks Mrs. Vantoya!" Shara returned the greeting as she quickly led Elyssa upstairs and away from the wary eyes bearing down on the noble girl. Inside the room, they found Lema and Jerry. With them were two others. The first was a creesh, a feline humanoid from Helt with green eyes and a golden mane of hair, and he appeared to be a musician of some sort. The other person however…

"YOU!!!!" both girls cried in unison as they spotted an all-too-familiar satyr in the room and started to charge their offensive spells in response to the sight of him. Elyssa's was the Angelic Halo Capture, a ring of holy light that would entangle its target, while Shara prepared to let loose a round of the Infernal Hot Seat, one of her flame-based attacks.

The creesh turned to the satyr and quipped, "Seems they've already met you, Mik."

Mik Ronda, for his part, was beginning to make his way for the window. "H-h-hey, ladies! Long time no see! You don't still have any bad feelings about my visit that night, do you?" he said nervously.

Lema, for her part, stepped between Mik and the girls about to annhilate him using her centaur form as a shield. "Now, I don't know the details of what Mik might've done to you girls in the past, but incinerating a teammate would be a rather poor start to your assignment."

"That creep snuck into our dorm rooms late one night and peeped on us!" Shara spat out.

"Not to mention stealing our unmentionables!" Elyssa growled. "Who knows what he was doing with that flashing light spell of his! We'll finish what we started that night and rid the world of this massive creep!"

"You will do no such thing." Lema said firmly, standing her ground. "Now stand down or this assignment is over and you both will fail it."

After a few tense moments, both girls relented and depowered their spells. "Why him?" Shara demanded.

"Even though he's a satyr who does what a satyr does, Mik is a good thief and proves himself handy at sneaking into places for us." Lema explained. "As tempting as it is to let others put him out of their misery at times, he does play a valuable part for us." She then turned to Mik. "Of course, this is so long as he's on his best behavior. If he doesn't behave himself on this job, then I just might rethink his value to the team."

The creesh decided to step into the conversation and try to defuse the situation at that point. "By the way, I'm Ritz Lanar, team bard at your service. Nice to meet you two despite the circumstances."

"Er, nice to meet you too, Ritz." Elyssa replied, still keeping wary eyes on Mik along with Shara.

"Now that everyone's calmed down, we just have to wait for our client." Lema said, still staying where she was standing between Mik and the girls despite the situation being at least somewhat defused. "He'll have the specifics of the job we'll be taking on."

As Shara and Elyssa took a couple of empty seats, Elyssa asked, "So what kind of job will this be anyway?"

Lema gave a shrug. "I can't say too much about it, but it does involve working with the city watch, so you don't have to worry about it being on the wrong side of the law or anything like that. Your headmistress wouldn't agree to this if it were in the first place."

"That's good, at least. I wouldn't want to start off life with a criminal record or anything like that." Elyssa remarked.

"Yeah, it'd be too much scandal for the nobility back home, though I don't think it'd matter too much here in Shadow River." Shara added with a slight smirk.

Elyssa wore a wry smile. "True, it's almost prerequisite here." she admitted. Changing the subject back to the job, she then asked, "So how much longer until this client is supposed to be here?"

"Not too long, actually." Lema informed them. "I already informed him ahead of time of the room we're in right now, so he knows where to meet us. It's not often that we get hired to work with the city guard, but this is a special case. I'll leave it for him to explain when he gets here."

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, prompting Ritz to remark, "That must be him now."

Lema moved to open the door, trusting the girls not to take their revenge on Mik for the moment. As the centaur opened the door, in stepped a member of the city guard. He had a large frame to him, as one might expect of a city guardsman, and had a rather serious air to him. His features, while handsome to a degree, revealed a more haggard look to him though.

As she closed the door once more, Lema announced, "Everyone, this is Sergeant Alawen Banks of the city watch. We will be working with him over the next couple of days or so."

The eyes of both Elyssa and Shara went wide at this. "Sergeant Alawen Banks? As in THE Sergeant Alawen Banks, the one who's after The Owl?" Elyssa asked.

The sergeant gave a nod. "Indeed, and all of you will be joining me in that task."

While Mik arched his brow a bit at the revelation, Shara let out a gasp. "What? Why us? We're not on the city watch."

"No." Sergeant Banks agreed. "You're not. Especially not him." he said as he glanced in Mik's direction. "However, I can deputize you all to help me apprehend the Owl once and for all. Now, there's a party taking place in the Beacon District, with many of the city's nobility in attendance. I've already pulled some strings to arrange for a few of you to be there. It's amazing what the noblemen will do when it comes to helping capture The Owl."

The sergeant then turned to Elyssa. "Now, I am told that you are Elyssa Haldel, a member of Winnow nobility yourself. You'd be perfect for what I have in mind. You see, I'm willing to bet that the chance to have a daliance with a young member of Winnow nobility, rising in fame and stature and yet not having had the chance to move amongst Shadow River's social circles, will prove irresistible to that scandalous thief. We'll even arrange to sweeten the pot by allowing you to wear a particularly fancy piece of jewelry for the occasion. A tempting target worn by a tempting target, as it were."

He then turned his attention to Shara next. "You, I suppose we can slide you into the party as well. You might make for a good maid for Elyssa here." Next was Ritz's turn. "Lema tells me that you're a bard, are you not? I think I can arrange for you to be part of the entertainment there, ready to act when The Owl is certain to strike." He then narrowed his eyes at Mik. "You? Just stay out of my sight, lest I get tempted to throw you in the second deepest dungeon in the city. Of course, the deepest dungeon in the city is reserved for The Owl"

He then turned to Lema and Jerry. "I think I can trust you two to keep watch over the windows. Let him in, by all means. Just don't let him out. As for my part, I'll be inside as well, being one of the party guests and waiting to act when the time comes."

"Princess Lederel wouldn't happen to be there as well, would she?" Shara asked, her voice having a teasing quality to it.

"Indeed, I am told that she is on the guest list. While I will be there in the course of my duties, I must admit that having the princess there will brighten up my evening, though successfully capturing The Owl will make it even more enjoyable."

"So that's basically the plan." Lema said as the sergeant edged into daydreamland. "Shara, you and Elyssa go and pack for an overnight stay as well as a nice fancy dress for Elyssa and some clothes suitable for a servant for yourself, then meet us back here. You two will be sharing a room with me for the next night or two and Jerry and the boys will bunk up in the next room over. We hit the party tomorrow night and hopefully succeed in meeting our goals. We'll leave Sergeant Banks to his own devices in the meantime."

*****
[Present Night]

"Yes, you're right." admitted Shara. "I mean, I enjoyed the tales of the Sergeant and The Owl during my stay here, but we have to play our roles and do what we must."

"Speaking of which, we need to get back into our roles before someone catches on." Elyssa pointed out.

"Yes, mistress." Shara replied, already doing so.

A rustling of one of the drapes caught the girls' attention and both tensed, wondering if The Owl had already gotten into the room. The drapes shifted once again at one of the edges and Mik's face peeked out from under it, the satyr giving the girls a disarming wave. Both girls glared at Mik and he immediately hid himself once again. Elyssa and Shara shared a glance, silently understanding that they needed to refrain from giving Mik the pounding he deserved for the time being before they finished the job.

The girls then turned towards the mirror, going through the process of freshening up Elyssa's appearance since that was the reason given for the two to be in the room in the first place, with Elyssa making a show of going over the idle pleasantries she exchanged over the course of the party, along with both girls giggling over having seen one of Sergeant Banks attempts to impress Princess Naniri Lederel of Skull Basin. It wasn't the disaster that the girls had been expecting, and in fact it left a bit of an impression on the girls and apparently the Princess herself. However, the impossibility of it all was amusing to the girls as well as other partygoers, and the Princess for her part gently set an unspoken boundary between the two.

The drapes rustled once again and the girls turned, expecting to have to shush the satyr once again when they found someone else framed in them. A handsome man in dark brown stylish clothing designed to allow free movement, a mask covering the upper portions of his face as well as his hair, and a wide-brimmed fancy hat with a large plume adorning it. In his hand was an epee with an elaborate handguard. His clean-shaven features betraying an easy-going manner to him.

Without a doubt, this was The Owl.

Both girls froze at the sight of him, as it never really sank in that they'd actually have to face him. However, Shara recovered first, quietly moving to the side as The Owl moved towards Elyssa casually.

"You must be Elyssa Haldel." The Owl spoke. "I've heard much about you, but I was wondering if I'd ever get the chance to meet you since you've been busy with your studies here in Shadow River. Nevertheless, it's a pleasure to meet you at long last." With that, The Owl gave a low bow with a flourishing sweep of his hat. As he rose back up and put his hat back on, he gently reached over for Elyssa's hand and drew it for the traditional kiss on the back of it.

What caught The Owl by surprise, however, was Elyssa's hand taking his in a tight grasp. "Not as much pleasure it is for us." she replied, her eyes gazing into his own for a moment before she recited the chant that triggered one of the first spells that she and Shara had learned at school, along with any other student there. The spell to change outfits.

In a flash, Elyssa was in her magical girl uniform, her fancy outfit and exquisite necklace safely stashed away by magical means. "If you know so much about me, then you'd already know that I am also Angelic Warrior Astra."

Likewise, Shara had triggered her own change within a cloud of smoke. "And I am Magical Princess Inferna. It's our task tonight to bring you to justice, Owl!"

The Owl, for his part, blinked. However, it was more from the smoke than from surprise, though there was plenty of the latter since he didn't count on facing a magical girl, let alone two. Of course, there was plenty of coughing as well thanks to the smoke, and not just from The Owl.

Mik emerged from behind the curtain, his own coughing giving him away already. "Mik Ronda at your service! I'm not so much interested in justice as I am interested in eliminating the competition! The sooner you're put away, Owl, the sooner I can establish myself as your superior as a thief of treasure and of hearts!"

That brought about a pause from both The Owl and the magical girls. "Is he serious?" The Owl asked dumbfoundedly.

"We hope not." Elyssa and Shara said simultaneously, favoring Mik with a distasteful look. Elyssa then took the moment to cry out "Angelic Holy Light!", releasing a spell that, while doing no damage, served to blind The Owl with a flash of bright light in his face. Shara, for her part, drew out her wand and landed a solid hit on The Owl's head with it.

"Augh!" cried The Owl as he scrambled back blindly, one hand holding the crushed hat on his head and wrenching his other hand out of Elyssa's. "That's not fighting fair!"

"As students of Madame Ona's, we're not trained to fight fairly to begin with." Shara said sweetly. "We get to practice on trolls and thugs every now and then, after all!"

It was at this point that the door into the room burst open, with Ritz and Sergeant Banks rushing in. "Aha! There you are, you scandalous thief!" the sergeant yelled as he spotted The Owl.

His vision recovering, The Owl alternated between pointing at himself and Mik. "You mean him or myself, my good Sergeant?" he asked in a bemused tone.

"You, of course!" spat the sergeant. "Then again, getting both of you will be quite the achievement for my career!"

"Time to wrap this up." Elyssa said as she began to power up another spell. "Angelic Halo Capture!"

At that, a large ring of bright golden light appeared before Elyssa and began to accelerate towards The Owl. Fortunate for him that he managed to duck out of its path, but not so fortunate for Ritz, who was flanking The Owl from the other side. The ring partly passed through the creesh until it encircled him, then contracted around him binding his arms to his sides. "That's just great! Thanks, Elyssa!" Ritz growled.

"Sorry Ritz!" Elyssa yelped as she saw what she had done.

"Sic 'em, Sooty!" Shara cried out as she summoned her mascot, which was a hellhound puppy that bounded out of a small explosion of smoke. Sooty yapped enthusiastically as he ran towards The Owl. The Owl, for his part, paid Sooty no mind until the puppy's jaws locked onto his ankle, causing him to cry out in great pain. For you see, even in the puppy stage, a hellhound's bite brings searing hot pain to the victim.

Mik decided that it was a good time to make his move and lept at The Owl from behind, grabbing him around his chest. That brought an immediate reaction from the thief of treasures and hearts. "Enough of this!" he yelled uncharacteristically as he forced Mik off of him and threw him into the nearest wall.

The Owl then bounded out the window, only to be greeted by Lema, wearing scale armor and holding her shield aloft to block his egress. Jerry was hooting excitedly by her side, wanting to see how everything played out. "Oh no you don't!" Lema said loudly to the thief.

"Oh yes I do!" The Owl countered, quickly maneuvering his body so that he hit the shield feet first, mindful to favor the one that had been bitten by the hellpup earlier. Using the recoil as he hit the shield, The Owl managed to launch himself at a higher angle back towards the house and grasped the ledge above the window. Before Sergeant Banks could reach through the open window to grab at The Owl, the thief managed to flip himself into the second story window above, then clambered up to the roof for a high-level, if hobbling, escape, leaving the guardsman to curse and yell at yet another getaway for The Owl.

*****

Lema sighed heavily as she watched The Owl hop over the roof and out of sight. She had taken the initiative when snaring the job for her group, after seeing the ad notices posted by Sergeant Banks in various parts of town. However, now it seemed that she would have to deal with an upset sergeant after being handed a loss. She couldn't blame anyone on the team. She had simply underestimated The Owl, and she was prepared to own up to that.

Before she could do so, there was a commotion coming from within the house and she saw both magical girls, the bard, the thief, and the sergeant all scrambling to escape out the window. Likewise, the nobility and servants alike inside the estate began streaming rather rapidly out the various doorways. As Lema blinked at the spectacle, she saw Shara set her hellhound puppy down with a scowl. "Bad Sooty! You know you're not supposed to do that unless we're out for our walks on South Monument Street!" With that, she gestured with her hands and Sooty disappeared in a puff of dark smoke.

Lema located Elyssa and asked, "What happened here?"

Elyssa let out a groan. "Shara left her hellhound out too long."

The centaur wore a confused look. "Why is that bad…what is that awful smell??"

The blonde girl paused for a moment. "You know what regular dogs do on walks, right? Hellhounds do so too, but worse. In the case of Shara's pet, if she summons him and doesn't send him back quickly enough…well, I don't think I need to say much more."

"No." Lema agreed as she watched Jerry slide on over to the others and inspect them, giving Mik a healing spell for his injuries from when The Owl slammed him into a wall earlier. She also saw Sergeant Banks rush over to the crowds of nobility, scrambling around trying to keep them calm as well as looking for someone.

"What's with him?" Lema asked Elyssa.

"My guess is that he's trying to make sure Princess Lederel is safe. I will give him this, he's dedicated to her."

As Shara approached to join the two, they heard Sergeant Banks give a loud cry. They saw that he had indeed found the princess, but she seemed to have suffered a leg injury, presumably from the rush outside with the crowds. "Well, I don't think I'd want to be in The Owl's shoes right now. Sergeant Banks will certainly pin this on him."

"I don't think our shoes will be much better, to be honest." Lema admitted. "Tell you what, you two go back to the school and I'll visit in the morning with your evaluations. Better that than you two being around when Sergeant Banks calms down enough to chew the rest of us out. Don't worry about us, we'll be okay. We've dealt with worse before."

The two girls looked at Lema dubiously. "All right, if you're sure of it." Elyssa said. But before the two girls could turn to leave, they found Sergeant Banks approaching the group furiously.

"All right, explain your failure before I haul the whole lot of you in for reckless public endangerment!" the guardsman demanded. "Because of the chaos, dear Princess Lederel hurt her ankle. She's being taken home at this moment to tend to her injuries, but she wouldn't have been hurt in the first place if you had done your jobs and apprehended that thief before thingsgot out of hand!"

"The blame lies with me, Sergeant." Lema told him directly. "I'm the one who put the group together, and I underestimated how resourceful The Owl is."

"What about that dog of hers?" he pressed, jabbing a finger in Shara's direction.

"I don't think anyone has any real control over when a dog does its thing, even if it is a summoned hellhound." the centaur countered calmly.

"Well…there's…there's still the matter of the necklace that was lent to us, and now The Owl has gotten away with that!" Sergeant Banks sputtered.

"Oh, that." Elyssa said sheepishly before disengaging the spell that had changed her clothing to her magical girl outfit, reverting back to her party dress, complete with the necklace, while Shara did the same. "It was safe the whole time." she added as she removed the necklace and handed it over to Sergeant Banks.

The sergeant, for his part, looked a little stunned. "Well…I guess it wasn't a total loss then. Very clever, girl." he said. "Very well, both of you girls can go back to your school now."

"Yes, sir!" the girls chorused as they as quickly yet gracefully as they could, not wanting to stick around for him to change his mind.

Sergeant Banks turned again to Lema. "By the way, I don't see that satyr thief of yours anywhere. Just because I didn't get The Owl doesn't mean that I have to go back to headquarters empty-handed, and that little cretin will certainly help make up for that with how much notoriety he's getting there."

"He's already left." Ritz told the guardsman. "He slipped away in the confusion after he got healed." he added in all honesty.

"Damnation." Sergeant Banks growled. "Lema, I will be meeting with you first thing tomorrow. This isn't over, you know." With that, he finally stormed off.

Watching him leave, Lema asked, "So he's lying low for once?" At that, Jerry hooted an affirmative.

"Just as well." nodded the creesh bard. "He must've really gotten knocked on the head pretty hard. He kept muttering something about The Owl being a girl. Must've still been in dreamland after that hit."

*****

For his part, Mik Ronda scurried in the shadows of Shadow River, definitely keeping low for three reasons. The first being Sergeant Banks. The second being the magical girls he had been teamed with, since he was sure that they'd drag him back to Madame Ona's given half a chance. They, along with their fellow students, already pounded him within an inch of his life, and it was a miracle that they didn't catch onto the camera he had been using to get naughty shots of them in their nightwear. He didn't need a repeat of that.

The third reason was The Owl. Despite Ritz dismissing his words as perverted delusions, Mik was dead certain about what he felt when he grabbed The Owl around the chest, and he was just as certain that The Owl knew that he knew. He figured that was why The Owl reacted much more violently than he had anticipated when his hands landed on that region. Despite the bindings he felt there, and the pain he received very soon after, he felt that it was worth it. However, since he was sure that The Owl knew that he knew, he figured that it was a good time to lay very low.

Distracted by the thoughts of who might've been hunting him, he didn't notice the two shadows behind him in an alleyway until it was too late…

*****

Princess Naniri Lederel was very grateful for the forethought of bringing healing potions with her to the party that night. They certainly helped with her ankle, but not in the way most people would've thought. She had quickly applied a potion before blending in to the panicking crowds, and it helped disguise the fact that it was really a nasty dog bite that hurt her ankle, and not a sprain that she told Alawen Banks and the others after the estate was evacuated. A real spot of luck for her that the cute black puppy that hurt her also caused the panic that helped her blend back in after a quick change.

However, the luck did not last for her. After leaving the disrupted party, she began to tail the satyr who had inadvertently discovered The Owl's true gender. While it was not in her nature to eliminate the satyr like some might, she was already coming up with ideas on how to rid Shadow River of him, such as dropping him off with a press gang in the hopes of giving him an involuntary long voyage out of town.

Of course, that would leave her with having to deal with dear Alawen, who had apparently gotten much more ambitions in trying to capture The Owl than she anticipated. To be sure, the man was always full of surprises, but employing a pair of magical girls from Madame Ona's school? One of whom was publicly known as a member of Winnow nobility? That had to take some doing, she had to admit. She admired him for his tenacity and adaptability, but she had to wonder if he would someday take things too far with his convoluted plots. Then again, that was part of the thrill for her, to see how far he would go in unwittingly pursuing her.

Just as she began to close in on the satyr, however, two others grabbed him. She stayed in the shadows as the satyr disappeared in a commotion of yelling and hooting, becoming quiet soon after. After seeing no movement in the alley, Princess Lederel approached but found no one in it. Not quite sure about the fate of the satyr, she was still at least partly relieved that she would not have to face the decision of what to do with him after all. With that, she quietly and surreptitiously made her way back home.

*****
[The Next Morning]

It had been a late night for Elyssa and Shara, but luckily for the two girls, their off-campus assignment was known to the rest of the school's staff and they were let back onto school grounds at the late hour that they had come back. They wound up with less sleep than usual as a result, but they were able to make it to their early morning classes as well as breakfast. It wasn't until late morning before the expected summons to Madame Ona's office came.

Once again, they found Lema and Jerry in the office with Madame Ona. They looked a little haggard, but otherwise no worse for the wear. "Did things go all right for you two?" Shara asked with no small amount of concern.

"Nothing terrible, Shara." replied Lema, with Jerry burbling in agreement. "Sergeant Banks was certainly unhappy when he met with us this morning, but he really couldn't do anything to us other than bluster and rage, especially since his superiors were quite unhappy with him and he was responsible for cleanup and repairs to the estate. Most he could do was withhold the agreed-to pay for the job, which we went along with since it was fair. Mik's still laying low so the sergeant couldn't do anything to him." She then turned to Madame Ona. "We'll still make the donation to the school we agreed to though. Even if we're not getting any income from the job, we still have enough to cover the amount to repay the favor you paid us."

Madame Ona nodded at that, then turned to the girls. "Lema has already told me about what had happened last night. Overall, good teamwork, though you still need to work on using your halo attack Elyssa. Shara, you need to put that puppy of yours away sooner for your part, though you did good in refraining from using fire magic. I know the job was hard one since I know how much you two idolized The Owl, but the fact that you were still able to carry it out to the best of your abilities earn you high marks for the assignment, as does your restraint when it came to the satyr thief. Yes, I knew he would be on the team, and that was part of the test, working with him despite how much you rightfully hate him. The two of you pass this assignment, but keep in mind what you still need to work on. Now back to classes with you two."

"Yes, ma'am!" Elyssa and Shara chorused before leaving the office, bidding farewell to Lema and Jerry before closing the doors behind them.

Madame Ona then turned to Lema. "I should really thank you for taking the two of them on for that job. Those two have a long road ahead of them and I know they'll be heading back to Winnow before too long to face their destines. Perhaps you two might find a way to keep an eye on them when the time comes, or at least Shara? I realize that Elyssa will be caught up in whatever is going on with Winnow nobility and royalty, but Shara might need some looking after since she won't have the same resources as Elyssa would."

Lema smiled at the headmistress. "Consider it done. I think, with a little polish, the two of them would make fine additions to the team after they graduate anyway."

"Thanks." Madame Ona replied. "By the way, have you ever considered becoming part of my staff here? I think you'd make a great instructor for the girls."

The centaur chuckled as she got back up on all four legs. "I'll keep it in mind, but for the time being, there's still too much of the adventurer in me to settle down to a regular job."

The headmistress nodded as the other two began to leave. "Thanks for at least considering the option, which will always be open to you."

*****

Late that night, the student body gathered quietly in one of the storehouses on the edge of school grounds. Almost all of them were mystified at the messages sent out by Elyssa and Shara during the afternoon, since no reason was given, just the request that they show up there.

"Looks like everyone's here." Elyssa observed as she closed the storehouse door behind her once everyone had entered.

"Excuse me, but why are we sneaking in here late at night, Elyssa?" asked one of the first-years, a Kovali girl dressed in a black nightrobe that would've been more at home on a creepy doll.

"Glad you asked that, Valena." Elyssa replied. "You first-years weren't here for it, but late one night last year, a sleazy satyr managed to sneak in, peep at us, and steal our unmentionables. We got some licks in, but by no means did we get our full satisfaction out of the creep."

"At least not until tonight." Shara added, looking over to a couple of girls in particular. "Ramira? Lula?"

A redheaded creesh girl nodded at Shara. "Lula has the creep under wraps over there." she replied to Shara, indicating where a large black slime was weighing something down in a dark corner of the storehouse. "Thanks for tipping us off that he was still in town and giving us some clues where he was holing up at. We're happy to take care of nabbing him so you two wouldn't get in trouble during your assignment."

"Thanks, Ramira." Shara said. "Now if we can bring him over here, it's time for his full reward…"

Lula the black slime hooted gleefully as she split in to several mini-slimes to surround Mik and drag him over to where the student body of Madame Ona's School for Girls were waiting meanacingly.

*****

Madame Ona allowed herself a smile as the sounds of her students delivering a just punishment to the satyr that plagued her school the previous year rose up to her ears. She knew that Elyssa and Shara had arranged for some of the other students to take care of getting Mik Ronda so they wouldn't have to put their assignment grade at risk by directly attacking him. As such, she instructed the rest of the staff not to interfere with the justice being dealt out that night and to pretend that they didn't know.

"Extra credit for cleverness." she said with satisfaction before heading to bed.



Copyright 2013 by Peter L. Ward. Appears here by permission.

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