Interlude 17 – Eight Moves Ahead
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=::= Kaylee's PoV =::=

The column of pure white light faded to reveal Tanya Underwood standing there in the science lab with us. There was no halo or wings though, she was her normal human-looking self, right down to the slacks, the blouse, and the sensible flat-soled shoes. I realized she came straight from work when I noticed the name-tag clipped to her top.

Meanwhile Cass just rolled her eyes and joked sarcastically, "Oh no, you've told my mum on me. Now I'm going to be grounded."

Her sarcasm and careless casual attitude to all this left me even more worried. She didn't sound like Cass anymore, and she definitely wasn't acting like the Cassandra I knew either. Except I was positive she wasn't Socha either, which left me confused as well as worried.

"You don't sound like the Cass I know," I said nervously. "What's happened to you? Who are you?"

The cute brunette smiled and shrugged, "Maybe I'm the Cass you don't know? Then again maybe you just haven't been paying attention to who I really am, Kaylee."

Meanwhile Mrs. Underwood looked and sounded very worried as she asked me and Paige, "What happened?"

We quickly filled her in on the situation, between Cass admitting to making a demonic deal with Kirstie then hinting to us that she was being influenced by Socha. Tanya's face went pale when we got to that part, but before she could respond the door to the science lab swung open behind us.

I spun around expecting to see the teacher or some other member of the faculty, but instead it was just Nina. She closed the door behind her then hurried to the angel's side.

"So what now?" Cass asked as she swivelled back and forth on the stool. "You know you can't do anything to me. Use your magic on me and I die, Socha gets unleashed, the world descends into chaos, blah blah blah."

"Socha's not strong enough to do anything global," Tanya stated. "Not even close. She has to know that too. This grand scheme of hers was doomed to fail from the start. Even if she gets around her banishment and returns to Earth, she'll just get herself banished again. And this time they won't leave any loopholes. They'll probably raze any and all followers she's managed to hang on to."

Cassandra rolled her eyes, "You obviously don't know anything about Socha if you think she hasn't already planned eight moves ahead. She got herself banished on purpose, the whole thing's part of her 'grand scheme' as you put it. And once she's back, it'll be impossible to banish her again. Kind of like getting a vaccination? A little banishment up front, so she could build up an immunity to it later."

Tanya shook her head, "You're delusional. Or Socha is anyways. All Gods can be banished, or exiled from the mortal realm. They're bound to the heavens, not the Earth."

I suddenly felt another lurch in my gut as I realized what Socha's plan was. Nina kept telling us that demons were creatures of the Earth, that they couldn't be sent to any other realms. And Cass's body was meant to be a demonic host for a divine soul, a god-demon hybrid that wasn't supposed to exist. Once Socha took over Cass's body, she'd be bound to the Earth instead of the heavens, then banishment or exile would be useless against her.

"Mrs. Underwood," I half-whispered to the angel, "I know what she's planning! And it'll work too! We have to stop her!"

"Good luck with that," Cass laughed. "Mum can't do anything to me. Whatever she tries, her holy magic will just kill me and complete Socha's plan. Unless she's going to try and kill me the normal way, but demons are pretty hard to kill. It'll probably get really messy too, especially considering we're surrounded by a whole lot of innocent high school students."

Cassandra shook her head as she added, "It's over, you've already lost. The only question now is how long it takes to happen."

Tanya looked stressed and tense but she didn't seem sad or upset or distraught. If anything she seemed resolute. There was some sadness in her voice though as she responded, "Cass I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive us for this."

My heart was racing and I was desperate to know what Mrs. Underwood had planned, but I couldn't bring myself to interrupt the conversation between her and Cass.

Meanwhile Cassandra still didn't seem to be taking any of this seriously. She just rolled her eyes and asked, "Forgive you for what? What do you think you're going to do?"

The angel sighed, "Nina?"

The small shy demon had been waiting quietly by Tanya's side since she joined us. Now she moved, so fast she was like a blur. She crossed the space between her adoptive mother and her sister almost faster than I could see, then threw her arms around my former girlfriend. And just like that both of them were gone.

It happened so fast it took me another second or two to process what I'd just witnessed, then I felt one more lurch as I made the connection.

I gasped, "All those times Cass talked about how she had to avoid all kinds of magic except demonic, she was telling us what Socha was still vulnerable to, or what we could safely use against her!"

"I know," Tanya sighed. "Julie and I both knew that we'd have to rely on Nina's help, if things ever got out of hand like this."

Paige and I both turned to stare at the angel. The tall brunette asked softly, "Is that why you kept Nina around? Why you adopted her? So you could keep her nearby, incase you needed her to stop Socha?"

Tanya frowned, "Of course not! We adopted Nina because we love her and wanted her to be part of our family. That had nothing to do with whether or not she was willing to help us save Cassandra. But she loves her sister as much as we love our daughter, so naturally she wanted to help."

"Kaylee you said you knew what Socha was planning," she added as she looked to me. "What is it?"

My head and my heart were both spinning by that point, as the different revelations continued to hit me. The whole time I'd been suspicious of the small demon, I thought she was plotting something or up to something. Instead she'd been working with the angels, trying to keep Cass safe or ready to step in and help if Socha ever tried something. I couldn't help thinking about how awful I'd been to her, how I acted towards her, and how wrong I was all along.

My voice broke a few times as I forced myself to tell Mrs. Underwood what I figured out, how Socha would become bound to Earth and couldn't be banished once she took over Cass's body. And from the look on Tanya's face I knew I was right.

When I was finished she nodded, "That makes sense. She'd be bound to Earth, she's immortal, and she'd have access to all her divine power. She'd have all the time in the world to see her plan to fruition, and the way her body was designed to nullify external magic no-one else would be able to stop her. It'd be chaos at best, global holy wars at worst."

Before either Paige or I could respond she stated, "I have to go now. Julie and Nina will be waiting for me."

I exclaimed, "No wait! Where did she take Cass? And what's going to happen to her? Will she be ok?"

The angel sighed, "I hope so Kaylee. They're waiting for me in the ritual space Nina took you all to back in June, beneath Mount Lebanon. Now I'm sorry to leave you girls like this, but I really have to go."

"But what are you..." my voice trailed off as Mrs. Underwood vanished in another column of white light, leaving Paige and I standing alone in the science lab. I sighed and my shoulders slumped, then I felt tears start pooling in my eyes as my emotions surged and churned.

Paige moved closer to me and gave me a hug as she tried to reassure me, "She'll be ok Kaylee. Cass's family are going to look after her."

"I hope you're right," I mumbled quietly.

I hugged Paige back, and for the next half minute or so we both just stood there holding each other quietly. I was still in shock, still processing everything that just happened, and more thoughts and revelations popped up.

"All this time I've been suspicious of Nina, she's really been working with Cass's moms. They've probably been planning and preparing for something like this all along," I sighed.

"Yeah," she replied quietly. "Anyways we shouldn't stay here much longer Kaylee. It's almost time to get to class."

I shook my head, "I can't deal with classes right now. Not after everything that just happened."

Paige asked, "What do you want to do then?"

"Um..." I slipped off my glasses and wiped my eyes as I thought for a few moments, before I made up my mind.

A few minutes later Paige and I were in a study cubicle at the back of the library. It wasn't the best plan for skipping class, but I couldn't just go home and I didn't know where else to go. And the library was quiet, which was nice. We both had books to read, but before I started on mine I pulled my phone out again. I figured I should send out an update on the group chat, so the others would know what was going on.

I found messages from Brooke and Melody waiting, they'd both responded to my earlier alert that something was up with Cass. Both were worried and wanted to know what was going on. There wasn't anything from Melanie or Cerys though, and that left me wondering if they were in class and couldn't check their phones or if there was something else going on with them.

I quietly tapped out an update that Cass's moms and sister had taken her away to try and help her, and hopefully we'd have more news soon. I also told them some of the stuff I'd figured out, about how Cass kept giving us clues and hints and things despite Socha's influence. Then in a separate message I asked Cerys and Melanie if they were alright, since we hadn't heard from them.

"Thanks for posting that," Paige commented quietly as she looked at her phone.

I nodded but didn't respond. Instead I finally opened up my book and tried to distract myself with some reading. It was difficult at first to focus on the words, but eventually I was able to push away the worries and emotions and concentrate on the historical drama I was reading. And for the next little while I was lost in the Early Middle Ages, reading about Viking raids in Northumbria.

Eventually I was distracted from my book when my phone buzzed with a text. Paige's phone buzzed as well, so it was probably someone on the group chat. We both quietly checked our phones, and I felt a little shock of anxiety when I saw the message was from Nina.

"We're all back at home now," the small demon wrote. "Cass is asleep but our parents said the club can come visit after school if you want to find out how she's doing."

As soon as I saw that I stuffed my phone and book into my backpack and got to my feet and announced, "I'm heading over there now."

Paige pointed out, "She said after school."

I shrugged, "I'm not going to any more classes today, so technically this is already after school for me."

"Then I'm coming too," the tall brunette decided.

She got up as well, then we visited our lockers to get our jackets and stuff before heading out the school's back door together. We were both quiet as we cut across the field then down through the ravine. When we came up the other side I had a hard time not breaking into a run as I marched along the sidewalks towards Cass's place. It didn't take long before we were there and I was knocking at their door.

"We said after classes were over," a weary-looking Julie Underwood admonished me and Paige as she opened the door. "We've only been home fifteen minutes."

"Sorry Mrs. Underwood," I apologized. "I couldn't wait though."

Paige apologized as well, then Cass's mom relented and let us both in. She added, "Please keep quiet ok? Cassandra needs her sleep. Nina and Tanya are watching over her right now."

"What happened?" I asked quietly. "Tanya said Nina took her to that cavern under Mount Lebanon, what did you do there?"

Julie brought us both into the living-room and we all sat down in there to talk. Then she replied in a soft voice, "Tanya and Nina and I restored the second circle of binding and containment runes inside Cassandra. We also repaired the final circle, which had started to fail. It's a stop-gap measure, but we agreed it was the best solution for the short term."

Paige and I exchanged a nervous look, then our club leader asked "What will that do to Cass? How will that help?"

"Socha's meddling almost certainly began after the incident with May Hawthorne's magic back in June," she explained. "That's when the second circle was broken, when May's magic sent Cass to hospital. And that's when we began to notice some changes in our daughter. The most obvious differences were in how she acted and dressed after that incident."

She continued, "We're confident that by restoring those runes we've sealed Socha away. She should be locked out once more, and that will leave Cass free from any further meddling while we continue working on a long-term solution."

I frowned, "Cass said she didn't want to go that route. Restoring the runes I mean? She said there were problems or drawbacks..."

Mrs. Underwood grimaced, "I know Cass said she didn't like the idea, but we can't discount the possibility that was due to Socha's tampering? After all this is the best, least disruptive solution to keep Cassandra safe from her in the short term."

"Without Socha's influence, will Cass go back to how she was before the hospital?" I asked.

After a brief hesitation Julie sighed, "I don't know Kaylee. We hope so? We believe that will be the case. But we won't know for sure until she wakes up."

"The important thing is Socha won't be able to influence her any further," the angel added.

That left me feeling anxious again, but there was nothing any of us could do but wait.

Then Paige asked, "How did you all restore those runes exactly? Considering they're inside her body and you couldn't use magic to make it easier. And will there be any side effects?"

"It was possible thanks to Nina's magic," Julie replied softly. "There shouldn't be any long-term side effects. However, Cass is probably going to be off school for a few days as she recovers. Actually I think all four of us will be taking the rest of this week off? Re-applying the runes was an ordeal, for all of us."

I noticed that she didn't really answer Paige's question, but what she did tell us didn't sound good. And I vaguely remembered Cass saying something along those lines, like doing the runes would be uncomfortable or unpleasant.

I gulped, "She's going to be ok though right?"

"She should be fine Kaylee," the angel replied. "Once she's fully recovered. She needs her rest right now."

She added, "Cass is going to have to continue avoiding magic though. If those runes get broken again, Socha will regain access to Cassandra. And if that happens, odds are we won't get another chance to save her. I can't imagine either of them making the same mistakes twice."

There was only one other question I could think of for now, "When do you figure she'll wake up?"

Julie checked the time, then answered "She should be awake by around five. You girls are welcome to wait here, as long as you promise to stay downstairs and keep quiet. Tanya and Nina and I will need to spend some time with Cassandra once she's awake, then if we feel she's ready for more visitors we'll let you see her."

That was about two hours away, but I couldn't imagine going home. Back in June I spent all afternoon in the hospital waiting room after Cass was hurt by May's magic, and the Underwood's living-room was a lot more comfortable.

"I'll stay," I responded quietly. "Thank you Mrs. Underwood."

Paige agreed, "Me too. Thanks ma'am."

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