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.
Temporary Backup Site.
Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
C&C as always is wanted.
Chapter 15 Just Desserts , Part A
The air around the silver-haired woman hummed with power. Serenity aimed a gold scepter at the Denarian. Tipped with a silver construct that hurt to look at; the Artifact's presence added to the background hum that put my horns on edge.
"Punish me?" Tessa stared at the magical girl, shock giving way to contempt. The insectile Denarian sniffed the air. "No... you're just like those pathetic Knights," she shot Butters a vicious look. "You think I'm possessed by an evil entity, and you're desperate to save me from the host, to give me a chance at redemption."
Serenity's expression tightened as her Senshi got up. Motes of light still flickered off their armored forms, lingering energy discharges from their teleport. The silver-haired woman lowered her arm, scepter moving in a lazy arc as she whispered.
Tessa smirked. "You should have stuck with the demons for backup, wizard. They've at least got the stomach for-"
The scepter shot back up as the humming reached a crescendo. "Silver Crystal Attack!" Serenity shouted as a beam of astounding silver light jetted from the scepter in a horizontal column. The edges of the beam were tinged with a flickering blue, or that might have been a reaction my eyes had to being almost blinded by the flash.
The silver light slammed into Tessa, bowling her down. She gave a screech and her Hellfire-fueled shield sprang into existence; the angry red bubble barely holding under the gouging silver onslaught.
The silver-haired woman calmly stepped forward, her face serene. "I'm not sure how it works for the Knights, but this is how I save someone tainted by evil power." Her teeth flashed in a stern grin as she held the scepter with both hands and, as a golden sigil flashed on her forehead, pushed more power into the spell.
Even standing to the side caused my vision to go spotty. Hells Bells, looking at Serenity's attack for too long pulled and pried at me, almost threatening to open my Third Eye. And I did not want to see this battle with my Wizard's Sight. Worse, my horns had gone numb and a strange hunger flittered about me.
Though I managed to push that aside. The remaining Denarians, led by Rosanna, were trying to rally and rescue their leader. But they were met by my doppelganger, Butters, and the other Senshi.
I glanced down at my arms and smiled. For once Tessa's attention wasn't on me in this fight.
Blinking away a few spots on my vision, I darted further to the side of the two magical Titians. Though I took care to make sure I wasn't hit by the backwash. I really didn't want to see what Serenity's beam would do to me. I was pretty enough, I didn't need magical girl sparkles and shimmering bows.
Runes flashed into existence on my armored arms. Exhaling, I pressed my wrists together. The armor grew as my gauntlets fused onto each other and half a dozen six-inch prongs extruded out. Digging in, I pulled my succubus powers, wizarding magic, and a bit of Soulfire and blended them all together.
I balanced myself with my right foot trailing and put most of my weight on my left "Cannem Flagrantissimum!" I screamed.
Another giant beam speared the dark gloom. This one... well, it had silver in it: specifically the helical waves of Soulfire that bounded the raging blending of demonic and wizard fire.
Tessa turned towards me; the brief moment of incredulous surprise was very satisfying. And then the raging torrent of blue and white flames slammed into the Denarian's crackling red shield.
My hooves dug into the ground as the magical fire from my ''plasma cannon" slammed into the crimson shield and interacted with Serenity's silver beam causing magical energies to froth and splatter about.
A blindingly red explosion lit the night, bathing the surrounding area in flickering lurid colors, and the shield shattered with the sulfurous reek of Hellfire. Demonic fire bowled Tessa over followed by ringing silver light.
Gasping, I cut my attack and winced as my armor receded freeing my arms. As I trotted up, Serenity was already marching towards the X-shaped crater our crisscrossing attacks made.
Hate radiated off of Tessa like the steam hissing out of the loamy ground she was prying herself off of. For the first time, the Denarian looked... tried. But the moment of vulnerability passed, and the small woman in the insectile armor managed to kneel with defiance.
Serenity had stopped at the lip of the crater with Lady Mars to one side of her and Lady Venus to the other. The Moon Queen had unslung a... staff of some kind. Something about the odd shape of the polished wooden length and the inset crystal rod that ran its length struck me as familiar.
"Denarian, Fallen... Lartessa I've got to thank you for this. No uncertainty. No corrupted friends who might be right about my own fall. No robotic assassins without any reason to hurt me other than their professional pride. No feeling of hopeless dread."
Serenity socketed her scepter into the end of the staff. Like a... Hells Bells, it was just like a bayonet on the end of a rifle.
The queen smiled. "No, today I'm facing just a perky little woman possessed by an ancient evil, her lieutenants, legions of minions, and their summoned monsters from another dimension."
The queen's grin turned vicious as she sighted along the crystal barrel. "Finally. Things make sense."
The long crystal rod in the wooden stock flared. Tessa's battered face gave a crooked smile as she stood up, favoring her left foot. "Little Pretend Princess you can't purify the evil out of me. That's against the Rules. They won't let you."
Serenity's expression turned regretful though her eyes remained focused. Still, she pulled in more power and I had to force myself to look away and take stock of the rest of the battle. Butters and Nariko were running over to a group of succubae and Old Man Harry was talking with Ranma and Lady Pluto about something.
When I turned back, Tessa had adjusted her stance. Her armor was torn but mad pride radiated off of her. "Only I can reject Imariel; that's how the game is played. Can you comprehend the centuries I've been free to ravage the world? The Knights I've destroyed? You think you're different? That you can stop me where they've all failed?"
A silver nimbus surrounded Serenity as she simply gave a little sigh. I got the feeling that ranting, power-hungry ancient sorceresses was another thing Serenity found "familiar".
Serenity rocked back as a lance of silver power shot from her scepter and staff. While thinner than before, the beam was still wide enough to engulf Tessa and caused stars to burst in my vision.
Tessa, for her part, launched forward like a racecar shooting into a hailstone. Bits of chitin chipped and blew off as the distance closed.
The two women flanking Serenity opened up. Lady Mars pointed and jets of fire charged out causing Tessa to... okay, the Denarian didn't stumble, but that ankle of hers turned in a way that couldn't possibly have felt good.
After firing a narrow yellow beam with her fingertips, Lady Venus stepped in and drew a giant straight sided sword. It had an almost translucent silvery sheen that reminded me a bit.... well it didn't quite give the same vibe as Amoracchius but it was definitely more than a Warden's blade.
I shouldn't have been surprised that a magical girl had a magical sword. Though, I was surprised when the stiff blonde let Tessa slam onto Serenity. But I suppose I wasn't in any position to critique her.
The tall, silver-haired woman's armor absorbed the blow as she flipped her staff. It was a clumsy move; if she were doing bayonet drill, an instructor would have had her guts for garters. But it did clip Tessa in the arm.
Talons raked against silver armor as the little Denarian managed to knock the larger queen to one knee. Serenity gave a pained cry that cut across the night and made my ears ring. I suppose getting closer to her might have been a bad idea.
"Too much, Princess?" Tessa smirked, but I could tell she was pained too. "At least that demon of yours knows how to take a hit, but I'll educate you," she leered letting part of her facial armor peel back.
Serenity's smile returned and she slammed her forehead into the Denarian's. Surprisingly, the heavy silver tiara hit with a crunch and ripped more pieces of chitin away.
Tessa blinked for a split second in surprised. And that's when Venus thrust with her sword. The blonde's eyes flashed red as she pressed. The blade skewered the diminutive Denarian.
As Tessa screamed I smashed my staff onto her back. "Galvinius!" I cried. Normally this spell required a copper chain to focus the energy, but the whole point of a wizard's staff was its flexibility.
And sure, the electrical surge that went through Tessa wasn't as efficient as if I'd use the proper focus but it still made her twitch. Though Lady Venus also staggered a bit as her irises went crimson and her skin got an odd sheen.
"Fire-starter! Moon-girl! Hit her now!" I screamed rushing to the raven-haired magical girl's side.
The two other magical girls complied.
However, Lady Mars' attack made me feel like I had fallen into a furnace. Serenity retrieved her staff. Good news, we managed to combo the Denarian. Bad news... it only lasted for a second before Tessa set off another Hellfire bomb.
I loped along the torn-up, loamy ground. My legs ached; my joints hurt. I had been tossed a far distance and the landing was not... pretty; in fact, it got pretty hairy for a moment there as I tumbled and smashed into things. I shook my head, as the ringing dissipated in my ears.
Detonations thundered around me. I was getting really sick of Tessa.
It shouldn't me surprise that Mantis girl would do anything to escape being cornered. She was like a cockroach. My head throbbed... after the Hellfire explosion things got... fuzzy.
Pulling my hand from my throbbing hip, I shook my head and picked up the pace. I spared an idle glance at my wet talons and flicked off some blood that, in the eerie weak light, looked like shiny crimson stones.
I exhaled as I got into a run. My mind cleared a bit as I licked my teeth and spat out a line of stringy red saliva. I had enough time to push Lady Mars out of the way and get my shield up. That was good. I also saw Lady Venus getting... shimmery as she put her golden form between Serenity and the blast.
Of course, Tessa's hate was still focused on me and my shielded form was blasted into the air. I should have been able to use my wings to control my landing.
Well... a better succubus would have. I winced and hacked up another bit of bloody phlegm and gunk. Okay... I kinda hoped the light was playing tricks on me; that was a bad shade of red.
I'm sure my sister would have said something about me working past the pain and that I wouldn't feel this bad if I hadn't trained harder. Okay, that was a bit mean to Ranma. I mean, she was tough but she wasn't like my godmother. My sister didn't delight in hurting me during her lessons, much.
I suppose I should be relieved that Leanansidhe was satisfied enough with Ranma's training regime that she didn't feel the need to assist. Then again, that freed her up to help Cecilia and…
Gait steadying, I felt my cheeks blush and spat more blood out. Awkwardness aside, I did find that method of feeding preferable to ripping someone apart and feasting on their flesh. Then again, as my leg stopped limping I could just imagine my reflection teasing and pointing out that both method had their pros and cons.
Still, Lea had been doing more than plotting with my sister. I mean, she was notably absent to this whole fight. Someone as bloodthirsty as her wouldn't avoid a battle unless under orders. Lea did make it sound that she was here under the auspices of helping her God... daughter, and not as a belligerent of Winter. Of course, Winter Mother was behind my own involvement and she made Mab look sentimental.
I suppose Lea might have been sensible and realized that once Tessa had managed to summon these eldritch outer monsters that this world might be on borrowed time. Glancing over, I saw that the titanic creatures had moved from their pools and were lumbering towards Tessa. Okay... that explained the continued barrage. And Lady Pluto taking the field.
Then my nostrils flared as I caught the scent of Butters and Ranma and a bunch of my nieces. Further out, I could see the Senshi were still battling Tessa. Lady Pluto had her staff out and was casting iridescent spells that even this far were hard to look at and made my horns buzz like high tension lines.
As I ran closer, I also felt.... My eyes flared in shock and I almost stumbled. A stabbing, burst of pain slammed into me and was washed over with sensations of fear and an urgent desire for mother. One of my nieces was hurt.
Tilting my tingling horns, I realized it was coming from the same direction Butters was headed in. It was away from Tessa, towards the tree line, a bit ahead of the smoldering wreckage of a blown-out helicopter.
Beyond that, I saw Rosanna, in her silly crimson skin and indulgent cleft-hooves harassing the old-man version of me. Her flail managed to keep him off-balance but her shield was still absorbing a lot of punishment. There was a lot of interference but I could feel a bit of... concern coming from her, especially when Ranma's dark form burst in.
I only gave that a bare bit of attention as, tail straight, I concentrated on getting to the wounded.
The familiar taste, er, scent, also filled my nose as Butters and I got closer.
Our paths were vectoring in we were about half the distance apart. Amazingly, the little guy was keeping up. Nariko was still shadowing him. Her sword providing a dark compliment to his.
Even I noticed Rosanna's wicked glee as she flung her flail at my grey-haired doppelganger. As the weapon exploded with Hellfire, the Fallen twisted and launched herself at the Knight.
Butters was distracted, focused on being a doctor. On helping.
I winced, gritting my bloody fangs as I lowered my staff. After landing I had recovered, but it wasn't enough. Still I had to help. "Forzare!" I shouted.
Pushing myself, I ignored the wailing of hunger in my guts and cast the spell. The lance of force shot out and... missed.
It fell short and instead of knocking Rosanna down, it carved a furrow into the dirt right in front of Nariko. The dark-haired young-woman went down in a tumble.
At least the distraction got Butters' attention. He turned to her then caught sight of Rosanna's sprinting form. Her talons smoldered with a black fire that was at least in the top five of creepy effects of this night.
But given I had already seen Tessa, the frog-squids and whatever magic Lady Pluto was up to... Rosanna should be honored to even make it that high.
Butters stopped and planted his feet. He met Rosanna's gaze. "Belial. Stop."
I blinked, I hadn't known the name of her Fallen. But of course a Knight would.
"Why?" Rosanna smirked. Her normal guise as a sad, vulnerable woman in a bad situation was gone. Instead, her ostentatious features were marked with a feral glee. "Is this where you tell me to recant my ways? That we're in over our heads."
I looked over at the queen in glowing silver armor blasting at an abominable mass of tentacles and rubbery skin that drained the color out of the sky.
I was pretty sure we had gone well past "over our heads".
Horns tingling, vision throbbing, I ran closer. I was too far to help just yet, but Nariko was pulling herself up and my sister and Old Man Harry were also vectoring in. Butters just had to last a bit and the cavalry would come.
Rosanna flexed her claws and slashed at Butters. "Lartessa may be occupied, her revenge might be delayed but I can console her by taking out a Knight." Her fanged smile was cute but vicious.
Stepping back, Butters frantically parried with his Sword. The light actually dimmed when those talons of shadow and darkness hit them. "I don't have time for this." He exhaled. "I'm telling you, not as a Knight, but as a doctor, I have more important things than fighting you."
"Aww, you're attached to the little pretenders?" Smirking, Rosanna put herself between Butters and the wounded. "There, now your choice is simple," she mocked spreading her claws.
"It was your choice." Butters sighed and the glow on his Sword increased.
Several things happened at once. The Denarian pounced with her claws. Ranma and Old Harry opened fire. Rosanna's shield flared, absorbing the impacts. And Butters simply resumed his sprint and swung his Sword.
Shadow talons met holy blade. Butters was short. He wasn't as strong. He wasn't as skilled. Certainly not as much as a Fallen who had served at Tessa's right hand for centuries.
But this wasn't Knight business. He was a doctor and someone was injured.
He caught her talons and twisted the blade. Butters angled his shoulder, body-slamming the Fallen and whipping his Sword in a full arc that cut through her wrist, tail, and a couple other things.
Rosanna's crimson features had a moment of surprise as she was almost knocked off her hooves. Turning, she saw the Knight sprint past her without looking back. Then she looked at the stump where her right hand was and screamed. Like her tail, at least that wound had cauterized.
Her piercing wail was almost instantly cut off when she coughed and a fountain of brackish blood vomited past her lips. Twisting, she staggered and the slices through her abdomen tore open and viscera came out.
Giving a wet gurgle, magic flared around her. She would have gone after the Knight. But then Nariko came up and sliced through the Fallen's spine just above the hips. The cut itself was clean, but the results was mess. Rosanna fell into a screaming boneless pile
By then, my older self and Ranma had closed-in. The Slade Dresden had drawn his special revolver and put a glowing round right between Rosanna's eyes.
Reflexively, my hand went o my holster. With some surprise, I found that my revolver was still there. I shouldn't have lingered to see what my sister would do to the Denarian. I knew she'd be careful, but --unfortunately for Rosanna-- thorough on her search for the Denarian's coin.
So... I might have dawdled a bit to make sure Rosanna was finished off. And that my sister had secured the coin. The idea of Ranma touching Belial's coin was not.... reassuring.
Hells Bells I wasn't sure I'd trust myself with securing coin. And I had spent a few years with the shadow of a Fallen in my head. But... that was before I signed on to be my Queen's leg-breaker and begged my sisters turn me into a pretty demon princess.
So, while human Wizard Harry Dresden was able to out-stubborn a Fallen temptress. I... wasn't sure about Winter Sidhe Succubus BlackStone's ability to avoid temptation. Let's just say I had more... levers now.
Naturally, that meant that my sister sprinted to catch up to me and tried handing me a certain little locked box. Stopping in my tracks, I stared at the container. I could feel the malevolence of Rosanna's Fallen lying within, ignominiously frozen in a wad of hardened resin.
Well, no I couldn't really, the maddening buzzing and throbbing on my horns from all the other bad mojo had deadened my senses. It would have been nice to filter what my horns were picking up.
But my imagination and my gut feeling was enough. Though I suppose trusting my guts might not be the wisest idea, given how I had landed after Tessa blew her top. Sighing, I took the coin containment box from my sister and shoved it into a coat pocket. Part of me wondered if this was some sort of training test on Ranma's part.... but I had the feeling that since this was a battle she wasn't playing games.
No, she simply wanted to fob off the evil, indescribable magical artifact on the wizard. Which I couldn't really blame her. I mean, my plan was to toss the damned thing at the Holy Knight.
Slade cosplay Dresden had also caught up. Dang, he was fast for an older guy. And now both looked at me with a bit of impatience. Right. Help Butters with the wounded and then stop the agitated eldritch monsters.
"We're going to need a coordinated strike," Ranma shouted as we ran.
"Three teams?" Old Man Harry ventured.
"The Canadians and Company are hitting the frogs with conventional hardware and it's just enough to slow 'em down." She gave both of us meaningful looks. Well... the one she gave me was a bit more worried.
I blinked and shook my head as we ran.
Now Old Man Harry looked me over with some concern.
I flicked a bit of fluids and gunk off my coat. "Don't worry, it's not my blood... mostly." I admitted.
"I know," He stated.
We crested the remains of a little hillock and the feelings of pain intensified. Gloves on, Butters was kneeling on the ground with his kit open next to him. He had two patients. One was a mercenary with a badly broken leg and bandaged head. The man looked a bit punch-drunk. Maybe it was the painkillers, maybe it was a concussion.
However this fellow only held part of Butters' attention. The little doctor was almost up to his elbows in the guts of an ashen-faced girl.
I recognized the white hair in ringlets. Cecilia's daughter: Desiree. Her armor had been torn open and there was a part of her that was just... missing.
A bit further off was another mercenary, but, since he had only half a head and his remaining eye stared lifelessly into the sky, there wasn't much Butters could do for him.
An even younger-looking woman with a short black ponytail alternated between holding Desiree's hand, helping Butters work, and trimming meat.
She had the medical kit on her uniform open and it looked like she had provided the initial aide before the Knight had arrived. Near her was a taller woman blonde hair in a pageboy and another one with turquoise hair and blue-green eyes; Kirsten and Meredith I think.
The two girls held heavy bullpup rifles protecting their sisters and the doctor. They were being supported by two more human mercenaries. Based on the number of blasted wolf-men that surrounded them, the group seemed to have held their own.
Closing in, I noted that Ukyou and Misako were also present, as well as Nariko, who continued to hover about watching Butters' back. I felt a sense of... appreciation coming from the orange-haired girl as she loaded a fresh belt of grenades into her weapon from one of the boxes piled in the center of the group.
Noting my confusion Ukyou slipped up to me. "Resupply run. They were jumped by some wolves trying to retreat."
"Oh." I felt a bit guilty. I was a younger demon than Desiree, but I healed better than her. Even after being thrown in an explosion I... okay, I licked my lips. I did cheat with that.
My sister's eyes flared as she took in the pile of butchered wolf-men. She then knelt down next to the doctor.
"What?" Butters impatiently asked as he gently moved some of Desiree's entrails about. The small woman was a real mess; there wasn't quite enough skin left to close up the wound. "She's not ready to move yet. Corporal Pennwood, could go."
The dazed corporal next to the doctor nodded.
Sniffing the air, Ranma tilted her head.
Butters met the demon's gaze. "It's bad, but she's... well her diaphragm is intact, and she's breathing. Blood loss is..." He barely suppressed a shiver. "A human would be dead, and I'm still tying stuff off, but the bleeding is slowing."
He turned to the black-haired girl assisting him. "Isabel, I think she can take more liver. She needs to make more blood."
The woman nodded and gently fed some slices of rich dark meat to her sister. My nostrils flared and my mouth watered a bit. Butters was focused on his work, but not too focused to notice the suddenly heightened interest. The mercenaries seemed to be used to their... our feeding habits. And hardly noticed.
Butters shook his head. "Human digestion doesn't work fast enough, but I guess you girls are designed to take in nourishment and immediately use it."
I could also feel that Isabel was doing more than chopping meat to feed her sister, and the others were helping.
Old man Harry nodded. "Yes, they are. For their kind, if they don't die immediately, and they don't starve themselves trying to heal a wound, they'll generally recover," the older wizard said, glancing at me.
He then made a brushing motion against his goatee in the universal "you have a stain on your chin" gesture.
I awkwardly wiped my face. "Yeah, yeah," I groused. "What's the big deal? It's not like it's all mine."
"Was any of it?" he gently asked.
I stared at the red stains on my hand. Hells Bells! My blood was blue. All the blood on my talons, all the blood I was coughing up. There was only one way I'd get a mass of red blood in my mouth. "I…"
"You were injured, you had to heal yourself." The older wizard shrugged. "You found a ready supply of meat." He gestured to the dead wolves that Isabel had been harvesting, had been butchering.
Ranma had been quietly conversing with Butters, Desiree, and the wounded merc. After smiling at her niece and giving her a gentle hug, she told the dazed man a rather lewd joke, which seemed to brighten his spirits.
The redhead then patted the doctor on the shoulder. "I know this is a hard question, but Tessa's gotten the frog-things to move and we need a coordinated strike. Would you-"
The Knight cut her off by silently reaching into his vest and pulling his Sword out.
The redhead stared at the wooden hilt held in a bloody glove.
"Nariko knows who to give it too," Butters simply stated before returning to trying to seal up Desiree's disemboweling. Even now, I could see that her skin had stretched a bit more and the ragged hole in her side wasn't quite so gaping.
Ranma nodded as Nariko took the Sword.
Turning, I saw Eve and Sophie exit the forest with Maggie in tow. It was handy how she used her wand to project a shield that could protect multiple people. Still, seeing my daughter grown up and dressed all supervillainy was strange. I glanced down. Right... maybe I didn't have any room to talk, what with the whole body-hugging ice armor.
Eve held a neutral expression as she looked over her grievously wounded niece, but I could feel the emotional turmoil within her. Though it was more muted. "Right, when Desiree's good to move we'll get her back, I'll tell Cecilia," she stated, hiding some more pain, as she keyed her radio.
Butters nodded as he continued to work.
The blonde then looked up at myself and our sister. "What do you need?" she asked taking in the battled.
"You still have radio?" I asked then winced, realizing she had just used it.
"Yes," Eve nodded to Maggie. The teenage assassin wizard looked a bit embarrassed.
"Right. We're going with three teams then" Ranma's voice cut in. "Serenity, Venus, Nabiki, and Old Dresden take the eastern creature. Mars, Makoto, Nariko, and Demon Dresden take the western. Pluto, myself and Daughter Dresden will run interference on Tessa," she explained in a tone that left no room for dissent.
The older wizard eyed her but nodded.
Ranma continued. "My remaining daughters will provide fire support and keep any stragglers from linking up with Tessa. Eve and her daughters will do overwatch and get our wounded out. Canadians and Company will continue drawing in the noose as they pull in the perimeter."
"And we fail and the creatures escape?" the older Dresden asked.
My eldest sister tilted her head. "If we're lucky it'll only be the Canadians bombing us."
"And who's Nariko supposed to give the Sword to?" I asked.
My sister had opened up the white communicator on her wrist and had started to relay orders to the Senshi. She paused to give me a pained look. Fortunately, it was gone when she motioned for us to get into position.
Nariko shadowed me as I went towards the titanic monster. Bigger than a house, the thing was all ropey muscle under rubbery, pallid skin that shone with mind-bending patterns. It was easier to think of it being covered in paisley whorls and plaid stripes.
Giant claws furrowed the dirt as it lumbered forward. From the size of its legs I would have expected it to be faster, but the creature seemed... restrained. The fronds, tendrils, and tentacles that made up its head sniffed the air warily as they slowly moved forward. Something was holding them back, trying to leash their hideous, alien wills.
The creature's passage was bringing it closer to the hotel parking lot and the line of Canadian armor. Heavy guns and long-lance-like canon barrels opened fire as the vehicles pulled back.
The thunder of detonations washed over my body, but I already felt deafened by the battle. Though my ears were still ringing. Then the frog-squid screamed in registers that even demonic ears couldn't hear.
I glanced down at the staff in my hand and the revolver on my hip. My sister was really putting a lot of trust into me.
The creature bellowed and antic light burst from a cluster of tentacles and it caught a couple of vehicles that hadn't pulled back fast enough. Armor melted to slag and the blinding light seemed to suck out the colors, leading to dull, almost grey, flames and explosions.
"The Pattern Silvers are withdrawing," Nariko noted to my side. I could feel tension coming from the young woman, but she seemed utterly confident in her Mother's plan.
I turned and saw the five magical girls smoothly moving back. Serenity and Lady Pluto seemed to be their heavy hitters.
Still, the young-looking green-haired girl was almost… dainty in how she wielded her metal staff. She threw iridescent arcane energy from her staff's garnet top in careful controlled bursts.
Given, her attacks were almost as horn-scratching, tooth-aching, claws-on-chalkboard wrong as the squid-frogs' attacks were, I could understand why Lady Pluto was tiptoeing about like someone afraid of collateral damage.
That caution was something Tessa exploited, which allowed her nimble form to evade Pluto's attacks.
Which was why Pluto was doing more than just directly attacking Tessa. I recognized the oily feeling of counter-spells being cast. My grandfather had similar skills and had used his abilities to shut down a Black Court vampire's sorcerous abilities.
Serenity had no such compunction and silver light regularly swept over the battle-field. But between the Denarian's raw speed, vicious attacks, and the giant squid-monsters, the Senshi were unable to box in mantis-girl.
Pulses also came out of Serenity and Pluto's staffs as they tried to retard the... greying out that the squid's presence was causing. It was a bit disconcerting to see those two doing so many things, especially close to such an irate and hateful Fallen.
Even this far out, I could feel Tessa's incandescent rage. The Denarian continued to thrust at the magical girls, often evading attacks and closing in and slashing. I watched as she bolted in, body-slammed the diminutive Lady Pluto and tried to disembowel her.
It took the coordinated strikes of Venus' sword and Mars' fire to dislodge Tessa. Even then, the snarling Denarian lunged once more only to be prodded by the bladed end of Serenity's staff. Silver fire blasted her off while Jupiter added a bolt of lightning that lit the sky.
Tessa's shield flared as she retreated in a flash. Silver sparks crackled over her exoskeleton as she resumed dodging the Senshi's attacks, trying to get them to follow. She was still favoring one leg and her motions weren't quite unbelievably fast.
I could even see the Denarian pausing to catch her breath. Sure, she covered it up by trying to cast her enthrallment spell on the squid-monsters, but I could tell when a Practitioner was starting to get winded. That isn't to say her spell was a ruse. The glowing intricate runes she summoned were real enough and throbbed with power.
Hells Bells. We'd thrown everything we had at her. Multiple Council-level wizards, broods of succubae, artillery strikes, a literal army, and a team of elemental magical girls, and Tessa was only now starting to get winded.
And that was probably only because she had summoned a pair of eldritch horrors and was attempting to mentally dominate them in the middle of fighting us.
I might have made a concerned little whine as I watched the Senshi try to pull back so they could split their forces.
And then a barrage of obsidian spheres exploded against Tessa's shield. Her protection flickering; the Denarian turned in the direction of the attack and Ranma dropped in from the side. Flaming purple aura smashed into red shield.
The psychic surge from Tessa's sudden eruption of anger almost brought me to my knees, and did cause Serenity to stumble as Mars cried out.
Hellfire sprayed as Tessa found herself grappling with a redhead implacably tearing at her chitinous armor. A section below her navel was torn away. Blood flashed as Ranma dug in. The Denarians' own talons and spurs also found purchase.
Looking pale, Serenity still used this opportunity to split her forces sending Mars and Jupiter my way while she and Venus went towards the other Squid creature that my doppelganger was already sniping at.
Hissing, Tessa's hand went out and caught my sister's neck. Lifting her, the Denarian squeezed. Then Ranma's tail flicked up and stabbed right under Tessa's belly button.
Blood spurted and Tessa tossed the redhead way with another scream that hurt my horns more than the squid-creatures' and Pluto's magic combined.
Tessa screamed and the runes she had summoned shattered "I wanted to avenge my daughter. But no... you had to interfere. You had to meddle." The Denarian cocked her head. "Revenge against Nicodemus can wait. I'll be satisfied killing you idiots and leaving."
And that's when her expression turned vicious and she stopped trying to control the squid-frogs and instead spurred them to attack here and now. One flailed its giant hook-ended forearms.
I lost sight of her when Maggie opened fire with that bulky rifle of hers and launched a barrage of green energy with the iron wand bolted to the front of the gun bayonet style. Before the Denarian could attack my doppelganger's daughter, Lady Pluto used her staff to block the Hellfire and held until Ranma added her own ferocity.
My stomach curdled when I turned back to the squid-creature. It gave a hideous bellow that was part bull-frog, part elephant, and all nightmare. My duster whipped back behind me as the giant being clawed at the ground. It didn't have any eyes I could make out, but I could feel its oily, skittering attention pressed on me.
Well, at least it wasn't trying to escape the perimeter anymore.
I slammed my staff onto the ground and aimed it up at the monster. I didn't have to angle it very far over. "Pyrofugo!" I screamed as a blue-white bolt of flames blasted the front of the creature.
A few rubbery tentacles charred.
And then it blasted me with its own beam. This close, I could see the nature of the attack. My shield flared but the antic light started to burn through the layers.
It was similar to an entropic attack. Entropic curses were nasty and I had barely escaped a few of the reality-bending spells. But this was a bit different.
The entropy, the damage was more of a side effect of the beam. The thunder to the lightning. Thunder was the result of the shockwave formed due to the extreme heat and pressure caused by the lightning cutting through the air.
Here... the squid's attack cut through reality. Waves of entropic magic flared in the wake of the beam's passage as the structure of the universe tried to reassert itself. I was certain that if I opened my Sight I could see the scaring caused by the creatures. I was also certain that if I used my Sight on these things that I'd go utterly mad.
Two lithe figures, one in copper armor, the other in bronze arrived. Neither hesitated and immediately launched their own magical attacks.
It took Nariko a bit of doing to get Lady Mars's attention. Bowing slightly, the red-eyed girl held out the hilt. Mars took the Sword without hesitation.
Distantly, I could hear more explosions as others started to attack our squid and the one other Harry was hitting with salvoes of some kind of black-tinged fire. The pressure on my shield letup as the squid-monster turned.
But I was a bit distracted by... well...
Fidelacchius hadn't manifested as a lightsaber. Not in the miko's hands.
Bright golden light flared in flickering waves as Lady Mars strode forward holding a blazing sword.
The frog-squid paused, tilting the mass of tentacles that passed for its head. It seemed to study the small being before it.
Warmth emanated from the golden flames shaped into a broad, five foot blade. The heat eased the weariness that had sunk into me and chased away the buzzing and scratching on my horns. My head cleared and my tail flexed.
Some of the creature's frilled tentacle fronds turned towards its companion, but that being was dealing with Queen Serenity's silver light. Our monster turned and started to back away.
The light from the Sword grew brighter. "You do not belong. This is not your world. Begone!" Lady Mars' voice carried across the battlefield, echoed by her queen giving a similar proclamation.
To my right, I saw the blasted pool the creature had emerged from. Most of the water had been drained, and the oily surface rippled with every explosion. There was probably some remnant of the tear the squid-thing had made. But it wasn't something I wanted to go poking around.
Apparently, the creature had a similar view as it responded with a deep challenging roar. I leaned on my staff to keep from being pushed back.
Meanwhile, the priestess of Amaterasu strode forward. Golden fiery light flared brighter.
Tentacles swiveled in and I could tell the creature was about to fire its own reality-searing attack.
Whipping my staff back towards the pool I grit my teeth. "Aquilevatus!" I cried pushing Soulfire into the spell. Water was heavy, even with magic, and I needed all the extra strength I could get to move it.
A curtain of water surged up from the pond and hit the front of the creature in a torrent. Pointing with my staff, runes glowed blue as I intoned the second spell. "Arctis!" I screamed as the sheeting water froze solid coating the creature's head tentacles.
The ice began to crack, but I had added a bit of Soulfire to that spell and dipping into the power of Winter made the structure even stronger.
Just ahead of me, Mars leapt up, the crimson ribbons tied to the back of her armor fluttering. She dodged the tentacles sprouting from its forearms and the blazing sword struck. A tree-size tentacle fell to the ground.
Upside, the Sword was able to actually pierce the thing's skin.
Downside, as Lady Mars hacked away every cut resulted in a spray of livid, inky, greasy orange ichor. That nauseating smell that blended rancid mint, old calamari, and motor oil emanated, filling the night air.
Then, Jupiter and Nariko opened up. The magical girl's lightning was stronger than my niece's but both managed to aim their bolts into the gaping wounds that Mars was carving into the creature.
Now, the air filled with the smell of burnt, oily, minty calamari. Pain and anger burst from the great beast as it whipped its smaller and more agile tentacles against Mars. One struck and knocked the Senshi into me. I managed to catch her, but almost stumbled at the sheer alien power pressing against my mind.
Up close, the squid-frog was a mess of patterns and colors that were wrong, gagging smells that wormed their way into my sinuses, and a deep burbling noises that were elephantine and amphibian.
So, I'll count it as a win that I wasn't simply knocked down by Mars' impact. This close, the fire of the Sword was blinding. Which, while a warming comfort, did make the creature easier to see.
In particular, it was obvious that the ice covering its remaining beam tentacles had finally broken apart. The puckering waving masses turned to me as sheets of ice crashed around us.
Holding Mars, I got my shield up just in time as the searing beams struck.
Groaning, the Senshi rubbed a bit of blood from her forehead, smearing it against her tiara. Her eyes widened at the lancing beam breaking against my shield.
Her Sword burned brighter and she moved to attack.
"No!" I cried. "I've got its attention, go and get the lightning twins and hit it from the side."
"Go!" I cried as another chunk of ice fell in front of us. It hit the beam and was flash boiled.
The Senshi nodded and darted away.
I pushed more power into my shield. I had no illusions that I'd be able to outlast an elder monster, even with an impromptu snack earlier, but I could make a great distraction.
Then I noticed its attack abruptly shut off in another shower of ice.
I had a split second of confusion before a forest of tentacles shot out and grabbed me. About the thickness of an adult anaconda, the ropey appendages whipped out and started to encircle my shield and draw me towards the gaping maw that had emerged at the center of the nightmarish, tentacled mass.
Acting on instinct I dropped my shield, spread my wings, and leapt with all the strength my legs could give me. "Parkour!" I yelled as my tail and claws sliced through the grasping tentacles.
It wasn't enough.
I didn't get clear.
My breath was forcibly pulled out of my chest as the tentacles wrapped over me. My staff tumbled out of my hand. The calamari and mint smell became oppressive as I cut with icy claws and orange ichor spewed out. Enough fire-hose like tentacles had caught me that cutting free was a losing proposition.
I turned and saw myself being drawn inexorably towards its maw. Instead of a giant beak, or rows of fangs, or chewing molars, the creature's mouth was full of knobby prongs tipped in chisel-like teeth.
More ice fell around me. "Forzare!" I reached out and the frozen water shot towards me. It hit and started to melt over my face and chest. The tentacles tried to tighten but the water easily poured through the gaps.
I still cut at the thing, but now I concentrated on augmenting my armor. I took my sister's lessons to heart. Prioritizing damage was key. Some wounds I could heal quickly, other wounds would take longer, but I was pretty sure I needed to be able to breathe to last for any length of time.
My chest armor thickened and reinforced. Ice grew over my head as facemask and headdress formed into place. Sure, Ranma had tested how long I could hold my breath, but I'm pretty sure even she didn't expect I'd be eaten by a giant squid monster. I let the remaining ice thicken my gauntlets and grow over my hands.
The strengthened bodice pushed out and I gasped as rancid, but welcome, air filled my lungs. And then I was pulled into the monster's mouth and it began to chew.
I would have screamed, but my mask had already sealed my nostrils. I would have thrashed but the tentacles were only starting to retreat. While the creature didn't want to bite off its own appendages, it didn't like its food fighting back.
A leg broke, my right shoulder was torn out of its socket as the teeth tried to crunch me. While the bulk of my armor held, there was fresh pain as a few teeth pierced the ice over my stomach. I tried to curl into a ball, but my left hand got caught between two tooth-clusters and was nearly torn off at the wrist.
This time I did scream, and a muffled panic almost took me as the creature's mouth reacted to the flavor of my blood with a relished gulp. Good news, I was no longer being chomped on.
Bad news, my arms were mangled and I was being swallowed by a thing from beyond the stars.
Worse news, even holding my breath, even with an airtight mask, I could smell the piquant scent of something acidic. Even in what passed for the monster's esophagus, I could feel the thick coating of ice start to sizzle.
From the inside, the monster's howls were even more ear-splitting and horn-hurting. Not to mention that its lumbering jostling steps added a new layer of queasy nausea.
With my unbroken leg I kicked out and tried to keep myself from falling down the fleshy, constricting passage. The end of my tail punctured the fleshy wall and gave another anchor point. My arms were healing, but it was slow going. It was not helped by being pre-digested.
The eye covers to my mask slipped back, revealing undulating, glossy flesh. I could hear a pounding tri-phased heartbeat that seemed to come from all around me. My dark-vision was good enough to see what was in front of me, if not the color. The seam on my mask split open.
An oily, amphibious mint stench hit like a punch to the face. From the inside it smelled less like a squid. My heart raced, I was running out of time, out of air.
I did the only thing I could think of. I bit down.
The flesh in front of me parted. Minty, greasy flesh filled my mouth. I gagged, I expected to vomit. In fact, the first mouthfuls I spit out with a horrid retching that burned the interior of my mouth with an acidic pain.
As the creature gave a confused piping, I jostled and slid down. The acid stink increased and I had to pull my legs up to keep my hooves from dissolving.
Some orange ooze and rubbery flesh had slipped down my throat. Head pounding, I noticed feeling returning to my shoulder as my arm popped back into its socket.
I hated myself, but I went for another bite, and this time I swallowed more as I gagged. My eyes flared and I started to tear into the meat as my arms healed. Talon, tail, and fangs ripped through as something primal rose up within me.
It was disgusting, the meat was alien. In between growls, I still retched up mouthfuls of foul meat, but I was managing to heal.
More importantly I had pulled myself out of the constricting, acidic trap of the creature's esophagus and stomach. I landed on some sort of twitching muscle, or maybe it was a gland. Whatever it was it was squishy and the size of a refrigerator.
Only now, I was inside the jostling guts of a giant squid-frog. After retching once more, I let my mask grow back into place. If nothing else it cut down on the smell. However, it didn't do much to remove the pounding pulsing throb coming from above me.
My stomach felt bloated and wrong, stuffed full of greasy upsetting flesh. My sister said we could eat just about anything, but she had warned us that some things were too alien to digest and might even make us sick.
I let my gauntlets grow as I contemplated the best way to escape. I'd probably have to burn my way out.
The booming beating noise increased its tempo and a sizzling boom exploded to my right and below.
Golden fire burst into the monster's body cavity as Lady Mars got a hit that pierced its flesh. I smiled as I scrambled up and tried to flick some gunk off my wings. I had an escape route.
But I paused.
That three phased beating noise was... I turned and looked up. In the light of the lingering golden fire I could just make out a greenish-grey heart. Throbbing with thick orange veins, it was the size of my old car and was pounding out in a strange rhythm that wormed its way into my head.
My mask shifted into a smirk as I raised my arms.
It took a bit to brace myself using my legs, wings and, tail. I basically had to scramble through heaving organs and muscles to get a clearer view.
But once I had it. "Cannem Flagrantissimum!"
Runes burst into light on my gauntlets and a pulsing blast of white and blue fire lanced out. For a moment the monster's guts became bright as day and I closed my eyes not wanting to get a clear look at this thing's insides.
A blend of succubus and wizard fire held in place by carrier helix of Soulfire smashed into the squid-frog's heart.
It exploded in a meaty, wet detonation. My spell petered out. Partially because I was that tired, partially because several of the larger chunks hit me with a rubbery splat.
For a moment, it was silent and dark. The only noise was that of orange fluids starting to pour out of the torn remains of the pumping organ. At least this meat tasted better than the elastic-like throat-flesh. The heart was more chewy, and almost succulent, and the mint stink did not have the rotten undertone.
Then the monster began to thrash and bellow in pain. And my stomach gurgled ominously.
Okay. Now, it was time to go.
I darted to the bit of light I could see where Lady Mars' hit had punctured the monster's thick hide. Well, I say light, but it was more of a spot where the blackness was a bit more grey.
I aimed my arms and gave another blast. This time my plasma canon was a bit less impressive, more like Blue Beetle on a bad day. Still it was enough to tear the hole bigger.
I jumped. Though the tight ichor and gut-filled cavity didn't exactly allow me to fall with grace. Or as much grace as an over-stuffed, nauseated, exhausted succubus wizard could give. Though, I was feeling a bit less dead tired.
As the ragged wound flew towards me, I saw lighting explode and burn through the hole. Hells Bells, the girls were attacking the wound. They didn't know I was coming through. I had to warn them I was coming.
"Parkour!" I screamed just as I tumbled through the hole.
The horrific stink receded to merely intolerable levels as the world opened up around me.
I could see sky, ground, water, and trees. And then sky and ground then more sky. And then for a change of pace water. Oh. I must have been a couple stories up. I tried to spread my wings as I tumbled through the air.
But they were covered in orange, stinking gunk. As was the rest of me.
I caught a bit of Lady Mars' disbelieving expression as she watched me fall out of the disemboweling gash in the monster's guts.
And then I hit the pond.
There was a splash. I hit at an awkward spread-eagle angle. At least the water was just deep enough that I had slowed down before hitting the soft muck at the bottom.
I bobbed back up to the top. And inhaled. After where I had been, even a muddy, stagnant pond full of dead plants smelled great.
Spitting gagging, and maybe puking, I made my way out of the water. Orange goo clung to the surface in my wake
I allowed ice to cover my duster, thicken the mask and headdress, and the rest of my armor.
Nariko and Jupiter met me as I neared the shore. The brunette magical girl had paled with shock. "I can't believe you did that; that was Usagi-insane right there."
Meanwhile, my niece was more composed and simply handed me my staff.
Taking the oaken rod, I thumped it on the ground and let the outer layer of ice covering me flake away, taking with it all orange ichor and gunk.
The hem of my duster was just submerged in the shallow water. I felt liquid creeping up my legs and start to freeze. My tail dipped into the pool and drew in more fluid.
The reinforced bodice thickened as ice grew to fill in the chewed gaps and sparkling clear crystals froze onto the surface of the blue material. Armored sections extended over my hips and down my thighs in layered ice plates. The greaves that flowed over my hooves had expanded as well.
Those ice sequins might have accented my chest. They certainly didn't highlight the large swelling curve of my belly. Though I suppose the polished articulated armor also contributed, especially with how it integrated with the plating armoring over the flare of my waist.
There was a tingle as my mask got more polished and I felt my hair slick down under the weight of a silver wire headdress that anchored to a heavy silver tiara. However, the best part came when ice crept along the long extensions of my horns. As the glossy material coated them, muffled them, the oppressive twisting and buzzing lessened. I concentrated and little fluttering blue ribbons extruded out near the end. The silver symbols were only a guess but the magical filters seemed to work.
My tail, now adorned with dark blue plating over the fins, rose out of the water as my gleaming hooves reached dry land. My wings and coat felt a bit heavier as reinforcing bits of ice solidified into place.
Jupiter tilted her head and took in my form. "Magical succubae, always eating and showing off," she muttered, shaking her head.
"Come on, we've got it wounded but we need to finish this," I said moving in to help Mars.
There was a ghost of a knowing smile on my niece's face.
A huge, pained wailing diverted my attention. The creature was in bad shape. Most of its tentacles had been cut off, there was a huge bleeding gash from its side and the whole thing moved listlessly.
Then, suddenly, the remaining antennae-like frond tipped tentacles whipped around. Even with my horns muffled I could feel its intense attention. Wheezing, heart-shot, and exsanguinating, the frog-squid charged with renewed vigor.
Lovely, it recognized me.
Clutching Fidelacchius, Mars darted from the side and swept downward. Golden fire sliced through thick hide and a leg thicker than an old growth tree spiraled off.
The creature stumbled.
"Cannem Flagrantissimum!" I shouted digging into the renewed well of energy. Jupiter and Nariko flanked me and fired. Their twin bolts of lightning were sucked into the Soulfire matrix caging the demonic and arcane flames. The blinding wall of energy struck the creature's head and for a moment its bulky form resisted the sizzling burning blend of energies.
I grit my teeth and pushed more into the spell. Sweat dribbled down the inside of my mask, and I could feel my stomach ache as my reserves drained and my armor tightened a bit.
Then Mars leapt in and hit the squid-frog right where our beam was impacting. There was a golden and blue flash as lightning and fire punched through, followed by a horrific explosion.
As orange ichor and greasy plaid meat rained down, Jupiter looked at her gloves and blinked at the sparks that flickered over her fingers. She then looked at the blasted creature's remains. "Huh."
A goo-splattered Mars tumbled down and managed to nimbly land in a crouch with her free arm providing a bit of extra stability.
"Okay, you earned that superhero landing," I clapped while Nariko blinked at me.
"Come on, there's still one left!" Mars cried, gesturing with the Sword.
We turned and raced toward the remaining monster but...
Serenity, Venus, Old Harry, and Nabiki had already launched their attack. The others continued but I went in a different direction.
Waves of exploding ice tore through this monster's tentacles. It looked like they had been put into some sort of titanic blender. Orange goo rained as it wailed, but before it could react, Other Dresden used his gleaming sword to cast some sort of giant ward that pinned it in place.
Shimmering, eyes glowing, Venus concentrated as half a dozen long gold chains sprang out to tie the monster down. I don't know how they were long enough, let alone strong enough. But the silver glow edging them and the way my doppelganger stood next to her making sure she stayed in a circle provided some clues.
The coup de grace fell on Queen Serenity. Planting her feet, her armor glowed as she spun her staff in a precise pattern. Even with the filters, the prickling power made my horns hum. I could see my nieces have a similar reaction.
Incantation finished, Serenity's staff flipped towards the chained and bound monster. The scepter at the end sparkled.
Everything went silver.
The light faded the monster looked like it had been speared by a giant fork. It shuddered and ichor spurted out. First it was a bright orange, but it started to rapidly fade in color as the rest of the monster crumbled like the smoldering remnants of a giant ashen-grey pyre.
A distance away Tessa stared. Shock, and perhaps a bit of fear marred her face. I noted that there wasn't a bit of armor left on her head. Her short silver hair was free and hung limply over an almost gaunt face.
Her right arm wasn't moving much, but she was still managing to fend off three attackers. The adhoc synergy the trio had found was impressive.
My sister was one of the few people that had a chance of surviving melee combat with Tessa. She was in close quarters, denying the Denarian space to run or prepare any major spells. Forcing Tessa to fight and deal with intimate, immediate threats, the redhead ate up Tessa's time and energy.
This freed Maggie to provide fire support and ranged protection. The mercenary wizard girl had plenty of ranged attacks that she could use whenever Tessa tried to escape my sister's attention and ranged defenses like that shield she could project using her wand.
Off to the side, but roughly midway between those two Lady Pluto was on spell support. Her own ranged attacks harassed Tessa but given the way the garnet orb on her staff throbbed I was betting her role was helping keep the Denarian from getting off any especially nasty spells.
I ran towards them. While my companions had moved to assist the others, I guessed that those four would be enough to take out such a monster. Blasting giant invading monsters was apparently what Serenity was all about.
I wasn't alone in my judgment. Butters was also on his way. Interesting, I guess the wounded were evaced and he was back to help. He did the same in Lomar. I did have a head start over the knight. Less than I thought, I mean didn't he have to take a detour to get his Sword from Mars?
Tessa's shock lasted for only a moment. Her attention fell on me and Butters. I knew something was wrong when instead of screaming in rage her reaction was utterly silent. Hellfire blasted out in a thick wedge as a wave of telekinetic force pushed Ranma.
The redhead recovered and fired purple beams at the Denarian's back.
Taking the hits, Tessa slammed onto the green-haired girl. Lady Pluto was skilled with her staff and buzzed with arcane energy but the sudden ferocity overwhelmed her.
Lances of fire shot out from Maggie's rifle. Both out the barrel of the gun and from the under-slung wand. However, Pluto was already on the ground, her staff snapped in two and flung away.
Running, I was pretty sure Tessa was wasting her time, but maybe mantis-girl didn't know the truth about Pluto. I leveled my staff but couldn't get a clear shot. I debated just frying them all, I mean my sister would heal, and Pluto was Pluto, but... I knew other Harry would kill me if I hurt his daughter.
The Denarian actually had to pause and catch her breath before my sister came in and landed a blow that shattered the armor on Tessa's back and broke her shoulder blade.
She spun and, exchanging blows with my sister... slipped. Or at least it looked like a mistake at first. Her right arm was not in good shape, a bad block resulted in the forearm bone being snapped and my sister tearing it off.
Blood poured from Ranma's mouth as she bit in.
And then the arm blew up.
Tessa kicked the dazed demon right into Maggie; as the two fell, the one armed Denarian bolted.
Her remaining hand pulled out an obsidian stone. It cracked in her grip and a horrific buzzing shot through my horns. Even with the muffling I nearly stumbled. I saw my sister and nieces blink and wince in pain.
It was like the buzzing of those Jammers but... backwards. I then saw Tessa start to make a deceptively simple, but very familiar, cut through the air.
Oh, Hells Bells...
The angle was bad, the distance was worse, but I still drew my revolver. So what if she was over sixty yards away. Stars and Stones, after all that my gun was still holstered?
Thumbing back the hammer I emptied the cylinder. A few shots even hit her in the back, one actually was accompanied with a splash of blood as it hit a spot were her exoskeleton had been ripped off.
But Tessa still opened the Way.
I pushed more speed to try and catch up. My mother's voice cut in, echoing in my head. She had given me a gift of her knowledge of the Ways, of traveling in the NeverNever. She didn't know where this portal opened up, other than it was unpleasant and cold.
"Damn it!" I screamed as the little Fallen host jumped through the portal and began sealing it behind her. "Come on!"
I continued to sprint. I told myself I might be able to catch the Way before it sealed shut, if I did that I could open it up again. But I knew I was too far... but I had to try.
Butters had almost caught up to me, the little guy was red-faced and he had to be killing himself to get this far. Or maybe he had help? Hells Bells, even with one Knight on my side, Tessa was still gonna get away.
I snarled. After all this, all the pain and lives and suffering the little monster got-
Then there was a familiar, almost clunky machine gun noise. It was distinct from all the gunfire I had heard while in this world.
The Denarian gave an insectile screech and stumbled back though the Way. She was bleeding from several fresh bullet wounds.
The machine gun roared again. It was closer, and this time I knew exactly what it was: Kalashnikov.
A dark skinned man wielding the Russian rifle in one hand with a silver saber in the other stepped through the portal. The other side of the tear was a stark gloomy land of ice and sleet. Not that this side was much better.
Behind the new knight, almost part of the icy background was another redhead. This one looked utterly at home in the wintry landscape.
Tessa hit the ground and the Russian knight shot her. This time the bullets slammed against her shield. He looked around and spotted me. His handsome features split into a grin. "Harry? So, you really are a pretty demon lady."
"Uh... yeah Sanya," I coughed. I was close enough to use my staff. A forzare managed to pin Tessa or at least slow her scrambling escape.
"Is good to see you." The wielder of Esperacchius smiled. "I had been wondering what trickery the scary Sidhe lady planned. Now, I see she was being straightforward about you."
Leanansidhe had stepped through the portal. "There are times, rare delicious times, when the least obfuscation results in the most dissimulation." She smiled showing her teeth. "Now goddaughter, finish thy Queen's mission."
I charged the one-armed Denarian. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Butters checking on my sister and Pluto.
Tessa fought like the cornered, aggressive monster she was. Hellfire burst out and splashed against my shield.
When that attack gutted out I smashed down with my staff. More of her chitin broke as the chest pieces fell off. Snarling she leapt at me; even like this she was fast, faster than me.
The spurs on her feet sparked against my armor and I turned at the shoulders as her talons raked against my face. I put one arm around her shoulders and with the other clawed her back. My tail raked over her legs, chipping off the armor behind her shins. I was protected by armored mask, her head armor was long gone. She squirmed, and I only managed to claw out one eye.
I felt a burst of predatory pride from my godmother. Distantly, I realized that it might have been better to stand back and let everyone shoot Tessa at once.
The Denarian screamed and tried to blast my head off. Whipping back, I dodged and we both tumbled to the ground.
"You stupid little nickel-head," I screamed clawing at her face. "You put us through all this pain just because you wanted Nicodemus?"
I punched her in the throat. "If you weren't so power-hungry and selfish you'd have people lining up around the block to help you kill him! Idiot!"
Tessa was the better grappler and almost twisted out of my grip. It was really hard to hold onto her when she started trying to kick my head in.
So I.... bit her leg. I'd already cut off her exoskeleton there and the flesh was... well after that squid-monster anything would be delicious.
Her screams were novel. There was less of the rage and pure anger and something more... base. It was the pained cries of someone being eaten by a predator. The Mantle surged. Ripping her apart would be delicious. The demonic part of me agreed.
Chomping down, I snapped her leg bone and relished the marrowy flavor. I was certain this was a novel experience for Tessa too. Her Hellfire and clawing wasn't doing much against my armor, especially when my tail whipped over her chest.
I pulled myself up, but my nostrils flared, there was far more here. My tongue flicked out. I could feel the little seam where the mask butted against my lips.
As I started to bite into her torso, Tessa cried out. She broke; she begged; she pleaded for me to stop.
I didn't stop.
"Harry. Wait," a calm voice stated.
Turning, my eyes flashed in irritation.
Butters strode up. "Is this really what you want?"
Tilting my head, I then slowly stood up. I might have pressed the end of my staff against Tessa's chest and used that length of oak to support my weight as I got back onto my hooves. A growl may have escaped my lips.
Ranma had slipped up next to Butters. Her hair fell down to her waist in thick waves, her teeth seemed sharper, and her whole form seemed more vibrant. Before fighting Tessa she must have fed well too.
She gave us a quizzical look, but she lifted her arm and gave a few hand signals. Probably to call off any snipers.
Tessa's laugh was bitter and broken. She flicked some blood out of her remaining eye and coughed. "Oh, the Knight will now preach of compassion and forgiveness?"
"You were the one begging," I glared.
"I didn't want to get eaten," Tessa snapped.
"Just shoot her," Ranma suggested.
Butters spread his hands. I noted he wasn't holding his Sword. "I was told that I was sent here to help a friend in need."
Ranma put a hand on his shoulder. "You've already helped her, and she still needs more help. After this."
"And you've done a wonderful job," Tessa mocked as blood oozed past her lips. I put more weight on my staff. It was surprising she was still talking given the amount of blood coming out of her wounds, especially the one on her leg.
My sister watched me. She would have killed Tessa out of hand. However, she had spared Misako's life when her daughter had been a murderous minion of Alexia. But that was because Ukyou had begged for her partner to not get eaten.
On her back, Tessa turned to try and get both Butters and Sanya in her view "How does it feel Knights? You saved Nicodemus' life. You turned your friend into a demon. A starborne is now a succubus." There was a defeated edge to her mockery.
Butters turned to her but he spoke to me. "She made her choices, Harry. But you're free to choose too."
I looked down at the battered, broken Denarian. Her head was bare, one eye was torn out, her hair was burnt and one ear was slashed apart. Meanwhile, silver and sapphire inlay adorned my gleaming white mask that had a jutting jaw full of pointed teeth that was almost, but not quite, a muzzle. My headdress had smoothed more as the silver accents spun and connected to my platinum choker and the tiara grew to fit more gems.
The plating over the flare of my hips had extended giving more resistance against Tessa's spurs and clawing. Even as my stomach filled with more of her flesh, the armor around my distended belly thickened and grew more articulated as more ice crystal sequins sprouted to match the enhancements to my bodice.
It all heightened the contrast: a tall demon in polished, glistening armor and full regalia stood over a broken, dismembered young girl.
I could feel the fear coming from her. For centuries she was powerful, untouchable, if things ever got too dangerous Imariel could lend her power, enough to escape.
Except Serenity's power put a damper on that. Tessa stopped healing so fast once Serenity started hitting her.
The wood of the staff creaked under the pressure of my grip.
"How badly do you want revenge?" I asked. Butters kept me from killing her in the midst of my Hunger. Still, I could kill Tessa in cold blood. It was within my power. And she deserved it. But there was an option.
Butters swallowed. This might not have been what he had in mind, but tough.
"He killed my daughter." Tessa's eye locked onto me. I glanced away. I really didn't want to Soulgaze her. Not now. "You know what I ventured to do this, Wizard. You took it all away from me."
"Not everything," I stated.
Staring, her expression was flat. "You'll have to do better than that."
"Yeah, I know what happens when a centuries old host finds herself without a coin. I also know you're too wounded for you to worry about old age catching up to you. Why if only I had a way to solve both problems?" I flashed my fangs.
Tessa flexed her fingers and tried to grandly gesture with her arm. "What do you think Knights? Do your approve of your friend's idea? Giving more demonic power to your great rival?"
I jabbed forward with my staff.
Air rushed out of Tessa's bruised lungs.
"No. You give up your coin. You consent to the Daughter change. I raise you. And then we take revenge. Mother and Daughter."
Tessa leaned her head back on the ground. "I lose my daughter, and you offer to make me into yours?" She gave a bitter, mocking laugh.
"Yes." My tail flicked. I wasn't too keen on the idea. Okay... the idea of siccing a little succubus Tessa on Nicodemus was strangely satisfying. That was something the gaunt bastard would never see coming.
Her jaw was set, but my sister nodded her head slightly.
Tessa chuckled. "Oh the Adversary knows how to rub the salt." With pained effort she pulled her head back up. "After killing my daughter, my husband was put in a corner, he was brought low, he had lost everything. And now it's my turn."
"I'm offering you revenge," I hissed.
Tessa's laugh grew. "That's what makes it galling. The Adversary chooses to mock and tempt me with demons? Oh yes, I see it. I've had the counsel and advice of a Fallen for centuries. And now I'm offered a mere baby succubus to nursemaid me? All at the cost of abandoning the one that has been at my side for millennia?"
I grit my teeth. Imariel you bitch. Of course, Tessa's Fallen would lie. And why would Tessa not trust the one that had helped her carve a path of destruction over the years?
"Damnit, Tessa, I'm trying to save you. You're right, I'm not like the Knights; your other options aren't pleasant."
Tessa pulled herself up, with her arm. Sitting up she pushed against my staff. "Take your salvation and shove it up your ass," she spat, staring me down.
For a moment I met her eye but in the end I drew away before a Soulgaze could hit. She had given her answer.
I lifted my hand. "Fuego," I whispered.
Her little body caught a flame and she screamed for a moment, but I added my succubus magic and she quieted down. The flames raked back and forth as they briefly turned the angry red of Hellfire before slowly transitioning to a sidhe succubus blue. I inhaled as the body was consumed, drawing in some of the energies released by the combustion.
Sanya, off to one side, lowered his Sword and shouldered his rifle. Lea made an almost disappointed noise, like a little girl being told that tonight's fireworks had been delayed due to rain.
Though she did perk up at the runes and spiraling fae script that flashed on my armor. The power did feel nice and the plating in my middle and hips drew a bit more elaborate, as did my mask.
My sister watched stoically for a moment and then went to check on her daughter and the others. I wasn't sure what Maggie and Pluto were up to, my attention was more on keeping the flames nice and easy. Butters stood next to me almost wobbling on his feet, but he stood.
But he'd stay and watch... and then I'd help him sift through the ashes.
I watched the sun rise. The first glimmers of light were refreshing and warming. I sat on a bench. The back had been mostly blown to splinters, so I had to be careful, but the horizontal seating portion was solid enough.
My gaze dipped down at the polished mask in my hands. Sleek, and snow white, it was adorned with blue tracery, silvery wirework, and ice crystal gems. It was also melting.
Looking back up, I pulled my duster over my shoulders and shivered, and not from the cold. I wanted to take a shower. I drank the last of the water from the canteen Ranma had left me and then spit to the side. No, what I really wanted was to brush my teeth.
Daylight was rapidly growing. It revealed... well the grounds were pretty ugly with cratered earth, a couple crashed helicopters, at least a dozen exploded vehicles, trees with their branches blown off, and, oh yes, the deliquescing corpse of a giant squid monster. The other giant monster corpse and the no-longer smoldering hospital were out of sight at the moment.
The smell of smoldering bodies, sulfur, burnt munitions, mint, and calamari was thoroughly unpleasant. At least most of the human dead had been gathered up. Butters had gone off to help with the wounded, but once the priority cases were taken care of he was left with less to do.
Sure, there was a lot more cleanup to take care of, but the mercenaries didn't seem too inclined to have Butters help them square away unexploded munitions.
I wriggled my toes and sighed. Being out of my armor was less constricting. My horns were still buzzing. I could feel more Jammers being setup and other things being worked on, which, I suppose, made sense, we had just defeated an attempted incursion.
I had been helping consult on the best way to dispose of the squid-frog bodies. The mercenaries seemed pretty squared away on dealing with the Wolf-men, and I'd already walked them through the hazards of Denarian bodies. Well, specifically how to deal with the coins.
My count of coins recovered matched Butters' count, which was the same as Ranma and Sanya's. Lady Pluto was also watching the proceedings like a hawk. I can't blame her prudence. I really didn't want to imagine a Fallen being able to whisper in a magical girl's ear.
Still, when I suggested that they just truck the squid-guts into a dump set it on fire, and then push the ashes into lake Erie, Old Man Harry suggested I take a bit of a break. Which was mean, I was only joking.
I stretched out and had to remember that I couldn't lean back without falling over. The mushy remnants of my mask fell on the ground with a splat.
Still, it was over. Tessa was dead. Imariel was in the penalty box guarded by two Knights. The rest of the Denarians had been dispatched.
The Wolves had tried one last desperate breakout, but as they assaulted the perimeter, Morgan and the other Company snipers lent their support. And the Canadians, using heavy machine guns they'd emplaced for this contingency held the line.
I supposed that there was a whole media operation. I don't know what the cover story was going to be. Maybe it was dark enough and there was enough magic keep anyone from recording footage of giant squid monster attacks.
Then again, blob monsters had already attacked their capital. And they had to have some justification for firing artillery inside a town. Still, the whole demons and magical girls aspect was probably being suppressed. Not to mention help from certain transdimensional wizards.
Either way, I was real glad covering this up wasn't my responsibility.
Exhaling, I went back to watching the sun.
It was over. I could go back home.
I looked down and blinked. "Holy crap, I'm a demon?"
There was a creak as someone sat down on the other end of the bench. "You sound surprised," a Russian voice said.
Blushing, I tried to pull my duster closed, it was a bit hard, maybe the girls had taken in too much material, and muttered about stupid sisters not giving me enough time to get dressed. The Mantle responded and grew a bit of armor over my torso and chest, one-piece swimsuit style.
Looking over at Sanya, I found my blush lingering. "Well... I wasn't really thinking about what'd happen after, you know, Tessa. I wasn't really thinking about my... future."
The dark-skinned knight nodded. "So, not like your plans with your last questionable bargain for power?" he asked, unslinging his rifle. Esperacchius was adjusted so the scabbard didn't get in the way of sitting.
I sighed. I don't know how much Sanya knew for certain, but before becoming the Winter Knight I had arranged for my own assassination. Then I had my protege erase any memory of me giving the order.
It was a true conspiracy of the self, and it didn't do Molly any good to have her mess with my mind like that. The worst part was, for all that, I was a pasty. I had been pushed into killing myself by a Fallen whispering in my ear. Breaking the rules in the process, the Fallen said the exact wrong thing, at the exact wrong time.
It took a lot of planning by Uriel to balance the scales on that breach.
My tail drooped as I thought it over. "Wait... Questionable?"
Smiling he waved away my concern. "Your new family nicer than your Queen."
"Hey," I said a bit more indignantly than I intended.
He eyed my choker. "I can understand, somewhat." He pulled a flask out of his Russian surplus coat. "I only spent a couple hours with your demons." He took a sip. "You picked much nicer demons than I did."
I bowed my head. Before becoming a Knight of the Cross, Sanya had been a Denarian. He had been host to Magog and done horrible things for Tessa. Rosanna was his... handler, though Sanya thought she was more. Not surprising; he was sixteen when he first took up the coin.
Cracking a smile, I flicked my tail. "I didn't think you believed in demons."
"Is convenient word. Also, from what I hear, your family is not from some hell-plane. More like a place of mountains, trees and rivers. You could easily be aliens that look demon-like."
I huffed. Sanya was frustratingly agnostic. Though, he was right. BlackSky's lands, and her capital city of Silvana, sounded almost... nice.
Noticing my irritation, he passed me a flask. I took a sip, then another. It was smoother than the stuff he normally carried. Still, it warmed my throat and stomach. "You brought the good stuff to keep you company in the NeverNever?"
He frowned. "Is normal vodka. Maybe your taste is better."
"Probably," I took another drink and with some reluctance handed it back. "Hope Lea didn't bother you too much while you waited."
"Nonsense. I was told follow Scary Sidhe Lady to the distant reaches of Winter. Waiting was homey, reminded me of childhood," he smiled.
I laughed. It had to be a joke. From what I had seen of the other side of the portal was a bleak landscape with perpetual sleet. "Well, it was great to have you available to do the Knight thing and help in the nick of time."
"You had lots of support in that way," he noted, taking a sip.
"Butters is a good man," I said maybe a bit defensively.
"That why you're not concerned about sitting next to a big old succubus?"
"You are not the first pretty demon lady I have known," he remarked.
"I'm sorry about Rosanna... I know you two..." She had used him, but Sanya didn't know that, not at first, and his feelings towards her were real, real enough to convince him to become a monster.
His expression hardened for a brief moment. "She made her choice," he said with resignation.
"Butters gave her multiple chances. Isn't that all you Knights can do?"
"Da." The Russian looked at his flask. "Still, is good you found way to be pretty demon lady, this time without coin."
"Hey!' I pouted crossing my arms over my chest. "It wasn't like that with Lash."
"Fallen shadow in your head not tempt you?"
"She didn't tempt me by telling me I'd be able to pull off the succubus look!"
"Ah, so you never used Lashiel's power to take a Denarian form?"
I blushed a bit, recalling how Hannah Ascher looked in her Denarian form when she held Lashiel's coin: naked with purple smoke swirling about almost like a fan dance. "Wait.... I'm pretty?"
"Of course! Fae and succubus make for very pretty Dresden."
My tail may have swished as I glanced at him. "Flatterer," I said but certainly didn't preen as I leaned over, the bench creaking a bit.
"Careful Sanya, Harry gets goofy when she's hungry," Butters said as he wearily walked up. Blood was splattered on his mantle and his black clothes and harness. Though his hands were clean.
Nariko and Akane shadowed him. Their armor was also covered in soot and blood. Much of the skirting to Akane's uniform was burnt with the outer layers looking partially melted, exposing ceramic plates in places.
Butters eyed the bench, and I obligingly scooted over. There was the bonus that it brought me a bit closer to Sanya. Butters sat down on the other side next to me, fished something out of his vest and wordlessly handed me a candy bar.
Well... when I slipped out of that ornate armor, my hunger had returned.
Sanya watched me devour, daintily, the confection. "Hungry little demons," he noted with mirth as Akane and Nariko flopped down in front of the bench and took out their own snacks.
I licked a finger. "So... um... how is..."
Butters nodded. "Desiree is doing better. Doc Covington thinks she'll recover fine." He shook his head. "Cecilia's with her now."
"Ah, and they're..." I glanced over his medical kit.
"I'm on a break; they insisted."
I turned to my nieces who tried to look casual.
"You have been up and running all night," I pointed out. "And there's plenty of Canadian and merc doctors that are fresh."
"Things could have been a lot worse," he admitted. "You know that second artillery strike? The one Nariko called down during the battle? The casualties could have been much worse there. No fatalities and the injuries weren't too bad."
Nariko blinked and Akane pulled her a bit closer.
"Well, how many human soldiers were near the squid-monsters?" I shrugged. "But yeah, it was a good thing the Canadians had their best gunners there, course it helps they were lucky too."
Butters gave me a flat look. "Right. Lucky."
"You did help invoke Amaterasu's blessing," Nariko reminded.
Butters turned to Sanya. The agnostic, Russian Knight simply shrugged.
"Being Knight is burden," Sanya said before offering his flask.
Butters' eyes bugged. "You're giving her booze? After all the fighting, stress, damage and dehydration she's had?"
Akane reached out and took the flask. She gave the contents and experimental sniff.
"I can handle it, I'm not some kid," I huffed.
The little Jedi Knight stared me down, and I might have wilted, slipping closer to Sanya, who patted my shoulder.
Butters exhaled. He then took out a canteen and handed it to me.
I held it in both hands and gave the water an experimental slosh.
"For drinking, not dressup," he sternly stated.
Without pouting, I began to drink.
"You seem to take well to the job," Sanya noted, shifting his Sword.
Butters laughed. "I was scared out of my mind. I didn't realize how much pressure came with it."
Sanya nodded. "The Sword is powerful," he said eyeing Nariko's katana with interest.
"Nah, not the Sword, well maybe what the Sword symbolizes. The pressure of the job, the responsibility of being a Knight. I mean this is a world that doesn't even have the Swords. But even here, grizzled mercenaries, Sith succubae, Shinto magical girls, doctoral researchers in eldritch lore, and scary redheaded killing machines all look to me as if I'm some sort of trusted expert."
"You forgot absent-minded wizards," Nariko happily reminded.
"You were sent for a reason," I said after finishing the canteen.
Butters might have grumbled.
"Is her being a demon that troubling?" Sanya asked.
"Well... it's gonna be a mess when we get back." Butters looked off for a moment. "Geeze, Murphy, Charity, and Andi are gonna flip. And then there's Molly... Not to mention Maggie."
I might have given a nervous laugh as my tail curled up. "At least you two can help me with Michael."
Sanya patted me on the back. "You worry too much. Michael is a good man, your friends accepted you as the Winter Knight."
Butters coughed. He had been concerned about Mab's influence on me. "Don't do that, she needs to think about her future."
I chewed my lip. "I'll have to update the info on my detective agency."
Butters shook his hands and grumbled.
"Dresden being Dresden is not what is upsetting you," Sanya said.
"No, not really."
"What then?" Sanya asked.
"It's how I feel." Butters pulled out the hilt to his Sword and studied it. "I shouldn't be glad that Tessa is gone. It's more of a... relief."
"We gave her a choice," I stated.
He laughed. "Yeah... we tried."
"The Fallen are insidious; they are masters of temptation and lies," Sanya reminded.
Butters nodded. He understood. He didn't like it.
"You gave Rosanna a choice," Sanya softly said.
Akane offered the Russian's flask. This time, Butters took it. He pulled a face after taking a small sip. "Damn you could use that stuff to sterilize instruments."
"Good to know," Sanya smiled. He looked at the sunrise. "Should be pretty day at least. I have not been to this part of Canada in a while."
"You sound like you want to go sightseeing," Butters scoffed.
"If we have time. Why not? Seeing new places is upside of Knight job, no?"
"I just want to get some sleep," Butters leaned back and I had to catch him from falling.
Ranma strode up to us, her hair blowing in the breeze. Looking like the queen of the battlefield, she projected an easy confidence in her posture as she surveyed the devastation around us. Only the smallest of tells betrayed her weariness. "I figured you'd all get together."
"We're just missing Lea," I shrugged. My godmother tended to come and go on her own whim, or worse at her Queen's whim.
"Last I saw her she was talking with Old Man Dresden."
"Ah yes, other Harry with eye-patch dresses all sinister, very scary," Sanya deadpanned.
Ranma leaned down between her daughters and gave each a hug. "I don't know about scary, but he seems to have more sense than our Dresden."
"He did try to keep you from Soul-gazing him," Butters agreed.
"Hey!" I said
My sister ignored me. "Puu and the other eggheads are pretty sure things won't fall apart here. Well, the Canadians will have another spot to watch and this area's gonna be a mess to cleanup, but a portal probably won't open up and disgorge monsters."
"Callin' that a win?" I asked.
"Meaning we might be able to go home," Ranma smiled.
Butters looked at the broken terrain, twisted wreckage and decaying monster remains.
"Yeah, yeah, there's still a lot of containment, cleanup, and media relations to do, but us trigger-pullers can be pulled back." The redhead rolled her shoulders and sprung back up.
The redhead bounded over to me and threw her arms in a hug. Surprised, I found myself purring as I returned the gesture.
"You did great," my sister said, pride in her voice.
"Well..." I blushed; my tail swishing back and forth. The hug was nice. Shame Butters and Sanya weren't joining in.
"No, seriously, you ate an Outer Entity's heart," she squeezed harder. "I guess you did know what you were doing when you begged me to turn you."
This time my blush was a bit more out of embarrassment, but I leaned into the hug anyway.
End Chapter 15
I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Kevin Hammel, and Ellf. Special thanks to Pat for putting away a rainy afternoon to get this out.
If you're groaning over the chapter title, well, special thanks goes to Ellf for that. I was thinking of what to name it, and asked for his help.
But here we are. The fight is over, one chapter and epilogue are all that's left