The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

 

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C is appreciated.

 

Book 6: Bonding Allure

Chapter 2: Extending Family

 


            Serenity stared at the bodies as flakes fluttered onto her gown's shoulders. Limbs splayed, skin flayed, each was racked on a metal frame. Empty eyes stared at her as the corpses hung over a slow, smoldering fire.


            There was a ratcheting noise as the racks rotated from horizontal to vertical. Skin crackled but flesh did not burn. No, the demonic cook, a tall green-haired woman with red skin and silver eyes, worked the racks and the coals with consummate, patient skill. It would not do to... ruin the meat.


            Serenity inhaled. The smell was enticing. Everything succubae touched was tempting, and this was one of BlackSky's personal chefs. She wore a practical dark grey dress and black apron, which were still tailored in a rather complimentary manner.


            "Oooh, are they ready?" Ranma leaned forward towards one of the bodies. She inhaled deeply nose to... snout.


            "It's a whole pig."


            "And a cow," Ukyou said, putting a brush into a bucket of sauce.


            "And a whole one of those." Serenity stepped around the racks. The metal structures were immense.


            The windbreaks and the sheltering roof helped keep most of the snow away, but they were still outside.


            "There's a very similar style of cooking on your world." The green-haired demon bowing her head to present her horns. "Vaca Entera."


            "Argentinean, I think it means 'entire cow'," Ukyou smirked.


            Standing next to her mother, Ranma laughed. "Accurate enough."


            Looking to her fellow cook, Ukyou said something incomprehensible to Serenity who dully nodded.


            The green-haired demoness smiled then answered in the same language.


            "What's wrong?" Ranma asked. "Her pronunciation isn't that bad."


            The chef's silver eyes widened slightly. "No... not much, given neither of you have  spoken with native speakers," she allowed, switching to English.


            "I didn't think you knew Silvan Latin," Ranma looked to Serenity.


            Serenity blinked.


            Nodoka gave her daughter a look.


            "You could put people in there," Serenity mumbled.


            The demoness shook her head. "Different body shape, your Highness. Especially when you cut down the sternum and butterfly along the spine."


            Serenity's mood lifted as she inspected the racks. "Ah yes! Um, Gloria?"


            "Yes, Gloria SpringLeaf," she bowed again. "Racks to fit humanoids are more historical curiosities."


            "Oh? Like in a museum?" Serenity had heard of museums of old torture equipment.


            "In the central kitchen of the Upper Palace's main storage room," Gloria shrugged as she went back to tending the meat. "Getting cuts like those, whole and with enough time to cook them? That's rare, even at BlackSky's court."


            Serenity looked a bit green.


            "It's supply and demand. Do you know how expensive it is to get an entire body?" Gloria pointed to Ranma. "How many of your kills did you save off the battle field? Uneaten, whole. And then cook?"


            "None." The redhead coughed then gave Serenity a bashful smile.


            "It does smell wonderful," Nodoka said.


            "Ukyou has been a great help," Gloria assured, her gaze going to each of them.


            Serenity met the direct eye contact, then nodded respectfully.


            "Ah, they're over here!" exclaimed a chipper voice. A woman with amber-colored hair cut into a neat pageboy stepped out through the kitchen door. She wore a prim charcoal-colored suit with a black bustier instead of a blouse.


            In addition to the red tail and dark horns curling up back from her brow, her skin had a slight purple tinge that was decidedly not human. Slim glasses were perched on her nose and red eyes darted about alert and amused.


            She wore a sable choker with silver edging, several intricate dangling earrings, and slim silver rings on all her fingers. A pair of delicate, tiny tattoos that were vaguely evocative of comets were high on her cheekbones.


            "Ah, hello, I'm... Queen Serenity. And you are?" The silver haired woman blinked. "I'm sorry, that sounds presumptuous."


            "Oh, no offense, it comes up with my job." Adjusting her glasses, the red-eyed demoness smiled. "I'm Mira HeartWood, aide and personal librarian to BlackSky. Pleasure to meet you."


           "Librarian?" Serenity asked after the two exchanged bows. She was never big on bowing, but after a year in Canada, she had come to miss the ritualized politeness. Sure, the succubae bowed more with their necks and their rules of etiquette were slightly different but there was a commonality.


            "BlackSky is a patron of the arts, and gives generously to the Silvan public library system, ensuring everyone has library cards. And the rest of the empire too. Not to mention her personal collections," Mira brightly said.


            Serenity paused and let her brow furrow a bit as she pursed her lips. "Of course," she eventually stated.


            "We could talk books later but..." Mira gave an apologetic look as the trio of women she had been guiding followed in after her.


             Wearing a gold-trimmed red cheongsam Yohko stepped in, one arm around each of her daughters.


            Both girls were pale, demure, and draped in frippery. The girl on the left looked a bit more delicate and wore knee-length flounced pink dress with black ruffles and bows. A set of pink stockings complimented shiny white heels. Her pale purple hair was swept back by a ruffled black hairband, while pink jewelry and pearls sparkled on her ears and neck. She clutched a porcelain doll clad in an equally frilly and pink outfit in one hand.


            Ranma, who still remembered the weapons her daughter Misako used when she was a human acolyte of the Assembly of Man, noted with interest the pink parasol with its thick lacquered handle the girl in pink carried in her right hand.


            The other young succubus wore a lavender kimono with a silver obi. Both had a subtle snowflake pattern. Her pink hair was tied up with black ribbons and dangled in curled spirals. Her makeup was more subdued, but a bit more elegant than her companion's.


            Ukyou looked between the two. Puzzlement and apprehension flicked over the platinum blonde woman's face.


            "You girls are lovely," Ranma said as she guided Serenity towards them.


            "Wow, yeah, they are," Serenity admitted as they exchanged greetings.


            Yohko beamed. "Everyone this is ScarletWings and Kon-"


            Ukyou stared at the plum-haired demoness in her pink finery. "Tsubasa? You got turned into a demon, and a girl?"


            Pink eyes blinked in mock surprise. "Why yes, Ucchan. It took you long enough," she said in a shy voice.


            "You know her?" Nodoka asked.


            "Both of them, but Konatsu, right?" Ukyou asked, and the demoness in the kimono nodded. " Konatsu only in passing. She," the blonde succubus pointed to Tsubasa. "Was... well... it doesn't matter, but she did pester me a lot when we were... both human."


            Scarlet's cheeks tinged pink. "I had a crush and wanted you to like me and I thought you'd appreciate me dressing up."


            "Dressing up?" Ranma asked.


            "Long story." Ukyou shook her head.


            Yohko stepped forward and Konatsu comforted her mate.


            "You do look cute, both of you."


            "Her style is a bit similar to Misako's," Ranma said.


            Ukyou coughed.


            "The girl with the orange hair and green eyes?" Mira asked. "She was doing an excellent job getting everyone ready." She then glanced at a silver-banded watch on her wrist.


            Brushing off a bit of snow, Nodoka gave the librarian an appraising look. She was close to BlackSky, and would know more about the demon empress' moods.


            "We should talk more during dinner!" Scarlet chirped.


            "You and Misako could swap hair care tips," Ukyou offered as her tail flicked.


            "That would be delightful."


            A few steps away Ranma and Yohko exchanged a look.


            "They are a handful," the redhead said.


            "Very much," the brunette agreed.


            Moving closer to Ranma than Yohko was, Serenity looked out at the snowy valley beyond. Flakes continued to fall in billowing sheets.


            "How's the meat look?" Ranma asked the green-haired demon. "I mean the smell alone..."


            "Oh, we'll make it in time." Gloria smiled.


            Yohko gave a slightly apprehensive look as she turned back to her daughters.
           


            "Nervous?" Serenity asked. "About BlackSky?"


            Yohko shook her head. "My girls and I have met Grandma BlackSky, it's just... well it's..." Teal eyes went between the silver queen and the redhead. "It a bit more formal today."


            Ranma snorted. "But this is just a family dinner."


            Rolling her eyes, Serenity turned back to watch the valley. The white-trimmed trees were peaceful as more crystalline precipitation floated down.


            Then her blue eyes narrowed.


            The snow had stopped.


            There was no tapering off or even a sudden halt; the flakes froze in midair.

 
            Serenity stared at a sky full of stilled crystals. An instant later, the snow resumed falling.


            Glancing back, she saw the demons, tails straighter, had tilted their heads. BlackSky had arrived.

 

***************

 


            Galina watched the heavy, wet flakes cling to her gloved hand. Making a fist, the snow sloughed off her fingers. A mottled, pale hood was up covering her dark brown hair as she crouched in the backside of a forest slope.


            A scarf with the same pattern as her hooded mantle and bodysuit wrapped around her mouth and lips. Each measured exhale went into the cloth and transported the warmer air down towards her back. It did more to hide the visual cloud of exhaled breath than the thermal bloom, but it helped with the latter as well.


            The wind and snowfall gave a constant, if soft, counterpoint to the rustling of the bare deciduous and evergreen trees. For a moment, Galina let her tension and focus slip. The decades of aimless surviving, of grubby mercenary work to snatch enough currency to purchase the parts needed to buy another year of life in their cobbled-together bodies weighted down on her.


            Comrade Scarlatti had been a visionary. Galina and her sisters were better than human, but in their own way, they were just as mortal. The rulers behind the Party had betrayed them, betrayed the Motherland. In the end, the Checkists had won.


            Their nation was no more. It was small consolation that the West was also falling into depravity, indolence, and decay. The West had been destroying itself for a century, there was no great victory in watching a rival's self-inflicted long-term rot.


            Arisha, her number two, still believed, still hoped. But Galina was just weary.


            Finally, she indulged in letting her mind ease off the mission: this disheartening, decimating mission. They had lost more of their number, more combat cyborgs, going up against this blonde, self declared queen and her flunkies than in any other mission. Over half of those who remained had been mauled by the demons.


            Which cost more precious, hard to source, parts. Between that and the expense of retaining their Bulgarian subcontractors for months, Galina knew they needed to finish this contract and collect in full.


            But finances were the first worry she put aside.


            Instead, she looked across the slope and enjoyed the scenery. Not as places to set an ambush or beware of one. Not in terms of defense or reconnaissance or even how the loose, but heavy, snow would affect even her ability to run.


            Dim memories of before, when she had been just a human, when she had still believed, came to her. Family. A twinge of jealousy flittered in her heart, or maybe the spherical armored nuclear battery just below.


            There was the tiniest displacement of air to her side. It all washed away as her attention, her systems, came back into sharp focus.


           A diminutive, but lithe, woman with pixie-cut hair wreathed in snow flowed up from the ground to appear next to her.


            "The perimeter, Shest?" Galina transmitted to the woman.


            "I would not recommend approaching any closer; in any direction." Shest shivered. "There are things in that dacha. You didn't see the snow stop."


            "Explain." Galina slowly shifted her position. It would be too dangerous to have direct line of sight with the large "cabin" where the demon, their client/target and others had sequestered themselves.


            "Things... things like that redheaded Tvar, but more. Vaster than her, older perhaps. For a moment the snowfall... halted." Shest exhaled.


            "Older... demons?" Galina frowned.


            "It is a feeling, I did not get closer once I sensed them."


            Galina nodded. Her orders had been clear. Any reconnaissance would be limited in the attempt to avoid detection.


            Shest paused.


            The taller cyborg felt her apprehension and nodded for the woman to continue.


            "We need more assets and knowledge with these things. Our current resources are limited, not trustworthy. Dve'nadtsat can only do so much research. She has made progress with the books our last sub-contractor had gathered but..."


            Galina had to keep from chuckling. Shest was addressing Mal de Veste. The cultist they had hired with... dubious results. Arisha still complained that the punishment Galina meted out on him was nowhere near severe enough, given the mess he had created in Ottawa.


            Shest gathered herself. Galina had shot down this idea before, but perhaps things were different now. "There are other... experts in this city. Ones not affiliated with these mercenaries nor our target. One is a young man, he should be more pliant than our last... consultant."


            "Perhaps." Galina exhaled. "But our time is limited."


           

***************

 


            Setsuna and Minako moved up to flank Serenity. The diminutive, green-haired Senshi nodded to her queen and gave a quick bow in her black, iridescent-accented seifuku. Minako's uniform was golden. She bore a massive sword held in a tooled, engraved scabbard on her hip. She smiled at her queen and took position.


            Ranma and her daughters stood further down the aisle closer to the double doors. Nodoka, in her dress uniform, hovered a bit behind her. By her side were Cecilia and her girls all in dresses and gowns a bit less revealing but a bit more ornamental than Ranma's brood.


            Eve and her three daughters entered through the double doors at the entrance to the hall. Morgan, still carrying her sniper rifle, was quickly brushing snow off the suit she had changed into. The Palace Guard actually gave the immense weapon some attention while Misako groused about not being able to bring her gun.


            Morgan's sisters were similarly geared up and also freshly clad in dark suit-coats, blouses and skirts. Exchanging a glance with her sisters, Eve went to Mira.


            The librarian stepped up the aisle along the middle of the double line of tables. The two women had a quick conversation and then Eve and her girls took position near Ranma.


            The pressure built. Serenity felt the same sensation when the snowfall froze for a beat, but it was closer more... familiar. She was reminded of Ranma's presence. The magical girl swallowed.


            Every demon in the hall went to one knee. Serenity felt the pull for a moment, but Setsuna squeezed her hand and the sensation eased. Taking an almost rigid stance, they gave a fractional bow to their heads.


            Doctor Saotome was the only one who hesitated, for a moment it looked like she would take a knee, but instead she remained standing.


            The doors opened.


            A quartet of succubae entered.


            Serenity stared. Power washed over her.


            First was a woman with slim black horns and cobalt blue hair tied in a heavy French braid. The fins to her tail and membranes to her wings were deep blue. Glossy black boots rang over the floor. She was dressed in a military uniform with fitted black pants, a blouse with gilt braid and a handful of ribbons and awards on her chest. There were oak wreaths rendered in gold, and embossed silver disks, but the most prominent seemed to be a ruby emblem set in silver pinned just below her neck.


            A sword was belted at her right hip. Sheathed in a scabbard with gilt accents, it had a basket hilt and a silver wire-wrapped grip. On her opposite side was an onyx-hilted dagger.


            There was little makeup on her blue-tinged, sharp, almost crisp, features. Serenity was a bit surprised at the jeweled hair pins above one ear. They seemed oddly flashy given the relative lack of adornment the demoness had.


            She walked with a plain confidence and she stopped a few paces within the hall.


            Mira raised her head. "Daughter of BlackSky, House Legate AshRain."


            Serenity's eye went to the gold-trimmed banner with grey motes falling into a turbulent ocean.


            Grey eyes, that same shade, studied the room and, Serenity observed, immediately went to Ranma.


            As one, the Alpinum Guard tilted their heads and then, with their left pointer and middle fingers extended, tapped their exposed necks. AshRain bent her neck and mirrored the salute.


            After blinking at that bit of ritual, the Moon queen's attention went to the next arrival.


            Where the first was understated to the point of stark elegance, this demon was luxuriously indulgent. Her makeup was artistically applied and was just a hair under being too heavy. In layered shades of red to orange and yellow, her hair was teased and fluffed into an enflamed coiffure. That her tresses gently wafted about heightened the illusion. Six silver horns curled up around the "flames" of her hair.


            Her figure was voluptuous with bulging curves that reminded Serenity of taut, slightly-overripe fruit. Marring these haughty statuesque features was a chin-line that seemed a bit strong as her jaw jutted a bit.


            And that her eyes glowed like miniature furnaces.


            Golden jewelry flashed at her neck, her brow, her ears and down her arms.


            She wore a flowing ruby dress that clung to generous curves. Scale-like obsidian accents adorned the clothing in accents and edging. Her be-ringed hands were demurely held forward revealing long silver talons. A heavy crimson tail weighed with an abundance of jewelry and elaborately gilt orange fins swished behind her.


            On her arm was another demoness. A sparkly silver gown clung to glossy ruby skin. Silvery hair was sculpted into a sweeping bun and a pair of ivory horns arced out from her forehead. Her makeup and ornamentation was a bit more elaborate than the flame-haired demoness'.


            Sauntering forward on gleaming golden hooves, the flame-haired demoness smiled, revealing a maw of gleaming fangs. Her ruby-skinned companion also walked on polished hooves, daringly marbled gold and silver, and had a bit more of a sway to her step.


            "Daughter of BlackSky, Censor CoudFire and her mate Liviana," the librarian announced.


            Noting the gold-edged banner with burning golden clouds, Serenity exhaled. More than being much more overtly demonic, she could feel yet more power radiating off of CloudFire.


            Serenity kept her composure. Of the daughters AshRain felt almost... normal. The power roiling from her was akin to the confident, martial aggression that roiled off of Ranma. But CouldFire seemed to revel in her nature.


            Then BlackSky arrived.


            Shining black hair tumbled down slim shoulders. The tall demoness imperiously strode in. Her black gown was the pinnacle of sleek elegance with a few twists of fabric and silver accents, that, along with intricate silver diadem, necklace and earrings, raised the whole ensemble to new heights.


            Cool blue eyes took in the room and she seemed to make eye contact with each individual person at the same time.


            This time Mira simply stood and bowed her head.


            I guess she doesn't need announcing, Serenity thought to herself. Where AshRain was a focused blade of power, and CloudFire was an indulgent inferno, BlackSky simply... was. It was like suddenly finding you were in the presence of a mountain, something so vast that it, she, defined the landscape.  Her power seemed to be...  higher than CloudFire's, but other than that, Serenity was at a loss on how to quantify it.


            The doors closing behind her, BlackSky's heels clicked as she stepped forward. "Please, no need to be so formal," she assured.


            The succubae rose up and the mercenaries assumed a more relaxed stance.


            BlackSky continued to stride into the hall. Her daughters fell behind her. Serenity watched as the broods coalesced around the dark-haired empress. "Yohko, Ranma, how wonderful to see you and your daughters again."


            She leaned over to hug each of the women in turn before going to their daughters.


            While CloudFire and AshRain introduced themselves to Ranma and Yohko, the ancient demoness then turned to Eve and Cecilia's broods. "Captain Eve Jarvis, when we first met you were not part of our Family, but I was impressed. So good of you to have joined us, and such lovely girls."


            Eve bowed and then introduced her daughters.  AshRain nodded with interest, giving particular attention to Morgan's rifle.


            After she had finished with Eve's branch of the family, BlackSky turned to Cecilia.


            Sadness fluttered over her pale features. She pointedly met Cecilia's eye, then took in each of the lavender-haired demon's daughters before adding Akane, Nabiki, and Misako.


            "All of you, I am sorry." BlackSky bowed her head presenting her horns then bent further at the waist. "My mistaken judgment brought you all so much pain."


            She nodded to Eve. "Not to mention the life of Agent Aram Kowalski and countless others who died by Alexia's callow claws."


            Returning to Cecilia, BlackSky held out her hand behind her.


            AshRain's features paled to a slightly lighter shade of blue, but she wordlessly unbuckled her sword and put it in her mother's waiting fingers.


            CloudFire's tail stilled and Serenity looked around. The tension in the hall had suddenly spiked. The mercenaries, the brood, even BlackSky's aides, Gloria and Mira, were taken aback.


            The Palace Guard, in their gleaming ceramic composite uniforms with silver accents and gold insignia with crossed spears over a snow-covered peak, had gone still.  Their hands hovering over their weapons.


            BlackSky drew the sword. A silver blade shone as she offered the wire-wrapped hilt. "Cecilia you are of my Family, twice by my measure. By my actions, offense has been given." She went to her knees.


            The lavender-haired demon swallowed. The sword felt nearly weightless in her hand. Looked down the nearly luminous edge, she recalled the Silva Succubus books. Many dealt with biology, birds and the bees and the like, but others talked of protocol and etiquette.


            Tail curling, she closed her eyes. She could not lie. Alexia had been a monster, one loosed by the demon before her. "Offense has been taken, Grandmother."


            Yohko and Eve both shifted their stances as CloudFire's eyes began to burn a shade brighter.


            BlackSky remained kneeling. "Do you require my Apology?"


            Cecilia quivered. Not since the monster that had murdered her sisters and her mother had found her house and threatened her daughters had she felt so much anxiety and fear churning her chest. Knowing Desiree had been disemboweled was a close second, but she had only seen her daughter after the fact, after that knight doctor had saved her girl's life.


            The daughter of Alexia knew there was only one answer that protocol demanded. The blade felt right in her hand. Its balance felt even better than the pieces Doctor Saotome had made with Master Nishina. Her niece's katana, ScarletBane was a masterpiece, but this was another level.


            She opened her eyes. "Yes."


            Cecilia was not surprised to find the blade had drifted closer to BlackSky.


            The empress nodded. A slight feeling of satisfaction emanated from her.


            "Left hand. Pinky out. Tip up," Cecilia stated.


            BlackSky complied, maneuvering her fingers as if she were reaching for a cup of tea. Cecilia's grip tightened.


            All eyes were on her.


            The blade lowered. The edge kissed the end of BlackSky's finger. For a moment even the luminal silver edge was held at bay, but it bit in and a brilliantly deep bead of ruby blood welled out.


            Another bead formed and the first drop of blood ran down BlackSky's pinky.


            Forcing herself to breathe, Cecilia lifted the blade and offered the sword to BlackSky's daughters.


            CloudFire stared at the streak of blood running down one side of the edge, while her younger sister snatched up her sword.


            "Really? You've seen me bleed before," BlackSky chuckled as she rose up.


            "Not in a long time, Mother," CloudFire whispered.


            "This hardly counts," BlackSky wiped the blood from her fingertip. The cut had already healed but a tiny white line crossed her pinky.


            She smiled at the crowd and briefly dipped her head. "Pardon that family business. It was vital that I addressed it." Inhaling, the black-haired demoness clapped her hands. "Now that protocol is out of the way, I can smell that Gloria and Ukyou have some wonderful dinner for us."


            BlackSky gave a slight gesture with her hands and the attention became less focused on her and chatter started to grow. Mira and Gloria went about their business, while CloudFire and her mate had started to mingle. AshRain hovered at her mother's side and sheathed her cleaned sword.


            "You didn't have to do that," Cecilia said when BlackSky turned back to her. There was far less pressure, and, despite still being in a room full of people, the interaction felt a bit more intimate.


            "She did." Ranma slipped up next her sister and gave Cecilia a hug.


            Joining the group, Eve handed out stout balloon glasses each filled with a dark mahogany colored, slightly carbonated lager. "You are too kind Grandmother." She gave a glass with a bow of her horns.


            BlackSky accepted the compliment and took a sip. "Oh, delightful. Malty, hint of caramel, touch of raisin." She swirled before having another sip. "There is a town near the summer holding of my daughter Felisia's that brews something similar, a doppelbock I believe you would call it?"


            Eve bowed her head again. "Samichlaus, a brewery in Vorchdorf upper Austria makes it, once a year."


            Releasing Cecilia from her hug, Ranma gave Eve a knowing smile.


            Nodding amiably, BlackSky looked around her granddaughter and inclined her head to Nodoka. "A pleasure to see you again. I see my trust in you with my granddaughter was well merited."


            Major Saotome gave a slight bow. "Allow me to give the apologies of my youngest. Dame BlackStone was unable to attend and she sends her deepest regrets."


            Ranma almost kept in her snort. "That's not exactly what Dresden said."


            BlackSky sipped. "Pity. We will have to make arrangements, but I know how difficult scheduling can be." She nodded to Nodoka. "I was only able to bring two of my daughters."


            "But our sisters are quite jealous of us," CloudFire smirked as she returned flashing her fangs. Liviana was at her side carrying a steel platter and the two started giving out sliced samples of freshly cooked meat on little saucers.


            "DawnStrike was quite put out," AshRain agreed.


            "Like she has room, given her standing in the Old Game," CloudFire sniffed.


            BlackSky's expression turned ever so slightly disapproving.


            "She very much did want to come." AshRain coughed. "But there was a summit with House Andromache about House Luxon's incursions into their territory. And not just DawnStrike, our other sisters wanted to come as well."


            "Though I would not be shocked if they also talked about House Elena's growing boldness," CloudFire grumbled.

            Ranma sampled some beef and nodded. "Oh? She sounds familiar. Pretty tall, slicked-back black hair. Green eyes?" she ventured.


            "Yes that's her! DawnStrike is our eldest sister," CloudFire said.


            AshRain gave a skeptical look but held her tongue.


            "She's so fond because she's already met you. Before," BlackSky said.


            The redhead blinked. "Oh, you mean in my past life. During the Invasion."


            Nodding, BlackSky helped herself to one of the pastries that were also on the platter.


            Nodoka exhaled. She knew that BlackSky was old enough to have been around during the height of the Silver Millennium. She also knew, intellectually, that BlackSky had daughters, and legions during that time. DarkStar's demonic mother Lilith was an example. But to know that at least one of BlackSky's daughters was still around, was daunting.


            "However, I believe she was not Praetor Peregrinus back then," Pluto stated as she and Venus approached at Serenity's side.


            The two Senshi bowed. Though Pluto had to remind her queen.


            "Ah, the Lunarians," BlackSky inclined her horns. "I knew your mother." She looked the statuesque silver-haired woman over.  "Good," she said, seemingly satisfied with her evaluation.


            "Thank you?" Serenity blinked as CloudFire handed her a glass. She eyed the very decadent and very demonic woman.


            BlackSky gave a small smile. "Something bothers you?"


            "Uh..." she looked to Pluto. "Yeah? What are all the titles? I mean House Legate, Censor, and now Praetor Peregrinus?"


            AshRain gave a somewhat stiff smile. "House Legate is a senior general officer. In my case, I command eight legions with attached arcane, fleet, forward scout, air assets, and even a couple cohorts of the Alpinum Guard when on Field Secondment."


            "And that is?" Serenity asked.


            CloudFire looked around at the succubae troops in their polished armor. "Instead of spending all their time patrolling the Palace corridors and marching on the parade grounds, the Alpinum Guard gets to spend some time helping various Legates add strength to their legions. Before they were mountain troops before they were Mother's personal guard, and they still excel at that."


            Serenity nodded. "But air assets? You're succubae. Don't you all fly?"


            CloudFire chuckled. "Some of us fly better, others can use some special equipment."


            The Rubenesque elder demon looked to her more slender sister.


            AshRain shook her head. "Regardless. Censor CloudFire is in charge of the imperial census, hence the Latin root, finances, and gauging public morale. Hence the latter colloquial connotation."


            CloudFire gave little a salute with her glass. "Where our big sister, the Praetor Peregrinus is mother's head diplomat and Foreign Minister. She oversees all those clerks and diplomats who make sure we don't get into the wrong wars."


            "And your clerks make sure we can afford it," AshRain mildly said.


            "Ah," Serenity took a tentative sip. She was not sure what she had expected from House BlackSky, but governmental positions and what sounded like bureaucracy was not it.


            "You should visit. Silvana is a lovely city," CloudFire said.


            "We have trees and, how do you call them, funiculars?" AshRain offered.


            "What?" Serenity blinked.


            "Inclined railways," Pluto explained. And nodded to the others. "Pardon, but English is not the native language for any of us."


            "Those are the things you mention to entice her to visit?" CloudFire scoffed. "Not the opera houses or the theaters or the museums. Maybe she'd like to visit the Arcana Academy? The Domum Venari  Silva  Palace itself can take weeks to explore and that's only the highlights of the orchards, theaters, libraries, museums and restaurants."


            "That's your mother's palace?" Serenity politely asked.


            "Yes, translates to 'House in the Forest for the Hunt'," CloudFire waved her hand. "Mother founded Silvana on the Palace grounds as a hunting lodge. But that was a long time ago."


            Serenity absently nodded.


            "The Phlegethon river does bisect the city as it meanders down from the Romwell Alps. There are some lovely boat tours. Maybe go upstream of the city, on one of the tributaries with less trade use and visit a spa or a retreat?" AshRain offered.


            "Phlegethon?" Serenity asked.


            "One of the five rivers of Greek mythology, a stream of fire that empties into Tartarus," Eve explained. "I'm guessing the original surveyors named it after the Greek myth? Or was it the other way around?"


            "The former," CloudFire nodded. "While our river is not on fire, but the first spring snowmelt often has enough mineral content to turn the river red. Hence the name."


            "And why upstream?" Serenity asked.


            AshRain looked a bit embarrassed. "Silvana is hemmed in by the Kinitou spur of the Romwell Alps. The city itself is built on levels, downstream it flattens out, but that's where the Phlegethon forms a river delta before emptying onto the Acheon."


            "Another underworld river, or a lake in some myths," Eve supplied.


            "The latter, well, more of an inland sea. In fair weather it is easy to travel, but in winter or in storms it is quite dangerous," CloudFire explained.


            "The delta and the spreading lands makes that area of Silvana a natural seaport. Which is where our stockyards, storage faculties, and our rail hub are placed. Important but not exactly a picturesque vacation spot," AshRain affected a shrug.


            "You have an open invitation to visit," BlackSky met everyone's eyes one by one, ending at Nodoka, to whom she gave a slight nod.


            "It's not just stuffy museums, stockyards and sylvan glens." CloudFire smirked and appraised her glass before sipping. "This is a city of half a million succubae, and a tithe in humans and another tithe in other species. The fashion houses alone should tempt, whatever your taste."


            "Thank you, for the generous offer," Serenity bowed her head. "Hopefully, one day the crises here will allow me to spare the time."


            "Ami isn't that pressing of a threat?" Venus quietly asked.


            "Clothes shopping? Really?" Pluto asked.


            The golden-haired Senshi shrugged. "She didn't take everything away."


            BlackSky gave an intrigued look but did not pry.


            CloudFire studied the blonde. "Is this Ami responsible for your, well, condition?"


            Venus gave a very deliberate exhale.


            "Miss Ami Mizuno was one of Queen Serenity's associates; it is a delicate issue," Eve said.


            "She was turned evil, tried capturing her friends and experimented with making them 'better'," Ranma bluntly stated.


            "It was her and my oldest friend. They both went bad," Serenity's fingers tightened on the stem of her glass. "I trusted Ami, she was the smartest of us, and Naru was smarter than I ever knew. They both were turned. Right. Under. My. Nose."


            Venus put an arm around her queen. "They're victims too. You know she's not in her right mind."


            Flexing her fingers, BlackSky gave a single nod. "You cared for them, your love for those close to you blinded you to the dangers to what was happening." She looked at the scar across the tip of her pinky. "None of us are perfect."


            CloudFire and her mate looked a bit uncomfortable at that, while AshRain was more contemplative.


            Serenity felt her mouth go a bit dry. She finished her glass. "What did you do?"


            "Which time? When I lost my favored granddaughter during the Invasion, I blamed myself and killed an entire House. When my leniency to another granddaughter resulted in much pain, death, and a violation of all of my values... by the time I arrived she was already dead. What could I do but make Appology?"


            Her silver-blue eye looked distance. "And in the early days, before Silvana, before the Invasion, DawnStrike's older sisters..."


            The ancient demon shook her head. "I ended things before things, before they got too far." She nodded to Yohko. "And not all was lost. House RedStorm has grown into a treasured ally."


            Yohko bowed her head while her daughters listened with rapt attention.


            BlackSky bowed to Serenity. "I wish you the best in reforming your wayward friends, before this Mizuno with her conceited cleverness causes-" she nodded to Venus. "-further distress."


            Taking a new glass, Serenity muttered her thanks. She was still stunned at the idea of a demon queen hoping against corruption. She had other questions, including a couple about BlackSky's daughters, but she was still a guest here.


            Yes, she was the guest of the favored Granddaughter, but she was still an outsider.


            She sipped her drink and followed the conversation as it shifted to lighter subjects. BlackSky asked where that nice Colonel was, and took the answer that he had a meeting with the host government with good grace.


            By now, Gloria, Ukyou, and a small group of helpers, including several of Cecilia's daughters, had finished sectioning the carcasses they had pulled from the rack, slicing all of the meat, and filling heaping platters. The scent was heavy, savory, and salivatory.


            Ranma took a pair of plates and got some for herself and Serenity. She noted her date's inquiring look at her aunt and nodded.


            "Legate AshRain, there's something different about you," the redhead asked as she took a seat at the central table. BlackSky sat across from them, flanked by her daughters.


            "Oh?" AshRain glanced at the somber uniform she wore versus the gowns the rest of the Family members wore.


            "You seem, well," the redhead paused to bite through a sweet-roll. "I mean, no offense is intended, but you seem closer to well... me than your older sister."


            "Ah, that is correct. She is the older sister, they all are." AshRain's sharp features shifted to self-depreciating humor. "I am the youngest. The baby daughter, at a mere four centuries."


            The redhead gave a glassy nod. "That would explain it. Though I feel a bit awkward comparing us, since I've been a demon for what... it's been at least a year."


            "Fifteen months," both Eve and Nodoka replied.


            Yohko shook her head. "It does show we've got a long way, eh Ranma?"


            The redhead nodded.


            "Don't let your youth get you down." CloudFire said as she spooned some soup. "You're both quite mature, with broods of your own."


            "That is what marks a succubus as being an adult?" Nodoka asked.


            "Quite so. There are loopholes such as Adoptio. That's a civil adoption. Where a succubus takes a daughter but only in the legal sense," CloudFire shrugged.


            "Most times the brood mother merely formally takes the demoness into her brood," AshRain added.


            "Still, I'm confident in time all of you will find mates and start making daughters the slow way, the fun way," CloudFire smiled.


            Serenity found the demon's attention a bit disquieting; the flaming eyes were only part of it, the sheer presumption in her attitude did not help a bit.


            "Young broodlings make all the difference," Liviana looked to CloudFire with a dreamy expression. "We were only able to visit because Drusa was willing to stay home and watch our three youngest."


            "Drusa? A nanny?" Serenity asked.


            "Our Mistress," CloudFire corrected with a saucy smirk.


            Serenity chewed some steak. "Right... succubae. But a mistress and a mate?"


            CloudFire chuckled.


            The lunar queen waved her hands. "I'm not questioning the ethics, merely what the difference is."


            "A mate is the one you are fully bonded to, complete commitment, a part of you," AshRain's tone became bittersweet. "A Mistress is close but there is some... separation. Not as much as, say, a concubine however."


            "There are also social considerations. A mate has certain obligations social and carnal." CloudFire gave Liviana a blatantly wanton grin. "And for succubae of our position, Family concerns may have to be weighted."


            BlackSky tilted her head a tiny, tiny bit.


            "Where a mistress has more flexibility," CloudFire continued.


            "But the children?" Venus asked.


            "I have had three daughters with Drusa, and they are just as legitimate as the ones with Liviana or the ones I have turned," CloudFire's voice had a tiny edge.


            "Wow, how many kids have you had?" Ranma leaned forward.


            CloudFire waved the question away. "Fewer than you'd think, we tend to space them out." She gave her younger sister a pointed look.


            "I'm still mourning Sunder," AhsRain's tone was frosty as she tapped the hilt to her sword. "Mother understands."


            "She does," CloudFire agreed, glancing to their mother.


            BlackSky smiled. "Don't mind me girls. I was just ruminating on how wonderful our hosts have been." She turned to look out the sweeping windows. "Such a picturesque location. So quiet, without bothersome interruptions." Her gaze went far away, as if she were looking through the forest and her little smile grew fractionally.


            Keeping her perfect poise and composure, she relaxed just a bit and resumed her meal. The conversation was pleasant and she was proud of her granddaughters, direct and honorary.


            The humans, both true and honorary, were fascinating. As a Queen, Serenity the First had reached untold heights, but as a mother...


            BlackSky put a wry edge to her smile.


            The conversation had eased as the meal progressed. Gloria and Ukyou had made sure to have specific courses based on the tenderness of the various cuts of meat.


            "Really, you have your own armored flight systems?" Nodoka asked.


            "The armor aspect is only part of it," AshRain stated. "The ritual plate also supports the arcane systems for propulsion, scrying, and weapons."


            "What combat roles?" Eve asked. "Ground attack, reconnaissance, air superiority, bombing? If it is a personal armor system, I doubt transport or cargo."


            "Quite so," AshRain grinned. "There are specialized suits for various roles. The primary advantage is that the bonded Zephyr allows a succubus to fly much faster."


            "How much faster?" Ranma asked.


            "With the right... aero shell is the term?" AshRain asked. "With the right shield, the speed of sound can be breached.


            "It is possible to go further, but the increase in motive force and protection for the pilot reduces capabilities in other areas."


            "Quite the propulsion system. Zephyr... some type of spirit?" Eve ventured.


            CloudFire clapped. "Clever."


            "After our youngest sister left, we did brush up on our mythology," Cecilia said.


            "Yes, much of the ritual plate works by bonding wind spirits to it and harnessing their desires. Which is a limiting factor as a certain arcane aptitude is required to use such a suit." AshRain shrugged.


            "Armored flight suits that use spirits to fly above mach one and can dogfight and do all sorts of combat stuff?" Ranma smirked. "Yeah, BlackStone is going to be so pouty that she missed this. She loves this magical nerd stuff."


            The amber-haired librarian gave an approving nod.


            "But what are the suits made out of?" Nodoka asked. "Weight is clearly an issue. I doubt they'd be steel. Do you have industrial aluminum production? Or titanium? The latter can be difficult to machine without the right technology."


            Still smiling, AshRain's expression got a little bit guarded. "Are we exchanging military technology, Doctor Saotome?"


            Nodoka bowed her head slightly. "Pardon if I intruded. As a materials scientist, and given my employer, I do know the exact composition of armor is extremely closely guarded information.  I was merely asking in generalities."


            "I am used to such inquiries from Mira," AshRain waved off. "Frankly, I'm a bit surprised you're not picking her brain."


            The amber haired librarian adjusted her glasses and nodded respectfully. "I did not want to dominate the conversation, Legate."


            AshRain shook her head. "The question is if you are asking as an officer of your mercenary company," she gestured to Eve. "Or as one of DarkStar's blood relatives," again she gestured to Eve.


            "What armored suits do you have?" Venus asked.


            CloudFire gave a belly laugh. "Oh, golden one. We're daughters of BlackSky; we don't need suits."


            Venus nodded.


            "Not that you'd need such things, given your own powers," AshRain said, soothingly.


            Serenity coughed. "Ah, yes, a bulky armored Senshi suit, how silly."


            Ranma patted her on the hand and gave the mildly put-out Venus a sympathetic look.


            "Maybe if we learn from the demons, we can make something better," Venus' tone was a tad waspish.


            "That has potential," CloudFire offered.


            Nodoka make a thoughtful noise.


            BlackSky looked up from her meal. She took a few bites and lowered her fork. "I would offer my full support to whatever you require."


           Serenity felt the weight of the demon's gaze before BlackSky's eyes went to Nodoka and then Ranma and her sisters.


            "To any of you," BlackSky continued. "But I'm well aware of how that would sound." She made a vague gesture that took in her daughters, the banners, her servants, and the guard. "Even casual help is not without entanglements."


            "Fewer strings than Dresden's boss," Ranma said.


            "Dame BlackStone services the Winter Court, directly," BlackSky said with a pointed sliver of pride. "Family, has a different set of obligations."


            Serenity squeezed back Ranma's hand, but she saw the redhead's attention was on her mother.


            BlackSky bowed her horns. "You have excellent judgment in expanding your branch of the Family, Granddaughter."


            "Yeah, well, it's not like Dresden had a clue what he, she, was getting into. Poor, dumb Harry."


            "You gave him a fair explanation and choice, no?" BlackSky's tone was mild but the entire table felt the undertow trembling beneath.


            Ranma snorted. "I made him beg me, made him convince a Knight of the Sword to give him permission."


            "Which Sword?" AshRain asked.


            "Kusanagi." Ranma paused. "Also known as Fidelacchius."


            Making a pleasantly surprised noise, the cobalt blue-haired demoness nodded.


            "It is not just your youngest sister that I approve of," BlackSky stated


            Seeing the pleasure on the brood's faces, Serenity leaned back. Then seeing their tails swishing, she had to put hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.


            "Fidelacchius? That would be impressive to see." AshRain idly tapped her own sword.


            "It was," Ranma nodded.


            "I'm sure BlackStone will visit again, and she may bring Doctor Butters," Eve said.


            "A doctor and a Knight? Impressive," CloudFire purred. The flames to her eyes flickered and she sniffed the air. "Is it dessert? Already?"


            Ranma smiled. "Ukyou knows her way around a griddle and batter."


            "Something sweeter would be lovely," BlackSky bowed to Ranma, Serenity, and after a moment, Nodoka.

 

***************

 


            "It's a question of priorities, Flavia," BlackSky told a purple-haired Alpinum guard with golden eyes. They both stood near the kitchen with Mira.


            The demonic empress took a sip from a steaming cup. "I know you love Linda, and you have two beautiful daughters, but they are getting ready for the academy themselves. The time may be right."


            Flavia bowed her head. "Pardon the forwardness, my Imperatrix. What would you have me do?"


            "Oh, I couldn't possibly tell you what to do, my Decanus." BlackSky smirked and tapped the book before her. "That is in this specific case. I would hate to see you go, but talk it over with your mate, let her know there are options available. There is plenty of room in the Palace or a Secondment is available, you could teach at the War College"


            The Decanus bowed her head. "Thank you."


            "The thanks are mine." BlackSky smiled. Putting a few tiny marshmallows into her mug. "I still owe you for your actions at the Vorian Salient."


            "It was nothing, my Imperatrix." Decanus Flavia assured, giving a blush.


            "You spotted her Veil and wounded her while I was busy stopping the Cocytus river. Do not make me heap more praise upon you."


            "Yes, my Imperatrix," Flavia nodded.


            "Now, I know your contubernium are well-fed, but check with Sinma and Anvis' squads, they may not have been eating. Also keep an eye on SharpSleet, she does want to look good for her mother. Oh, and do mix a bit more with the human mercenaries, we have much we can learn from them, and I do not want our language lessons to go to waste."


            Tapping her fingers to her neck, Flavia saluted and spun on her heel once BlackSky returned the gesture, dismissing the mountain troop in her polished armor.


            BlackSky went back to her book. She sensed Mira's mild amusement, but her librarian stayed silent. After a few minutes, she felt others approach.


            "Yes?" she asked, handing the slim volume to Mira before taking a sip of her hot cocoa.


            Yohko looked to Misako. The coiffed girl rolled her green eyes at the brunette then quickly bowed to BlackSky. "Um... Great Grandmother, we would like to request your help."


            "It's a minor matter," Yohko assured.


            "But worthy of my attention?" BlackSky's smile brought some levity.


            "It's about DarkStar." Yohko pointed to the far end of the hall where the redhead, in her purple dress, stood alone looking out a window.


            "She's not with her date." BlackSky observed.


            "Lady Venus caught up to her before she went to the restroom," Yohko said.


            "She's still in there, powdering her nose," Misako's own cosmetically accented features smirked.


            BlackSky inclined an obsidian brow. "Ah. I see." She handed the mug to Mira. "Apologize for the others that I'll be a tad late for the next reading."


            She then strode straight towards her granddaughter with Yohko and Misako in her wake. BlackSky put an arm around the redhead who nearly spilled her drink in surprise at the embrace.


            "You seem pensive, Granddaughter," BlackSky stated.


            "Oh, just waiting," Ranma purred as her tail swished out.


            "I know," BlackSky leaned over the shorter demoness. "Would you like a bit of help?" she whispered.


            "For?"


            "I can guess what she wants." BlackSky gave a wicked smile. "Or what will floor her. We have a bit of time."


            Ranma looked at their reflection in the glass. Licking her lips, her hand trembled.


            Misako deftly plucked the glass out of her mother's hand.


            The redhead nodded.


            "Lovely."


            And there was a rumbling that at first Ranma thought was a small earthquake but then realized it was BlackSky's purring. One of the empress' hands slipped around the redhead's hip and cupped along her side and gave a gentle pressure that caused fabric and flesh to shift. Her other hand came up and with claws extending went through the teased crimson mane.


            Hips broadened and skirting tightened around her legs as the purple dress' slit sealed up and ruffles flounced the lower hem and the curve of her backside while bows blossomed on her hips. Her stance shifted as feet shifted to gleaming silver hooves that just peeked out of her gown's growing hemline.


            After giving her backside and skirt a final shape and appraising caress, BlackSky moved her attention higher up. While her other hand still worked the redhead's coiffure, she crafted a plunging lace-top violet bodice with silver accents and white ribbons.


            Shoulders fluttered out to billowy tuffs as the redhead's fingers shifted to elegant talons and more jewelry formed about her wrists, ears, plunging neckline, atop her brow in a heavy silver tiara, draped over her folded wings and spiraled near the end of her tail.


            DarkStar's hair piled up in a glossy ruby sculpt adorned with ivory and jet colored pearls. Two smaller knots of hair were tied behind her horns and bejeweled twin crimson tresses dangled just in front of her ears.


            Accented features gave a dreamy contented look, while Misako clapped over subtle shifts in makeup that heightened the impact of the redhead's appearance.
           


            "Good luck," BlackSky leaned down and gave her granddaughter a quick hug and a kiss.


            Purring Ranma returned the gesture.


            The hug broke apart and the redhead exhaled and took a step. A little frown marred her face, but after a couple of steps she got used to the combination of hooves and tight skirting. There was more swish to the gait than she was used to, but Ranma was optimistic towards the effect.


            Flanked by CloudFire's ringing hooves and Venus' deliberate gold-booted stride, Serenity seemed to glide into the room. Moving smoothly, almost effortlessly a shimmering golden gown clung to her and almost seemed to flow with every swaying step. White trim edged the flowing gold and starched white bows were held behind her waist and in front of her chest.


            DarkStar gasped and stared.


            White gloves with golden accents and little crescent moons went to her upper arms. A pair of feathery white wings were folded on her backless gown. Her silver hair was still tightly plaited, but that was not why DarkStar was staring.


            A woven golden headdress was mounted atop Serenity, lines of golden threads bearing the planets in cupped hands symbols of Unification and the Lunar court netted over her hair a shimmering mesh holding back most of her silver hair.  Jeweled odangos escaped on either side, but the crowning glory curved out from the top.


            Sculpted from the same glistening golden material was a pair of delicate, pointed horns.


            The two neared and continued to stare.


            "Wow, you look like a princess," Serenity said with a small smile. She knew Ranma was royalty, and had seen her glam up before, had even had the redhead sit in her lap while dressed to the nines, but this was more... natural.


            "And you..." Ranma tilted her head. "Venus helped with the horns?"


            The golden Senshi nodded.


            "You're not offended?" Serenity glanced over. "CloudFire said it was okay."


            "It was her idea," Venus confided.


            "Nah, you look great," Ranma purred slipping up towards her.


            Serenity gave a somewhat bashful smile and ran her gloved hands down her dress.


            "Now kiss!" Venus teased, as she nudged the redhead into her queen.


            Even with the hooves and restrictive dress, the redhead was agile enough to keep her balance, thus it was deliberate indent that she fell into Serenity's arms and leaned on the taller queen's torso.


            Serenity leaned down and, after a slight hesitation, gently kissed one of the redhead's curving horns.


            Ranma cooed and her tail wrapped around Serenity's legs.


            "Ah, how sweet," CloudFire smirked.


            BlackSky's own grin was far more reserved.


            Beaming, Misako clapped. She circled around her mother and flashed a broad smile at BlackSky as her tail curled and swished.


            "I'll find a nice table to the side for them to share some dessert," Yohko offered, giving Ranma a slightly regretful look.


            Pluto came out of the kitchen carrying a platter with a collection of small pastries and cakes and sorbets and practically baited her queen and the redheaded demon by tempting and staying just out of reach.


            CloudFire went to Misako as Yohko started maneuvering Serenity, while the queen adjusted her hold on the redhead.


            "Mother does know what she's doing," the flame-haired elder demon assured. "And you do have lovely hair."


            Misako's grin grew.


            Encompassing her Family and guests, BlackSky gave a contend look and pulled back her deep, infrasonic rumbling purr. Turning, she found Mira waiting by her side.


            The amber-haired woman handed back the cup of cocoa and adjusted her glasses. "That was lovely."

            "It is nice to help. Did they mind waiting?" BlackSky asked as they went back to the other end of the hall where a semi-circle of chairs had been arranged to one side


            "Of course not." Mira gave her empress a polite smile.

 

***************

 


            Clutching a leather folder, Eve waited for her grandmother. Between worries over her offering and Major Saotome's concerns, Eve had to actually concentrate on maintaining her composure.


            BlackSky neared. Mira HeartWood followed at her side, looking prim and unobtrusive.


            Eve smiled. She had played that role to the Colonel and the Commander. Miss HeatWood even wore a charcoal suit, albeit with a bustier instead of a blouse. But that garment, like the delicate tattoos on her cheeks or academic earrings, were normal in the society Miss HeartWood came from.


            From what Eve had managed to glean, all that made her look every part the dutiful, if very bright and credentialed, librarian and aide. Naturally, that raised Miss HeartWood in Eve's estimation. Like Gloria SpringLeaf being evidence that not just anyone would be the empress' personal chef, BlackSky's personal librarian was another position of great trust and perhaps indirect power.


            "Ah, Eve," BlackSky bowed her head. "Are you here to join in?" she gestured to the arc of seats. Cecilia and the bulk of her daughters were there. Additionally, Nabiki, Akane, Nariko, and a slightly awkward-looking Sophie sat at one end.


            Eve sent a bit of reassurance to her youngest before returning the bow. "Yes, I'm sorry if I missed the first parts."


            "The books are short." BlackSky waved that away. "But you did arrive at a particularly good one."


            Mira handed her a thin book entitled: Silva Succubus and the Museum of Art.


            Eve eyed the cover. There was a familiar adorably cartoonish succubus bounding up the steps of a somber marble building with elegant sweeping pillars.


            "This one has pirates," Mira said.


            "In art museum?"


            BlackSky leaned in and theatrically lowered her voice. "They are robbing it."


            "That does sound like it has much potential."


            "There is a battle on a zeppelin with teleporting ninjas," BlackSky added.


            Mira gave a demure cough. "Technically they are not ninjas, but members of a stealthy, close combat order trained in a remote mountain monastery." The librarian hesitated. "Also while the text is vague, the illustrations clearly show the frame of the airship is not rigid enough to quality as a..."


            She trailed off and took a step back.


            BlackSky waved her hand in placation. "She is right. The book is Silvan and thus neither ninja nor zeppelin appear."


            "The book seems very adventurous. It is good that the Silva Succubus books grow in complexity as they go on."


            "But?" BlackSky asked.


            Eve steeled herself. The being before her was her grandmother as much as she was Ranma's. "I have a gift of my own." She handed the leather folder over.


            "Do tell?" BlackSky opened it and her cool blue eyes lit up. Inside was an even thinner book. A rotund puppy pranced on the cover. "The Pokey Little Puppy?"


            "I had a... challenging childhood." Eve kept down her blush. "When I had my daughters I wanted to make sure I did right to them, and reading them this helped."


            BlackSky opened and started to read, her eyes scanning the pictures, her smile grew.


            "I translated it into Silvan Latin and had it reprinted, I hope I was correct." Her tail flicked.


            "Yes, you were" BlackSky closed the book and placed a hand over it. "This will do. After everyone gets a bit more dessert." She glanced over.


            Pleased Eve turned.


            Ukyou and Gloria approached carrying a pair of platters full of shallow oval, flat-bottomed bowls. Peaks of light golden-brown souffle rose out of each dish. Powdered sugar capped the crenulated pastry tops in a bit of snowy decadence.


            "Kinitou nockerl?" BlackSky asked.


            Gloria SpringLeaf nodded. "Ukyou wanted to make something traditional," she said putting her platter down and starting to serve out the dishes.


            "Nockerl?" Eve inspected the dessert and took a bite. It was light and fluffy but there was a savory and almost cinnamon taste that made it different from the version she was more familiar with. "And Kinitou because the pastry resembles the mountain chain?"


            BlackSky chuckled and took a dainty bite of her own.


            "We also wanted something that you might enjoy," Ukyou said.


            "My sister has a sweet tooth?" Ranma asked slipping up to table behind the circle of chairs.
           


            Making sure the taller queen's arm was around her waist, she leaned on Serenity's side. Little gold crescent moon earrings dangled from Ranma's ears as she gave a sharp smile. Serenity seemed a bit more comfortable, especially when she took a seat and positioned Ranma close to her.


            The Moon queen casually checked her headdress and faux horns to make sure they were straight before adjusting the redhead's own hair ornamentation and bodice. Ranma accepted one of the dishes and nuzzled Serenity before taking a fork to the pastry.


             Bearing a little smile, BlackSky watched the two for a moment. She then went to the seat in front of the circle of chairs. Pulling one of the front row seats closer to her, she sat down and opened the book. "Next we'll be reading something Eve, who will be helping us read got for us. Everyone please take a moment to get a refreshment and settle in before we start."


            The dark-haired elder demon watched as Ukyou and Gloria finished giving out the desserts. She bowed her head to Doctor Saotome who waited a couple steps behind the impromptu reading area. BlackSky's tail swished to one side then back.


             She then motioned for Eve to take the chair next to her.


            Tail swishing, the blonde slowly sat down.


            Running her fingers over the large blue fins, BlackSky maneuvered her granddaughter's tail so that it draped over her legs. Then using it as an impromptu stand she opened the book, resting the slim volume on an angle.


            Eve coughed a bit.


            BlackSky gave a regal smile. "Next we have The Pokey Little Puppy by Lowrey, illustrated by Tenggren and translated by Eve." Leaning forward she flipped the open book around so the audience could see the pages.


            As she began to read the story of curious, but naughty puppies, holes under fences, harried mother dogs, custards, shortcakes and other desserts, BlackSky noted Doctor Saotome taking a chair that was between Cecilia and Ranma

`
            The story finished and she handed the book back to her granddaughter. "It was a good translation."


            Eve bowed her head.


            Sensing her emotions, BlackSky patted the blonde's tail. "I can see why the book appeals to you."


            Considering her response, Captain Jarvis paused. Eventually she simply nodded.


            "All the desserts in the book did encourage the broodlings to eat their fill," BlackSky slowly stood.


            "Will you read another?"


            "Perhaps that Silva succubus story. It does have blimps and ninjas, but someone has been very patient," BlackSky gave her granddaughter a hug. Then said a few words to the other demons as she made her way down the hall.


            DarkStar's youngest daughter waited, all pastel ribbons and ruffles and glossy hair. She held the copy of BlackSky's diary. "Have you enjoyed it?" BlackSky asked in Silvan Latin.


            "It has been... informative." Nabiki slowly said as she tried to find the right words. "I did not expect so much... tragedy in the early days."


            "Neither did I," BlackSky knelt down and hugged her. "But it gets better." She rose.


            Nabiki blushed.


            "I'm glad you enjoyed it, I'll have Mira give you some more books before we leave tonight," BlackSky said before resuming her walk.


            The woman who had waited for her had stood up and adjusted her grey uniform.


            "Major Saotome," BlackSky bowed her horns to the human.


            "Imperatrix," Nodoka bowed at her waist.


            She gazed down at the officer. "You wish to speak with me."


            "I have a request." Nodoka met her eye. "One that will serve both our interests."


            BlackSky put a finger to her lip. She then nodded. "Do tell?" the dark-haired demon asked as they walked to the far end of the hall. On the way she grabbed a pair of small tulip-shaped glasses filled with a clear apricot liquor and handed one to the Major.


            Looking out the window, Nodoka sipped. Snowflakes fell in swirling waves.


            The succubus stood next to the scientist.


            "It's about my daughter... my daughters."


            BlackSky lifted her glass. She turned somber. "Lilith,  my daughter  she named her daughter DarkStar in part after my own mother, StarFall."


            Nodoka waited for the demonic empress' expression to become less remote. "I love them, I am there for them, but there is still more that I can do." Nodoka flexed her free hand.


            "What holds you back?"


            Nodoka laughed. "Logistics."


            "Oh?"


            Staring at her reflection in the glass, Nodoka steeled herself. She downed the glass. "A succubus can create a daughter, she can help make a sister, a mate, but she cannot make a mother."


            Exhaling, BlackSky let a bit of her poise slip as her posture became a bit less formal. "Meanwhile I am your daughter's grandmother."


            "That... that presents an opportunity."


            BlackSky sipped delicately. "You realize what you ask? The consequences?"


            "Not in full, no." Nodoka rotated the empty glass by the stem. She looked up at the taller woman. "That is where I trust you would inform me, before I commit to anything. And there will be a contract."


            "Daring." BlackSky appraised the woman. "You ask for much."


            Her eye went to AshRain who was quietly chatting with Eve and CloudFire, who was with her mate, and Misako who was being far more boisterous. "Given what I would become? What you would gain?"


            BlackSky took another sip. "A daughter."


            Nodoka exhaled. "For Ranma, for DarkStar, for her sisters. But I would need to be more than... I would also need to be their mother."


            The elder demon's tail slowly swished. "Ask."


            Major Saotome squared her shoulders. Her brown eyes met BlackSky's cold blue.


            The demoness gave a slight nod.


            "Imperatrix BlackSky would you be willing to take me as a daughter?"


           BlackSky's smile grew showing a hint of her fangs. She bowed her head. "I would be honored. For our mutual family, I hope we can come to an agreement."

 

End Chapter 2

 

And here's the Return (sorry) of BlackSky.   Congrats to all who guessed what Nodoka was up to in the previous chapter, and previous books.

 

Thanks to DCG,  Ellf,  Kevin D Hammel, Henry Stickman, and Toxinvictoria.  Special thanks to ,  J.St.C.Patrick for putting a rush on doing some detailed grammar and structure reaching so this chapter could be posted for Xmas.

 

Also, my DeviantArt page has some especially cool art of Ranma and all her three sisters by Cheaplymade.