Blood Debts Book 5 of The Return

A Ranma, Sailor Moon, Dresden Files fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma nor the Dresden Files. 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. And the Dresden Files is owned by Jim Butcher.

 

 

 

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 as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 13: Midnight Appetizer, Part A

 


            Leaning over the counter, I tapped the beaker. Tiny bubbles swept up the sides and popped. I took a small measure of pink salt and slowly tipped it in. As I poured, I pushed with my will. The bubbling fluid turned clear and the steam coming off the beaker thinned to a bluish wisp. Energy flowed from me into the potion. My eyes fluttered, and, with a little gasp, I severed the connection.


            Butters stepped to my side. Adjusting his glasses, he studied the potion. "How long does it need to go?"


            "Ten minutes or so?" I ventured with a little yawn as I reduced the flame on the Bunsen burner. Making potions after training with my sister might not have been the best idea, but I was a wizard and I wanted to do wizard stuff. The bubbles began to diminish in frequency and I put a stopper in the top of the beaker.


            Butters looked crossly at me and picked up a different stopper. This one had a bent glass tube running through the stopper that linked to a check valve. "It's still hot enough to steam for a while," he reminded.


            "Uh, right," I blushed as I swapped out the stoppers.


            "Do you want it to blow up?" Butters asked.


            I pouted. Normally, I asked my magic spirit advisors to double check my potion making. For years that had been Bob the Skull, but Butters had him. Now, I had my daughter Bonnie but she was back home with my other, more corporeal daughter, at the Carpenter's house.


            "This isn't your lab." He looked around the concrete subterranean room. "But I could see how you'd get confused."


            "This isn't like my old laboratory at all," I groused. "No shelf full of bad romance books and dribbly candles."


            Butters laughed. "You know Bob complained about how I didn't let him light candles in the apartment. He says it ruins the ambiance." He sighed. "I told him molten wax ruins computers."


            "He does make for a challenging roommate."


            "Lucky you, you could stick him down in a dank, cramped subbasement on one of the shelves overflowing with junk and leave him with his candles and books," Butters said, sounding a bit wistful and... nervous.


            "Sounds like a safety hazard," Dirac noted as he inspected the rig I had under the fume hood. After eyeing the flames and the bubbling check valve he reduced the fume hood's fan level.


            "You don't have to be so paranoid," I huffed. "It's a perfectly safe potion."


            The gangly mercenary technician gave a slow blink. "You asked for half a pound of white phosphorus."


            "I didn't use all of it."


            "And you had us shred a rocket engine manual into confetti."


            "You didn't need to pull out the whole thing," I muttered. "I only needed like half a page."


            Dirac shrugged. "There was some concern that your requests would be wasteful. Some of the oils you asked for-." He picked up a glass bottle with a tin screw-on lid. A reddish waxy liquid sloshed inside. "-are difficult to procure these days."


            "And should you even have sperm-whale oil?" I asked.


            "You did ask for it," Butters inquired. He scoffed and turned to Dirac. "And that's not the worst he's asked for. Get this, he... er she... actually had some powdered rhino horn and a lead box with a supply of depleted uranium."


            I blinked at Butter's slip up.


            Shaking his head, Dirac chuckled. "Really?"


            Butters laughed. "Harry uses it for fighting ghosts."


            "Ghost dust works by making things extra real, and a dense metal like that is perfect," I stomped the floor.


            "Huh," Dirac looked thoughtful. "You need more depleted uranium, Miss Dresden? We've got plenty of that in stock."


            I gave him a level glance. "Should I be worried you have that stuff?"


            The man smiled and turned to Butters. "How about you, Sir?"


            "Isn't depleted uranium dangerous?" Butters asked. "Yeah, it's a lot  less radioactive than natural unenriched uranium, but, radiation aside, it's still a toxic metal."


            "It's also flammable. Which gives some potential as an incendiary." Dirac mildly stated. "But we have containment procedures for far more dangerous materials," he added.


            I stared. That was true. I glanced back at the brewing potion. I wasn't sure if mercenary was referring to the Denarian coins they were storing for me, those red demon metal blades my nieces used, the freaky machine-shop magic contraptions Dirac maintained, or some other bit of exotic and dangerous stuff.


            Hells Bells, they had RPGs, missiles, grenades, and other things that went boom. I didn't know what chemicals were used to make a rocket motor or an explosive warhead, but I knew they weren't pleasant.


            Butters gave the man a skeptical glance. I could tell he was thinking similar thoughts.


            Slipping closer to Butters, the bottom hem of my skirt swished against his leg.


            "Your Jammers, they're not radioactive are they?" Butters asked.


            "Technically?" Dirac took a step to the side and gestured to a long bench where a Jamming device had been dissected.


            Instead of the bulky building-protecting models that resembled a computer mainframe crossed with a furnace, the Jammer on the lab bench was one of the portable versions worn by my sisters and nieces.


            The protective Kevlar sheeting had been pulled off revealing two pairs of gleaming whip antennas attached to a central housing. The red cover to that had been removed exposing minute... channels that had been cut into a gem-like crystalline material.


            Leaning in, Butters inspected the tiny designs and patterns.


            For my part, my attention was on the slowly bubbling light blue potion. Yes, on the potion and not the Knight's backside.

 

            Or maybe, I was rolling kinks out of my shoulders. Today, my sister had deemed my ability to fall was "satisfactory" and decided to up our training. That was in addition to her throwing me around and having me do flips and tumbles.


            "Very nice, but... is it radioactive?" Butters asked. "I mean we're talking about something that blocks out teleportation." He frowned, his curiosity drawing him in.


            Dirac provided a magnifier mounted on a metal arm with an attached light.


            Butters adjusted the height of the lens and bent over further to look at the crystalline lattice.


            My focus on the... potion grew. I shifted a leg and one of my knees popped. I was starting to see the wisdom in my sisters' instance on stretching.


            "I suppose that only makes it radiation in the sense that it's electromagnetic radiation," Butters frowned. "Still, an energetic enough EM pulse can cook you."


            "That's what a microwave oven is," I helpfully added.


            "Are they EM waves? Does this thing work like a radio jammer? I mean I don't see any power supplies. And it looks like it runs on magic, but what are the antennae broadcasting?"


            "That's correct. A magical power supply's actually what enabled most of the miniaturization," Dirac explained with pride. "The downside is that only Pattern Silvers can use these devices. Fortunately, the brood is sufficiently attuned to provide that power."


            "And your larger Jammers are electrically powered? Okay… so is most of their machinery is dedicated to converting the power to the right signal?" Butters asked


            "Magic is all about converting and shaping energy," I added. "It gets less efficient the more you have to manipulate it."


            "These Pattern Silvers must be inherently related to dimensional stability," Butters surmised. "I mean if their magic readily converts to a jamming signal."


            I thought back to what Lady Pluto looked like with my Wizard's Sight, and the mastery of opening Ways and dimensional travel she had demonstrated this morning.


            "That seems to be a valid supposition, Dirac allowed.


            "That's not exactly answering my question," Butters stood up and looked thoughtful. "But what is it about these signals that blocks teleporting? Does it scramble the targeting so they show up in the wrong spot? Does it make it so a portal can't open? Does it just raise the energy cost prohibitively high?"


            I missed out on Dirac's answer as my attention went back to the beaker. As I checked the potion, I missed Butter's follow up question. It had terms like multiplexing, modulation, and equalizing-autonegotiation,


            And then Dirac's reply got even more esoteric.


            My tail drooped as the two got deeper and deeper. Butters went over to a whiteboard on one wall and started sketching out a rough diagram that made my eyes hurt. The man had nimble fingers, but his handwriting was still as sloppy as any doctor's.


            I leaned closer, ducked under the fume hood. Inspecting the potion, my lips curled up into a smile. There was something... relaxing about potions. There was an elegance to their slow deliberate nature. Though sometimes getting the right ingredients was a real pain.


            The door clicked open.


            "Hi Nabiki!" I greeted as I got up from the workbench.


            My pale-blue haired niece stepped into the room. She looked at me and smiled. "Cute skirt auntie!" her gaze lowered. "And hooves? My."


            I blushed. "You've got a nice dress too."

            Her face brightened and she gave a little twirl; the blue bows on her fluffy pink outfit fluttering. "Thanks!"


            I glanced up at a clock on the wall. "You're early, did my next training session get moved up? Or do Eve and Ranma want me to try another tracking spell?"


            "Probably. Not that you've had much luck." Nabiki's gaze swept over the room. Her attention fell on Dirac and Butters.


            The two eggheads looked up from the whiteboard. Dirac held a marker and had crossed through parts of Butter's diagram. It looked like a demented version of chutes and ladders merged with tic-tac-toe.


            She smiled at them, and they went back to their messy scrawling. "You think Miss Mantis is laying low?" Nabiki asked me.


            I sighed. "Probably." I still had the fragment from Tessa's mandible, but I hadn't been able to get it to work with a tracking spell, not since Lomar. The Denarian was already using counter-spells to block tracking. Doubtless she had increased her precautions.


            Still, it didn't hurt to keep trying.


            My niece nodded. "And I don't know if mom moved training up, but she's been... antsy."


            "She seemed calm when she was throwing me about the room an hour ago," I noted. Well, actually, she seemed a bit tired. Part of me took some pride in that despite my sister's seemingly boundless stamina she did seem a bit fatigued towards the end.


            I suppose spending a few hours in a padded sparing room throwing and flipping someone a foot and a half taller than you had to take it out of you. Sure, my sister was strong, but I was probably half again her body-weight. The only reason I wasn't passed out taking a little nap was because of the insane endurance training I had been going on with my brother back in Chicago.


            Long, long runs on the beach wearing a weighted vest tended to add up. Also with all the flips and rolls my sister had me doing, the room tended to spin a bit after training and I figured lying down might not be the best idea.


            But playing with potentially hazardous chemicals?  That was just fine.


            "She did worry about your hooves cutting up the mats of the company's sparing room," Nabiki stated.


            I blushed. "Well..."


            "But it was only the one comment. Then she started making calls and the like. I think she's got something planned."


            My stomach clenched. When my sister got... creative training got painful. This was a woman that figured stress-positions, wall-kicks, burpees were basic warm ups, and felt that if you didn't end up with broken bones, then you weren't really pushing yourself.


            My niece had a playful smile as she slipped to the workbench with the potion bubbling on it. "Oh, what's this?" she asked, her tail swishing.


            "So, did training get moved up?" I asked.


            "Nope" She reached out to the beaker.


            My hand snapped out and caught her fingers, but her hand had already stopped half a foot from the potion. "What's going on?"


            "Wanted to talk," she said, her eyes not moving from the potion. "But now I'm curious about this." She sniffed the air. "What is it?"


            "A potion."


            Her blue eyes lit up. "Magic? What's it do? How's it work?"


            "Just a pep-up spell. Anti-fatigue."


            "Magic coffee?" Nabiki eyed my fatigued form. "I can see why you'd want that."


            "She did ask for a bunch of grounds," Butters said as he added a line of equations to the whiteboard.


            "It's not just that," I stomped a hoof. "I mean... it's more than that. Normally, there isn't a substitute for a good night's sleep and nourishment but... well..."


            "You found a loophole?" Nabiki asked.


            I smiled. "Kinda."


            "Is it done?"


            "It still needs a little bit more time to brew."


            She inspected the bubbling blue fluid. "How's it work? You just drink it?"


            "Yup. Though it won't taste very nice."


            She raised an eyebrow.


            "It's a potion, the taste is only part of it. All eight ingredients have specific purposes."


            "Eight?"


           "Yup," I started picking up items from the far side of the work bench under the fume hood. "You've got a liquid base. An ingredient paired to each of the five main senses, then one for the mind and one for the spirit."


            My niece pointed to her horns. "We've got more senses than that."


            "Well... yes..." I huffed. "Look, that's why I'm testing this out. Most of our senses seem to complement the human five. Anyway, the ingredients are more than their physical makeup. You put energy into the potion as each ingredient is put in and when you start brewing it."


            Nabiki nodded at the bowl of coffee beans, bit of salt, crystal full of sunlight, and other accoutrements. "It's about creating a holistic experience?"


            I blinked. "Uh... actually yeah."


            "You engage all the senses, the mind, and the spirit of the imbiber. But each is really hooking them, opening a channel to transport the magic energy put into the potion?" she guessed. This time she extended a claw and tapped the side of the beaker.


            "You really shouldn't do that," I admonished.


            Nabiki pouted but straightened herself up. "Maybe next time you can brew with your horns out, Aunty."


            "In that case I may need to add a new ingredient."


            "Wait..." Nabiki glanced at the beaker. "Are the ingredients for the brewer or the drinker?"


            My tail slowly swung back and forth. "Huh... both? I didn't really..."


            Leaning with her back on the bench, Nabiki gave me a half-lidded gaze that seemed too old for the youthful succubus.


            "There's more to it than that..." My tail drooped, tip curling.


            Nabiki raised her eyebrow and gave a little shake of the head.


            "Look, I never really made spells for non-humans, and until recently..."


            "You were human."


            I blushed.


            "And now you're the little sister," There was interest behind Nabiki's statement.


            "Well, I have an older brother." I went over to the beaker and turned off the burner. "So..."


            "Yes, the incubus," my niece seemed amused for a moment. Her expression sobered. "Still, you're older than your sisters."


            Using a set of tongs, I moved the beaker onto a rack to cool. "Yeah..."


            "But you're still the baby sister," she leaned forward. "That's something we have in common," she said in a near whisper.


            I met her gaze.


            Pale blue eyes stared back at me. My gaze darted to the side before a Soulgaze could start.


            Nabiki sighed. "I used to be... older." She wrung her hands over the hem of her dress. "I used to be Akane's big sister. I was a year older but..."


            I swallowed. "Alexia?"


            The young demon nodded. "She had taken Akane... she had taken me... It's complicated but..." Nabiki shivered. "Mot- Alexia made me... then she made me..."

 
            My arms went out as I bent down and hugged her. "It's okay; she's gone... you have Ranma," I assured as my tail curled around her legs.


            Nabiki leaned into the embrace. However, even with me bending over, the diminutive demon's head only came up to my chest. "Yes... it's okay," she purred. Then gave a sardonic chuckle. "That's the truth of it it's it?"


            Long hair swished as I tilted my head


            Nabiki sighed and held tighter. "I'm like this now; we're like this now. And that's okay."


            "I uh... didn't..."


            That dry laugh returned. "Please Aunty, we both know you're the emotional baby sister among your siblings. I doubt mother, Aunty Eve, or Aunty Cecelia made you that way. So... you've got that comfort, I suppose."


            "I'm surprised you're not saying that was Cecilia's sinister plan," I murmured.


            Nabiki laughed.


            "You think it's my fault I'm like this?" I stomped my leg.


            Nabiki's tail simply tapped my hoof as she cleared her throat.


            "That's the Mantle's doing," I pouted.


            "Did the Winter Mantle turn you into the baby sister?" she teased as she continued to cuddle. "Or is it simply because you are the baby sister?"


            "I've er.. I'm only two days old." I frowned. I had meant to say "I've only been this way for two days." but...


            "And will you stay the baby sister?" she quietly asked. "It's not that bad."


            Glancing at the clock, I turned back to the potion and extended my senses. "It's done," I noted.


            "Is it?" Nabiki gave a sly smile. "What about being the little sister?"


            My tail slowly rolled back and forth. "Uh... well, I am the little sister..."


            Grinning broadly, Nabiki leaned forward. "Is that your decision then?"


            The door clicked open and I turned with relief. "Ranma! Back to training? It's early but my potion's done, so I can go!" I exclaimed with forced cheer.


            The redhead blinked at me. Her tail rolled behind her as she juggled a pair of helmets.


            Okay she wasn't literally juggling them. Not that I'd be surprised if she were.


            The redhead tossed one to me.


            I caught it; it took me a second to recognize that it was a motorcycle helmet, and that my sister's leather getup was a bit more... reinforced than normal. Her leather jacket was thicker, instead of a skirt she had on leather pants, and her boots were a bit heavier and lower in the heel.


            "Did you test your potion?" Ranma asked, rotating the remaining helmet in her hands.


            "Not yet."


            "What's it do?" she asked stepping over to the fume hood. Her tone was interested, but I noticed her tail was anxiously moving to and fro.


            "Pick-me-up and energy replenishment."


            "Oooh," Ranma nodded.


            "What's this for?" I asked hefting the black helmet. "Some sort of defensive driving training? Or are you going to wallop me in the head and don't want to risk me losing an eye? Or, wait no... paintball uses different facemasks?"


            The redhead gave me a flat look. Her tail lowered and flicked about. "They're motorcycle helmets."


            I gave a slow nod. "Right... so what kind of bike training?"


            My sister tilted her head and stepped to the side. After looking me over, she inhaled and gave a little sigh.


            Tail hanging limp, I shifted my hooves. I could feel something like anxiety and frustration coming off of my sister. That was usually a bad sign.


            Smiling, the redhead looked up at me. "I was thinking going out, having a nice ride, and getting something to eat."


            "Huh?" I blinked.


            Ranma spun her helmet in one hand. "Well, if you insist on more sparring..." her smile grew predatory, but there was something almost forced to it. "You were making good progress this morning. I guess it just takes a good night sleep, and some early morning yoga and you can move around with some semblance of grace."


            "No, no! A lunch break would be nice," I assured.


            Butters turned from the whiteboard he and Dirac had filled with arcane symbols. Okay, arcane symbols I could understand. These were far too... mathy.


            My sister nodded as I studied her once more. Sure, she was offering me a break, offering to spend some time with me that wasn't training or studying or thaumaturgy but... it wasn't solely for my benefit. Hells Bells, even the time spent with my Godmother playing dress-up was also teaching me how to shift and cast Glamours.


            She glanced down at the helmet. "Hopefully it won't be as big of a mess as the last time we tried to go out for lunch."


            I nodded.


            "At least that would mean Tessa'd be making her move," Nabiki stated, her high voice turning surprisingly cynical.


            For a second Ranma smiled but then shook her head. "One shouldn't even wish for that... still, the waiting is painful."


            "But going for a ride could be fun," I glanced over to Butters and smiled.


            The thin knight coughed. "Uh Harry, I think Ranma's having this as a private lunch. I mean I don't have a motorcycle."


            The redhead nodded. "Arrangements could be made but..."


            "I have a bike!" Nabiki happily added with a dimpled smile.


            I stepped back. I guess having dimples didn't render one immune to their sinister power.


            Still, her joy was infections and I found a myself grinning as my own dimple appeared.


            "I suppose I could go out to eat instead of doing more training," I said as I went back to the beaker. I put a hand to the glass. The potion felt cool. I extended my senses and, satisfied that it was done brewing pulled it off the rack. Removing the stopper, I poured it into a plastic tube with a quick snap cap. It wasn't quite the squeeze sports bottles I was used to, but this potion was smaller in volume anyway.


            My sister watched this with interest. "Not going to test it out?"


            "Not yet." I slipped on my coat and put the tube in an inside pocket. "But I figure we're going to resume training after lunch. And after that I may need a pick-me-up."


            The redhead's smile was far from reassuring. "You're learning. Excellent."


            My tail drooped a bit as I grabbed my staff.


            "Oh, don't be such a baby," my sister laughed as we left the lab. Glancing back, she looked down at my skirt. "Oh, maybe you should put pants on, Sis."


            Grumbling, I followed her and my niece down the hallway.

 

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

 


            Motorcycles are fun.


            Motorcycles are cool.


            There's something about the speed, the power, the danger, the intimacy that comes with controlling a device that minimizes the distance between you and the road.


            Even when you're a passenger, much of the allure and power is still there. Though I'm sure much of that experience came from it being Ranma's torso my arms were clenched over as she raced down the streets.


            It had the same freewheeling rush as flying, but it wasn't quite like same. The ground was too close for one. For two the throbbing engine between my legs was very... interesting. It was probably for the best that my tail and horns were hidden and I had a mild glamour up. In retrospect I almost regretted my comment to Murphy a couple of years back about why "all women liked motorcycles", not that it was wrong, but that it hit a bit... close to home.


            The redhead drove the giant purple and burnished steel Harley with a zeal that reminded me of Murphy's own skills. Though Ranma did push her bike a further to the edge, forcing the heavy beast into leaning, nimble turns that I'm pretty sure even Karrin Murphy wouldn't risk.


            Well, not unless she was driving a gangly wizard while being chased by the Erlking and the Wild Hunt. Now that was a distressing thought. What would the Erlking make of me now?


            Lord of the Goblins, peer to the Queens of the fae, the Erlking was a predatory spirit associated with the hunt, bloodlust, and primordial violence.


            And I... may have once summoned him and tried to imprison him in a circle. It was only temporary. The idea was to keep a bunch of necromancers from stealing his power.


            It... didn't exactly work.


            I was knocked out by a necromancer, my talking skull assistant was stolen, and the Lord of the Hunt Escaped to ravage Chicago.

            Yeah... not the greatest Halloween I'd ever had.


            It was only because me summoning a tyrannosaurs rex had impressed him that the powerful wyldfae had let me go. Also...  he thought I was too weak to be "sporting prey" when he found me later that night.


            That Halloween was the first time we met. Subsequent meetings went... better. Including the time, I shot him and took the Wild Hunt from him. In his own, vicious alien way, he seemed to have a begrudging respect for me. Or at least in my ability to hunt down my enemies.


            Of course, that was back when I was human.


            The growling engine between my legs lowered to a rumbling purr as Ranma pulled us into a parking lot. The big bike slowed and she put down a leather boot to balance the gleaming machine. The kickstand flipped out and she turned off the key.


            There was a bit of a shake and the vibrations stopped. Blinking, I untangled my arms from around her torso and hopped off the bike. At least my height made that easy enough. Which was useful as my knees felt a bit loose.


            I pulled off the helmet and leaned forward to peer into glossy black surface of the bike's rear fender, in the reflection my long Alice blue hair shook out. Sapphire lips curled into a confident, hungry smile that I didn't quite feel.


            Yeah, the next time I ran into the Erlking, things were going to be... interesting.


            My sister's opaque visor studied me for a moment before she pulled her own helmet off and jumped off the seat. Another bike pulled in next to us. I blinked. The motorcycle was Pink. No let me amend that; it was PINK. The machine almost hurt to look at. It didn't' help that the rider wore a matching motorcycle bodysuit that showed off her youthful form. Even her helmet was a glossy pink with cute little cat ears.


            The whole getup was diabetes-inducing. It didn't help when my niece removed her helmet and shook out her powder-blue hair and gave a heart-wrenchingly adorable smile.


            "Going fast today Mom? You trying to lose me?" Nabiki joked.


            "Just giving your aunt a good time," Ranma laughed.


            "Not like we could lose your bike in a crowd," I muttered. I went to the long scabbard on the side of Ranma's bike. According to the label it was, ostensibly, for fishing poles. That was a handy excuse as the dimensions weren't quite right. I suspected it was really a rifle rack that had a bit of... creative rebranding for the non-American market. Not that I cared, it fit my staff well enough.


            Holding my staff, I adjusted my coat and got a good look at the building we'd stopped in front of. "A BBQ joint? Didn't Ukyou make us that for lunch yesterday?"


            "That was grilled, even the pork loin she made wasn't properly slow cooked," my sister said with a knowing grin that was kind of annoying.


            The part of me that was capable of introspection realized that this was the sort of secretive behavior I indulged on more than one occasion. The rest of me stomped a foot.


            Tilting her head, the redhead took on an air of wounded innocence. "But I'm taking you to experience the native cuisine of your people, dear sister."


            I harrumphed. Which must have been far too cute given how my niece giggled. I then made a show of looking at the restaurant's sign. "Funny, this doesn't look like a pizza joint."


            "Do you know how hard it is to get good Chicago deep dish up in Toronto?'


            I blinked. I was then struck by the image of mercenaries rolling up in full battle rattle to various pizzerias in the city. My chuckle was cut short when I realized the idea wasn't that ridiculous.


            Okay, sure, they wouldn't be all armored up, but there were a lot of mercenaries that had to be fed. And young military-aged people did like their pizza. I could see my sister giving a few choice words to a few choice people and suddenly it'd be pizza day for a whole lot of hungry mercenaries.


            I rubbed my forehead. The whole idea seemed to be a ridiculous misuse of pizza. And I'm speaking as someone who regularly used the stuff to bribe wee little pixies. Come to think of it...those pixies were my own personal army too...


             I worked my mouth. I had to know.

            "And how did you confirm there wasn't any good Chicago pizza?"


            Ranma gave a slow blink. "There's a couple of agents from that city and some local to this a area and I asked them if they knew any good places around here that matched up."


            The tension in my shoulders lessened in relief. "Ah good, I was worried you'd have the agents go out and buy a bunch of pizzas."


            My sister nodded. "Well, yeah, how else would they test 'em?"


            I sighed.


            "I know." She patted me on the hand. "I also looked for a proper Chicago dog. That went even worse. I couldn't even find a good Portillo's hot dog place in Ontario."


            I stared. That she would even know about a local chain was... Okay, yes Portillo's hot dogs were great, and their ribs were phenomenal.... when I could afford them. But this was something she shouldn't even know about.


            "Ranma.... do you ever think you're too thorough?"


            The redhead snorted. "Please, thorough would be calling up a Chicago steak house and having them air freight over some aged beef."


            Nabiki frowned. "But I thought you-"


            Ranma's hand clamped down on her daughter's shoulder. "Not now, Dear."

            I blinked. "Uh?"


            Ranma took my hand and started pulling me towards the restaurant. "Now, Chicago is known for some slow-work smoke houses."


            I continued to blink at her. "Yes...?"


            "So, I figured this place would work." She looked me up and down, eyeing my shirt. "Well, it's a good thing you can change your clothes."


            "I'm not a messy eater!" I pouted.


            My sister gave me a patronizing smile.


            Grumbling, I followed her into the restaurant. The scent of wood smoke and meat filled my nose and I had to keep from salivating. I also focused on my glamour; I just knew that if my tail had been out it would be twitching to and fro.


            There was a bit of an antechamber with plain wood seats that served as a waiting area. A podium sat at the passage that led deeper into the restaurant. The seating beyond was plain and the tables were black with shiny metal trim. The place was a bit too clean to be considered a proper dive, but it definitely was a hole-in-the wall.


            Without any mind, Ranma went past the ten or so people waiting at the benches. Half were a group of young men in overalls from a machinist's shop. There was a young couple in office-drone wear. Okay, I don't know if the two men were dating, but they seemed familiar and happy enough together. And across from them was a gaggle of highschool-aged girls.


            They all watched my sister enter, but only the machinists held their interest. Then I came in. And all their eyes fell on me. My lips quirked into a smile.


            "Why are people looking at me like that?" I whispered, once we were at the hostess station. I also noticed that a fair number of the dining crowd had looked up from their tables and took notice of me.


            My niece gave a soft chuckle. "Well Auntie, you're a big, tall weirdo. But... since you're a pretty-looking big, tall weirdo they find you intriguing," she quietly replied.


            "Says the girl in the pink jumpsuit," I muttered.


            "Also, you're practically broadcasting your hunger," Ranma added before the hostess came up.


            "Am not," I said, smiling at the long-limbed blonde woman. The hostess wore a dark grey blouse and a black skirt that showed off her slim form quite well.


            The hostess momentarily shied away from my gaze. "Yes?"


            "Saotome, party of three," Ranma stated.


            "Do you mind waiting? It won't be a moment." the hostess asked.


            "We made a reservation." My sister's voice was mildly put out. She turned back to glance at us.


            Pouting, I stepped closer. I didn't quite loom over the blonde; she was rather lanky. Thus I was only a head taller than her. "I am so hungry. Please, couldn't you do something?" I purred.


            The hostess blinked. Her chestnut eyes widening ever so slightly. "Yes, of course," she brightened. "This way."


            "Would it be too much to ask for a window table?" Ranma asked.


            "Would a booth be fine?" the hostess asked. The spring in her step made the back of her black skirt do interesting things.


            My sister glanced out the window. "Perfect."


            "Your server will be by shortly," the hostess bowed and sauntered away.


            Ranma and Nabiki took one side of the booth while I leaned my staff and took the entirety of the other side.


            "Laying it on a bit thick," my sister noted as she flipped through the menu.


            "Well, I am hungry," I said picking up the menu.


            "Hmm," Ranma murmured. Her purple eyes darted to look out the window.


            Following her gaze, I twisted in the seat to look over my shoulder. She was looking at the two motorcycles we had driven in.


            "Really? The whole-eating-while-watching--the-door-and-your-vehicle-thing? Are you that worried about your fancy bike being stolen? What about sitting with your back to the wall?"


            The redhead laughed. "Stolen? Oh, if only."


            Pouting, I went back to the menu as my cheeks pinked in embarrassment. Well...they didn't really turn pink, but I managed to add that detail to my glamour.


            The smell was enticing. Clearly, this was a place that knew how to slowly prepare and infuse meat. Eyeing the other tables would have made my mouth water, but I managed to keep myself in check.


            It would have been overwhelming, but I was used to temptation and how to mitigate it. Though, I'll admit my gaze may have... lingered. Turns out I was hungrier than expected.


            "Good choice sister, everything looks so delicious," I murmured. Yes, I said "everything", certainly not "everyone".


            "They do?" Nabiki idly asked.


            Ranma's response was cut-off by the approach of our waiter. He was a twenty-something young man, who, while a bit short, did have a muscular sleekness to him. A confident smile was on his olive features and I was reminded of Warden Ramirez. I had gone on more than a few adventures with Ramirez, including riding a dinosaur together and dueling White Court vampires while the rest of their court watched.


            My lips quirked. That was a bittersweet night. Aside from the indiscriminate death and destruction, a gaggle of super ghouls had wrecked the party, that was the night that Lash had taken a psychic bullet for me.


            Lash may have been the shadow of one of the Fallen, but she had shown the ability to change and grow. She was also the mother of my younger daughter. However, looking at our waiter, my mind was focused on something lighter that had happened that night.


            That was when I had learned that, despite assertions to the contrary, Ramirez was actually a virgin. I leaned forward and gave our waiter a coy smile as Ranma and Nabiki gave their orders.


            Soon enough, his attention was on me. Still smiling at the man, I slowly let my attention go to the menu.


            After flipping through the menu, I raised my gaze. "I'll have the lemonade, and whatever you think is tasty."


            He gave a cocky smile. "Well, how do you like your meat?"


            I folded the menu and placed my hands on it. "Juicy, flavorful, generous portions. Oh and plenty of sauce," I added with a wink.


            "There's always the brisket. There's a batch of cherry-wood beef ribs. And we do have some smoked sausages that are about ready."


            "I do like a good sausage."


            The waiter grinned knowingly. He poised his pen over the order pad. "Which will it be?"


            "All of it," I smiled. I looked over to see my sister carefully watching the exchange.


            He paused. "The brisket alone is nearly a pound of meat."


            I put my hand out and patted him on the arm. "Don't worry, I can handle it. I am very hungry." I licked a lip. "Besides, if not I'm sure I can get... help."


            "Of course. I'll get your drink orders," the waiter grinned goofily and sauntered a way from.


            "Charming young man." I watched him leave.


            Ranma gave me a flat look.


            My niece giggled.


            "What?"


            The redhead leaned back. "Just curious."


            Recalling how she was watching me earlier, I frowned. "I thought you said this was just a meal. That we weren't training."


            "Everything is training," Ranma said.


            I loved my sister, but sometimes I did want to hit her.  Problem was she'd say that was also training.


            The waiter had returned with our drinks. He gave me a hopeful grin as he put the lemonade before me. I put my lips around the straw and sampled. "Lovely," I purred.


            "Will there be anything else?" he asked, keeping the goofy, expectant look.


            "I'll let you know," I smiled patting him on the arm again.


            Grinning, he left.


            "Someone's trying to earn his tip," I noted.


            "Shameless," Nabiki laughed.


            Ranma sipped her water. "As I said, everything is training."


            "What? This a 'Let's see how BlackStone acts around humans' bit?"


            The redhead chuckled. "Your godmother did just teach you how to use glamours."


            I crossed my arms. "Well, this isn't my first time out in public. What about that trip Lady Pluto too me on?"


            "Yes, she told me about that." Ranma swirled the ice in her glass.


            "Does everything have an ulterior motive with you?"


            "Says the wizard." The redhead leaned back. "I let you have your secrets and cryptic half-answers. Do let me have my esoteric training methods."


            "I'm not going to wax your bike for you," I huffed.


            Ranma laughed. "Aww, but it'll make a great breathing exercise."


            Nabiki blinked. "What?"

            "Before you time kiddo," I said. I then gave my best Mr. Myagi impression. "Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important."


            My niece glared at me.


            "Yes, all those old movies auntie BlackStone likes are before your time Nabiki-chan," Ranma teased.


            "I'm a year older than you," the cute little succubus said with a little glare.


            I blinked and looked between mother and daughter. Ranma's age was hard to tell, but she couldn't be younger than twenty, and Nabiki had to be no older than... I paused. She was driving a motorcycle. So, she had to be, what, sixteen? She hardly looked that. She said Alexia had twisted her and that she was a year older than Akane. How old was Akane then? "Uh... what?"


            "Never mind that." Ranma laughed. "Still, we do need to make sure you can handle yourself... in public."


            I nodded. Flirting was one thing but... well my brother had the devil of a time adapting to living on his own or, more accurately, living without the financial support of the White Court. See, holding a steady job is actually kind of hard for a hungry incubus, especially one that was more than willing to sleep with anyone who caught his fancy. Turns out break-room fun time was not the best way to retain employment.


            So, I could see the reason for my sister's concern. "There's also that after Tessa is taken care off..."


            Ranma nodded; it was a sad little motion. "You'll be going back."


            "Thomas can help me," I huffed.


            The redhead sipped her water. "Yes, and it's wonderful that you'll have him, but we should make sure you're as ready as possible here and now." She sighed.


            I could feel her concern and worry. My sister knew she was taking things fast, faster than she'd like with me, but she didn't have any choice.


            She played with her cup. "This social interaction stuff is more Cecilia's area of expertise. But she's with Lea."


            "And what is she doing with my godmother?"


            "Do you want to ruin the surprise?"


            I blinked. Normally, surprise and my godmother were a terrible and terrifying combination. I honestly wasn't sure if the fact that Cecilia was helping her diminished or added to that. My apprehensive musing was cut short when our waiter returned with a giant platter laden with meat.


            Several plates were placed before me and I purred in delight. My sister's bemused expression was all that kept me from tearing into the mass of succulent, savory smelling meats. However, it was convenient that BBQ was finger food.


            For a while I was lost in contently chewing and eating. Though to my embarrassment, Nabiki did have to tap me on the shoulder a couple of times. It seemed that my glamour would... slip a bit when my attention focused elsewhere.

 

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

 


            We left the restaurant feeling happy and full. Clouds had moved in, dimming the chill afternoon light. I pulled my coat a bit tighter over my shoulders, but it was purely reflexive. Both my succubus and Winter nature made me rather immune to the cold.


            A hand ran across my belly, despite feeling full, part of me was still a bit… peckish. Pushing those thoughts aside, I watched my sister get her bike ready. The redhead nodded to her daughter and Nabiki went off to her pink bike.


            Glancing at me, my niece took a few steps further away and pulled a phone out of a pocket.


            I grumbled as she powered it on and started talking. While I could easily understand why my sisters used their phones and radios to keep in touch, it was still a bit frustrating. My powers made it impossible for me to use a cell phone or other such technologies; my mere presence burned them out.
           


            "Just be glad we didn't make you stand in a circle," Ranma idly noted, sensing my frustration. Then Nabiki waved over her mother. Frowning, the redhead ran up and took the phone.


            As Nabiki came over to me, I watched the redhead blink then become peeved.


            Curious and more than willing to snoop, I decided to Listen in. Listening isn't exactly magic, which makes it handy for eavesdropping on phone conversations; it's more of a trick of mental focus. I concentrated on what my sister was saying and Listened.


            "I don't care what assurances she's giving us; the timing is too cute," Ranma snarled.

            I almost winced as her deep contralto voice came in clear and loud. I had forgotten just how much better my hearing was now.


            She had started to pace and turn. A motion that I noticed allowed her to keep track of her surroundings.


            "Oh, I'm sure she has plenty of information, after all her stupid pet cultist was responsible for the last breach," the redhead sighed and paused. "No... of course I want to meet her."


            I blinked. Her tone and stance had shifted slightly at the end. My sister always prowled about languidly balanced, but I could feel that her hackles were raised. More than that, there was a bit of... eager anticipation about her.


            "Eve, we'd need more time." There was another pause. "Yeah, that she's willing to give it to us is also-"


            Looking across the street, my sister trailed off. A crimson motorcycle had pulled into the gas station on the opposite side of the road. The Suzuki's matte paint dully gleamed. A lithe figure in a grey bodysuit straddled the bike.


            "Oh, you bitch!" My sister snarled as she shifted and pointed towards the bike with her free hand. Shadows deepened around her the tips of her fingers began to spark and her eyes started to glow.


            The rider pulled off her grey helmet. Long dark brown spilled down the left side of her face and shoulder. I could just make out the woman's delicate features and her cold, adamantine gaze.


            For a moment the woman and my sister stared each other down.


            Hunger and aggression came off or Ranma in waves. Nabiki had taken a position to watch her mother's flank, and I noticed my own body reacting as my armor felt like it was ready to spring into position and the runes on my staff started to smolder.


            I could feel... wrongness coming from the woman on the red Japanese bike. There was a magic about her that was disturbingly familiar.


            The woman gave a cold smile that didn't reach her eyes, revved her bike, wove between the pumps, and sped off.


            My sister's fingers tracked her departure. "Yeah, that was her. Damn show off," she grumbled as her arm lowered. Her body maintained its spring-like tension.


            "Fine, set up the meeting." Ranma said as she stepped back and kept her vigil. She seemed to take particular notice of approaching vehicles and second story windows. She closed the phone and stalked back over to us.


            "Well?" Nabiki asked, innocently as she sidestepped so she could keep a view of what was behind her mother.


            "Was that who I think it was?" I asked. My sisters had briefed me about some of their enemies. And a lithe brunette with a delicate, but cold, face and a hired cultist narrowed the pool down. Also the grey bodysuit and red motorcycle were pretty large clues.


            "Yeah, that was Galina A'deen, leader of the Combat Cyborgs."


            "Soviet assassins hired to kill your moon queen and her magical girls," I stated shaking my head. Sadly, that was not the strangest hitman and client pairing I had heard of. That would have to go to "Winter Knight ordered to kill one of his own queens" or Winter Knight arranging his own 'retirement'." Though for that second one, I'll confess I was not entirely in my right mind at the time.


            Ranma nodded. It was a curt, deliberate motion. She was still on edge. As if expecting a fight to break out at any moment, she moved to her bike and motioned for Nabiki to get on hers and for me to hop on behind the redhead.


            "And she wants to meet with me," my sister said with a predatory grin.


           

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

 


            After that little surprise, things started happening fast. Unfortunately, since it was being organized by Eve, and Ranma didn't trust me with a radio, I was pretty much in the dark.


            This world didn't have anything like the Unseelie Accords. The Accords were rules setup by Mab that most of the supernatural nations and powers of my world had signed onto. Surprisingly new, the Accords were built on previous conventions and traditions and were subject to periodic revision. Mab had hinted that another such a revision convocation was pending. No wonder she was irritated when the Winter Mother sent me on what was supposedly a quick mission to the border.


            The Accords had procedures for settling debts, both wergilds and duels, negotiating safe passage through territory, declaring neutral ground, petitioning of grievances to another signatory, rules of host and guest, and other diplomatic niceties. Well, perhaps niceties was stretching it. The Accords explicitly had no "spirit of the law" only what was the letter of the law.


            Under the Accords, a third party signatory could be brought in to arrange the meeting, or if there was no open belligerency Accorded Neutral Ground could be chosen. I will note that I've experienced betrayal at such a meeting, and yes it was the Denarians.


            Still, it at least gave a framework.


            There was no such framework here.


            Hells Bells, I wasn't even sure how the Russians had contacted the mercenaries. Let alone, what convinced both parties to pick an acceptable venue.


            I wrapped my arms tighter around my sister as she gunned her bike down the highway. Ranma seemed to be going further towards the lake that made the city's Southern border. We were nearing an industrial area. I could feel her irritation at Galina's little appearance.


            Her showing up like that said a few things. First, that the Russians were able to find Ranma. I could understand why my sisters were up in arms about that. But from what they had told me, Galina had hired a rather powerful cultist. Magical tracking could be a real pain to defeat, no matter what precautions you took.


            Even Tessa, with all her experience and sorcerous minions, managed to leave enough behind that we were able to track her to Lomar. Granted, she had gone to ground since then, but we were going to find her again.


            Still, Galina could have attacked us. She could also have brought the other five cyborgs. Being outnumbered two-to-one by them would have been... troubling. Instead, Galina did not. A mitigating factor was that my sisters weren't Galina's targets. Serenity and those magical girls were.


            Killing Ranma wouldn't get Galina paid. It might bring the Russian a measure of satisfaction, it might make the job of killing the magical girls easier, but the act itself wouldn't satisfy their contract.


            What Galina did was, effectively, saying: "Yes, I found you; I could have attacked, but I just want to talk." That she appeared at a gas station was not lost on me. Though, I did wonder how much that made my sister hesitate.


            Not that I had any room to cast stones, my first real fight took place at a gas station, which, somehow, burned to the ground.

 
            The bike slowed as we pulled into an abandoned factory complex. I chuckled despite myself. It wasn't quite as arch as an abandoned warehouse, but I suppose when one wanted a large amount of private space in a city the choices were a bit limited.


             To my surprise, Ranma drove past the gutted buildings and into a crumbling parking lot. We passed over gravel and cracked asphalt passed by us as we went out to roughly the center of the abandoned lot.


            A few weeds had popped out, dotting the bare ground. Other than that, the lot was clear for a few hundred yards around. However as it was surrounded by sagging wood fences and gutted buildings the lot was at least fairly private.


            Nabiki and Ranma stopped their bikes and I hopped off. I looked around the buildings. I couldn't see any snipers, grenade teams, missile crews, or whatever nasty weapons the mercenaries were bringing. Which was kind of the point. The lot was also big enough that I couldn't really smell anything. At least it was interesting to know the limits of my new senses.


            My coat blew in the breeze as I continued to look about. "We've been stood up?" I asked as Ranma led us away from the bikes.


            "They're being told the location now; keeps them from having time to prepare," Ranma said.


            "But what if she's following us?" I asked, shrugging my staff against my shoulder.


            My sister gave me a bemused look. "That's why we only arrived just now."


            "Oh." I frowned. Still, the cyborgs were quick. I'd bet good money Galina had her own backup following her. Which meant that this was rapidly turning into a powder keg.


            My sister and niece both shifted into their armor. Kevlar bodysuits and plate-bearing armored skirts and vests appeared over their bodies.


            "Being a bit aggressive?"


            Ranma tapped the dull-red gem on the center of her chest. Two pairs of long ribbon-like antenna trailed off of it. "I want Jammers up and running."


            Nabiki nodded. "Jammers would be good. Especially if she brings..." Something chirped in her vest and she stepped off to the distance.


            I nodded. The devices powered up. Their vibrations set my teeth on edge. It also made my horns ache. Noticing that the other two girls were showing their demon forms, I relaxed my glamour and shifted out my wings, horns, and tail.


            A bit further away from us, Nabiki was speaking into her radio.


            With my horns out the fuzziness retreated and my senses sharpened. Which had a couple of negative effects: First, it made that annoying buzzing worse; Second, it underscored just how exposed we were out in the middle of this lot.


            My niece waved her hand, her youthful face tense. She held up two fingers, made a fist and shook it back and forth, and then made a few more esoteric gestures.


            Still, I gathered enough of her meaning and I nodded sagely along with my sister. Our guests were coming. I heard the sound of a pair of engines.


            Two motorcycles sped onto the lot. They came from the opposite side of the expansive lot. There was Galina's trim form on her red Suzuki bike. And following her was a... man on a shiny silver BMW bike.


            I might not know motorcycles, but they parked their bikes just far enough away that I was able to read their brand names or make out their logos. I had to chuckle at the paranoia. In a way it made sense to go for smaller vehicles. A bike had a lot less space to hide a bomb or equipment than a car. Part of me mused on the idea of the mercenaries trying to insist Galina come here on a bicycle.  Sure, you could put explosives inside the frame, but that'd be less space to work with.


            The two approached. Galina wore a grey bodysuit with red trim. On a cursory glance, it almost passed as motorcycle armor. But as she approached, its military utility became more apparent.


            Long limbed, she walked with a crisp, formal grace that reminded me of a professional ballerina. Though her chest was a bit large by ballet dancer standards. Dark brown hair was tied behind an ear and tumbled down her left cheek and shoulder.


           Her face was youthful, surprisingly delicate-looking, but her dark eyes were cold. She watched us with a steady gaze. I could feel her tension and resolve. She smelled.... well she smelled fit, fresh, and a bit exotic, like a mixture of new sweat and light machine oil.


            As a succubus, I found her intriguing and tempting. But, as a wizard... I swallowed as my senses focused on her. With every smooth step whorls of necromantic energy wafted out from her. Holding my staff, I continued to study her. My sisters had told me these cyborgs were created using magic to link their mechanical components to their organic bodies.


            At the time I hadn't really considered what kind of magic would be used to accomplish that. Mortal magic and technology don't play nice, so a magical cyborg was a concept that hurt my head and I didn't give the idea too much thought.


            In fairness, that had been one among many dry briefings. Also when Eve started talking about human experimentation using captured Nazi Black Magic research I tended to not question the details.


            I forced a smile as Galina approached. In a sick way it made sense. Say you wanted to bond something dead with something alive? Say you had no moral compunctions? Why not use necromancy to build your cyborg army?

 

            The answer: because that's completely insane. Not that insanity ever stopped a necromancer.


            Keeping my rictus grin, I shifted my attention to Galina's companion. And I almost fried the brutish looking man on the spot. It wasn't the garish suit the broad-shouldered man wore. Though it was a hideous livid yellow with green squares. It wasn't his horrible striped tie. Nor the neatly-pressed shirt he wore that had a pattern that I swore was actually a summoning rite. It wasn't even the hideous, oily flock-of-seagulls hairdo that perched on his craggy face. Even his briefcase was a sickly green leather.


            No, it was the greasy magical energy that emanated from him like a cheap cologne (which he also reeked of). The man was a cultist, blatantly so. He strode forward, thin lips pulled into a mocking grin. Whatever horror he worshiped might not be an Outsider, but whatever it was, it was something best forgotten. Smoked aviator style sunglasses covered his eyes. Worse, the greasy, shimmering energy coming off of him felt vaguely... familiar.


            To my side, Ranma gave the cultist a hard glare. She saw him as a threat as well, but most of her attention was on the approaching brunette. Emotions poured off of the redhead. It was a tightly blended mix of anger, interest, and respect.


            I could feel my sister's mental state heighten as her emotions sublimated and she entered an almost meditative state. Her emotions were still there, but her mentality had steadied. Her body was even more like a coiled spring, as her motions turned languid and even smoother than the cyborg's.


            "Galina A'deen," my sister purred as she strode forward. "What do you want to talk about?"


            Nabiki stood a bit off to the side and behind her mother, taking a flanking position and watching our backs.


            The Russian and the cultist stopped. They were about twenty feet away from us.


            Wind blew over the lot.


            Demonic purple eyes met dark cybernetic ones. The two woman stared each other down. I had seen Ranma fight. I had spent the last two days being trained by her. I had a fair idea what my sister was capable of when it came to melee combat.


            And frankly, the idea that that cyborg was her match was terrifying.


            "So, you two gonna keep posturing or are you gonna whip 'em out and start measuring?" I said.


            Growling, Ranma's eyes flickered to me.


            The cultist snorted.


            "It is an interesting suggestion." Galina's lips quirked and her eyes actually seemed a bit amused.


            "Don't you start," Ranma hissed.


            "Oh? It's one of yours that suggested it," Galina relaxed her stance. Those cold eyes seemed to scan me. "My, another one? How does the Ryzhaya bestiya find the time?" she asked the cultist.


            The brutish man shrugged.


            "And what's with bringing him?" Ranma pointed to the cultist. "Mal de Veste's the fool that caused the Ottawa mess."


            I narrowed my eyes. Well, I would have, instead I was gaping at his name. Look, I knew Mal de Veste was a pseudonym, but I hadn't quite realized it was also a horrific pun.

 

            The real shock was that I was, at the moment, at a loss for a good quip.


            Galina exhaled. "Yes, that."


            "Or are you going to blame Shest?" my sister smirked. "It was just the two of them. Your ghosting little cyborg or that big creep. Whose fault was it?"


            "There were... complications," irritation flashed on the Russian's delicate face.


            "Was stealing a Jammer core really worth all that?" Ranma shrugged. "Well, it's not like any of yours died. So what if you triggered an invasion of Squid monsters."


            "I warned her not to trigger a pulse," de Veste grumbled as he held the base of his pinky between the thumb and forefinger of his opposite hand.


            "I was hoping I could offer some information," Galina sighed.


            Ranma simply stared.


            The Russian gave a frustrated noise. I could feel the hate pouring off of her. Like Ranma, she wanted to fight. She saw the succubus as a challenge, but, also like my sister, she held back.


            "How about you disco Dan? You bring anything to this other than ugly clothes?"


            "Says the gothy, cowgirl fae," Mal grumbled. "Pointy ears, a western shirt, and duster? What, no cowboy boots?" he asked, slowly lowering his briefcase to the ground.


            I eyed the case. It was ugly, but less than the rest of the guy's getup.


            Galina held up a hand. "Enough. That invasion of Ottawa was not planned; it was not desired."


            "Yeah, if you had planned it your girls would have been emplaced to ambush the Senshi when they arrived." Ranma's grin was broad.


            Galina allowed a slight chuckle. "You think we're that desperate?"


            My sister's purple eyes returned to the Russian and held her gaze.


            As the wind blew through the lot, the tension ratcheted up. Fingers flexing, Galina shifted her stance ever so slightly. Leaning down, Mal's large hand went to one of the catches on his briefcase.


            I flipped my staff forward, the end suddenly pointing at the brutish man's face. The runes started to smoke and glow. "Don't do anything rash, Fashion Disaster."


            The oily man glanced over to Galina; his heavy brow furrowing.


            The deceptively delicate Russian made a cutting motion with her hand. Sighing, she met Ranma's gaze. "Think what you will of us. But we do not want a repeat of Ottawa."


            "That's why you're here?" I blurted.


            "Yes." Galina spared me a moment's glance before going back to Ranma. "We detected something unusual."


            "You mean Shest and him found something," the redhead pointed to the cultist.


            Galina gave a frosty smile. "Yes and it wasn't until they and Dve'nadtsat researched things that they realized what they had found."


            "And I'm sure, that gave you time to move your girls and cover your asses," Nabiki interjected.


            "Handy," I noted.


            Galina barely concealed the flash of irritation. "The Moon Queen has... unconventional reconnaissance assets, and we are on guard against such intrusion."


            "Wait..." I raised my staff away from Mal's face. "Lady Pluto. You're scared of a little girl?"


            The Russian glared at my niece then at me. "That green-haired, red-eyed... thing is no little girl." Her expression flickered and she went back to Ranma. "Nor is it the first one that Zaika has employed."


            Mal rumbled something that might have been a laugh.


            "What did you find? And where?" Ranma asked.


            "Finally, to the point. If I may?" Galina asked and gestured to the briefcase.


            Ranma made no attempt to cover up the glow in her eyes or the sparks coming off her fingers as she took aim at the Russian. "By all means," my sister smiled.


            Unperturbed, Galina nodded to Mal.


            The brutish man knelt down to his briefcase. He stared at me. Or at least I think he did, it was hard to tell with those smoked sunglasses.


            I turned my eyes just to the side. There was no way I was going to Soul Gaze with him. Still, I moved my staff back into position.


            Bulky, slab-like hands undid the catches with surprising nimbleness, and he slowly opened the case. There was no explosion. There was no out-rush of poison gas. There wasn't even a cache of weapons.


            Instead, there was simply a pile of plain papers held together with a heavy binder clip. The papers started to blow and fan about in the wind. I could see pages of copied handwritten notes, a few maps with margin scrawls, and printouts of... well it looked like old style radar displays overlaid on the screen from an Asteroids arcade machine.


            I blinked. "Huh."


            Ranma gave the binder a quick look. "Ah, so not a location?"


            "Shest says it's a non-localized phenomenon," Galina shrugged.


            "They're moving. I'd say they're testing around, seeing which place is the weakest," Mal stated, his voice flat. "Though the more they test the more it resonates, eventually they'll get lucky and find the right spot."


            I gripped my staff. The brute of a man said that last part almost admiringly. Well of course, someone that worshiped squid-gods would approve of Tessa's scheme. "Lucky?" I asked with a bit of scorn.


            There was more than my distaste with this man. Tessa was many things. Sure she was more impulsive than husband Nicodemus, but she was still a devious schemer. She had invested a lot of work in this plot. And my gut said she wouldn't have the final summoning depend on luck.


            Mal pulled back his lips. "For them. This is fertile ground, they can take advantage of the worm-rot that's riddled reality." He made a show of looking me over.


            I shivered. He wasn't wrong. If you were skilled enough and knew where to look you could pull magical energy from just about anything. Even a body of water held power, especially if it had historical or ritual significance. Or if you were lazy, the human body had plenty of energy. And Tessa was more than willing to slaughter hundreds to pull off a sacrifice.


            The brutish man almost sneered. "You might not be of the Rune Order but you're one of the wise. Tell me you can't feel the futile ending, the imminent collapse."


            I snorted. "Next you'll be telling me the Stars are Right and then offer me some pamphlets."

            "Not yet they're not, but soon." The man in the ugly suit laughed. "Besides, proselytizing you would be pointless."


            "Is it?" I flexed my hand on my staff.


            "Pentacle choker, enchanted duster, sidhe blood, stink of magic, and oh yes, wizard's staff." Mal smirked. "Yes, I'd say you're a player." He inhaled and his thin lips forced to a smile.


            Both Galina and Ranma looked annoyed while Nabiki side stepped so she could stand flank to me.


            "Me? Player? We've got a magic cyborg and mercenary demons, don't they count?" I asked


           Mal smoothed his tie. "Please. For all Miss A'deen's experience, this is her first real operation against magical targets. "


            Galina's eyes narrowed at the cultist.


            "And while your..." Mal tilted his head. "Sister?" he asked then nodded. "While she may be more clued in... it's as a killer. She'll use the arcane, but as a weapon. She won't study for the sake of the art."


            Ranma gave a tiny nod of agreement.


            "But you...." Mal put his thumb and forefinger over the base of his opposite pinky.


            I then recognized that motion. It was a nervous habit, as if he were spinning a pinky ring, but he wore no jewelry.


            "You, understand." His smile seemed genuine. It did not make his features any more pleasant to look at. "Oh, we may not agree, but... we might understand each other, one philomath to another."


            "Fat chance Mongo," I sniffed. I could handle the lummox's aloof insults; that was fine. But this... respect was wrong. Hired muscle, cultist or not, shouldn't express an intellectual kinship. They certainly shouldn't even know the word philomath. This oily clod being a lover of arcane learning made as much sense as mob-boss Marcone's bodyguard having a graduate degree.


             Okay that wasn't fair, I knew "Cujo" Hendricks at least went to college. Sure, it was because he played university football. Which... I'll admit was more than I could claim. Hells Bells, I didn't even complete High School. Sure, I had my GED, which was technically the same, but...


            Frowning, I glanced at my sister. It was still probably more formal education than Ranma had gotten. If her stories about spending over a decade travelling over China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan learning martial arts were true, then she had even less schooling than I did. On the other hand, she had claimed to have been trained at a monastery alongside Dr. Steven Strange.


            I was pretty sure she was joking about that. My other sisters... well I knew even less about their schooling. Not that it really mattered. Dr. Saotome was definitely an educated woman and she wasn't ashamed about her daughters... myself included.


            Mal's blunt smile was worryingly familiar. He knew more than he let on. "If you say so," he chuckled. "One doesn't have to agree with an artist, or even like the art, to appreciate the skill involved."


            My eyes narrowed slightly. Some of the most technically skilled magic I had seen was done by the Denarians. I recalled a series of circles that used crystals, statues, images, caged sound and light, all to build a prison for a special little girl. It was terrifyingly complex and took centuries of skill to create. It was also extremely satisfying to smash up with my staff.


            He seemed to make a point of studying my face. The big man then shrugged. "Deny it then," he said, a little bit disappointed. "If you fear your brood would think ill of you."


            I gave a frustrated growl and split my attention between him and the cyborg. If I could risk it, I'd ignore the unpleasant man completely.


            His obnoxious, ugly grin returned.


            Feeling very weary at all this, I thought about the vial in my coat pocket. I wondered if I could use a bit of a "pick me up", or if me downing a magical potion would cause an incident. There was also that this was the first potion I had made as a succubus, and used new ingredients, so I couldn't be sure it would work, let alone know its side effects.


            Ranma glanced at me. I could feel a spike of impatience come off of her as she made a "are you done now?" expression.


            Chastised, I nodded. Then I glared at Mal's smug little chuckle.


            "Your information is tempting," the redhead looked down at the still-open briefcase. Papers fluttered in the wind. "But why should we accept? What is your price?"


            "Price?" Galina took a step closer to the briefcase before de Veste. "What good is completing our contract if the world ends?"


            "You want to enjoy your money. How capitalistic," Ranma stated.


            I blinked. I didn't think it was possible for the Russian's eyes to get colder.


            "Not everyone can cling to powerful patrons," Galina said.


            "Yeah, sucks that the commies decided to kill you all for being too expensive," my sister shrugged. "Good thing the Church was able to save your chrome-plated butts."


            A minute tremor rippled through the cyborg's body. It was a tiny tell, but that the Russian had any reaction at all told me she was furious.


            "Don't be so arrogant tvar," Galina hissed. "We all make plans for our survival. I know you're not simple enough to pretend your masters will never betray you." The Russian's eyes darted to me for a moment. "What is the old mercenary saying about payments, de Veste?'


            "They don't have to pay you if you're dead," Mal grumbled.


            Galina gave another smile. This time, disturbingly, it reached her eyes. "I intend for my team to get paid for my troubles, tvar. I intend for there to be a world left after we conclude our mission."


            "Ah," I said, realization dawning. "That's your price."


            The Russian turned to me. I pulled back from her gaze.


            "Say you kill the magical girls. The Moon Queen, her princess... whoever. Afterwards, she'll be coming after you," I stuck a thumb towards Ranma. "But... what if she was just a bit slow?"


            My sister set her jaw.


            The Russian's lips tugged up into a predatory smile. "Or perhaps just her. Maybe others delayed. Maybe it comes down to me and her. I buy time for my girls to escape."


            A crimson eyebrow rose. I didn't have to see my sister's tail to know her interest.


            Galina took another sidestep, both closer to the briefcase and to Ranma. "Maybe I die. Maybe you die. Maybe both die."


            "We could fight right now," Ranma stated.


            "Messy, we're not alone." The Russian made a show of looking around. "You want intimacy."


            I could feel the emotions flicker across my sister. Letting assassins get away with murder so she could indulge in a one-on-one duel? I'd like to say that she'd never make such a deal. Hells Bells, I'd like to say I'd never make such a deal. But… I was a succubus working for the Winter Court.


            "Tempting." Ranma licked her lip. "Still, this doesn't make up for you goons... accidentally causing that Ottawa mess. Especially him."


            "Yeah, why even bring Fashion Disaster if he'll just antagonize us?" I asked. Seeing Galina's eyes flash with amusement, I frowned. Had I given her a setup line?


            The Russian nodded. "Would you believe I brought him for his expertise?" she asked with faux levity.


            My frown deepened. I had given her a setup line. Well it wasn't the first time, and that was the downside of being snarky, sometimes you setup opportunities for others to snark. Strangely, I noticed concern color Mal's features.


            Galina glanced down at the briefcase, her feet were now a couple of feet from it. "Fine. Since you doubt my intentions." Her arm suddenly blurred. There was a flash as a blade appeared between her fingers.


            In one smooth, almost too-fast-to-see, motion the knife slid out and sliced out the right half of Mal's neck. Blood gushed out and my nose was tickled with a scent that both hungered and repulsed me.


            The bleeding man's form also blurred, his limbs taking an iridescent edge. He reached to draw his gun but Galina's other hand darted out and pinned it in place. In a flash Mal tried to turn to break the grip, and drew a grenade from a coat pocket. But the cyborg was on him and closed in.


            Still in the same initial flashing arc, her knife flipped around and slashed Mal's left hand.


            As the grenade tumbled to the ground, the blade flicked and stabbed. Dozens of wounds appeared as his liver and kidneys were cut to ribbons. Twitching, the cultist began to slump forward. Before he could topple, Galina reversed her grip and stabbed the knife straight into Mal's heart.


            I stared. The cyborg's attack was over in less than a second. I had seen people skilled with blades before. A wanna-be cult leader named Aristedes was one. A nasty piece of work, he, before being crippled, was inhumanly fast with a blade thanks to a knack for kinetomancy.


            Nicodermous was another. I didn't know how the Russian would fare against a millennia old Denarian, but anyone short of that... I shivered. Suddenly, my sister's… interest in Galina took on a more disturbing edge.


            The brutish man's glasses had been knocked off, he blinked up at her with surprise and slumped over. His body hit the briefcase sending it spinning closer to me. Letting go of his gun, Galina's other hand flicked and a new blade appeared and was used to slit the other side of his neck. It as a quick, but economical motion and this time blood poured out in a much more sedate flow.


            Blood pooled around the body. I sniffed the air. The cultist was dead. Something... something I could eat was gone. My stomach churned. And it wasn't because of the body. Sure I'd seen a lot of death, caused more than a bit myself.


            But I'm still not kosher with sudden, cold-blooded murder, even if it's a freaky cultist. But this time I could feel it. I could feel the man's spirit, his soul leave the body. I wondered if this was how my former apprentice Molly felt around death. She was very empathic, and could feel... everything. That also might make her new duties as the Winter Lady... complicated.


            Still, I knew violence was something that Molly had a hard time dealing with... well until I died and she had her whole Ragged Lady revenge thing.... which wasn't exactly a sign of mental stability really. Let's put it this way, Molly was homeless and being trained by Lea.

 

 

            Keep in mind that Lea is as ruthless a trainer as my sister, except with less warm and fuzzy "people skills".


            However, I'm pretty sure that when Molly felt someone die her reaction wasn't more... hungry than anything else. My body reacted like it had seen a donut roll off a plate and onto the ground: something delicious had been lost.


            On one level it was disturbing. But that didn't keep my stomach from churning. Spirit aside, there was still a corpse before me. The really disturbing part was that wasn't why my stomach was churning. To my new senses, splattered before me was a pile of meat, but it was wrong.


            Okay. Imagine you buy a pork loin, a nice roast, a good pork shoulder, or a fresh fillet of salmon. Some large piece of savory meat. Something you bought that just makes your mouth water. You got the grill ready; you got spices; you made sides. All in preparation for a sumptuous meal.


            So, it's with that level of eager anticipation that you unwrap your prize, ready to cook it. And then the smell hits you. The meat had turned. Oh, it wasn't putrefied, it wasn't green and rotting, but it was spoiled nonetheless. And, suddenly, anticipation turns to frustrated disappointment.


            That's what Mal de Veste's body smelled like to me.


            Still holding my staff, I shivered.


            Glancing over, I saw my sister seem utterly nonplussed by the murder she had just witnessed. In fact, if anything, Ranma seemed annoyed by the interruption. She had held up one arm and made a fist. I wasn't sure what the hand signal meant. Probably something like "Don't shoot, she only killed one of her own men."


            Picking up the grenade, Galina slowly rose. She scoffed at the lumpy little device and, meeting Ranma's eyes, pulled the pin.


            The redhead's stance shifted, I readied my staff.


            The Russian dropped the grenade; it landed on the body with a plop. After a couple seconds it popped and shimmering, fire spewed out as the strangely iridescent incendiary started to burn clothes and flesh.


            I gagged at the smell coming from the corpse being burned in eldritch flames. Remember my metaphor about spoiled meat? Yeah, imagine cooking it, while also burning a bunch of wool-polyester blend fabric.


            The Russian seemed to ignore my distress "You can have what's left, I just want to make sure the bastard doesn't get back up."


            Ranma simply continued her hard glare. To my relief, I could at least feel some disquiet from my niece. Nabiki also coughed.


            "Satisfied?" Galina asked as she kicked the briefcase over to the redhead.


            "Skeptical," Ranma stated.


            "You just killed one of your men!" I blurted.


            Galina gave me a cold smile. "No. I killed a contractor. One who tried to corrupt my men. One that failed in a spectacular manner." She took a moment to study the burning body. Despite the grenade's help, it was turning into a smoldering mess. "His expertise was not worth the trouble."


            "So, you kept him around to show off to us," Ranma stated flatly, her expression almost bored. Despite her poker face, I could feel that my sister was a bit disturbed and quite distrustful of the cyborg's reaction.


            "Fine. Read the documents. Consider my offer." Galina glared. "Keep the body. Eat it. Dissect it. I don't care. It's more than he deserves."


            "That it?" Ranma asked, keeping her bland tone.


            "We're done," Galina turned on a heel and made it a point to walk to her bike with her back facing us.


            I glanced over at my sister. My staff moved fractionally.


            My sister appeared to consider the offer. She knew I could try to hex her.


            And I was pretty sure that necromancy or not, a wizard's anti-technology magic would have to make things difficult for a cyborg. At the very least it would give Ranma an edge against her. At the most... we could stop her.


            The redhead sighed and shook her head.


            I blinked. "Really?" I whispered.


            Ranma made a sweeping motion with her finger, as if to indicate all the hidden, tense people watching this little meeting. Apparently, Galina could kill one of her goons without sparking a crossfire, but I doubted we could attack her without having her backup intercede.


            "Well, this is going to be a pain to deal with," Nabiki sighed at the corpse.


            Galina had reached her bike and with a rev of the engine drove away.


            "We're not chasing her?" I asked


            "We are not," my sister said, stressing the first word as she met my gaze.


            I glared at de Veste's body. The flames had died down and what remained... wasn't pretty. "And so now we have to baby sit a corpse?"


            "Screw that," Ranma snorted. "Galina's girls are still staking out this location." She kicked the briefcase closed and, leaving it there, started walking back to her motorcycle. "We'll meet up with the others, sweep the area, and then secure the body and the file."


            "Sweep?" I frowned looking around the expansive factory.


            Ranma's tail swished behind her. "Think of it as a training exercise."

 

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

 


            Looking out the van's window, I watched the streets scroll past. Glancing over, I saw my sister was doing much the same, though her purple gaze seemed a bit more focused. I then turned to the man sitting next to me.

            "You okay?" Butters asked


            I flashed him a smile. "I didn't know you cared."


            "You did have an exciting day," the smaller man noted.


            "I've seen death before," I said a bit more petulantly than I intended.


            The doctor eyed me. He gave a slight nod. 'It wasn't the first time you went through paranoid scribblings either."


            I chuckled. "I didn't do much. You had Dirac and
Doc De Cotis helping you. You guys are a regular brain trust," I laughed as the van turned down another road. "That allowed me to go off and train with my sister."


            Butter's face clouded while Ranma gave an amused smirk.


            "You sure you're fine?"


            "A bit hungry," I shrugged.


            His contemplative look returned. "You saw someone murdered, you read the paranoid confessions of a Russian girl who saw too much, and you were happy to... train with your crazy sister? And all that seems fine to you?"


            "I told you, this is old hat for me." I exhaled. "Seen loads of bodies, witnessed plenty of murders already."


            "And? No feelings of... hunger."


            "No, and not today either," I huffed.


            Ranma tilted her head. She could tell I was lying.


            "But was that because he was a cultist?" Butters asked, his voice quiet.


            I glared at him.


            Butters held my gaze. "I talked with Dr. Tofu. He showed me the body. Even I could tell it was... wrong."


            "You are a Knight."


            Butters laughed. "I'm a medical examiner."


            "The meat was spoiled," Ranma noted.


            "I wouldn't know," I grumbled as the van slowed down and rolled towards a gate.


            "Really?" Butters shrugged. "I would have thought he had been killed a lot earlier based on the corpse Dr. Tofu had on his slab."


            I sighed and looked back out the window. A mercenary in business casual was talking to the driver while another swept the vehicle. I looked at the gate, guardhouse, and fence blocking the small roadway. On first glance it looked like the setup one would see surrounding a private gated community.


            However, the posts, bollards, fences, and structures were a bit more reinforced than they initially appeared. Looking down the road, I studied the houses closer to the gate. A couple of them had shutters over some of their windows. If I were a paranoid sort, maybe I'd do more than stash vehicles in those garages. Maybe I'd have rifles, or machine guns, or rocket launchers stationed in those houses.


            Pop open the shutters and open fire. Or if I was really being paranoid I'd have the weapons behind the windows without shutters. Or skip the windows entirely and just have part of the wall slide open.


            A motor clicked on and the gate began to pull across the road, and I shook my head. "You know, someone'd think you're paranoid, Red," I told my sister.


            Butters grimly chuckled. "Really, Harry? You had enough wards in your old place to keep out a zombie army."


            "Well, yes," I pouted.


            "Sounds prudent," the driver said as he maneuvered the van up the driveway.


            "Sure Gabe, but even against Pattern Z's pure defense isn't enough," Ranma said as she slid open the door.


            "Well..." I shook my head. "See, my Wards aren't entirely defensive."


            After hopping out of the van, the redhead turned to face me.


            "Lots of lighting and thunder. Plenty of zombie chunks."


            "Hah!"


            "Yeah..." Laughing nervously, Butters looked a bit queasy as he climbed out. That whole zombie-filled, necromancer-throw-down Halloween wasn't the first time Butters had been exposed to the supernatural, but it was the first time his life had been threatened by it. The first time he'd seen someone killed by magic. Being chased by a zombified coworker does leave an impression.


            Sliding over the bench, I frowned at the open door. Gripping one of the grab handles I leveraged myself up.


            Watching me try to maneuver out of the van, Butters raised an eyebrow.


            "Hey, I'm not used to a long skirt!" I yelled, my face flushing a bit as I levered my legs and managed to plant my feed on the driveway.


            Butters turned to Ranma.


            "I tried to get her to wear pants," the redhead defended.


            The little doctor turned me.


            "Have you tried walking with hooves?" I smoothed my skirt. "And a gentleman's supposed to offer a lady a hand when she gets out of a car."


            Butters just groaned.


            "At least she's not hitting on you," Ranma offered as we started walking towards the front door.


            I gave a haughty sniff. "Well, I was going to suggest we go over what the Russian gave us, just the two of us."


            "Wow, a date studying eldritch data," Butters dryly said.


            "With a beautiful succubus!" I stomped a foot.


            "Well, Dirac did think the Russian's data could collate with his." Butters shook his head.


            "Yes, yes I saw the big map the three of you had pinned to the wall."


            "We are making progress, but it still feels like a needle in a haystack," Butters shook his head as Ranma opened the door.


            "Welcome to the world of Private Investigating," I shrugged, entering the foyer. My hooves tingled a bit as I crossed the threshold. "At least you don't have to go searching through a dumpster for clues. I never did get those jeans cleaned." Despite the irritation at the memory, seriously butcher shops could make some nasty garbage, I did feel better. It was probably the warm feelings the household gave me, that and I could feel another of my sisters.


            "Or bribing pixies with pizza," Butters added closing the door behind him.


            I rolled my eyes. "That's easy. Let me tell you, there's some spirits that you really don't want to summon unless you're desperate."


            "Wait... pixies... pizza?" Ranma asked.


            "Nevermind that," I waved her off.


            "Your godmother?" Butters asked.


            "Yes, you want to be careful summoning her," I huffed.


            "No... her," Butters gestured.


            Sniffing, I turned away from the knight and down the hallway. And then I saw my lavender-haired sister Cecilia and my red-haired godmother exit the kitchen. Laughing, the pair approached us.


            "Goddaughter, thou art finally back. Now, we mustn't tarry," Leanansidhe imperiously said. She paused and sniffed the air. "Thou smell of death."


            "Uh... yes?"


            Cecilia arched a lavender eyebrow. Ranma met her gaze and gave a tiny shake of her head followed by shifting her tail.


            "Was it fulfilling?" Lea asked.


            "No, she kinda just stood there and watched," Ranma explained.


            "Ah." Making a disappointed noise, Lea took my arm. "Still, that dost mean thy hunger remaineth doest it not?"


            Looking into her green eyes I sighed. That is to say I totally didn't bite my lip in a trembling pout, and I certainly did paw at the floor with a hoof.


            The lavender-haired woman moved in to hug me. She hardly came up to my shoulders, but I still purred at the contact. Butters looked somewhat uncomfortable, where Lea simply watched with an intrigued expression.


            "Poor hungry little succubus," Cecilia assured. "Don't you worry."


            Ranma cleared her throat. "Sister, a moment?" she asked, a formal edge to her voice.


           Turning, Cecilia met her eyes. To my surprise, she didn't wilt under that intense purple gaze. "But of course," she said, bowing her head.


            The two stepped out of the foyer, down a hall and into the living room, and started talking in hushed whispers. I tried to Listen and... blinked. They were speaking Latin, really, really mangled Latin. Okay, that was strange.


            Now Latin was the official language of the White Council. So, it was something I knew. Sure, I had learned via a dodgy correspondence course but even my meager skills were better than this. It sounded like they were speaking a fluid Creole of Latin and something more.... harsh.


            But it was hard to tell, for one the two rarely said a complete sentence, and there were whole exchanges that were nothing more than flicks of the tail, crossed expressions, rolls of the shoulders and at most a word or two.


            Cecilia was making some kind of case, and her stance was almost aggressive as she argued, I could feel her passion emanating. Ranma, on the other hand, was... apprehensive. Her motions were clipped and the emotions I got from her were... hesitant and muted. The redhead seemed to be dipping into her well of self-control, and was trying to at least understand her sister's argument, whatever it was. There was also an uncertainty and hesitation that I had never seen in her before.


            Lea had slipped up next to me. "Fascinating aren't they? Even when using brood cant they are expressive and lovely. They really can't help themselves."


            "I wonder if my heart shows on my sleeve like that," I whispered.


            Lea gave a musical laugh. "Oh Poppet, it always has. No, in many ways, this change for thee is most... appropriate."


            As my sisters returned, I crossed my arms. "Okay, what's this little tiff you two are having about me?"


            "How do you know you're the focus?" Butters asked.


            "Because they wouldn't have excluded me otherwise," I said tapping a hoof, eyeing Ranma.


            Cecilia, for her part, shot a smug look to her sister.


            Ranma didn't even have the decency to look chastised. "Cecilia has pointed out some unique needs of yours. Ones that my training may have overlooked."

            Now, Ranma looked embarrassed. I had to keep from rolling my eyes. I could understand pride.


            "You've used my expertise too, Sister," Cecilia sweetly said.


            "Yes, and you've pointed out she doesn't have the time to grow that we had," Ranma agreed. Her tone was even but I could see the stiffness in how her tail was curled. I wasn't feeling any anger directed at me it was more a feeling of guilt at her own inadequacies.


            My foot rang against the floor gain. "And what exactly are you planning?" I asked Cecilia.


            Lea took my arm. "A lovely meal to sate thy hunger, goddaughter."


            I frowned wondering what kind of meal Ranma, of all people, would object to.


            "That and a bit of dress-up," Cecilia allowed.


            "Perhaps rectify her coiffure," Lea added.


            "Don't let them drive you to do anything you're not comfortable with," Ranma said, then met Cecilia's eyes. After the lavender-haired woman bowed her head, Ranma looked to Lea.


            The other redhead quirked her lip. "She's been my Goddaughter longer," Lea grinned flashing her pointed canines.


            Ranma's lips pulled into a smile, one that deliberately did not show her teeth. "No, she's your goddaughter, because of me."


            "She'd got you there, Lea. In over a decade you couldn't turn me into a hound. But about a week with her and..." I shrugged.


            "Probably should have offered something better than a hound," Ranma said.


            "Perhaps," Lea gave an airy sniff. "Perhaps thou had better opportunities."

            My sister shrugged. "Harry's the one that begged me. Even thought she'd end up an incubus."


            Lea's lips curled in amusement. "Really? Such a silly poppet."


            "Thomas has nothing but succubus sisters. Maybe I could have been like him," I muttered.


            Both my sisters laughed. "And as for opportunity... yes. I mean your queen managed to make Dresden hers."


            "I am not Mab's!" I stated.


            Everyone gave me a skeptical look, including Butters.


            "Anyway." Ranma gave a little cough. "My point stands, you can say no to either of them. Don't think you can be forced."


            "Such tiresome morality," Lea sighed.


            My redheaded sister blinked. "I eat people."


            Lea chuckled. "As if cannibalism is a noteworthy distinction. Who among us has not partaken?"

            "I haven't," Butters said.


            "Knights," Lea scoffed.


            I crossed my arms again.


            Lea gave me, what I presume, was indented as a reassuring smile. "Thou art young. And thou hast not yet hadst a real fight in thy new body." Her hands fluttered. "La, all this talk, come we mustn't tarry. We have to get thee ready for thy dinner."


            "Uh..." I said as Lea put her hand back on my arm and started guiding me up the stairs. "What about Butters?"


            "Oh, we hadn't planned on your companion coming," Cecilia said.


            "It might be best to leave the knight, Poppet. Besides, I'm sure Sir Butters can findeth something... worthy to busy himself with," Lea said giving me a gleaming smile. "Regardless, we've arranged for thine escort,"


            "I can hitch a ride back to the brain trust and go over the data," Butters offered. "That is if you're okay with this."


            "See," Lea grandly said. "You should trust the Knight of the Sword."


            "Really? Weren't you just complaining about their morality?"


            "In this particular situation," she smoothly assured tugging me upwards.


            "Oh?" I turned to my sisters, but I was already up the stairs.


            "Excellent," Cecilia said, helping me towards my room.


            "Escort?" I asked as they sat me in front of a vanity in the guest room I had been using. From the makeup scattered about I had figured out this was Misako's stash. None of my other nieces were quite so... involved in cosmetology.


            "Hush now," Lea said as she picked up a silver hairbrush and started running it through my hair.


            I'm a big enough person to admit that I may have stopped protesting at that, and my eyes just might have lost focus, and I might have begun to purr.


            "She is so much more agreeable like this," Lea absently noted.


            "Young broodlings tend to be that way," Cecilia said as she pulled an ivory and sapphire colored silk dress out of the closet.


            I gave it a suspicious eye. It looked custom-made and I wondered how long Cecilia had been planning this. On the other hand, her daughters were remarkably fast at hemming clothes and alterations.


            My suspicions about the dress's bespoke nature came after Lea stripped me out of my skirt and top, gave me a new set of foundation garments, and slipped the silken clothes on me. The dress had a long shimmering dark azure skirt with ivory trim and a constellation of twinkling sequins. Above a shiny ruby belt, the dress' top was a low-cut shimmering ivory with crimson piping as trim.


            As Cecilia adjusted the dress, I noted its sleek lines. There were no ruffles, gathers, or pleats. Other than the trim and the handful of sequins it was more understated and elegant. This was especially when I thought back to the gowns that my other sister wore. And, uh, the ones I tended to wear.


            Furthering the contrast was how they did my hair. There was no elaborate headdress, no fancy updo. Instead my pale Alice blue hair was brushed out and a silver snowflake ornament was pinned over one ear.


           Even the makeup they put on was more understated and elegant. Sure it was more than I'd worn ever before this trip. Well if you discount the times I've appeared on the Larry Fowler show, but studio makeup doesn't count. But it was also a lot less than when I was all... fae.


            I quirked an eyebrow at Lea. "Are you sure you guys aren't holding back?"


            "We do have more experience than thee," Lea reminded.


            Cecilia giggled. "Ah, to be young and want to show off."


            "And I would hardly consider our efforts to be subtle," Lea said as she polished my choker.


            "But..."


            "It's a sliding scale, Sister," Cecilia said as she started filling a shiny blue leather purse with various spell components and bits from my duster's pockets.


            "Hey," I pouted.


            Cecilia looked up from slipping my revolver into the large purse. She gave a put upon expression. "Yes, I know Ranma and Eve don't like off-body carry, but they're a bit anal, and I don't want to spend the time getting a thigh holster rig for you."


            "That's not what I meant," I grumbled.


            "Shame, it would make thee more observant if it were," Lea noted. She inspected my face, then peered into the mirror Cecilia had positioned me in front of. "I suppose you're presentable enough."


            I stared. On the left side of the glass was an elegant, willowy lavender haired succubus. On the right was a mad-eyed redheaded sidhe. And between...


            I had started to get used to my reflection. Okay maybe not my tall, sleek sidhe succubus form, but I was getting used to looking into mirrors.


            Look, it's a wizard thing. Lots of stuff can use mirrors to travel through, and I had gotten into the habit of not having mirrors in my house, and not using them much. But now...


            Tail swishing, I gazed into my reflection. The dress was less skimpy than I expected but was still very flattering. As Lea gave some finishing touches to my makeup, Cecilia slipped the purse up my arm and over my shoulder, its contents gave a reassuring clink as it settled against my hip.


            "I suppose she's passable," Cecilia said as she put the makeup and other bits of kit away.


            "I wouldst not disagree with thy statement," Lea agreed, pulling my arm.


            "Uh... are you sure about this?"


            "Oh, you'll have fun," Cecilia assured as they took me out of the room and down the hall.


            My tail curled as I wobbled down the stairs. At least they hadn't tried to saddle me with high heels. "But what if..."


            "I'll be with you the whole time; I promise," Cecilia reassured.


            Ranma was waiting by the front door at the bottom of the stairs. She looked my dress over, and despite the slight worry crossing her face I could feel the amusement wafting off of her.


            "Not bad looking," my sister admitted. "She's still so tall."


            "Why a complimentary dress hem is so vital," Lea said.


            Smiling, Ranma then exchanged a look with Cecilia. There was the barest wisp of reluctance as she opened the front door. "Your ride's ready."


            "Excellent," Cecilia said as she helped me across the foyer.


            Ranma's gaze went to my purse. "Have fun," she grinned, flashing her teeth.


            "So, where are we going to eat?" I asked after settling down into the van. Lea seemed to take a quick moment to eye the mercenaries in the front row. Though a reassuring smile from Nariko seemed to placate her.


            I was a bit surprised to see my niece there. The dark-haired woman gave Lea a polite nod, which the sidhe returned.


            "Someplace special." Cecilia observed as the van left the private lane the brood's houses were on and started transiting public roads.


            "Oh? What kind of food? Ranma found a great BBQ place for lunch..."


            "I think Desiree is preparing a fish meal," Cecilia allowed.


            "Really?' I nodded as the van continued to drive. "Wait... your daughter's cooking?"


            "Yes," Cecilia noted with price. "Desiree got a few lessons from Ukyou. And Hazel is helping her."


            I blinked. "Sister... where are we going?" I asked putting my hand on my purse. The presence of the potion and a bunch of my spell components was strangely reassuring.


            Lea laughed. "Only now dost it occur to thee to ask?"


            I pouted


            "Her placidity was helpful in retaining the surprise." Cecilia looked out the window, down the road. "Ah, we're here."


            "Where?" I repeated.


            The van slowed and pulled up a winding driveway. Even in the twilight the grounds were well manicured and full of trees with ornate lamps lighting our way. I was reminded a bit of the property Chateau Raith was situated on. Though on a smaller scale. This familiarity continued when I caught sight of the mansion at the end of the driveway.


            It was nowhere near as large as the building Lara lived in. But she ran the White Court of Vampires from that mansion. Heck, as her base of operations, it had an administrative wing with offices and cubicles.


            That was one thing my sisters and the mercenaries they worked for had to their advantage: no cubicles.


            My thoughts were interrupted by the van stopping and my family starting to disembark. "Okay... it's a nice place, but where are we?" I asked.


            "Home." Nariko gave a little smile. "Well, my other home," she added, and I could detect a bit of sadness emanating from her.


            "Huh?"


            As we walked up the stone front steps, Lea made a disappointed noise.


            "She'll figure it out, give her time," Cecilia assured.


            "I am aware of my goddaughter's slowness," Lea stated.


            "Other home..." my eyes widened. "This is your father's place?" I asked Nariko.


            My niece gave a little nod.


            "This is Drake Kuno's place."


            Cecilia gave an approving nod.


            "Why are we having dinner with him?"


            My sister's smile became strained.


            Lea, for her part, laughed. "Oh, poppet. Art thou really so limited in thy imagination?"


            The door opened and an innocent-looking young brunette woman in a dark green dress with a white apron welcomed us in.


            "Hi Hazel!" I nodded to my niece.


            "Oooh, lovely dress," she said guiding me inside.


            "How are the arrangements?" Cecilia asked as she stepped in.


            "Very good,
Desiree says the meal is almost ready."

 
            Lea looked at the doorway and flashed Nariko a look.


            My niece's red eyes flashed. "I'm sorry," she bowed her head. "Please do come in." She looked at me and I nodded. "I'd love to have you as a guest of the family," Nariko added.


            Lea's lips quirked as she crossed the threshold. "Which family?"


            I grumbled at her.


            My godmother gave me a winning smile.


            Giving a dismissive sniff, I looked around the foyer. It was larger than the Saotome-Tendo residence, however, it had a similar
modern, almost sparse, decoration style. There were pale grey accents to the walls and the lighting was indirect and the floor sparkled with polished grey stones.


            "I heard we have guests?" a booming voice said as a tall man came in from a darkened side room.


            A
large, burly man, he wore an ash-grey suit with a muted burgundy tie and white shirt. There was a little gold leaf pin on his jacket lapel. His tousled hair was wild and tumbled down his shoulders. His form was a broad and formidable, like a former hockey bruiser but without the scars. He was Japanese, but he also had, from what I could see, a bit of a boater's tan.


            A couple of inches shorter than me, his intense eyes had a faraway look before they settled on me. He smiled at me, with an expression that seemed to indicate he was familiar with the secrets of the universe.


            In fairness, I actually have seen that expression on people who did dig too deeply into things man was not meant to know. He walked over and without any prompting hugged Nariko.


            That confirmed what I had suggested. This was the Drake.

 
            Purring slightly, Nariko returned the embrace.


            I stepped a bit to the side as the two conversed. The two quickly caught up. The Drake was clearly proud of his daughter, and while I could feel the love between them there was a bit of awkwardness on her part.


            I turned aside not, wanting to pry. Not that it made a difference; I could still feel my niece's emotions. A bit of his emotions flickered through my connection to her.


            Glancing over, I saw Lea giving me a knowing smile. "Isn't it sweet?" she asked.


            "It is," I absently noted. I glanced over and frowned a bit at my godmother.


            "Something wrong?"


            My tail flicked. "You're being nice."


            She fluttered her eyes coyly "Flatterer."


            "See, that's what I'm talking about. Normally, your training is more... aggressive."


            My godmother made a tiny noise of bemusement.


            "I know how you taught me to defeat Justin DuMorne. I know how you taught Molly."


            "Let us presume your knowledge is correct," Lea allowed. "What of it?"


            "You're up to something."


            Lea gave me a pitying look.


            "That's not what I mean?"


            "Then what do you mean, Poppet?"


            I stomped a foot, but that just caused her to laugh more.


            "Apologies for my delay," the Drake said as he stepped over to us. "You must be the lovely Miss Stone, a pleasure," he said taking my hand and bowing slightly.  "Allow me to say you have beautiful hair."


            I blinked and almost sputtered. His smile was nice enough, and something was tickling my nose. "It's BlackStone; one word," I said.


            "Oh, please forgive my rudeness," He looked chastised but there was still a ghost to his grin. "I'll have to make it up to you."


            I chuckled and looked down at him, fortunately keeping my gaze on his lips wasn't... that onerous. "If you insist, but I'll hold you to that oath."


            Lea nodded approvingly.


            "Well, I have to make sure the Drake does not disappoint you Miss BlackStone," he said, offering his arm.


            Cecilia caught my eye. Her expression seemed to say "it's your choice"


            Giving her a slight nod, I took the offered arm it and let him draw me further into the mansion.


            The others trailed behind us, except for Hazel, who went off into a side hallway, presumably towards the kitchen.


            The house seemed a bit empty. Sure the corridor and rooms were well-appointed. The furniture was nice but not ostentatious. The rooms were well decorated but it was... cold. I could tell that people still lived here. This house had a threshold after all, but there was a sense of emptiness. I knew the Drake was a widower and Nariko lived with her mother. So that was two people who had left. I wondered if Nariko had other human siblings.


            He led us through a cool living room full of dark leather chairs and couches and across a dining room appointed with a heavy polished oak table and matching chairs. The lights were low in both rooms and I caught a somewhat approving look on Lea's face.


            I was still worried about what her angle was in all this. And I wasn't sure if her working with my "normal" sister was reassuring or worrying.


            Soon enough the Drake slowed and took care to help me down a handful of steps and into a smaller, more intimate room. The effort wasn't required, I had gotten used to walking with these legs, but it was appreciated. I flashed him a smile and looked around.


            We were in a patio that overlooked the mansion's back garden. The grounds had been banked down for winter, but the lantern-illuminated statuary and reflecting pool still gave a nice view.  In the summer, and during the day, this place must have really been something


            A few tables clustered around the room. My hooves rang against the tiles as I looked out the large windows. Despite myself, I pouted when the Drake let go of my arm.


            Behind me, he pulled out a chair, and after giving my arm a gentle, but firm, tug he motioned for me to sit. Taking the seat I smoothed my dress as he pushed the chair in.


            As he sat down next to me at the small circular table I glanced over and saw Lea and Cecilia taking one on other side of the room. I did note that Nariko had slipped away sometime, leaving the four of us in the room.


            Though that only lasted briefly. Two of my nieces were descending the steps. Hazel carried a silver platter with a bottle of wine and some fluted glasses, while Desiree's platter had dishes with little bowls of soup surrounded by delicate slices of fish and steaming clams and bits of crab.


            My body started to tingle as the scents filled my nose. Eyeing the plate put before me, my tongue flicked out. I spotted Drake coughing to himself and gave him a coy smile.


            "This smells delightful, Desiree," I said as my niece blushed happily. However, I managed to keep myself from pouting at the meager portions.


            "It's just an appetizer, Auntie," she assured as her sister filled our glasses with white wine.


            "I guess, this'll have to tide you over... until the main course," the Drake said.


            "Oh? Well... I'm sure we can find something else to eat." I felt my cheeks blush slightly and my stomach grumbled.


            He reached out and patted my hand. "I'll make sure you don't go hungry."


            I could feel the mirth floating off of my nieces as they finished up and went to serve my godmother and sister.


            "So... you work with the mercenaries?" I asked before spooning some of the soup. It was light almost-broth-like but the slivers of lobster and scallops nicely complimented the leeks, green unions and mackerel-base to the soup itself.


            "I help them find properties and buildings," the Drake said as he speared a slice of raw tuna.


            I paused to savor the soup. It was delicious but my bowl was rapidly depleting. "I've heard, but that can't be a full time job."


            "It's not; I'm also a principal."

            "You?" I smiled. "You run a school?"


            "It's a little private academy. Something of a recreation of the place I used to run back in Japan," He shrugged and went back to his meal "What about you?"


            I sipped some of my soup. "I have a few jobs myself: wizard, private investigator, Knight."


            "Knight?"


            "Oh, I work for a fairy queen," I airily said while Lea paused in her meal to glance at me.


            "My." He chuckled and drank some wine. "Well, you definitely fit in with your sisters."


            "They work for fae?"


            He shrugged. "Well, magical girls."


            "I'm sure there's a difference between the two," I teased, catching some of Lea's quiet irritation.


            "Well, forgive my presumption." He flashed a grin. "I'll have to find a way to make up for that as well."


            I smiled, returning to my soup, which had all but vanished. Nibbling at some of the sliced fish I allowed a little pout. While delicious, it was hardly filling. If anything this, underscored my hunger.


            Which I suppose was the point of an appetizer. Keeping my grin, I leaned forward. "Are you going to finish your soup?"


            "By all means," he said offering the bowl.


            As I drained the second portion of soup, the larger man watched me with his own bit of amusement. Then with a little pout, and a bit of lip quivering, I managed to snag the rest of his appetizer.


            Murmuring, I leaned back and sipped some of the wine. It was a bit sweeter than I was used to, but I was hardly a connoisseur.


            Happily, almost dreamily, luxuriating, I hardly noticed when my nieces returned to gather our plates. I did notice when a new delicious scent entered my nose.


            A plate with a steak of swordfish and a fillet of trout on a bed of rice was placed before me. I cooed at the food and watched as Desiree zested a lime and squeezed a lemon and, after asking permission, gave a few twists on a wooden peppermill the size of a table leg.


            Beaming, the two girls filled our glasses, replaced our wine bottle, and then moved to Cecilia and Lea's table.


            "They really went out of their way for this," I said, cutting a bit of fish and scooping it into my mouth. My tail flicked as I purred happily.


            "They are a nice bunch of girls," the Drake agreed.


            I caught the tone in his voice. "Reminds you of yours?"


            He laughed. "You can say that."


            My knife worked as I cut the swordfish. "Well, I know about Nariko, what about your other daughters?"


            "Daughter," he clarified, taking a sip of wine. "I only have two."

            "Same here," I smiled.


            "Lovely. How old?"

            "Pretty young, but we're talking about yours," I smoothly said, running my fingers up his arm. My hunger flared and with my hand had some more fish.


            Cheeks coloring, he looked at his glass. "Well... Kodachi's a year younger than Nariko. And.." he paused.


            "Yes?" I asked, leaving my left hand in place.


            "She's almost done with her training."


            "Training?"

            "She's going to be a Company agent," he explained.


            I blinked. "Huh... isn't that a bit young?"


            He nodded. "A few get in young. She won't deploy until she's a bit older. Not unless..." After trailing off he took a sip of wine.


            I nodded. I had trained new Wardens. Kids not much older than Nariko and her sister. Hells Bells, they might have been a bit younger. I'd also fought alongside them during the war against the Red Court. My experiences weren't quite as... thorough as Carlos however. Warden Ramirez was on the sharp end of that war, right up until it suddenly ended.


            He was still dealing with what he did during the war, the hate he had for the vampires. Stars and Stones, we were all dealing with that, and the aftermath given the.... abrupt, genocidal way I ended the damn war.


            Noting my demeanor's change, the Drake shifted his arm and clasped my hand. He squeezed. His grip was strong and firm. It wasn't as strong as mine, but it was still comforting.


            It was also... enticing. Returning to my meal, I mulled things over. My dinner was delicious but it was not exactly... filling. Especially, not after lunch. But even that meal lacked... satisfaction.


            Tongue licking a lip, my eyes went from my dining companion to the other table. I could feel... expectation wafting from my sister and godmother. Neither was staring at me, in fact it looked like they were having a nice animated conversation, but I knew better.


            As I pondered, I ate some more of my dinner. Chewing helped me think. It was also delicious. The portions also seemed to disappear after a couple bites. I noticed Lea and Cecilia ate far more slowly than I did.


            Suspicion on what they were up to gnawed at me. But it wasn't the most pressing thing grumbling inside me. Returning to playing my fingers over his arm, I turned back the Drake.


            He looked me in the eye. I turned aside.


            "Something wrong?" the Drake asked.


            "Oh, I'm just thinking about... dessert," I improvised with a sly smile. I put my fork down on the empty plate before me.  Hungry, I eyed him.


            "I did hear there was cake," the Drake offered.


            "Really?" My smile grew as before I took some wine. I lounged in my chair and looked out the windows. It was starting to become a lovely evening.


            "Chocolate I believe," the Drake added, his eyes looking over my form.


            Flush at the attention, my hunger became a bit more acute. "I could go for something sweet," I purred.


            "I'm certain we'll have something," he allowed. He then looked at his wine.


            "But...." My hand went further up his arm as I leaned closer to him again. "Maybe we can have dessert someplace more... private?" I asked as my body tingled. Looking up, I risked stealing a glance at his eyes.


            "I have something in mind." Giving a confident grin, the Drake stood. Still holding my left hand in his right, he held out his other hand.


            Accepting the offer, I let him pull me up to my feet. His left arm then fell over my shoulders, and after I made a contented murmur he pulled me closer.


            I let a hand roam as he led me towards the stairs at the exit of the room. The Drake paused and looked over a shoulder. "Lady Cecilia?"


            "Yes?" My sister asked as she and Lea stood up. She looked between us. "Shall I presume you'll be having dessert upstairs?"


            I inhaled and gave a dreamy smile. Halting my fingers mid-caress, I paused and nibbled my lip.


            I could feel the mirth emanating from my godmother. I looked at the two then back to the Drake. My stomach grumbled once more. "Yes... we will," I said in a quiet, but confident voice.
             

 

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

 


            Stretching out, I arched my back and flexed my arms. It felt good to get the weight off them. Several joints popped, especially the base of my spine and hips. Giving a contented sigh, I rolled back over and pulled the covers back up over my torso. My tail languidly swished, the finned tip just slipping out the side of the bed. I was still getting used to those fins, not to mention the other things my tail could do.


            Nuzzling up and relishing the body heat of my slumbering companion, I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness. Deep contented slumber was split by relaxed bouts of almost meditative languidness.


            In my years as a professional wizard, I've had experienced supernatural seduction plenty of times. Frankly, it was a lot less glamorous than that made it sound. Still, it was a familiarity born of experience.


            From the brutal, addicting euphoria of a Red Court vampire's venom, to the insidious, delightful glamour of the fae, to the smooth, aching sensuality of the White Court, and even the intimate, tailored temptations of the Fallen, the methods were varied but the promise of perfect pleasure was the same.


            But all that was all at the receiving end.


            It turns out...


            I parted my lips and inhaled. My body tingled. I cuddled a bit closer.


            It turns out, being on the other end of the transaction was even more of a thrill.


            I ran a hand down my dozing companion's side. I took a moment to smile at my fingers. If nothing else, he was certainly... creative with my hands.


            I now understood what my brother had to fight against and... not fight against. I understood just what kind of a monster his sister Lara was.


            Pressing a bit closer, I inhaled. Part of me was still off-put by the aesthetics. I would have preferred someone... well more like Murphy... or Butters or Sanya. On the other hand... speaking of aesthetics, the Drake, unlike a certain knight, didn't laugh at my headdress. No, the Drake was most... appreciated of what I could do with some frozen water and a little imagination.


            All in all, my sister had done her best. And I wasn't... displeased with her pick.


            My sister...


            I now understood what Cecilia was trying to teach me. And... why Ranma was so focused on control.  Part of me wished I had been more like Ranma, and had more rigid self control, another part was glad for Cecilia's help.


            Licking my lips, I gazed at his earlobe. I could give a little nip. Despite being sated, I was still a bit... peckish. And I was sure the Drake would be eager for another go at it. Though he might be upset at being woken up. I chuckled, in that case he might decide to use the riding crop.


           I murmured happily. It was nice that he didn't find my demonic nature, horns, wings, and hooves included, off-putting. If anything, it was the opposite And even if I woke him and he wasn't interested in more...


            It would be easy, so very easy, to just... take. Delicious too. Even though I finally felt full, I was not... sated. Despite how my skin almost felt taunt, I knew I could take in more.  I could take everything, drain until there was a husk and then feast on the flesh and suck the marrow from his bones.


            My lips pulled into a pout as I relaxed and rolled onto my back. Sure I could take what I wanted, but it wouldn't last long. I knew I wasn't alone. I could feel my sister's presence. This was part of Cecilia's lesson.


           I growled softly; it seemed all of my sisters were testing me. Which meant Cecilia had seen, or at least felt, everything. My cheeks flushed a bit at the thought.


            My ire abated as I stared to drift back to sleep. My shimmering, almost fluffed-out, Alice-blue hair draping over the both of us. Some time passed as my mind entered that spongy, slippery border realm between unconsciousness and wakefulness. Contented noises slipped past my lips as I luxuriated among the soft blankets.


            And then the door burst open.


            I was instantly sitting up, eyes flaring. I gave a quick blink as my sister strode into the room. "What's...."


            "We have to go. Now." Cecilia stated, her tone adamantine.


            My head tilted as the other person in the bed stirred. My sister was wearing... well it was the same type of grey-green Kevlar bodysuit under an armored vest and reinforced skirting that the other Company succubae wore. She carried a holster and other pouches of gear on her battle rattle.


            She also had pale purple wings, horns, and tail out. I stared; I hadn't really seen Cecilia overtly demonic, let alone armored and armed.


            "What's going on?" I managed to ask as she closed in. My sister pulled me off of the bed and
shoved a heavy pile of leather into my hands; it was my duster.


            "Your brain trust thinks they've found Tessa. Or at least locked down the summoning site," my sister stated, anxious energy spilling off of her.


            I glanced at the clock on the Drake's nightstand. Well, first I had to pick a bra off of it. "What, did they do an all nighter?"


            She knocked the bra out of my hands. "Skip that, skip the dress, armor up, grab your gear. We need to go. Now."


            Pouting, I gathered up the big purse with my revolver and spell components in it. I saw the pink potion. Grabbing the test tube, I pulled the stopper and downed it.


            The shimmering liquid burned as it went down and tasted like rock salt and ashes. But everything did snap into focus and the grogginess was banished from my mind. Unfortunately, the potion also removed my languid mellowness.


            "Where's Lea?" I asked as I summoned my armor. My body buzzed with energy. Only some of which was from the potion.


            "She said she was called away by pressing duties for her queen," Cecilia said, skeptically


            "She can't lie," I offered.


            My sister gave a quick laugh.


            I shrugged. Sure it could be a coincidence. Mab was as stern taskmaster and she was just one of the three winter queens Lea owed fealty to. But I had been around the fae long enough to know they always had an angle. "What about Nariko?"


            "She's sorting out transport," Cecilia stated. She still seemed rattled.


            "I wouldn't worry... overmuch about Lea.


            Cecilia gave me a look. "I knew your godmother was going to give us the slip and do her own thing."


            "Err.... yeah... that's her nature," I muttered as I slipped my duster on.


            By now, the Drake was stirring. Blearily he got up. The man looked between us. "Ah, it's important then?" he asked, his mood sobering.


            Cecilia nodded. "I'm sorry, but we have to go,"


            As I made sure I had all of my gear, I gave him an awkward smile. "
I had a fun time," I stammered and winced at how lame it was.


            A bit of mirth escaped my sister's serious expression.


            I huffed and leaned down and gave the Drake a quick hug and a longer kiss.


            Cecilia then grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the room before I could say anything more.


            "So... where is the summoning?" I asked as I was dragged down the hallway.

 

End Chapter 13

 


            I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Kevin Hammel, and Ellf.

 


            And from this ending line you can guess what the next chapter will hold.  Thanks to everyone who's read and commented on the story so far!  And as for BlackStone's meal...  well Cecilia wanted to show Dresden that she didn't have an ascetic (or the succubus equivalent)  like Ranma and Eve.  Dresden is more emotional and passionate, and given her new nature... denying it would bring trouble.  Lea for her part agreed.  Which... is probably  a warning sign.

 


            In other news: I've been going over the Return.  Revising and reworking stuff.   I'm going to re-release the updated chapters in their own closed arcs.  Turns out that the Return is actually a few books.

 

Revision note: Huh, wow.  I was doing Return revisions as Blood Debts was finishing out, which is fitting.