Invisible Hand

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 4: Fox and Hounds

Chicago had a strikingly beautiful set of Japanese gardens. I'll admit I rarely visited... recreationally at least. A few years back, I had a meeting with some fae royalty, that, in retrospect, went exceptionally downhill here.

Though, I could hardly blame the locale for that. Stars and Stones, I couldn't take my daughter to the zoo without running into something spooky that needed my expertise.

Okay, that wasn't fair; it wasn't Austin's fault he got magic powers and didn't know how to use them. Most warlocks were dumb kids in just his situation. I was doing my best to help train him; thankfully he hadn't gotten into too much trouble.

The Laws of Magic existed for a reason. Once you started using magic to break people's minds, enthrall them to your will, play with necromancy and worse... well... magic worked because you believed in it. You have to believe with all your heart that what you were doing was right, that it was how the universe was supposed to be.

The more you did Black Magic, the more it changed you. And a poor dumb kid who didn't know any better... well, he could easily fall down into the junior Sith club.

Tutoring was a bit hard. I had only had a few magic lessons with him before my little trip to Canada. Though, this body did make a teenage boy far more... attentive. It was a weird reverse of being Molly's mentor. Empty Night, was I doomed to collect teens who got ill-advised crushes on me?

Chuckling, I shook my head and made my way to an arching bridge over a babbling creek that fed to one of the many, and obligatory, koi ponds.

Expertly shaped bushes rustled, and I felt a little tug in my hand. I was not alone. This was despite there were supposed to be no other guests in the gardens. Someone, someone who had contacts in the municipal government, may have made a few discrete calls and gotten the gardens quietly shut down.

Stallings was going out on a limb for me, but between the laboratory arson and a car fire near Wrigley field, he wanted the grenade-happy naughty nurse ninja and her cohort stopped as much as I did. Fortunately, not everything was destroyed when Mikki torched that car. Stallings had recovered an old ticket in one of the door pockets. A ticket to a certain Japanese garden.

No one is perfect when it comes to sweeping up evidence.

A woman leaned on the railing of the bridge gazing at the pool. Of all things, she had a rod out and was fishing. A thin line went out to a cheery red bobber. A grey backpack rested by her feet with a brown fishing rod case propped up next to her.

The slim blonde woman looked to me. It was Saito. She wore a set of black slacks and a grey vest of some coarse material over a dark green blouse. It looked a bit too warm for today.

A bit of resignation flickered across her face as she lowered the end of the rod.

"Get any bites?" I cheerfully asked, not quite stomping up onto the bridge.

"It was going well, until big old bear came and scared away all the little fishies," Saito sighed and started to reel in her bobber.

I eyed her. "Maybe you shouldn't have been poaching in the bear's pond. And old?"

Her green eyes went over me as she paused. "How'd you find me?"

I tossed the little faux jade hair pin. It landed onto the wooden railing. Her eyes followed it; she frowned. It was a twin to the one she still wore in her hair.

"You girls cleaned your place pretty well, but that's the downside of a house becoming a home. Possessions, connections, built up, it is inevitable."

"I assumed the link between pieces of jewelry would be minimal," Saito put her rod down, leaning it on the railing.

"You're not the first monster to underestimate me," I shrugged. Honestly, the thaumaturgical connection was pretty weak. The two foxtail shaped pins were used to being a pair. Not part of the same whole. Sure, they were connected, but it was nothing like that between two inanimate items that were once the same item. And that had nothing on an organic piece of a larger being.

Still, the little bit of jewelry was enough to give me a direction, once we got inside the gardens. Finding that Mikki's rally point was here was a simpler bit of old-fashioned detective work. It involved recalling locations in photographs and doing a few traces on cars and various annual memberships the sisters had.

"It is a risk, going native that is," Saito looked at the water. "We spent so much time here, living among you... caring-"

I cut her off. "Don't give me that shit. You're experimenting. On children. You don't care for them."

"Can a vet not care for her charges? Can a scientist not wish less pain on her experimental subjects?" Saito's eyes flashed.

I let my anger flare out in a fierce cold rage. The wood of the bridge started to creak as frost formed and the water below us started to turn sluggish.

"Careful, a sudden cold-snap will kill the fish," Saito said mildly as she finished pulling in her line.

"Where is the rest of your team?" I growled.


Was there a bit of regret... or pride in her voice. She was very protective of Yui in the records room

"You just rabbit away at the first sign of exposure?" I demanded.

Popping the lid to her case, Saito paused before putting the rod inside. "We know what you did to the last vampire court that angered you."

That confirmed my suspicious: Jade Court. I did not know much about the mysterious vampire court. They were located in the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, with perhaps a stronghold in the Yangtze river valley. There were hundreds of different legends about Asian vampires. I don't know which one described the denizens Jade Court.

For all I knew, all of them were right.

The Court was known for using agents, allies, and vassals when it came to dealing with outsiders. That meant that Saito and her kin might not even be vampires.

Saito nodded to me, as if acknowledging my conclusions. "And that was before you became a scion of BlackSky." She smiled all bright white teeth. "No wonder you were inducted. Genocide does run in that blood-soaked family."

"You really don't know me." I stated, my voice deepening to almost my old human range.

The nurse's green eyes were merry. "You don't know." She rested a hand on the top of the fishing rod case. "She told me you had never been to the City of Trees. That even the Old Monster's favored granddaughter had yet to visit. I thought she was exaggerating, her type does, but..."

I narrowed my eyes and my hooves crunched on the rime that coated the planking. "Who?"

"Questions, questions, if only you asked this many before you begged away your humanity?"

It had taken years of working for, and against, some of the most duplicitous people and beings, including having a freakin' Fallen Angel living in my own head, but I had managed to get a pretty good poker face.

This was more than just yet another person clued into the spooky-side grapevine learning rumors about the great and powerful BlackSky. No, the naughty ninja nurse knew details about how I had been turned.

I could count on one hand with plenty of space left over for shiny kinetic energy storing rings the number of people over here who I had confided in about that. Which meant, somewhere probably not in Chicago, there was a leak.

"This isn't about me," I hissed.

Saito sobered. "No, it's merely about you returning to long-abandoned territory and asserting your ownership. So much work will be abandoned; it'll set our progress back years."

"Sorry to breakup your little junior Mengele reenactment society."

"Mengele was a quack," For the first time, Saito sounded incensed, affronted. "Morality aside, his... work was merely a sick indulgence. Nothing of value was learned from his experiments."

Sighing, she rested the end rod on the railing. "Tell me, if you found a cure for, oh vampirism, but it required necromancy, would you use it?"

I glared.

She adjusted her glasses. "I would guess it depends on the necromancy. If rumors about a certain Halloween are to be believed. What if you had to kill someone to... ah, no. We know that under the right circumstance you would do that."

"Look blondie, I kinda doubt you and your sisters are working on a way to cure Red Court vampirism."

"Of course not, you killed them all." She rolled her eyes. "Including all the half-turned who had lived a greater than human life. My point is that you have seen the necessity of distasteful things."

"Oh, you expect me to let the minions of some creepy secret vampire cabal experiment on children, because it'll serve some greater good?" My voice dripped with sarcasm.

"It's not too dissimilar from your own efforts," she shrugged. "If on a slightly less ambitious scale."

Rage burbled inside me. "I don't know what you're-"

Saito cut me off. "The Paranet."

I chuckled. "That's way for minor Practitioners to get together for mutual defense and information sharing."

"And to teach the next generation of new talents. And to try and prevent latent wizards from turning into Warlocks. And there's so many humans now, so many with potential, more than in the past." Leaning forward using the fishing rod case as an impromptu cane, she grinned. "We're in the same business. Just different angles."

My growl was deep enough that it seemed to echo around us. "Pruning out latent talents? You should know what happened to the last crew who did that," I snarled.

Saito laughed. In my face.

Her rod actually slipped from her hand and I wanted to gut her... well gut her like a fish. "Like the short sighted Skavis and Malvora? No... Warden of the Wise, creature of Winter, blood of BlackSky, the Court I represent have the exact opposite intention with humanity."

I stared. The idea was one I had not really considered. It was... well... supernatural predators thought Practitioners, that is humans who could do magic, were a threat. "You're trying to make more Wizards, or at least increase a Practitioner's potential."

"And is that not worth some sniffles?" Saito frowned at her fallen rod.

Clutching the carrying case, she looked at me, but I shook my head no.

"You could check our records. Well... if you and that meddlesome stage magician hadn't forced us to burn them. You value humanity, so do we." She gave a very white, almost sincere, smile.

I did not want to think of why a vampire court would want more powerful humans. That did not keep my imagination from being oh-so-helpful. More energy-rich food was an obvious answer, so was having more powerful fodder.

Plenty of vampires, and other things, conscripted human servants. There was also... well, I did not know if the Jade Court worked like the Red or Black Court.

But I did know that a practitioner when turned into a vampire made a far stronger... my tail flicked. Oh, yeah. Not just vampires there.

"Right... helping human evolution? You know a Max Eisenhardt had a similar plan."

Saito nodded blankly.

"Magneto? Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Geeze... kids these days."

"I'm older than you," Saito, pointedly, said.

"Whatever. You say you want what's best for humans. Sure, that sounds all well and good. But you hurt children." The scent of woodsmoke stared to come from the runes of my staff.

Saito gave that same interested, but resigned, expression.

"And you know you're the bad guys, that what you're doing is wrong. You did this in secret, hiding from me, from the White Council, from the Chicago Alliance, from Gentleman Johnny Marcone."

That last one was a guess, but Saito's green eyes flicked down for an instant. Right. She was connected, she had to know that the only vanilla mortal on the UnSeelie Accords, Baron Marcone, the undisputed mob boss of this city, had a special hatred for those who hurt children.

"That's why when you saw me you threw a smokebomb and ran. If you were on the up and up, you'd have made a deal."

Saito's expression was strained. "It was not my decision, and when we started you had not... shown your flexibility."

My eyes flattened and I tilted my head. "You seriously thought about 'cutting me in'."

"You are Winter."

"And a demon," I snorted.

Saito gave a ghost of a smile. "You haven't met BlackSky then."

"I got a few pamphlets, some stories about a funny little cartoon succubus."

The nurse blinked.

There was a whisking noise as bits of dark blue icy armor started to slide into place. "Enough stalling, you're going to give me a few lists. First, all the kids you experimented on, all the people you hurt. Then you'll tell me about all your sisters and all your hiding places."

"And if I don't?"

I grinned, fangs flashing. "You don't have a choice."

"Confident." Saito glanced around as, still clutching the fishing rod case, she took a step on the icy bridge. I'll give her that much, she managed to keep sure footing on the slick surface. Her rod and reel were now stuck to the bridge under a rime of ice.

"You're the one who ran, and this time I'm ready for any smoke bomb trickery," I promised, giving a hungry growl that seemed to echo through the gardens.

"So much for your chivalrous reputation," she lightly said.

I snorted. "Lady, over the years, I've been suckered too many times. And that was before I joined the 'pees sitting down' club."

Her hands clasped before her, Saito's expression went neutral. "You would take my sisters then?"

"Yeah, well you're-" There was a blur. Her hand went into the fishing rod case.

Nothing good could come from that; I was already channeling power. "Forzare!" I cried.

But she had already flicked the case away having had pulled a slender, long sword out of it. Bearing a gentle curve, that reminded me of a Japanese odachi, the blade was brilliant platinum white, and its edge hummed with a viridian light.

Nimble despite the ice, Saito twisted out of the way of my blast of magical force and the sword flickered out.

"Defendarius!" I yelled, causing my shield to burst into brilliant multicolored light.

And then Saito's sword bit into the magical energy and, with a snicker-snack of efficient motion, that green edge cut out part of my shield like a jackknife sectioning an orange.

That... okay, I had seen magical swords do a lot of stuff. I had seen all of the Swords of the Cross in action at one time or another, and any Warden's Blade could cut through magical constructs and enchantments.

No wonder, little-miss-naughty-nurse-ninja thought she had a chance. I rotated my shield and brought my staff over in a low swing against her knee. Her sword switched back and she caught the staff with the spine of her blade, but physics was a hash mistress and she began to slide over the ice.

I gave her a bit of a nudge.

" Forzare!" I screamed as a blast of force shot out from my staff. It knocked her blade tip up and over. I was aiming to dump it into the pond and then freeze it in place, but she kept a death grip and even jumped up onto the railing.

Green eyes glinting, she parried another thrust of my staff. Normally, I would use fire in a situation like this but I was trying to be more mindful of collateral damage.

With the grace of a tightrope walker, she backed down the railing towards the shore. I managed to pin her blade against a pillar and then with a gleam she flicked her blade around and a couple of inches of Spooky Island oak sizzled off.

Rage bloomed within me. I had just gotten that staff broken-in.

With vulpine smirk, Saito gave a mocking fencer's salute. Her legs tensed as she was about to bound off the railing.

And that's when the giant auburn she-wolf lunged at her. Andi had expressed extreme patience, but part of being a pack predator was learning when to spring an ambush: when the prey was distracted.

I gave a practically lupine grin as the wolf descended onto Saito's back. And then the blonde nurse turned all... gauzy, smoky. A few wisps trailed behind her like a brace of billowy tails. And then Andi passed right through her.

"Oh ,come on!"

Andi landed all four feet with only a bit of a stumble.

Saito's partially translucent form bowed. Her features looked a bit sharper, a bit leaner. Her ears were pointed and her blazing green eyes were slitted as she gave a toothy grin.

And I pieced together a few things. At the park when I cornered her in that alley: she didn't jump over the fence after using her smoke bomb, she simply walked through it.

While the records office burned, she didn't stage that fire door beforehand by leaving it propped open so she could go through it the wrong-way: she simply took her sister and walked through the door.

I was betting she didn't even have to bluff her way into the offices Probative Laboratory Services. She probably just found a quiet wall and stepped through.

"You know Shadowcat, maybe you should have taken Gandalf's advice." I concentrated runes started to flare on the icy gauntlets as the rest of my Blue Beatle style armor shifted into place.

Saito tilted her head. "Not to meddle in the affairs of wizards? You've got the quick to anger part down."

"I'm taking an anger management class, as for the subtlety?" I caught Andi's eye and gave her a feral grin. Her ears flicked back. "Screw that! Pyro Fuego!" I cried as a blinding cone of magical fire shot out from my arm.

My anger and rage and desire to protect fed into it and demonic energies bled into the wizarding construct like adding kerosene to a bonfire. I could have done more, I could have added in Soulfire to help contain and focus the blast, but the problem with Soulfire was that it was powered by my soul.

Use too much Soulfire and you run out of soul.

A giant, blue-tinged wedge of fire shot out and saturated the area where Saito was trying to flee. Trees were blasted apart and turned to debarked skeletons, a small pond that fed into the larger one flash boiled.

And Saito's wispy, foxy form bounded right out of the fire, her platinum sword in a humming green arc.

I fired another blast, this one smaller, and the ninja nurse ignored it with the same contemptuous ease. She swung down and I blocked with my staff. Or I tried to. The sword passed through it, returning to solidity as the blade swung past.

I pulled back one shoulder and my hand went up claws extended. My talons managed to catch her blade, but not without a squall of green sparks and spitting blue sleet.

I smirked. "You gotta be solid to hit me," I purred and drew in the water that had been boiled up and frozen under hoof. "Arctis!" I cried as a brace of icicles formed and shot up from the ground. Two even pierced Saito's thighs giving wounds that bled too dark blood, but then she went all smoky and actually leapt through me.

It was an... unsettling experience as I could actually feel her passage. Tail whipping about, I spun on a heel. But Andi had already circled around and was covering my back.

The too-dark blood had already clotted on Saito's legs. That and the smoky tails and foxy ears confirmed it, no one was human in this fight. She idly rolled her long sword and gave me a constrained smile.

"You think you'll be lucky, get a hit in before I can counter while you're vulnerable? Look bottle blonde, if you wanna try your luck that you'll be able to get me with that pig-sticker before I fry you, then be my guest." I taunted as I gathered my will and concentrated on a spot in front of me.

Ears perking, Saito blinked and darted forward.

I restrained a smile until I realized she was headed towards Andi. The werewolf snarled and bounded forward. Crap. Andi was experienced and, pound-for-pound, an extremely deadly predator, but she was also a wolf.

I released my will and let my trap early. "Geodas! Ventas servitas!"

The first spell crackled the ground and a sinkhole opened up to Saito's side and the gale of wind from the second pushed her inside.

The nurse's eyes widened and, despite going intangible, she still fell into the hole.

"Resarcius!" I cried as I clenched my fist and the hole sealed shut.

Andi slammed down, claws and jaw snapping. It was a shame that Saito was intangible at the moment.

I strode forward. And sighted down my staff. The fresh, unmarred wood revealed by the cut caused a flare of irritation. I wished I had some ghost dust on me.

Cold Iron and depleted uranium were the primary ingredients. Or at least for the recipe I used. It said something that my sisters were the first people I had met who had not blanched at the ingredients in that stuff, and had even offered to supply me more depleted uranium.

Right now, I was regretting not taking of their generosity. Hells Bells, they had probably started cranking out ammunition with bullets made out of compressed ghost dust.

I remember Murphy talking about, back when she was on the force, the CPD was testing some fancy frangible bullets that were molded out of a sintered powdered metal.

The bullet would stay solid until it went into something, like a torso or a skull, and then it would break apart into, well, powder. A miniature cloud of very fast powder that shredded everything in its short path. It supposedly was great for reducing the risk of collateral damage due to over-penetration or ricochets, but it was expensive, new, and had less penetration into the target itself. So, the department ultimately passed on it.

The point of ghost dust was that it was extra real, extra solid heavy and inert stuff that locked spiritual matter into place. It probably would have done wonders on little-miss-walks-through walls. And I kinda wished I had a handful of that, or better yet a few shotgun slugs loaded with the stuff.

Which was probably why she had concealed her ability using misdirection and smoke bombs. That she kept such a power secret until she absolutely had to use it...

Still, I was a frikin' wizard and I had other ways to deal with an intangible foe.

And... Saito had vanished. The last wisps of smoke and spectral tails dissipated as she sank deeper into the earth. Andi's ears flicked back as she paced about, her nose towards the ground.

Damn... that was not good.

The auburn wolf had already moved to a position where she could watch behind me and I could watch behind her. I suppose this explained why Saito and her team were able to operate for years in a city in the midst of a supernatural turf war.

I was gone for many of those years, being mostly dead and then stuck on my creepy island being unwittingly-overdue with a pisonic pregnancy.

But my understudy, my, at the time human, former apprentice, Molly was busy with her Frank Castle-like vengeance kick against the Fomor and their mortal collaborators.

Molly and my Fairy Godmother the Leanansidhe.

Lea is a Winter noblewoman, and handmaiden to my queen, who had taken my absence as a reason to continue the training Molly would have gotten under me.

Which... well to put into perspective what Molly went through? When Lea met my big sister Ranma, and learned about that crazy redhead's training methods, she approved.

The only reason Lea's treatment of Molly was worse was that she had a longer time to brutalize her student, and had plenty of cold winter weather to work with. On the other hand, Lea did not have ready access to helicopters.

Though she could probably whistle up flamethrowers. And on the gripping hand, Lea never actually bit Molly, nor ate parts of her. Not for lack of trying. I guessed.

Still, Lea had always been there for me. In her worrying, disturbing, stalkerish way. She had been hounding me ever since well... I first noticed her after I burned my evil mentor to death and he sent a demon, well Outsider, after me.

Apparently, she had made a deal with my mother to protect and train and watch me. Which, in her mind, did include turning me into one of her hounds if I were unwary or incautious enough to need the protection of a kennel.

Tail flicking, I leveled my staff and extended my senses. It had only been a couple seconds, and Saito had yet to come up. She had chances to run earlier, but was committed to this fight.

There was a prickle; I twisted to the left as a fountain of water billowed out of the large pond like a depth charge going off. Sheeting off twinkling water, Saito burst out atop the plume and came down with her sword.

I readied my staff and held off for a moment. That was... obvious. See, the thing a lot of supernatural, super speed predators forget is that when they're in midair they're going ballistic, which meant a predictable path.

Some, like a certain redhead, cheated and managed to be able to maneuver in the middle of a leap, the trick was to remember one had wings.

Saito falling towards me was like a lazy pitch right across my plate. Still... I frowned and flicked my staff. "Infriga!" I cried, pulling out the heat from all the water she had displaced causing a cloud of hail to form and then I dribbled a bit of Soulfire into my next spell.

Soulfire would help give me extra metaphysical rebar into the spell and make it more stable and allow me to control it better. The downside was that it cost a bit of my soul; so, I had to use it sparingly. "Forzare!"

The hail then shot into Saito. Naturally, she went intangible, but the sleeting pounding, managed to disturb her arc and she landed with ice-slick hair and a frosted blade.

"Nimble little minx, isn't she?" I asked Andi.

The wolf paced around and her ears flicked back.

"We'd better go full stream!" I cried and let lose a jangling bolt of lightning. "Fulminos!"

The electricity passed through the nurse as she came in. I met her with my staff, slamming the back of her blade. Andi charged and actually bit into the nurse's ankle.


Smirking, Saito twisted her sword, wrenching it around my staff, and with a tug, caught it and for a split second broke my grip. Then, she shot forward and stabbed. The tip caught the front of my duster, pierced it, and the magical edge sparked across the blue armor over my torso.

Blood filling her mouth, Andi tugged and nearly pulled the vampiric nurse away, but Saito released one hand from her blade and pulled my loosened staff, slamming it back and down it at the wolf.

It smacked Andi right between the eyes. As the wolf yelped and let go of her ankle, the nurse hurled my staff away.

"You did not just do that!" I growled grabbing the sword trying to fillet me and sending a charge of power down it.

Trying to give another gutting jab, Saito lifted her eyebrows and gave a tiny nod as if to commend me on the craft of my protective enchantments. Using that same hand that destaffed me, she dropped a clutch of grenades at her feet and ghosted off.

I stared down. Andi was still wobbly. Shit. "Forzare!" I shouted, without a focus, like my staff, it was harder but I had to get her out of the blast radius.

The groggy wolf slid across the grass and fell on her side.

"Defendarius!" I cried. A shimmering multi colored half-hemisphere began to appear. Normally, I projected my shield spell around myself, but in a pinch I could...

The dome flickered over the pile of grenades, which then exploded in a messy chain.

Saito had dropped a veritable sampler pack of egg-shaped, and cylindrical prizes. The fragmentation ones shot out chunks of steel that battered my shield, and were matched by the raw heat of the incendiary grenade she'd slipped in there.

The worst was the concussion grenade. See concussion grenades are designed around having minimal fragments. Sounds nice; less shrapnel, right?

Well, their purpose is to create an overpressure wave, which in an enclosed space is more damaging than a frag grenade.

Carlos, who habitually carried various grenades during the war against the Red Court showed exactly what a well placed concussive grenade could do in a bunker the Reds were holding during a skirmish in southern Sonora.

Put short, normally we had to do a lot of prying to get the fangs out of a vampire's skull. Not so much that time.

Unfortunately for me, the dome of my shield was a perfectly enclosed space.

I nearly tumbled forward as the energy, all the energy of the little explosions hit into the shield and battered my will, before the shield failed and a blast of heat and pressure blew out.

At least I had slowed the bulk of the fragments.

Which meant my coat and armor stopped most of it and the heat only melted my armor a bit. It still hurt like hell.

Smoke rose up from my duster as I looked to Andi. The wolf was getting up. She looked a bit battered but she was on four legs and had not been reduced to hamburger.


Her ears flicked up and went forward. And before she could grow, I went down and slashing my tail up sidestepped.

A now incorporeal Saito charged through me, insubstantial sword passing through my neck.

Following through on the hit, the nurse stopped and gave me a smoldering grin.

"Even for a ninja that's cheating."

"Against the demonic champion of the Queen of Air and Darkness?" Her snort caused a strange echo given her insubstantial state. "Even without that, your magic outclasses me," she said, her smoky tails angrily whipping about.

"If I was that much of a threat why didn't you assassinate me on my way to work or at the drive through? Do it right and I wouldn't have even seen you coming," I said, keeping a chill out of my voice.

Some of the closest attempts on my life had come from things like bombs and sniper rifles. The only reason the car bomb didn't kill me was because I accidentally set it off early. And one time a total Darth-wannabe loser tossed a pipe-bomb into my apartment. The only reason that didn't kill me was because it just had smoke bombs. It could easily have had black powder in it.

And one time my duster and mantle just barely blocked an anti-material rifle, the kind soldiers use to take out vehicles. I was knocked down and almost killed by a follow-up sot.

And the other time... well the rifle did kill me.

Or at least render me mostly dead enough that my queen had to nurse me back to health.

I'm not saying that supernatural critters haven't had plenty of chances to punch my ticket, but a simple grenade in the lap would have worked if done right. Especially, if dropped by someone who could phase through walls or ceilings.

Saito narrowed her eyes. "I only attacked after you swore to torture me until I revealed the location of my sisters."

Empty Night. I was not the bad guy here. "Shut up, you're the one hurting kids! You creepy vampire-serving kitsune. And you burned down a building with people inside!"

Maybe Saito had a hypocrisy detector because that was the moment she flickered and bounded forward

I drew in my claws and pulled back. Andi nipped at Saito's heels, well not literally, given the whole intangible thing, but I caught the werewolf's eye and Andi slowed just enough for Saito's final burst of speed to give the nurse a lead.

She turned solid and swung with her sword. It was a perfect arc that had her full weight behind it and angled as I tried to twist out of the way. The blade tip slipped past the open front of my duster and its green edge cut into my icy armor and with a flare of sparks showering the cold plate as it sliced through.

I ignored the pain, and the gush of blue blood that flowed out of the wound. Instead, I punched at her with my left fist while my right grabbed her hands. See, on each of my fingers was an intricately engraved ring made out of a tipple band of silver. Each band captured a bit of my kinetic energy and stored it, and could be released on command.

Yes... I wore ten, technically thirty, very pretty silver rings, and yes, they did match my pentacle-centered choker. Look, I came up with this idea when I was human. I started with one ring and realized the utility...

Anyway, just before I let go of her arms, I released all fifteen charges on the opposite hand right into Saito's side. It hit with a satisfying crump like a hydraulic ram crushing an old fridge, causing the nurse to fly off in a pin-wheeling at an oblique angle from me to land in a heap on the other side of the pond.

My joy was cut short because she had managed to hold onto the sword.

Which due to the angle she had torn away from, caused the blade to rip through my left side, utterly shredding flesh from belly button to just below my floating ribs.

Dark blue blood came out in an upsetting waterfall. The pain almost brought me to my knees. It seemed my life had been an escalating education in pain. Every teacher I had from Justin DuMorne, to Lea, to Ebenezar, to Lash, to Mab, to Ranma used pain as a teaching technique or at least taught me how to manage it.

They were all, to one extent or another, schooled in dark powers. With Ebenezar and Ranma being the closest to exceptions. And my Grandfather was the Blackstaff, the White Council's assassin and wetworks man, who had a license to kill, that is break the Laws of Magic.

And my big sister was a demonic mercenary who ate people.

Blood. I stared as it poured out. Over the years, I had plenty of experience with seeing my own blood. I was still getting used to the idea of it being blue. As reminders of inhumanity went, it was a pretty disquieting. Though, not as much as seeing some of my own purply entrails starting to spill out.

The… upside, if one could call it that, was my life had been a parade of pain and injury, the wound… could have been deeper. Dark blood-stained ice started to extend out covering over the horrific gash as a burning cold spread. My knees shook as I focused on stepping forward. I could manage, I had worse and the bleeding was stopping...

That litany of… questionable teachers had also been big on teaching me how to manage pain. Wizarding was all about mental focus.

And right now, the gnawing hunger burbling up was requiring more mental effort to suppress than the pain.

Which was why when the somewhat battered naughty nurse attacked again, my nostrils flared at the scent of her dark blood and my breath quickened and my torso armor got a bit… tighter.

Slit green eyes narrowed in concentration; Saito was very appealing.

I dodged her sword work and took a moment to admire her figure. Her vest and slacks were rather complimentary on her wiry, but flexible frame. Even the hair dye she used did give her an exotic golden accenting, which made me curious about the color of other… things.

A distant part of me noted I had not been eating... well. And regretted that my brother had yet to reopen his salon cum coffee shop: Coiffure Cup. The intimacy a woman had with her hairdresser was a great way to get some low intensity but high volume feeding.

It also showed that White Court vamps didn't have to hurt people to feed on them. Or at least not render them into broken addicts. But the White Court was full of crocodile tears and generational dysfunction.

Such as the fun habit of not telling young White Court vamps that they were vampires. Instead, letting them figure out in about the worst way, during their first sexual encounter, which invariably resulted in their internal demon waking up and killing said first partner.

The White Court had issues. Only some of them were unavoidable consequences of sharing their souls with obnoxious demons of Hunger.

Still, my brother really did have a gift. It was a shame I teased him so often over the years. Because of that, I had to beg him to do my hair.

Though my body tensed as I grit my teeth and wanted something low volume and very high intensity.

Hells Bells, right now I was wondering if it was really that bad that Executive Priority Health was controlled by Marcone. Miss Demeter, the manager of that... special exercise club might not like me but I had helped her a few years back and the trainers were very pert and energetic girls. One time I brought Thomas there to pressure Demeter and his Hunger was quite excited at just being there.

The smell of Saito's shampoo, sweet, soap, and blood made me wish that I had abandoned my decision to not come on too strongly to Murphy or that Andi...

I caught the eye of the big wolf and flicked my tail about.

The platinum sword flashed in, green edge humming, and I twisted so my duster took the blow, at the point of impact a few of the spells I had inscribed on the leather flared and popped and the material parted. The tip squealed against my chest armor with a rain of emerald sparks and blue ice chips.

As she reached for another grenade, I grabbed her free arm. Her sword flipped back and stabbed down, right into my thigh.

I yowled and snapped my head forward, to head butt her, with my jaw...

Her ears perked, Saito pulled back, but my very manly, um... very womanly, a mature professional womanly, scream was the signal. Andi launched herself doing her best impression of a fur missile.

And since the Jade Court ninja was busy worrying my thigh like she was prospecting for oil, the sapphire spray coming out of my leg indicated she had found a gusher.

I should have been worried about what rate of blood lost meant; honestly, the pain from the sword's chisel-tip scrounging bone was worse.

Still, the upside meant that Saito was solid, and remained solid when the big she-wolf landed on her back and clamped her muzzle down on the bottle-blonde fox's neck.

"Dorminus!" I shouted laying my hands on her cheeks. The sleep spell hit the nurse as her pupils dilated and her head would have lolled if not for Andi's "support".

I pulled my hands off and raked at Saito's chest. It took effort to cut off her vest and stock of grenades, I wanted to take more of her chest. Hunger and lust and visions of pale curved skin flashed in mind. Flesh parting under my claws, sensual or slashing; either would be delicious.

I had experienced the urges of the Winter Knight: the tempting mixing of sex and violence. I had managed to contain those urges but this... well this was more of the same, but coupled with a gnawing hunger. I was damaged; I was famished and this woman had wronged me, poached in my territory, had wounded me.

She would die by my hand, her flesh was forfeit, by right and custom, it was mine.

But I had to act. The clock was running, a wound like this... Butters once told me one could lose a liter of blood in half a minute. I was not too familiar with metric, but that sounded like a lot, and with it would come shock.

Worse, Butters said out that the blood was still pouring out and that ninety seconds would mean three liters of blood gone which would cause irreversible shock, which had a roughly ninety-five percent fatality rate.

Then the werewolf bit down, rich dark blood gushed, Saito's eyes widened, and she went smoky causing Andi to tumble onto me. And the wolf's weight leaned on a leg that was hardly able to support its own mass.

We tumbled in a heap. With blood covering Andi's coat, she looked a bit bashful. And then worried as she spotted my leg.

"It' okay, the bleeding will stop..." I kicked a couple grenades away from me and then used an arm to hurl them into the pond. It would have been more satisfying if it was not still frozen.

Instead of a nice sploosh, they hit with a clink and bounced all about.

The ground was cool and surprisingly comfortable, but it was a bit worrying how much blue was splashed about in wide fans. Saito's dark red blood was more of an accent. A delicious smelling one. I got another faraway thought about how I would have to clean this all up, because leaving blood about was a huge risk.

That was overridden by the intense need to replenish myself. I panted and the cold numbing burbled in my thigh before the veins and arteries in that leg flashed over with a hot burning. The ice above and around the wound thickened and constricted putting pressure to the arteries and veins, the bleeding started to lessen.

I could heal, but it was costing me. My lips parted as I twisted about, Andi helpfully padded to watch my back as I covered hers.

Saito appeared before me. Her vest and blouse were slashed to ribbons, exposing a rather pert, if delicate, torso. As my tail swished about and blades extended, I wanted to cut apart her pants. Just to make her wardrobe match. Honest.

For my part, I had been thickening my own armor, growing a bit more ice, specifically on the spots that nurse liked to stab. It was getting a bit harder to breath and the tightness and weight was not helping.

The stab deep in my thigh practically burned with the tight band of ice I had formed above the wound, and then I had concentrated filling it with more packed ice to stuff in the wound. It was not the best medical care, Butters would be horrified, but I was a succubus, I could heal.

I had been husbanding my magic, the right spell at the right time could knock her down. Hells Bells if I had a bit of ghost dust I could have ended this at the bridge.

I called forth fire. Since I had thrown a fair bit of heavy evocation magic, and was literally on the ground using the Winter Power to keep from bleeding out, I used demonic fire. As the blue flames streamed forth and flared, I considered using Soulfire to help control the flames, maybe tighten the beam, but I was loath to run out of that.

It was easier to let my magic replenish than grow back my soul.

As Saito stepped through the demonic fire with contemptuous ease something tickled at my mind. One of my attacks had gotten to her when she was all Shadowcat. Right? I exhaled deliberately; it was getting a bit harder to concentrate.

"You just won't give up," Saito hissed as she rolled her shoulders. Rage burned in her green eyes. "This could have ended; you could have let me go."

"You could have run," I gasped. "This is as much your pride as mine."

From behind me, Andi let out a snarl.

"Yes." Saito pointed her sword at me. There was a gleam in her eye, and I was suddenly very glad I had gone through the trouble of relieving her of her grenades. "All this time being afraid of you."

Holding a hand to my chest, I coughed as she stepped closer. "And you wonder why you were so foolish to fear me?"

"Oh, far from it." Saito raised her sword in a salute. "Your reputation is well-earned."

My arm flew out from inside my coat and I shot her. My revolver spent much of its time as a heavy weight in my coat, or in a holster when the mental prodding of my sisters made me feel guilty. Given my slicked hand, graying vision, and awkward angle, I was waiting for her to get closer.

And even then, only two of the five rounds hit her. I wasn't sure which missed due to me or which she ghosted past after I started opening fire. Still, they were large bullets, and I was rewarded by one blooming of deep red blood low in her gut, and another in her opposite shoulder. If only it was in her sword arm.

As I empted my revolver, she rushed forward and then turned solid to knock it out of my hand. Or maybe she wanted to lop my hand off at the wrist. I didn't stay still to find out.

The instant she turned solid to disarm me, I sprung up.

My lunge was uneven and weak, but my other arm and tail managed to connect. My body reacted with a euphoric tingle as claws and tail-fins began to carve flesh. I was so hungry. And this flesh before me was so lovely.

Andi had bounded around and bit through the back of Saito's heel. The nurse screamed as I sliced her up. The wounds were not too deep, yet. We fell back into the icy, bloody mud.

And then Saito tried to run, she turned all smoky and started to limp off. Snarling, I reached out with my hand. I would not be denied "Forzare!" I cried and in sheer frustration, sheer will, I put all I had into it: my will, magic, demonic power, and Soulfire.

A silvery translucent hand tipped in gleaming talons half as long as Saito's sword grabbed her and batted her down. The talons actually managed to cut into her smoky form.

Pulling up my staff to try and help me get back to my hooves, I blinked. That first shot of icy hail had used a bit of Soulfire to help contain the projectiles. Those had hit her, despite her being intangible.

I smirked and could feel the fear and confusion in the meat.

Saito got up and gasped. She still had her sword. The uncertainty left her face. She readied her blade.

Grinning toothily, I spread my hands in challenge.

Andi's ears perked as she padded around to my flank. She could sense the change in my mood.

My tail flicked. There was a moment, a slim moment, where Saito's tensed body indicated she was contemplating turning tail.

Her sword steadied and she surged forward.

"Fuego!" I screamed giving a purposefully ragged gout of fire. Okay, I could have made it a bit more focused, but I was running low.

Naturally, she phased right through the fire, utterly ignoring it.

She struck in with an angled slash that went inside my right arm, making her inside the arc of my fire when she turned solid. I stepped back and rotated my stance. I wanted two things, one of which was for her sword to shoot past me.

I did not get that... at least not entirely. Instead the blade swept past my coat and sparked against my armor. Ice squealed and chipped and a long, relatively shallow gash opened up my right side.

"I had just put my guts back in!" I snarled, completing the side-stepping maneuver. Now I had the other thing I wanted.

Saito still had her blade out and was just overextended enough, meanwhile I was standing to her right at a perpendicular angle.

The vampiric nurse immediately swept her sword back to disembowel me on the backswing.

"Laqueus!" I shouted, pushing Soulfire into the spell. And a glittering and flashing cord flickered between my hands

And true to form, Saito instantly turned smoky. She knew how to react when I got all yelly and glowy.

Thus her sword passed harmlessly through my body.

I was taller, my arms were much longer. With a smooth raising and lowering of my arms looped the silver strand of pure force over Saito's head.

Her green eyes widened when I crossed my arms drawing the spell, the supernatural garrote tight. It did not matter that she was intangible, the silver construct made out of Soulfire dug into her neck.

Gurgling, Saito's free hand went to her neck to try to pull the garrote off while she stabbed back with her sword. Her first thrust was ineffective as her blade was as intangible as the rest of her.

She flickered back to solidity and moved to make another awkward angled attempt to slice my face off. That's when Andi bounded in and bit down on her sword arm.

The she-wolf's jaws locked on and, blood pouring out, dragged her down by the forearm. The sword tumbled to the ground and laded with a thud.

And then I bent my knees and pulled back with my arms, taking the already unbalanced Saito down with me.

Eyes bugged as the garrote was drew blood. It got worse as I wrenched myself over from being behind her to straddling her. Her empty hand clawed at me but my tail flicked over her and fingers and flesh flew apart in a bloody spray.

Some of it fell on my lips.


The Hunger rolled up my spine, caressing my torso before pulling at my throat and my teeth ached. It then caressed back down to my hips and at the base of my tail before descending and fluttering down to that appendage's very tip.

My body ached and burned and ice shifted over me.

I gave the silver cord another tug and, straddling her, felt her life slip away. Something like synesthesia hit as I could taste her life her essence. Looking into her green eyes I saw them go dull as the life was being squeezed and pulled out of her.

There was a pricking drawing sensation as a Soulgaze started to hit.


Snarling, I released the garrote and used the claws on one hand to slash her eyes.

There, problem solved.

Power flowed into me. It was a trickle that promised a flood. She gave a gurgling, bloody scream as her battered lungs managed to take in some air. I could feel her pain, but there was a bit... something that cooled and numbed her. Her pain lessened, but it was still there. My other claws took care of her neck.

But, she still bucked and heaved so I bent over and opened my mouth. My lips met hers for an instant and then I went below her chin. She calmed. I was reminded of culling animals at my grandfather's farm. They would often thrash after you killed them, but it was just their bodies, the life was already fading.

And my Hunger welled up as I fed in earnest.

Ribs, ribs were a problem, but after a bit I got through them. Andi shuffled over, blood on her muzzle. I gave her a toothy grin and, with a couple economical slices, presented her with the choice bit.

The wolf paused and, after a brief hesitation, darted forward and gulped down the warm heart.

Tail swishing, I returned to my meal. There was more but I was starting to feel flush and sated, though I wanted to find Murphy for... dessert. There was the odd mix of torpor from a full belly and jangling excitement from fresh energy.

Either way, finding a bed seemed like an excellent idea.

I wiped my mouth and frowned before my sidling hunger got me and I gulped down more liver. Regret absently burbled up; my niece Ukyou probably had all sorts of... exotic recipes. I frowned at the meat. Leftovers would be... problematic.

It was not like I lived by myself anymore, and I did not have that much fridge space. No wonder ghouls ate so much in one sitting, that and they were ravenous, disgusting, ugly monsters.

Where we succubae are ravenous, tempting, alluring monsters? A voice a lot like my old... roommate and mother to my second daughter whispered. I blinked. It was just my imagination.

Okay BlackStone, keep it together. Just because you're busy eating a someone, in a public park in the middle of Chicago doesn't mean your mind's slipping gears. The fight had to have attracted attention. It had flames, gunfire, screams.

There was only so much privacy Stallings' diversion could get us.

And I didn't want to have to explain to the CPD what I was doing. Even Special Investigations, even Stallings would balk at the explanation of "It's not technically cannibalism."

I ate my fill.

Maybe a bit more. I was still healing up, and I was pretty sure under all this shiny, sparkly ice amour I was beat to hell. And it would be a shame to waste all this meat.

I picked up my staff. Cleanup. Right.

Fire. Practitioners used fire because it was cleansing. Even entities or spirit had a hard time tangling with fire. It took serious skill to become immune to such effects, as the late naughty nurse showed.

But even her... leftovers burned. The flames licked around the ground, burning churned mud with mine and hers.

Ice broke things up a bit more. I looked at the long-bones with a vague... longing. But they had already been burnt and the marrow was probably...

I shook my head and switched to more magical fire.

I was left with an ashy calcified heap. Though there was enough there from the fragments and remnants of clothes that a medical examiner, like Butters, could easily tell it was once a person.

Hells Bells, Butters' introduction to the supernatural world was when he found a bunch of burnt corpses and determined that they were humanoid, but not human. Apparently, some hot-headed wizard had burned a bunch of vampires to death.

Andi looked down at the mess and wrinkled her wolfy nose.

"Don't worry fuzzbutt I have a plan." And I slashed down with my staff. The few inches Saito had cut off made it not quite as perfect of a focus, but it still worked well enough.

"Aparturum," I whispered and a ragged line cut in reality. On the other side was the Nevernever. It looked like a windswept but starkly beautiful glade. I paused and looked around.

Appearances could be deceiving, especially in the Nevernever. Empty Night, there was a very pretty garden on the other side of my old apartment. It was also very lethal, complete with giant centipede monsters.

So far, nothing like that came charging at me.

Andi's ears perked up as she looked through the portal and gave a low howl. She paused and looked up at me.

I shrugged. "Forzare," I said as I used the magical force to push the remains through the portal.

There was no shortage of things hungry for human, or humanoid, flesh in the Nevernever. That place was full of creepy creatures. That was why I had burned the remains twice and used ice to break them up. All that made it harder for something to use her body to make something... eldritch.

I was about to close the portal when I heard the sound of furry paws running through grass.

All around the glade came a pack of glossy, sleek, black hounds who bounded in and started chomping down on the bones.

Andi's nose snuffled up and she almost took a step forward.

"No, these are my godmother's," I stared at the great dogs happily gnawed on their... scraps. I waited a bit longer for Lea to appear. But there was no sign. My tail swished as I felt a mix of...

Well, it was sweet in a way that she was still providing for me, but kinda, no very, creepy what she thought of was a useful boon. I also would have liked to see her again.

Andi pulled back her lips and growled at one of the hounds who tried to nose his way across the portal.

"Go, get back," I waved with my staff. "Oh, and tell Lea, um... thanks," I finished lamely as I closed the portal up with another wizardly motion with a long haft of wood.

"Let's go, you need to get changed. And I need to pickup all these dropped weapons."

Andi looked up at me and gave a doggy grin and then let her tongue lol out in canine laugh.

I looked down. My duster was... well it was more of a midnight blue and shiny. And I was still in my Blue Beetle armor. Well... there was a lot more gloss and shine and...

We look like a Blue Beetle themed ice-skater a little voice whispered in me, as I nearly tripped over the platinum sword.

"No, I'd need a poofy but tiny and sparkly skirt," I mumbled, picking it up, and I sighed as there was a rustling.

Andi shook her head, and trotted over and poked the end of my tail with her nose.

"Oh!" Blushing, I concentrated and hid the tail, horns, and wings. I also focused and made sure I would blush in a human-shade.

"Okay, now let's get you changed." I said as we casually, and not at all hurriedly, left the ravaged gardens. At least finding my gun, the scabbard, and fishing rod case for Saito's sword was only a quick diversion.


On the Southside between Lake Michigan and the skyway was a red-roofed stumpy beige square of a building. It sat up on a bit of a rise and gave a view of the Calumet river. A humble sign, inside, declared it to be Calumet Fisheries. It also proudly stated that this was the only location.

The heavenly smell of wood smoke and curing fish roiled out of the smokehouse out back

With fewer tables than Mac's pub, by about a dozen, Calumet Fisheries was not a sit down restaurant. It was not even really a restaurant, it was a place you could buy smoked fish by the pound, fried fish and other sides.

Standing to the side of the building by my new-to-me car, Carlos munched on a paper cup full of aromatic shrimp. "You were right, Dresden."

"I told you it was some of the best fish in the city," I smirked as I enjoyed some smoked catfish. I shifted a bit to the side and patted the fender of my, mostly orange, Volkswagen Thing. Hey, I had gone up in the world, I could afford a convertible. "There's still plenty of room."

The Warden commander shook his head and leaned on the car. "More legroom?"

"There was more to the Beetle than being cramped and pokey." I groused. "So, what was I right about?"

"The Jade court." He took a bite of some lemon before going for another shrimp. "When you told the Paranet to look for sick kids and medical staff who went missing and forward it to the Wardens... four cities in my guy's jurisdiction and two under the East Coast regional commander popped up. It took some legwork to track down, but in each city, groups of four to seven nurses, medical practitioners, secretaries just up and vanished. Well, with one exception."

"And the kids?"

"We're still looking but the part of Houston where those women worked, and in Jacksonville did have elevated absences. No one missing through. But Houston had..."

"That's seven teams, Stars and Stones." I shook my head.

"And all because you were jealous of some clown stealing your yellow pages idea."

Smoothing my skirt, I grumped and shifted my legs.

"I don't like it. Between the Fomor, the Whites, and other enemies," he glanced at me. It was too public to mention the Black Council. "Our dance card is pretty full."

"Oh, you want to go out dancing?"

"You can dance?"

My expression soured. "I taught ballroom dance to pay my way through detective school."

"Do tell," Carlos grinned at me. "Seven teams, maybe about thirty-forty operatives." His handsome face drew into a frown. "You sure she said this wasn't another White Court scam?"

"She could have been lying. The kids were a bit sick, but they weren't dead. And in the week since she died and her team bugged out, they've gotten better. You examine any?"

"Yeah, Wild Bill actually caught one in Houston."

"What? Come on Carlos, you gotta lead with that stuff! What happened?"

"He followed your lead, caught her burning records in some insurance office."

I leaned a bit closer. "And?"

"Ghost dust took her out, but she had a device made up of black powder, powdered aluminum, diesel fuel, fertilizer and god knows what else." Carlos shook his head. "It was... clunky, messy, but effective."

"Did he?" Bill was a good guy. The Texan warden used to be one of my subordinates, before the Council pared me down to a paper command.

"He jumped into the Nevernever as it blew." He ate another shrimp. "What the hell are they really up to? Your nurse told you plenty of things; we've examined those sick kids but..."

"But if she told us everything, they wouldn't be willing to die to destroy the paperwork of their little experiment?" I grumbled.

"Any help from your Knight of the Sword?" Carlos shook his head. He had first met Butters when the little medical examiner had been my drummer, helping me control Sue, the zombie T-rex. He then got to be battlefield medic for a bunch of Wardens. Butters had saved a lot of lives that night, including my own.

"Butters thinks the kids will be okay, but... you know how it goes for Knights. He was out of town on knighting business. A Black Court scourge had taken over an orphanage in Peru. He got there early, but it was... they were trafficking the kids. Sellin' them to the Fomor, Wyldfae... whoever. Those they didn't earmark for themselves."

Carlos winced. Black Court were no joke. "Coincidence you think?"

"That the local Knight was also fighting vampires hurting kids? No bet."

He nodded. "They kinda need a signal from on high?"

"Sorta," I shrugged. It awkward enough for me around representative of the Almighty, and that was before Lasciel, Mab, and DarkStar. Honestly, I felt things were better off if I avoided any direct attention, which made the interest a certain Archangel had in me a bit worrying.

Frustratingly, my big sister had absolutely no issues with the Knights. I suppose it helped that she was Shinto and thus meeting the wielder of Kusanagi, and getting the blessing of Amaterasu, were kinda big deals to her.

Honestly, I wanted to talk to my old assistant Bob about it, but Butters had been cagy about the Spirit of Knowledge. Which honestly was for the best, before he got the Sword, Butters was using Bob in the field.

That was... risky. Bob was beholden to anyone who possessed the skull that the spirit lived-in. That's kind of how a nasty necromancer figured out how to summon a Darkhollow. He simply knocked me out, with the butt of my own gun, and then stole the skull and asked Bob how to do the dark ritual.

In fairness, I was distracted by summoning and, successfully, containing the goblin king.

Carlos waved a shrimp under my nose.

I bit down. Damn, that was good. I should eat here more often.

"Who's a distracted demoness!" he said with way too much cheer.

"Yeah, yeah, Butters did mention it probably wasn't a coincidence that his first mission as a Knight, well first one where he knew he'd be a Knight, was against a supernatural predator in the form of a Japanese medical-type woman."

"Think she was Jade too?" Carlos asked.

"Maybe, probably not, she was feeding on people's nightmares: a baku, a nasty one. She was pretending to be a doctor at St Anthony's... which was where one of Saito's sisters was working."

"Your naughty nurse might have been keeping tabs on various predators, seeing which ones managed to stay undercover; how they got exposed," Carlos offered.

"Could be, could be that slipping into medicine, into schools, is a great way to infiltrate power structures and get access. Kind of like how the mob will use construction companies as a front for moving equipment or restaurants for moving cash."

"Or Laundromats. Hence money laundering." Carlos eyed me. "Though, these days savvier mobsters just open their own banks."

"This isn't about Marcone, I hope." I grumbled. I had once robbed one of his mob banks. Well, technically, I had helped, Nicodemus, leader of the Blackened Denarius, rob the bank, as part of a larger burgling plot, which was part of an even larger plot on Mab's part to ruin Nicodemus.

And then Mother Winter showed her daughter how it was done by moving me to confront, ruin, and slay Nicodemus's wife, turning me into a sidhe succubus as a gift to her daughter in the process.

"And the local police? I guess you didn't burn down any buildings... just part of a garden."

"Stallings isn't happy, not with the fire, not with an 'insurgent cell' escaping, but he's got plenty of eyewitness and forensic evidence pointing to a disgruntled employee committing arson. And his niece and nephew are getting better."

Carlos eyed me. "Getting better at what?"

"More healthy. Hells Bells, I don't know how much magic power they have. Probably minor talents, but they're still young. I poked at the remainder of the Black Magic threads in them and it looks like they were some kind of monitoring spells."

"I don't like it when vampires do something that seems helpful to us."

I snorted. "It never is. Me and Murph once fought a Red Court vamp who got the bright idea of using a magic artifact to force couples into love." My stomach fluttered. It had been wrong to have those feelings forced with Murph but it had felt... good.

Carlos frowned. "Nasty mind magic aside, what was their angle?"

"True love. Little-Miss-Red was trying to understand how to make more humans have the bond of true love."

"Which would protect them from the White Court," Carlos ate some shrimp. "But would leave them easy pickings to the Red."

"Yeah, my gut says the Jade's running some similar con. The Whites once tried to reduce humanity's magical talent, now the Jades are trying the opposite?"

"Vampires," Carlos grumbled. "They squabble and backstab and humans get caught in the middle."

"What do you expect 'los? Humans are their food."

He gave me a level look.

"Hey! I'm still playing for your, our, team."

Carlos ate another shrimp. "You seem less peckish than you were at breakfast two days ago."

I crossed my arms. "I didn't break any Laws." Handily, the Laws of Magic only applied to humans.

This time his look was one of a person who had ridden on my zombie t-rex. Necromancy was another thing that was a no go... if you were raising humans. "You didn't let her go to waste."

"My godmother's hounds," I stated.

Carlos studied me, and poked me in the belly, before nodding. "She's got a creepy obsession with you."

Leaning forward, I waved his concern off. "It's just her way. She's trying to be helpful."

"Fairies," he shook his head.


"What about the competition? Balducci gonna hang up the cape and top hat?"

I frowned at him. "You worried about another fake wizard in the yellow pages?" I asked.

"Elaine's been helpful back in LA," he defended.

Elaine also was not a fake wizard. She took a dive on the tests Carlos gave her. For some reason, she didn't trust the White Council and did not want to be drafted into the Wardens.

"Well, she's got more talent than Balducci."

"And is easier on the eye," Carlos smirked.

"Yes, Elaine does look better than a white-toothed pretty boy," I sighed.

"Should I be jealous?" Carlos inquired.

"Honestly, this was his first real experience on the spooky side," I chewed my lip. He did some good legwork, and was handy in the records office, but Saito could have flayed him alive. "I'm not sure he'll stick around."

"Or if he should?"

"He's taking a few days off to recover from the smoke inhalation, and he helped narrow down the rally point to the gardens with Stallings, but his office is still taking new party appointments" Finishing off the smoked fish, I smirked. "And he's still got a few months until he's gotta renew his yellow page ad."

Standing up and still favoring his bad leg, Carlos rolled his eyes and gave me the last shrimp. I smiled.

"I'd warn you to not do anything reckless, but..." He gestured at me.

"Hey, I ran into Saito!" I stomped a foot.

The Warden looked down at my let than up the length my skirt. "I was talking about the rest of you."

I pouted. "I had good reasons to go this way."

"Yeah, you had good reasons to make a zombie dinosaur, but at least it got to ride her."

My cheeks colored. "Well, it's not like I'm the one who's gotten all skittish around Wintry women."

"Wintry women with pointy teeth and claws."

My pout grew. I was going have to talk to Molly, my Winter Lady, about that.

Carlos smirked. "Look on the bright side to this Balducci thing."


"Yeah, when Maggie turns nine you can have some real magic at her birthday party."

I wanted to throw something at the cocky little warden as he shuffled off down towards the river. He had a point; I did have to get back and pickup my daughters. Maggie had school tomorrow and there was only so much help her dog Mouse could be with it.

End Invisible Hand.

Notes: This first story of Dresden's adventures dealing with the fallout from Blood Debts ran a bit longer than I thought. The plot will be running parallel with mainline Return, specifically Bonding Allure. For example this story takes place before chapter 1

But the arc of Dresden and her family and friends will be split across multiple one shots. Next up will be Our Sister, the Idiot. Then will be Family Business, Haunting Relationships, Dreamland, and others.

Thanks to Lukkai for suggesting the burned-out car bit. Thanks to DCG, Ellf, Kevin D Hammel, Henry Stickman, and . for their help with the corrections. And now all the corrections are in ^^;