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 5: Underground Diplomacy, Part A

 


            I was in another of the Company's drab concrete and steel themed conference rooms. Behind me, a projector threw cropped, slightly retinted images we had retrieved from the book store. This time, most of the chairs were occupied. In addition to Ranma, Eve, and a passel of demonic daughters, I recognized the good Lieutenant Tendo and a few other human officers.


            Oddly enough, Eve seemed to be the senior officer. At least the most senior visible. One wall of the room had several built-in mirrors that seemed a bit too convenient.


            "Her name is Polonius Lartessa." I gestured to the woman being projected. "She's the second senior-most member of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. A group of lunatics and their Fallen Angel buddies. There's up to thirty Fallen, each stuck in an ancient silver Roman coin. Yes, those thirty pieces of silver."


            It said something about my life that the assembled audience didn't blink at my comment.


            "Wait, each Fallen is trapped inside the coin?" Lieutenant Tendo asked, looking up from her notes.


            "Yeah, it's part of the deal. They're limited. But there's loopholes. Namely, if they can get a host." I pointed to the photos. "Tessa here's been with Imariel for over a thousand years."


            "How do they take a host?" one of the human officers asked. He was short, broad-shouldered man who looked to be Pilipino.


            "Skin contact with a coin." I nodded to the murmur. "Yes, it's that bad. On the upside, the Fallen can't take control. Not at first, but their presence is there."


            "And if the coin is removed?" Tendo asked.


            "A shadow remains." Sighing, I scratched my palm. I noticed the minute tensing in the quiet room. "That is a Shadow of the Fallen. She'll have only a fraction of the real Fallen Angel's powers, but she'll have all her memories. Including how to summon the coin itself. And yes, that means a wielder will be exceptionally hard to contain, even if you remove the coin."


            Eve looked up at the mirrored wall to her left. "Would you consider anyone who touches a coin compromised?"


            I stepped to the end of the table and took a glass of water. "I'd be suspicious. And rightly so. But it's not like the Fallen jumps in and takes control. It has to be invited, the host has to give permission for the Fallen to take over."


            "I'm guessing they can be quite persuasive," Tendo dryly noted.


            "Each Fallen is older than the universe, and has been observing humans since we came into existence. Even in their limited state, they have knowledge and power to call upon that makes them exceptionally hard to resist. They'll give you what you want; they'll help you, and ask for little in return, at first."


            "Can the Shadow be destroyed? The connection be broken?" Tendo asked.


            This time, I kept from scratching my palm. "Yeah, there are ways. It takes a lot of work. But the hosts aren't lost. Hells Bells, saving the hosts is why the Knights of the Cross exist."


            "Lucas mentioned them. Church agents from your world," Ranma stated.


            "Yeah, each uses one of  three Swords:  Amoracchius, Esperacchius, and Fidelacchius. There is a Nail worked into the hilt of all three. And yes, those nails."


            Eve make a thoughtful noise.


            "I'm serious, and I'm pretty sure they're also Excalibur, Durendal, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi respectively."


            "Powerful artifacts,"  Eve said.


            I couldn't tell if she was skeptical or not. Interestingly, Ranma and her daughter Nariko perked up at the lineage of  Fidelacchius.


            "Powerful?  Kusanagi was forged by Susanoo," Ranma stated.


            "So, it has elements of two major religions?  Shinto and Christian?" Eve's thoughtful tone returned.


            "About that. " I coughed. "Fidelacchius...  it kinda broke."


            The room stilled as those purple eyes bored down on me. "You broke Kusanagi?" Ranma icily asked.


            "It wasn't me!" I shook hands. "Besides it got better!"


            The demon's glare softened a bit.


            "That's kind of the point. Like the coins, the Swords can't just be destroyed.  They have to actively be misused against their purpose."


            "Noted,"  Eve nodded. " The knights, they fight the Denarians," the blonde's statement was not a question.


            "Well... yeah, I mean their main goal is to save the hosts, to get them to turn away from the Coins, but..." I shrugged.


            "They're dealing with people enthralled by Fallen Angels. Fighting seems to be pretty expected," Ranma smiled.


            "Yeah.  But when the cause is right there's no one that you'd want to show up more than one of the Knights."


            "You've worked with them before."


            I raised an eyebrow. "Yeah." Hells Bells, I'd been the custodian for multiple Swords holding them until a worthy bearer appeared. Yes... I've done the Merlin bit. It's overrated. For one, I've still got one of the Swords stored in a safe place back home.  Well, technically Murphy has it... it's complicated.


            I coughed. "Yeah, they're good people. And sometimes that makes things difficult for them... " I remembered Shiro's sacrifice and Michael on the helicopter. Being a Knight came with huge risks. Starting with being called to missions by the "Home Office". Often they don't even know where they're going, let alone who they're fighting until they arrived.


            "Very difficult," I repeated.


            "Perhaps you can tell us more information in a later briefing," Eve suggested.


            I raised an eyebrow.


            "Just in case one of them does show up," the blonde smoothly said.


            I sighed: another meeting. "Sure.  You'll like them. Sanya uses a Russian machine gun with his Sword and Butters is a total magic and tech geek. Right up your alley. He's the current wielder of Fidelacchius."


            "They're a major threat to the Denarians?"  Ranma asked.


            "One of the biggest."


            "Could be why Tessa came here," Ranma suggested. "Get away from them?"


            "Possible. They have used diversions to keep the Swords from showing up." I nodded.


            "She also came to get the book that no longer existed in her world, no?" Tendo inquired.


            "This place may also be more... favorable terrain for a summoning," Eve reminded.


            I remembered what I saw behind Lady Pluto with my Sight, the footage from the Battle of Ottawa, and shuddered. "Maybe all three, the Denarians like to have contingency plans."


            "Are only humans viable hosts?" Eve asked.


            I put the glass down, and pondered her unspoken question. "Nope. Sure, I've mostly seen humans use 'em, but I once saw a Fallen happily work with a homicidal sasquatch. That was a nightmare, well two nightmares combined into one giant nightmare. I would not recommend any of the brood touch one."


            I expected a bit of outrage on the part of the succubae. That at least one of them would insist she could handle the temptation. Instead, they continued to quietly, attentively watch.


            "Uh, right, here's why. It's not just People and uh... Forest People. Okay, take the White Court Vampire. Now, they're humans permanently bonded with a Hunger. That is a demonic entity that gives them powers but requires them to keep it fed. And they're born this way."


            This time I felt a bit of ire from the succubae contingent. "It's just an example. But they're supernatural and got demon bits, and I'm pretty certain that a White Court Vamp could get infected by a coin."


            Eve tapped the table. "There's more to this example than the succubus aspect."


            "Yeah, I can Soulgaze with White Court Vamps. They've got souls, like you. And that's all I think is required in a host for the coin."


            The blonde demon nodded. "Definitely a danger."


            "Agreed." Ranma looked to her daughters. "Are we clear?"


            I noted all of the broodlings readily nodded, even the one with the orange hair and crazy green eyes.


            "Wait what?" I blinked. "This is the part where you tell me you're used to temptation, or that you're firkin demons and can handle dark powers. Or obviously evil artifacts." I pointed to the sheathed katana Nariko had leaned on the table.


            Misako snorted. "Right because I want to have another powerful demonic figure with her claws in my brain."


            A platinum blonde, sitting to Misako's left,  put her arm around the girl's shoulder and pulled her in. Across from them the young powder-blue haired demon frowned. Her pen almost fell from her hands as she gave a little shudder. She then tightened her grip and went back to her notes.


            I looked between Misako and the redhead. "Ah..." I had been wondering just how telepathic they were. Or maybe empathic was a better term.


            Ranma held her hand up. "Let's just say we're very aware of how easily one can be usurped by a more powerful demonic entity."


            "Oh, ah good. Because the coins are bad news." I exhaled. "But they're only half the story."


            "The hosts?"


            "Yeah, a lot of them are dupes, recruited from the desperate or downtrodden. The Fallen takes over and wears 'em like a suit. And once the suit's worn out..." I shrug.


            "They pick up a new one," Tendo surmised.


            "Yup, but the real dangerous ones work with their hosts," I pointed to the projection. "Tessa's been at this for a long time, and while most of her recruits are of the 'use and throw out' style, don't forget that she has other recruits."


            "She is the Number two in this 'Order'," Eve stated.


            I held my hand out and waved it. "Kinda. Nicodemus Archleone is the head of the Order, and they're all Fallen and all dedicated to havoc and destruction but..."


            "Two factions then?"


            I nodded. " Nicodemus plays the long game. Tessa likes her blood and havoc now. Which fits with her mantis form."


            "Mantis form?" Tendo asked.

            "Yeah, the Fallen can give their hosts the power to transform into a twisted demonic body. So, in addition to being a powerful sorceress, Tess can become a giant creepy bug with extra strength, armor, and claws and mandibles. Speed too. You would not believe how quick she is. And can split into lots of nasty little bugs."


            "Lovely," the officer stated.


            "She is fast, resourceful, sadistic, and ruthless. This is not someone you want to underestimate, and you corner her at your own risk."


            The mercenaries nodded.


            "She's more than a pretty face. She also helped cause or worsen a lot of bad events in my world."


            "Such as?" Eve asked.


            I took a sip of water. "The 100 Years War, the Rwanda Genocide, the Valencia Atrocity, the Killing Fields, and the War of the Roses. She also teamed up with hubby to worsen the Black Death in Europe."


            "War of the Roses?" Ranma asked.


            "English dynastic conflict following the hundred year's war. It had its moments, but not exactly worth putting on a resume," Eve frowned.


            "My world's version must have been worse," I shrugged.


            "And the
Valencia Atrocity?"


            "During the Spanish Civil half the population of Valencia was murdered in a ten month span. Each side blamed the other but..."


            "Yes, I see," The blonde nodded. "As interesting as historical divergences are, we're overlooking the more interesting part."


            "Yeah, Tessa's married to Nicodemus," Misako laughed.


            The room quieted for a moment. The only noise being the pens being used to take down notes.


            After having some more water, I nodded. "Yup. A few years after he gave her a coin, she married him... and they had a kid."


            "Both parents hosts? That had to have messed her up." There was a dangerous edge to Misako's voice.


            "Yeah... Deirdre, their daughter, was crazy. She had her own coin and was almost as old as her parents, but she... worked with Nicodemus," I said, choosing not to go into the more... unpleasant details of Deirdre's relationship with her father.


            Eve shifted back in her chair. "He's the evil man your Queen spoke of."


            "Yeah, Tessa's here for revenge."


            "It's about Deirdre," the redhead looked to me. "What did Nicodemus do to her?"


            I exhaled. "He killed her. It was part of some evil scheme of his, and he killed her."


            "And now Tessa's summoning something to go after the man that murdered her daughter."

 

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

 


            The briefing room had quieted at my bombshell. Ranma looked pensive and even Eve's cool facade was slightly cracked.


            I sat down in one of the chairs and poured myself some more water. I knew form the Soulgaze that Ranma was more than willing to spill blood to protect her daughters. Hells Bells, it's not like I was in a place to talk. I wiped out an entire species to protect Maggie.


            And it's not like Nicodemus didn't deserve it. The man was a snake and scum. For about two thousand years, Old Nick had murdered and schemed his way across the world. The lives he had ruined were countless. He'd tortured and murdered personal friends of mine.


            I watched the blonde demoness stand and talk with another agent while the projector was fiddled with.


            It was tempting to leave Nicky to his fate. I'll admit it. I wasn't above a bit of revenge. Heck, the last time I saw the bastard, I was part of a long con to ruin his reputation, powerbase, and take away his minions.


            And part of that con... well... Let's just say I'm glad no one asked why Nicodemus murdered his daughter.  Or how I knew that he'd murdered her himself...


            Don't look at me like that. I didn't figure out that part of the con until after the fact. See, some people, people that Nicodemus wronged over the years, which may have included my boss, figured out a way to get revenge.


            They tempted the old bastard; they dangled a trinket in front of him something that if Old Nick really, truly wanted to get.... well he'd have to kill the one person who didn't hate him. The one person he could actually trust. The one person who actually loved him, who was at his side all these long years.


            Old Nick really didn't want to kill Deirdre. That was the point. The revenge was forcing his hand. Yeah, there's a reason why pissing off Mab is considered a supremely stupid thing to do.


            So that's the thing, Tessa looked under every rock to get her revenge... against something Nick regrets, something that Tessa herself would do if the situation was reversed. Part of me was amused at the idea of the dog-pile of bad news falling on the old snake.


            On the other hand...


            Letting Tessa summon something that could take out Old Nick seemed like an extremely bad idea. Moreso because of Mab's warning that Tessa was being played. What she thought she was summoning and what she'll actually summon were apparently two different things.


            "We've got to stop her," I muttered.


            "Glad we have your agreement," Eve dryly noted as the projector clicked on. "We managed to trace the weapons used in yesterday's attack. The pistols were SIGs that were issued to the German federal police, they spent over a decade in use and were listed as destroyed due to excessive wear."


            I snorted.


            "Indeed," Eve clicked to another slide. "The machine guns are more interesting. They were from a lot sold to the French government for testing and evaluation back in the 70's. They were part of the inventory stolen when a warehouse on an Army base was robbed."


            "Who robs an Army base?"

            "The Brotherhood of the Moon," Eve clicked to the next slide. Which showed a photo of Lucas and several other men and a few women. I recognized Worth and the mullet guy.


            "Moon?" Ranma laughed. "Oh, better not let Serenity know about these goobers.


            I snickered. "Oh man. What, was Brotherhood of the Wolf too obvious?"

            Eve gave a tight smile, but her blue eyes were amused. "Their name sounds a bit more elegant in the original French: Confrérie de la Lune."


            I had a hard time wiping the grin off my face. "What's their deal then?


            "The brotherhood is a group of Pattern L's. Lycanthropes. They're close knit and we estimate they have well over two hundred active members. They were originally French with long roots in the Burgundy region but scattered after the War."


            I grunted. "What's their motivation?"

            "We think they're a cult. There definitely are mystical aspects to their recruitment."


            I snorted. This was a group of magical wolfmen, of course they were mystical.


            "However, they tend to keep a low profile."


            "A couple dozen of them attacked a public park at sunset and then opened up with heavy machine guns."


            "Yes, and that was their biggest and most visible attack in thirty years. Normally they work in the shadows."


            "And now, they're doing crap like this?" I sighed. "Damn."


            "Indeed." Eve clicked to a new slide. There was a bar chart that looked like a revenue breakdown, and then a line chart showing hits over time. There were a lot of blank spots, but it seemed to be a steady amount. "In the past they would normally hire out as hired goons for both the mundane and supernatural world: protection rackets, hired muscle, couriers, and the occasional hit job."


            I frowned at the charts. "How do they like to get paid?"


            "That's the worrying part. Rumor is they'll take cash but will offer discounts for certain books and items."


            "Lycanthrope thugs don't normally collect spellbooks," I grumbled. Okay that was a half-truth I knew a few werewolves who studied magic. Though I wouldn't call them thugs.


            "These do, and they may want them back," Eve said, her teeth flashing. "Or they might want their ally to think they want them back."


            I frowned at that.


            "Do they also make inter-dimensional deals with Fallen Angels?" Ranma asked.


            "Yeah, Tessa and her band are bad enough, but them working with a mess of super-strong wolfmen with military weapons is worse," I said.


            "Aren't Tessa's supporters thugs as well?" Tendo asked.


            "Mostly, but she has a couple handlers and specialists. There's Rosanna who does the vulnerable demon-girl act."


            Ranma turned to me eyebrow raised.


            "Bat-wings, hooves, but cloven, tail, brown eyes, dark hair, oh and red skin," I frowned as the demons and officers resumed their note taking. "She's Tessa's second-in-command, but also does recruiting and is the handler for the 'dumb muscle' hosts."


            I drummed my fingers on the table. Tessa had an ally, someone who was an expert in sorcery.  Now, I had assumed that Namshiel's coin had been taken by either Marcone or Mab.  Neither would have actually used the coin.  The mob-boss was too... determined to be his own boss to submit to a coin.


            And besides, he had just been abducted, tormented, and seen the Denarians abuse a child.  He had ample reason to hate the bastards. Same with Mab.  Someone had attacked Acrtis Tor, her capital, with Hellfire; I was pretty sure that Thorned Namshiel was behind that.


            So,  his coin should have been out of play.  But the coins had a way of getting loose.  And given how Lasciel's coin had escaped suspiciously quickly I wasn't willing to assume  Thornyboy was still in the penalty box.   Hells Bells, what if Maeve had taken the coin from whatever dark hole Mab had put it in?


            I nodded. "There's also Thorned Namshiel. He looks like a gaunt grey skeleton monster with bony spurs sticking out of joints. Lanky, greasy hair. Real ugly, but he's the one that taught Tessa sorcery and magic. Very skilled."


            "Estimate?" Eve asked.


            "Maybe a century or two ahead of me. The guy's some major trouble. Both for precision work, channeling overwhelming power, and combining the two." I looked to my glass. "He's also a big sneak and managed to snag a coin purse full of  Tessa's stable of flunkies. If he's involved in this, I can see him advising her on the nuts and bolts of the summoning."


            "Would Tessa bring her whole crew?" Ranma asked.


            "For this? She'd want to. Would they all come? Maybe," I shrugged. "The Nickleheads aren't the most unified group. If they saw Tessa making a hit at the bossman... they may throw in. Rossana'd take her side. Definitely. Namshiel... if this is as heavy of a summoning as we're looking at, then yeah.  But some of the others would stick to Nicky and hope to get on his good side if Tessa loses."


            Eve looked at the projection. "Two Fallen magical specialists, one handler, and how many grunts?"


            "She might have eleven coins." My head pounded at the scale of how bad this could get. "I mean... they might all jump in. Then again, this summoning has to link to my world..."


            Frowning, I wasn't sure if I'd rather have Thornyboy back in Chicago playing evil sorcerer or over here. Splitting the bad guy's forces was handy, and if Thornyboy was where the Knights could get to him...


            "Warden Dresden?" Eve lightly asked.


            "I'll have to know more about what Tessa's got planed, but there's a real good chance she'll need someone to draw the summoning from this world to mine."


            "Still, even divided, she can have two groups with considerable magical skill and offensive power, yes?"


            I leaned back in the chair. "I know, that makes you wonder what Lucas and his wolves brought to the table."


            "They have local knowledge and a resource base," Tendo offered.


            "Knowledge... they did the leg work on getting those books. One of which Tessa couldn't get." I looked to the head of the table. "So, you going to say exactly what Lucas took from the Testament of Carnamagos?"


            The blonde demon smiled thinly.


            "Because apparently that sour old man sold a complete edition. Or at least that's what he said when he suddenly got all wistful and laughed at every little thing." Recalling the tingle I'd felt on my neck, I looked over to Ranma.


            The redhead grinned at me. "What can I say? Ukyou's more than a good cook."


            I shivered then went back to Eve. "Right, so Lucas got a complete book, and then after he hid it, the book suddenly stopped being complete."


            Still having that ghost of a smile, Eve tapped the clicker and the projection went to the next slide. It consisted of a few photographs of the Testament. Including a zoom-in of the book splayed open to its last third or so. In the picture, with helpful arrows, were the neatly cut stubs of five pages.


            "We believe the excised section documents the lineage of a specific god. Interestingly, the parts that remain detail how to conduct a sacrifice to gain its attention, but..."


            "But omit details like its name and affinity." I shook my head. "Instead of handing the books to Tessa, they store them someplace, and then, just in case the books get stolen, they cut out critical info."


            Despite it, I chuckled. "I'm not feeling a lot of trust here."


            "To be fair, Mrs. Lartessa does not seem trustworthy."


            "The Wolves are worried that once Tessa figures out how to do the summoning she won't need them anymore?" Ranma asked.


            "Why not? Backstabbing is how the Denarians work."


            "That is something we can, perhaps, exploit. Given the Brotherhood seems to be taking such measures."


            "There's also why they're helping Tessa do this summon. What do they get out of it?" I asked.


            "Maybe Tessa's summoning multiple creepy crawlers and the Brotherhood gets to keep one," Ranma shrugged.


            I blinked. "Oh... that's bad."


            "Could be what's on the missing pages, I mean a lineage does mean a family of eldritch monsters right?"


            Groaning, I rubbed my forehead.


            Eve clicked to the next slide. This one had the other books. "We didn't see any other defacement on these books. Which might mean the Brotherhood felt the information in there was not critical, or it might be things that Tessa already knew. There's also the extremely likely chance that the Brotherhood has resources beyond these."


            The blonde then looked towards me. "Fortunately, we have our own resources, these books, and your considerable expertise."


            "Oh..." I repeated after blinking. "Yes, of course."


            "Anything to help us know how to stop things, with a bit more... finesse," Eve stated.


            "Finesse? You fired a Gatling gun from a helicopter," I boggled.


            "Yeah," Ranma agreed. "We're worried the Canadians will decide to simply bomb this place of power, wherever it is."


            "Canada?"


            "They do have fighter-bombers and artillery," Lieutenant Tendo reminded.


            "And after Ottawa they're real twitchy, yes?" I asked shifting in my seat.


            The blonde demon smiled thinly.


            "We still have to find the place." I tapped the table. "The scary little girl have any luck? Uh, Lady Pluto?"


            "Lady Pluto's analysis is inconclusive." Eve frowned. "She provided us with a potential region, unfortunately Southwestern Ontario is still over fourteen thousand square miles."


            I noticed the blonde shift impatiently; she was more animated than she normally let herself be.


            "Pluto is continuing her work, and says she can narrow things down but may take time."


            "Frustrating?"


            "She has been a bit more irritable yes," Eve allowed. "We've deployed our own airborne assets to the area. But by the time the drones detect something..." the demon lifted a hand.


            "Right, the Canadians will have bombed the place?"


            "It is a possibility," Eve noted. "This is why advance warning is critical. We're also working with law enforcement to see if any of Lucas' associates can be found leasing buildings or renting property in the area."


            I grunted in acknowledgment. A lot of investigation work boiled down to running down every lead you could think of until you hit pay dirt. It wasn't glamorous, but you had to put in the legwork to get anywhere.


            "Right, if that's all then let's get back to it." The blonde looked around the table, then settled her eyes on Ranma. "I want the Fifth ready to deploy, as well as three teams of agents," she added looking to Tendo and the other officers.


            There was a wave of acknowledgements as everyone stood and started filing out of the room.


            Ranma appeared at my side. "Come on, Mr. Wizard, let's get you to the laboratory."

 

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

 

 

            I pinched my nose and pushed myself away from the table. Grumbling, I eyed the heavy book with its creepy leather cover.


            Dirac looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Problem?" the technician asked, his Adams apple bobbing.


            One of the doors to the room was open, and an older woman with grey tinged black hair stood at the threshold. Unlike many of the other bare concrete rooms, this one had thick black panels on the walls with thick wires running between them.

 

            A tablet computer was in her hand. She looked at it with a frown, left it behind, picked up a sheaf of papers, and closed the door behind her. There was more black paneling on the door as well.


            "I'm sorry this is going slow, Warden Dresden," she gave an almost grandmotherly smile. "There's only so much the translation software can do."


            "Sure Doc," I eyed the badge that hung on her lab-coat: Doctor Sarah De Cotis. It said something that this organization hired more than just "trigger pullers". It also said something that they were starting to let me interact with their eggheads.  Between the three of us we almost had a supernatural brain trust going on.


            "It's still more help than I'm used to," I lied. I had to be frank, after years with Bob, Lash, and recently with Bonnie, I had gotten pretty spoiled. Spirits of intellect, Shadows of Fallen Angels, and spirits of intellect with the knowledge of a Fallen made for extremely handy assistants.


            The doctor kindly smiled, clearly not believing a word.


            "It doesn't help that it's encoded," I added pointing to the splayed open copy of Cryptomenysis.


            "Or that you're missing the most important pages," Ranma noted from her chair. She had a binder propped up and was reading some sort of mission report.


            "Yes, there's that." I grit my teeth. "Look, there's years-worth of information here."


            "There's about three doctoral dissertations on applied theology," De Cotis evaluated rubbing her chin. "Provided you could get a defense board with the proper clearances."


            Dirac cleared his throat.


            "Yes, yes, there's at least a thesis on dimensional manipulation and transmission," De Cotis airily dismissed.


            "Machine-shop magic," I grumbled.


            The redhead put her book down. She looked to me. "You speak nerd, right Mr. Wizard? 'Cause my eyes glaze when they or my Mom get like this."


            I smiled a bit, both at the self-depreciation and the mention of her extended family.  It was another example that they were opening up to me.  However, that Ranma was here watching me,  instead of leaving me alone with their eggheads did show the limits of their trust.


            I pulled at a pair of imaginary suspenders. "Well, I might just be a simple country wizard. I don't have much book smarts, and I did my magic learnin' out in the Ozarks-"


            "You're from Chicago," Ranma interrupted.


            "Fine." Letting my arms drop, I glared. "You know how summonings work?"


            "Like what you did last night?"


            "Close enough." I waved my hand. "For major mojo you've got to get the attention of what you're summoning, you need the energy to do that, and then you need the ability to contain it."


            Ranma simply looked at the books.


            "Yeah, yeah, devil's in the details," I pointed to a slim volume.


            Wearing a pair of thick latex gloves, Dirac pulled over Captain Klaus' Unaussprechlichen Kulten. The lanky man then flipped to a page full of lopsided typeface and spidery notes scrawled in the margins.


            "That the ritual?" the demon leaned in, seemingly interested.


            "It's a ritual," De Cotis corrected. "If you'll look, the being mentioned is rather pedestrian. But it does refer to filling a willing vessel. But that's standard."


            I eyed the old woman. I wouldn't consider a goat-faced tentacular horror "pedestrian". Okay, well -I- would, but no one else should.


            "Yeah, but it gives a framework, and that book," I pointed to the Parchments of Pnom which Dirac obligingly opened. "Says rituals that work on Shubby can get the attention of Lucas' new friends. Or at least their cousins."


            I nodded to myself. "It's actually a pretty clever hack. Tessa heard rumors of what she wanted to summon, but didn't know how. So, she looked around for a ritual that she knew that worked on something similar." I flipped the Unaussprechlichen Kulten book closed.


            Dirac looked vaguely affronted by my treatment of the book.


            "Then she found a way to work backwards from Thing One to Thing Two." I tapped the Parchments of Pnom. "And finally she found people what knew how to contact Thing Two," I tapped the Testament of Carnamagos.


            "But the whole thing's in code and the Wolves ripped out the pages!" I grumbled swiping at the Cryptomenysis Patefacta.


            The redhead tilted her head. "You're such a geek."


            I glared.


            "Still, it's not like we need to know how to do the ritual, just where it is. We can always stop it the old fashioned way."


            "Not if we're too late," I said darkly.


            The demon nodded.


            "But, we've at least narrowed down where it isn't. The base ritual can only be modified so far," De Cotis pulled out a piece of paper with a map of Southern Ontario. Parts of it had been crossed out, but a lot of it was still shaded in red.


            "Yeah, but they've got all the info they need. There's a reason the wolves took out those pages," I ran my fingers through my hair.


            I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Come on, I think you've put off lunch long enough."


            "His stress has been making it harder to use my machines, even with him inside this faraday cage," De Cotis added.


            "I told you, we could have stuck him in a circle and things would have been fine," Dirac said.


            The older woman sniffed in disdain.


            "Right." Ranma clapped her hands. "Too many big-brain people getting cranky. Lunch break."


            "It's three o'clock," De Cotis noted.


            Ranma returned her gaze. "You don't have to eat, but I am. And without me to play babysitter we are locking up."


            The scientist sighed. "Fine," she went to a phone that hung to the wall and made a call.


            Dirac busied himself piling the books and organizing the notes. De Cotis hung up and helped him.


            Ranma tugged my arm and pulled me to one side of the room to allow them to take photos of their paperwork with a compact digital camera. The notes were then fed into a shredder the resulting confetti was then put into storage bag.


            As I watched bemused at the paranoia, the other door to the room unlocked and Eve led a trio of agents into the room. One carried a thick metal briefcase while the other two had their rifles held in their hands.


            The mercenary lifted the case and then gently placed it on its side. Still the case came down with a heavy clunk.


            The agent stepped aside, and Eve unlocked the thick clasps and opened it. The interior looked like black foam with rectangular sections cut out. I frowned. Even with the steel sidings the case seemed a bit too heavy to be empty.


            Ranma motioned for me to stay on the far side of the room before she went off to her sister. The blonde handed her a few small items.


             Dirac moved in to pick up the books, but De Cotis shooed him away. I then watched as the old woman put on a pair of thick, rubberized gloves and gingerly lifted each book, and then slowly, delicately placed them into the case one by one.


            "They're just old books. You don't have to act like you're defusing a bomb!" I cried.


            Pulling off his gloves, Dirac shook his head and laughed.


            De Cotis rolled her eyes then took out another case and started packing away her computers and the cameras.


            Ranma looked up from talking with her sister and walked over. Eve picked up a clipboard, and began circling around the table and going through a checklist.


            The redhead pulled her hand out of her pocket and adjusted her leather jacket. "Come on, hungry wizards are grumpy wizards," she assured, taking my arm and dropping something into my palm.


            I eyed the grey plastic cube. Twice the size of a ring box, it had a locking clasp and a heavy hinge. Next to the clasp were two recessed buttons behind a hinged plastic cover.


             The demon lifted the tiny molly-guard, pressed the green button, and the clasp popped open. Inside was a layer of a silvery-blue metal and a layer of black padding. Nested in the padding, and offset to one side, was a clear glass vial with fluted seals. Next to the vial was a small set of tweezers and a tiny metal wand with a bulbous tip covered in a blue cap


            I blinked. "For the Denarians?"

            "Sample collector," The redhead nodded and pointed to the tools "Use the tweezers or the glue grabber to pick up the coin, drop it in the vial, snap the lid shut and hit the red button."


            "And the red button?" I eyed the case. It was better than using a dice bag, I supposed.


            "Locks it."


            "Actually, those Mark 7's release a pressurized epoxy which fuses the latch and the hinge. I'd be careful with that," Eve said from across the room while she fussed with her clipboard.


            I closed the box. I supposed these mercenaries had dealt with hazardous stuff before.


            "Will these be sufficient?" Ranma asked.


            "Short term, yes. The coins are dangerous. And anyone who's touched one can call it back no matter how you secure it, but..." I rolled the box around in my hand. "This'll keep someone from touching it in the first place," I admitted and slipped it into a pocket.


            Ranma handed me another. "Two is one. One is none," she said in a sing song voice, as she took my arm.


            I sighed and let her take me towards the door.


            "I'm thinking of going off base to get something to eat," Ranma said as we stepped out of the room.


          The scent of smoldering paper hit my nose. Were they actually burning their notes? Was shredding not good enough?  Okay, from a thaumatalogical perspective burning was a good idea, but still… "Yeah... I could go for seeing some sunlight."


            "Working underground does get to you," Dirac agreed.


            I nodded. Sure, I had lived a good part of my life in a basement apartment, and used the subbasement beneath that as my laboratory, but that was different. This was a brightly lit, rather spacious underground facility. I had a drafty, cramped little concrete box without electricity where I spent all my time talking to a skull by candlelight.


            Totally different. Anyway, I no longer had that basement apartment. Vampires burned it down. At least my secret, spooky island lair had a much cooler, if much scarier underground facilities.

 

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

 


            Following the demon down the corridor, I mulled and thought. Thus my gaze was lowered for reasons other than looking at the backside of the redhead's leather skirt.


            I had been here for, what two days? Well, three if you count the time I was unconscious after falling through the portal. I didn't know how much longer Tessa had been here, but I knew she thought I was a threat and wanted to get rid of me.


            I shifted my step to pass over a metal trough in the floor. I glanced to either side and saw similar inset in one wall, and the edge of a steel door in the other. Slipping through, I gave the blast door a wide berth.


            Even if Lucas wasn't lying, and given he was a wolfman terrorist impersonating an FBI agent, and working for a Fallen Angel that didn't seem likely... But even if he was telling the truth, sending me home would have gotten me out of Tessa's way just as much as putting a bullet in the back of my head.


            There was a slight tingle as we reached an intersection with another corridor that ran perpendicular to ours. Pulling my arm, Ranma took me down the left-hand turn. I glanced behind me and saw Dirac fussing with a panel near the corner.


            By the time the lanky man caught up to us, we were at another set of steel doors. The hallway had widened and Ranma was chatting with a couple of mercenaries working behind a heavy counter.


            Tessa and I had never really... talked. She didn't know me like Nicodemus knew me. Hells Bells, technically I'd worked with the guy. Granted, it was part of that con of Mab's to get her revenge on him, but the point stands.


            Nicodemus had plenty of personal experience to get his measure of me. Tessa... well we met a couple of times in between her helping or thwarting her hubby. Still, she knew enough to consider me a threat.  I had worked with the Knights of the Cross on multiple occasions, and I had stopped Nicodemus several times.


            There was a buzz and the steel doors slid open and we passed through a narrow hallway-like airlock.  There was another blast door at the far end, but it only opened after the first door had closed. I looked to either side and frowned at the plain plastic paneling on the walls. If asked, I'd lay good odds that there were claymore mines or some other nasty surprises hidden behind the panels.  It wouldn't be the first time I'd seen that trick.


            I pushed that thought aside and stepped into the garage. The steel door slid closed behind Dirac with a heavy klunk. The echoing concrete room rang with the sounds of idling engines, air tools, and the beeping of a reversing forklift.


            Despite its large size, the rectangular parking garage felt crowded To my left was a set of pallets with anonymous grey crates tied down. Past that was a loading dock where equipment was being positioned in front of a closed steel shutter. In front of the dock were a few armored Humvees.


            There was enough room to maneuver a heavy truck past all the equipment, but only just.


            To my right was maintenance bay. A crew of mechanics scurried between several tool chests, lifts, tires, welding equipment, and other bits of tooling. I could just make out a lathe and some heavier machinery in a caged off area against the far right wall.


            An unmarked white van had its engine pulled while in front of it an armored vehicle with a rounded hull, and no tires, sat on a set of jacks. Behind that was another steel door on the far wall.


            The room itself was divided by a row of heavy concrete pillars. Solid concrete blocks filled the spans between the one third of the pillars to the right and the one third to the left.


            Only the center third, with yellow and black caution stripes painted on them were open.  A mercenary was waving his arms to guide a lumbering armored vehicle between them..


            I followed as the demon led us past the pillars. In the second half of the room were two immense doors. Heavy steel, they looked like something out of a missile bunker.


            One was to the right on the far wall perpendicular to the row of pillars.  Pushed up against the pillars was a row of armored vehicles. Sullen grey, these had long barreled turrets atop them.


            The other door was on the left side of the garage. That section was relatively clear. A cargo truck idled as a team of mercenaries moved about it with inscrutable bits of equipment. The head of the inspection team looked at us, then looked at his equipment and back at us.


            Really, most of them held rifles and looked stern. Only a couple were using things that looked like leftover props from Ghostbusters. Glancing over, I saw Dirac frown.


            Ranma stopped in front of a trio of vans parallel parked up against the far wall that went from grey to black. Lieutenant Tendo waited by the open doors. Her face was unreadable. It was some emotion that looked alien on her, but if I had to guess she seemed displeased with Ranma.


            My attention went back to the cargo truck.  The cab was empty and the driver's side door was left ajar. The team inspecting it packed up their gear and after pushing the crates to the side; they started rummaging around in a vehicle that had been parked near the pillar.


            However, one of the technicians came our way.


            I then noticed that Ranma's tail had gone straight, and that's when I recognized Tendo's emotion. She was nervous.


            "Sergeant, has the delivery cleared inspection?" Tendo asked the mercenary who jogged up to them.


            A tall, blocky, dusky-skinned man with a shaved head nodded. "It went through pre-inspection in the lock, cleared our scans," he handed Tendo a clipboard.


            The lieutenant nodded.


            I eyed the truck. A bit larger than a moving truck, it was white and silver. Its logo was for some sort of food distributor. "Guess even secret bases have to eat."


            "Rations do get old," Ranma agreed.


           Ignoring our banter, the sturdy young man continued. "I checked with Franks. He and Meyers supervised the loading. Procedure says we're about to open it up for the physical inspection but..."


            Tendo looked across. "Yes, Rawlins?


            I blinked. The guy did look a bit like a younger version of Detective Rawlins. The police officer did have kids...


            Rawlins looked at the truck that his men had taken position on. "But something's off.... Sure the seals and locks are there. The delivery driver checked out when we swapped drivers on the surface, but..."


            "Scans?" Dirac suddenly asked.


            Rawlins held up a boxy little display. Dirac sidestepped me and as Ranma not so subtly pushed me to the side, allowing the gangly technician to look over it.


            Blue-green eyes scanned the display, then looked up at the vehicle, then back up. He sucked in through his teeth.


            "Did you call it in, Sergeant?" Tendo asked.


            Rawlins glanced between the officer and the demon. "Course, Ma'am."


            The brunette looked to Dirac.


            "The reading says clean but... it's too crisp," he adjusted the knob. "When did you take this?"


            "Just now," Rawlings said, looking towards Ranma.


            The color drained from Dirac's face.


            Tendo imminently went to her radio. "This is L. T. Tendo.
Five-Four-One-Three-Niner. Motor Pool. Vehicle Inspection Bay. Status Goal Keeper. Repeat, Goal Keeper."


            Ranma's eyes flashed. And she went to the  back corner of van where she took position and watched as Dirac and Tendo's men started slipping on body armor that they had stashed in the van.


            I looked around and saw the men on the loading dock and the maintenance bay had also stopped working.

 
            "What's going on?"


            Dirac slipped a spare vest on and held up his arms while Ranma adjusted the straps. "Rawlins' scan should have picked up you two. Even this far, there should have been some bleed-over, at least a little Pattern D and a little Prime. Instead, he got a reading saying there's nothing but plain old humans down here."


            My stomach clenched. "Your fancy scanners are being spoofed."


            Taking a spare rifle handed to him by the brown haired mercenary who was with Gabriel yesterday, Dirac nodded.


            I glanced back and saw a squad of men from the maintenance bay sprint over to one of the parked armored vehicles on the other side of the row of pillars. "And if you're being spoofed..."


            The redhead smiled and sniffed the air. "Then we've got visitors."  She eyed the vehicle we were behind.  "Not much cover here, but...  it is concealment."


            Tendo gave her radio to Dirac as she slipped on a helmet and goggles. Listening to the lanky agent explain the egghead perspective, I looked around. The mercenaries had geared up and pulled away from the cargo truck, and there was even a Humvee nudging its way to just ahead of the pillars.


            I wasn't sure if the mercenaries in the garage had been reinforced, or if they had simply pulled out more equipment, but there was a fair bit of quiet activity. Okay, some of the people were definitely newcomers, but not all of them. Ominously, I saw a few people with what appeared to be firefighting gear. I looked at my duster and staff and revolver. "I feel a little bit underdressed."


            Ranma, in her own battle-rattle, dragged me back in behind the line of vans. She critically looked me up and down. Then pulled a set of earplugs out of a pouch on her vest.


            I raised an eyebrow. She pointed to the vehicle-mounted machine guns. I acquiesced and stuffed them into my ears.


            "We gonna go in?" I asked, nodding to the truck.


            The demon gave me "the look".


            "Or not," I amended. "You're not just gonna leave them there. Am I shouting? I feel like I'm shouting." My voice sounding odd to my dampened ears.


            "Poor, dumb Harry," the redhead teased.


            After giving Rawlins some orders, Tendo edged over to me. "Odds are these are some of your friends?" she asked hooking her radio to a headset.


            "What if it's just a bad sensor? What if there's no one in the truck?"

 

            "Then it's a training exercise."


            I glanced at all the waiting mercenaries and at the gun turrets that had swung their barrels towards the cargo truck. "Expensive exercise."


            "Not yet it isn't," Ranma murmured.


            My response was cut-off by a tinny reverberation coming from the truck. The feedback-like echoing died off and a light voice rose up. It sounded youthful, feminine but also oddly distorted.


            "Wizard Dresden," the voice carried across the garage, enhanced but punctuated as if speaking via popping soap bubbles. The ear plugs I wore didn't help. Though I wondered how loud she'd seem without them.

 

            Ranma glanced at me.


            "Yeah, that's Tessa." The playful madness was familiar enough.


            Tendo nodded and spoke into her radio. I wondered how long it would be before it got fried.


            "Hey Tessa!" I yelled towards the truck. "Are we playing hide and seek or the lamest Trojan Horse reenactment?"


            "I'm giving you an opportunity." Irritation edged her voice.


            "No, you're hiding in a truckload of potatoes and fish-sticks," I taunted.


            "Keep her talking, " Ranma whispered in my ear. "The more time we get; the more we learn about her, the better," she said slipping on a pair of Kevlar gloves.


            "My quarrel isn't with you," Tessa snapped back.


            "I got a bunch of dead wolfmen that say otherwise,"


            There was a brief pause, when she resumed her voice was once more contained. "They came with a good faith offer to get you home. How is it my fault your... hosts antagonized and attacked them?"


            "Yeah, you're all heart."


            "You should applaud me. You know all that Nicodemus has done. I will end him. Something your precious Knights have failed to accomplish."


            "And all you need from me is a little book and five easy installments of 49.99. Buzz off mantis girl."


            "I can do it without the book. The Brotherhood has made plans. I just wanted to... cause the least trouble," Tessa baldly lied.


            I knew Tessa; causing trouble was her business. On the other hand, the summoning would be much harder without the Testament, or at least without the parts the wolves took.


            The redhead tilted her head. Her purple eyes flashed with dark amusement.


            I nodded. It seemed like Tessa was here to get the Testament which meant the wolves were still tricking her. On the gripping hand, she was a liar. Maybe the book was just an ancillary goal, or a complete smokescreen.


            "You think I'll just hand the Testament over to you?" I shouted. Glancing over, I saw Tendo continue to give and receive orders via her headset.


            "Honestly..." Tessa drew the word out. "Honestly, I would have thought you'd rejoice at helping bring about Nicodemus's downfall. All you have to do is stand aside."


            "No deal."


            There was a hissing pause. "And once more, you're defending Nicodemus. How does it feel to stand at his side and advance his cause? Was helping him steal the Grail not sufficient?"


            I grit my teeth. "This isn't about him."


            "Really? Once again the faerie have loaned you out, and once again-"


            "Oh shut up!" I snorted. "You're summoning some big creepy thing. Something you couldn't even summon back home. If this was really just about revenge, I can think of a lot of easier ways to take out Nicodemus." The guy did have a weakness, and while I don't know if anyone else had figured it out, Tessa was one of the others most likely to have.


            A couple seconds ticked by.


            "Succubus," Tessa's voice resumed. "One mother to another would, you deny me my vengeance?" she asked, and despite the distortion, her tone was almost pleading. "How many have you killed to protect your young? Will you be a hypocrite like Dresden and deny me too?"


            Ranma met my eyes; a crimson eyebrow rose quizzically.


            I shrugged. "She's a liar."


            "Good enough for me," the redhead's fangs flashed in a smile. She held out her arms and an obsidian and purple sphere formed, and with a jinking bob, shot off. As it raced towards the cargo truck, the gun turrets on the vehicles opened up followed by other machine guns and then a pair of RPGs.

 

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

 


            Explosions wracked the cargo section of the truck, and the sheet metal sides ripped as bullet holes blew into existence. Smoke came rose up and the fire continued.


            Behind me, the long heavy gun on the armored vehicle barked out round after round. From the truck a scent of ozone emanated, white clouds rose. and through the holes I caught a bit of shimmering pearlescence like the surface of a swimming pool.


            "They've got a shield up!" I shouted against the cacophony. It made sense, I could run a good shield spell; of course the Fallen could do the same. Or better.


            Then the truck's cargo box blew apart. From the inside.


            Metal walls and roof launched out towards us in jagged ribbons. Water splashed onto the floor. As the squealing peels of metal hit the concrete fifteen feet in front of the truck, those inside took the opportunity to jump down behind the back of the vehicle. A thick shimmering bubble of water puffed out and flowed back giving the wolves some protection.


            I saw bullets strike the shield. Little cavitation bubbles marked their passage as the magically lifted water slowed the projectiles down.


            Crouching down, I looked under the truck's wheels. I could see a mass of thick hairy legs, one set of spindly legs that were draped in seaweed and then...


            Ah. Off to the side was a set of slight limbs in chitinous armor.


            I pulled back. And leaned into Ranma. "Gotta be two dozen wolves, geeze that must have been like the worst clown car ever in there."


            Ranma glared at me.


            "Also two Denarians, One's definitely Tessa. Shield's water magic, heavy duty lotta power to keep it up."


            The redhead nodded and relayed the info. "Right. The Fallen are our priority."


            Rifle grenades began to explode against the shield. These sunk into the watery surface and exploded blowing parts of the watery wall apart.


            More water splashed against the concrete. Then a rocket hit and a whole section blew apart for a second before the air flickered and the water was pushed back into the dome shape. Glancing in the wreckage of the cargo compartment I could see a few blue plastic 55 gallon drums. That must have been where Mr. Seaweed had stored his water.


            But before that happened, I saw one of the wolves fall; its head blown off. Sniper. The two Fallen dived to the side.


            Quirking a hand, Tessa darted just in front of the truck's hood. She was all chitin and spurs, spindly limbs and scything mandibles. A grenade blasted against the mantis form's armor, but the diminutive Denarian held herself and a gout of Hellfire blasted out.


            The thick column of angry red fire raced away and lanced past me. It splashed against the armored vehicle just under the cannon's turret. For a moment, the armor actually managed to hold against the demonic fire pouring against it.


            Then the side of the vehicle began to deform and slump as its engine gunned and it turned in the confined space. It didn't get far as the ammunition within began to cook off.


            An obsidian sphere launched from Ranma's hands and slammed against Tessa. Her armor smoking, the mantis girl stumbled. The gouting hellfire reduced to a mere firehose of flames that she raked in front of her.


           The mercenaries had hunkered down behind cover so that part of the Denarian's attack itself didn't do much damage, but in an instant I realized damage wasn't the intent.


            Howling on the heels of the flames, the wolves charged forward. The hair on their bulky, muscular bodies singed and burned as some of them actually ran in the hellfire, but they were already regenerating.


            The mercenaries' fire immediately shifted.


            There was a firm tug on my arm and the redhead bolted forward. Running low, her wings were pulled back and her tail and hair streamed behind her. Clenching my staff, I grit my teeth and took off after her. It says something about her speed that I actually had to push myself to keep up.


            The wolves were on us instantly.


            Well, I should say the redhead was on them. She openly charged a group of creatures, each one easily three-four times her weight and three feet taller than her.


             She sidestepped a lunge from the lead wolfman, clawed through the side, broke the knee of the next with a kick, and fired a gout of flames on the two following that. Her tail whipped around and slammed through the neck of another wolf as she passed by.


            Following, I saw that the wolves were already healing. The one with the broken knee was getting back up. My staff came down and I hit him across the head. On the riposte I cried "Fuego," And blasted him and the other lamed wolf. Fire seemed to be the theme for today.


            My boots splashing, I turned and saw the mass of wolves nearing the mercenary lines. Wolves were starting to fall, but not fast enough, and many were getting back up.


            I shifted my foot. Ah yes, water. I grinned and lowered my staff swept my staff to the left. "Infriga!" I cried visualizing scooping and shoveling. Winter power flared as the water puddling the concrete floor was swept aside and flung towards the wolves in a freezing arc.


            Some of it splashed against them, but their hulking bodies easily broke the thin rime. However, the bulk of the water had hit the concrete floor freezing in place.


            I grinned and leveled my staff. "Forzare!" a wave of invisible force battered the wolves, their mad rush already faltering on the slick surface. I took a tiny moment to relish their furry forms going ass-over-teakettle before returning to my own charge.


            Ranma had bounded over the flayed ribbons of sheet metal; the demon's wings giving her a bit of a flip.


            I followed, and while I did not have her demonic advantages I had a much longer stride, the Winter Mantel, and one other advantage. "Parkour!" I shouted launching myself over the torn sides of the cargo truck.


            Landing, the redhead spared me a dirty look before launching a DarkStar burst.


            Bare feet from the truck, I had a clear shot at the Denarians. Mr. Seaweed looked oddly distorted behind his flowing shield. Strips of seaweed fell from the creature's head concealing its dark face and tumbling down its glowing chest. My staff shot out "Pryo Fuego!"


           Flames blasted forth and the shield flashed over as steam flared up. "Crap!" I cried activating my own shield bracelet. On the upside, the water shield did seem thinner where I'd hit it.


            Ignoring the heat, the redhead took advantage of the obscuring cloud, jumped up and rolled over the hood of the truck to slam into Tessa.


            Both glowing angelic eyes and human eyes registered brief shock before

the slight mantis-girl was knocked down by the demon's impact. Scrambling away, Tessa was covered by the two wolfmen who had remained at her side lunging at Ranma.


            I could still hear gunfire. Hells Bells, that was about all I could hear. Heavy machine guns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and more were all fired in an echoing concrete box. I was thankful for the earplugs. Sure, I felt half-deaf now, but without 'em I'd be worse.  I was also thankful I wasn't behind the truck.  That far concrete wall was being chewed apart by all the munitions that missed... or simply blew through the wolves.


            Still, the point was that among the cordite symphony was an occasional deeper boom. There was a sniper, at least one, out there. And he was firing some serious ordinance to even stand out among the other  sounds. Which meant if I could give 'em a shot...


            "This is a bad idea," I murmured blasting with another scream of "Fuego." Again, fire jetted from my staff. Again steam billowed back. Again I dropped the fire spell. Again the hot gas flashed against my own blue shield as I crouched down, feeling the heat press against me


            But this time when my spell dropped the flames had boiled away a hole in the Denarian's shield. Right about level with his-


            Boom.


            I don't know how close the round really was to my head, but it felt like bare inches. Mr. Seaweed's head had blown apart in a rain of greenery and twitching seaweed. The Denarian flopped to the ground and the water shield splashed to the floor in a deluge.


            Splashing in water up to my ankles, I rounded the battered hood of the truck. Closing in, I could see Ranma and Tessa fighting. Both women were small, demonic, and armored, but there the similarities ended.


            Tessa seemed to have the edge in speed and fought with a raw viciousness, where Ranma, for her predatory nature, was refined and honed. She was also outnumbered.


            The two wolves had tried to circle around and harass her. The redhead pointed her hand at one and a lance of fire shot out burning through an arm and shoulder and then turned to another and purple beams fired out of her eyes and gouged out the top of the other wolf's skull. The creature howled as brains boiled and charred.


            The damage began to heal, joining the other wounds layered on their mangled bodies. Despite the damage both shambled forward, their unnatural stamina keeping them up.


            Ranma slipped aside and blocked the scything blades. One caught against her arm, but the demon took in the damage and racked her claws against the Denarian's chest. Sparks flew off and lines were cut into the chitin armor.


            The redhead hooked a leg into the writhing mantis-girl's and turned knocking her off balance. As Tessa fell, she stabbed out, Ranma rolled and stomped down with a boot. The Denarian screamed as her arm broke. Her other arm slashed wildly and she pulled back up to her feet. Exoskeleton popped and twisted as she glared, hate in her eyes.


            Tessa snapped forward. In a blur her bladed arms shot out. The demon blocked and stepped inside, blood flew as a her right arm was flayed to the bone. Tessa's scything mandibles lunged in. At the last moment, Ranma strained her spine and head-butted the Denarian.


            There was a crack as she slammed her forehead against Tessa's nose. It was armored, but, not enough.  Chitin broke and ichor sprayed out as dazed shock crossed Tessa's eyes. "You..." she hissed.


            That was my opening. Holding my staff in one hand, I drew my revolver with the other. "Fuego!" I screamed and pulled the trigger.


            Three rounds went into the head of one wolfman, while... I'll confess I wasn't paying as much attention to aiming with my staff. But enough of the column of flame lit up the other wolfman's torso.


            "Hi Tessa!" I cheerfully, and loudly greeted as the redhead pounced. The fountain of blood pouring down her left arm had slowed to a trickle. Despite my smile, I was worried. Tessa was more than a physical powerhouse, she had plenty of sorcerous power, as indicated by that blast of Hellfire. If she was holding back now, she had to have a reason...


            The mantis-girl launched a whip of green fire. Growling, the succubus turned and jumped away. The healed wound on her arm was torn open anew.


            As Ranma's eyes flared, I leveled both my staff and my gun. "See... this time I thought you should fight someone your own size."


            The redhead tilted her head, dipping her horns in mock salute.


            Behind her mandibles, Tessa smirked. "Funny, wizard, I thought much the same."


            The redhead shot me an irritated look. It was then that I noticed that the water shield had returned. And that both Mr. Seaweed and the wolf I'd burned were getting back up.


            The Denarian was still without a head, but there was a glow coming from its chest. The draping seaweed parted revealing a face high on its torso. Angelic script and a second pair of eyes glowed above a pair of maddened human eyes sunk into the green chest flesh The seaweed tendrils thrashed in anger.


            Meanwhile the wolf gave a toothy grin that grew... and grew. Its already beefy body bulked and swelled. Ram's horns spiraled out of a head that grew longer and sharper fangs. Burned fur healed and turned into thick leathery skin. Over twelve feet tall, the creature's chest deepened and it crouched in an almost simian gait.


            Another pair of eyes glowed above the blazing golden ones. I didn't even need to see the angelic script marking the creature's forehead to know who it was.

 
            Magog.


            Oh, Hells Bells. It's never easy.

 

End Chapter 5

 

I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Kevin Hammel, and Ellf.  Special thank to : J St C Patrick for his help in proofreading this (and the other) chapters.