Beyond the Outer Gates Lies… Devils?

Author's Notes: And here's the latest out of my Anti-Writer's block thread! I've been bandying a few stories around on there for a bit now, though mostly I've been caught up on Hdxd. Such fertile ground it has.

Anyway, it won't take a genius to see that this fic is obviously inspired by Surrarin's 'Devil You Know', an awesome fic that is succeeding wonderfully so far at integrating both world's mythos. It does involve Harry when he's still sixteen and developing into the wizard we all know and love. I found myself wondering just what it would be like if the Harry from later series, the one with all the special powers and neat tricks and experience would interact, especially in a world where Fallen Angel doesn't mean creature older than time darker than how I take my coffee.

Thus, BtOG's was born.

Not exactly high drama, just your standard 'take one character from another series and plop them through plebonium powered circumstances in another. But hey, sometimes it's fun to read that kind of thing too.

So, as always, enjoy while Harry rediscovers how much he hates hormones, bullies innocent school devils, and indulges in buddy cop antics with the voice in his head!

*Story Start*

I was fighting a monster on a pile of bones.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

I was feeling firsthand what it felt like to have had your ass kicked eighteen different ways from Sunday, by a creature that could probably throw down against Mab, so far beyond the Gate that any chance of me ever seeing it again was probably laughable, all atop a mountain of bones so vast and ancient that if atmosphere actually existed in this region of the Nevernever I would probably need an oxygen tank to be able to breath.

Plus, I'm pretty certain it was a Wednesday. I never could quite get the hang of Wednesday. Always hated the day actually. Maybe if I worked a nine to five than I could welcome it as a hump day, but with my hours, it just meant the week was half over and the next half was probably gonna be just as bad.

Perhaps you should be focusing, my host? Oh. And there was that voice in my head again. You know, funny thing about voices in your head. When you first get them, you absolutely hate them. Especially if that voice belonged to the shadow of a fallen angel that had existed from beyond space and time and was trying to lure you to hell. But after you get to know them for a bit and then they get literally drilled out of your grey tissue by a psychic assault by an Outsider, you actually realize just how much you got used to them, how much you'll miss them.

But only until they come back and you realize that even without the temptation of hell as an agenda it was still really annoying to be renting room space in your brain.

Regardless of how good the rent was.

Is now really the time to be reminiscing? The voice drawled, amusement in its obviously feminine tone.

'I liked you better when you were still a dormant parasite, Lash' I told her dryly.

You mean when I was unable to express myself as anything besides blinding debilitating headaches? the shadow of a fallen angel sounded more curious than actually offended.

'You're right,' I would have nodded if I wasn't busy having my cheek indented by a fungal monstrosity, sending my body careening through a pile of shattered ribs and what looked like femurs. 'Nothings really changed, has it?'

Droll, Lash told me, her own tone dry. Your attempts at humor remain humorous because you still haven't realized that everyone is laughing at you, not with you.

'I'm pretty sure Mouse laughs with me!' I declared, a wall of ice erupting in front of me, just barely stopping a limb which may have been a tail, a tentacle, or a proboscis from carving out my heart. Above me, a sun erupted as the heat I stole from the air to make the wall gathered. The fire glowed, white hot, before it glittered, something shimmery and silvery joining the white.

I was quite satisfied when my return fire lifted the monster I was fighting, before driving it down, forcing it through pile after pile of sharp bones, some of them for shapes which had never before been witnessed on the actual earth.

I thought about burying it, but the last time I had it had burrowed, and nearly taken my leg off at the ankle.

Mouse is a dog, and thus cannot laugh, Lash pointed out back, and this time I smirked.

'Do you really think that, Lash? Knowing Mouse, do you?' I challenged. I was greeted by silence in my head, though outside it the scream of rage from the creature I was fighting very nearly swept me off my feet, literally.

Ah, look. Your attack seems to have angered it, Lash changed the subject, and my smirk only grew.

"Wizard!" the monstrosity screamed its rage to the heavens, and the mountain of bones we were fighting on shook, as in literally shook. Avalanches of yellow and white began, the landscape around us changing as it charged once more, leaping literally hundreds of yards as it came down on me from above. An explosion echoed behind me as I dodged, lashes of Winter's Ice keeping it from chasing. "How long do you think you can continue, Mortal! You may have closed the Gates, you may have stopped us, but you cannot escape anymore! You have locked yourself in here, with us!"

"No," I shouted back, trying not to notice the way blood kind of mixed in when I spoke. "I'm not locked in here with you, you're locked in here with me!"

Now if I only had a funny mask that changed shape and a trench coat.

You know, once I might have looked up to Batman, but all things considered, Rorschach was probably the best I could go for now.

He was a bloodthirsty sociopath, after all, and considering just how much Winter I had in me, that was probably the best I could aspire to these days.

My host, Lash continued softly, proving that having a reformed fallen shadow in your head means you don't get to ignore things like coughing up blood. You know as I do. This cannot continue.

'That's quitter talk, Lash,' I admonished her, wiping blood from my chin, and trying to get it out of my eye. I thought about maybe using my sleeve, but there wasn't much left of my duster. It might have been enchanted to withstand bullets, claws, hostile magic, and to remain light and breathable, but I might have overlooked enchanting it against withstanding sustained assault by one of the Walkers of the Outside.

I probably should have extended the scope of my preparation. It really wasn't paranoia, when there really were invisible demons poised to rip your face off.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Lash whispered softly, and I stiffened. It wasn't my Name, but it was the closest that anyone had ever gotten to it. She was a voice in my head, after all. She knew me, in ways no one else ever could. She couldn't compel me with something like that, even if it was close, but it was enough to let me know how serious she was. You know as well as I, how dire the situation.

Mark the day in guild and gold. For once, I had no comeback.

It had been a wild week. Most of my life was pretty quiet, filled with the standard drudgery that came from trying to make a living as a wizard/private investigator, interspersed by what I've come to think of as pretty wild weekends. Weekends that involved stopping fairy wars or assassinating fairy queens. Or stopping apocalypses. Or destroying entire species…

I miss the days when wild weekends meant waking up on your stove with no idea how you got the beer bottles to stack into a perfect copy of the pyramids of Giza.

Nowadays, a wild week meant stopping a penetration of the Outer Gates, spearheading a Fae/human/vampire/Denarii/just-about-everything-in-between assault on the leader of a demonic invasion force of Outsiders, before nobly closing the gates forever with yourself on the wrong side to both save humanity and finish killing the last of the Walkers.

'Die Alone.'

That was me. Right here. Right now.

And you know what? I could deal with that. Honestly, I was fine.

Because me dying alone meant everyone else didn't die. Because it meant I could stand here, now, and face this monster that sought the end of all I knew, all I loved, and all I stood for.

Murphy. Molly. Thomas. Even Marcone, Lara, those assholes Nicodemus and Kincaid. Hell, even Mab, Vadderung, and the freaking Erlking weren't so bad when it came to the other options…

And most importantly… My daughter… Margaret…

So you've made your decision then, Harry? Lash breathed in my skull, the sound coming as though it was next to my ear. I knew it wasn't real, I knew it was just her, but I felt soft arms envelope me from behind, holding, comforting, and supporting. I knew it wasn't real, but I felt a forehead against the back of my neck, and the wetness of tears there as well.

'I don't have much left in me,' I told her, softly, tired and sore. It was the truth. I might have been talking a good game, but I was down, down to the very last of me.

I've been using powers not meant for mortals. Things that left marks on you, inside and out. Things that drained you, broke you, and warped you.

And it would have been cheap at a thousand times the price to get me here, to have done what I've done.

I just saved the world you know. Again. How many times was it now?

It was a sad thing when you started to lose track of how many times you could say that.

"Wizard!" the creature I was fighting screamed again, mad with hate and rage.

"He Who Walks Behind," I spoke up, and it was probably a sign that the Walker of the Outer Realms truly didn't understand my world's existence that he didn't freeze at the sound of it.

I'm told I'm pretty damn scary these days.

I believe them when they tell me that.

"What do you think to accomplish?" the Walker who approaches unseen laughed, closing in on me with a loping stride, as much as home on all fours as it was bipedal. "You are alone, you are lost! You are mine! I will dissemble you, and make your suffering legendary! You will beg me for a death I shall never allow! Who are you to try and stand against me!"

"My Name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden," I said, eyes narrowed and steel in my voice.


"Who am I to stand against you? I've killed Fairy Queens. I've annihilated species. I've put up with Charity Carpenter on momma bear syndrome…"

Oh Harry, Lash sighed, sounding amused.

"I've stood against elder fey and fallen angel alike. I've died, and been risen again. I am of the Wise! I am one of Winter, who guards this realm! I am recognized by Angels and Gods alike!" Power. Power grew in me. Recklessly, without hesitation or regard. Without thought of anything but the next blow. Magic was emotion and feeling, and right now, there was only one thing in me. "And! What! I! Am! Is! Defiance!"

Defiance. If ever there was a word that represented me, if ever there was something that encapsulated me to my very core, that was what it was. Defiance against the creatures that ruled in the night and thought human their prey. Defiance against the forces that sought to dominate and destroy. Defiance against all who thought to rule me, to control me, to destroy me.

Defiance against the thought that McDonalds could EVER be better than Burger King…!

Really Harry?

And right now, I was Defiance against this thing.

Die Alone? As long as I had drawn my line in the sand, than I could deal with that.

Power. Such power. The air around me billowed, and every bone in a hundred yard radius froze, cracked, and shattered. Winter formed before me, pure Winter, a cold so great it made the space between stars look like a bonfire. And with that Winter, the fire formed too, the two points of opposite extremes standing side by side, a cold so pure it darkened the light around it and a fire so hot it couldn't be looked at.

'Lash,' I ordered, and the imaginary head on my neck nodded, the imaginary tears stopped.

As you wish, my beloved Host.

The fire changed, growing hotter, growing darker, an alteration of its very nature. The smell of brimstone and sulfur billowed around me. It became something different, something dangerous, something more.

Hellfire. The power of destruction. Out here, beyond the Outer Gates, I welcomed it. It might be Hellfire, but Hellfire was of my world, so using it here to defend that world was right.

The Winter Orb changed too. The ball of ice glimmered, becoming something more, something glittering. Frost and Silver joined.

Soulfire. The power of creation. The very method with which angels existed, and existence came to be. Granted to me by Uriel himself for services wrought.

The two were an invincible combination, the truest form of Yin and Yang ever expressed in my reality.

And they would kill me.

Hellfire could only be used by succumbing to infernal temptation, a damnation of the soul.

And Soulfire, which only could be used by burning your soul itself to wield.

There wasn't much of me left at this point. I'd been fighting too long, digging to deep. If I let the fight go any longer, I would lose, trailing bits of myself behind me as I did so.

So, better to go out with a bang. Even if it unmade me to my very core, I was Defiance.

I would take He Who Walks Behind with me. I'd already taken He Who Walks Before and He Who Walks Beside. This would finish all of the Outsider's Walkers. Maybe more would come later, but if they did, they would remember this day, and what it meant to stalk my reality.

Die Alone.

"Mortal!" He Who Walks Behind didn't seem to realize what he was facing, or it didn't care. It came, and I unleashed myself.

The two forces launched, interweaving, intertwining, binding, and in the end…

ost…my host… HARRY!

"Lash?" I whispered, feeling very, very tired. I was cold. So cold. And… empty? There was something that should be in me, and it wasn't there. I… I was breathing… but why was I breathing? What was… the point…

Suddenly something bit me. In a place it really hurt.

"Damnit Lash!" I squeaked, trying desperately to pull something with teeth of something where teeth shouldn't go.

Well, at least you're awake now, my host.

"Aren't you supposed to be a temptress?" I groaned, still trying to pry the feel of imaginary teeth off me. It proved difficult when I couldn't really touch the imaginary thing hurting me.

Are you really surprised that some among my hosts considered this the height of passion? Lash informed me, and finally the feel of my nipple being gnawed off stopped.

"No, and the fact that it doesn't only disillusions me more!" I groaned, flopping back on the bones. I was tired. Tired, sore, bleeding from a dozen wounds, probably with more bones broken than actually existed in the human body.

But I was alive.

Who saw that coming?

"Mortal…" I heard a whisper, and if I wasn't already empty, if I wasn't already cold, my blood would have frozen.

"You have got to be kidding me," I deadpanned, not really able to pull any real emotion up but still able to recognize that if I could I would be in a cold sweat. "He Who Walks Before must have been the jabronie in your group, because he went down with a hell of a lot less than that."

"Mortal," He Who Walks Behind groaned, and I took in the sight of the once terrifying Walker.

And what a sight it was.

It was trapped, much like Lea had been so long ago, in a prison of ice. Twisted thorns and piercing icicles held it in place, stretching its limbs and locking them in place. But the prison wasn't complete. Large swathes and whirls had been carved into it, a sign of the hellfire that had ravaged parts of the ice. The parts that hadn't been melted by the Hellfire held true, the Soulfire locked in it making it more than just frozen water.

"Not so tough now, are you," I muttered, pushing myself weakly to my feet. I wished I had my staff, but I had broken that with a sucker punch back when I had been dealing with He Who Walks Beside. Demons and things never really expected a wizard to use anything but magic, and I always loved taking advantage of that.

"You have bested me, Mortal," the Outsider hissed. Its huge mouth split into a grin that I immediately recognized as a sign of incoming trouble. "But I shall not perish alone."

"You," I growled, slumping as I glared. "What did you do?"

The creature laughed. "It isn't I you need fear anymore. Mortal, have thou never wondered, why it is we are so desperate to take your lands? Or did you ever think that perhaps I chose this battleground for another reason?"

'What do you think, Lash?' I thought, mind already racing as I tried to figure out what the thing meant. 'Useless trash talk, or ominous foreshadowing?'

My host… Lash trailed off, and I noticed with increasing worry that she did not seem to be taking the trash talk option. Something… Something comes. Look.

I felt imaginary hands guide me, and I let them. Then I stopped, staring.

"You took me somewhere with a red star?" I deadpanned, staring at the small glimmering red light in the distant sky.

"It comes, Mortal. The one even we fear," He Who Walks Behind laughed. "It comes, and we both shall perish for it."

Host, Lash began, and I noticed that her, a shadow of a demon from beyond the existence of time had started to sound worried. And that, all things considered, started to make me worry. I think, perhaps, we should be considering our options for flight.

"How bad is it?" I asked, wishing I still had emotions at this point, so I could properly start freaking out.

We should start fleeing now, Lash informed me, a desperate hint of panic starting to form. We should start fleeing most strenuously.

"Where?" I demanded of the voice in my head, not even bothering to feel awkward as even He Who Walks Behind started staring at me like I was crazy for doing so. "Lash, we have nowhere to go. We're locked out here now. We knew that when we started. Hell, even if we could go, I have nothing left Lash. That last attack was sort of all or nothing, and now we're at the 'nothing' phase of that kind of thing."

Despite my words, I was already starting to try to find options. The red thing in the sky, well, it was getting bigger. Rather quickly. Before it had been nothing but a sparkling dot, and now, it looked about the size of a quarter in comparison.

And it was getting bigger, very quickly. So whatever it was, it was probably very large, and moving very fast.

Even if I was the Winter Knight, I was still mostly mortal, and fairly squishy compared to some of the things out there.

I do not know, my host, Lash informed me, her tone hard. I could almost feel the psychic parasite moving in my head, and it was most awkward. I cannot think of any…

She trailed off, and I paused. The red thing now looked big enough that I was able to make it out, and I was already starting to sweat.

A dragon. A genuine, lizard with wings, dragon. It was red, and scaled, and looked pissed.

And it was still getting bigger with every second. Which meant, considering it wasn't already here, that I was beginning to get a scope of its size.

I was waiting for someone to yell 'Godzilla!' and for a stream of panicking people to start running by.

"Lash, I know you pretty well by now," I told her, starting to back away, wondering if fleeing was the best idea or if I should hide and hope it doesn't see me. "When you trail off like that, you have an idea. But it's generally not a good idea. But the thing is, even a not good idea is more than having no idea. Because as it stands, I'm thinking 'open a hole out of Nevernever and hope that whatever is on the other side either is friendly or just kills me quickly' is a good option."

Baring the fact that you have not the power or control left in you to do so, Lash began dryly despite the situation, we are currently beyond the Outer Gates, beyond even creation at this time. There is no way of knowing what would happen if you were to attempt to open a gate, or even if you would be able to. You could quite possibly destroy yourself completely with the attempt.

I paused for a moment before responding, "It's definitely Wednesday, isn't it. Stupid Wednesday." I went on, voice as serious as I could make it. "Lash, that dragon is getting closer. And it's big. As in really big. As in it currently is taking up about a quarter of the horizon, and it's still not here yet. Which indicates it's gonna get even bigger. And He Who Walks Behind, one of the strongest Knights of the Outside, is scared of it."

Lash was quite for a moment before she continued. Well then. Opening a gate and hoping is it then.

"I knew you'd see it my way," I told her back with a small grin. The grin left quickly. "Though how I can do that when I'm so tapped…"

My host, Lash began in that tone she only ever used when she was about to suggest something that was Dresden-level stupid. There is a way, to regain some of your power. Not enough to fight, but enough to maybe escape.

"And you're not telling me it why?" I demanded, watching the dragon get even bigger. Its enormous jaws opened, and even from however far away we were, its roar shook me and the bones around me.

There would be consequences to using it.

"Consequences worse than that?"

To begin with, open your mind to me. As a mortal, you will not be able to do this alone. I shall have to assist you directly.

At one point, opening my mind to Lash would have qualified as the stupidest and most suicidal thing I could ever consider. That was when she was still the shadow of a fallen, rather than the spirit with free will that I had helped her become. Now it would be no more dangerous than letting Bob in.

Scratch that. Less dangerous. This way I wouldn't wake up in the middle of an orgy or a strip bar wondering why I was in a tiger stripped thong and wearing a lamp shade.

"Let's gogogogogo-" I declared frantically. The dragon was nearly here, all crimson scales and flashing teeth, and oh GOD IT'S ENORMOUS!

Now, Harry! Lash also seemed a bit anxious to be going. I felt… something. Something familiar but wrong, a power that seemed like I should recognize it but really couldn't, flooding through me.

That and pain. A deep, full body, throbbing and visceral pain. I was used to pain by now, all things considered, but still, this was an experience all its own.

With the dragon almost on me, I crossed my fingers, spat to the side for luck, and opened a portal to whatever lay beyond the Outside.

*Scene Break*

"Ow," I declared, opening my eyes before promptly closing them. It seemed the best way to describe what I was feeling at the moment, and considering wherever I was apparently liked lights a lot brighter than where I came from it was better to give me some time to adjust. "Did it work?"

It seems so, my Host, Lash's voice was a comforting promise that things hadn't gone completely pear shaped. She was calmer now, and didn't seem worried currently. Well, she seemed worried, but not in the 'Big Dragon Coming At Us' kind of way. In a way.

'When you end sentences like that, it kind of leads a man to be suspicious,' I told her cautiously, before opening my eyes again. If I was about to face down a screaming hoard of monstrosities in whatever hell we ended up it would be better to do be able to see them.

Instead, I found myself blinking as I took in a florescent light bulb.

The fact that I could actually identify what I was looking at, rather than being struck blind or insane by some lovecraftian monstrosity from beyond the Outside, was almost as disturbing as it was relieving. My eyes finally getting used to the light I started to examine the room. White walls and ceiling, hanging drapes, a machine with funny lines occasionally flickering across it…

'Am I in a HOSPITAL?' I had to ask Lash, unable to believe what I was seeing.

Indeed, Lash confirmed, You have been unconscious for some time, most likely a combination of your own wounds and your use of power. When we were first approached, I was somewhat… surprised to find that the realm we had ended up in was so… similar. Disturbingly similar.

'You mean all that bracing for impact, and we ended up back on Earth?' I demanded, sudden panic striking through me. 'That's impossible! We sealed the Gates! There should be no way back! If the Outsiders can just get back in from where we were, than we have to warn…!'

We are not back, my host, Lash whispered softly. I blinked, and realized that she sounded awed, frightened, more than a little out of depths. For all its similarities, this is not creation. Rather, not the creation I was a part of… my host, I don't know…

'Calm down, Lash,' I told her, though when a freaking Fallen Angel, a sentience older than the concept of time itself, than panic can get contagious. 'I mean look at this place. This has to be home. It's identical! How the hell can be anywhere else?'

My host, the machine, Lash pointed out, and I glanced at it, still trying not to panic.

'What about it? It looks like its working fine…'

Even as I said the words, it hit me: the machine. It was working fine.

Sitting next to a wizard, presumably for a long period of time, and even when a wizard's emotions were starting to run wild.

The thing should have broken and started chirping Dixie a long time ago.

And then, as though to make things even more surreal, a nurse came. I stared at her. She looked… normal. Human. Hell's bells, she looked Asian! She was dressed in a standard nurse like outfit, with a clipboard, and even normal looking glasses. And when she gave me a startled look, before speaking, I realized that yes, she really was Japanese.

'Lash,' I began, and the redeemed angel's shadow spoke up.

Of course, my host, she told me, and between one word and the next, she appeared to me as though she were speaking English.

Sometimes, the rent really was worth it when leasing brain space to a psychic apparition.

"Young man, can you understand me?" the nurse continued, and I nodded, answering back.

"Yeah…" glanced around, trying to understand this crazy scene. "I'm just a little confused…"

Then I paused.

"Young man?" I repeated, gawking at the title she had chosen for me. I was pushing forty at this point, and the only ones who called me young man anymore were the wizards who had been around for centuries and creatures with similar life spans that weren't trying to murder me, like Big Brother Gruff.

"I'm sure you must be confused," the nurse continued, leaning forward as she started to fiddle with some of the needles in my arm. "The doctor will be here shortly. We have many questions for you…"

She kept talking, but I stopped listening as her moving close enough let me catch sight of my reflection in her glasses.

'Lash,' I began slowly, staring at my reflection.

I did say that there might be consequences, the stupid parasite not even having the grace to sound embarrassed at its amusement.

'THIS is a CONSEQUENCE?' I felt like pulling out my hair. 'How is this even possible!'

It involves the misbalances of energies, typically referred to as ki or chi, and the imbalance between your physical and magic energies as caused by overuse of Soulfire…

'English, Lash. English.' I really needed this to be summed up for me. 'Five words or less.'

You turned into a teenager.

'That's six,' I told her, too stunned to think of any other response. I could see myself, and I was so… so…

Still so godamn tall! I looked like I did at sixteen, and I had got my growth spurt early.

'Into', not 'in to', Lash quibbled, and I graciously let it drop, knowing I had the moral victory there. You should feel honored. This kind of occurrence can only occur among those who both have Soulfire, and a body. And the number of existences that have ever had both can be counted on one hand. With many fingers to spare.

'But I don't want to go through puberty again!' I moaned, startling the nurse as I flopped back onto the hospital bed. 'The hormones, Lash. The hormones!'

I shall endeavor to do all I can to help aid you in this transition, she told me in an innocent tone. Too innocent.

'Lash.' I began slowly, remembering that the voice in my head had once been called the temptress. 'You're not going to visit me in my sleep, are you? You're not going to make me relive some of the most awkward moments of my life via wet dreams, are you?'

My, what an amazing idea, she proclaimed as though she hadn't actually already thought of it. Do not worry, my host. I shall do all I can to, how did you put it? Help pay rent?

"Hell's bells," I mumbled, and the nurse gave me a strange look.

*Scene Break*

Japan. That's where I was. Not just some alternative dimension that through an impossible series of coincidences so outlandish that even that room of monkeys on typewriters would have to scoff at the chances resembled Japan, but a country that was nearly exactly identical to Japan of my home world.

Hell's bells. Even the whole WORLD was nearly exactly identical to my world. The languages, the cultures, all of it the same.

I even found a copy of both Star Wars and Star Trek here.

At least I was someplace civilized.

Well, there was one big difference I suppose.

Before I had arrived, there was no Harry Dresden here.

It had been a strange year so far, all things considered. I mean, if I was planning to suddenly appear in an entirely new world, I would have liked to done so incognito, to maybe make some money doing somewhat shady things before buying an identity and settling in to staying under the radar.

Considering I woke up in a hospital, and with a pretty extensive bill built up by that point, disappearing wasn't really an easy thing. Especially since I was now, you know, under the age of majority and all.

And yes. It really was as bad as the first time. Anyone who says 'youth is wasted on the young' is a freaking moron. Only the young don't know enough to know how bad they really got it.

It took me a while to work my way through the Japanese welfare system. Because of my looks and name, everyone at first thought I was an American citizen, which I agreed with wholeheartedly. However, whatever I wanted and everyone thought, it wasn't going to make the embassy accept someone who literally had no records existing. Without a single shred of proof of my citizenship, it had eventually ended with me officially becoming a Japanese citizen.

And no, I did not change my name to 'Hari'. No matter what the papers say, this man is a Chicago man to the core!

The Japanese social system ended up being a lot like the American one was in the end: stick the poor orphan somewhere and hope he doesn't get in trouble.

I got in trouble. A lot.

Eventually, after enough paperwork to deforest a significant portion of the Congo, I managed to get myself emancipated, though living on my own at this point meant 'going to school and trying to make the welfare check make ends meet'. It helped, a bit, that I was already an adult, and thus I had no trouble with school…

Er. Make that an adult who managed to get a G.E.D and could still remember vaguely that trigonometry had something to do with triangles.

I think.

Anyway. All things considered, despite being in another existence so far from my original that there was virtually no hope of me ever returning, and despite the fact that I was a grown man used to the independence that kind of thing entailed being forced to relive childhood, and even despite the fact that shopping for clothes in my size was proving to be absolutely impossible in a country where even the normal American seemed tall, I found myself, strangely enough, enjoying the experience.

It had been nearly a year and a half, and no one had seriously tried to kill me.

I'd almost forgotten what the experience was like. It was kind of boring, actually.

Anyway, after a series of long stories that all had sequels that eventually spanned trilogies of long stories, I found myself here, in a class room, staring at classmate who was giving me a confused look.

"What do you mean, you're a wizard?" the other boy asked, blinking owlishly at me.

"I mean, I'm a wizard," I sighed, already knowing how this conversation would go, and resigned to the inevitable conclusion. "As in, I use magic."

Like I said. Had to make ends meet somehow, right? And if something ain't broke, don't fix it. And thus, Harry Dresden, Consulting Wizard was born once more, now operating in two realities. Call now!

"Er," the other boy seemed confused, and I sighed again.

"Look," I paused, and it took a second before he realized I was waiting for him to supply a name.

"Oh! My name is Hyoudou Issei," the boy declared, bowing in the way that I never quite got used to doing myself. "It is a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise," I told him, waiving off the normal pleasantries. He frowned at that, but I ignored it. "Anyway, I'm sure by now you heard the stories, and your friends managed to convince you to come over and try to tease me or something. In response to that, let me give you my card, you can pretend you got one over on me, and you and your buddies can all go off laughing into the night. Sound like a plan?"

"A card?" Issei sounded surprised, and then blinked again when I tossed one at him, again abandoning all formalities rather than butcher yet another bow while trying to be polite. "Dresden Harry; Wizard. Lost items found, paranormal investigations, consulting, advise, reasonable rates." He blinked at the last bit before staring at me. "So… you're some kind of priest or something?"

"Haven't found a god willing to take me, so no," I snorted. "It means that I do things just like what's on the card. If you have a lost item, or if something strange is happening, you can hire me to investigate and I'll look into it. If you have any other questions, I have a website…"

"Oh, here it is," Issei muttered, finding the URL at the bottom of the card.

I have a website. You have no idea how weird that is. I mean, nowadays apparently the yellow pages don't even exist, so how else am I going to advertise?

I'd discovered a lot of things different about this new world I was in. For everything that seemed identical, there was something off, sometimes just by a little and sometimes by a whole lot.

Technology for instance.

In my old world, there had always been a, well field or aura or something, that all practitioners had. In modern times it caused electronics to fritz occasionally, though in older times it had caused bad skin or occasionally made milk curl, sometimes caused hallucinations or something. The effect had changed over time, and no one ever really knew why. Here though…

For the first time ever, I was able to discover the glory of the internet, and I wept for all I had missed before.

And so now I, Harry Dresden, officially had a homepage. Now if I could just figure out how to keep flamers off it…

"So…" Issei continued, sounding hesitant for some reason. "Just what do you do then? As a wizard?"

"It varies," I shrugged, adjusting so that my legs weren't quite so mangled under the desk. The classroom's furniture was definitely not meant for someone my size. At least I always got to sit at the back of the class. If I sat up front, people behind me literally had trouble seeing the board. "Sometimes I just find things, like it says on the card. Other times, I'll get clients who have something going wrong. Sometimes it's something simple, other times it's actually something a bit more dangerous. Why? Do you want to hire me?"

I could be forgiven for being a bit eager at that point. I needed the cash. My current landlord was a lot less lenient then the one in my last world.

"Oh!" Issei actually seemed to be thinking about something for a moment, before he grinned. It was a pretty creeper style grin, and I was glad at the moment that I was a guy. "You know, I always wanted a harem…"

"Back of the card," I cut him off, sighing as I slumped onto my desk.

"No love potions, endless purses, parties or other entertainment," Issei obediently finished, and slumped as he got my point. "Man, than what good is being a wizard if you can't have a harem!"

"You raise many good points," I told him, head still on the desk. "You get kicked around by monsters, wear your fingers to the bones trying to help people, and you still can't get the chicks. Being a wizard is seriously less glamorous than Gandalf always made it look."

"So," Issei continued, and I glanced up at him as he sounded deep in thought. "You have Middle-School Syndrome?"

"Yeah. I think we're done now," I sighed, shooing the kid away. "You can keep the card. Call me if you ever want to hire me."

"Right, right," Issei seemed to sense he was reaching that point where I seriously began reaching for my staff in an effort to recreate the way I had smashed a Walker's nose in. "Well, you're a bit weird, but you seem like an okay guy," he grinned, and I paused, actually cocking my head to the side at the declaration. "If you ever, you know, want to have some fun, me and my friends know a good place to relax."

"Really?" I couldn't help but wonder if this, despite my best efforts to keep it from ever happening, could be my fabled so called 'high school debut', the point where the mundane people around me reached out to me and interacted, where I started to live a normal life, making friends who share my same interests and hobbies.

"Yeah," Issei grinned, leaning forward as he did so. "There's this place behind the Kendo Club where you can see right into the girl's changing room and…"

"Oh look!" I declared snapping a hand out to point at the front of the room, feeling my faith in humanity bleed away a little more. "Class is starting!"

*Scene Break*

"Dresden-kun," the voice that came from behind me invoked a response that was halfway between a bitter sigh of resignation and a smile of anticipation. "Dresden-kun, if you have a moment, there is something I'd like to speak to you about."

"Ah, Sona!" I declared cheerfully, turning to view my nemesis with very real cheer. "How have you been? My, you're looking quite lovely today? Is that a new brand of make up? The way it makes your eyes flash…"

"I do not wear makeup," the girl herself was unflappable in her response, though her cohort frowned, glaring at me as she did so. "Also, please address me by my appropriate title of 'Kaichou'."

"Of course, of course, Sona," I told her, smiling innocently down at her. "So, what can I do for you on this fine day? A movie and a dinner out? Maybe a walk in the park? Or perhaps something more romantic?"

"Dresden-kun, I am not, nor ever will be, interested in you romantically," Sona informed me bluntly, adjusting the frame of her glasses as she narrowed her eyes at me. "Please refrain from making such implication in the future."

"Ah, but you look so cute when you're angry," I told her with a cocky grin. "Your eyes get all flinty and your button nose gets all scrunchy. Like a little puppy…"

"Why you…!" the other girl present, the taller one started to burst out, only to be silenced as Sona gave her a brief look as well.

"Control yourself, Tsubaki," the President ordered her, and the taller Vice President, or 'Fuku-Kaichou' as they put it in these parts, of the Student Council grimaced, closing her mouth. "The provocations of misanthropes shouldn't be risen to."

There's a story to all of this. Kind of a funny one in retrospect.

Originally, I had come from another high school, a fairly respectable one albeit one that was a lot closer and cheaper. The thing was, that school had something of a bullying problem. I'm told it's pretty standard in Japanese schools, just the normal kind of shenanigans that kids get up to. The teachers did what they could to prevent it, but there was always some troubled or just stupid kid that felt the need to take out whatever was bothering them on whatever quieter or smaller kid caught their eyes.

Problem was, I don't really like bullies. So I did something about it myself.

One of those long stories I mentioned later, I was quietly and discreetly being thanked by the teachers and families of the victims, and also politely but firmly told to find a new school.

Hence, my transfer to this current institute of education: Kuoh Academy. It had been an all-girl school originally, and even now the male to female ratio was still heavily skewed towards the female, especially in the older years. Because of that, I was accepted despite my recorded history of violence, albeit reluctantly.

This school was also one of the few places I have managed to find where I've located actual proof of the occult in this new world.

That aside, my current interactions with the Student Council President actually started from a misunderstanding. Rumors of me getting into a lot of fights had started to spread pretty quickly through the school, and one of the students had approached me cautiously, asking me if I was a yankee.

Seeing as I was from Chicago, I had responded with a 'yes'. Turns out that in Japan, Yankee was slang for 'delinquent'. And also, apparently in Japan, there's a long standing tradition of Student Council Presidents attempting to reform delinquents.

"Ohhh," I hummed, sounding impressed. "Misanthrope. Sorry, that's such a big word. Can we tone it down a bit so I can follow the conversation?"

"Misanthrope: one who is a troublemaker or fails to conform to social conventions," Sona once more turned her shiny glasses back to me, coolly playing along with my teasing. "As in you, Dresden-kun."

"Ah, shucks, thanks Sona!" I told her, rubbing the back of my head as I feigned sheepishness. Her eyes narrowed even further, and I grinned.

I know I shouldn't be teasing her quite so hard. Actually, Shitori Sona as was her full name, was a hardworking and earnest young lady. She ruled the student body sternly but fairly, and was actually a rather respectable person.

Truthfully, she reminded me a lot of Murphy, and I couldn't help but liking her because of that. The thing was, she reminded me more of Murphy back when I had first met the small cop, rather than the close friends we had ended up becoming.

And because of that, I couldn't help but trying to get her to loosen up a bit. As a favor to the Murphy of old.

Also, I wasn't completely sure about this, but I don't think she was human. Because of that, I also tended to try and provoke her, mainly as a way to try and get a feel for just what she was.

Kind of a 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer' type thing.

"Dresden-kun," Sona continued, getting tired of our banter. "I have several things to discuss with you. For instance, your flagrant disregard for the dress code…"

"Haven't we gone over this before?" I reminded her, leaning back against the wall as I made myself comfortable. "I told you, it took a while for my school uniform to be made, and once I had a set I started wearing it…"

"Yes, a something I reluctantly take as your ability to follow the rules," Sona allowed, before glancing down slightly. "However, your use of unauthorized accessories has continued."

"And I've already given you the doctor's note," I reminded her, holding up my left hand, the glove I wore at all times creaking as I opened and folded it.

It was a strange thing, suddenly finding yourself in a body much younger than what you were used to. It was even stranger when that body still had all the scars you had managed to accumulate over the course of many, many battles. It had something to do with the way I had changed, my body not so much regressing backwards in time to before the scars happened but actually being changed in a process which ran concurrent with the time flow…

Er, Lash had explained it to me once, and it had made mostly sense at the time. Mostly.

Whatever the case, I had some pretty gruesome wounds over the years. There wasn't much I could do for the scars on my face, left there by a Yee Naaldooshi, but the scars on my hands I could at least cover. It hadn't been hard to get a doctor to genuinely give me a note either.

Japan wasn't a place that admired that kind of maiming. They much rather preferred to keep it out of sight.

"And just what kind of scar would a doctor actually prescribe covering?" Tsubaki broke in, eyes narrowed as she glared at me. She, like Sona, was a diligent young woman, and she took offense to my banter with her boss. She was someone who very much respected authority and the proper order of thing.

Me, as someone who respected neither, naturally ended up butting heads with her as well.

Also, pretty sure not human.

"Oh, my hand melted after I got in a fight with a vampire with a flamethrower," I told her with a straight face. Tsubaki blinked, before scowling as she assumed I was making something up.

Oh, if only that were true.

"Not to mention the large staff you insist on carrying around," Sona continued, grimacing as she looked at aforementioned stick.

"As a registered member of the Bo-jutsu club, it's natural that I would carry my practice tools between classes," I offered her patiently. Also true, and probably the most convenient excuse for keeping my staff around I had ever come across. In Japan, seeing practice weapons being carried around wasn't even that uncommon, a history of their long martial culture, and as long as I wrapped it first, no one cared about the long stick I lugged with me just about everywhere I could and a few places I probably couldn't.

"A member who had never once shown up for practice…" Sona pointed out.

"Ghost member is still member," I shot back.

"And instead spends all their time in the track club, though refuses to participate in interschool events…"

"I just like to run, and I think competition is unhealthy among students." I was a firm believer in running. It was an essential skill when you come face to face with something that can physically crush you like a beer can with one hand.

"And that's not including the most ridiculous claims of being a 'Wizard' of all things," Sona's eyes flashed, and I felt my own narrow at her tone.

She knows something, my host, Lash agreed softly with what my own instincts were telling me.

"What can I say? I've known from a young age what I want to be when I grow up, and I have no problems starting early," I told her evenly, before smiling impishly. "Shouldn't the Student Council President be doing all she can to encourage the ambition of her fellow students who have chosen their life paths?"

Tsubaki snorted slightly, having that look that only someone who was initiated into something secret could have when they were talking to someone they thought wasn't in the know. It didn't really work when the person they were talking to really was in the know, though I'll admit that I wasn't quite as in the know now that I was in a world completely alien to my own. Still in the know enough to know that I knew more than most know.

And man, that last sentence was kind of repetitive vocabulary wise.

"It is the Student Council President's duty to ensure the safety of the student body, regardless of how disreputable any particular student might be," Sona declared, shifting her glasses as she gave me a cool look. "And making foolish and childish claims like being a wizard indicate that I shall need to be especially careful about your safety, Dresden-kun; regardless of your misanthropy. I do not want to find any more of these juvenile pranks among the student populace," she held up one of my business cards from the tip as though it were a dirty thing she had picked up off the floor. "Any threat to the school will not be tolerated."

And the funny part was, I believed her. Not in taking the 'not be tolerated' line as some kind of oblique threat to get me to stop handing out my business cards, but rather the 'any threat to the school will not be tolerated' as in she will not allow anyone in this place to come to harm.

It was one of the reasons that I was willing to interact with her at all, despite my suspicion of her being something inhuman. Whatever she was, she valued the safety of this school strongly, considered it her duty to enforce and protect the peace, regardless of how the public might think of her.

Like I said. She reminded me of Murphy. In the good way.

She was also pretty short, which helped reinforce the impression.

"Noted, Prez," I told her, giving her a crooked grin. She glared at me at the abbreviation of her title, but I turned with a waive, making sure to shake my staff conspicuously as I did so. "Now, I guess it's time for me, despite my misanthropic nature, to head off to club. Later!"

Just because I like her didn't stop me from having my will ready and focused to stop an attack on my back. But that was just the kind of general paranoia that had kept me alive through a war rather than anything personal.

*Scene Break*
Harry Dresden, the Winter Knight, wielder of Soulfire, champion of the realms, Bane of the Outside, Lash sounded amused for some reason. A host of power and action, a creature of defiance so profound even the fallen can be swayed by it. And this is what you do on the weekends.

'Why Lash, are you trying to imply something?' I asked back dryly, already knowing but playing innocent anyway.

You are such a nerd, Harry, Lash told me with a soft laugh. I shrugged.

'Actually, out here in Japan, it's called "Otaku",' I corrected her, making no move to defend myself of the accusation; if the shoe fits, after all.

I'd never really been the partying type, after all. I mean, why spend a perfectly good night out on the town, getting drunk and making bad choices, when you can spend that kind of time at home, with a good book, reading quietly?

Thomas was the wild one in the family. I got enough crazy from my job.

Back in the reality I came from, I had mostly preferred reading, though sometimes I would make trips to the drive through, the only place I could really watch a movie without worrying about accidently causing the projector to spontaneously combust. I'd also spend my time playing with my giant man-toy, er, important wizarding device that was Little Chicago. Regardless of what Bob said, it was still an important magical tool.

Now, though, now that I was out here in a world where I could actually utilize electronics, my inner nerd had only blossomed. Especially in such close proximity to Akihabera, the mecca of all who enjoyed their geeky hobbies.

It was cool. It was the new millennia. It was totally okay to come out of the geek closet these days.

And you wonder why it is you always seem to come up short when it is time for rent, Lash sighed, still sounding amused.

'They're do it yourself models of both the Millennia Falcon AND the Death Star!' I pointed out dramatically, shaking the bags that held my loot. 'Do you have any idea how hard it is to find models of anything besides Gundams these days?'

Japan was cool and all, and anime and visual-novels are great, but some things are just the classics, and the classics never die.

Naturally I do in fact have an idea. I simply do not care, Lash deadpanned.

'Philistine,' I told her with great panache. Then, I blinked, realizing that the short cut through the park I was using had brought me to someone I recognized. 'Hey, isn't that the Ichi kid?'

Hyoudou Issei, Lash corrected me and I nodded, still staring.

'Is it just me, or is that kid actually on a date?' I asked, having trouble believing my eyes. I mean, this was the kid that invited me to go peeping, and if rumors were correct was one of the three most perverted students in all of Kuoh.

It appears so, Lash commented carelessly, obviously not in the least bit interested in the on goings of mortals outside of her host.

I on the other hand, couldn't help but feel happy for the kid. Stars and Stones, maybe if the kid actually got into a real relationship it'll help calm down those rampant hormones.

Oh god, the hormones.

'Well, I guess there really is someone for everyone,' I decided, and began to take a detour to avoid interrupting the kid's fun time, when something blared through me, something I hadn't sensed in a long time.

Danger. It was there, at the edge of my senses, a knowledge that came partly through having lived through countless battles, and partly due to predatory instincts that Winter had instilled in me.

My host, Lash began, but it was too late. Even as the instincts hit me, there was a flash of light, a streak of something bright, and the entire scene in front of me changed.

Where once there had been an innocent looking girl, dressed like a teen on a date, there was now a more mature woman, dressed in slutty lingerie and with black wings growing out of her back. And where once there had been a normal boy, happily enjoying the trials of his youth and adventures in dating there was simply a corpse, a human body that had been penetrated by a sharp spear of light.

It was that quick. That was how fast the living became the dead, how unfair the world was. With no more than a blink of an eye, safety could vanish, and a future could be robbed.

I knew all that. Even if things had been peaceful for so long, it was something I never really forgot, something that never really could be unlearned.

But as I stood there, the two bags holding my swag slipping out of my fingers, it didn't change the fact that it pissed me off.

It pissed me off a lot.

"Oh?" the winged thing in front of me drawled, and I glared at her as she casually stepped over the boy she had casually murdered. "A witness? Well, that won't do at all. Too bad for you, boy. If you must blame anyone, blame yourself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"And if you have to blame anyone," I growled at her, reaching for the staff at my back as I grit my teeth. "Blame yourself for thinking you can prey on humanity any time without consequence."

"How adorable," she laughed haughtily. Another of those spears of light appeared. "As though a lesser existence like yourself could do anything."

I actually enjoyed it when the spear impacted my shield and the thing's eyes snapped open in shock.

"Forzare," I told her back, pointing my staff, and she screamed when the wave of power, fueled by my pure rage at this creature's arrogance, slammed into her, threw her back across the park, and ended up soaking her as she destroyed the fountain she had been standing in front of.

'What is it, Lash?' I demanded tersely, already sprinting forward, all those long hours of running being put to good use as I dashed forward and to the side.

I'm uncertain, the shadow admitted, sounding apologetic. I'm not certain of the species that might exist in this realm. From its wings, I would say it some sort of harpy, or perhaps of the fey, but be careful.

'I suppose we can ask it after I break its wings,' I decided, readying my staff again.

"A magician?" the thing shrieked, pulling out of the water, soaking wet and looking pissed. "You think you're paltry magic is enough to stop me, Raynare of the Grigori?"

"Yes," I told her, and the thing started, realizing as the water drained around her eyes that she was shouting towards the wrong direction. "Infriga!"

Now don't get me wrong. When it comes to battle magic, I still hold fire as the all-time best of the elements. It has pure destructive power, as well as the ability to help purify dark magic. Plus, there was just something primal, something evolution put deep in us that makes us unconsciously fear fire, to flinch from it knowing that if we get too close we will be burned. However, ever since I took the mantle of Winter Knight, ice had started coming just as naturally to me, and had rapidly moving up my list of combat ready skills.

And when all the water that was soaking the harpy girl down suddenly froze, holding her in place while sapping her strength, that was just an added benefit. Her startled shriek was cut off as I took advantage of her captured status to swing my staff like I was trying for a home run directly across her skull.

The meaty thunk it made when it connected was satisfying, but I frowned when it did little more than send her stumbling, a stumble that she recovered from all too quickly as she leapt up, proving that whatever bird girl was she was tougher than a normal human was.

One of these days, I swear: a monster or creature that slithers in the night that is actually physically weaker than a human. I will find it. I will make it my pet. I will name it George.

"You," bird girl, Raynare I think she called herself, hissed at me, clutching the side of her head as a trickle of blood leaked down, a livid bruise already starting to blacken nicely. I could see her eyes though, and she didn't look like she was concussed. "You dare? You dare raise hands against me, you human?"

"Of course," I told her flatly. "You see, as a card carrying member of the human race, I, naturally, have to take exception to seeing one of my own being attacked." I paused, and continued with a small grin. "And it was a staff."

"What?" the thing asked, straightening as she glared at me.

"I 'raised staff against you'," I told her, grinning. "What can I say? Walk around like that and of course you're going to give someone wood."

"Impudent dog!" Raynare snapped, glaring even harder, though she did move as though to cover herself. Hey, you walk around like that, you either have a whole lot of self-confidence, a complete lack of sense of decency, or you're looking for attention. And I didn't mind giving that attention if that's the case.

See above mention about hormones.

"Good," I declared, nodding firmly even as I gathered my will. "I was worried I hadn't hit you hard enough, but if you're already forgetting that you already identified me as human and started to hallucinate that I'm a dog, it shouldn't be too hard to finish you off."

"Shut up!" Raynare screamed, and I tensed as another spear of light appeared. Still screaming she threw it at me.

"Fuego!" I shouted, slamming will into my rod and the light met with a potent blast of fire, the force of the two canceled each other out, a shockwave shaking the leaves of the trees around us.

"So," Raynare scowled, still glaring at me, as a lull settled over the battlefield. It looked like the fact that I wasn't some scared dumb kid who had never had to fight for his life was enough to make her hesitate to actually engage. "You have some power in you after all."

"Ah, not so eager to fight against someone who can fight back?" I mocked her, running more will through my staff as I got ready. Aerial opponents were always tricky. When you could move in three dimensions instead of two it made it a lot easier to juke, so aiming became a lot less precise. I started to get ready some of my more large range attacks. "What a surprise: a so called 'superior being' who's really not that superior."

"You dare speak to me in that way?" the harpy thing declared, snarling furiously.

"Ah, I was wondering if the wings were just for show. Looks like I can chalk up 'bird brain' as well if you're having trouble remembering our conversation so far. It's going something like this: I'm kicking your ass. Did that help?"

"Why… you… impudent... mongrel…!" Really. This was actually feeling a bit too easy at this point. I was used to creatures that weren't used to being trash talked getting riled up easily, but whatever this bird girl was, she was definitely not used to this kind of banter.

The size of the new spear of light she was making was definitely a sign that I was getting to her. I tried not to let it show as I grit my teeth to start pulling in my will.

Then the bird girl seemed to realize something, and her scowl grew as the spear of light disappeared. I realized that she wasn't looking at me anymore, but rather behind me.

I didn't look to check. Come on. I wasn't born yesterday. But I did ready my will and strain my ears to be ready just in case there really WAS something behind me.

"Hmph," the harpy glared back at me, before throwing her head back haughtily. "I see I'll have to cut this short. Count yourself lucky, mortal. If we meet again I will destroy you."

"Just in case you didn't notice you bird-brain, I was winning!" I declared in exasperation as in front of my eyes the harpy disappeared, vanishing in a cloud of feathers and glimmering light.

I didn't take my eyes off of where she had been, but I did start to back away until I could keep my eyes on it and see what was behind me.

And was somewhat surprised to find it was a hot chick. Like, a really hot chick.

And I recognized her.

And she was standing above Issei.

"Ah, is that you, Rias-senpai?" I asked, still holding my staff in a ready position as I watched the other girl. I recognized her, one of the school idols or something that popped up when someone was pretty, popular, and not jerk. She was beautiful in a way which my poor, beleaguered teenage body couldn't help but notice: gorgeous features, eye-catching red hair, and voluptuous body.

Don't get me wrong. She wasn't 'Lara' class. But she was close.

And also, I was pretty sure that whatever she was, she had more in common with Sona than me when it came to species.

Still wasn't sure what that was.

"'Rias-senpai'?" aforementioned girl mused, sounding amused at the same time. By Japanese standards it was a pretty informal way of addressing her, using her given name, even if I tacked on an honorific. She was kneeling next to the fallen Issei, and I realized with a start that despite the massive wound he had taken he was still alive. I could make out the rise and fall of his chest, and it looked like the wound was a lot smaller than I had thought it was.

'Idiot,' I cursed myself. 'Getting so swept up with the fight that you stop to think about whether or not there was something you could do to for the victim! Idiot!'

Host, Lash began softly. It is not that the wound was not so great, but rather that it is smaller now. Look…

There, as though I was looking at two different scenes at once, an image of Issei when I first saw him get stabbed appeared. It was in the corner of my vision, like one of those old 'second screen in the corner of your TV' gimmicks that I vaguely remembered. But I could still make it out, and yes, it really was a smaller wound.

"I had heard that you were an overly casual yankee," Rias continued, sounding amused as she listed my reputation. "And that you had a tendency to get violent. And that you had Middle-School Syndrome…"

"Oh come on," I grumbled. "Why can't I get rumors like 'tall dark and handsome' or 'big old nice guy' or something?"

Rias blinked at my interruption, and then giggled a bit, covering her mouth as someone finally reacted to my jokes like they were actually funny. I blame television, warping the minds of the young so that they couldn't see real humor. "I see your sense of humor hasn't been exaggerated at least!"

Despite myself, I grinned softly. I didn't put my rod down though. "Finally, someone with some taste."

"Thank you," Rias beamed a smile at me, still looking pleased at my jibe. Her smile narrowed slightly, taking on a sly cast. "Still, to think that you were actually a magician…"

"Why is that a surprise?" I couldn't help but sigh at the declaration, shaking my head in befuddlement. "I have business cards for Pete's sake! They say, right on them: Dresden Harry: Wizard. You really can't get much more obvious than that."

Rias actually paused at that, frowning. "You know, you're right," she finally admitted, sounding bemused again. "You really can't." Her eyes narrowed as she frowned, giving me a considering look. "Hiding in plain sight?"

"Those who don't know, won't take it seriously," I nodded my own smile slipping. "But then again, those who know don't either." I sighed. "But those not in the know who are really that desperate will give it a shot. Eh. It's worked so far."

"I see," Rias frowned, though it was more contemplative than upset. I think I had confused her with my answer. She gave me a contemplative look. "But from what I've seen, you are no stranger to combat…"

I didn't quite like the look she was giving me. It was something measuring, and slightly intrigued.

It looked like someone who was planning something. I'd seen it enough to know that nothing good would come of it.

"Rias-senpai," I decided to interrupt, aiming for friendly but probably coming off as 'forced polite'. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing to Issei?" She blinked, before looking down at the kid she was still standing next to. "Because, and I don't want this to sound antagonistic or anything but I can't think of a better way to put it: if you're planning to do anything bad to him, I'm afraid I will have to blast you into the fountain too."

Rias blinked. Than she did it again. Then, in what I hoped was a good sign, she started to giggle again. It was good, cheerful sound, not the ominous type.

"Ah! Dresden-kun! So you were fighting for Issei-kun, is that it?" she beamed a smile at me, and then, off all things, curtsied. "Thank you very much for your valiant effort on behalf of my peerage." She smiled up at me, and again, I kinda got a shudder out of it. A look like that from a girl that looked like that was enough for anyone my apparent age to have to shift awkwardly and not stand up in class for a few minutes. "I shall remember this."

"Peerage?" I cautiously pushed, eyes narrowing. "Just what are you, Rias-senpai?"

There. The question. Out in the open, no room for wiggling. I could get a lot out of how she answered. If she dodged I could probably attribute her to the Fey. If she lied, she was mortal. And if she told the truth, well…

I'm pretty sure I'm not sure how to handle someone who told the truth. It was just so rare I didn't have a heuristic method to attribute it to.

"I am Gremory Rias, a devil," she told me with another curtsey. My blood went cold. My grip on the staff tightened, and I suddenly regretted taking the time to talk to the thing in front of me. I should have blasted her the moment she stepped in front of me. "I thank you for defending my newest pawn. I will now go see to his health. Good day, Dresden-kun."

"Sto-" I began to shout, but couldn't make it in time even as I aimed to take the head off the demon who had just taken an innocent young boy with a glimmer of light.

Alone, in the park, the wood of my staff creaked beneath my grip.

Harry, Lash began softly, trying to calm me down.

'Lash,' I responded, the perfect picture of calm.

You should really think about taking a few moments to consider things, Lash advised me, though she sounded resigned.

'Yes. Calm. Calm is what I am. I am made of calm. Calm is the little mind killer, and I shall let it pass through me.' I told her.

Just don't start a war again, Harry.

'No promises, Lash.'

I was a little upset at this point. I had just missed the chance to stop some harpy thing from killing an innocent young man. And then, a devil had apparently taken advantage of that fact to damn some poor innocent soul.

The smell of sulfur came from my staff. The runes I had spent hours, days even, carving into it, glowed with venomous light. Maybe it was hypocritical, but it could also be considered poetic, but Hellfire coursed through my tool.

I was about to go do something about above mentioned situation.

But before I left, I did stop to pick up some of the feathers that the harpy had left behind.

I was a wizard, after all.

*Scene Break*

The next day had progressed surprisingly well, all things considered.

Not one building had burned down yet. Day still wasn't over, but hey, nothing yet. That's a win in my book.

It wasn't a surprise to me when at lunch Sona approached me. After all, she had never made it a secret that she considered getting me to follow the rules to be a personal crusade that she wouldn't forsake even in the face of rampant smart-assedry, and I the fact that I was blatantly wearing my duster and a new necklace laced with black feathers wasn't something you could really miss.

It was the way she approached me that was unusual.

"Dresden Harry-san," she began, and rather than sounding disapproving I noticed that her voice cautious, and a little bemused.

"Shitori-san," I answered back coldly, turning to address her directly. No way in hell, and man that pun will get old, am I turning my back on a devil. The School Council President was being accompanied by the Vice-President, as usual, and both of them seemed surprised by my formal address.

Tsubaki especially seemed confused. The normally antagonistic expression she wore when dealing with me was gone, and a cautious uncertainty was present instead. It looks like the other devil had clued them in that yes, the stick was more than a fashion accessory.

"I would like to speak with you privately," Sona continued slowly after she got over the fact that I could actually be polite. Well, I could use polite phrases while doing very little to hide my hostility otherwise. "Do you have a moment?"

"Yes," I told her, standing from my desk. Sona pursed her lips slightly, looking up at me as I loomed over her. I tended not to try and make a big deal about my height in everyday life, but I wasn't above using it when I was doing business. As though something like height would actually affect a devil, a creature that had existed since before the beginning of time, that had spent eons perfecting the art of manipulation, and probably had enough power and skill to crush me with the same effort it took me to blink. "I think it's time we had a talk."

Sona grimaced even more, and I got the impression that this conversation wasn't going quite like she had anticipated at all. It was probably an impression she meant for me to have, so I didn't let it dissuade me in the least.

*Scene Break*

I had to give the Student Council one thing: they had the bitchenest meeting room ever. Seriously, this was the kind of thing you'd find for the President of some international company rather than a school. The Council Room was big, and it had the kind of furniture you'd expect to see with price tags larger than a salaryman's annual income. I was pretty sure that the wood here was all either mahogany, oak, and perhaps unsurprisingly ebony.

Since all of those types of wood burned easily enough, it wasn't too much in the way of a detriment.

There were also pillars set about the spacious room, looking like they were made out of granite, as well as shiny polished tiles and expensive throw rugs.

It was swank, and I wasn't jealous in the least when comparing it to my cramped one room apartment. I had throw rugs too, and mine had vintage anime prints, so there!

The room had been mostly empty when we entered, just another boy, a blond that fit the image of a Japanese yankee a bit more traditionally than I did, and a girl that looked like she was probably a first year. Both of them gave me the same vibe that Rias and Sona had given, so I chalked them up as devils as well and made sure to keep them in view at all times.

"President!" the boy yelped, sounding surprised but happy. "I was just finishing the report you wanted. I thought you were…" he trailed off as he caught sight of me, eyes narrowing as he frowned.

"Saji," Sona greeted the other boy, with a nod. "My apologies for interrupting, but would you stay on hand for a moment. I may require you during this meeting."

"Of course, President," the newly identified devil nodded eagerly. "But isn't that the delinquent with Middle-School Syndrome that you've been…"

"Does everyone in the school think that?" I couldn't suppress an annoyed groan. "I mean, I'm pretty damn obvious, all things considered. And since you all are devils I'm pretty sure you guys at least would know that yes, there are mortals out there than can handle the mystic powers of the universe."

"Wait," Saji began, blinking and looking confused. "You mean…"

"Yes," Sona agreed, having taken her place behind a super expensive looking desk, and adjusted her glasses. "It turns out that Dresden-kun is really a magician as he claims."

"But," Saji protested giving me a surprised look. "But he gives out business cards!"

"It's all part of my super-secret strategy," I told him dryly. "Utilizing reverse psychology, no one would ever suspect the tall, mysterious, and dastardly good looking foreign boy with a staff of actually being a tall, mysterious, dastardly good looking wizard. You've fallen for my trap, mwahahaha."

I didn't really laugh, but more just kind of said the evil laughter flatly.

"It seems you have no issues with modesty or self-image," Sona noted with a small frown, and I shrugged.

"My modesty is one of my redeeming qualities, along with my rapier wit," I threw back, and Sona snorted slightly, though she quickly covered the fact that she would ever deign to do something so meager up. The other girl in the room, the one I still didn't have a name for giggled slightly, and I was a bit annoyed by the fact that so far it was only devils that apparently appreciated my unique brand of humor.

"Banter aside," Sona cut off the girl' giggles, just as serious as ever as she adjusted her glasses. I know she planned the way they caught the light, and I had to give her points for showmanship, even if she ripped that right out of anime clichés. "Since it has come to light that your status as a magician is in fact real, and that you have some experience in combat, I had hoped to come to an understanding with you in regards to how we shall proceed in the future."

"Yeah, and just how is that going to go again?" I asked her, willing to let her lead the conversation. It would help me figure out what the creature was really after.

"To be blunt, I was hoping to invite you to my peerage," Sona declared, and Tsubaki gave her a quick look as Saji gaped.

"President, you can be serious!" the other boy declared pointing a finger at me as he shouted at Sona. "This Yankee? In your peerage?"

"Be quiet, Saji," Sona declared bluntly, and the boy winced and shrank down. "He had the proficiency to match a fallen angel in combat, and would have been the victor if Rias is correct in her assessment. And as a magician, he would bring valuable skills to the Rating Game."

"Fallen?" I repeated, eyes narrowed as chill went through me. How? How had this devil known about Lash? It had happened beyond the Outer Gates! There was no conceivable way she would have known about my encounters with the Denarii!

"The opponent you fought yesterday, the one that attacked Hyoudou-kun," Sona elaborated, narrowing her eyes and seeming confused by my confusion. I hated it when confusion became a self-sustaining circle like that. Then her words hit me.

"That was a fallen?" I deadpanned, voice absolutely flat as I tried to put her words into any kind of meaningful structure of my knowledge of the fallen. "As in a fallen angel, a creature older than time, who quit God's service in rebellion when Lucifer was cast down, and works to destroy all of creation in an eternal grudge against it?"

I am suddenly rather interested in this conversation, Lash chimed in, and it was no surprise that the former shadow of the fallen herself seemed less than amused at the claim that the harpy thing we had fought yesterday was in anyway considerable as kin to her.

"That is… the definition as found in the bible," Sona finally offered cautiously, cocking her head to the side as she studied me. "Though it is somewhat archaic and prone to embellishment. Dresden-kun, are you perhaps less familiar with the three powers than I had anticipated?"

"I had a really isolated upbringing," I offered, trying not to show my embarrassment. I was supposed to be a Magus, one of the wise. Having to have a devil of all people explain the hidden powers that were made me feel like Han Solo in the world of the Jedi again. I hated that feeling. "Why don't you educate me? And what's a peerage?"

That's twice now a devil had mentioned the word in my presence, and so far I wasn't liking the implications.

"A guy like this is really getting an offer from the President?" Saji muttered glaring at me for some reason. He grimaced and shut up when Sona gave him another look, folding his arms and muttering to the side.

"The three powers, the Angels, the Devils, and the Fallen, were at war ever since they came into creation," Sona started to explain for me, and the fact that she had implied that the three existences which should predate time itself ever had a point where they were created was enough to already lead me to doubt her. "Eventually, after a long war, when even the Satans were killed, an uneasy cease fire started among the three. With so many casualties that the continued existence of all three of the races was in doubt, no one was willing to resume hostilities."

The Satans? Lash sounded just as uneasy as I at both the implication that there were multiple Prince of Darknesses out there, and the implication that they were killed as well. It was somewhat reassuring that even the shadow was out of her depths.

"During that time of peace, one of the Satans, Ajuka Beelzebrub, came up with what is known as the Evil Pieces system," Sona continued, pulling out a chess piece from one of the drawers. I took it in carefully. It was dark red, and it felt… felt like it had some kind of power in it, but I was just too unfamiliar with this worlds magical systems to make heads or tails with it. "With this piece, high class devils could change other species into devils themselves, and have them as their servants."

"Servants?" my blood ran cold. Yesterday, Rias had said something about 'the newest member of her peerage'. The implication that the devil had not only taken but enslaved the kid was starting to make me feel less than happy and peaceful. "You make others into your slaves?"

"It is not quite like that," Sona sounded a little hesitant, as though she wanted to refute my claim but was having trouble doing so. "Though there are some devils that treat their peerages in that way, the underworld wanted more than just slaves. We are seeking to replenish our forces, and in order to inspire new devils to grow stronger, if they reach the appropriate rank they too can receive their own evil pieces after they become high class devils."

I was having trouble not gawking as the devil continued. That and not freaking out. What she was describing…

Sona seemed to understand that whatever response I was having to her explanation, it wasn't the one she was hoping for. She sounded hurried as she continued. "As a young devil myself, I have not yet completed my peerage, though the ones present are in fact members." As though on cue, in front of my disbelieving eyes, everyone in the room but me grew wings. As in actual wings. Spiny twisted bat like things that looked more like spikes that lacked any sort of webbing between them. "When I heard of your prowess, I decided to make you an offer to join my peerage as well. With a wizard, many tactics will be open to me when it comes time to compete in the Rating Games. Dresden-kun…"

"Stop right there, hell tart," I interrupted flatly.

"H-hell tart?" Tsubaki stuttered, sounding shocked and outraged at how I had addressed her master.

"Why you…!" Saji seemed similarly enraged and started to pace towards me with his fists clenched.

He stopped when a concentrated ball of fire appeared in my hand, my 'little ray of sunshine' spell causing him to tense.

"Don't make me destroy you," I told him bluntly. He flinched, eyes wide as he stared at the miniature sun I had conjured. Guess he didn't expect that to happen.

"Saji!" Sona had risen from her seat, hands on her desk as she stood poised to move. She looked tense, but unsure of how to respond.

"You. You mean to tell me that you, an agent of hell, who exists to corrupt and damn humanity, a devil, are in the process of restoring hell's army so you can continue you war on God. That you are corrupting and damning innocent students of this academy, enslaving them to your will to do your bidding and fight in your name. And you want me to join up with you. Willingly. That's, that's pretty much what you are saying. Right?"

Saji gaped at me, suddenly looking very confused, and the other girl whose name I still hadn't caught had turned pale. Tsubaki turned to glance at Sona with a very awkward expression on her face. Sona herself grimaced. "Nowadays it's not quite like that," she began, sounding slightly pained at my summary. "With the ceasefire, it is less to do with improving our armed forces, and more to do with ensuring our species survives. The most conflict a devil or their servants would likely encounter is the Rating Games, and even if they are considered servants, it's not exactly like slavery…"

"Wow," I narrowed my eyes, still holding my ball of sunshine even though it looked like Saji wasn't going to try something to me. "A devil telling me that being damned wouldn't be so bad. Where have I heard that one before?"

To be fair, you never did let me explain what we intended, Lash pointed out dryly. The shadow was paying attention herself, and I refrained from talking with her further. She would get her own impressions of the scenes as well, and she'd serve as a good second opinion after we had a chance to review what had happened later.

"I mean, am I really expected to believe that load of bull?" I went on, and Sona seemed even more pained as I ripped into her. "Oh, wow, a devil, telling me it's not what I think. As though I'd trust a species that's pretty much built out of lies and temptation. Do you think I was born yesterday? That's adorable. You're just so cute I want to pick you up and put you in my pocket.

"D-don't talk to the President like that!" Saji demanded, and though he still looked nervous about potential incineration, he also sounded outraged enough at my words to risk it anyway as he tried to defend his master.

"Saji, that's enough," Sona told him with a sigh. She looked disappointed, but unsurprised. "From his perspective, he has said nothing wrong. There are some who will not trust us no matter what."

"President," Tsubaki murmured softly, looking upset that her master seemed unhappy.

I upped my danger rating on the devil sitting in front of me. If I didn't know she was a creature from, hell attempting to damn me, I would have thought she was just a young lady who had had her feelings hurt by being rejected rudely. It sort of reminded me of Rosanna, with that whole 'lady of misfortune' air around her.

And I still thought Rosanna was full of shit too.

"Though it is disappointing, it seems that negotiations have failed," Sona continued, giving me an even look as she recovered her composure.

"Wow, you figured that out all on your own?" I shot back, still scowling. Okay, maybe now I was just being rude, but I couldn't help but feel an irrational surge of spitefulness at the creature. It was because… "I can't believe I actually believed you when you said you were concerned about the safety of this school."

And that, I think, was probably the reason that I was acting up so much here. I had honestly thought that whatever she was, she was at least something that cared enough for humanity to look after it. Finding out that she was a devil, that instead of looking out for the school because it was the right thing to do, she was just preserving the flock for her own purposes, keeping the sheep at hand for when she felt like sheering kind of pissed me off.

"That's not true!" the still unnamed girl interjected, and despite the fact that she hadn't been too assertive until now she sounded genuinely outraged at me having called her master's bluff. "President…!"

"The safety of the school is my paramount concern," Sona interjected, and she had risen, putting both hands on the table as she glared at me like she did whenever she was trying to get me to straighten up and follow the school rules.

"And how can I believe you when you say that?" I shot back, and she scowled at me, the most emotional I had seen her pretty much ever. "If that's true, than I don't suppose we'll have any further trouble, will we? However, if I hear that you laid even one finger on any of the students, if you hurt even one mortal, in the school or not, then I'll be coming back. And I won't be so polite that time."

We glared at each other from across the room, before Sona gave a brief nod as she studied me closely, apparently realizing something while she did so. Despite my threat, she started to smile slowly.

"Then I suppose that's all we need to discuss, isn't it Dresden-kun," she declared, sinking back down to sit, her composure returning.

"I'll see myself out," I said in response, letting my sunshine disappear. Without turning my back, I opened the door and left. "Later, Prez."

*Scene Break*

Well, Lash noted. At least the building isn't on fire. I suppose that was more than I was hoping for.

'I don't burn every building, you know,' I told her back patiently.

Just the ones you get in a fight in?

'Exactly,' I nodded, glowering at the ground in front of me. It was after school now, and I was sitting in the bleachers, going over how my day went. The track team was doing their laps, but I had declined to join this time, citing ill health. 'If I ever find the person who started that rumor, I swear I'm going to light them on fire.'

That will show them the errors of their ways, no doubt, Lash quipped, before sighing. Between one second and the next, I wasn't alone on the bleacher. Well, I was still technically alone, in the eyes of everyone else. Only I could see the tall athletic blonde woman sitting beside me, stretching in a way which would have cause some of the male joggers nearby to trip if they could perceive her.

She did that on purpose, damn her.

My host, Lash continued, and though the illusions mouth moved I still heard her voice in my head like normal. Was there anything about that conversation that seemed odd to you?

'I just got finished hearing from the legions of the damned themselves that they are actively recruiting in order to restart a war on heaven,' I answered back, still scowling. 'So no. That's pretty much just how my life goes. Nothing odd here.'

True, Lash agreed and I sighed. Why, oh why, couldn't that conversation had been odd? Why was my life so, so, so Dresden-esque? Why was that a word I had coined as a synonym for FUBAR? But there was much there that intrigued me.

'I'll say,' I admitted, still scowling. 'I feel like I'm trying to tread water with cement shoes on trying to make sense of that conversation.' I gave her a quick look. 'Why don't you hit the highlights, and we'll see how much we're thinking alike.'

Very well, Lash held up her hand, and started counting off on her fingers. First off, the implication that the fallen, devils, and angels, were ever anything less than pillars of creation.

'Yeah, that's a good spot to start,' I agreed shivering at that very, very important implication.

In my world, the thing next to me was the shadow of the Fallen Lasciel. She was an angel, an incarnation of the forces that created reality, an extension of the will of the Creator, of God, empowered to symbolize an aspect of creation that had rebelled against her own purpose. She had been cast down to hell, stripped from heaven, and eventually ended up in one of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas had received to betray the son of god. She could only tempt those who had picked up that coin, offering them more of her power at the price of their souls, and only if the mortal chose to make that exchange.

It was a far cry from some kinky lingerie model with crow wings. And if everything I had heard today wasn't bullshit, that's precisely what the fallen were considered here in Bizzaro world.

I'm feeling a little bit underwhelmed comparing the two.

It was the same for devils, and demons. Devils, for all their titles, were essentially all those angels who had joined Lucifer in his rebellion, all of them pretty much fallen who resided in hell and operated under a similar modus operandi to Lasciel, though most didn't have convenient coins to wonder the world in. Demons were creatures that usually lived in the deeper less pleasant parts of Nevernever, creatures that could be summoned but rarely managed to look anything resembling human. The closer a demon looked to human the more power they generally had. They tried to tempt man too, making bargains and pacts, usually in an effort to get the Name of their bargainer so they could control them after.

I had made a few bargains with them myself in the past, but had ended up cutting off that bad habit. It was starting to get a little hot for me.

All that said, devils weren't cute girls and hot blooded guys who lounged around in Student Council rooms while operating a school.

More than that, the implication that all sides have taken casualties in the past, Lash was aware of my train of thoughts and simply continued her list.

'Which brings up a whole other list of inconsistencies.' These creatures, Fallen, Devil, and Angel, they were literally pillars, aspects of creations, closer to metaphors than they were actual creatures. You can't kill an angel, you can't end the fallen. They simply WERE, and as long as creation was they would continue to be as well.

And the implication that not only were there more than one Satan, but that they had all died in the past…

I don't think I even needed to get into that one.

But what also intrigues me is the implication that they are able to change mortals into devils. Lash was frowning as she continued to count.

'Something which is, literally, impossible,' I agreed.

Mortals were Mortals. Devils were Devils. That was the truth. You couldn't change one from the other. You couldn't take a small feeble existence and make it an aspect of reality. Sure, you could change the mortals body until it resembled something in human, like the Denarii did. You could rip their souls out and change them into obedient servants and slaves, if the human was willing and stupid enough to give you permission. You could twist a mortal into an unstoppable killing machine and let it loose.

But you couldn't make one a devil.

More than that, there were other implications that were a little… disquieting, Lash leaned forward, putting her chin on her hands as she pursed her lips.

'And those were?' I prompted her. There was a whole lot of that conversation that I had been focusing on, and I might have been distracted by the outrage of being propositioned to join Hell's foreign legion and missed out on some of the subtler things.

To be frank, it is the concept that the devils are actually breeding, Lash summed it up, and I blinked, the notion of devils actually propagating like mortal creatures something I hadn't even caught. The devil mentioned that their reason for changing humans to devil was to help their species come back from extinction is similar to the concept of attempting to widen a gene pool to facilitate an endangered species, Lash continued. And Ms. Shitori also indicated that she herself was young, indicating that she was a relatively new creation. Also, many of her reactions were similar to those I have noted in young mortals.

'You're right,' I nodded, trying to recall instances where Sona had reacted strangely. She seemed surprised when I had listed my current views of just what the fallen were, and had seemed embarrassed when she admitted that some of her species acted less than benevolently towards their slaves. And she had been absolutely outraged when I had expressed doubt about her intentions to the school. The more I looked at the conversation, the more it seemed like…

'Did I just bust down the door and bully a bunch of school kids?' I asked Lash, suddenly feeling a little bit like a class A jerk. Then I shook my head. 'School devils I guess?'

It seems that way, from my perspective, Lash giggled, covering her mouth as she did so. Though she pursed her lips and sighed afterwards. Though whether that is the truth, or whether they were simply intelligent beings playing to your preconceptions and deceiving you expertly is indeterminable at this point. It all comes down to a simple fact, one you've already realized.

'This isn't my world,' I grimaced.

It was the truth. It looked so much like my world that I sometimes had trouble keeping that fact in my mind, but this wasn't my world.

This was a world that was beyond even the Outside. It was a reality that was so fundamentally divorced from my original existence that it was freaking shocking that things like gravity, thermo-dynamics, and conservation of mass even existed here in a way I could perceive without being driven mad or turned inside out via alien physics. It wouldn't have been surprising if the creatures of this world breathed argon instead of oxygen, or traveled through time in a non-linear fashion.

All the scifi I had crammed into my head via recreational reading could keep providing me all sorts of ideas, but it wasn't completely relevant right now; fun to think about sometimes, but not relevant.

My host, Lash continued, giving me a direct look, There is one more thing I would like to call to your attention.

'And that is?' I asked, glancing at her briefly.

Not once did you meet any of their eyes, Lash reminded me bluntly, and I straightened, shocked at that. If they were indeed devils, or devils similar in nature to our existence, than you would not have had to worry about a soulgaze. Yet you did so here.

"You're right," I whispered, shocked at the realization that I had been holding myself back.

A soulgaze was what happened when a practitioner met the eyes off another. It was a way to gaze, to see in part the very nature of the one you were looking at, to view their soul. But soulgazes weren't one way streets. Look into the abyss and the abyss looks into you, after all.

I made it a point not to soulgaze anyone anymore. After all the things I've done, all the dark places I've been and seen, I wasn't too confident that I wanted anyone to see my soul anymore.

But a soulgaze could only go between those who had souls. You couldn't gaze on the fey, or devils, or most of the things that dwelled in Nevernever, or even in most of the monsters that walked the earth normally. Souls only existed in mortals, the only ones who had that kind of freedom and potential.

'They just looked so human,' I admitted, frowning. Those self-proclaimed devils even though they should be immune to the soulgaze seeing as they didn't have souls in the first place, I had made sure not to look at them.

Though, I had to admit, there was no way of knowing if I COULD soulgaze anyone here. For all I knew, the people around me, even the mortals, might not have a soul in the same way I did, or gazing just might not work on someone from another reality.

I wasn't going to try it anytime soon either. I'm pretty sure my soul was a scary place these days, and I didn't want to traumatize anyone just to find out if I could.

'So I may or may not have been contacted by the forces of hell who may or may not be as bad as they were on my world, and I may or may not have just prepared to throw down like in the big leagues against a bunch of may or may not school kids,' I summed up everything I had gotten from that conversation.

That seems to be the case, Lash agreed. Then she smiled slightly. Maybe.

'Well as long as we got something concrete out of it all I'm fine,' I grumbled, before Lash paused, looking aside briefly, and then disappearing from my sight. Turning, I followed her last line of sight only to be grabbed by the front of my coat and pulled.

I started to pull my will in a desperate attempt to fend off a surprise assault by the devils I had just confronted, only to pull myself up short in surprise.

"You!" Hyoudou Issei declared, sounding frantic, his eyes wild. "You remember her, right? You remember Yuuma!"

"Yuuma?" I asked, trying to keep track of what was going on as the smaller boy shook me. This had literally came out of nowhere, and I had no idea what the boy was talking about.

"No way!" Issei declared, gritting his teeth. "Yuuma! My girlfriend! You have to remember her! You were there!"

"Girlfriend?" I repeated, before remembering how I had found the kid yesterday. "You mean the bird chick with an impalement fetish?"

Issei froze, staring at me. I started to panic when tears actually started to show up in the kid's eyes.

"You DO remember her," he whispered, sounding triumphant. "She DID exist!"

I frowned, and gently but firmly pulled his hands off my coat. I got the feeling that Issei had been going through something pretty traumatic and panicking, a perfectly justifiable response to how his last few days had been going, but still, hands off the coat. "I get the impression that you and I are about to have a long conversation, aren't we?"

*Scene Break*

"Here you go, kiddo," I told Issei, offering him a canned juice. I had thought about buying him a warm coffee, but figured he was already jittery enough as it is.

"Thanks," he said, looking a lot calmer now than a few minutes ago. He was looking at me carefully, as though he wasn't sure what to make of me. Finally, he blurted out, "You're a wizard."

"I got the business cards and everything," I told him dryly, and he shook his head, sipping his juice.

"No, I mean, you're a wizard," he repeated, still staring at me. "Yesterday, after… after Yuuma-chan stabbed me, I, I think I was dying, and I saw you. You were throwing around fire and ice, and you're staff was glowing…" He shook his head, still staring. "You're a wizard."

"Kid, constantly repeating the same thing over and over again is a sign of shock," I told him, sighing. "Take a couple of deep breaths. Drink a bit of juice. When you're ready to move on with conversation, let me know."

Your bedside manners continue to amaze me, Lash noted.

'I'm a defeater of arcane menaces, not Florence Nightingale,' I told her, rolling my eyes.

If the child is indeed in shock, perhaps more compassion might yield fruit quicker?

'What he needs now is a firm hand,' I disagreed, frowning. 'Something steady to help him get his balance, not a shoulder to cry on.'

Perhaps, Lash admitted.

"Er, Dresden-kun," Issei's voice brought me back. He was frowning. "Are you alright? You looked a little strange…"

"Just talking to the voice in my head," I told him with a sigh. He gave me a weird look.

"Isn't that what crazy people do?" he pointed out, now looking a little worried about being alone with me. We were the only two people left on the roof.

"It's only crazy if the voice in your head is your own. If it's something else's, than it's just a sign that you lead a wild life," I told him dryly. When he looked confused, I just sighed and shook my head. "Don't worry about it. You'll probably never have to deal with something like that."

"Is that a wizard thing?" Issei asked, watching me closely, and I nodded with a sigh. "That sounds… weird," he finally decided.

"You have no idea," I told him. Judging that Issei had managed to calm down a bit, I prompted him. "So kiddo, there a reason that you jumped me out of nowhere, or is that just a new hobby of yours?"

"It's," Issei began, swallowing as he did so. "It's just no one remembers Yuuma! It's as though she just disappeared. And the other day, I… I was stabbed wasn't I? I think I was dying, but then I just woke up in my bed. But everything is weird now. It's like the light… it's like it hurts. But when I'm in the dark, I my body is suddenly stronger! What's going on? What's happening to me?"

I frowned as he rambled, taking in his words. 'Newest member of my peerage,' Rias had stated, and if Sona was telling the truth, than that meant this kid, who as far as I can tell had never done anything more wicked than peeping, was now a devil.

And if I was judging it correctly, he had no idea that he had been changed, or into what.

I felt my gut tighten at the thought. Here, a soul lay damned. Had he made a contract, perhaps on his deathbed, or had the devil just enslaved him without a word of consent? It didn't look like he had any idea what was going on, just a stray soul wondering in confusion.

Maybe… it might be a mercy if I ended his suffering, here and now.

It wasn't the kind of thing I would have thought of, long ago. But then again, long ago, I wasn't aware of just how high staked the game actually was. That was before I had been taken in by Winter. Before I had learned that there were forces from beyond the Outer Gate that needed to be stopped, and that no one would ever know that it was my, as the Winter Knight, job to stop them. And if hell really was assembling its forces…

Preemptive murder is not your usual choice, my host, Lash spoke up, and I grimaced.

I mostly had it under control, but I was still a predator, made that way by the mantle of Winter in me. Moments like this happened, though having a third party in my head had gone a long way to helping me realize when I was slipping to the dark side.

Even after I pushed the instincts away, I still found myself wondering. This poor kid, Hyoudou Issei, was now a devil. If the devils really were rebuilding their army to begin waging war again, than this poor rambling kid might end up a warrior meant to enslave humanity.

I needed to know. Right now, I needed to make a choice, to find some way to do something to help clear up the confusion, to help me decide just how I was going to react to my current situation from here on out.

'Lash,' I decided, 'I'm about to do something reckless.'

So nothing new then, Lash snorted.

"Issei," I interrupted the other boy as he started to build himself up into proper hysterics. He paused, giving me a hopeful look. "I'm going to do something real quick. I need you to stay still for me. Afterwards, I'll be able to help explain things better."

"Er, okay," he nodded, looking hopeful.

Knowing what I was about to do might have a dreadful impact on me in the future but getting ready to do it anyway, I closed my eyes.

And when I opened them again, I used my Sight on the other boy.

The Sight, an ability of perception that develops in practitioners over time. It was a way to perceive the world as more than just what it normally looked at. It was a way to see the very nature of things, the truth of their existence.

It was also dangerous as hell to use it carelessly.

Things seen by the Sight could never be forgotten. Humans, our memories faded, dimmed, things were forgotten. This was necessary, it was something that let us deal with our experiences, let us heal from wounds or injuries we might have experienced. It was what helped us grow and change.

But those things Seen were never lost like that. Once, I had Seen a Yee Naaldlooshi, and the Sight of it had nearly driven me mad. Once, I had Seen Mab at the height of her power, and the feeling of it still nearly broke me.

Fresh as the day it had happened, there were other things I had Seen. Far too often, those things were less than pretty.

And so I prepared myself to See Hyoudou Issei, a devil, a newly changed agent of the inferno…

And found myself just looking at a boy.

There was no hellfire or brimstone, no screaming of the damned or twisted corruption. Issei in the Sight just looked like Issei. No, that wasn't quite right.

Wings. Like the wings that I had seen in the Student Council room when Sona and the others had revealed them. They were present. And there, on his chest. It was a wound, something fresh and aching, something new that had scarred him. And his eyes, they were furtive, wide and glancing, scared and confused…

And his arm. It was… his arm…

I cut off the Sight, drawing a shaking breath.

"Issei," I began slowly, looking at him cautiously, "have you ever had anything to do with a dragon before?"

"A dragon?" he repeated, still staring at me expectantly. "No… dragons aren't real." He paused. "Er, weren't you going to do something just now?"

"Just did," I told him, letting the new memory drift away. I would never forget it, but I could ignore it for now.

"But all you did was just stand there!" he declared looking confused.

"Hey, not all magic is flashy," I told him. When he looked disappointed, I sighed. Glancing over, I saw a set of chairs near the door to the roof, and with an effort of will I pointed at them. "Forzare."

"Whoa!" Issei yelped as the chair rocketed towards us, coming to halt right behind me as I let myself collapse down into it. "How did you do that!"

"Magic," I told him, refraining from adding 'duh' to the sentence.

"But magic isn't…" he began, almost by rote before he cut himself off, glancing at the ground.

"Magic isn't real?" I finished for him, and he looked away sheepishly. "It is. Magic is real. So are dragons," at least after seeing the kid's arm I was fairly certain they were real here. "As are demons, angels, monsters, all kinds of things that go bump in the night. And you just found yourself ass deep in it, kid."

"Stop calling me kid. You're in the same grade as me," Issei grumbled, though he looked pale. "Call me Ise."

"Rightio, Ise," I told him and he gave me a half grin. It didn't last long.

"So than, Yuuma," he began looking a little sick.

"She called herself Raynare when I was kicking her ass," I told him, grimacing as I did so. "And I hate to be the one who says it, but when a monster usually plays around with a human, they generally don't use their real names. Yuuma was probably a fake one."

"Then she wasn't human? Then, why did she ask me out?" Ise asked, sounding desperate and scared. "What was she doing? Why?"

I looked at him, and sighed. "She really did a number on you, didn't she?"

Because that was what I Saw. That devil or not, this boy was more or less the exact same as he had been before being a devil, that whatever had changed in him hadn't twisted him beyond recognition. That he had a fresh wound on his heart, and that he was scared and confused.

"Did a number on me?" Ise repeated, flinching and looking away. He probably didn't realize what I meant, not consciously, but he might understand deep down. Psychic trauma was like that sometimes, and the wounds he had gotten yesterday wasn't just on his body. He would get better, but it would take time.

I suddenly felt tired, and like the monster on the roof wasn't the devil. I had just seriously considered murdering in cold blood an innocent boy guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"So, what happened?" Ise asked, giving me a desperate hopeful look as he turned to me for answers.

And I found I didn't have any.

"I don't know," I told him with a sigh, and he gawked. "I might be a wizard, but I'm not omniscient or anything," I defended myself, scowling at the fact that I really was out of my depths now. If devils were so different here than from my world, what else could be different? I was, in effect, just as ignorant as this poor dumb kid. "I thought I had an idea of what was going on," I continued, "but recent events had proven that I might be wrong about a whole lot of things I thought I was right about."

"So then, you can't help me?" Ise looked like a little lost lamb at that point.

"I can't," I began, before pausing and studying the other boy. He was just as confused as me, so maybe… "But I know someone who can."

"Who?" Ise demanded, his eyes lighting up as I managed to at least get him a direction to go towards while looking for answers.

"Gremory Rias," I told him, and he cocked his head to the side.

"One of the Great Onee-samas?" he repeated, sounding surprised.

"That has to be one of the stupidest titles I've ever heard," I muttered before continuing. "Yesterday, while I was fighting off the harpy chick she was the one who saved your life. I'm not sure how, but it was definitely her. If you want some answers, she's the best place to go." He nodded slowly, and I continued. "Just do me a favor, and when you get those answers clue me in too. I don't like not knowing what's going on, and you're my best chance of starting to figure things out as well."

"Is it going to be dangerous?" Ise asked, swallowing as he did so.

"I don't think so," I admitted. "She seemed like she was looking out for you, but like I just said, turns out I don't have all the answers. You scared?"

"A little," Ise admitted, before swallowing and clenching his fist. "But if I don't go, than I won't know what's going on, and I think that's even scarier!"

"Precisely, kiddo," I told him, smiling as he showed that he was made out of sterner stuff than most.

"Don't call me that," Ise grumbled, before giving me a hopeful look. "Could you maybe come with me?"

I hesitated, thinking about it, before I shook my head. "Sorry, but I'm probably not the best one to do so at the moment." I had just nearly threw down with another of the devils, and it sounded like they communicated so having me along might just make things harder for Ise. "Besides, I have other things I'm looking into."

"Like what?" Ise demanded, upset that I couldn't go with him.

"I'm kind of tracking down that bird girl," I admitted, glancing at the necklace laced with feathers. "And when I find her, I'm gonna get answers out of her, even if I have to beat her like a kettledrum to get them."

*Scene Break*

I skipped school the next day.

No, it wasn't because I was feeling sheepish about having nearly started a fight with the Student Council. It was because I was doing dangerous, extensive, wizarding investigation stuff.


Have I mentioned that I love the fact that Burger King has franchises in Japan?

Just putting that out there.

Though my own investigations have proven only slightly above fruitless, I was currently going to meet up with Ise again, who hopefully would be able to supply some answers.

"Dresden-kun!" he greeted me as he pedaled into sight. I was somewhat impressed by just how quickly he was managing to make that bike move. "Guess what? I'm a devil, and it's awesome!"

"Wow," I muttered, staring at him again. "Er, either they have better brainwashing techniques than I thought, or I was really, really missing out on something."

And if only you had listened to me sooner, you might know which it is, Lash told me.

I was almost bemused as I followed Ise along, listening as he started giving me all that vital intelligence that I had been lacking. It seems that the nervous boy from yesterday had been replaced by some highly motivated pod person of some sort.

"And I get to hang around Buchou and Akeno-san, the two great Nee-sama's of Kuoh Academy!" Ise happily listed all the fringe benefits of being a devil, and a member of the Gremory Peerage as it was called. "And Koneko-chan is cute too! There's that damn handsome Kiba, though."

"Wait, can you back up a sec," I held out my hand, trying to focus on the useful things Ise was telling me rather than him listing all the hot chicks he now got to hang around. "Devils can speak any language, but that doesn't extend to the written aspects?"

"Yeah, so English is going to be a breeze for sure from now on!" he declared, pumping a fist as he did so. Lash knew what I wanted without me saying a word.

"Any language at all?" I asked for confirmation, and Ise nodded vigorously.

"It's great! I feel so international now!"

"Well I'll be," I muttered, pursing my lips. "It really works, doesn't it."

"Why do you say that, Dresden?" he asked, sounding confused.

"Because we're speaking Ancient Etruscan and you didn't even notice," I pointed out for him, and Ise blinked in surprise.

"Hey, you're right," he noted, before giving me a confused look. "How do you know Ancient Etruscan?"

"Magic," I told him, grinning slightly. He scowled at me but I let it slide. Hey, wizards who don't act mysterious are breaking union rules. "So what are you doing right now? And did you figure out who and what that harpy chick was? Or why she came at you?"

"Well, now I'm doing the devil's work," Ise enthused, and I perked, glancing out of the corner of my eye at him. "Basically, since devils are creatures that respond to temptation and desire, when someone has enough desire they can summon a devil to help them out. Apparently it can be all kinds of work, and we get payment in return for doing it. It's like a part time job or something."

"And that payment is?" I asked, trying not to show how tense I was.

"Oh it can be all kinds of things, like money, or sometimes expensive things," Ise didn't even notice the way I sagged, unable to believe that response. I had seriously been expecting something a little less… harmless as cash.

The way the boy put it, Lash sounded intrigued, Interesting.

'What did you notice?' I asked her.

That devils are those who respond to desires, and encourage them in turn, she explained. Though it is less extreme than in our world, to encourage desire is to feed it. The more a human has their desires granted, the more they are willing to give into them.

'So rather than just going for the soul directly, they simply encourage mortals to fall further and further on their own,' I concluded. It was… strangely both more and less insidious than back home. In a way, it was a lot safer for the mortal, helping prevent them from instant damnation that creatures like the Denarii could offer. But also, it was a way of training the human that calls the devil to be greedier, to be more willing to fall to avarice.

I was strangely relieved by that. So far, all my preconceptions had been turned upside down. If devils didn't have at least SOMETHING wicked about them, than I would seriously be in danger of just throwing my arms in the air and going home to sulk.

"And as for why Yuu- Raynare attacked me," Ise stumbled over the name, grimacing as he corrected himself. "It turns out that she was a fallen angel. Apparently, I have something called a Sacred Gear, some kind of magical tool or something that humans can be born with sometimes. Fallen angels don't like it when humans have that kind of power, so they kill them when they can."

"And now, rather than a human having a power that they don't like, a devil does," I grimaced, not quite sure what to make of something so… simplistic as people being born with magical artifacts in them. "Can you show me yours?"

And a second later I felt like palming my head at the way that came out. Luckily, Ise was too excited to notice.

"Sure!" Ise began, before pausing and frowning. "Hey, did you change languages again?"

"Ancient Sumerian," I told him, and he gawked at me. "Trust me, it really did sound like that."

'Also, Lash,' I began.

Yes, my host?

'Keep it up. This is getting kind of fun,' I grinned, and heard the shadow giggle herself as she changed the language once more, Lower Kingdom Egyptian if I didn't miss my mark.

"Right," Ise finally shook his head, before holding out his left arm and concentrating.

It didn't escape my notice that the arm was the same one that had resembled a dragon in my Sight. With narrowed eyes I watched as the arm glimmered, and then changed.

"A gauntlet?" I hummed, studying the new addition to the other boy carefully. "What does it do?"

"Actually, we haven't figured it out yet," Ise admitted, scratching his head with the gauntlet sheepishly. It was bright red, and had a sort of scale motif to it. It didn't seem immediately dangerous, but I kept an eye on it anyway.

"If you're trying to figure out what it is, I suggest researching dragons," I told him, and Ise frowned.

"Why are you so set on dragons, anyway?" he asked, and I just shook my head.

"So if you're currently, er, doing the devil's work, why are you out here on your bike?" I asked, and Ise slumped. Was it just me or did this kid have some pretty exaggerated expressions?

"Er, normally a devil just teleports themselves to the contractor," he began looking depressed. "But, er, it turns out I don't really have much demonic power."

"What do you mean by not much?" I prompted, frowning as I focused on that new phrase 'demonic power'. It didn't sound ominous at all. Really.

"As in not even as much as a normal devil baby," I swear to god, he began crying.

So devils do procreate as other species do, Lash noted, and I nodded with her.

Then I started to feel awkward. Standing next to a crying guy would do that to anyone.

"Well, work hard and I'm sure you'll do better," I told him, and he just started to cry harder. "Why don't I tell you how things have been going on my end?"

"You mean, have you found her yet?" Ise sniffed, but he glanced up, a complicated look on his face as I successfully distracted him.

"Not yet," I told him, "wherever she is, it's someplace that's warded against my tracking spells."

"Tracking spells?" Ise repeated, frowning. "Warded?"

"Wards are the type of spells you put around places or things, mostly to defend them or to hide them," I explained, deciding to keep it general enough for now. I still didn't know how much my magic had in common with this world's magic, and I didn't want to raise any alarm flags.

"So you can't just find her?" Ise frowned, and I shook my head.

"Not easily, anyway. But there's ways around that kind of thing," I held up the necklace, and Ise frowned at it. "See those feathers? They're the ones I knocked out of her in the fight. If you have a piece of someone or something, you can use that piece to find the original. Most of the time, while she's hidden, nothing happens. But when she comes out…"

As though prompted by my words, the necklace suddenly started, and began swaying, pushing in a specific direction.

"You found her!" Ise declared, before grimacing. "What… what should we do?"

"I didn't find her yet," I told him, pulling out my tablet. Again, as though prompted by my words, the swaying stopped. I grimaced. "It only lasts as long as she's outside her protection. But, I've been keeping this up for most of the day."

Then I paused. "A giant pile of money appears."

"What?" Ise had every right to be confused. It was kind of out of left field.

When no giant pile of money appeared, I chalked up the previous too cases of things happening just because I said them to coincidence.

A man could dream though, right?

"Anyway," I continued, holding my phone up. I had a map of the city displayed on it, and all over the map were little arrows I had drawn. This was so much easier when I didn't have to lug a paper map around. "Every time the feather moves, I make a mark here. Even if I can't tell where she is now, the more arrows I make the more it narrows it down." I scowled at the map. So far I had gotten enough of those movements to start narrowing down my search, and the more that showed up the more I was able to narrow. "It may take a bit of time, but I'll get her.

"When you do…" Ise swallowed, and then looked up, determined. "Let me know. I… I want to be there. I have to, to ask her. Why she did it."

I gave him a measuring look. Then I sighed. "Look, Kiddo.."

"Ise," he corrected me, and I nodded.

"Ise. I hate to be the one who tells you this, but nothing good is going to come out of that conversation. You might be better of just letting it go."

"How would you know?" he demanded, scowling at me, and I scowled right back.

"Because I've had a few of those conversations myself," I told him, and he blinked, surprised at how grim my tone was. "None of them ended well."

"Er, Dresden," Ise sounded worried. "You mean you…" He stopped, and then shook his head. "No. Never mind."

"Smart kid," I told him, and the two of us walked in silence for a bit.

"So," I finally spoke up again, breaking the tense atmosphere. "How have the other devils been treating you?"

"Great!" he declared, enthusiastically picking up the conversation from there. I listened carefully, trying to see just how a devil treated their peerage. I wanted to see if it wasn't as bad as I feared, if they really were more than just slaves. "Akeno-san is really nice, and makes great tea! Kiba is okay, the damn handsome. And Buchou is really nice! She even told me that if I worked hard, I could achieve my own dream and become a high class devil too!"

"Good for you," I muttered bemusedly. It looked like the more I heard, the less I had to worry about. "So what's your dream?"

"To have my own peerage, and become a Harem King!" he declared happily.

I stopped.

I stared.

"What?" I finally got out.

"To have a great big harem of beautiful women with large oppai!" Ise continued, the fire of his enthusiasm burning hot as he gripped his fist in front of him. "To be able to do echi things to them and their oppai all night long!"

It appears that Ise is a breast man.

It also appears he is unfamiliar with the term 'shame'.

"Good for you?" I offered him slowly, backing away a bit.

"And so, for the sake of my future as a Harem King, I will work hard!" Ise swore, pulling up to one house specifically. I guessed it was the client's house as he rang the doorbell.

"You do that," I told him, still backing away slightly. Then I frowned. "Just so you know, if you build that harem through mind control, coercion, or any kind of demonic enslavement, I'm morally obligated to murder you."

"Eh?" Ise sounded a little surprised by that, turning to give me a confused look. Than the door opened and I gaped at the person who answered it. He realized I was staring at something, and turned as well. "Eh?"

"Pyo," the enormous man who answered the door declared, speaking in one of those artificially cute ways that some girls did. Only he was very much not a girl. He was enormous, with the kind of muscles I'd expect to find on some of Marcone's hired Vikings. Hell, he was even bigger than Hendricks had been.

And he was wearing what appeared to be a magical girl cosplay outfit.

Sailor Bubba, why, oh why, do you exist?

"Are you the devil-kun who came to grant Mil-tan's wish?" the juggernaut asked, still speaking cutely.

"Eh!" Ise squeaked again, and gave me a panicked look.

"Good luck, work hard, and keep your eyes on your dream," I told him in a rush, and then veiled myself, albeit poorly, and made good my escape.

"Eehhhhhh!" Ise's scream echoed from behind me, and I prayed for his well-being.

*Scene Break*

I narrowed my eyes, taking in the sight before me. It had taken a few days, but I was positive this was the place. Now, the only question, was what to do about it.

Prior experience had helped me get down how to plan an assault like this. If I took a few days, scoped out the guards and what kind of forces are there, it would make things easier in the long run. I like to think I had mostly grown out of the whole 'frontal assault is the best assault' phase I had had back when I was younger, and even a little intel could…

I swore as my phone began to ring.

Okay, maybe I was a little out of practice if I had forgotten to mute my phone. Though, in my defense, I never really was able to have a cellphone before, so maybe this slip could be forgiven.

"What!" I snapped, getting the phone to my ear as I answered it, cursing under my breath as I did so. If I had been in the middle of infiltration having my phone go off would have been a silly reason to get caught.

"Dresden!" Ise nearly shouted back, his tone so angry it made me blink. "I need your help! Raynare, she took Asia! They're going to do something to her, and we have to stop them!"

"Wait, who are 'they'? Who's Asia? What's going on?" I blinked, feeling like I had missed something. It sounded like Ise had had a wild couple of days and some probably pretty important events had occurred to him.

It was odd, because my last few days had been really quiet, and usually it was me who had to endure the madness and then call up some confused back up when I got in over my head.

"It'll take too long to explain," Ise declared, and I felt déjà vu for a moment. How many times had I used THAT excuse myself? "I found out where Raynare is hiding!"

"Is it the big abandoned church on the hill out in the middle of nowhere?" I asked him slowly, and he paused.

"Wait, how did you know that?" he asked, losing his pace in confusion over my answer.

"Because I am currently standing at the foot of the hill that the big abandoned church in the middle of nowhere is on," I told him dryly.

"You found her too?" Ise sounded excited. "So she is there! I'm coming, and I'm bringing Kiba and Koneko-chan! Just wait for us!"

And like that, the phone went dead.

'So that's what it feels like,' I mused, staring at the phone before absentmindedly turning it to vibrate only.

Will the experience be enough to stop you from inflicting it on others in the future? Lash asked idly.

'No, not at all. It's just refreshing to be on the other side for once,' I admitted, before sighing. 'So. Frontal assault it is.'

Don't burn it down until you are outside, Lash recommended.

'No promises.'

*Scene Break*

"So I take it you must be Kiba," I greeted the blond, good looking boy absentmindedly, before glancing at the tiny girl with silver hair. "And you must be Koneko. Devils, I presume?"

"Ah," the blond smiled gently before bowing politely. "I see Ise-kun has mentioned us. You must be Dresden Harry. A pleasure to meet you."

"…suspicious," the girl stated, just eying me cautiously. I guess a tall foreign boy in a black duster wasn't exactly the most trustworthy figure to meet late at night.

"We don't have time for this!" Ise demanded, and I glanced at him, frowning. I had known he was the excitable sort, but now he seemed different. He was still high tension, but his eyes were narrowed, a harsh glare at the church above as though he was trying to burn it to the ground with his mind. "Who knows who's up there, or what's going on! We have to…"

"There were about fifty men, most dressed in full priest outfits, none carrying any firearms that I could make," I told him, flipping through my notebook. "One of them had a sword, a silver haired guy that seemed like a head mook to me. It looked like he stayed in the main foyer. There's some kind of staircase hidden under the alter, and most of the lesser mooks made their way down about a half hour ago. They had a girl with them, and judging by the atmosphere I'm assuming that's 'Asia', and that they probably intend to do her wrong. I know for a fact that our girl Raynare was with them. I think I caught sight of two other of the fallen, if the wings were anything to go by, but they left the church so they're either standing guard or have already moved on."

"Er," Ise blinked, staring at me. Both Kiba and Koneko also seemed surprised, the girl's head cocking as she took me in. "Magic?" he finally asked.

"Sometimes low tech is best tech," I told him, holding up the binoculars I had been scoping the church out with. "I didn't want to get any closer in case I caught the other fallens' attention, but I was able to make out the inner foyer after I climbed a tree for some leverage. Sorry, but once we're down the stairs we'll have to play this by ear."

"That's… more than we expected," Kiba admitted, before smiling. "I had heard the stories, but it seems you really are experienced."

"This ain't my first rodeo," I sighed, before putting the binoculars back in my back pack. I had some pretty standard wizarding tools there, but if this was going to be frontal assault style than most of them weren't needed. I'd just leave them here and pick them up afterwards. "Any of you ever fight with a wizard before?"

"…no," Koneko ended up speaking, still blinking as she continued to study me.

"Then I'll give you the details as we move," I assured them as Ise nodded fiercely, already making her way up the hill. The rest of us followed. "First off, bear in mind, is that I'm squishy."

"Squishy?" Kiba repeated, looking at me oddly.

"Squishy, as in I'm just a normal mortal human. You devils are probably gonna be a lot tougher than me," I explained, hurrying to keep pace. From the way they were all moving I was definitely certain that devils were stronger than humans. "Because of that, I work better as the rearguard. Sorry, but you guys are going to be taking point."

"I see," Kiba nodded, patiently listening. Ise glanced back at me to show he was listening before scowling and focusing on the church.

"…definitely squishy," Koneko apparently decided. I wondered where a girl that tiny got to make that kind of judgment, before deciding that it would be better not to underestimate the devils, regardless of how they looked.

"That being said, my specialty is pretty much wide scale destruction," I admitted sheepishly. "My favorite elements are fire and ice. If I see a small opening, expect the ice. If there are a lot of them standing together with nothing I like around them, that's when you'll see the fire."

"Logical," Kiba agreed.

"And also, if you hear me yell 'Down in Front' that's a very good indication that I'm about to be doing something excessive," I advised them as well. "I'm not expecting it for this kind of fight, but if you hear the shout, I advise you to retreat, and try not to be between me and them."

"And do you do something excessive often?" Kiba asked, frowning.

"Er…." I thought back to some of my past escapades. "I'll pass on that. Incidentally, there won't be any fall out if this church happens to burn down or anything, will there? Er, just speaking hypothetically."

"…definitely suspicious," Koneko resumed studying me with narrowed eyes. I smiled back innocently.

"We're almost there!" Ise shouted as we closed in on the church.

"Allow me to get the door," I declared, leveling my staff. "Forzare!"

Both doors rocketed backwards with a thunderous crash, part of the frame holding them going with them. Kiba picked up speed, proving that the devil was definitely faster than me by a long shot and rocketed forward, nearly blurring as he moved past Ise to take point.

"Ow, ow, ow!" the white haired guy moaned, pushing the door off of him. I must have gotten lucky and caught him in the blast. "Who the hell blows up doors! Seriously!"

"Freed!" Ise shouted, and I realized that whoever it was the kid apparently had met him before. "Where's Asia!"

"Well, I never met the same Devil twice before! You know, since I'm super strong, I cut Devils into pieces when I first meet them! Once I see them, I cut them up on the spot! I then kiss the corpse and say goodbye! That's how I used to live! But since you guys ruined my style, I'm so lost! That's no good~. It's not good to interfere with my lifestyle~! That's why~! You guys piss me off! I hope you guys will die! Actually die! You trashy Deeeeeeeeeeeevils!"

Okay. It only took this Freed guy opening his mouth, and I was able to use my highly sensitive 'psychometer' to detect that he was absolutely insane. He also seemed fixated on devils as well.

Hey, if the bad guy is crazy and not paying attention to you, that's kind of a plus minus equal type thing, isn't it?

I was bracing myself for the fight to really kick in when the crazy guy reached into his robes and pulled out a gun and what looked like a sword hilt.

And then my jaw dropped in pure disbelief as the hilt actually lit up, a sword of light appearing on it.

"He has a lightsaber?" I whispered. "I just had a geekgasm."

Still, disregarding the fact that after we finished this guy that sword was coming with me and no devil better try to stop me, it was still probably a very dangerous weapon. Not wanting to be on the end of that holy sword myself, I veiled, and strafed to the side. My veils would never be as good as Molly's were, that was undeniable, but even if I was just blurring my outline, that could be the difference between life and death if that gun was pointed at me. I prepared my will to take action, but found that there really wasn't anything I could do yet at this point.

It turns out that what I had thought was Kiba's max speed earlier was just him warming up. Fast. So damn fast. I narrowed my eyes as I tried to keep track of the devil's movements, and was able to, if only just.

I did not want to have to throw down against that. Partly because fighting something that fast was dangerous, and unless I came in prepared with some cheap tricks I would probably end up stabbed before I even knew I was being attacked.

Partly because the best way to fight against that kind of speed was to just saturate the whole area with wide scale destruction, and I was trying to avoid getting that kind of reputation in this world as well.

I was still biding my time when Kiba used a sword that…

No! My lightsaber! Why did you break my dream, you devil! In front of my eyes, the sword that Kiba was wielding was literally extinguishing the culmination of nearly a life time of dreams!


Be strong, my host, Lash comforted me. Be strong.

"…disappear!" Koneko declared, and then I gaped as a girl who literally barely reached my waist picked up a freaking church pew, and then threw it at the still startled priest.

How did she do that? I mean, literally, how the hell did she do that? The pew should have weighed at least three times her mass! Due to the leverage and way it was balanced, she should have literally been unable to pick it up just because of basic physics!

'Okay, I call hax,' I muttered to Lash, so far feeling a little out of my depths here. 'I give up, Bizzaro world wins. Can we go home now?'

I believe your friend Ise is still relying on you, Lash pointed out gently and I snorted.

'Why? So far these two seem to have it all under control.'

Perhaps you will be of more use when dealing with the large number of, as you call them, mooks, down below? Lash offered and I sighed.

'Great. Now I'm mook control. That's so demeaning. It just means I'm just providing our side's thug-power. That's what Thomas was for, not me.'

"Promotion!" Ise shouted, and then I gaped yet again as this time HE was the one moving so fast I had trouble following him.

"No fa-!" the psycho priest started, only for Ise to nail him a good one, right in the kisser. All that momentum bled over nicely to force, and priest went flying into a wall, pretty much ending the fight right there.

"Don't worry guys," I declared dryly, letting my veil fall as I stepped back out of the corner. "I have it all under control."

"But you didn't do anything," Ise pointed out, sounding confused, and I sighed.

"Well, I guess your sarcasm-fu is still weak," I told him. Kiba at least looked amused.

Seriously, why was it only devils that found me funny?

"…useless," Koneko told me and I scowled at the girl before again I had to suppress the urge to gawk as the tiny girl just walked up to the stone alter, grabbed, and then lifted the entire thing up with one stone cracking tug.

"Someone was drinking their milk," I muttered, eyeing the girl carefully.

"Koneko is a Rook, so that much is simple," Kiba offered, before Ise brushed past him, charging down the stairs to whatever was lying in wait for us.

"Pardon?" I asked, following behind as Koneko, then Kiba went. I was the last to go in, though I did keep my staff trained behind me as I played rear guard. Kiba paused as he noted me walking sideways, and then smiled as he realized I was keeping an eye out for ambushes.

"I see you haven't had the Evil Piece system explained to you yet," the blond nodded, still smiling. Seriously, this guy seemed moderately unflappable when it came to keeping his cool. "If you'd like, once this is over, Buchou should be able to explain it for you."

"Well, it's not like I never went into combat without knowing the capabilities of my allies," I grumbled. "It sucked before, and it sucks now. Hell's bells, who are these guys anyway?"

"Fallen exorcists," the other boy supplied, and I blinked at him. He picked up on the fact that his answer wasn't, and he went on. "Priests that used to work for the church, but ended up being kicked out for some reason or other. Some for being too extreme, some for harming humans inappropriately, others like Freed…"

"For being batshit crazy?" I offered, and Kiba nodded in agreement. "So just about everyone below is probably the same as Captain Loopy up there?"

"Most likely," he offered, before frowning slightly. "When they no longer have the protection of the church, most of them tend to turn to the fallen for protection."

"Great," I muttered, voicing the opposite of my true feelings. Kiba seemed to pick up on that. Maybe it was the scowl that gave it a way.

"Is there a problem?" he asked cautiously, studying me closely.

"I hate killing mortals," I told him flatly. "No problem with killing monsters and stuff, but other people? That's when it gets complicated."

"I see," Kiba studied me carefully, a small frown appearing on his face. "But that implies that you've done so before…"

"I never said I can't do it," I told him, my expression going stony. "But it doesn't mean I have to like it."

"I'm sorry," Kiba apologized, and for what it was worth he really did look regretful. "But depending on what we find, we may have no other choice. If it helps, most of these people are probably like Freed was, people who enjoyed killing too much and were cast out for it."

"Actually, yeah, that does help," I told him, grimacing but firming my resolve.

I could handle dealing with psychos. Stars and stones, with some of the scumbags I've come across just working in Chicago's underbelly, I had no delusions about the kind of psychos and killers that were out there. Even if these guys were priests, at least they were psycho priests.

"We're almost there!" Ise shouted, and I glanced ahead, taking my eyes off the passage behind us to check our front and saw a doorway that seemed to open to a wider room. Bracing myself, I prepared for the fight.

When I broke into the room, I found most of my compunctions about using lethal force against my fellow mortals disappearing.

"Ise…san?" the young blonde girl managed to get out. She groaned a moment after, and I scowled.

I didn't know who this Asia was, or what she had done. Ise seemed to know, and my impression from him so far was that she was good people.

And she was currently tied to a cross, wearing a thin undergarment, and writhing in pain. All around her, stone faced priests stood by, some of them chanting and others just standing guard, none of them doing anything to help. If I judged it right, it looks like they were the ones who were doing whatever it was that was hurting the young girl.

"Welcome, devils," bird girl Raynare still had that haughty voice, and her eyes narrowed as she caught sight of me in the back. "And the magician too? It seems that my fortune is great today.

"Well, if you enjoy getting your ass kicked, I'd say you're right," I told her, narrowing my eyes. "But hey, if you're really that masochistic, who am I to stop kicking?"

"Asia!" Ise yelled, and the shaking blonde girl who was now confirmed as being the Asia in question looked up painfully.

"Ise-san," she whispered, sounding surprised but overjoyed, beneath the pain anyway, that the kid had shown up.

"It's too late!" Raynare declared triumphantly. I desperately readied my will, deciding that doing something drastic in the name of stopping whatever this ceremony was seemed like an acceptable course of action, but I was too late.

Just like with Ise before, there was flash of light, and a life was extinguished. It was that quick. It was that cruel.

And it pissed me off. It pissed me off a lot. So I used it. I pulled that anger, turned it into will. While I gathered my power, Ise had managed to break through the formation and recover the now dead girl. His fellow devils moved to cover his back.

"Go, Ise-kun!" Kiba ordered, and the crying kid nodded, still cradling the limp blonde girl as he ran back through the doorway, heading back to the church proper.

"It's too late for that now!" Raynare ordered, laughing cruelly as she did so. I was taking aim with my staff for a sucker punch when she did that flashing thing, feathers flying as she teleported.

Okay. I was going to learn how that worked. I mean, teleportation? That wasn't the kind of thing you saw back on my world. If I could adjust the affect, I wonder if I could make it look like the teleporters on Star Trek?

My host, you are not allowed to say 'Beam me up, Scottie', Lash informed me, and I scowled at the shadow for ruining my fun. Also, you may wish to calm down. We are still far underground, and it would be troubling to escape if you go overboard.

'They were torturing an innocent girl,' I told her softly, turning my eyes to the gathered priests. 'They dragged her into the night, hurt her, and then killed her, and there was nothing she could do to stop them.'

I had been dragged into the night before. Hell, several times at this point. I knew what it was like to be helpless, to have things done to you that you couldn't stop.

Yeah, turns out I was going to have no problem fighting these guys.

"Well then," Kiba began, his smile a bit fierce. "Shall we be-"

He cut himself off as my staff appeared beside him, the tip of it spearing in front of him.

"Fuego," I declared. "Pyro fuego!"

"Eh?" he yelped, flinching back as the column of fire erupted from the tip. The smell of sulfur lit the air, and the runes I had carved on my staff glowed ominously. Hey, I was fighting on the side of the devils, Hellfire just seemed appropriate.

"Dodge!" one priest managed to get out, before he screamed as the flames hit him. I didn't get as many as I hoped for, many of them already having been moving before I had finished chanting, others calling up some kinds of shields or holding talismans that managed to protect them. It made sense, seeing as these were priests that hunted devils and all.

The situation quickly degenerated from there. With so many exorcists present, it was impossible for us to mount any kind of united front. Besides that, Kiba was moving so fast, darting in and out of the priests, dodging and blocking lightsabers with frightening quickness, and Koneko had just waded in, literally picking up priests and using them as clubs as she showed that same mind boggling strength she had displayed earlier. Meaning, the meat shields I was depending on to cover my poor mortal self turned out to be crappy at their job.

"Die, magician!" one of the priests shouted, coming at me. Lightsabers seemed pretty much the weapon of choice here, and I felt a ridiculous urge to tell them there lack of faith disturbs me.

Then I realized I was casting myself as Darth Vader and sighed.

At least you finally know the power of the darkside, Lash reassured me, and I decided that being able to squeeze a Star Wars quote out of her made the whole being on the wrong side of the force worth it.

I blocked the first exorcist with my shield, the rippling plain of light flashing into experience and drawing a curse from the attacker. There were a lot of them, and frankly, they were all too close for my comfort. I had no idea if my duster would protect me from the swords of light either. I'd only put my standard defensive enchantments on it, and I'd never been attacked by some sort of holy element before, so I guess that was going into my research list pretty quickly.

With a grimace, I dug deep in me to the power of Winter.

As the Winter Knight, I had a lot of power, the kind of physical ability to match some of the tougher monsters I had fought. When the next priest came, I punched him, and was secretly pleased as for once, I got to be the superhumanly tough creature rather than the squishy mortal as I felt bones crack and organs rupture.

I suppressed that glee quickly, not willing to let the mental influence of Winter take root in me. As I dodged another attack, some kind of gun that shot bullets of light that the priest had concealed under his robe, I pulled my will and focused.

"Infriga!" I declared, and the next priest that came near me had only a moment for a strangled scream, and then I ripped the warmth right out of him. His body cracked in places as he froze between one moment and the next, momentum and sudden changes in temperature causing small fractures before he stopped completely, nothing more than a corpse standing like a statue.

And I took that heat, fueled it, and then slammed it into the next priest as a ball of fire.

It was a dangerous trick, a combo I had first found when I had charged the Red Court itself in order to rescue Maggie. It was rare, really rare, for a wizard to be able to manage two such opposing elements. It probably would have taken me a century or so to pull it off if I hadn't had the power of Winter. However, with the affinity for all things cold and frozen having literally been engrained in me, it was now one of my staples for fighting.

Even as I dodged another attack, I repeated it, yanking the warmth out of the burning priest, freezing him in turn in a rictus of pain and blistered flesh, and the repeated the process with the next priest.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It wasn't until several minutes later, when I tore the fire out of one last priest and realized that I was out of targets to move it to, that a voice interrupted my concentration. "Oh my."

I started, steeling feeling Winter's mantle affecting me, glancing around as I sought my next prey… my enemy, my next enemy I corrected my thinking, when I realized the fight was over.

"I was aware that you knew your way around a fight," Rias declared, and I realized I couldn't remember when she had got here. Beside her, a dark haired girl about her same age, just as stacked as the redhead, had her hand to her mouth and was blinking. Beside them Kiba was frowning, pursing his lips, and Koneko had her head cocked as she watched me carefully. "But this far exceeds my expectations."

It would be easy, so easy, to take out the boy. And then afterwards, there would be nothing to stop me from taking those three lovely creatures, and breaking them, using them as I will, as was my right…

'And stop right there,' I ordered myself, imposing my will with long practice on the instincts of Winter. I straightened, took a deep breath, and took stock of the situation.

All around me, nearly a dozen priests stood like grim lawn ornaments, frozen in their final moments. All but the first one were covered in burns, their poses ones of agony as they stood in a cold, final testament of their lives.

"We done here?" I asked, before scowling at my tone. It always took me a few minutes to come back from that bad place Winter tended to send me. I realized I was still holding the fire ready, the ball of sulfurous flames crackling as I held it in place with my will with the ease of long practice. I let it disperse, a blast of warmth buffering over the surroundings as the heat dissipated.

"Yes," Rias declared, pursing her lips as she studied my handiwork. "I've never seen magic like this." She gave me a measuring look. "What school do you practice?"

I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, and didn't really want her to know that, so I told her with a straight face, "The old school."

She blinked, and then giggled again, a sound echoed by the dark haired hotty beside her. Even Kiba cracked a grin, and I was struck by just how at home they were, talking to a wizard surrounded by frozen corpses. Then I was struck by how at home I was by the same thing.

I think I made some bad choices in my life.

Then I remembered we weren't quite done here yet.

"We should go back up Ise," I declared, frowning as the devils continued to just stand around, wondering just why they weren't helping their friend.

"We are monitoring the situation through our familiars," Rias informed me, before frowning. "If at all possible, I would like for Ise to be able to handle this himself. It would be best for him, in order to help him move on."

I frowned, wondering if this was some kind of ominous devil initiation thing, before remembering that wound on the kid's heart I had Seen.

"You may be right," I allowed, scowling. Ise had wanted this conversation, and even if I was sure that it wouldn't end well, he needed to see it through before he'd truly be able to start healing.

"I had heard from Sona that you had a less than favorable reaction to devils," Rias noted, studying me. "It seems that she may have exaggerated slightly." She huffed, folding her arms. "No doubt trying to monopolize you for herself, that sly girl."

"No, I kinda blew up at her," I admitted with a sigh. "I'm at a good age for overreacting I guess. But then I decided to do some investigating of my own. Considering what the fallen are like, I'm kind of coming down on the whole 'better the devil you know' side of things."

"I see," Rias beamed, her smile growing. "Well then, Ise should be finishing up soon. I suppose we should do something about these," she eyed the statues.

Well, it wouldn't hurt to show off a bit. I was still on the fence about how to deal with devils from now on, but a little preemptive intimidation might be useful if things ever turn sour.

With an effort of will, I channeled force, a wave of it sweeping out from around me. The wave struck the statues as it spread, shattering them and sending chunks of frozen flesh scattering around me. Rias jumped slightly, and devils were lightly showered with frozen chunks of priest.

"I kind of feel sorry for the janitor when those finally thaw," I declared innocently.

*Scene Break*

I ended up walking back to the church proper myself. Stupid devils and their stupid devil only teleportation. I swear, I will learn it myself just as soon as I have the time.

I veiled myself before I entered, remembering what Rias said about letting Ise handle it on his own. There were a few tense minutes towards the end, but the kid managed to pull through, decking the fallen hard enough to put her through a window and ending the fight.

He looked about how I felt after some of my more wild adventures, but it looked like he would live to see another day.

When he knelt next to the cooling corpse of his friend, it reminded me she wouldn't.

Asia. I had never met her, but I'd say a prayer for her later.

"Ise," Rias spoke up, coming out of however it was the devils had been hiding. "Fetch that," she told Koneko, and the tiny girl made her way out of the church, probably to get Raynare before she recovered and got away.

"Buchou," Ise looked up, surprised at her presence. "But weren't you…"

"I said that I had other things to do," she smiled at the boy kindly. She was still smiling when Koneko returned, dragging the limp fallen angel behind her. The dark haired girl who still hadn't had an introduction made a gesture, and water poured on the unconscious fallen, waking her back up. "It just so happened that I was investigating the actions of the fallen myself."

"Hmph," Raynare had guts, I'll give her that much. Despite being out numbered and having just had her ass handed to her, she was putting up a strong front. "If you think that you've won, than you're mistaken," she declared imperiously. "Release me now, or the others…"

"Fallen angel Kalawana, fallen angel Dohnaseek and fallen angel Mitelt have already been dealt with," Rias declared coolly. It looked like harpy girl wasn't the only one that could pull off looking down on others. She held up three feathers, and Raynare's eyes widened as she seemed to recognize them. "When I heard that the fallen were moving in secret, I went to investigate. When they came, they spoke of their plans, boasting when I asked them as a final favor. Once I knew everything, I dealt with them myself. You were moving without the knowledge or approval of the Grigori." The redhead let the feathers fall to the floor, and I got the impression that in Raynare's eyes it was like the clacking of bars coming down on her. "You are the last one left."

"To think that a lowly devil with a useless Sacred Gear could ever…" Raynare turned her anger at Ise, only to be interrupted by Rias.

"You were mistaken about my lovely Ise's Sacred Gear," the redhead declared. "It isn't Twice Critical. It seems that my pawn has the legendary Boosted Gear, the Longinus with the power to slay even god, the gauntlet of the Red Dragon Emperor."

Ise gaped, sounding surprised by the declaration.

Frankly, most of it went right over my head. I still wasn't completely sure what a Sacred Gear was. However, in regards to it having something to do with 'Red Dragon Emperor' I would like somebody to get me a phone.

Because I freaking called it.

"Yoho!" a new voice interrupted, that same psychopathic cheer present in it, and I realized in surprise that the crazy ex-exorcist had made an appearance. And that he was right in front of me. And that he hadn't noticed me at all.

Maybe my veils didn't suck as much as I thought they did? I mean, Molly was a genius at them, so maybe comparing myself to her in that field was little unfair.

"You!" Raynare latched onto the priest being present like a drowning swimmer reaching for a life vest. "Priest! Save me!"

"I don't know. What are you going to do for me if I do?" Freed didn't seem to have any loyalty to the fallen at all, and sounded like he was enjoying her getting her comeuppance. "Maybe if you have sex with me…"

He cut himself off as he felt my staff poke him in the small of his back.

"Yes, that is my staff," I told him. "No, it's not me being happy to see you."

"Ah, shit," he got out before I slammed will through the staff, hitting him with enough force to send him rocketing through a window just like Raynare had earlier.

"And the wizard picks up the spare," I declared cheerfully, and the dark haired girl giggled.

"My, my Dresden-kun," she smiled. "What a naughty boy you are."

"I blame puberty," I shrugged, a little embarrassed by the fact she caught the innuendo. I turned my attention to the fallen, who was gritting her teeth as her last hope was snatched from her. "So. What are you planning to do with this thing?"

"Destroy it, of course," Rias told me as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I frowned, but nodded.

"Do you mind if I have a moment with it first?" I asked, studying the broken former angel carefully. "I had some questions I wanted answers to."

"I have no objections," Rias frowned but capitulated. "Though I would prefer if you made it quick."

"Do you expect me, Raynare of the Grigori, a superior being, to answer to you, magician?" Raynare snapped at me, and I glared back at her.

"No, Ms. Raynare, I expect you to die," I told her, trying for the Goldfinger accent, but suspecting I didn't quite make it. "Superior being? All I see here is a monster, something that prays on humanity. I hunt creatures like you. I kill them for fun, and profit. I enjoy my job, probably a little too much." My voice grew colder as I went on. "Anything that dares lift a hand against a mortal, will find me there, ready to cut that hand off." I closed my eyes, and braced myself for what I was about to try. "And I don't need you to talk to get my answer."

I opened my eyes, and Raynare met them defiantly.

The soulgaze began a moment later.

I saw her, Raynare, this creature that had once been an agent of god and was now just a monster praying on the innocent. I saw the way she chased after someone, a man, no, another fallen angel. I saw how she gazed with admiration at his back, how she had willingly thrown herself from grace to follow that back. I saw how she would be willing to do anything for this man:


Raynare was in love, I realized. She truly, fully, and to her very core, loved the one she had fallen for, figuratively and literally. She would do anything for him, no matter how depraved, if he asked for it, or even if she thought it would make him happy.

Even murder Ise after toying with him. Even murdering the girl Asia, torturing her to death for some reason I still wasn't clear on.

Terrible things were done in the name of love. It was love that had finally made me fall to the powers that coveted me in the end.

The gaze ended. It only lasted a moment. Even if it felt like an eternity, even if just like with the Sight it was a memory that could never be undone and would never fade, it was over so fast most would never even recognize it happened.

But the backlash of the gaze, the truth it revealed to me…

This thing in front of me. I had been able to gaze it. It had a Soul. Something only mortals should have, in this murderous creature. That meant it had agency, that it had free will.

It had a soul, hell's bells, she was even capable of love and human emotion.

If the Fallen could have those things, than could the devils have them too?

"W-what are you?" the strangled whisper brought me back from my racing thoughts. I focused, and realized that Raynare had turned white. Sweat was beading on her forehead. She was trembling, and she was staring at me like she had never seen anything more terrifying, as though she couldn't bear to be near me, as though she was frightened to her very core.

When you soulgazed, the other person got to see you too.

And I wasn't a very nice person these days.

"What…" Rias began, sounding confused as she looked back and forth between the fallen and I, but anything she might have said was drowned out as the fallen continued.

"Get it away from me," Raynare was trying to back away, to crawl and put distance between me, but she had started shaking too hard to properly make the motion. "Get it away, get it away, GETITAWAYGETITAWAY!"

"What happened?" Ise demanded, gawking at Raynare as all semblance of pride vanished and she started screaming.

"I got my answers," I told him bluntly, before glancing at Rias. The redhead was still alternating looks between me and the shrieking fallen, looking completely shocked at the change that had come over her. From her perspective, it had only been a second between when she was valiantly showing her defiance and being reduced to a gibbering wreck. She wouldn't have been able to see anything, wouldn't have known what to look for to identify a soulgaze, and probably didn't even know what one was. "Do you want to put her out of her misery, or should I?"

"I'll do it," Rias declared, recovering her composure at my question. Something… something black and red, some power I didn't recognize started to form in her hands.

"The Power of Destruction," the dark haired girl was also frowning, studying me as she tried to figure out what I had done. She at least seemed to notice my curiosity. "Buchou has a high quantity of it. It's why she's called the 'Crimson-Haired Ruin Princess', after all."

And I thought my titles were ominous.

"Ise! Ise! Save me! Don't let him take me!" Raynare screamed, turning to the boy. He flinched at the desperate pleading. "Don't let him take me!"

"Buchou," he whispered, turning his back on the fallen. "Do it."

A flash of dark and red, and Raynare was gone.

I made a note not to get hit by that power. Not until I could find a way to defend myself against it.

"…what did you do?" Koneko spoke up into the silence that settled on the room.

"Magic," I told her bluntly. A real wizard never revealed their tricks until they had to.

"That wasn't like any magic I've ever seen," Kiba frowned, and though he didn't look hostile he definitely seemed a bit more on guard than he had been a minute ago.

"Super-duper secret magic," I corrected him tiredly.

"Playing mysterious, are you?" the dark haired girl licked her lips slowly, smiling. "My, my. How intriguing…"

"It's like a drug," I admitted to my addiction to keeping secrets. "Trust me, it's a wizard thing." Then I frowned and looked at her pointedly. "Who are you, anyway?"

She blinked, and then, surprisingly, flushed. "Ah, how rude! I am called Himejima Akeno. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Really?" I couldn't help but ask, wondering how anyone could be pleased to meet someone who can apparently break the will of a higher being with a look. "Wow. You're a brave one, aren't you."

"Fufufufu," she giggled winking at me.

"Buchou," Ise whispered, and I glanced at him. He had recovered something from where Raynare had used to be, some kind of ring, and had put it back on the deceased Asia. If I had to make a guess, I would say it was the so far illusive 'Sacred Gear' that everyone kept talking about. "It's not fair. Why? Why would something like this happen to Asia? After everything she went through, to end like this…"

Rias studied him for a moment, before smiling slightly. "Ise," she began, pulling something out of her blouse. "Do you know what this is?"

"An Evil Piece?" he blinked, sounding surprised. My eyes narrowed slightly, and I started to get an idea of how this conversation was about to go.

"I never finished explaining what all the pieces are," Rias continued. "The final piece is the Bishop. It's for those who specialize in support or magic. If you'd like, I can resurrect that girl, and she can join my peerage."

"Y-you mean," the boy stammered, hope lighting in his eyes. "You mean you can save her!"

"Yes," Rias smiled. "Let me…"

She tried to move closer to the girl, and stopped, pulling up short as she found my staff, runes glowing, between her and the body.

"Stop," I told her, and she stared at me, surprised. She must have heard from my tone of voice just how serious I was.

"Dresden?" Ise gaped, staring at me as I put myself between Rias and where he was kneeling beside the body. "What are you doing? Buchou is going to save Asia! Why are you doing this?"

"Because she's not saving her," I told him, voice grim as I narrowed my eyes. The other devils were starting to spread out, surprise over me interfering giving way to cautious preparation as they seemed to realize the fighting might not be over yet, and that there next opponent could very well be me.

"She is!" Ise shouted, and even though I wasn't looking at him, I could hear tears in his voice. "Asia! Asia can be alive again!"

"But she would be a devil," I told him bluntly, before sighing. "Look, Ise, I feel sorry for the girl. I really do. It sounds like she got dealt a shit hand, and I know how that feels. But she got what everyone else gets: a life. And now that it's over, do you really have a right to interfere? Her soul will be judged, and if she is found innocent, than she will be welcomed into heaven. And if she gets turned into a devil, that means she'll be missing out on eternal freaking paradise. Do you want to deny her that chance?"

"B-but…!" Ise trailed off, shock sounding as I bluntly pointed out something he had probably never considered.

"So you've come down against devils after all?" Rias asked, frowning as she watched me closely.

"No, not really," I admitted with a grimace. "Everything I've seen indicates that you aren't as bad as I feared. So far, I even kind of like you guys. You seem reasonable, and you have a good sense of humor." My eyes narrowed. "Hells bells, I honestly don't even have a reason to keep you from changing people into devils either for that matter."

Because even if they were devils, from everything I've seen, they still have their souls, their free will, and they retain who they are. At this point, I was cautiously willing to accept the fact that in this world, devils weren't quite as bad as in my world.

"Then why are you interfering now?" Kiba spoke up, still polite even as he cautiously eyed me, no doubt judging the best opening.

"Because by doing it now, after she's dead, you're denying her the chance to choose," I told them. "If she was alive, and if she agreed, I'd already be waving my hand and heading home to catch up on some much needed sleep. But you're not letting her have that choice. She could already be on the fast track to paradise, and if you resurrect her as a devil you'll be literally dragging her away from that." My eyes narrowed. "And I won't stand by and let that happen."

Rias frowned, and glanced to the side to meet Akeno's eyes. The two seemed troubled by my reasons. Koneko hesitated as well, and the tiny girl seemed to relax slightly herself. Kiba sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, before opening them.

"Dresden-kun," he began, shaking his head. "I understand what you are saying, and why you are doing this. I can even say I find your reasons noble." He closed his eyes again. "But in this case, I fear that the chance you are fighting to preserve is wrong."

"What do you mean?" I asked, willing to let the other side talk, even hear their reasons. No guarantee I'll accept, but I can at least hear them out.

"Asia-san was excommunicated," he told me flatly, and I blinked. He gave me a somewhat bitter smile. "It seems that you have much faith in the church, but I fear that the church is not as fair a place as you believe. Apparently Asia-san was once heralded as a holy maiden, until she healed a devil. When that was found out, she was cast out. It was why she fled to the Fallen in order to survive." He opened his eyes, and gave me an apologetic smile. "I don't think heaven is what is waiting for her."

I wanted to deny him. I wanted to flat out tell him that regardless of what some haughty-taughty priest might say, if a person was good and deserved it, heaven awaited them.

But then again, that was how my world worked. Bizzaro world had already thrown a few curve balls at me.

I grimaced, and I don't think anyone missed how conflicted I was at that moment. Finally I groaned, and looked over my shoulder. I don't think any of them would attack me first. "Ise," I said, taking in the sight of the kid. He was crying again, and it looked like my words had reached him at least, because he seemed conflicted by whether or not resurrecting Asia really was the right thing to do. "I don't know her, or what being a devil is like. So I'm going to ask you: what do you think Asia would want?"

"S-she, she was good girl," Ise began softly staring at her face as he did so. "But she was innocent. She'd never even eaten hamburgers before. She was gentle enough to heal anyone around her, even someone who hurt her. But she seemed so happy when we spent the day together, as though learning about the world she didn't know made her excited." He swallowed, and then nodded, coming to a decision. He looked up, staring at me directly. "She would want the chance to live on, and see all those new things. She'd want the chance to make friends, and experience life! She would want to live!"

I scowled, but nodded. With a tired sigh, I lowered my staff.

"Empty night, I want this day to hurry up and be over," I muttered, before nodding at Rias. The redhead smiled, nodding back. She seemed pleased, not just at the chance to resurrect the girl but that I had been willing to negotiate and back down. "Just so you know, and again, I'm not trying to be antagonistic or anything but I can't think of a nicer way to put this, that if it turns out I'm wrong and you devils really are as bad as I thought, than I will hunt you all down and put you out of my misery."

"You seem to be a rather blunt fellow, aren't you, Dresden-kun," Kiba noted, though he was smiling and relaxed again.

"Also, same thing I said to Raynare goes to not just you but any devil, fallen angel, real angel, tooth fairy, mysterious jabberwocky, or whatever," I continued. "Any of you screw with a mortal, any of you do anything to a human against their will, and I'm taking it personally."

"I understand," Rias smiled at me pleasantly. "In truth, it is forbidden for devils to harm humans, outside of fulfilling their contracts. If you'd like, next time we have an order to hunt for a stray devil, we can invite you along."

"Swell," I mumbled. "Now if you don't mind, I've missed out on school the last couple of days, and its late. If I don't at least have my homework finished the teachers are going to rip me a new one."

Like I said. It sucked being a kid again.

"Erk!" Ise suddenly gulped. "I knew I was forgetting something!"

Akeno began to giggle at that, and even Kiba laughed a little too. Rias on the other hand took a quick step forward.

"Before you leave, Dresden-kun," she began and I cut her off.

"No, I will not join your peerage," I told her preemptively.

"How did you know…" Rias seemed surprised that I had guessed her intentions so easily.

"Because it's just been one of those nights, and I have plenty of experience with people about to make me offers like that," I shrugged. Rias frowned, but seemed willing to let it go. I got the impression that it was only for now though.

I would have been very disappointed if they succeeded where I couldn't, Lash at least agreed with my decision.

'You were much more persuasive anyway,' I told her, and she chuckled at that.

*Scene Break*

'Okay,' I told myself, slapping my cheeks to try and psych myself up for this. 'You can do it, Dresden.'

Indeed, Lash seemed amused. After a long night of hunting monsters and killing exorcists, this, your final and most onerous task now awaits. Go forth, noble hero, and complete your quest, however perilous it might be.

'I think video games might be corrupting you, Lash,' I told her, before sighing. "Face the peril, Harry. Face the peril."

Gathering my will, I pushed open the door and marched in.

"Okay," I began, interrupting the Student Council meeting, "I may have been a little out of line with the 'hell tart' bit, okay?"

"Good evening, Dresden-kun," Sona didn't miss a beat as she took in my interruption. At her side, Tsubaki scowled, and at one end of the table Saji glared at me.

There were other girls present too, including the one who's name I never did end up getting. Most of them were scowling too, though one of them looked interested, and another just seemed confused. She must have been the one that didn't get the memo.

"Yeah," I continued on, "there's no way that someone as straight laced as you could ever pull off 'tart'."

"Thank you," Sona again managed to remain unflappable, though Tsubaki seemed completely caught off guard by the progression of the conversation. "I'm glad that you realized this. Now, was there anything else? We were having a meeting concerning the upcoming athletics meet."

"Oh, you're going to make me work for this, aren't you," I scowled at her, and I managed to make out the slightest upturn of her lips as the President proved unable to completely suppress her amusement.

Looks like Rias and her really do talk often. My guess is she had been expecting this intrusion.

"Who do you think you are, to just barge in here after you insulted the Kaichou!" Saji demanded, the hot blooded guy scowling. It looked like he really took offense to my earlier telling off.

"Look," I began, sighing, addressing the room as a whole. "The last time I was in here, I kind of ended up losing my temper and saying a whole lot of bad things. At the time, I was working off certain assumptions, assumptions that after investigation and consideration turned out to be false. I just wanted to apologize, and then admit that I was… w… wr…."

"Wrong?" Saji provided for me, sounding smug.

"Yeah, that's the word," I pointed at him, and he gaped as he suddenly realized that he had given me just the excuse I needed to not have to say it myself. I couldn't believe he fell for it personally. "So, with that being said, sorry I was dick last time."

"Apology accepted," Sona smiled at me, nodding regally as she did so. I grimaced, but rubbed the back of my head. I was apologizing, so I was trying to watch my smartassedry. "And seeing as you are a magician, I will relent about your carrying your staff around campus. Now, if you would only consent to following the dress code…"

"Sorry," I shrugged, already slipping back into our usual banter. "But that really is kind of necessary."

"Just what kind of scar do you have?" Tsubaki cut in, frowning as she eyed me. It sounded like even she was cutting me some slack now that I had proven myself to be a viable member of society, so to speak. I pursed my lips, before deciding that since they were all devils they could take it. "Just how bad… could it… be…?"

She trailed off as I pulled off my glove. A couple of the girls squeaked, and one of them turned a little white when my hand, which though greatly healed, still resembles something you'd find in a wax horror museum was displayed. Surprisingly, one of the girls actually leaned forward, looking interested.

"My goodness," Sona frowned, showing he was made of sterner stuff by merely sounding concerned. "I see. What on earth happened, Dresden-kun?"

"Vampire with a flamethrower," I sighed, putting the glove back on. Tsubaki blinked, and stared at me.

"You were being serious?" she asked, now sounding more curious than offended like she had been before.

"How exactly do you come across a vampire with a flamethrower?" even Saji seemed confused enough to let the normal hostility drop.

"And the funny part? That still doesn't even rate in the top ten." I grumbled. "It was nowhere near as weird as the coven of porn star sorceresses..."

"Porn star sorceresses?" the girl who's name I never got repeated, glancing at Sona as though to check if I was being real or not.

"Or the flock of pixies with switchblades…" I went on.

"Really now?" the girl who had been interested in my hand sounded intrigued.

"Or the time the werewolf put on a strip show…" I trailed off, suddenly feeling very, very depressed about my life. "You know what? I think I need to see the career counselor about the way my life is going."

"It's troubling that one of my fellow students has lived such a delinquent lifestyle," Sona agreed, though she had one hand up to cover what looked suspiciously like a laugh. I cocked a half grin at her, pleased that I had managed to get even through her serious personality. "Very well," she continued, fixing her glasses as she got herself back under control. "It does seem like we got off on the wrong foot on both sides. Then, perhaps it would be best if we started again?"

"Dresden Harry," I snapped a lazy salute as I grinned. "Wizard."

"Sitri Sona," Sona stood, curtseying politely. "Devil of the Sitri group."

"So that's your real name?" I asked, pursing my lips as I heard the change from her normal name.

It seems Shitori is simply the easiest method to pronounce her name in Japanese, Lash mused idly. Then I felt some amusement welling in her. My host…

'What is it, Lash?' I began, musing on the name Sitri before I realized what it was that she had already caught up on.

"Wait," I gaped at her, pointing my finger in surprise. "'Sitri'. As in, Ars Goetia's 'Sitri'?"

"Ars Goetia?" Sona repeated, sounding confused for a moment. Then her eyes widened, and she sat down quickly, putting her face in her hands. She didn't make it in time before I caught an honest to god blush lighting her up.

"Kaichou?" Saji chimed in, sounding shocked at the sudden change in the usually impervious President's demeanor. "What is the Ars Goetia?"

"A medieval compendium of demons," I was too busy staring at Sona to really pay attention to him at the moment. "It lists seventy two species…" A small rustle went through the room at the number for some reason, and Tsubaki seemed genuinely interested in the book as well. "But it says that the Sitri was a demon which approached and could cause love between men and women, but could also cause people to become naked before them…" Finally, I couldn't stop myself from saying it bluntly. "You mean you're a demonic stripper?"

She slammed her hands down on the table, standing to her maximum height, and glared at me, though she was still blushing while she did so. "That's not it at all," she declared firmly, the red the only sign of her embarrassment as she began talk rapid fire like she was trying to shoot down my accusation. "It's just that my ancestor at the time was a woman of a somewhat unreserved nature, and much like the Power of Destruction or the Phenix's resurrection had a hereditary trait which made her well suited for those kinds of contracts…!"

She cut herself off quite suddenly, her cheeks brightening as she slapped both her hands over her mouth.

"If it's a hereditary trait than that means you have it to," I concluded, folding my arms as I nodded at my conclusion. "You really ARE a demon stripper! I mean, what do you tip a-!"

I was cut off as she snatched a file that had been sitting near her and somehow managed to throw it with precise accuracy so that it hit me right between the eyes, knocking me off my balance and flat on my back.

Huh. Probably should have seen that one coming.

Smooth, my host, Lash laughed. Smooth.