by Sunshine Temple
A side story to the Return
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.
Other works can be found at my fanfiction website.
Temporary Backup Site.
Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
C&C as always is wanted.
This takes place after Blood Debts (book 5) but before Bonding Allure (book 6)
Chapter 1: Second String
My name is Harry BlackStone Copperfield Dresden. I'm Chicago's only professional wizard. You can look me up in the Yellow Pages.
Well... I was in the book, and I was the only wizard.
I should elaborate. It doesn't matter if you have an ad in the Yellow Pages for over a decade. If you get declared legally dead and, more importantly, stop paying for a year, they'll pull your ad.
Which means that, for a while, the Wizards section in the Chicago phone book was empty. But I came back from being mostly dead, spent some time on an island getaway, got my head screwed on right, cleared my mind, returned, and restarted my business.
Things were starting to get, well not normal, given I was rocking both the single dad thing, the wizard PI thing, and the servant of a dark queen thing but I was getting into a groove.
And then I went on a trip to the mystical, magical land of Canada. Things happened up there. Things that meant I couldn't really have an ad that said: Harry Dresden - Wizard.
I glanced down at my blouse. Sure, the supernatural community could accept, okay they could comprehend, my change. But among vanilla mortals? The kind of people who would use the Yellow Pages? Well, I couldn't very well call myself Harry Dresden.
So, I had to contact the Phone Company, again. And yes, my ad now said: Halley Dresden - Wizard. But that wasn't the problem.
The problem was that I was the second entry under Wizards.
I stared at the phone book. The page refused to change. My sober, efficient, and respectable little four-line entry was overshadowed by what had to be a half-page ad.
In color. A man with high cheekbones grinned out from under a jaunty fedora that covered his eyes.
His charcoal suit and dark tie were a fairly good Sam Spade Halloween costume, while his outstretched gloved hands were far too theatrical, especially with the swirling colors in the background and motes of light coming out of his fingertips.
The whole thing looked a bit like the Shadow crossed with Doctor Strange. There was something wrong with how he pointed his fingers. Those could have been the gestures of a real Practitioner, but why would he have put them in an advertisement?
Wizards don't really advertise.
Present company excluded.
Still, this guy could have been a fake. He probably was a fake. Sure, that's what most people thought I was. And I would have known if someone from the Council decided to move into my city. Right, because they never kept me in the dark before I turned all Winter sidhe succubus.
My eyes narrowed on the page. Move into my territory.
I growled a bit as I read the services this... clown offered: Missing Property Recovery, Supernatural Inquiries, Counsel, Guidance, all at "competitive costs".
He was horning in on my gig. But that wasn't the worst part.
The worst part was that this... Samri Balducci. Did more than copy my ad. He went beyond that. Where I clearly said I would not do "Parties or Other Entertainment", Balducci the Illusive happily mentioned he was open for private tutoring, events, and parties.
My eyes bored onto the book and I might have burned it to a crisp, but there was a knock on my door.
I did not have any appointments today, but drop-ins were a fair source of income, especially since, with Murphy off the force, my police consulting had never really recovered from me being "mostly dead". Then add in that "Halley" was an unknown quantity to the CPD.
I was meaning to get in contact with Karrin's old partner, the current head of CPD's Special Investigations. Stallings was a good man, a bit by the book, but he had managed to survive running Special Investigations, the pool filter of the CPD, for years and had quietly managed to put down more than a few not-so-minor supernatural threats.
I made sure I was presentable and got up. I angled my neck and patted the sides of my head and took a few steps. Then I sniffed the air and shrugged.
I opened the front door and let the voluptuous redhead in. Andi's hair had a bit less poofy 80's glam rock body than my sister's, and it was a more natural, by human standards, shade. Both women were muscular, but Andi was taller, longer of limb, and was not quite as sharp in the cheekbones or chin.
Andi did have a flowing predatory gait which suited the werewolf well as she entered and looked over the office. "Harry, er... Halley?" she corrected in a pleasing, classical alto while eyeing the lettering on the glass.
Her voice was also not as deep, but few women had the heavy, dramatic contralto my older sister possessed. Let alone women who made Murphy look tall.
I waved that aside. "Just some window dressing for the normals."
She frowned. Right, she wasn't too keen on puns.
I stepped back and let her into the office proper. "This is a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?" My tail would have swished, if I had let it out.
Andi gave me a long look, her attention seemingly on my skirt. She shook her head and pulled a small green envelope out of her vest. "I was at the Better Future Society and got some Paranet reports that you might want to pass onto the Council. Mostly Fomor stuff."
I opened my lips with a pop. The Paranet was a group of folks with lesser magical abilities who had banded together to share information and defense. The Better Future Society had an actual castle, miniature sure, but it had stone walls and battlements and everything.
It was built on the site of my former boarding house, where I had the basement suite. Among other things, it was used as a safehouse for people in the Paranet.
I took the envelope. It was thick and heavy. If it was like the last courier drop-offs it was microfiche mixed in with flash paper. Easy to destroy if it came under risk of capture, information dense, and fairly proof against the anti-tech properties of mortal magic.
"You know the Council might not do much with this info?" I asked, lightly tossing the envelope from one hand to the other. It wasn't that they didn't hate the Fomor, the creepy aquatic collection of history's monsters were everyone's enemy, but the Council was stretched thin these days.
"Because of the..." she gestured towards my body.
"Not just that." I admitted. "They thought I was the next best thing to Anakin goin' to Vader and that was before I signed on to be Winter Queen's leg-breaker."
"So, you going perky demon Goth is just the cherry on top?"
I had enough self control to not preen at that. "I still have some influence, I mean I managed to not get kicked out," I pocketed the envelope. "I thought Butters was going to drop this off tomorrow."
Looking down, Andi exhaled. "He couldn't make it. He's got a job."
"Oh," I put an arm around her. She stiffened in surprise. "It's gotta be hard knowing he has to hat-up, take a Sword, and fight monsters."
Andi laughed. "Well... yeah, but he was doing that before he got the lightsaber. I mean if I had to choose, I'd rather he'd take Fidelacchius into battle than the skull."
I nodded and gave her a quick hug before letting go. "Yeah. Empty Night, that's the reason I rarely took him on missions. Bob's a powerful spirit, but the skull is his home, and anyone who gets their hands on it controls him."
She gave me a pensive look and shook her head. Clearly, she still felt worried and guilty over Butters going off on his own, I could feel it. "Sorry, it's just... you're all... willowy and with the parts all out." Andi made a fluttering gesture with her hands.
"What? I hid my tail and horns!"
"No... but your wings are folded against your shoulders, and even if they weren't you still have plenty of curves that flow out."
I flushed and made my wings vanish.
"Yeah... the blue cheeks are a bit of a give away," Andi laughed as she went to my desk.
Most succubae had red blood. Well, my eldest sister's was tinged purple. But, since I was part Winter sidhe, mine was blue. "It's a shame Butter's is out Knighting, I haven't seen him much since we got back."
Andi absently nodded. She stilled and stared at my desk. I had left the phone book open. She read Balducci the Illusive's ad and laughed. "Is this a joke?"
"I've gotta leave the office to deliver the envelope anyway." I grinned at her in a way a werewolf would appreciate. "Let's find out."
Pocketing a flat brass-colored key, I stepped out of the Auckland bank. In this part of the world, the Pacific South of the equator, it was early morning. As one of the first customers, I was able to get to the safety deposit box without much trouble.
I walked down the street and pulled the belt of my duster a bit closer. The Way that led back to Chicago was down the block and around a corner. Wind blew through my hair and I felt a familiar tingle.
My legs tensed as my stance shifted. Senses could be spoofed; that was a way to get inside someone's defenses. However, I relaxed as a short, but classically Spanish, classically handsome man slipped out of an invisibility Veil as he strode out of the alley.
"Carlos," I purred as he closed in with a hint of a limp. Either he had healed some more or he was trying to minimize it.
The dusky, and yes good-looking, man with sharp-features, glittering dark eyes was the youngest Regional Commander of the Wardens in White Council history, and technically my boss. He started his career during the Council's war against the Red Court which meant there was plenty of space for promotions, for those who survived.
"It's a nice surprise running into you, so early," I grinned. Carlos was a good man, even if he had gotten a bit distant about Molly lately. Neither he nor my Lady were forthcoming about what had passed between them.
"It's always a pleasure to meet a pretty woman in the morning; it brightens up the whole day." He was wearing his grey cloak and silver Warden's sword at his hip, but at least the grenades I knew he carried weren't visible on his belt. His easy smile pulled back as if in realization. "Dresden," he said in a more reserved voice. "Dropping off?"
"Yeah, I got the Paranet intel early. And you think I'm pretty?" I teased. Yes, teased. I put in a pout and husky tone to my voice to tease the cocky man.
Carlos hesitated for a bare moment. "But of course," he assured, taking another step, but instead of closing in, he side stepped. Maybe it was a coincidence, but he had positioned himself so his left side was closer to me.
"It's a shame it took such extreme measures for you to finally become even half as stylish as myself, but I cannot argue with the results."
"You're complimenting a wizard being turned into a demoness," I idly brushed a hand against the gleaming metal encircling my neck. "What would the Merlin think? Or your superiors in the Wardens?"
"Given you slept with our commanding officer, and she signed onto keeping you in the grey-cloaks, I'm not terribly worried about her finding out about that."
"Going to sleep your way to the top?"
"Is that a proposition?" He asked with mock deliberation.
I slipped closer to him. "I did lose my own regional commandership." My hand went to his arm. His wiry muscles were easy to feel through the coat. "It's been a while since I had some strong Wardens under me."
His eyes widened, and Carlos laughed. "Really?"
I blinked. "Okay... that wasn't intentional."
The shorter man grinned. "Basic rule, flirting is like wizarding. You'd never tell someone how you knew some bit of secret knowledge, especially if it was just a lucky guess. You let them assume you knew because of some powerful magic. Same thing with innuendo, you let it ride and make people assume you're just that cunning of a linguist."
"You want me to look like I'm more of a flirt than I am?" I slowly exhaled and a part of me regretted not wearing the bustier Molly had given me. It was not exactly outer wear. Well, not in public, at least on Earth.
"Hey, I'm the one who's got to give basic pickup advice to a frikin' succubus." He looked me over. "But I guess you can't count on a smooth personality."
"Should I really be taking advice from a virgin?" I crossed my arms.
A dark expression flickered over his face.
"Sorry," I pulled back a bit and waved my hands. "I don't bite."
Carlos eyed my fingers. Okay, sure my nails were opalescent shades of blue but they weren't long. It's not like I had icy talons... at the moment. "Yes, you do," he said, but his confident smile had returned.
"Ah... well... I guess people talk," I coughed.
"That and I can see your fangs from here. You're a demoness, and - " he reached out and poked my choker about where the Winter queens would, on occasion, use a mounting ring to attach... accessories.
My cheeks flushed, and it took a few seconds before I shifted my glamour to adjust them to a red hue. "What brings you here? It is early and I haven't had breakfast." I might have licked my lips. Honestly, I was concentrating on looking at least somewhat human.
Carlos didn't step back but I could feel his professional wariness rise. The man was a veteran, commander of wardens, and had Soulgazed the hidden Queen of the White Court of Vampires. Lara might have been from a species of knockoffs, but she was a powerful... succubus.
"You're hungry?" he asked.
"I'm a demon." At least my purr kept a bit of the frustration from my voice. With my sisters on another frickin' planet, it fell on my stupid brother to help teach me how to deal with this.
Which meant I had to deal with repeated "I told you so's," and "See, resisting sexual desires to feed isn't so easy after all?" and "Now who's being a too-pretty, angsty life-force predator?"
"Getting power like that dropped into your lap, all those urges, and you're trying to make do," he stated. It was not a question.
"You're speaking from experience?"
Carlos glanced around the street and found a cafe that was just opening. "Talk over coffee?"
"Oh, if you insist," I started walking to the indicated storefront, letting my longer stride put me ahead of him.
Carlos paused for a moment, surely appreciating the view before he ran up to me.
The cafe was brightly-lit and looked a bit too artfully-distressed and full of twee knickknacks to be anything other than a franchise putting it on as an affectation. Sure the brand was unfamiliar to me, but this was my first time in New Zealand. We entered and made our purchases.
Well, he made purchases. Despite me having been in a bank, I had not gotten any of their... dollars... pounds? Whatever money they used down here. Carlos did seem a bit relieved that I let him pay. Maybe he was worried I'd make a bit deal of me owing him a favor.
"Really? Still going with plain coffee?" He asked me, taking our cups and a slice of cheesecake to a table off to one side.
I crossed my arms and huffed as he put the cups down. "Yes. And I still like Burger King. Does everyone expect me to be that different?" I asked
Carlos pointedly looked at the chair I was standing before and then pulled it out.
I sat down with a little sniff and started mixing in lots of sugar and cream into my coffee. Carlos gave a gallant bow, sat down, and pulled out a gold tuning fork. He tapped it on the edge of the table and set it up vibrating.
I gritted my teeth; the thing set my horns on edge. My Lady Molly had used something similar a few years back, though in her case it was to make ghost me visible to her. Back then she was my apprentice.
Which was far more elegant than my way of dealing with ghosts, which was to throw some really heavy powder on them to get them stuck in place so I could banish 'em.
What? Ghost dust works. Though, the ingredients are a bit hard to find.
But, I was rather sure Carlos' intention with his tuning fork was in more the opposite intent of Molly's.
"That'll keep out most snooping. Okay, I'm mostly sure that was you playing headgames but..." the young Warden sipped his cappuccino-whatever. He'd probably get along great with alternate universe Old-Man me. Well, other than him being a professional assassin and Carlos being a Wizard-cop.
"But come on Harry. You're wearing a skirt. An expensive skirt, with a matching silk blouse. Custom boots. Someone tailored your duster. And not to mention the manicure, makeup, and jewelry. That much silver's pricey."
"I didn't realize you knew girl stuff." I cut a bit of the cherry cheesecake.
"I have a lot of sisters," he shrugged.
"Now, you do," he emphasized, but cracked a grin. "Though I would very much like to meet the women who got through your thick head."
"Maybe," I grinned. I didn't want to tell him that they made me beg them to turn me.
"Look, this stuff is automatic," I wiggled my fingers and gestured over my face. "It's part of the package deal. I've actually got to keep a glamour up to not look quite so..."
"Sidhe. Glamorous ain't just a metaphor for me. And are we really going to critique expensive magical gear? I gestured to his gold tuning fork.
"Point. You always did wear a lot of rings. But the boots? I mean they're not much of a heel but..."
I rolled my eyes. "How tall are your sisters?"
"They're not all taller than me," Carlos said a bit grumpily.
"Do you know how hard shopping is for women my size?" Again, I gestured, this time more over my whole frame. "For all but basics, like sneakers, I have to get custom. Thankfully, I know some cobs; so, it works out."
Carlos nodded. "The wee folk are handy."
"I saved their colony and found a place in the mall for them to live and another place when things got a bit too crowded there. I knew the decline of custom shoe stores hurt them hard but..."
He snickered. "The great Harry Dresden going to cobbler elves to get her lovely shoes. Why, it's like you're a faerie princess."
"Hardly." I snorted. "Seriously, don't let the Queens, or the rest of Winter hear that."
"Why? Will it give them ideas?"
Taking a sip, I may have blushed a bit. "Maybe." My faerie godmother the Leanansidhe did love dressing me up. Given how long she had been watching over me, she said she was "making up for lost time". It was better than her trying to turn me into one of her hounds, which had been her form of entertainment when I was younger.
Carlos shook his head. "I am happy for the Winter Lady. Given how... difficult her position is, it's good she has someone she can trust at her side."
I swallowed. So something had happened between him and Molly?
"I am much more comfortable working for her than her predecessor." That was true; being Maeve's Knight would have been bad. And that was before little-miss-spangle-crotch had been corrupted by an other-planar force, or before I had turned into a very sensual creature of Winter myself.
There were things I was better equipped to handle as a human. Temptation was at the top of that list. Giving Maeve a succubus knight would have been... bad.
Which made it more awkward. Between my own... issues, and Molly's, I could at some level understand why Maeve was so demented when it came to sex and...
Glancing away from Carlos, I winced. See, the problem with the Winter Queens is that each embodied a different aspect: maiden, mother, crone. Thus to keep the mantle of the Winter Lady, one had to stay a maiden; one certainly could not be a mother.
I wondered if the Winter Lady Mantle had a means of...
Well, my time with Molly was interesting but there was little threat I could take away her mantle. A strapping lad like Carlos on the other hand? He would be equipped...
I looked at my fingers, and flexing them let my pearlescent nails lengthen a bit, not quite into claws, but they were a bit more talon-like.
Carlos covered it well, but he was put on edge by that little display.
I smiled and patted his hand, after letting my nails shrink back. "I'll tell her you were worried about her but are happy that I'm watching out for her."
"Don't oversell yourself," he smirked, easing back into his casual confidence.
I let my hand rest against his. "You are taking this well."
Carlos laughed. "Honestly, between the Black Hats, the Fomor, the White Court, and every other nasty creepy-crawly appearing, I'm willing to just accept your changes."
"Really?" I tiled my head skeptically. When he did not reply right away I moved my hand to get more cheesecake.
"Not to get too close to your, boss, but I have heard things about the Accords."
I leaned forward, eager. "Oh? Tell me what you know."
Carlos blinked. "I was hoping you'd know more..."
I snorted. "You think she tells me anything?"
"I think you spend more time with her than anyone I know."
"Yeah, most of the time as arm candy. You think the Council treats us like mushrooms? My Queen, as wonderful as she is, can scheme circles around us."
"Then you haven't heard rumors that the Accords might be renegotiated? New signatories, new terms, stuff like that?"
This time I blinked. "Uh... didn't everyone know that?"
Carlos sighed. "Do you know anything more?"
"Well the Fomor are getting all froggy. My guess, and this is only my guess, is that there's some plan to stomp on that pack of warty, bug-eyed aquatic Legion of Doom losers."
Carlos gave me a blank look.
Philistine. That pun was gold.
"It's not just the Fomor I'm worried about. There are other powers sniffing around, and would..." He glanced at me meaningfully. "Would Dame BlackStone know anything about those?"
"Uh... no?" I frowned. I already told him Mab liked keeping me in the dark. Both literally and figuratively.
"What do you think I'm doing out here?"
"Picking up the Paranet data I left you?"
"This early?" He snorted. "There's all sorts of stuff going on around the Pacific rim lately. People going missing."
"More blood drainy."
I might have growled. "Which Court?"
"There's not the pattern of destruction and new vamps that a Black Court Scourge makes. And it doesn't seem like White Court either... Honestly, we haven't heard much, which makes me think Jade."
I frowned. "Jade Court? That can't be good. I mean that could be one of any dozen or so different Asian vampire mythologies."
"Is it a mythology if they're real?"
I stuck out my tongue. "Oh, bite me; you know what I mean."
He shook his head but a smile managed to break through. "Jeeze, Harry. My point is that things are getting really squirrelly out there. The Reds being wiped out was the first mess, the Fomor moving into their territory was the second, and now all sorts of factions are working in the chaos the Fomor have created."
"I'm sorry I can't be up on political events in the supernatural world. You might have noticed I was sent to some other world to clean up after the Denarians, and then I had to come back here and rebuild my life. Do you have any idea how much paperwork you have to fill out to transfer ownership of a business? And to top it all off I got knocked out of the Yellow Pages; failure to pay, my frosty-butt."
Carlos chuckled. "What, is there no one under Wizards in the Chicago phone book?"
"Oh, no, there's some new guy. Some clown named Samri Balducci. And I mean clown, he does children's parties." I eyed Carlos. "Say, you ever heard of him?"
"Is he an actual clown?"
"I'm thinking he's either a con or some minor power." I shrugged. Andi said she might look into him while I was "out of town".
Carlos was thoughtful. "Yeah, I got Elaine Mallory working around my city. She helped us back with that White Court bozo going all serial killer with minor talents. I kinda had to shy her away from calling herself a wizard. I mean, the woman has talent but just not quite enough to be in the White Council. You think that's what you've got?"
I hoped my smile wasn't too glassy before I picked up my cup. Elaine and I went way back. That is, we were both picked up as teens by Justin DuMorne, the twisted wizard who taught us magic and then tried to enslave us. Killing him, in self defense, is what got me under probation by the Council and what made them think I was some time bomb of Black Magic.
That I'm sitting here as the demonic enforcer of the literal Queen of Air and Darkness is pure coincidence.
Thing is, the White Council didn't know DuMorne had two students. And, for some reason, Elaine was not willing to put too much trust in a group that was all decapitation first, questions second.
It also took Elaine a bit of time to learn to trust me given the whole burning Justin DuMorne to ashes.
All of which meant that the Warden across from me didn't know his perky succubus friend knew Elaine much better than he did, and knew that Elaine was very much capable enough to call herself a wizard.
I ate some more cheesecake. I should have had him get me a second piece. "Yeah, no one else I asked knows of Balducci. Which means he's not Council, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have power and can't be trouble."
Carlos nodded. "You're checking him out."
"Phrasing! But yeah, Chicago is still my city, and I can't have some wannabe going around taking my place." That was my job. At least far as the vanilla world was concerned Halley Dresden was replacing Harry Dresden. What? It's easier to keep an alias straight if it's close.
"Good. Things have been crazy all over, and while your... Lady kept things calm- calmer- it came at a price."
I nodded. Molly was not in a good place after I had died. And having to engage in a guerilla war against the Fomor, with my godmother as her teacher?
To put the Leanansidhe in perspective, she approved of my eldest sister's training methods. And Ranma Saotome thought tossing people out of helicopters was sensible flight training, ate part of me during my first sparring session as a succubus, and felt that flamethrowers were the best way to improve mental focus and learn how to make magic shields.
That last one struck a bit too close to home. But even Justin DuMorne just threw baseballs to encourage shield training.
"What, you'd rather have Dame BlackStone in Chicago being all Winter demon?"
"Than Molly playing the Ragged-Lady? Yes," Carlos drained his cup. "You can handle being the big scary thing... though I guess with her job..."
"She's still in a better place than as the Ragged-Lady," I stated. Which was the hell of it. Being dragooned into the Winter Court was still better than living on the streets while fighting every Innsmouth reject in Cook County. "And you're okay with the Winter demon?
Carlos sighed. "I'm just concentrating on the Winter fae part over the demony part. That you're caring about stuff like the Better Future Society, the Paranet, and being a clumsy, awkward mess is a major bonus."
"Wait, so the assurance of three current and retired Knights of the Cross, two Senior Council members, and your own boss aren't enough to convince you, but that I'm still an awkward mess is what sways you?"
He spread his hands.
"Hey! I am not a mess! Weren't you complaining that I was being too pretty?"
"You're complaining about business paperwork, advertising, and finding that you've got competition. Those are Dresden things to gripe about. A slick succubus wouldn't care; she'd have people to do that for her."
"Wait... what's why you're nervous about my clothes?" I narrowed my eyes. "You expected Harry Dresden to still dress like a slob even as a Sidhe succubus."
Carlos coughed. "I'd ask you to be careful but..."
"Is this about the Merlin and his cronies?"
Carlos eyed the golden tuning fork. "And other factions."
I sighed. It wasn't enough that there were more than a few on the Council who were convinced I had gone fully Dark Side. But the members of the black cloak and cowl club were extra suspicious of me. It didn't help that I had killed Polonius Lartessa, number two of the Order of the Blackened Denarius right after becoming a demoness in my own right.
Worse, were those who knew that I was more than some random succubus. Apparently, in certain circles, my grandmother had a reputation. For example, Mab knew about her and seemed to approve of my... pedigree.
"It's not just the Council who're worried I'm compromised." I felt like I had to keep my ears and tail from drooping. "You'd think that my queen was still okay with me would clue them in. Look what happened to the last Knight who betrayed her."
Carlos gave me an opaque look.
Right. Sure, Lloyd Slate was a rapist and murderer and had conspired with Maeve against Mab, and, sure, he had spent years being brutalized and tortured by my queen... both physically and mentally. She did this thing where she would break him down, then nurse him back to health, and once he was healed... would start the cycle anew.
But it's also true that, in the end, Slate died by my hand. I murdered him to get his power, to get the Mantle, the very thing that made me into the perky, gothy, Sihde succubus.
"Harry..." Carlos tapped the tuning fork once more. "There's been some whispers, among those who make it a point to study the workings on the other side, that Mab is in cahoots."
"Cahoots?" I snorted.
"With this demon empress. With BlackSky."
Uh oh. "So... you've heard of her?" I asked in a totally confident and not at all nervous voice.
Carlos gave me a dark look. "Not much. It doesn't sound like she and her... brood have meddled much on Earth. But rumors are she's sending envoys and feelers out."
"This earth. She hasn't meddled on this earth." I murmured.
He exhaled. "See, you saying things like that is not reassuring."
I gave a glassy smile. At least I hadn't mentioned the Invasion. "I was focused on my sisters and their kids, not every little detail of where they came from. Empty Night, they live in Canada, they haven't even visited the 'old country', let alone have any fealty towards it."
Carlos exhaled. For a second, sitting across from me was a very weary veteran Warden, a man who had spent years in an ugly war against a nation of monsters, was starting up a whole new war against a fresh nation and had to look behind his back against plots from his own superiors.
He gave a dry laugh. "I suppose that's better. I mean you not looking into what... Kingdom, Domain, Court-"
"House," I said absently. "House BlackSky."
"Right, not looking into the House of the demons who turned you hailed from is quite Harry."
I rubbed the back of my neck. "Yeah, I shoulda looked into my new grandmother more."
Carlos stared. "BlackSky is your grandmother?"
"Uh... kinda? I mean one of her granddaughters turned me... so..." I fidgeted a bit. That was mostly the truth. Sure, technically, it was all of my sisters there, and they didn't turn me. They facilitated it so I could turn myself. And Ranma was more than just a granddaughter of BlackSky.
The weariness flashed back and Carlos pinched the bridge of his nose.
"What? I haven't even met her. My sisters only met her once. She's, like, got her own empire on some other dimension."
Carlos rubbed his face with both hands. "Harry, you can't be this thick."
"Oh, I certainly can." I crossed my arms and looked down.
Carlos laughed. "I can believe that, so will anyone who knows you, but others? What are they going to think when they find out that Darth Dresden isn't just Winter's shiny new bauble, and isn't just some succubus, but a dark demon princess?"
"I'm..." I frowned. Was I? Did House BlackSky have some sort of royal family? How many daughters did she have? If I were a... royal... then I had to be one of dozens.
Carlos's weariness broke apart. "Oh, you poor bastard." Laughing, he glanced to above where my arms were crossed.
"I'm not a princess. I don't even have a tiara." At least none that weren't made out of ice and thus did not count.
"I'll buy you a damn tiara," he flashed me a grin.
"Promise?" I purred leaning forward. "Maybe I'll let you put it on me."
Carlos taped his fingers on the table. "Dios Harry, if... and the Winter thing..."
"If it helps, you can keep thinking of me as Dame BlackStone." I lowered my shoulders so my face was closer and, putting my hand on his, exhaled slowly. "And I promise I won't bite."
"So, you keep telling me." His pulse quickened but he covered that up and his nervous swallow well. "And I still know that is a lie."
"Sir Butters told me so."
"No fun," I stomped a hoof.
"It wasn't all bad. Some of it was very handy," Carlos pulled something out of his coat pocket, and with exaggerated gallantry unwrapped the candy bar.
I took it and started nibbling, delicately with little bites. "You now carry demon-treats? Good to know."
"He said it was the simplest way to keep you from getting all distracted," Carlos smiled.
"But not the most fun? Or are you carrying a bottle of water, or better yet some ice?"
"No wonder Winter's so happy about you." The Wardens' confidence asserted itself.
"I told you, she hasn't even asked about BlackSky."
"So? You know how Winter works."
I pursed my lips.
"I'm not saying you're working for the other team." Carlos spread his hands. "Even though you're trying to play footsie with hooves."
Blushing, I coughed.
"But, I should point out how many factions you've got pulling at you."
I stared. He did not know the half of it. I had done more than a few "odd jobs" for an Archangel, my sisters were also caught up in some sort of conspiracy-riddled mercenary company that... Well, let's just say Ms Gard of Monoc Securities would get along famously with my sister Eve.
And then there was that my sister Ranma was getting involved with a Moon Queen. I'm a pretty open minded person when it comes to the arcane and myths, wizard and all. But even I was a bit skeptical about the ancient astronaut stuff. And then I learned a bit more about Serenity and her Ladies... and the civilization they came from.
Not to mention inklings of the level of complexity of their magics. What Serenity had was Merlin level stuff, the first Merlin. And that was not the most disquieting thing about Serenity; the lack of a Soulgaze still concerned me.
Carlos gave a cocky grin. "I'm right aren't I?"
"It's a good thing you're good looking," I grumbled.
"It does hurt to be this talented." He flashed a smile. "Now, what are you going to do about it?
"This isn't exactly new ground for me," I huffed.
"You're already working for two Accorded Signatories, and now you've got alliances to another world, two more worlds."
"Look, I'm not saying you're going to be all sinister reconnaissance double agent for your demon queen grandmother."
He gave me a long-suffering look which made him look far older than he really was. Shaking his head, Carlos continued. "Or that you'll go all Dark Side to please your new extended family. You're too stubborn to go all Blackhat."
"But?" I asked, deflecting my own worry.
"Not everyone knows that. Especially all your new friends and their enemies, who will be your new enemies. How well do they know you? Hell, even your old and familiar enemies don't really get you. Do you know how many folks thought your old basement apartment was a decoy? A clever ruse to trick and entrap folks."
I narrowed my eyes. "That place was awesome. And Mrs. Spunkelcrief was a great landlord, having to shovel the walk was a small price to pay for letting me stay, given all the crap that happened there."
"It was a drafty hole in the ground, but yes, it was very cool." Carlos spread his hands. "My point is that a lot of your enemies couldn't get a wizard with your power being happy in a place like that. And now..."
I exhaled. "And now they couldn't see me going back to my normal life?"
"If they suddenly got all demony? Royal demony?"
"Demony isn't a word."
He gave me a flat look.
"Fine. But my fake words are way cooler."
"Sure." Carlos sounded totally convinced. "You can see right? I'm not crazy with these concerns."
"Yeah, yeah, every power mad Darth-bathrobe-"
"And political climbing magus," he interrupted.
"And them. What, they'll ignore my history and simply fantasize about what they'd do with all this?" I swept a hand over my torso.
Carlos did not rise to the bait. The shorter man had admirable self control. "It didn't occur to you? Harry, you were turned into this, by your sisters. Sisters who turned people into their demon daughters. That power alone..."
"Yeah, yeah in the wrong hands it would..." Instead of rolling my eyes, I pondered on it. Cecilia had told me all about the nasty things a succubus could do if she went bad. She kinda had firsthand experience on that.
Thus... it really wasn't something I wanted to put much thought in. I mean, I already had a mess of siblings, two daughters, and a mother figure. Which, having grown up an orphan, was one hell of a mind-game.
But... if some other powerful wizard were also a succubus, with connections to a fae court, and started turning people... Carefully picking people who were already connected to the supernatural world.
Said wizardly brood queen would have to deal with the Hungers of her new daughters, but the White Court of Vampires, specifically House Raith, showed that, if carefully applied, and without any concern for ethics, the need to feed could be used to build up mortal "resources". The late Red Court of Vampires worked similarly, given their feeding was also addictive. And, unlike the Whites, they could turn humans into their ranks.
Which made the Reds so feared. If they captured an enemy they could turn said enemy gaining their knowledge and power. Hells Bells, I had offered to turn Tessa into my daughter. The evil cockroach listened to her Fallen instead and turned me down.
Sure, it was her choice. Sure, I really didn't want to have that little monster as my first demon daughter. And sure, she would rather die by my hand than live at my side.
But... I had made the offer.
I nodded to Carlos. "Yeah... I'm starting to see what you're talking about."
"I'm not supposed to know, but some of the Senior Council and their pet Wardens have been wargaming you."
"Great... so when you say power-hungry fools are pondering what they'd do in my hooves, you're being literal."
Carlos spread his hands. "Can you blame them? They're keeping it from me, even tried to snow Luccio, but... just think of what you could do."
I frowned. I... could be trouble.
And that was only using the stuff Carlos, or the Senior Council, knew about me. That did not include things like: my brother the White Court Vampire; that I once had a skull containing a powerful spirit of intellect, who had also worked for Kemmler, the worst necromancer in the last couple hundred years; my spirit of intellect daughter Bonnie, sired by the shadow of a Fallen Angel; that I knew the real reason gods got so twitchy and... tricky around Halloween; how to run the major necromatic rite known as a DarkHollow, made by, yes, that same big bad necromancer.
And the true purpose of my scary island; namely that Demonreach imprisoned forgotten horrors and gods. What a name. When I first visited that island in lake Michigan I got a creepy, oppressive sense of deja-vu.
Turns out, as wizards age their Sight develops into a bit of precognition. And later on, I claimed said island... and named it Demonreach.
I have a... knack for Naming things.
Carlos' face was sympathetic. "You okay?"
"A Black Court Vamp once tried to blackmail me. A nasty old thing with sorcerous powers, she tried to go through my friends."
"I swore to her if she tried that scam on me again, I'd hat up with every bit of power I could find and end her." And that was another secret. Carlos didn't know that right before I told Mavra that, I had given her the Word of Kemmler. That is, given her the exactly what she had blackmailed me to get.
Carlos swore. "This was before you took Mab's coin and got yourself made all pretty."
I winced; the phrase "taking someone's coin" had a really bad connotation to me. "Aww, that's twice, you must really think I'm pretty?" I gushed, and would have swished my tail, if not for us being in public. Sure, Carlos had his anti-eavesdropping tuning fork but better to be cautious
"You're a succubus," Carlos stated, sipping his fancy coffee.
"Hmmm, well now, does that mean you don't want to not be a virgin anymore?" I teased.
Carlos nearly sputtered on his drink. "Man, this meeting's going to be awkward enough to write in a report."
I leaned forward. "Might as well make it worth it. And don't worry, there's nothing you can write about me that Luccio hasn't seen." I winked.
Carlos stared. "But... you were a guy... when you were with her..."
"I wasn't talking about my experiences with her," I purred.
Covering up a momentary pause, Carlos gave a cocky grin. "Trying to make her jealous?"
"We're still friends, and she made sure I kept my job. Turns out I'm not the first nonhuman Warden."
"Oh?" Carlos asked.
"Yes, there were a couple Changlings a century or so back from Finland. Nymphs of some type."
"Ah, so if you want to stay in the human-only club it pays to be a pretty lady?"
I waggled three fingers. "That's thrice you've called me pretty."
"And does that have a special effect with your fae-ness?" Carlos finished his drink.
"You didn't demand anything three times." I ran a finger over his hand. "Shame."
"Oh?" He glanced up and looked at a wall-clock. I could see his mental gears shifting the time-zone from... whatever time zone New Zealand used to Pacific. Huh, why did the North American west coast get to be the Pacific time Zone?
There's like a whole ocean, the biggest even, to have time zones in.
"We've both got stuff to do, and I really can't keep you," he admitted.
Carlos coughed. "I mean I shouldn't tie you up."
"Now that was on purpose." I sighed and pulled back. "At least you weren't a real tease, it's not like we had any real fun, no ice water, no snow, no... ropes," I smirked. The Winter Lady had gotten me a replacement unicorn mane rope, which, given what the last one I had ended up being used for...
Let's just say that Maggie's late, and half vampire, mother started out in a tough spot and that rope had a couple of purposes, especially after she got better.
As a token from the Winter Lady to her... Knight, that is to her succubus knight, it was very appropriate. From the perspective of our relationship before, either of us got all winter-fied, it might have been a bit awkward, but not now.
Gauging my expression, Carlos gave a cocky grin. "I suppose we might have a little bit more time before we both have to get back home."
"How was your date?" Andi teased as she opened the door to her car.
I told the buxom werewolf to meet me across from an alley that meandered to the back of an old canning plant. The ruby my mother had left me contained all her knowledge of the Ways to travel the NeverNever. Which was how I was able to amble over to New Zealand and back in the time it took to walk a few blocks.
Despite that magical advantage, I was still a bit... late. I shifted my hips as I took the seat.
"It wasn't a date," I pouted as I eased into the front seat and smoothed my skirt down.
Putting the car in gear, she eyed me with a thoughtful expression. "You're not denying it."
"How do you know?"
She pulled onto the street. "You're not all 'everything must burn' angry or 'we have to save the orphan puppies' hero mode, thus you probably didn't run into a bad guy. So..."
"Fine, I ran into Carlos." I had managed to stop pouting, honest.
"Ah, so was it a date?"
"Just coffee. Well... cheesecake too."
Andi glanced over and looked up and down my blouse. "Not quite, maybe something a bit tighter. And a shorter skirt, with garters underneath. Though you've got the hair for a good cheesecake portrait."
I might have preened a bit on that last one. In part because my brother was actually a really good hairdresser. He no longer ran his salon, which was a shame, but if I wheedled him enough, he could work on my hair. Though, it had started as a way to get Thomas to do something nice for Justine.
Their relationship was... complicated. Beyond him being a White Court Vampire, and her... well, let's just say that having her life force nibbled away actually gave her a degree of mental stability. And that was not even getting into the complications her being pregnant brought to the table.
Given all that, Thomas giving her a nice spa day, a personal spa day, or two, was the least he could do to help her. That I could get my hair taken care of was a mere side benefit.
Andi tapped her fingers on the wheel. "You're thinking about your hair aren't you?"
She snorted. "You are such a girl, Dresden. It's a wonder you're not obsessed with shoes and chocolate."
"Do you know how hard shoes are to get for someone my height?"
"Where do you get your shoes from? Does Karrin, or someone, order them online for you?"
"I know few cobblers. I've made an arrangement with them."
"Cobblers?" Andi smirked. "How delightfully old world."
I gave a little smile. "That's about right."
"You went out to a cafe with a handsome man, that's why you were late?"
"It was just coffee!"
"Not disputing the handsome?" Andi teased.
I snorted. "Your words, not mine."
"Well, we're on the same page." Andi pulled onto highway onramp. "I mean Carlos? If I wasn't in a relationship..."
"I'd have already had fun with you or Butters," I muttered.
"Why pick?" Andi teased.
"Or can be both! It's not the exclusive or. What should I have said you and or Butters?"
She shook her head. "Nerd."
"Are we going to keep talking about shoes and cute boys, or get on with business?"
I coughed. "I presume your research paid off, and you got a lead on Balducci and that's where we're going?"
"You could say that," Andi smirked. "Look in the glove box."
Opening it, I pulled out a manila folder filled with a handful of news reports, license data, academic papers, certificates and a few other odds and ends. I started reading. "Huh... are you sure about this?"
"Half that came from leads based on the stuff he put up on his business' own website."
"And the rest from Bob's help?" I asked. Butters had custody of the spirit of intellect who lived in a human skull.
Andi paused and gave a vaguely guilty look before she shook her head and concentrated on shifting to the fast lane. "Nah, this was all me."
"Okay, not to second guess what you found on Balducci but what kind of man goes to both clown college and the University of Chicago to study psychology?"
"Not just any clown college, he was at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College."
"Yeah, right out of high school, class of '96 a bit before they closed. From there started studying stage magic," I flipped to another page. There was an article with him entertaining at a hospital. The man looked younger, but it matched his Yellow page ad. "He's serious about it."
"He did go to the Harvard of clowning..."
I snorted. "A PI license, a Professional Counselor license, and can juggle chainsaws while wearing big floppy shoes? I can see were these qualifications are going and I'm not sure I like it. Hmm, he also learned under a stage magician while at Barnum and Bailey"
"Trying to help people?"
"Maybe. Most PI's don't also work as shrinks. Though... there is a lot of psychology to this job..." I gave her a sidelong glance. "Still... a clown..."
"He doesn't seem to do much clown stuff these days."
"Well, kids don't like clowns as much, so he goes for a more..." I exhaled. "Magical persona." I closed the dossier. "And where are we going?"
Andi gave a toothy grin.
The dread in me grew. "No..."
"Well, since you refuse to do kid's birthday parties..."
I shook my head. "There's one upside to this."
"Yeah, he's been working for decades. First in Arizona, then Wisconsin, then Salt Lake, and given the amount of time he's put into this at least he's not just some fly-by-night person."
"He decided to come back to Chicago right after you... well... you closed your business? And instead of a real wizard he seems more like a party and stage magician?"
"I'm back in operation! And I've got nothing against stage magic," I said a bit defensively. My father was a stage magician. He was not famous but he was good. And he had taught me a few things. That Balducci was a performer... an illusionist, made me feel a bit less annoyed at his interloping.
Still, calling yourself a wizard in Chicago was really dangerous.
"I know. You've got an office, business cards, phone book ads, and everything," Andi gave that toothy smile.
I grumbled about competition from phony wizards.
"Now, you can see what Balducci's all about."
"You really want us to crash some kid's birthday party? How are we going to get into their house?"
Andi laughed. "First of all, it's in park out in the 'burbs, second we have an in."
The werewolf gave a thin smile. "Well, you do... specifically the former partner of your... current partner."
"These are Stallings' kids?" I frowned; I didn't think he had kids.
"Niece and nephew."
My frown deepened. The current head of Special Investigations might not be as clued into the supernatural as Murphy was, but he knew enough to make it more than a bit suspicious that his relations would hire one of Chicago's, self-proclaimed, wizards for a birthday party.
"Well, let's crash a party." I leaned back. "I hope the cake's good at least."
End Chapter 1
And here we go, showing a bit of how Dresden is dealing with being a "frikin' demon".
Also a bit to show more of Dresden's "priorities" when it comes to running a business."
Thanks to DCG, Ellf, Kevin D Hammel, Henry Stickman, and . for their help with the corrections. Special thanks to Patrick for going through this chapter the weekend as it was posted!