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 3:  Unwelcome Answers, Part A

 


            In an echoing warehouse, I marked out a ten foot circle on the concrete floor in chalk. As I measured it to make sure it held the same size over its circumference, the clicking of metal on concrete caused me to look up.


            For a second my pulse rose. I mean, come on; wizard in a spooky warehouse with a bunch of shadowy mercenaries and a trio of approaching demons.


            One of whom was wearing an inky black leather dress and had hooves. Behind her were two of her daughters - the ones with blue hair. The smaller and cuter looking one wore a pink cheongsam that went past her knees with silver trim and purple floral accents. There were even pink bows in the long, powder-blue hair that fell straight behind her and was cut with level bangs.


            Her older sister had darker blue hair in a pageboy and had darker, heavier makeup. She wore a tooled silver belt holding up a pair of shiny blue shorts and a teal top that showed plenty of midriff.


            Look, I honestly tried not to ogle them. It helped that I had experience dealing with seductive supernatural women. Okay... that's not what I meant. Worse, the redhead watched my discomfort with obvious amusement.


            She idly tapped a hoof on the floor.


            I noted that the tails on all three of them were swishing slightly.


            "Is this a bad time?" the redhead asked.


            "We've got hours to go before midnight," I remarked.


            "Yes, but I wanted to make sure you weren't doing any... delicate preparations," she waved a hand at the open crates I'd scattered about. A collection of polished stones and crystal cubes gleamed. There was also a package of water bottles by the crates.


            "Nah, I'm just double checking some measurements," I made a mark on the circle to note where I'd stopped my inspection. "What's up?"


           "One of our boffins wants to make sure our equipment won't get slagged by your little experiment," Ranma explained.


            "Ah," I stood up. "Isn't that the whole reason we're not doing this in your base? To avoid damaging your equipment."


            Ranma ran her hand up my arm. Luminous eyes looked into me. "Why no Mr. Wizard. Come on," she gave a gentle tug.


            I followed. "Why are we here then? I mean, what's the difference between one concrete box and another?"


            "Blowing up this building would cause a lot less collateral damage," the younger sister, Nabiki, said in a cute, innocent voice.


            "Oh."


            "There is a chance this summoning spell could go horribly wrong, no?" Ranma asked, over her shoulder.


            "Well.... fine," I admitted.


            We turned a corner in the L-shaped echoing room and stopped in front of some… well it looked like a pile of machinery.  It was inside a metal cage.


            "Besides, the Drake wouldn't mind if this place was destroyed, Company already paid for it."


            "The Drake?"


            "Drake Kuno, he's a land developer and broker," the cute demon said flashing her sister a smug smile.


            "Among other things," the older one, Akane, rolled her eyes.


            "Hmm?" I asked.


            Ranma waved a hand. "He's Nariko's father, nice enough guy, if a bit odd."


            "Oh," I blinked. "That's how you get all these places?"


            The redhead gave me another "disappointed mom" looks.


            "Hey, I'm not up to date on hidden lairs. My idea of a safe house is a storage unit." I wasn't technically lying.  Sure my spooky island, Demonreach, was safe, to me at least, but I would hardly call it a "safe house".


            Ranma blinked at me.  She  then nodded to the mercenary working around the machinery. "Dresden, Dirac. Dirac, Dresden."


            A young man deftly stepped out from the machinery. He had blue green eyes and short black hair. Gangly with a pronounced Adams apple, his skin looked a bit pale and there were bags under his eyes. He looked like he didn't get enough sun or sleep. But he looked far fitter than the average geek. He had runner's legs and his arms had wiry muscle.


            More striking, he freely met redheaded demon's eyes. "Charmed, Warden." he held out a hand.


            I shook it, and felt the slight tingle of a fellow practitioner. Not very strong, hardly more than a flicker, but there was something.


             "Now, I've heard your magic is a bit hard on technology?" Dirac asked.


            "Uh yeah, mortal magic plays hell with computers and the like."


            "Interesting," he absently said stepping back to futz with a bit of equipment that looked like an old mainframe computer, or maybe a furnace. Look, I don't know technology. I do know that neither, normally, had whip like antennas sprouting from the sides.


            What I did know was this thing was the source of the buzzing hum that I'd felt in every single Company facility I'd been in. A bit of blue light also spilled out from somewhere in the middle of the tower.


            Examining the stout steel cage, I took note that the pile of electronics was completely protected by it. Also in the cage was a bank of batteries and a generator. Outside the cage was something that looked sort of like a radar dish mated with a metal octopus.


            Finally, I noted the crisp reddish black line that encircled the entire rig. The line Dirac had so deftly stepped over. Also in the circle was a length of wire that linked to a small metal box bolted to the floor that straddled the red line. Cables then ran from that box to the mess of machinery.


            "Okay Philo, you gonna show me how to make plutonium from common household items? Because that glow isn't exactly reassuring," I asked, eyeing the tower.


            Dirac's eyes widened and he laughed. "Nah, Mr. Wizard, on tonight's episode of Secrets of the Universe, we'll be seeing if a Pattern Scanner and Inter-dim Jammer can be shielded from a wizard's magic."


            "And those things are?"


            Dirac pointed to the radar-octopus. "Pattern Scanner. It detects various supernatural events and beings."


            I leaned forward to get a closer look. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Ranma shifting to where she could grab me. Huh. "Magic detector? Snazzy."


            "Everything gives off energy. Even eldritch things. We can classify events into Patterns and get a rough signal strength."

            I tried to study the equipment. And I wished I had Bob with me. He had been my go to spirit advisor on the rules of magic. Course, he was working with Butters, but that meant he knew about computers now. Bonnie would be helpful too, for much the same reasons.


            "You've got a spook scope. Shame it's so bulky."


            Dirac glanced to Ranma, who nodded.


            "We do have portable versions."

            "You have your own PKE meters? Damn," I whistled. Half the problem with getting people to believe the supernatural was getting people to see it.  The other half was getting them to believe it after they had seen it.

 

            A lot of this stuff was invisible to non-practitioners, and even the visible stuff could only be seen via first-hand experience.  Cameras were one of the first things to go. But, if you had a way to record the spooky stuff...


            Dirac smiled. "Not exactly, those guys never calibrated theirs."


            "They also were bad at negotiating their contracts," Nabiki added.


            "And the Inter-whatsit?"


            "Jammer." Dirac affectionately patted the tall case. "This is what keeps someone form teleporting in here and stabbing you in the back."


            "Oh," I walked around the rig. I was reminded of the dull red gems with sheathed antenna-bows that the demons wore on their chest armor. "That's gonna be a problem."

            "Yes, Sir. We'll have to drop the Jammer when you summon the fairy queen," Dirac's tone was matter of fact.


            "Right, and this is your circle," I knelt down and looked at the blackish red line. There was something there, not much, but it was more than a bit of paint. "Well, magic circles don't take much, anyone can make one with a bit of will."


            "Shall we start the test?" he asked, almost eager.


            "Sure," I shrugged.


            "Clear the line!" Dirac ordered, stepping back into the circle. He slowly spun around to see no one else was near the rig. He then looked at me. "Activation in three, two, one." He flipped a switch.


            I pulled back and reached my hand.... It wasn't a tangible barrier, but my fingers tingled with the energies the circle was putting out. A smell that was a cross between burning ink and charred blood wafted up.


            "Power is stabilized," Dirac looked between a set of analog gauges and a tablet computer. "Control test?"


            Rolling her eyes, Ranma impatiently tapped a hoof. Both she and Akane lowered their hands and shadows welled around the brood mother's silvery hooves and her daughter's boots. With matched gestures, they brought the shadows towards the circle. Flaming auras sprang up around both of them. Akane's was a flickering blue while Ranma's was a blend of red and purple, even her flames were wreathed in shadows.


            A dark purple and blue iridescence shimmered as the black shadows lapped up to the edge and started climbing up the barrier. I gripped my staff and the runes started to glow. What can I say? Animated shadows are creepy.


            "Warden Dresden, please wait, you're interfering with the control readings," Dirac said, not looking up from his instruments.


             "Uh sorry," I pulled back my own power and pointedly kept my Wizard's Sight suppressed. The power washing over the brood mother was bad enough with my normal senses.


            Dirac nodded. "That's fine, Red. You and Akane can pull back."


            The two demons shifted, and the shadows retreated. In Akane's case they pulled back in a series of snaps and pops. Ranma exhaled and her form shimmered. The imposing presence retreated as hooves shifted into boots and the inky black dress turned into a purple blouse and black leather skirt and jacket.


            "Hmm that's it? You were holding back," Dirac noted tapping part of the screen.


            Ranma gave an absent wave of her hand.


            The lanky man shrugged. "Okay, we've got good readings. Can we have backup Jammer on standby?"


            Ranma glanced at Akane. The demon nodded. She punched up with her arms and in a flash of light, her form shimmered. And suddenly, she was now wearing her armored getup. Complete with ruby chest-bow.


            "Good," Dirac nodded. "Warden Dresden, do not cast at the moment, but do you have a spell that's particularly.... offensive to technology?"


            I grinned. "Do I ever."


            "Excellent." He clicked his radio. "Ready power to standby. Repeat: ready power to standby." Then in a louder voice. "Disable all electronics. Sound off when completed."


            I then waited as the various mercenaries keyed off their radios and other gizmos. Even the demons got into the theatrics with Akane pulling glow sticks out of one of her vest's pouches.


            "Oh, come on, you guys can make magic fire!" I complained after Akane cracked the glow-sticks and tossed one to her sister and one to her mother.


            "Excess use of magic would interfere with the test," Dirac calmly said.


            I sighed and made my pentacle amulet glow. 


            The redhead looked around the room then nodded to Dirac.


            "Power to standby."


            The lights then cut out. Dirac and his machinery were bathed in a mix of green light from the glow sticks, blue light from the jammer and various little LEDs and other displays.


            "Wait..." I looked to Ranma. "You can see in the dark, can't you?"


            The redhead contemplated the glowing stick. "I believe I can."


            "Theatrics," I muttered, shaking my head.


            "If you're ready, Warden?" Dirac mildly asked.


            I grumbled, letting the irritation well. I built up the frustration, shaped the spell, and pointed with a hand. "Hexus!"


            The dark air shimmered as the spell launched out, and splashed against the circle with buzzing red motes. The air immediately above the circle lit up in a barely visible red cylinder.


            Dirac looked at his display.


            "If you had a cell-phone in there I'd have fried it!" I groused.


            The mercenary smacked the side of his tablet. "Yes... you might have." He adjusted a knob on a power supply. "If you'll indulge me with another spell."


            In the end it was half a dozen more spells. And towards the end the smell of ink and blood was starting to get disturbing.


            But I'll give them this. The circle was solid, if primitive.  It wasn't very efficient either. You can use electricity to power magic, but unless you know what you're doing it's pretty wasteful.


            "Testing concluded," Dirac announced.


            I rolled my eyes. And then had to blink as the overhead lights snapped back on.


            The circle was depowered and Dirac stepped over.


            I was still blinking when he offered his hand. "Thank you for your help. I know it's a bit tedious but..."


            "But you want to be safe," I sighed in agreement.


            "Now you can go back to setting up your end of the summoning," Ranma offered.


            "Yay," I deadpanned. "Still, I suppose I could make a bigger circle around the summoning one just to give an extra layer of insulation."


            Dirac nodded.


            As we walked back to my circle, I pulled out my pentacle amulet. Ostensibly it was to stop it from glowing. But really it was to check the ruby embedded in the back, my mother's "map". Well, it was less a map and more her collected experiences of how to travel using the Ways.


            Unfortunately the response was the same as last time. "That's... where are you? I didn't think even the Gatekeeper went out this far," echoed my mother's confused voice in my mind.


            "Not in Kansas anymore," I muttered.


            "I would certainly hope not, if those parts miss the Topeka flight we'll have to do with a substitution; we're on a schedule here," Ranma said.


            "What?" I asked as I returned to measuring out that ten foot circle.


            "The last part for your summoning. It's coming from a storage site in Kansas."


            I completed the measurements. The circle was as good as I could make it. I then started to mark out five equidistant points on its circumference.


            "Lotta effort to help me. I mean chartering a private jet on an hour's notice, just to fly a bracelet over here," I said before picking up a bottle of water and taking a swig.


            "It's a daily flight." Ranma snorted. "We simply diverted it. It's a bit of a rush, but it's only two hours flying time from here."


            "And that's why Ilsa wanted a shopping list from me then and there?"


            "It's easier to rush ship an item with five hours notice than with just two, also it gives us time to set things up. I mean, this is, technically, a diplomatic meeting."


            "Fine," I then double checked the five points, this time making sure they were all the same distance from each other. "It's still a lot of money."


            Ranma crouched down and looked me in the eye. "Do you know how much a helicopter costs to run?"


            "Huh.  Can you hold this end?" I asked, handing her the end of the chalk line while keeping the reel in one hand and pointing to a spot on the edge of the circle with the other.


            "Sure." Ranma put the line where I indicated.  "Anyway, double it since there were two choppers. And add in the cost of the pilots and the ammunition expended. Those mini guns shoot money. Heck, the wolves fired a lot of brass too."


            Catching an eyeful of her blouse, I snapped a chalk line between two of the marks. "Uh a lot?" I asked starting to make a pentagram conscribed within the circle.


            "And then there's the combat pay rate of three Pattern D's."


            "I've hired mercenaries before. I know how... pricey you can be," I grumbled. It was true, a good mercenary, especially one with "talents" could cost an astronomical sum.  Enough to get you in serious trouble if you couldn't pay it off.


            "And of course there's all this," she waved her arms to encompass the facility and point at the various human and demonic personnel.


            "That ain't reassuring me about the extravagance you guys are putting forth."


            "Back when I was starting, before I'd signed on, the Company once flew me out to China just to prove a hunch," the redhead looked me in the eyes. "They'll do what it takes. We'll do what it takes."


            I finished sketching in the pentacle. "Because of things like Ottawa?"


            "That's a start," Ranma softly said. "We think things will get a lot worse."


            "Don't they always," I murmured, examining my outline. "Okay... I think I can start painting it in. I moved to the brushes and paint cans. I debated between doing it freehand or putting down tape to bound the lines.


            "Purple?" the demon picked up one of the cans.


            "Yeah, purple for communication," I explained.


            She made a thoughtful noise. "Why purple?"


            "It's how it works for me."


            The demon gave me another opaque look.


            "Magic's tied up in your emotions. Your belief is very important in making it real. To pull off a spell you have to believe it will work, believe it should work."


            "I don't think we can shoot fire just because we believe in ourselves."


            "Not just because, no." I pointed to the circle I had sketched out. "It's like the circle. I can't do the spell without one, but I can't do the spell with just one."


            "And you think purple is for communications?"


            "When I was younger, I was taught the roles of color in the casting of spells. Green used for fertility and prosperity, red gave passion and energy, black vengeance, blue defense."


            At that I took the blue tin, a spool of tape, my staff and walked a several steps out. I then dipped the brush in some blue paint, taped it to the staff and used it to make a wide circle enclosing the pentacle. Thankfully this circle didn't have to be precise.


            Standing beside me, the purple-eyed redhead chuckled. "So, you're saying the type and color or our clothing matters?"


           "Well,  clothes can influence a spell..." I allowed.  Hells Bells, some of the really precise stuff required me to meditate, bathe, mediate again, and put on special robes while lighting incense.


            "Style too? Or just color?" she asked with a gleam.


            I started at her. "I guess since we're dealing with a queen of the fae style does count." 


            "I shouldn't wear my armor or a black gown?  Would your queen find that displeasing?"


            I paused, and forcing down the heat in my cheeks looked the succubus over. "Something less... aggressive than battle-rattle might be appropriate. But other than color... yeah she's into evening dress, gowns too." It was awkward, but I managed to dip the brush in some more paint.


            "And the blue to defend against outside interference?" Ranma asked as I finished.


            Nodding I pulled the brush from my staff.


            "Now, maybe I don't need purple for the inner circle, but it'll help," I tapped one of the cans before picking up the giant wooden compass I'd used to mark out the circle. "See, the circle doesn't have to be perfect. Any enclosed shape will do. That's why I didn't care about the outer circle."


            "But the more perfect the circle is, the more efficient it'll run?" Dirac asked. The boffin leaned in.


            "Uh yah, and since I'll be making one heck of a long distance call I want to take every advantage I can. Really, you don't need all of this stuff to do magic," I waved at the boxes of supplies that surrounded my workspace. "It just makes it a lot easier."


            "Helps channel the energy?" Dirac crouched down. He kept one arm held behind his back as he looked over the markings I'd sketched out.


            "Yeah, and acts as mental focuses. Magic's mostly mental, you need to form it in your head and direct the construct as you will the forces to make it."


            Dirac studied the diagram then looked at the components. "It's different."


            "Magic is very individualized, since it works with from what's inside. I mean my magic's different from yours, or from hers."


            "Magic? Me," Dirac shrugged. "I dunno about that." He gave the pentagram one look. "Still..." he looked at the equipment and stepped back.


            "Every bit helps?" Ranma asked, a gleam on her eye.


            "Oh yeah, I mean, for the really fancy stuff I've actually done the full deal: meditation, cleansing showers, special robes, more meditation, incense. You can do a lot to dial things just in," I stood up and rolled my shoulders.


            "And this is a diplomatic meeting, with a faerie queen," the redhead gave me a sly smile.


            She lifted her hand and snapped her fingers. Nabiki nodded and darted off. She snapped them a second time and there was a delicate chime as her silver hooves reappeared. Decorative dark cobalt greaves formed covering her shins and accenting her hooves. A second pair of horns spiraled out as her eyes turned solid luminous purple with slit pupils.


            Her skin gained a silvery opalescence as her features turned more severe: a sharper jawline, more pronounced, slightly hollow cheekbones, and a thinner upturned nose. Her lips grew wider, darker, and glossier as her eye makeup expanded out in shades of purple and crimson.


            A plain silver band encircled her neck. A gleaming lavender bodice pulled in her torso, hugging her curves and showing a decadent amount of flesh. A red bow with a heart-shaped center was pinned over her left breast.


             Her forearms were covered in sleek lavender silk gloves that transitioned to extra long, gleaming blade-like claws. Her wings shrank down into an almost ornamental size and folded against her bare shoulders like a little cape or shawl.


            Held back by a gold tiara with a purple four-pointed on her brow, the slick ruby mass of her hair pressed behind it. Crimson tresses were sucked into swelling, slicked polished bun that curved over the top of her head. A four inch long narrow fan of hair spilled out from behind of the bun in a ruby wave.


            Pinned at the base of the hair bun, just above crimson fall was a golden crescent moon, with the tips down in an inverted U shape. On the side of the bun was a collection of silver letters and symbols surrounding a globe: the Company's logo.

 
            Hugging flared hips was a long dark purple skirt that began to... grow and ripple out. Due to her hooves and shifted ankles, she walked with a bent-knee stance that caused her hips to sway more. However now, the swaying seemed to grow and with each step the skirt grew and shifted, especially in back.


            As I watched, the skirt puffed with layers forming underneath, and even more dramatically in back. Gathers formed with a little gauzy lace edging falling over the skirting. A veritable bustle came to be as the skirt extended backwards and even pushed up her tail to where it had to go up at a 45 degree angle at the base of her spine, causing the thick, two yard long purple appendage to swish back and forth.


            Looking over her shoulder, the demon gave a long-lashed wink and a playful smile. Her tail twitched and a large lavender bow tied around the base of it, ribbons spilled out from the bow falling to either side of the freshly formed bustle. Etched onto the big bow were the runes and letters of the Company's logo, with a large silver globe serving as the tie for the bow itself. The continents were silver while the oceans were a dull crimson.


            The younger demon had returned, and she was carrying a zippered suit bag. "It just came in!"


            The redhead rolled her hips. "Now, you've got some painting to do, but once everything is squared away we've got some special clothes for you too."


            I stared at the demon's glossy frippery. "What's with the gown?"


            "You did say this was a diplomatic meeting," the redhead looked down. "Do you not approve?" she stepped with a swish on her hooves and caught my eye. "And here I thought you were admiring it."

            "That's not what I mean."


            "You told me not to wear a black gown."


            I sighed.


            "Is this the wrong style?" the redhead stepped forward and leaned in. "If formal attire would be offensive to her..."


            I sighed. "No... she had me wear a tuxedo for the birthday party she threw me." I looked down. Can you blame me?


            Contented Ranma pulled back. "Nice job Nabiki, you guessed right."


            The young demoness in her pink cheongsam smiled.


            "Though the gowns are a bit more... sleek." I coughed. "Well, not counting the women who simply wore diamonds and nothing else."


            "Very sensible." Akane nodded approvingly.


            A sculpted crimson eyebrow arched. Ranma glided forward and stood her hip against my hip. A set of long talons ran over my duster while her tail curled over my leg and the bottom hem of her gown brushed over my boot.


            "How badly do you want to get me out of this gown?" she coquettishly asked.


            I looked over and noticed that she stood so that the snowflake side to her hair bun was facing me.


            "Earlier, you made sure to ask If I wasn't doing anything delicate before taking my attention away, and now you're giving yourself a makeover and telling me about the tuxedo you got me?"


            Wordlessly, she took my hand and placed it around her back, under the fan of hair and atop the bow, tail and bustle. She then draped the hand that had crept up my back and over a shoulder.


            "Sorry, I guess I was a bit eager." She then winked.


            "Eager? Didn't you say you were just a contractor? Do you even know how to, you know, dance in a gown?"


           "Is that an invitation?" And with a gentle pull she drew me to an empty spot beyond the circle and we started dancing. The diminutive demon leaned her head on my chest. Feeling the warmth and soft pressure of her body, I could smell the conditioner and product she used to style her hair.


            My legs worked on auto pilot; it was a basic slow dance. Nothing fancy. The way her hips moved under my left hand was strange enough


            "Inexperienced?" I smirked, the Winter part of me enjoyed having an advantage over her. And both parts of me enjoyed being this close to a lovely woman, even if she was ridiculously overdone.

            "My, you dance well," she noted.


            For a moment, I let my hand sink deeper into her bustle. A rumbling came from deep within her; she was actually purring.


            "I don't get much chance to... the last time was... was with Mab."


            "Oh my, you're close to her?"


            "It was at my birthday party," I frowned. The Winter part of me seemed to be pulling in my hands. "You've done a lot for me."


            She looked up. Her fangs showing in a tight smile.


            "And I haven't done much in return..."


            With my free right hand, my left seemed completely indisposed, I lifted her chin. I saw the plain silver choker, and an urge struck me. I led her back towards the crate, composing the spell as we danced.


            I bent over and picked up one of the water bottles. I poured some into my cupped right hand, and lifted it towards her neck. With a whispered word and a blast of Winter power, ice started to form. Purple shadows and demonic power also flared. The Winter Mantle seemed... satisfied as I withdrew my hand.


            The demon purred and rested her head on my shoulder. But not before I saw that her choker was centered with a pure white crystal snowflake over a stylized blue pentacle. I knew both were made of ice, but enchanted with Winter power to stay frozen.


            I let my hand drift deeper into her bustle to where it almost slipped from her tail. The dancing was relaxing. I could feel myself drawn in. I didn't feel any supernatural pulling, at least from her.


            The coifed redhead gave another contented purr. Her tail rustled and switched which leg it was curled over. It was a stark reminder that she wasn't human, if anything she was more alien than a White Court succubus, but she could turn off her desire to feed.


            As we danced, I noticed the others were watching, observing. The daughters were amused and seemed on the verge of cheering, while the mercenaries were expectant.


            Cupping her bustle, I whispered into a pointed ear. "As lovely as this is, I should get back to work."


            She disentangled herself. "Pity," she said, but there was a respecting smile. The demon then started sashaying back to the pentacle.


            I followed. The rolling of her tail and swaying bustle impossible to ignore. "That was a test wasn't it?" I called, catching up.


            She looked back over her shoulder. "Well, you either had the self control to return to your task or...." she trailed off in a purr.


            I eyed the gowned redhead. "That's not a fair test," I stated, and most definitely didn't whine.


            "I know. Pity." She cupped my cheek. "Now, you don't want to dawdle on your painting, especially since you can't get changed until afterwards."


            Grumbling, I went back to work. I decided to do it freehand. I had experience and could mark the lines precisely enough. Also the focus kept me from getting distracted. Especially as the brood mother hung out just in view, chatting with her daughters.


            It was an impressive gown. Most clothes for non-humans weren't really optimized to take into account, let alone compliment, their inhuman features.  On the other hand, the gown was too busy with frippery to really enhance her beauty.  Something more understated would certainly suit her better.


            I shook my head and returned to work. Fortunately, I'd done all the hard stuff in making sure my sketching was accurate.


            After some time, I sealed the can and put the brush down on some work rags. I inspected the purple pentacle. I frowned, picked up the brush, knelt, and touched up a few spots.

            "Lovely," the redhead said, slipping next to me. She offered her hand and helped pull me back up.


            On reflex I kept her hand and kissed the back of her palm.


            "Flatterer."


            She then circled the pentacle, her skirts swishing.


            To my relief she gave it a wide enough berth. It would be bad if she'd smeared the paint before it could dry.


            "And now to make the affinity items," I said, rolling my shoulders again.


            The demon raised an eyebrow.


            "Items that key in the summoner and the summoned," I pulled out a list next to the crates. "First five items for Mab."


            I went over and took out one of the crystal cubes, a small case, and then started rooting around the box of polished stones. I had requested ones that were relatively soft. I searched until I found a black one shot through with blue lines; it was smooth but vaguely peanut shaped. Perfect.


            "Okay, first thing is a communication stone." I put the rock down on an impromptu bench made of larger crates. "Fortunately it doesn't have to be a real communications stone, just represent one."


            "And that is?" Ranma asked.


            I took out a tiny metal pick and started carving runes into the stone.


            Dirac had wandered over and was eyeing my creation.


            I think it was soapstone, either way it was pretty soft, especially since I didn't need to make them last for a long time. "It's pretty simple, you take a stone. You carve in the correct runes and put in magic to power it up. Then you break it in two."


            "And what, each half remembers the other half?" Dirac asked.


            "Exactly! Now the runes hold the magic and work through that connection." I took my brush and started filling in the runes with paint. "You talk into one, and your voice comes out the other."


            "They're walkie talkies, out of rocks," Ranma snorted, which was hilarious given her getup.


            "Yeah."


            "What's the catch?" Dirac asked.


            "Magic tends to fade, so you have to get your spells really worked in to have these things last more than one sunrise. Same if you want them to work for a longer distance, you have to put in more power so you can carry the signal."


            "But these are just for tonight," Dirac eyed the stones. I could tell he wanted to take photos of them, heck he could keep 'em.


            "Yup," I ran a hand over them, feeling that my runes were holding. I then picked up a chisel and routed in a toolbox until I found a hammer.


            I put the chisel in the grove between the two lobes of the rock. The hammer went down. And now I had two rocks. I checked the connection and placed one inside the circle at one of the points of the pentacle.


            I then put the other half opposite that point outside the circle. "This also helps reinforce that this isn't a binding summoning. Instead, I'm doing this to talk to her."


            Going back to the crates, I found the small box. Undoing the latches I found a silver tiara with a single blue sapphire in it.


            "Should I wonder why you've got a stock of pretty princess tiaras?" I asked twisting the tiara around.


            The demon glanced down at her gown then gave a haughty smirk.


            "Uh... right." I tried to take stock of the magic emanating from the tiara. "What did you do, rob an ice princess?"


            The redhead gave another incongruous snort. "Please, she was no princess. But she does have ice powers, and some of her equipment was seized and handed over to us."


            "Seized?"


            "Oh, you know." The redhead waved a gloved hand. "The whole magical girl, full of pride, fearing for her leader, tempted by darkness. That whole tragic song and dance."


            I sighed and put the tiara down on the inside of the next spot on the pentacle. "Yeah... I kinda do."


            The redhead nodded to me. "We'll have to give you a briefing on her. That way if you run into Mistress Mercury you'll know what you're dealing with."


            "Is she as bad as that rune mage, Murdock, was it?" I asked, taking off my silver amulet. I placed it just outside the circle opposite the tiara.


            "He's more annoying;  she's more unpredictable.  For one she wants to prove herself to her Moon Queen."


            "Ah,"  I recalled Ranma mentioning that she had been empowered by a Moon Queen.  The whole Mercury thing sounded like a bag of trouble.


            Ranma's hooves clicked as she watched me place my mother's pentacle amulet. "You're matching things that represent her with things that represent you?"


            "It's like with the stone itself, you have to establish a link between the two halves."


            Pulling a notebook out of his vest, Dirac walked around the circle. He then went over to the demon and inspected her gown. Drawing a beeline to the bustle he pulled one of the ribbons from the bow tied around her tail. He also pulled out an electronic device that did not at all look like something from Ghostbusters.


            Okay fine, it was a sleek little bit of plastic, but there was a display and some flashing lights.


            "You're being forward," Ranma teased the gangly man.


            "Experimenting with jammers again?" Dirac noted.


            "Maybe."


            Dirac let the ribbon fall. "I'm not sure trying it around your tail is better than your horns."


            "Uh what?" I asked.


            "Miniaturizing our Jammers requires using a certain... magical power source," Dirac explained. "Electricity can do it, but it requires a lot of equipment to convert the energy to something that'll generate the right signals."


            "But if it's pulling from magic you don't need the converting stuff?" That made sense, much of magic was learning how to redirect and convert energy.


            "Correct. It makes it much more portable. However if the jammer gets overloaded…"


            Ranma sighed, "Yes, yes, it's not directly tied into my tail."


            Dirac gave her a skeptical look.


            "As long as it's not powered when I try to phone home." Going back to the crates, I idly wondered if anything else to the redhead's getup was actually functional.  That might explain the pounds and pounds of frippery.


            I pulled a crystal cube out of the cut foam liner. After studying it for a few seconds, I nodded. I vaguely wondered what the crystals were for, but I supposed cut fused quartz had various applications, especially given the... machine-shop magic the Company seemed to be into.


            "Okay, which of you can make shadows?" I asked, looking up from the crate.


            "That's Akane's specialty," Ranma beamed.


            The dark blue haired demon slipped up and gave a sharp smile. "What do you need?"


            "Right, lemmie just set something up." I took a brush and another can of paint. I then quickly drew a five foot white circle twenty feet from the purple pentacle. "Okay, this is rough and ready, but, thankfully, we just need to keep out interference."


            The demonic daughter gave me a sidelong glance, but she did step into the circle.


            "Okay, I'm gonna want you to fill this with shadows," I explained placing the crystal on the center of the white circle. I then picked up my staff. "Once you've done that I'll fix the shadows so they stay in the crystal."


            Akane glanced over to the redhead. The gowned demon gave an elegant nod. "Just keep it simple," she told her daughter.


            Once she was in the circle with me, I reached over and closed it with a bit of will.


            Looking to the floor, Akane started to circle around the crystal cube. I shuffled keeping myself opposite from her. It took me a moment to realize she was trying to angle her shadow.


            When it got close to the cube, she stopped. Concentrating, the demon lifted her arm and made a waving motion with her hand. Stretching out, her shadow responded and began to cover the cube.


            As if filled with ink, the crystal material darkened. I lowered my staff until it was an inch over the top. "Wait..." The cube darkened into a shimmering ebony with an oily dark blue sheen.


            "Okay, now hold it," I concentrated, runes glowed on the end of my staff. "Tenere," I murmured as blue motes fell from the staff onto the crystal.


            "Now withdraw," I said lifting the staff.


            Akane stepped back, her shadows retreating. In their wake was a cube full of shadows.


            "Okay, that worked," I smiled. It was impressive. Especially with the roiling dark blue sheen. Then, the crystal cracked.


            Ranma's eyes widened, her daughter swore, and I just noticed that Dirac had taken position such that the crates were between himself and the white circle.


            My staff snapped back down. "Defendarius," I cried as a blue dome appeared over the cube.


            Then, it exploded. Okay that's an exaggeration. It was more like a bit of dry ice popping than a grenade going off. Still, bits of crystal flew, and magical fire laced out and bounced off the shield.


            "Oh come on! I wasn't even trying!" Akane growled


            I turned to her. "Your shadows make things explode!" 


            The demon blinked at me. "Well yeah, why else would you control shadows?"


            My brow furrowed.... she kinda had a point. I knew someone with shadow powers, and I'd certainly love it if I could make that shadow explode.


            Idly smoothing the front of her gown, the redhead shook her head. "I was afraid of that."


            I glared between the two.


            "Akane, be a dear and clean that up," the redhead sweetly said.


            The blue-haired demon bowed her head and complied, sweeping up the crystal shards.


            The brood mother picked up another crystal and glided over towards me. She held another cube up in her long talons. "Shall we?"


            I took the cube and after waiting for Akane to sweep out the circle I closed it back up. This time the brood mother stood across from me.


            One hoof in front of the other, she gave a bow at the waist before clasping her taloned hands. "When you're ready," she said with a coy grin.


            "Right, let's try it again."


            This time it took longer for her to draw out her shadows, the filling of the cube took longer, and there was a slight purple tinge to the darkness. However, there was no ominous sheen.


            "Tenere," I said holding my staff above the replacement cube. I looked over to the demon who was watching with a bit of amusement on her made-up face. "This isn't going to explode on me?"


            "Oh, my shadows don't do that," she promised.


            "And what do they do?" I eyed the cube. Shadows moved within it like thick smoke.


            "My, that is impressive, Mr. Wizard," she noted dropping into almost a curtsy to pick up the cube.


            I eyed the way the shadows on the cube seemed to pulse and move against her talons. "Maybe you should place it on the pentacle," I offered.


            With my directions she put the cube onto the next point of the purple pentacle. After she did that I fished around in my coat pocket. And drew out the two fragments of my blasting rod.


            "Hopefully this won't be as bad as the summoning ritual where I used a broken blasting rod."


            "Oh what happened?" Ranma asked, slipping up next to me. "Did someone wreck the summoning?"


            "The summoning went great. Actually given the lack of preparation and half-assed work, I was actually pretty impressed."


            "Wha'd you summon?"


            "The Erlking," I muttered. "I even got him too... until a necromancer cracked the back of my skull."


            "Who?" the bouffanted redhead inquired.


            "A lord of the wyldfaerie. Very powerful."


            "Ah, shame about the necromancer. You won't have to worry about that," she patted my arm. "What's next?"


            "I've got the darkness aspect for the queen. Now I'll need to make a matching cube of ice."

            "I can make magic ice!" the younger demon cheerfully said.


            I eyed the cute, pastel demon. "Does it explode?"


            She grinned.


            "No exploding," I stated.


            Behind her the older sister grumbled. "What's with you and things not exploding?"

 
           "Wait..." I looked between the daughters. "One that controls darkness, one that controls ice." I turned to the redhead. "And their mother all done up like a dark queen."


            "Well, I don't use that title much..." the redhead allowed.


            "Huh," I thought it over.


            Ranma looked to Dirac. "We talked it over and thought that since you were looking for items with 'resonance' to your queen that we might as well help."


            "You could take the position opposite the circle from me, with your daughters at the other two points of a four pointed star. That... that could help us."


            The demon waved a talon to the four sided star on her tiara.


            I snorted. "Not bad for machine shop magic."


            Dirac looked vaguely upset while the prim demoness chuckled to herself.


            "Well, I suppose Major Saotome would like that term," the gangly technician allowed.


            "I think I can swing this one myself." I went back to the crates and thought of what Dirac had said. The redhead didn't have a rank, her blonde sister was a Captain, her third sister didn't have a rank, and I didn't think any of the daughters were officers.


            So, who was the Saotome with the rank of Major? Was there another demon running around?


            "I could try making non exploding ice," Nabiki offered. "Are you sure you don't want any?"


            Her adorable pout interrupted my thoughts. "Uh..."


            "Please, your icicles are even more unstable than my shadows," Akane scoffed.


            The cute demon looked bashful. "True... and I've only made little slivers and shards."


            "It's no problem. I'm the Winter Knight. I can handle making some ice."


            "Yes you can," the redhead purred.


            I glanced at her choker and then back at my makeshift workbench. That might not have been the brightest move on my part. "Yeah, that shouldn't be too hard."


            Picking up a fresh bottle of water, I rooted though one of the crates finding thee cubic hollows in the close-celled foam that had been used to hold the crystals.


            "Yeah that'll do," I murmured. Then I poured into one of the hollows. I let Winter power flood out causing the streams to frost over and the gurgling water to turn to slush.


            I then topped off the ice slurry. More power froze it to a solid block that I levered out. It was a bit uneven but another flash of power gave it a nice clear crystal sheen.


            After that, it was just a matter of rubbing down the sides of the block until it became a proper cube. Once the edges were nice and sharp, I took my staff.


            "Tenere," I cast fixing the cube of ice. It now glistened with a slight blue hue and with an inner iridescence.


            "That'll keep it from melting?" Ranma asked.


            "For a time," I picked up the cube and placed it at the fourth point of the pentacle.


            "Can you make more?" the redhead leaned in. "It is lovely."


            "Lovely and cold, that'll be a good affinity item for her," I agreed before going to the opposite side of the pentacle. I then upholstered my revolver and placed it just outside the purple circle.


            I looked around the giant pentacle. I had four items for Mab, for four me. "Well, that's it, until the last item comes in."


            "And if it doesn't?" Nabiki asked.


            "I can make a replacement," I shrugged. I could. It's not like I needed an item of faerie manufacture, but what Eve had found in the Company's catalog of seized items would do nicer than anything I could make in the couple hours I had before midnight.


            "Your preparations are done?" the redhead asked slipping up next to me and taking an arm.


            "Until it gets time to put down my athame and do the summoning ritual, yeah."


            "Then we can get you dressed." The demoness snapped her long talons; it was an eerie echoing metallic sound.


            Lifting the suit bag, Nabiki stepped forward.


            "Look this isn't necessary."


            "I thought you said fancy dress would help. I'm doing the role of the dark queen," Ranma gave a curtsy. "Aren't you your Queen's knight?"


            I sighed.


            "And since we don't have a suit of plate armor for your to wear." Her purple eyes gleaming, the redhead began to pull me towards the suite of offices at the front of the warehouse.

 

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

 


            "Now, you said I wasn't the strangest tourist?" I asked shying away from my reflection. Mirrors were risky in my line of work. There were plenty of things that could use them as doorways. "What's stranger than a private eye wizard working for a fairy queen?"


            Ranma nodded, helping me slip on the button down shirt. "I met myself."

            I nodded. The Company had made a pretty good case that this wasn't my Earth. And if alternate Earths existed, why not a copy of yourself? That did make me wonder if I had a doppelganger here. Clearly, the Company didn't find any evidence of a Wizard Dresden in Chicago.  Which wouldn't be hard,  they'd have just had to check the yellowpages. Or if they did find my double, they didn't tell me.


            But that didn't mean much. It's not like I was a native of Chicago. I could have moved to a different city. Or I could be using an assumed name. Or I could have died. Or I could be in hiding. Hells Bells, I'd done all of that myself.


            I then noticed the demon wasn't talking, instead she was buttoning my shirt. Her long talons quick and nimble.


             "And what's so strange about that?"


            Ranma chuckled. "For one she's... human for another she's married to a guy."


            "Ah, while you were born a succubus?" I ventured.


            The redhead shook her head. "I was human, once."


            That caused a shiver down my spine. It didn't help that she had also buttoned the lowest button, which put her talons in a sensitive area.


            "We all were," Nabiki quietly added.


            "Right, the D Program?" I asked.


            "It wasn't formal back then," Ranma shrugged, she then took the hanging pants and eyed them critically.


            "So, unlike you... she didn't become a demon?" I carefully asked. I wasn't sure where the trepidation came from. Was it regret on her part? Jealousy of a version of herself that had retained her humanity?


            However more of my attention was focused on helping her put pants on me.

 

            "Different, but close." The demon gave me a vague nod and zipped up. "And her husband makes her happy," she said, with what might have been regret but there was a large measure of bewilderment.


            As far as I knew, Ranma was a single. And being a single mother had to be hard, let alone with five demonic daughters. "Uh?' I eloquently inquired.


           Ranma's eyes focused back on me. She clopped around me and made some adjustments to how my pants rid on me, notably around the back of my waist.


            "It's weird she's married? I didn't think you'd find monogamy that alien."


            The demon blinked. She then looked at Nabiki, then back to me. And then she started laughing. Her contralto voice descended into chuckles and guffaws, that really contrasted with her gowned form.


            Handing me a pair of shoes with matching socks, Nabiki also tittered behind her hand.


            "Okay, what'd I miss?" I asked. They were a bit loose, but the shoes would do.


            "Succubae not being monogamous," Ranma laughed as she picked up a belt.


            "You're sex demons," I said a bit loudly.


            This caused the redhead to blink again, then resume her laughter. "Oh poor, dumb Harry," she said after regaining her composure.


            "We don't get married, but we do have mates," Nabiki said, with a bit of wistfulness, which I figured was due to her age.


            "Wait, Nariko said Misako and Ukyou were mates."


            Still laughing, Ranma gave me a pitting look. "Yes?" she asked holding the belt.


            And the clutch went on my brain. And it was totally due to the biological implications. And not that my mind was flooded with the images of nubile lesbian succubae. I mean "mate" had a very clear meaning.


            And I'll admit having a redheaded succubus slipping a belt around my waist may have contributed.


            "You didn't find it odd that we're all female?" Ranma asked with a tease.


            "Not really, I mean my brother's got nothing but succubus sisters."


            Picking up a tie, the redhead raised an eyebrow.


            "Uh, White Court vampires."


            As she slipped the silk around my neck, the demon kept looking at me.


            "Okay, he's my half-brother. On my mother's side. And –well- his father killed all of his other sons. Thomas was the only one who lived."


            Tying the tie off, Ranma kept her stare.


            "Not that I assumed you did any such thing," I rambled. "But I'd gotten used to Lara and her innumerable sisters."


            "And so you didn't think much of a pack of succubae?" Ranma shook her head.
            "Poor, dumb Harry," Nabiki echoed her mother, patting me on the hand with a little smile.


            The contact tingled slightly.


            "Your brother is an incubus? And yet you're twitchy around demons?"


            "I'm twitchy around vampires too..."


            Ranma waved that off. "If your brother's family is that insane you're justified."


            "You don't know the half of it."


            "Yes, we've got some experience dealing with your kind of tourist," she said slipping the suit coat over my shoulders. "There? How do you look?"


            Despite myself, I looked into the mirror. To my relief it wasn't exactly a tuxedo that had been bought for me. It was similar but had a sleeker, almost rugged, cut. The pants and coat were black with just a hint of a dark blue shimmer. My tie was of a similar color Instead of white my shirt was a dark slate blue. Polished shoes that were almost boot cut shod my feet.


            My hair had already been washed and combed and after a tense moment with some silvery claws my face was neatly shaved. There was something nice about well-fitting dress clothes. Not only did they make you look good, but for me it was a rare treat to have something that actually fitted.


            I was a bit impressed that they had managed to get my measurements so well, and then in a few hours had gotten a suit that fit me,  but Toronto seemed like a big city.  I'm sure there were enough suit stores that they could find one willing to do a rush job if they threw enough money.


            However, that was only part of my buoyed spirits.


            Looking ever the dapper wizard, I held my staff in one hand. And on my other arm was a demon queen.


            Well... part of the Winter Mantle rose. She wasn't quite our queen...


             I gave a smile. "It's a lovely gift." I eyed the redhead, the mantle surged, hungry.


            "You're welcome."


            "But I should give you one in exchange," my hand went to her bustle at the base of her tail.


            "Oh you've already..." Ranma's hand went to her choker.


            I looked into her eyes. "You can shift your clothes, what if I... helped?" the runes on my staff started to glow. "If we're going to go with costumes for the summoning..."


            The demoness licked her glossy lips and then bowed her head. I lowered my staff and lifted my hand, letting the winter power flow out.


            Ice gems formed, glittering around her wrists and hung from pointed ears. Her bodice pulsed with violet tracery that ran over her curves. Her shadows grew and responded, following where my hand went, adding details to what I cast. A four pointed star surrounded by a ring of silver nestled atop her cleavage.


            The choker around her neck widened, sweeping down her throat and  taking on the features of  a gorget, with a rounded profile on the angled bottom. The armor-like neck covering also swept up to just under her chin.


            She now held her head raised at an almost haughty angle as her neck was extended while the lower end of the choker helped draw the eye to her bosom. "Oh, a posture collar, how decadent," she purred with a little flush to her cheeks.


            Looking at her hair, inspiration struck me, "Now, you're a fan of Earth magic?"


            "You could say so," she said with a wide smirk.


            The runes on my staff tinged green as I waved it over the gravid hair bun curled up atop her head. My ice trailing hand went up and both were met by the deep purple shadows of her own magic.


            The ruby tresses shivered as their swollen curves became studded with purple ice gems as my staff slowly fed Earth manna in. The highly polished coiffure grew and smoothed. Something I hadn't expected was for her golden tiara to move out as the metal expanded, gilding her horns and adding to the spectacle atop her brow.


            She made a contented noise as my hand went back to her tail. The Winter Mantle agreed and pushed me on. A thicker tail arced over a widened and flared bustle.


            I watched as her dress expanded. Earlier, the back of her dress had a bit of a flare in back, but now the dress had puffed out,  flowing down to wider skirting. I wondered if she had a full blown crinolette hidden in there with concealed layers of hoops and staves.


            Part of me felt guilty by adding to the extravagance, and even the Mantle groused that I was making her less undressed.


            My hand slid down her tail and she purred. The tip and fins to her tail now having a slight blue gem tint. Meanwhile Nabiki had sidled over and lifted up her mother's skirting. My staff slipped out and touched the accents on her hooves. Shadows sprung forth and the cobalt armor grew and flowed downward, coating her hooves.


            When it was over her polished hooves moved with surprising daintiness given they had enlarged from saucer sized to salad-plate sized. She also moved even closer, pressing herself against my side as she clung to my arm with both sets of talons and wrapped her tail around my waist, slipping it in just under my coat.


            My hand returned to the back of her bustle and the Winter Mantle felt almost satisfied as she rested her head on my shoulder. There was then a series of flashes as the pastel demon daughter skipped around us with a film camera that looked like a relic.


            It took a bit of effort, but I pulled myself away from the mirror. Reflections were tricky, and mirrors were gateways. I hadn't had a mirror in my house, well ever, really.


            I could feel the deep hum of Dirac's Jammer, which I suppose kept things secure enough. I shrugged and exited the room. There was a bit of difficulty with how Nabiki left first and the demon queen pressing against me as we crossed the threshold.


            Once we got to the warehouse floor, the other demon daughter was waiting. Clapping, she gave a little bow. "Hey mom, remember when you criticized me and Misa-chan for how much eye makeup we used."


            "I'm still using less than you did," the redhead said with a toothy smile.


            I did note that her tail was swishing angrily.


            "Maybe if you put on more that mage would do more than just grope your ass," Akane teased.


            "Uh..." I looked down. And sure enough, there was my hand.


            "No need to tease Sir Harry. He's a perfect gentleman," the redhead gave a happy sigh as she continued to lean on my side. "Besides, teasing him is my job," she added with a smirk.


            Maybe it was experience but the act of her being on me felt good.


            Let me elaborate, it merely felt wonderful. That is the high tension sensation of having a lovely and interested person hanging on your every word. It was great.


            But it was not the cocaine and chocolate with a bit of heroin high that came from the light caress of the succubae I was used to dealing with.


            Part of that, I think, was because the White Court vampires were kind of a symbiotic creature. On the one hand, they were the most human like of the vampire types; on the other hand, they got all their super powers form a demon-like parasitic Hunger that dwelled within them.


            Naturally, those powers came at a cost, namely feeding their Hungers. Sure, they had some degree of control, but they still had the constant hunger of what was, in many ways, a separate entity.


            Meanwhile the demon happily leaning on my side seemed bracingly straightforward. She could be in full battle-rattle tearing apart and eating wolfmen or done up like a Victorian-age demonic temptress.


            I sighed and went to the purple pentacle and inspected the work. It was when I had completed my second circle that I noticed she was still at my side. She was far quieter on those huge hooves than I expected her to be.


            And speaking of her tearing apart her enemies, having that tail wrapped around my waist was... distracting. Though I suppose it was fair given my hand had moved to the base of her tail. I could feel the buzzing coming from the bow she'd wrapped around her tail, which by my estimate did feel thicker.


            "I should get you a parasol," I laughed.


            The demon queen slowly turned her head. Her choker forced her to move her shoulders as well, still the motion caused the gems on her updo to sparkle in the light. A little smile crossed her lips. "Oh?"


            "Well if we're going to practice walking a promenade."


            Her smile grew. "Do tell."

            "Maybe something lavender with lace ruffled on the edges and a lacquered handle."


            "You have a good eye for such finery," Ranma grinned.


            "Uh, thanks?" Look, I wasn't used to having women complement my fashion sense, supernatural or no.


            "I mean it," the redhead insisted. "Doesn't he Jared?"


            Dirac looked up from his work. He gave the demon queen a once over. "I suppose you could use that as a Jammer, put a blade in there. Didn't Misako have one of those?"


            "That would be very cute," Nabiki cheered.


            "Cute," Akane scoffed. "What ever happened to an honest, slinky leather dress?"


            A door clicked open and a familiar statuesque blonde woman entered. Her boot clad feet clicked on the floor. Cold blue eyes looked over the scene with a sense of bemusement.


            At her heels were two younger demons. One with teased orange-hair in a red leather dress that looked like it was poured over her then cut down. She wore black platform stilettos and walked with a total confidence. I had no doubt she could walk on gravel or mud with those things. Balanced on her manicured hands was a small dark green crate that she kept running a hand over covetously


            The other was slightly taller with smooth light-green hair. She was wearing a grey suit and tie with a little dark grey skirt that was hardly longer than the bottom hem of her suit coat. One of those block-of-steel bullpup rifles was slung over a shoulder and a large holster was tied to one thigh, just about even with the top of her smoke colored stockings. She wore a pair of black pumps and walked plainly but not with the overt elegance of her companion.


            I sighed. It said a lot about my life that I could study how women walked in high heels, even before I had stumbled onto several broods of succubae.


            "Hey Ilsa, how's tricks?" I smiled when the blonde demon closed in. "Tie up anyone interesting?"


            She flashed me a smile. In her heels she was only a little bit shorter than me. "No one recently." She took a moment to adjust the redhead's bodice. "But maybe you will."


            I coughed as the demon queen gave a haughty smile as she squared her shoulders.


            Almost dismissing her crate, Misako had dropped it with the others and ran over to us. "You went with the Victorian gown!" she cheered.


            The green haired demon looked at all this with a distant expression. However, I noted she did stay close to the blonde demon. I recognized her from the photo in Eve's wallet, she was one of the blonde's daughters.


            Misako then went into a detailed inspection. All the while, she talked about the various support garments, hoops, staves, spats, hooves, jewelry, and other bits of finery. She then came to the choker.


            "A posture collar?" Smirking, her green eyes flared. "If I'd known you'd put on one of those, I'd have suggested some more fun things."


            Shifting her shoulders to show of the choker, the redhead gave a haughty smile. "Oh, this was Sir Harry's idea." Rolling her hips she took a half step back to angle her torso so she could look up at me. "In fact most of the upgrades and jewelry to this gown were his idea," she added, with a bemused smirk.


            Her motions also reminded me that my hand was still pressing against her bustle.


            Misako's predatory smirk grew. "Really now?" she slipped closer. "Impressive, Mr. Wizard," she exhaled.


            And this time I felt the mental pressure and floating delights of a succubus' mind powers.


            "Misa-chan..." the demon queen cautioned.


            Misako pouted.


            "Yes, what will Ukyou think?" Nabiki gasped.


            "Don't mind Misako," Eve stated, "You can beat her with your staff if she gets too frisky," the blonde added, utterly deadpan.


            The green haired demon shook her head. "Sometimes, I can't believe this job."


            Eve patted her on the shoulder.


            "Is that the bracelet?" Ranma asked freeing a hand to point to the crate Misako had dropped off.


            Nodding, the blonde leaned over and undid the clasps. Glancing at the contents, she pocketed what looked like a packing slip and turned the crate and pushed it towards me.


            Demon still on my arm, I walked forward.


            The redhead slipped off. Long talons went into the box and pulled out a silver bracelet. Opals and sapphires shimmered. She turned the bracelet, examining the metalwork.


            I stepped closer. It looked like it was made out of delicate ribbons of silver woven together, engraved, and set with gems.


            "It looks pretty enough." The brood queen slipped it into my hand.


            The bracelet flexed under pressure and seemed almost springy. It also hummed with power.


            Misako hovered near her mother staring at the bracelet.


            "Is it faerie?"


            "You don't know?" I let the bracelet roll around in my hand.


            "Haven't had the pleasure." She flashed a grin. "Will this do?"


            I gave the bracelet a long look. "Yeah, it's Winter Faerie all right." I looked to Eve. "Where'd it come from?"


            She met my gaze with a smile.


            Feeling the pull of a Soulgaze, I looked away.


            Eve reached into her coat and pulled out the packing slip. "According to this, it was purchased from an estate sale in 1933. Its previous owner had, officially, liberated it from the summer residence of the Duke of Lorraine in the waning days of the Great War."


            She flipped the page. "Apparently, quiet inquires to the Habsburgs came to a dead end. No one remembered the piece."


            "Or no one wanted to admit to it," I watched the opals and gems sparkle. "You really just had this thing sitting in a warehouse for the better part of a century?"


            "You saw the print-outs from our catalog, Warden Dresden," Eve stated.


            "Yes, but you carry a lot of cold iron about you," I gestured to the guns she and the green-haired succubus carried.


            "That smoke wagon of yours is two kilos of steel," Ranma happily reminded.


            "Yeah, but that's because steel's a handy material. Just look at that thing," I pointed to the green-haired demon's rifle. Up close it was definitely a block of steel milled into a shape vaguely like a hulked-out version of that Belgian bullpup Murphy liked.


            Then I saw the cartridges it used. Hells Bells, they were slightly-tapered shafts of brass as thick as my fingers and, when you added the giant stubby bullets in the end, looked just as long.


            The green haired demon idly patted her gun. "What about it?" she asked.


            "It looks like your Q designed it just in case you wanted to bludgeon a faerie to death."


            "That's absurd Pattern F's are quite rare." Her cheeks tinged ever so slightly.


            "Besides the requirement was to make sure the gun was robust enough to shatter a reinforced humanoid skull and continue cycling for at least five hundred rounds," Eve smoothly assured.


            The redhead had slipped up to her demon daughter and ran a talon over the rifle. "It is an elegant weapon."


            "Elegant? It's an over-powered, brutal little thing... Oh." I smoothed my tie.


            The redhead beamed. "Fitting no?"


            "He didn't even get to mention how it's too much, too heavy for most humans to handle." Eve shook her head. "Pity."


            "Hah. Anyone ever tell you you've got a good sense of humor, Ilsa?"


            The blond gave the tiniest bow to her head.


            "Fine." I turned back to the circle. "We've got the final piece, we can get things setup."


            "Good to hear." Eve clapped her hands. "Ah, before I forget, sister."


            I heard the redhead's dress rustle and her hooves shift.


            "Serena has been asking after you. You may want to talk with her after the ceremony," Eve stated.


            Out of the corner of my eye I saw the redhead nod. Well given her choker, she had to bow at the shoulders, but the gesture meant the same thing. For my part I was looking at the purple pentacle.


            I crouched down and gently placed the bracelet at the tip of the last point of the star. I released a bit of my will and felt a slight tingle as the first bits of power started to flow. After giving the setup a critical eye, I dusted my hands and stood.


            "I think this'll work."


            Misako's heels clicked as she stepped up. "Mutual affinity, eh?" she asked stepping around the pentacle.


            "Yeah, five items for myself, five for her."


            "Interesting simplicity to the design." the demon eyed the cube of shadows and the bracelet with a broad smile. "Efficient."


            "I'm pretty sure I'll need it."


            She looked to the outer circle. "Two layers? Add a third and you've got the start of one heck of a containment circle."

 
            "You know magic theory?" I glanced to Dirac and Ranma. Neither of them seemed surprised.

            "A bit on wards." The orange-haired demon shrugged. "Mostly it was field work activating someone else's design." Her expression grew remote. "Demons tended to be too fast unless you timed your ambush just right."


            I gave a slow blink. "You fought demons too?"


            Misako gave a level stare.


            The redhead swept in and put an arm around her shoulder. "Yes, but Misa-chan was talking about things she learned... before."


            Misako frowned.


            "Ah." I winced.


            "Not all of her past experience was on how to apply makeup and hunt," Nabiki added giving an overly innocent smile to Akane.


            I might not have much experience but I could recognize sibling rivalry when I saw it.

 

            The redhead then drew the taller daughter into a hug, seemly ensconcing her with lace and ruffles. Her tail came out and wrapped around the younger demon who began to happily purr.


            The two blue-haired demon daughters gravitated closer and the demon queen pulled them into an embrace. The purring grew louder.


            "Huh, another group hug," I glanced over and saw that Dirac had given the display a bare glance and instead was discussing his notes with Eve.


            The blonde demon, for her part, did seem a bit distracted but had an arm around the green-haired succubus pulling her into a half hug.


            "Too cute," I shook my head and gave the pentacle another walk around. All that was left was my old Ka-bar knife. Five items for me, five for Mab.


            The demons seemed humane enough. They were certainly loving enough.


            Perhaps that was the wrong word, given what Ranma would do for her family. But did I have a place to talk? I knew what I was willing to do to save my daughters. I knew what I did to save Maggie. I also knew what I would do if Mab hadn't agreed to make me the Winter Knight.


            I glanced between the demons and thought of the D Program. I went to Mab because my back had broken and I needed to be healed, and I needed power. These mercenaries...
           
            The purring stopped.


            I looked over as hug broke-up.


            Akane and Nabiki went off to one side. Their tone as they talked with each other was biting, but their tails were swishing in sync. Misako for her part was fluffing and straightening her mother's gown.


            Leaning over, she made a tisking noise. "Mother, you're dressing up, you can use some eyeshadow."


            The redhead raised an eyebrow.


            "Bah," Misako snorted. She turned back to me. "What happens if you actually summon your boss?"


            "That's whole-"


            "No, I mean, you physically pull her here. She gonna be upset her assassin pulled her away from the office out into the field?"


            "Assassin?"


            "You are wearing a lovely suit." Her green eyes glinted. "Say, you ever kill anyone in a suit?"


            "Yes."


            "Doesn't it make you feel like James Bond?" she purred.


            "Hey now!" Ranma glared. "His gun's much bigger than Bond's little capgun." She reached out and gave my arm a pat. She clopped closer and her other arm snaked out and her talons brushed against my hip, and that empty holster.


            Her head gave a disappointed little shake.


            "What? I'm using it for the ceremony," I pointed to where I'd put the revolver just outside the pentacle.


            The redhead turned to follow my arm. "That's why you have a spare," she scoffed cocking her hip to one side.


            "Two is one, one is none," Misako recited.


            "I don't see you carrying two pistols."


            The redhead tapped her chin with a talon and looked down at her gown.


            "Mother could hide a carbine in there," her green-eyed daughter said approvingly.


            "Besides our pistols are our backup weapons," Misako smirked.


            I simply thumped my staff on the floor.


            "And that is an impressive weapon," the redhead purred reaching out to it.


            Misako's eyes flashed, but she bowed her head to me.


            Eve handed a notebook back to Dirac and stepped closer. "We've got ten minutes. Are we go or no go?"


            "Yeah, we can get it." I gave the pentacle another glance. "There's just one more thing."


            Eve looked crossly at me. "Oh?"


            "Just a couple reminders." I exhaled. "My boss can be a bit... sensitive to slights. Offending her is a bad idea. Challenging her is worse."


            Ranma turned to Misako and simply narrowed her eyes.


            The demonic daughter pouted but bowed her head. "I'll be quiet."


            The redhead sharply nodded.


            "Also the faerie love to make deals and will try to get the better of you. Entering into bargains or accepting gifts is not wise as it will just draw you in further."


            "Do tell," Ranma tapped her choker.


            Eve frowned. "I did consider calling in legal."


            "That's why we'll let Mr. Wizard do the talking; he's already in hock with his boss."


            I may have grumbled.


            "We'll have to be careful if she tries to extract a price from us," Eve said.


            I caught the blonde's eyes flick to Ranma as her tail curled. The redhead's own tail rolled to one side.


            "It'll be best if you lead the questioning," Eve continued. "First order is to figure out if you were sent here. That those Pattern L's here already knew about you and tried to neutralize you is compelling evidence. And if you were sent knowing why and getting additional intel would be desired."


            "Yeah about that..." I sighed. "Look the faerie can't tell direct lies."


            Pursing her lips, Eve looked vaguely offended. The blonde exhaled. "Direct?"


            "Yeah."


            "Meaning statements they give have to be true under strict Boolean logic?"


            I nodded.


            A little growl rumbled within Eve. She lifted her hand and started counting off. "Thus they can imply, speak in generalities, give answers that are technically correct but colloquially misleading, all to let a person come to a false conclusion."


            "Yah, they really tend to be rules lawyers."


           A hint of irritation flashed in Eve's eyes. "They can also give a hypothetical statement or present a thought experiment, state what another person thinks, and, of course, a statement of theirs can be framed as question thus removing the onus of veracity."


            "Um... yeah." I rubbed my head. "Look, I know it's really frustrating."


            The green haired demon looked to Eve. "Don't forget disinformation via proxy."


            Eve gave her daughter a hug. "Good point Morrison."


            "And that is?"


            Morrison looked to Eve who nodded. "Put simply: Person A hides item X. They tell Person B where to find it," the green-haired demon said. "You find Person B and get them to tell you where X is. However..."


            "The first person lied to the second," I grit my teeth. "Yeah... they'll do that too."


            "A reason for them to keep non faerie around," Eve noted.


            "What a hassle. Why not just assume they can lie and be done with it?" Ranma asked.


            "They can't tell direct lies so you can get some information," I countered.  Okay there was one case where a fae could tell a direct lie, but if Mab was able to lie then I was completely screwed.


            "Yes, decoding diplomat speak," Eve gave a cold smile. "But one part is a concern. Sir Harry, why does your queen act this way with her knight? Doesn't this degrade your performance as her agent?"


            "Yeah, jerking a person around and lying to them is not the way to build trust," the redhead said.


            I rubbed my head again. "Tell me about it. See my boss prefers... older tools of recruitment. Namely giving people enough rope. Well... it's more like she finds people that tend to fall into quicksand and then offer them rope, for a price. It helps that she's very patient and can wait for years and years."


            "Ah, still one thinks that makes for poorly motivated staff," Eve said.


            "She has her ways, besides she's more of a sink or swim mentality with her... retainers."


            "By throwing them in the quicksand?" Ranma surmised.


            "I guess my metaphor was pretty mixed..."


            "Five minutes." Eve glanced at her watch and met Dirac's gaze.


            "I'll get into position," the gangly technician said, going over to his machinery and magic circle.


            "Final check then," Eve stepped away and turned on her radio.


            I shifted my tie and simply looked over the pentacle.


            The redhead had slipped up next to me. "You ready?"


            "Yeah, not like rushing right now would help," I shrugged. "Besides midnight is just the optimum time. I can always try it again."


            "Should we get into position?" she asked giving her hips a shake.


            "Right, I'll need, um, Akane and Nabiki for this."


            The brood queen nodded; the gems on her hair twinkled. She then sauntered off with her hooves clicking on the floor.


            She quickly returned with the two blue-haired demon daughters.


            "Are they dressed appropriately?" the redhead teasingly asked.


            I looked between Nabiki's cheongsam and the skimpy, shiny shorts and top Akane was in. "Well, it's not exactly the Winter Queen's look, but it could fit the Winter Lady," I allowed


            "Winter Lady?" Nabiki asked.


             "Each faerie court has three queens. In increasing power, there's the Winter Lady, the Winter Queen, and the Winter Mother," I said as I led Akane to one spot.


            "And you're summoning the queen?"


            "Yeah," I didn't want to get into too much detail about the other queens, not now at least.


            "How?" Ranma asked, as I had her stand across from my position.


            I raised an eyebrow. "I'll be using her Name." I actually had pretty good luck at summoning the correct faerie queen. Though I haven't tried to summon any of the Winter or Summer Ladies... for reasons.


            I then had Nabiki stand opposite Akane and took position across from Ranma. I took the knife in my hand and knelt down.


            "Is there anything we should do?" the redhead shouted from across the pentacle.


            "Think dark queen but do not cast anything." I looked over to Akane and Nabiki. "Same for you two, shadows and ice. But don't actually spread anything out, that could wreck the energy I'm putting through the pentacle."


            I glanced over and saw Eve standing a few steps to the side. "Warden, we're ready." She held out her arm.


            I waited.


            "Prepare for Jammer shut-down." Eve stated, her voice deep and carrying. "Turn off all Jammers in five... four... three... two... one."  She then made a cutting motion with her hand.


            The familiar background hum ceased. The sudden silence felt oppressive. As did the gazes the demons and mercenaries had leveled on me. It didn't help that the power the redhead and her daughters started to pump out started to press against me.


            Okay, I needed to make with the magic.


            I took the knife and nicked my palm. I let a drop of blood fall onto the pentacle which flared and began to sparkle. Placing the Ka-bar just outside the circle, I began to focus my thoughts.


            Pulling in the energy emanating from the demons, I went from focus item, to focus item forming my thoughts and readying the energy.


            Exhaling I released the energy, and the spell burst out. The pentacle flared in violet light. "Mab!" I cried. "Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, Queen of the Winter Court! Mab, I bid you to come forth!"

 

End Chapter 3

 

 

I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Kevin Hammel, and Ellf.  Again, special thank to Ellf for his help in soundboarding and getting this idea off the ground.