Beyond the Outer Gates Lies... Family Business?
The two guards looked at us nervously. I wasn't sure why. We were just a young woman in a fancy kimono, a man in his late 20s in a very nice suit, and a teenager in casual clothing.
I mean, Kendra's hair was back to its natural green, marking her as some sort of supernatural being (or at least someone willing to dye it). Even dressed to the nines, she carried herself with the same combat assuredness she did in casual clothing or her shozoku.
And detective Suzuki had just changed from his normal 'I don't care if I get dirt or blood on this' suit, to a much more expensive one (though still not like Sirzechs suits' price point). But he also had his badge clipped to the left breast pocket. And if you knew what to look for, you could make out the form of the Sig Sauer in the holster under his jacket.
And okay, I was wearing a Punisher t-shirt under my open duster. And I had my staff in hand, a ring on every finger, my earring, my shield watch and bracelet. Plus my blasting rod hanging in my coat and an odd bulge on the other side (since I hadn't had the chance to get a new baseball yet, I opted instead for a trio of cheap golf balls from the corner convenience store).
Hmm, I guess maybe they were right to be worried. Especially since the one on the left should have recognized Kendra. And maybe me, too.
"What do you want here?" the one on the right said, addressing Suzuki-san. The detective seemed it ignore the exorcist and looked at me.
"Hi, I'm Harry Dresden," I said flippantly, intentionally saying my name in American order "I'm here representing the Tokyo Police Department and the Kuoh Accords. Specifically, I'm here to exterminate your leader."
Both of their eyes widened, and they tensed to fight. Then Suzuki-san touched my shoulder and stretched up to whisper something in my ear.
"Negotiate," I corrected, nodding, "Sorry, I'm a big, dumb, violent American, and Japanese is still a bit tough for me. I'm here to negotiate with your leader."
That calmed them down. The speaker shifted to me, but continued to speak in a rather rude and condescending manner.
"And what sort of negotiations would you be here for, boy?"
"I'm here to discuss the release of the young tengu you just kidnapped," I told him bluntly.
"And, if we had done something like that..." he started.
"Which you blatantly lie and deny being a part of, blah, blah, blah," I interrupted and filled in for him. The guard looked annoyed, but continued.
"Why should our leader meet with you? What could you possibly have to offer us?"
"Because if he doesn't meet with me," I smiled like the Cheshire Cat, "In thirty minutes this temple will be in ruins."
They both flinched, and then glanced at Suzuki-san again. This time, the detective didn't bother to correct me.
"You can't just walk in there and blow up the building," Suzuki-san protested.
Kendra bristled, but I held up my hand.
"No, you don't want us to," I countered, "And legally, we probably shouldn't. But we definitely can. We are more than capable, especially once our backup arrives."
"We aren't just going to sit around while the mundane authorities do nothing," Kendra protested.
"We aren't doing nothing," Suzuki shot back, annoyed but hiding it better than Kendra, "We're running the plates. CSIs are going over the video from Dresden-kun's phone, both to verify its authenticity, and to see if they can find any other details. And Hiro-san is reaching out to a judge now. We live in a society of laws, we can't just take justice into our own hands. Not without some proof. If you had been able to follow them, then that might serve as probable cause."
"Look," he forced himself to calm and held up his hands in supplication, "You aren't ready to go yet. Dresden needs to perform his scrying, and you are both waiting for your allies. So give me five.. no, give me three hours to get a team together and secure the warrant, so we can do this the correct and legal way."
"How about this?" I suggested to both of them, "We'll give you two hours, or however long it takes us to get ready, whichever is longer. And when we go, you can come with us. To keep us up to date on the police side. And we'll also promise to do it the nice way."
"The nice way?" Kendra and Suzuki said together. She was incredulous and a bit upset. He was confused.
"Right," I nodded, "We'll go in, knock on the door and threaten to burn the building down around them, if they don't release Rinosuke."
"That's the nice way?" Suzuki questioned.
"As opposed to just burning the building down without warning," I nodded wisely. Then I looked at Kendra, "And if this is some sort of big, evil base, unless I'm scrying at the time, we won't know exactly where your clan member is. If we just start a bombing run, he could get caught up in it. If we tell them we want him, they might check on him or move him and make it easier for us to get to him."
The kunoichi considered that for a moment, and then nodded.
"I can work with that," Suzuki said.
The right guard ran off. He returned a few minutes later.
"Follow me," he told us sourly.
He led us into the temple slash fortress. We passed through one building, into a courtyard, and then into another building. Along the way, I kept looking around. Spotted the occasional clan member. Some looked surprised or worried to see us. Others looked angry. A few looked hopeful. I also took in the ancient and expensive looking décor.
Finally we reached what basically appeared to be a throne room. There was a fine, polished wooden floor leading up to a dais. On either side of the room were three exorcists is full Shinto priest garb, including masks. One definitely had a female build, but the other five seemed to present as male. Though it was hard to tell with the multiple layers of robes and their hair and faces concealed. At the far end of the room there were two layers of platforms. The first layer had two very nice chairs, one on either side of the second, higher level. These chairs were currently empty. And on that higher level there was a single throne. Very ornate, and in my not so humble opinion, very garish.
On the throne was an old man. His face didn't have any particular distinguishing features; he wasn't especially handsome or ugly. It was a plain, average, slightly wrinkled Japanese face. His hair was white and thinning, but he wasn't bald. Yet. He appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies, but as a magic-user, or at least a person surrounded by magic-users, he could have been much older. He was wearing similar robes to his guards, only much more expensive, with what seemed to be threads of actual gold sewn into the silk. As you might have guessed, he lacked the fancy hat and mask of his followers.
"I am Himejima Suou, nineteenth head of the Himejima clan," he declared imperiously. I slipped past our guide and jogged over to the base of the dais. Between my height and him being seated, we were on eye level. That seemed to irk him.
"Great," I said brightly, "That implies you are not some sort of immortal founder slash leader, and that there is a line of succession, should something happen."
One of the guards, the woman, snorted softly. And Himejima-san seemed slightly unnerved by my statement.
"Yes," he tried to brush it off, "Who are you and why have you... requested this meeting?"
"Sorry," I said happily, "I'm Dresden Harry. I'm here as both Speaker of the Kuoh Accords, and a representative of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department..."
"Therefore," Serafall tapped my right shoulder with her wand, "As the Omega Custodian of the Kuoh Accords, I grant you Speaker of the Accords status. For the next 24 hours, or until one of the Custodians revokes it, you speak for the Accords."
The Accords had five Custodian Seats, each with a different responsibility and assigned a different Greek letter. While the initial holders had been appointed, the Seats were to be elected in the future, one Seat every three years, making it a fifteen year term. And no signatory group of the Accords could hold more than one Seat at a time. There was more to it than that, but that was the basics. It was an interesting attempt to balance power, and I was curious to see how it played out.
Then she gave me a wink, "Of course, if you abuse your status, we will revoke it, reverse any statements or agreements you make, and never hire you again. But I trust Harry-chan. Just don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"As I recall," I mock frowned, "The first thing I ever heard you say is that you were going to attack Heaven because Sona didn't tell you about family day at the Academy."
"Yup," Serafall nodded sagely.
"Okay, just good to know we are on the same page."
Kendra and Suzuki exchanged worried glances.
"This is Senior Detective Suzuki," I said, "He's my direct supervisor for police work. He agreed to let me do the talking, both as a subject matter expert and because I have the most direct knowledge of the situation. But he's also here to make sure I don't say something out of line."
"And this is Senju Kendra," I continued, "She's representing the Senju clan, the Kyoto Youkai as a whole, and monitoring me for the Kuoh Accords."
Kendra bowed formally. She didn't react when I didn't give her real name. She probably thought I was covering her identity, which I was. But there was still that bit of worry about True Names in the back of my mind. That went double when it came in non-Humans. If the Himejima clan had some sort of secret art around names... It was probably a long shot, but better safe and all that.
"As for why we are here," I explained, "We are here to secure the release of Senju Rinosuke, who your people kidnapped off a public street a not quite three hours ago. And to that end, I have three offers to make you."
"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow. He seemed somewhat uncertain, but covered it well. Or was a really good actor and was faking. But if it was real, the question was why. Did he not know what was happening? Did he know, but perhaps the exorcists who attacked us hadn't told him about us? Something else? It didn't matter for the moment, I decided.
"Our first offer is thus," I said, "You free Rinosuke-kun. You turn over whoever was the leader of the goon squad. Effectively throw them under the proverbial bus. Claim you had no idea what was going on. It will be a lie. We'll know it's a lie. And you know that we know. But since we would rather avoid any unnecessary conflict, and hope that goes the same for you, we pretend it is true and there's no fighting or demands of reparations. This is the simplest, safest solution."
"Option two," I raised a thumb and then my pointer, "You tell us you don't have Rinosuke. We leave. Then, Detective Suzuki calls his partner. Confirms that he saw two of the kidnappers here. And that you didn't return Rinosuke. Then, in maybe thirty minutes, about a dozen TPD detectives and CSIs will descend on this place. Them, and about three times that number of uniformed officers and SWAT members, both to help and the act as guards. They will execute the search and arrest warrants we have obtained. And they will go over this place with a fine tooth comb, until they find Rinosuke. Though I have to wonder what else they might find in that case. And then option three..."
I deliberately trailed off. Suzuki took his cue. The exorcists all flinched when he reach into his coat. But all he took out was his earbuds. He put them in, and a moment later, some sort of 80s cop drama theme played loud enough that we could hear it vaguely. Plausible deniability established, I returned my attention the Himejima-san, and grinned darkly.
"Option three is that option two is a smoke screen," I said, "Because we don't trust you, not to do something while the cops are searching. So while Suzuki is not watching, Kendra and I will tear this place apart. We won't be nice or subtle about it. We will burn or blast a hole straight to the room where Rinosuke is."
"So you would start a war with the Five Principal Clans?" he scoffed.
"First, no. The Doumon and Nakiri clans, from what I've heard, don't approve of the way the Himejima treat non-Humans. Especially the sentient ones. And they have also been talking the Accords Custodians about an alliance or even potential Signatory status. I'd being willing to bet that they would sit this out if it came to open warfare. Second, duh. The Youkai already have two or three skeletons worth of bones to pick with the Himejima. And the Grigori and the Devils both have their own beefs with your clan. That's three of the eight Signatory Members of the Accords that would love an excuse to crush you."
He paled. And the exorcist guards fidgeted. Except the obviously female one. Her body language suggested amusement.
"And don't misunderstand me," I added, "Just because I said 'Kendra and I' doesn't mean it will be just the two of us. We have allies who can be here much faster than the police."
Then I raised a third finger, and waved my hand. Suzuki took the cue; turned off the music and removed his earbuds.
"And those are our offers," I said brightly, "Would you like a few minutes to think it over?"
"No," he growled. Then he gestured. Four of the guards, including the woman, left. The other two closed ranks on him.
"Follow me," Suou ordered harshly.
He stood, and strode out the back of the room. The two guards fell in with him. They did not wait to see if we followed. None of us had a hard time keeping up. After a few minutes, deeper in the fortress, he paused briefly before a large, heavy door. He lifted the lever and pushed the door in.
There didn't seem to be anyone inside. Suou moved to the far side of the room, and the guards stopped in front of him, protecting him from us.
"So are you bringing him here?" Kendra asked sharply.
"No," he said bluntly.
Wood facades in the corners fell away. Four hidden exorcists released their spells, which appeared tiled on the floor. The two guards added their own rectangular mandalas. Ropes shot out of the floor, wrapping our arms, legs, and torsos.
"You forgot the fourth option, child," Suou claimed imperiously, "Detective Suzuki can walk out of here, and tell the police that this was a waste of their time. That it was pathetic prank by a disenfranchised teenager. That the tengu boy was never here, and if he even existed, we were not involved."
"And why would I do that?" Suzuki said sternly.
"Because that is how you will remember events," Suou smirked.
"And us?" I asked.
"The creature will serve us, as all her kind should. And you, magician, will become a mana battery for us. And if you are as powerful as my spies suggest, perhaps in a few years, you will serve as a stud stallion for our less gifted daughters."
"Wizard," I snarked, "And I mean that both ways."
"Huh?" that threw him.
"First, it's a bit of British slang," I said, ""Wizard', meaning amazing or excellent, but generally used sarcastically, rather than honestly."
At least that was how Donna Noble used it, and I thought it was amusing.
"And secondly, I'm a wizard, not a magician. Infriga Lincolnus."
The ropes froze and shattered, freeing us.
"All those fancy spells to prevent my mandalas to releasing? They don't mean squat to me."
Suzuki's gun was out and pointed at the Himejima clan leader.
Kendra's kimono was gone, and she was in her shozoku instead, Her wakizashi was in her left hand, and a kunai in her right.
And my staff was lit with flickering flame.
"And really, how did you think that would work?" I added, "The police have the video of your guys taking Rinosuke. The faces of the three we unhooded, and the license plates of two of your SUVs. And we didn't just find this place from my scrying, actually that came second."
I didn't explain, but...
"You three will take Deruaren Sela back to Hyoudou House, to keep her safe," Rias told Koneko, Asia, and Ruruko. Sona nodded.
"Before we go," Sela said tentatively, and came over to me, "This might help."
She held up her phone, with a map showing.
"When Rin and I got to Tokyo, one of the first things that we did was to buy new phones," she told us, "Both because we had to leave the bugged phones our families gave us behind, and because we both wanted a nice, modern phone. Our old phones were advanced for Shadow Kyoto, but were flip phones that didn't even have a touchscreen. Anyway, once we had the new phones, we installed an app that would let us find each other. I don't know for sure if they threw away his phone, but it is still on and this is where it is."
I looked at her phone, and took note of the location on the map.
"Thanks," I said, "This gives me a place to start."
"So the police were looking here even before my spell confirmed Rinosuke was here," I finished.
Then there was a deep sigh from the door. I glanced back, and saw it was the female exorcist from the throne room. Or at least a person of the same height and build. Only she had removed her hat and mask. She appeared to be in her early twenties. She had long, black hair, and red eyes. And her facial feature were familiar. Her nose was a little wider, and her ears smaller. But the shape of the eyes, mouth, and chin were the same as Akeno. They could have been sisters, but since I knew Akeno was an only child, a cousin was more likely.
"I have warned you, uncle," she said, "About so many things. About technology. About the changing politics. About your policies towards Youkai and foreigners. You thought you knew best. Claimed we still had the power and authority. But now you have committed, what?"
She looked at Suzuki and queried, "Illegal detainment, obstruction of justice, and assault. Of an on duty officer no less."
"Those are not the legal terms," Suzuki-san told her, "But basically, yes."
"And I'm guessing you are wired?" she continued.
"Audio and video on both of us," I confirmed, "though he has the fancy police gear and mine is just another Zoom call on my phone, this time to Serafall."
There were a series shouts from out in the hall.
"What have you done?" Suou demanded of the young woman.
"I have informed the rest of the clan of the many things you have been keeping from them," she said, "Including the things you are keeping from yourself. Including everything that has happened now. A few still support you. A few more still fear you. But most have decided that they don't want to piss off the civilian government and eight supernatural powers. So you are no longer the leader of the Himejima Clan. And as the acting clan leader, I have admitted the Tokyo Police Department. Ordered everyone to cooperate to the best of their ability and understanding. Some of your followers have chosen to resist. I saw a few in handcuffs on my way here."
"Treacherous wench," Suou growled at her, "You forget your place."
He reached into his robe, and pulled out what appeared to be a short rod of marble or ivory. He started to point it at the woman.
Kendra twitched. The kunai disappeared from her hand. And the rod tumbled from Suou's bleeding fingertips.
"Ventas servitas," I intoned, and the rod was pulled to my hand.
"This is a nasty little piece of work," I said, looking it over.
'Even I must agree,' Lash said, 'I think even my original might find this distasteful.'
'No she wouldn't,' I countered.
'No she wouldn't,' Lash admitted, 'But it is the best phrase to express my feelings.'
"It is a curse rod," the woman told me. Then she pulled her robe to the side, and showed us all the back of her neck. There was a rune burned into her skin, one that matched the end of the rod.
"The rod can be used to seal a person's magic," she explained, setting her clothing back into place, "And the result is exceedingly painful. Originally, the clan used it on criminals, to make sure that they could not hurt anyone else. Until uncle's predecessor decided the clan was 'losing its way'. So he marked all but those who most fully agreed with his path."
"Hell's bells," I growled, "I wondered how this ass got away with having Akeno's mom murdered."
"Don't mistake me," she said, "The ones he sent after Shuri-oba-san..."
She gestured at the guard on Suou's right.
"... fully agreed with his decision and reasons. Just the rest of us who might have protested were forced to bear her murder in silence."
"So you wouldn't mind if I broke this?" I asked her casually. She looked at me in surprise. Suou snorted smugly. I leaned my staff into the crook of my arm so I could take the rod in both hands.
"Confractus," I ordered. And then twisted my hands apart.
The ivory (it was ivory) shattered in the middle. The woman's eyes widened and Suou's jaw dropped. Then the woman touched her neck.
"No, how?" the old man complained
Technically, I had used a bit of Soulfire in the spell, but I wasn't going to tell him that. Especially since it wouldn't have meant anything to him, so I would have had to explain. I dropped the pieces, and stomped on one, crumbling it, just to be sure.
"That should make things much easier for the frightened holdouts," I noted.
"Can I arrest him now?" Suzuki asked. Even with the unnamed girl, we were still technically surrounded and outnumbered seven to four.
"Are you four still going to stand by him?" the woman addressed the exorcists in the corners. Three of them relaxed, and held up their hands. The fourth one relaxed, for a moment. Then he dashed a smoke bomb in between us and Suou. Kendra immediately flashed two hand signs. A burst of wind forced the smoke to the floor. But Suou and one of the guards were gone. Specifically the guard the now clan head had pointed to. The woman brought up her hands, and the same rectangle mandala appeared again. But where it had taken six copies to hold the three of us, her single instance was enough to tie up the remaining guard and the caster who had thrown the smoke bomb.
"Damn," she cursed. She run to the far side of the room, and pressed a panel. A larger section of the wall popped out, revealing a hidden hall.
"I'm not sure if he is trying to escape or going after the other curse rod," she scowled.
"Another one?" I asked.
"A worse one," she said sadly, "The one they use on the Youkai and foreigner casters. It doesn't block magic and cause pain. It controls the mind and body, and can be used to kill."
"Your brother is safe," the woman said. Kendra didn't relax, but shot her a dangerous look instead.
"I am not as ignorant of the outside world as my uncle, Senju Takako," the woman said, "The death rod takes longer to empower for branding, so your brother has not been subjected to it yet. But if Suou gets it, there are dozens of others people he will either kill or force to attack the police and those he considers a rebel."
"Do you know where Rinosuke is?" I asked her.
Before she could say anything else, I cut her off, "Take Kendra to him. We'll go after your uncle."
I glanced at Suzuki apologetically for volunteering him, but he nodded in agreement.
"Sho," she turned to one of the unbound exorcists in the corners, "Take her to the Tengu boy."
Then she looked at Kendra, "If this one tries anything, feel free to incapacitate or kill him."
The masked man flinched, but also nodded, realizing he wasn't exactly in a position to be trusted.
"Follow me," the woman stepped through the secret door, "I know where the death rod is kept, and it will be hard for you to navigate the hidden routes, even with your magic."
I shrugged at Suzuki, and followed her.
"Sorry, I didn't catch your name," I said somewhat pointedly.
"Sorry. I am Himejima Suzaku."
I heard a squeak in my ear. I had thought the other end of the call was muted, but they may have come off mute to tell me something.
"Was that Akeno or Rias?" I asked.
"Me," Akeno confirmed.
"Akeno?" Suzaku asked.
"She's one of the group waiting to storm this place," I explained, "But she didn't recognize you, I guess?"
"It has been seven years since I have been able to contact her," Suzaku admitted.
"And you didn't give us a good look at her," Sona lectured, "You forget the phone in your pocket does not track to your line of sight."
"Sorry if I'm new to being able to be bugged," I pouted.
"Is there anything else we should be aware of about your uncle?" Suzuki asked, his fingers white one the grip of his gun.
"He isn't the leader because of his power or skill," she said, "It is from lineage and politics. That is not to say that his magic is weak. Only that, in a fair fight he would not beat me. And from what I have heard, and have sensed here today, I don't feel I could defeat Dresden-san. At the same time, don't underestimate him. He is wily and experienced, and he has command of a number of the clan's artifacts. That makes it hard to tell what tricks might be available to them."
"So shoot first, ask questions if he survives," I nodded, "got it."
"No," Suzuki ordered.
"I know. I'm joking. Mostly. It depends on what he has and does. If he has that death rod, all bets are off. I'm not risking however many innocent people against him."
"I can tolerate that," the detective agreed.
Suzaku picked up speed, and we kept up with her.
A few twists and turns later, we reached a door. Suzaku cast another spell, and the shield on the door parted ways for us.
We walked into a treasure vault. Shelves covered every inch of the walls, full of cubbies of various sizes. Each one had a cross of ropes in front of it, with a silk seal on the intersection. Weapon racks and a few plinths covered much of the remaining floor space, for larger items. Or, judging by the spells on some of the stands, items that needed more protection. Most of the items had a thin layer of dust, but the floor was clean. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the room.
Shards of ice filled the air, fluttering like snow, but also sharp enough to pierce skin. Revealing two empty spaces in the air and spattering some drops of blood around the room. A seal appeared, and a swirl of hot air forced the ice back. The action also caused the guard to fade back into view. He was still masked, but the storm had knocked off his hat, showing a shaved head. Suzuki instead pointed his pistol at the void that was presumably Suou.
"Can we not do this here?" Suzaku said plaintively, "Uncle, do you want to put the relics at risk?"
"Is the other rod still here?" I asked her, "Or does one of them have it?"
My staff was in my left hand, pointed at the guard. My seemingly empty right hand was also pointed at the space were Suou appeared to be.
Suzaku glanced around, and then said, "I don't see it."
I was instantly holding an M4A1 carbine, with the under-slung M203 grenade launcher. Suzaku flinched, and Suzuki glanced at me in surprise and concern.
"I'm sorry, Suzaku-san," I told her, "But I'm not playing here. Not when there are as many lives as you said are on the line."
"You'd kill us all?" the guard finally spoke, his naturally high voice squeaking with incredulity.
"Nope," I said, "I am one hundred and twenty percent sure I can shield the three of us a single high-explosive grenade. Maybe you are, too, Suou. But can you handle me emptying this clip into your general location after stopping the grenade? And, I suppose, what Suzaku said. Are you worried about what that will do to all the treasures in here?"
The guard glanced to the side, confirming that Suou was there, invisible. Either that or the guard was an amazing actor.
"You like talking and setting terms," the old man said, "What do you propose, boy?"
"You put down the rod and I put down my gun, and we try to kill each other like civilized casters?" I said.
Everyone just stared at me.
"Seriously? No-one? Sona have you at least watched the movie by now?"
I heard a soft, embarrassed cough in my ear.
"Fine," I grumbled, "My first suggestion is that you two surrender. Don't risk getting hurt or killed. Don't add anything more to the charges you are already facing. Second option, is really what I just said. You drop the rod, give up your hostages. I won't use my gun, and heck, we'll give you a 10 count to run."
Suzuki glanced at me.
Then I glared at the empty space, "Anything else, if you try anything at all, then we find out how you and all these artifacts deal with a grenade."
I heard a hiss of annoyance. I balanced my staff against my elbow, and took hold of the stock of the gun, to hold it steady. I moved my finger onto the trigger.
"Peace, bo... Dresden."
I could hear him grinding his teeth. Then Suou Himejima reappeared. He was holding a baton of ebony and garnet. He bent down slowly, unthreateningly, and placed it on the floor. Then he straightened, with as much pride as he could muster. And held out his hand to Detective Suzuki. For a moment, I thought the guard was going to do something. But he relaxed and held out his arms, too.
"This won't go as you suspect, boy," he told me, as Suzuki cuffed him, "This traitorous clan aside, I have allies. Favors. Secrets. Money."
"We have an internet," I countered, "And once this video shows up online, I'm guessing most of those shadowy friends will not want to return your calls."
We handed off Suou and his guard to a trio of officers, and then returned to the throne room. Someone had brought in a normal looking, rectangular table and six chairs, three on either side. Kendra was already there, still in her full ninja garb, seated at one end of the table. On the other side was a man in the exorcist's Shinto robes, but no mask or hat. He looked to be in his forties, with thinning but still black hair. Also an older woman with longer, white hair in a simple kimono. The seat between them was open, and Suzaku took it. Suzuki took the spot mirroring Kendra, putting me in the middle again. As we sat, I focused my attention on my greenette friend.
"They took me to Rin," she confirmed, and little spellwork on my part seemed to say that she was not being influenced, "He was shaken, but not hurt or controlled. I took him to the Kuoh forces. Serafall-san assigned Rias-san and Issei-san to take Rin back to Sela and help watch them. I told him, if they tried to run again, not only would he regret it when I found them again, but they would lose my support. That should hopefully prevent them from causing any trouble until we are done here."
"So what now?" I looked at the Himejimas.
"We will work with the police," Suzaku-san said, "To determine who in our clan were willing collaborators with my uncle, and who were forced. Who should face charges, and for what. On that note.."
She handed a couple of paper clipped pages to Suzuki-san.
"This is a list of our clan members," she said, "And my notes on whether he put the curse runes on them or not. That is not a clear line, my grandmother..."
She inclined her head to the other woman.
"... strongly opposed Suou. But she was not marked for political reasons. And some of his supporters were branded for their transgressions within the clan. He would never have used the power of the rod on them, but he could not ignore the clan's rules."
"Speaking of..." I took out the death rod and set it on the table.
"Before I destroy this..."
"You can't," Suzaku's grandmother said quickly.
"I get it, it's a historical relic," I tried to calm her, "And some times something like this is the lesser of two or more evils."
"It isn't that," she waved it off, "I would happily see this thing broken. But if you do, everyone and everything marked by it will die."
"Stars and stones," I hissed. I looked at it again, tempted to open my Sight.
"What if we took it somewhere else, first?" I suggested, "Like the Underworld or Heaven. Or even the DV."
"That won't work," she sighed, "It is like a... what is the term?"
She looked at Suzaku.
"Dead man's switch," the young woman supplied, "Rather than send out a signal to kill the victims, the rod sends out a signal that keeps them alive. If you break it, or take it outside of range, the branding will kill them. The range covers Japan and Korea with distance to spare. But America or even Australia would be too far away. As are other planes or pocket dimensions."
"Can we remove the brands?" Kendra asked.
"We don't know of a way," the male exorcist shook his head, "However we have also been restricted from trying to figure out a way. I will still think that the Youkai or you, young wizard, would stand a better chance."
I scanned it. Not magically, but visually. Then I willed Lash into view. I looked at her. She shrugged with a sad smile, not needing to say anything.
They weren't lying. And the spells on the ebony death stick were not something we could casually removing.
"Which brings us to the second element of my answer to your question, Dresden-san," Suzaku took up, "In addition to working with the police, I would like to request the assistance of the Kuoh Accords in reconnecting the formerly enslaved with their friends and families. Except those who are from outside of Japan will have to wait until a way to remove the brand can be found."
"Serafall?" I asked. Then a moment later I told them, "The Accords would be happy to help these refugees both with returning to their homes, and providing them a place to stay until we can release them from this curse."
"Thank you," Suzaku inclined her head to me, "And if you would also tell Akeno-chan that I apologize, both as her cousin and the new head of the clan. And her exile is revoked. I doubt she will want to return to the clan, but if she does, she has a place here."
"She heard that," I said, "But I think Serafall put them back on mute."
"We should go see these people," Kendra said, a harsh edge to her voice. The exorcists nodded.
The clan gathered their victims into a large room. There were... Lash?
'I count sixty seven, my host,' she said.
About half of them looked purely Human. A quarter of them were near-Human. And the rest were a mixed bag, some humanoid but not Human, others not humanoid.
"Everyone," Suzaku called out. They all turned to look. Some angry. Some resigned. And a painfully large number of them just empty.
"My comrades have told you that you will be freed. Apologized for everything our clan has done to you. I know most of you don't believe us. That is why I have asked the catalysts for this change to speak. They are a noble of the Kyoto Youkai, a senior detective with the Tokyo Police, and a wizard who speaks for an alliance of multiple supernatural nations. They have agreed remove the curse and support you until it is done. With our help, of course."
Then she glanced and nodded to me.
"Umm, hi," I said, "I'm Harry Dresden."
"No way!" a high, feminine voice objected.
"I guess some of you have heard of me. I am currently empowered to speak on the behalf of the Kuoh Accords. Maybe a few of you have heard of the Accords, but for the rest of you, we are an alliance of the Angels, the Devils, the Fallen, the Olympians, the Asgardians, the Egyptians pantheon, the Aztec pantheon, and the Kyoto Youkai."
That got more than a few gasps. I suppose depending on who exactly they were and how long they had been here, the idea that those groups would come together, especially the three Christian factions, and to a lesser degree the Greeks and Egyptian pantheons, was hard to believe.
"And a few other groups are in talks to join the Accords or at least form a weaker alliance with the Accords as a whole. Anyway, the point is, we realize you don't have much reason to like or trust the Himejima clan as a whole. So we will be arranging for all of you to stay in a luxury hotel in Kyoto until we find a way to break this thing without hurting you."
I held up the death rod. More than a few of them cringed. But almost as many looked hopeful to see the instrument of their servitude outside of the Himejima's hands.
"That way you can be away from the Himejima's influence and in contact with the Kyoto Youkai should you need anything. Especially since a large percentage of you are Youkai. Of course, you don't have to take us up on this. You are free to do whatever you want. Just remember, if you get to far from this thing, including going to other dimensions, the runes will kill you."
"Hiya," a bright and familiar greeting resounded from the far side of the room, and as a whole we all turned to look.
"I'm Serafall Leviathan, Maou of the Devils and a Custodian of the Kuoh Accords," my Maou proclaimed, "My friends and I are here to get your names, find out if you want to stay with us, and any other special accommodations you might need!"
"You really weren't kidding when you told uncle you would tear this place down," Suzaku said softly to me as an aside.
"Nope, I wasn't."
They set up a couple of tables. Serafall, Sona, Tsubaki, and Akeno were seated, taking names and asking if they wanted to stay at Serafall's hotel or fend for themselves. It was about sixty percent chose to take Serafall up on her offer. The other members of Sona's and Rias's peerages were taking notes, carrying messages to the police, and getting drinks and snacks.
"You!" a shrill voice exclaimed. I turned to look. A small blonde woman was pointing at Akeno, an incredulous and slightly frightened look on her face. Her height and build suggested she was a maybe twelve or thirteen, but her face looked more like she was in her twenties. That, with her bright blue eyes, reminded me of someone.
'Other than the hair, she is the spitting image of the angel Lumiel,' Lash reminded me, 'The one who was selling the counterfeit trading cards.'
"Right," I noted aloud. I stepped over, and asked, "Is there an issue here?"
"No, nothing," the girl said quickly.
"She is just remembering the last time we met," Akeno smirked, "Dresden Harry, I would like you to meet the Fallen Angel Mittelt."
"Wait, what?" I demanded, "Rias said she killed Raynare's bandmates."
"No," Akeno turned her teasing to me, "If you... roll back your tape, so to speak, you will recall that is not what she said."
'Gremory specifically said that she 'dealt with them',' Lash reminded me, 'The closest she came was claiming Raynare was the last one left. And even that is ambiguous.'
"So are the other two alive, too?" I asked them both, and after Lash supplied their names I added, "Kalawarner and Dohnaseek?"
"Nah, they're dead," Mittelt waved it off, "We said some pretty crappy shit and pissed her off. We didn't know who she was, and figured some new-born Devil couldn't possibly match three survivors of the war. She showed us how wrong we were. Kalawarner and Dohnaseek were too stupid and proud to stop and beg for their lives. Once I figured out how badly we were outclassed, I got on my knees and offered up a feather. Thankfully, the princess was willing to accept."
"Offered up your feather?" I parroted.
"It was a thing during the war," she said, "When a Fallen surrendered to the Devils, we gave them one of our feathers. Both as a trophy..."
"And for magical reasons," I interrupted, "As a focus to make magic against you stronger. Or to track you, like I did with Raynare's feathers. Which in turn, sold Raynare on the idea Rias killed you, because she didn't think you would surrender."
"A feather given is more potent than a feather taken," Mittelt said thoughtfully. Then the tiny Fallen looked up at me, "On that note, were you really spanking Raynare's metaphorical ass? When she tried to kill the dragon boy, before Rias Gremory showed up?"
I grinned and shrugged in false modesty.
"I figured," she shook her head, "She was lying to us and herself about it. But the way she said it and how annoyed she was, I knew she wasn't holding her own like she claimed. And she didn't tell us who the Devil who interrupted was."
"Can I ask how you ended up here?" Akeno said, her voice softening.
"Nothing special," Mittelt sighed, "I knew your boss could find me with the feather, and that Azazel would... well, maybe not actually kill me, but definitely make my life miserable. I was on the run. And while running, I ran into these assholes, who captured me and branded me."
"What are you going to do now?" I asked her, "Az is one of the big wigs in the Accords. We can try to keep this from him, but chances are he's going to find out."
"I'll hide out in the Leviathan's hotel for as long as I can," she said, "And then I'll grit my teeth and hope Azazel is in a forgiving mood. Maybe he'll believe me that I didn't know and didn't have a choice."
"Is that true?" Akeno asked her, watching carefully.
"Yeah," Mittelt said sadly, "That psycho Kokabiel gave us the mission, and told us he'd kill us if we failed. I told Raynare it sounded bogus. Going after a crap Gear like a Twice Critical, before it even awakened? And bringing the nun into Devil territory to kill her? We didn't need to, she was our pawn, and it was just begging the other two sides to attack us. I hate Devils as much as the next Grigori, but I didn't want to be the one to destroy the peace. But Raynare guaranteed us everything was sanctioned by Azazel. And they were my team. We got through the war together. Even without Kokabiel's threat, I wouldn't let them go it without me."
She seemed sincere to me. And Akeno nodded.
'Given our own encounter with Kokabiel,' Lash commented, 'It is impossible to refute her.'
Then she appeared before me, glaring at me.
'Don't do it, my host.'
'I can't help it,' I told her, 'I gotta be me.'
'You realize that if she is a war survivor, despite her appearance, Fallen Angel Mittelt is at least a millennium older than you.'
'And?' I shot back.
'Carry on,' she shrugged and then disappeared again.
"If you want, I'll go with you to talk to him," I offered.
"You will?" Mittelt and Akeno said in unison, though the blonde's disbelief was louder and more pronounced.
"He will," Serafall and Sona responded together as well, though Serafall was amused and Sona was resigned. But there was also a measure of pride in their voices.
"Harry will always help a lady in trouble," Reya said, bringing tea to Sona and then Akeno.
"I'd rather not regret it later," I said simply, "Or, I guess, I'd rather regret getting pulled into a trap, than regret letting someone get hurt."
"That almost makes me want to turn you down," Mittelt countered, "For the good karma. No use dragging someone else down with me. But I guess I'm still not that good of a person, so I'll take you up on that, kid."
"Great," I said as evenly as I could.
We got everyone registered. By that point, Ise, Rias, Asia, Koneko, and Ruruko had returned with Sela and Rinosuke. After that, the two Peerages plus Serafall set up a giant circle, and teleported everyone accepting Serafall's offer to Kyoto. Directly into entryway of the Serafall Inn and Suites. The staff was gathered and burst into action, gently ushering everyone into the restaurant. A buffet with a sumptuous late lunch had been set up for everyone.
Fed, we split up. The staff, and the Sitri and Gremory Peerages, started taking refugees to their rooms. Kendra, Suzuki, Rinosuke, Sela, and I were given use of one of the conference rooms.
"Why did you come with us, if I might ask?" Kendra probed the detective.
"First, to make sure the accommodations are satisfactory for everyone," he said darkly, "I saw where the Himejima made them stay. And Dresden-kun may trust all of you, I cannot afford to. Second, and related, I recognized some of the people we freed, from old missing persons cases. I am planning to interview them briefly."
"Third, he really wanted to be teleported," I interjected, remembering the look of childish delight on Suzuki-san's face when the magic circle appeared and we moved a few hundred miles southwest in less than a second.
"I also realized that all of you would be going along, and that you three would likely not be returning," he continued, "so I wanted to be sure I had a chance to speak with you. I am investigating a case after all."
The kids twitched.
"Are you going to arrest them?" I asked evenly.
"No," he said, "They are juveniles, and Youkai. And the only crime we can make stick would be vandalism for the graffiti. So it would not be worth the effort."
"What about the storms?" Sela asked softly.
"You did that by accident, but also to defend yourself from kidnappers, did you not?" Suzuki, despite the phrasing, was not asking. They both nodded. Rinosuke's expression was casual and certain. Sela looked confused.
"We can't charge you for that, not really," he told them, "So we are returning you to Shadow Kyoto, where both your government and families can determine your punishment."
"Thank you," Rinosuke said.
"You may not want to thank me," Suzuki glanced sideways at Kendra. They both looked at her cautiously. She just smiled mildly at them.
"So we can settle up when we get back to Tokyo, later, Dresden-kun," he told me.
"I already emailed you my invoice," I told him, "While my friends were signing up the victims."
He frowned and looked at his phone. Then his frowned deepened.
"This can't be right," he said.
"That's my hours, plus the scrying," I told him nonchalantly.
"Weekend hours," he countered, "and your time for today is too low. Plus there was the risk involved in the raid."
"But that wasn't part of what you hired me for," I told him, "And don't worry, I'm also charging the Kyoto Youkai for the part of the job I did for them. So some of those hours are doubled up."
Suzuki and Kendra looked at each other. Then they grinned and shrugged.
"In that case, I will go and get on with my interviews."
Suzuki got up from the table, bowed slightly, and left.
"What is going to happen to us?" Rinosuke asked Kendra.
"Of course the elders of both clans will want to separate the two of you," Kendra said regretfully.
"Despite their daring plan to go undercover to rescue all the Youkai and other people the corrupt elements of the Himejima clan enslaved?" I asked. They all looked at me. Both the kids were confused, but Takako had a thoughtful expression.
"Hey, if it works for Suzuki," I told them before they could object, "And it might not have been your intentions, but it was definitely the result. Isn't that right, Yasaka-san?"
The two kids both blinked
"How did you know I was here?" the kitsune faded into view.
"I could hear your tails swishing and smell your perfume," I said.
"Truly?" she looked at me oddly.
"No," I said, "Well, yes, I was able to pick those up, but only after I sensed your power and the way the ley lines' mana swirls around you."
'Your ability to sense magical energy without using your Sight or casting a spell yourself has increased greatly over the last year,' Lash noted, 'I wonder if it is a property of Bizarro world, or simply your second puberty.'
I ignored her. Meanwhile, Yasaka was pouting.
"Since the incident with the Hero Faction, my power has grown," she said, "But I also can only conceal perhaps eighty percent of my previous strength."
Then her face shifted and she was all business, "While I appreciate and enjoy your suggestion, Dresden-san, I'm afraid it won't work. Even if the Senju and Deruaren clans believed your version of events... Or at least were unable to properly refute it, they will still force these children apart."
"Hmm," I grumbled, "Well, can I ask another question?"
"Of course," the blonde fox inclined her head at me.
"Why is Sela so undertrained?"
"What do you mean?" Kendra countered, looking at the white-haired girl. Who blushed slightly from the attention, but also looked a bit sad.
"I mean, she's a Yuki-onna, right? A Japanese snow woman," I said that part in English, "Even if she's young, I would expect to at least be trading tips with her about snow, ice, and cold magic. Instead back in the blizzard, it was like she was a total newb. She picked up what I showed her fast. Like really fast. But it was some fairly basic stuff, and it was totally new to her. Sela's got power and talent. She might never match Serafall as an ice mage, but I'd expect her to at least be at my level by her age."
Sure, I had the Mantle of the Winter Knight of the Unseelie Court. But I had only had it for a little longer than Sela had been alive, inter-universal time shifts not withstanding. And my strongest innate element was fire, its opposite. If Mab hadn't taken my blasting rod and sealed my memories of my fire magic, it would have taken me a lot longer to get as good at ice as I did. I suspect that was part of why she did it, even if it was fourth or fifth on the list.
Mab never did anything without at least five reasons.
Kendra and Yasaka were considering my statement. Sela looked shocked, maybe even frightened. And Rinosuke reached out to take her hand.
"My first thought was maybe this is new," I continued, "Maybe she had some sort of breakthrough. Maybe a Yuki-onna doesn't get her powers until something happens."
I was thinking like the White Court and sex. Maybe Yuki-onna had to be outside at night when it was below freezing, before they could access their powers?
"Or maybe..." I sighed, "Maybe making out with Rinosuke actually increased her power. If your clan elders know that this happens, it might be another reason they want to keep you kids apart. To avoid Sela getting too powerful."
"You don't believe that," Kendra said, studying my face.
"I am willing and would like to believe that," I said, "But no. No I don't believe that. It seems more like, and more likely, that Sela has deliberately not been trained to use her magic."
"Why?" she asked, her worry increasing.
"Maybe your clan can't control their powers until they reach a certain age, or undergo a certain ritual," I told her, "Maybe it is a good and valid reason."
Kendra gave me another look.
"But I don't know," I admitted, "Most of what I know about Yuki-onna comes from popular folk lore. Which I have quickly learned not to trust over the last eight months or so. You seem like a good kid, so I don't want to think bad of your family."
"But you are thinking of Himejima Suzaku," Kendra said, "And Himejima Akeno."
I nodded. Then I looked at the noses of the two adult Youkai.
"Do either of you know anything that can refute this?" I pressed.
Neither had an answer. For a moment, the five of use sat in silence, considering that.
"I have an idea," Yasaka said. We all looked at her.
"The clans will want these two apart. I will give them that."
Rinosuke and Sela started to protest, but Kendra held up her hand. They realized just who they were about to yell at, and shrank back into their chairs. But Yasaka just smiled at them kindly.
"At the beginning of April, my daughter will move to Kuoh Town, to attend the Kuoh Academy's middle school division. She will also interact with the Accords on my behalf, and be free to pursue her crush, within reason. And Takako will be going with her, to act as her bodyguard and second. It occurs to me, she could also use a handmaiden. Someone who can continue her etiquette lessons."
Kendra huffed in annoyance.
"I am not saying you are not capable, my friend," Yasaka told her kindly, "More that Kunou does not see you that way. You are her ninja bodyguard. And you have mouthed off to many people in front of her, myself included."
The Tengu exhaled again, this time in defeat.
"A handmaiden closer to her own age, who could be a friend and confidant as well," Yasaka continued.
"You mean me," Sela said.
"If you are willing," the blonde confirmed, "You would be away from your clan, in Tokyo. And conveniently, you would be close to two powerful ice users I trust. One who would live right next door."
"And Rinosuke would remain here," Kendra said, "But on weekends, he could come to visit me. To continue his training."
Yasaka just grinned.
"What do you say?" she asked the girl.
Yasaka took the kids with her when she left. But Kendra lingered a moment.
"Your pay," she handed me an envelope.
"I didn't invoice you yet," I protested. Because, unless those were all one thousand yen notes, she had overpayed me.
"No, but I saw what you billed the TPD, and tripled it."
"Takako," I said, my tone unchanged.
"No, Harry," she cut me off, "I know it is your job, but you saved my brother and Sela. Without you, they would both have been captured this morning. They would be rotting in the Himejima's cells. One of them would have been branded with that accursed stick by now, and the other would be waiting for them exorcists to finish charging it again. So even if I was able to find them... It wouldn't have turned out like this. And that's not counting all of my other comrades you enabled us to free."
She reached out and gently touched my ungloved hand, "You more than earned this. In fact, I owe you more than money could repay. If you ever need me, for anything, just say the word. Make a call and I'll be there."
"'Cuz you're all about saving my world?"
"I wouldn't expected you to know that. I should have know better," she chuckled lightly. Than she took a step back.
"You have my gratitude, Dresden Harry," she bowed. More than ninety degrees. Then, with a puff of ki, she vanished.
Takako Senju pressed her hands against her flushed cheeks. A burst of chakra forces the blood away from her skin. And she darted off to catch up with her liege.
"This is ridiculous!" Mittelt whined.
It was two days since the assault on the Himejima compound. The victims were sorted for the meantime. Lash, as well as Lasciel and Azazel, were working decoding the magic of the rod, to truly free them. Despite the clans' theocratic specialization, the rod was not just Shinto mandalas. It also contained older, and unsurprisingly darker, magicks. That's right, magicks with a 'k'.
But after school Tuesday, Rias had asked Sona's Peerage and I to come over to Hyoudou House. Officially it was to meet Mittelt, so we wouldn't run into her unexpectedly and attack the Fallen. Of course, all of Sona's Peerage, except Ruruko, had been working the line at the Himejima fort. And everyone had been in Kyoto. No, Rias just wanted us there to shame the svelte Fallen. And so Rias could wordlessly gloat.
"I"m older than everyone else in this house, combined," Mittelt kept complaining, "My younger twin and I are the last two Angels created. And I was the last to Fall... I guess unless some Angel tripped up in the last few months."
She sounded smug and hopeful at the end. I was tempted to tell her Lumiel had managed to sell counterfeits without Falling. But I decided to hold that one for later.
"I survived the war," her annoyance built as none of us seemed to take her seriously, "I spied on all three factions. Even the Grigori, looking for traitors. I even checked on the Greek and Hindu Pantheons, making sure they were going to stay out of things. I earned doctorates in mechanical engineering and computer programming, to make sure I kept up with Human technology. They based Parker on me!"
None of us seemed to understand that last bit.
"And now, I'm reduced to this!"
"It could be worse," I reminded her.
"I guess," Mittelt agreed with me, "I could have been executed, or sent some place really nasty."
"Actually," I managed to keep a straight face, "I was thinking Az could have picked your uniform, or let Ise."
I sat next to the tiny Fallen. We were waiting for Azazel to arrive in Kyoto, at which point he and Rias would join us.
She shivered, and I could see the fear in her face. I gently put my hand over both of hers.
"It will be okay," I reassured her. For a moment, she let the contact stay. My warmth seeped into her clammy fingers.
"Whatever," she said, pulling away. But I saw a quick glint of relief on her face.
A few minutes later, Az and Rias walked in.
"I wasn't sure I believed it," he said.
Rias held up a single black feather. Mittelt responded by flashing her four wings. The top right wing was very obviously missing a primary feather. Rias poured Devil Power into the feather, and Mittelt's wing shot out to full extension and she groaned in pain.
"I apologize. I needed to be certain," Rias said, but she didn't sound sorry.
"I understand you wanted to talk to me," Azazel sounded like he wasn't sure if he was angry or disappointed, "To try to explain why you betrayed the Grigori."
Mittelt started talking. She told a much longer version of what she had told Akeno and the rest early. She explained how Kokabiel had called their squad. Given them the mission. Lied to them about Kuoh Town's importance to the Devils. Threatened them with death should they fail.
"I remember his eyes," Rias had relaxed, "The madness, the anger, the hatred."
"He was fucked in the head," Mittelt said, "But he wasn't always like that... No, maybe he was, but he got worse. Especially when the ceasefire stopped giving him an outlet."
Then the blonde told us about how they helped Raynare plan. But Mittelt and Kalawarner expressed doubts, and asked Raynare to confirm the mission with Azazel, or at least Baraqiel or Shemhazai. Raynare left, and returned claiming she had spoken to Azazel, and he verified the mission.
"She did not come to me," Azazel said darkly.
"Yeah, I kind of figured that out, once I learned that the 'minor Gremory family member' was in fact the Lucifer's younger sister," Mittelt said, "I'm not sure if she just pretended, or if it was one of her... episodes... and she just asked her hug pillow."
"Hug pillow?" Az looked disturbed.
"Not to speak ill of the dead, but yeah."
Then she told her version of what the Fallen had done leading up to her fight with Rias. Including how Raynare debriefed them after we saved Ise, and blatantly withheld Rias's identity. How Raynare sent the three of them to keep the Devils away, while Raynare and Freed killed Asia. How the fight went and why she surrendered. And sold out Freed.
"And I tried to get her to spare Raynare," Mittelt waved at Rias as she said that, "But she wouldn't."
"I did consider it," Rias said, "Until she tried to use her Human guise as 'Yuuma' to beg my Ise to forgive her."
"That idiot bitch would try something like that," Mittelt growled, "She didn't care about hurting Humans, or the scars it left. If it matters, I'm sorry. Killing people is one thing. Emotional torture is something else."
"Well," I stepped in, embarrassed, "After I Soulgazed Raynare, she was kind of broken anyway."
Mittelt gave me a studying glance. Like she wasn't sure she wanted me on her side anymore.
Then she continued, telling us how she went to one of her personal safe houses. How she stayed their until she heard Kokabiel was defeated and imprisoned. Then she made plans to leave Japan. Only to get captured by the Himejima clan. And branded.
That part earned her sympathy from both Az and Rias.
"So that's it," she said, "The Japanese exorcists were too busy to break me like they did the others. Mostly they left me in my cell, and occasionally drained my energy."
"And what now?" Azazel asked her sharply.
"I'm turning myself in," she said, "I get that, Kokabiel holding the Sword of Damocles over head or not, I betrayed the Grigori, threatened the ceasefire, and probably some other stuff. I've got to make up for the stupid shit I did. Do some prison time or something. I don't know."
"Imprisoning you won't do any good," Azazel said, "You are too useful. And you need to work through your grudge against the Devils. No, I think we should put you to work."
"What did you have in mind?" Rias looked at his suspiciously. So did Mittelt and I, for that matter.
"I understand that Ise's mother is a bit frazzled, trying to run Hyoudou House, by herself," Azazel gave us a broad, wicked smile.
"She won't let us help," Rias protested.
"Maybe not," Azazel said, "But that doesn't mean she doesn't need or wouldn't like help. So I'm thinking Mittelt here could be that help."
"That means?" the Fallen asked, on edge.
"A maid," Az grinned like the Joker, "A house maid to clean, run errands, other minor tasks. At the same time, you'd be living with Devils and Humans, and in a couple months Youkai. And you would also serve the Gremory Peerage as an agent, encrypting messages between them and the Grigori, or the Accords as a whole. Keep an eye out for other agents, assassins, or even thieves. And helping to protect Ise-kun's parents, who, again, are normal Humans and are not aware of the supernatural."
"For how long?" Mittelt asked.
"Let's say, for as long as Ise's parents live there," Az said, "probably only sixty to eighty more years. Of course, if they fire you, or are killed..."
He let her imagination fill in the blank for what would happen if she failed in her job, or even just tried to get out of it.
"Fuck," Mittelt cursed. Then she mussed her own hair and said, "Fine. If the princess here is okay with it, I'll do it. It's not like its the first time I've been a maid, and they'll be less messy or handsy than those Prussian crappy nobles."
"I accept as well," Rias said, "On the condition I get to choose her uniform."
Mittelt blanched and looked over at the Oppai Dragon.
"Holy shit I dodged a bullet," she panted in fear.
Thankfully, Rias had patterned Mittelt's maid uniform on Grayfia's, with her body completely covered and a full length skirt. Unlike the Maid Queen's navy uniform, Rias had chosen a dull crimson for her new servant, with a dark grey blouse and apron. Which was preferable to what I imagine Az would have chosen. Images of the tiny Fallen in low cut, short skirt, lace... I ignored them, and didn't challenge Lash on the off chance she wasn't involved. It just never happened. Even if Mittelt did somewhat remind me of... nope, not going there.
"How did your mother react to learning she had a house maid?" Sona asked Ise.
"She was surprised, but also relieved," Ise said, "Dad and I have been pitching in, but she won't let any of the girls help, because they are technically tenants. And this is a big house."
"And how did you explain it to her?" I asked.
"I'm supposed to be a college student from Ri... Gremory-sama's home country," Mittelt tried to watch her language, "I am taking a break from my studies because of money. So Gremory-sama 'hired' me so I could make money and have a place to stay."
She made giant finger quotes, given she was basically a work release prisoner, rather than hired housekeeper.
"I'm not sure how long that lie will work," she shrugged, "But it's not my problem. Now if you will all excuse me, I need to go and see what the lady of the house would like me to do."
We watched her leave.
"Will this work?" Sona put her hand to her forehead.
"She'll have to make it work," Rias said firmly.
"She's fooled my mom so far," Ise said, "But I guess that's only two days."
"She was a thief and spy for a thousand plus years," I reminded them, "That would imply she has at least some skill as an actress."
Then I addressed Rias directly.
"Thank you for doing this," I told her.
"It's not as though I'm not gaining anything from it," the redhead said, "But I'm not sure why it's so important to you."
"My knee-jerk reaction to women in trouble aside," I said softly, "She's a victim of Kokabiel. She might be a foul mouthed jerk with an axe to grind. But she did what she could in a bad situation. Under a death threat from someone who could and would kill her without a second thought. And I don't want to let that frozen asshole warmonger be responsible for even one more death."
They all considered that.
Next: Beyond the Outer Gates Lies... A Valentine's Massacre?
Author's Note: I know some of you aren't going to like Mittelt's return. Sorry, but mostly not sorry. I did give you thirty chapters and multiple years to come to terms with it. But ever since GB had Rias say she 'dealt with them' (twice) rather than 'killed them', I've suspected one or more of that trio wasn't dead. And now that I'm writing my version...
Also, I still miss 'Devil You Know'.
And no, this doesn't mean Mittelt has the fifth point on Dresden's Harem Pentagram. Still not sure who or even if that will be.