My mind works in random ways. I didn't mean for The Agency to kick off a mini-serial, but it appears to have. Since others requested more about Thomas/Forrest and Raven, and it's fascinating to have a character with enough independence to try and change his own name, I felt they deserved a little more air time. I'm posting it on Tuesday since it's a little long for a Friday Flash. You can find other serials by searching the #TuesdaySerial hashtag on Twitter.
The Emancipation of Thomas Forrest
Forrest hated the smell of stale coffee. No matter how many times he made a fresh pot for the waiting room during the day, the smell still lingered, and he could almost see the brown fog gathered in the corner. If he had even just a little bit of magic, he could dissipate it or change it – maybe to the smell of pancakes, which he loved – but as it was, he just had to live with the odor and the fact that he'd never rise above his status of clerical minion. He held his breath, extracted the pot and basket, and took them to the break room to be washed.
"Forrest!" Jeanine's voice was like… He paused to come up with the right analogy. It changed daily. Today, her screeching reminded him of tires on pavement in the Concrete Realm, the sound of desperate braking just before the crunch of collision.
"Where are you?"
The break room of the Minion Placement Agency had a dimensional fault in the center. He could walk through it with no difficulty except his hair literally stood on end from the energy for a few minutes. It zapped people and creatures with magical abilities to random places, so Jeanine made him cross it to get to the sink. Several times a day. Sometimes he thought he would be able to zap her, but the energy never stuck around long. It made the rent on the place cheap, but damned inconvenient for him. As a minion himself, though, he couldn't complain.
She smiled when she saw his hair on end.
"Time to trim your eyebrows. You look like a Marx Brother."
"I'm going back to the castle. Lock up here after you clean up. Pick up a pizza from Gargoyli's on the way home, pepperoni and pineapple with extra cheese."
He bowed, and she disappeared. He made sure the waiting room was neat and completed the janitorial tasks for the evening. The doorknob shocked him when he went to lock the door to the back alley, and he sighed. He bet she left that little present for him.
He jumped and whirled around, the key held out like a wand. Not like he had any magic to defend himself, but he'd bluff for as long as he could. Then he recognized the black feather cloak, somber face, and black hair and lipstick of one of the day's earlier clients.
"Mr. Raven, you startled me."
"I apologize." The tall man fell into step with Forrest. "I have a proposition for you."
"Thanks, but I'm not that kind of minion. I can direct you to Elvira's Pet Store if you're looking for—"
Mr. Raven shook his head. "Not that type of proposition. I sense in you a great talent, and I would like to take you on as my minion."
Forrest studied the man more closely. That black lipstick and nail polish really needed to go, but otherwise, he could pass for a villain that others would take seriously.
"I don't have any talent worth mentioning other than super-organization," Forrest said. "And Jeanine got me cheap and doesn't let her bargains go easily. You should've seen the ratty recliner she kept for decades in the waiting room!"
Before he could give any other examples, his skin tingled, and his lower abdomen spasmed. He doubled over, and Raven bent to help him. A lightning bolt flashed over their heads.
"There you are, Raven!"
Forrest couldn't see much from his kneeling position, but he saw glittery boots approach from the end of the alley.
"Sinestra!" Raven stood and held his hands out in front of him. "What are you doing here?"
"Coming after you, my love! I knew I smelled your magic when I stopped by this pathetic little agency this afternoon."
Forrest raised his head to see the 3:00 client he'd placed a nice little pixie with earlier that day. Scratch the pixie, he thought. This lady needed something with more oomph!
"I got a restraining order against you," Raven said. "By order of, ah…"
"Magic Judiciary five-oh-one-three," Forrest gasped, remembering the clerical reference number of the magical restraining orders from his minion continuing education course the previous spring. He could feel the energy gathering around them.
"Right, that." Raven crossed his arms. "I hereby banish you by order of the Magic Judiciary 5013 to the Far Reaches of Beyond!"
Forrest raised his eyebrows when she actually disappeared. His stomach stopped dancing, and he staggered to his feet.
"Sorry about that," he said.
"Nonsense!" Raven gave his shoulder a hearty squeeze. "If you hadn't sensed her magic before she appeared, she would have knocked my head off with that lightning bolt! See? I knew you had talent! Not everyone can sense power like the gathering clouds of a storm."
"Is that what those stomach cramps and skin tingles were?"
"Exactly! Come, now. Let's get some dinner and figure out how to emancipate you."
They picked up the pizza and took the Express Path to Jeanine's castle.
She frowned when they walked into the Great Room. She sat in her favorite red velvet chair by the fire, her feet up on a matching ottoman, and a glass of wine in her hand. "Forrest! How many times have I told you not to bring work back with you?"
"I'm here for a different purpose, Madam." Mr. Raven bowed. "I would like to take your minion."
Jeanine looked more surprised than angry. Her red lips formed a perfect oval for a moment, and then she said, "Whatever for? He has no magical talent, and he's useless in a laboratory."
"I am opening a restaurant and need a general manager."
Forrest noticed that he didn't say anything about that other talent.
"No dice." She waved him away. "I need him for the business."
"What if I were to make you a generous offer for him, say, five bars of gold?"
Her lip circle returned and stretched into an oval. "Five bars?"
Raven nodded. Forrest noted the man was full of surprises.
"Fine." Jeanine jumped to her feet and shook Raven's hand. Before Forrest could register what had happened, he and Raven stood outside. He felt like he had just been released from a tight vest and could breathe fully.
"What just happened?"
"I emancipated you."
Forrest went to bow to Raven, but the other man stopped him.
"I work from loyalty, not fear. This is not a Concrete Realm corporation, so you're an employee, not a minion."
"What do you choose for your name?"
"I've always liked Thomas." Forrest grinned. "It's what I call myself in my head. Seems more normal."
"Then let us be on our way, Thomas Forrest. We have work to do, and you will find I have many enemies. I need a talent such as yours to know when a threat is real."
"What kind of restaurant are we opening?"
"A public house, also known as a pub. I was going to open a coffee shop, but for one small detail: I cannot stand the smell."
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