"Hiya," the young man said. "Nice to meet you."
Sandy nodded and looked at each of them. "Snow controls weather."
She shook her head. "I am one with the weather. I just like snow."
"She's something like an elemental," Labyrinth explained.
"Okay." Sandy moved on. "You're caught up with the labyrinth we were in."
"An adequate way of putting it. The explanation would take a long time."
Sandy looked at Max. "And you?"
"Enchanter. We live a long time and that's why I look so young." He grinned. "How do you like the castle? It's one of my best."
Cheeky was the word that came to mind. "The castle or the enchantment on it?"
He pursed his lips. "Since I'm an enchanter and not a stonemason, the enchantment."
"It's one of the better constructed ones I've seen," she admitted. "But I won't know what it can really do until I get the user's manual. So far, all it's done is keep people out, switch rooms around which causes me to fall on my ass, and try to destroy half the world."
He stared. "You really need the manual if you think that's all it can do." He frowned. "And it was the doomsday weapon of Michael's that would have destroyed half the world, not the castle."
She acknowledged the fact with a nod and turned to all three of them. "So how did you get in here without me letting you in?"
"Lifetime pass," Max told her. "All Darren's allies had one. He said we were friends and friends were always welcome."
She raised an eyebrow. "So it's my castle now, but you can walk in any time you want?"
Max grinned. "Yeah. And you can't revoke the privilege." She scowled. "But if it makes you feel better, you can ask the castle to keep us in the public area of the castle."
Labyrinth sighed. "Sandy, we wouldn't visit without telling you we were coming first."
"Unless one of us was really hurt or being chased and we needed a safe place," Max added. "Which sometimes happens and you know it, Labyrinth."
Snow cleared her throat. "Excuse me, but the MPD will be getting nervous."
"You're right." Labyrinth smiled at Sandy. "Do you mind if we start?" She waved a hand and they began.
There were folders for all of them, outlining the reasons. This had obviously been planned out. Sandy followed along, as did James, Erik, and Lee. Kimi read from James's shoulder.
For hours they talked and she listened. They told her about the world's problems and how they could fix it. The MPD wasn't a problem and neither were the world's nations. People had gotten around them before.
"So there it is," Labyrinth said. He flipped the folder back to the front. "That's why Darren helped us." There were some closing comments and then they were done.
At the end, she nodded. "It's a valid argument. But there were many people who made this world what it is. One person isn't going to solve them."
"But one person could help change it." Labyrinth gave her a calm look.
Sandy's lips parted and she said, "No."
"Reasons?" Labyrinth asked, his expression and tone of voice still open despite her refusal.
"Three that I can think of. One, Nick would come and kick my ass."
Lee clapped a hand over his mouth and closed his eyes. Oh, that was a pretty picture. Nick would walk right up to the front door and pound on it until she answered. He did not want to hear that argument.
Sandy smiled at Lee and turned back to Labyrinth. "Two, I would lose everything I value. My teacher and my friends wouldn't understand. I'd lose my job and my reputation." She bit her lip as she thought of the last part. "I'd feel like my life had been a lie, that everything I'd done was for nothing. I'd lose my friends respect and the respect I have for myself. And all for a dream you can't promise me will work. My job has proven that it doesn't."
She glanced at the table and met Labyrinth's eyes again. "Third I don't want to."
Labyrinth smiled. "And all I needed to hear was the last. But I'd like you to know something."
"Darren didn't like the idea, either, the first time we suggested it." He looked at the other two. "Well, she's heard us and refused. The MPD will be watching for us, so we'll have to sneak by them." Snow and Max nodded and they all stood up. "It was nice to see you, Sandy. I'll be stopping by again, but I'll let you know a few days in advance."
Snow nodded. "Me, as well."
Max snickered. "There's a manual in Darren's study, but I'll be back to show you how the castle works. Take it easy, Sandy."
They left the room with goodbyes passing between them and Sandy. Erik tilted his head and waited. "That's it?"
Sandy shrugged. "I guess so."
"Were you tempted?" Lee asked.
She slowly shook her head. "No. Nick screwed my head back on when I called him after I read Dad's book. One person cannot change everything about how the world works. It's too big a job." She sighed theatrically and put a hand under her cheek. "And while I could do it, the thought of all that work makes me tired."
"Oh, yes," Erik said, agreeing with her. "Interviewing all the minions, trying to make sure that none of them are going to stab you in the back, dealing with the world leaders, are your allies really as friendly as they seem It's a never-ending hassle."
While they were debating how to get rid of the minions, Labyrinth, Snow, and Max did that for them. They told the truth and the minions disappeared like they'd never been there. No trash, no tents. The only thing disturbed was the grass.
Sandy called the MPD and told them that the allies were gone. They could already see that the minions had left. They tried to order her back to work and accept a search of the castle. She told them, "I am an MPD employee. I say that they're gone and if that isn't good enough, fire me. Stay out of my castle unless you can show me some kind of paperwork that allows you legal entrance. Goodbye, Mr. Richmond."
They were stuck without an MPD vehicle. James looked around and found a garage with cars in it. He and Erik took one into town and got groceries and other necessities. They understood that they were taking a few days off, officially or unofficially.
She found the manual in the library and they spent a day just relaxing. Not many words passed between them. They ate, read, and looked around.
With a full day between hearing Labyrinth out and now, Sandy's mind was clearer. She was in her dad's study sitting on the couch when she grimaced and put a hand over her face. "I turned down ruling the world," she complained loudly. "What kind of idiot does that?"
"The kind that realizes it wouldn't work anyway." Sandy looked over the back of the couch and smiled at Lee. "Ready for company?" he asked.
"Pull up a chair."
He sat and leaned his cane against the arm of the chair. "Thoughts?"
He paused, considered, and finally grinned. "How about your life?"
"My life is fine. I'm the owner of a castle, I have friends visiting, lots of reading to do " She sighed at the look he gave her. "Okay. It's an evil overlord's castle that used to belong to my dad and it's making everyone think I've changed my mind about working for the good guys. My friends aren't really visiting. They're sitting around and waiting to see what I'm going to do." She looked at the table beside her. "And I'm reading about the castle and how to operate it."
Lee made a show of bouncing in his seat and patting the chair arms. "I'm sitting and waiting. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
He frowned and sighed. "What would make you happy?"
"To win the lottery and buy out a bookstore," she answered promptly.
"Good. I'll go get James to buy the lottery tickets."
They looked at each other and started laughing. Lee got halfway calmed down and Sandy set him off again with, "What numbers should I play? Our unit number, my birthday, and how many minions were outside?"
After a few minutes of laughter and two aching faces, they calmed down. "I needed that," she said.
"I thought so. What are you going to do?" She shrugged and he asked another question. "What are you thinking about?"
"I don't want to be an evil overlord."
"I think that's noticeable," he said dryly.
She opened her mouth and closed it. She sighed and said, "I'm not sure I want to work for the MPD anymore." She gave him an unsure look. "I liked working there, but now that they've done this I don't know. On one hand, I'd like to continue riding around with the four of you. We get along, we've been friends for a long while."
"What's on the other hand?" Lee asked quietly.
"I don't have a clue." She shook her head. "I've been with the MPD since I started working. I don't know what else to do."
"What does Nick do?" Lee prompted.
"He " She frowned. "Freelance. But he's one of the most sought after people for teaching, artifact assessment, and problem objects."
"And as his student, you don't have any options?" Lee teased. "None at all?"
"Of course. I just don't want to trade on his reputation."
He snorted. "Like you don't have one of your own right now."
"Yeah, as an evil overlord's daughter," she said smartly. "But even if I do quit the MPD and go freelance, everyone's going to think they fired me and I've got plans to take over the world. Plus I won't be working with you anymore."
Lee gave her a long look and she shifted uncomfortably. "What makes you think we're any happier than you are about what the MPD did to you? You worked for them for years and they thought you'd turn on them when you found out about your dad. That's not exactly a good work environment." He smiled gently. "Would quitting make you happy?"
He gave her a firm nod. "Call Nick and talk to him. You don't have to decide right this minute."
"Okay. But what about you, Erik, and James?"
He smirked. "If you can find enough work for all of us to stay together, we might leave with you."
Sandy waited for Nick to come to the phone. Honestly, she'd called him more in the past couple of months than the past year!
He sighed. "Sandy, if you tell me you've got another problem, I'm going to install an 800 number just for you."
She laughed. "I've got a couple questions."
"Do I need to sit down?"
"I think I want to quit the MPD."
He smiled on the other end of the line. "An intelligent move. I have offers from two other companies for your services." He smirked at the sudden silence on the other end of the line. "No, I didn't ask any of the psychic ones to peek. I promise." He always referred to his students in groups, psychic ones, mage ones, etc.
Her hesitant tone of voice made his reply reassuring. "Yes, Sandy. Both offers are very good."
She bit her lip and asked the question weighing on her mind. "Is it just for me or can I bring other people with me?"
"You know, I should tease you a little. Maybe something about making a clean break." He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a soda. "But I won't. They'll accept just you or that group of friends you have. If you'd like, you can come home and I'll discuss them with all of you or I have phone numbers."
" I could use a break."
She found all three men and Kimi in the kitchen. Erik had a cookie stuffed in his mouth and Lee was tasting something James had cooked to see if it was done. "I've got a question to ask you."
Erik held up a hand and finished his cookie. "If it's about quitting the MPD, I'm for it." She frowned and he pointed at Lee. "Blame him. He's the one who spilled."
Lee shrugged. "I was curious." He smiled at Sandy. "All of us think it's a good idea."
James turned and gave Sandy a nod. If this was how the MPD treated their employees, it would be a good career move for him to leave. Who knew where he got his luck from? What if it was from somewhere the MPD didn't like? If they treated someone with a record like Sandy's like this, what would they do with him?
She stared at them all and shook her head. Sandy walked to a chair and collapsed into it. "I'm crazy," she said. "You drive me nuts and I'm actually going to continue working with you." Kimi chirped and she smiled. "Except you, Kimi. You're nice and sane. Of course, you won't be if you keep hanging around with us "
Lee gave her a minute. James kept cooking, Erik reached for another cookie, and Sandy got over her slight aggravation. "What did Nick say?"
She raised her head and straightened. "Nick has invited us to stay at his house for a day or two while we decide whether we want to take individual jobs, set up our own business, or take one of the offers from two companies he talked to."
Erik's jaw dropped and he grimaced as he lost some of his cookie on the floor. "We've got offers?" He got a paper towel and cleaned up the mess.
"Yes," Sandy said dryly. "Even with my reputation."
They talked about when they'd leave and Sandy followed Lee out of the room. "Thank you," she said, catching up to him in the hall.
She tilted her head a little and turned toward him. "What would make you happy?" He looked startled at the question. "You asked me the same question. Is this what you want?"
"I think leaving the MPD is a good idea."
Sandy gave him a knowing look. "But you didn't say it would make you happy."
"An afterthought." She grinned. "Tell me." He shook his head. "It can't be that bad. A mountain of chocolate? For Erik to finally shut up?"
He sighed and looked ahead of him. They were still walking as he said, "I'd have to tell this girl that I like her." He grimaced. "No, that I love her. It would ruin our friendship."
She stopped and he took a few steps before stopping as well. "Really?" she said. "Are you sure?"
"Sure about how I feel or about ruining the relationship I have?"
Lee nodded. "She's skittish around men. She trusts me and I couldn't stand it if she stopped. Any conversation would be strained. It just wouldn't work."
She worried her lip while he spoke and opened her mouth after he was through. "Maybe she'd trust you enough to try."
"Would you?" Lee asked, coming out from behind his words. Sandy nodded. "Then that's enough."
Sandy leaned back in the front seat and tuned Erik out. He kept going on about how nice the car was. James was in the back reading a book and Lee was listening to music.
They were doing the same thing they'd done with the MPD. The pay was a little less, but Starlight was very accepting. They were used to taking people from the MPD and were pleased with their record. The MPD had transferred all of their public files to Starlight.
Sandy turned and waved a hand. Lee looked over and she smiled. "Drink?" He nodded and reached into the cooler. Their fingers touched as he gave her the drink and she winked at him. Yes, everything was fine there, too.