Wizards, and Aliens, and Faeries Oh My!
Edited by Starnyx and Scott Pike
The Dresden Files is owned by Jim Butcher.
Sekirei is owned by Sakurako Gokurakuin.
This is a not for profit fanwork.
I felt an odd sensation on the center of my palm, a moist cold feeling with a rhythmic release of hot air hitting it every couple of seconds or so. Groggily, I opened my eyes, gave a yawn and turned my head to face my dog, Mouse. The canine, having seen my eyes open, pushed his head further into my hand and leaned his shaggy fur covered ears close to my fingers, a hopeful expression in his soulful doggy eyes.
Knowing what he wanted, I quickly obliged and ran my nails across the back of his skull, giving him a nice, hard scratching. As I did so, I could hear the unmistakable thump of Mouse's tail hitting the floor of my bedroom. The Foo Dog made a sound that was somewhere between a chuffing bark and the noise a jet engine makes just before lift-off in one-hundred percent pure bliss.
Standing hip level next to me, Mouse is a massive dog in every sense of the word. Not just tall, he had a bulk to him that would not be out of place on, were he human, a sumo wrestler or a pro defensive lineman that's been juicing since high school. It wasn't merely fat either from breaking into the kibble bag one too many times either but raw muscle that came from an extremely active lifestyle. I'd swear either something is in the city water, or he is part wooly mammoth.
But, I suppose being the dog of the only advertising Wizard in Chicago's phonebook made it impossible for Mouse to be anything, but what he was. It used to be that (to the best of my knowledge) I was the only Wizard in any set of the yellow pages period, but Elaine, my erstwhile lover, opened up shop under the same title in Los Angeles. It had only been roughly six months since I had seen her last after the fiasco in the Raith's Deeps.
A couple of members of the White Court decided to try and field test what would have eventually grown to being the culling of magical bloodlines out of humanity were it successful. Needless to say, I objected with positively lethal prejudice and made a point of putting a stop to it before that particular snowball could gain any momentum and turn into an avalanche.
After Mouse pulled his head back content with his ear scratching, I turned mine to give a glance at my Mickey Mouse alarm clock and my eyebrows rose causing my forehead to crease in alarm. It was nearly one in the afternoon, and if I did not get my ass out of bed and in gear ASAP, I was going to be late for a meeting with a client, a J. who had lost her engagement ring the week before and had hired me to locate it for her.
Half kicking the bed sheets off me in my hurry, I swiveled off of the mattress and stood up, blood rushing up to my head from the sudden movement causing me an instant of disorientation. Wobbling roughly a half dozen steps forward, I placed my hands on my dresser to steady myself as I waited for the vertigo to pass. Having regained my bearings, I opened the top drawer and grabbed a clean pair of boxers before closing it and repeating the process with the next couple of bottom drawers getting a different article of necessary clothing from each.
I walked into my dinky bathroom and set the clothes down on the sink's counter space before quickly walking out, Mouse now following behind me the distinct sound of a two hundred pound dog with uncut nails on laminate alerting me to his presence. Taking one of the talismans I made that allowed one safe entry through the Wards that protected my home off of the little wall hanger I installed on the door, I tied it to Mouse's collar and let him out to do his business and shut the door. I trusted Mouse to let himself back in when he was done.
That chore done, I quickly picked up Mouse's water dish which was now empty and put it under the tap before lifting the faucet, the container filling with the thud of water hitting the plastic dish and the rush of it leaving its source. Once it was full, I turned off the water and carefully maneuvered the now filled to brim water dish back to its place near the wall, taking care not to spill any of the life giving liquid held within.
Opening the dog food bag, which leaned against the set of Mouse's bowls, I reached in and took out the scoop inside it and put two scoops in the food bowl before putting the scoop back and rolling the top closed until it was fairly well sealed. Mouse is a good dog, but there was no reason to make the food bag any more tempting than it already was, especially given that the dog had not eaten anything yet today and was no doubt starving just like I was right now. From there I quickly took care of Mister's food dish and then headed back to bathroom. While it was too late to cook myself a proper breakfast, if I hurried, I might be able to find enough time for the Burger King drive-thru or something.
Going to my honest to goodness literal ice chest (my magic makes me into techno-bane. I can kill a television set at fifty paces without so much as blinking hard), I pulled out a can of Coke before popping open the tab and guzzling it down in a few swallows, starting to feel more awake as the soda's caffeine worked the magic of its own me. Having all the absolutely essential tasks out of the way, I went back to the bathroom and, with a twist of the handle, brought the shower to life.
After waiting a few minutes hoping that I might get a hot shower instead of the usual icy cold fare that is the norm, I dropped my underpants and got under the water, my arms and back tensed expecting a blast of liquid ice. Instead the water was just short of boiling, a searing heat that sank into my muscles just the way I liked, slowly pushing back aches and knots that were there so long I've grown used to them to the point I didn't even notice them much any more.
Just as I was starting to get nice and comfortable, the water changed in a blink of an eye from piping hot to arctic. The water was so cold, it was practically miniature hail. It was not like the usual temperamental showers which, while not what I would call comfortable, were at least bearable.
The shower head iced over like something out of the Day After Tomorrow. Then, if that was not enough warning something really really really bad was about to go down, coming from the living room I could hear growling that I did not just sense with my ears but on a metaphysical level. It was Mouse, and he only did that when there was something major about to go down. The hair on the back of my neck rose, goose bumps forming on my skin, and it wasn't the cold that did it.
"Shit," I spat out. I felt my lips curl into a mocking smile "I just knew things were going too well today."
I got out of the shower and turned the handle after a few hard tugs on the metal knob, it having been stuck by the ice. Although, given how nothing was coming out of the shower head it, seemed like a bit of a moot point. I quickly wrapped the towel I had on the hanger around my waist and rushed to my bedroom and grabbed my blasting rod and shield bracelet, slipping the latter around my wrist.
As I headed into the living room, I called in Power and had several phrases of quasi-Latin on the tip of my tongue just ready to unleash my magic on anything that moved too quickly for my liking. Anything able to get passed my Wards without me knowing until Mouse sounded the alarm either had an intimate understanding of me that was down right disturbing or was so ridiculously powerful the only chance I might have at getting out of this alive was to sucker punch it before it could prepare anything nasty.
The only thing that kept me from going in shooting instantly was that Mouse was only giving his warning growl, not the primal bark that he used when he was about to start removing chunks of flesh from whatever was unlucky enough to volunteer as his new chew toy. With a thought, I released a bit of the energy I had gathered into my bracelet, my magic taking shape and summoning my shield, a semi-translucent half-sphere of blue light covering the front of my body.
When I reached the front of my cluttered apartment, I saw a woman sitting on my couch calmly petting Mister, and a much larger cat than the former sitting in my easy chair almost imperiously. The woman had skin the color of pure alabaster, her eyes that of glaciers changing colors every few seconds, the pupils within slitted like the animal she was absentmindedly stroking.
Atop her head was a gleaming circlet of white, which at first glance one could easily mistaken for the highest grade of diamonds but on further examination revealed itself to be perfectly formed, clear ice. Her gown was also pure white, composed of snowflakes that gave it a pattern with no pattern, somehow paradoxically a perfect example of both order and chaos.
Hers was a beauty that was so grand that it could inspire an artist for a lifetime, make kings launch a thousand ships to claim it, and seduce a man into sacrificing themselves cheerfully with a smile on their face everything they had to offer, body, mind, and soul to bear witness to it.
All told, it scared me down to my very core. Only the hope of getting out of this with a shred of my dignity intact and in one piece kept me from trying to make a break for the door. Well, that and knowing the utter futility of the act.
That was a fairly important driving force behind me not running away like a little sissy. I stared at the woman for a second, but then the knot on my towel started to unravel and come loose abruptly sending it to the floor to leave me as naked as the day I was born.
Well, so much for keeping my dignity.
I quickly bent over deeply in an effort to seize my towel and preserve my modesty, but the blasting rod in my right hand made it difficult. She smiled then and opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Instead words emerged from the cat on my recliner, the sounds having an unusual warble to them. No doubt the result of a human sounding voice coming from a throat not meant to make intelligible speech.
"And, well you should bow, mortal," the not-cat said. "Bow before Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Bow before the monarch of the Unseelie Fae, the Winter Court of the Sidhe."
Having finally gotten my robe back around me after a moment of scrambling to get it back up, I lowered my blasting rod, my shield having dissipated just a moment before because of the drop of my concentration when I accidentally flashed in front of my present company.
With one hand on my blasting rod and the other with the shield bracelet on it holding up my towel, so I did not have a repeat of my earlier faux pas, I quickly strode next to Mouse who was against the wall on the other side of the room, still growling protectively if with slightly less menace now that I was here.
I turned my body to face Grimalkin, the cat on the easy chair, and took a closer look recognizing him from my earlier dealings several years ago when I met Maeve, Mab's daughter and understudy for the Queen of Winter gig. I closed my eyes and focused for a moment organizing my thoughts before opening them again. I gave a nonchalant shrug to Mab and the talking cat.
Summoning up my bravado as best as I could my mouth open and said something without consulting the rest of me first. "So, why are you here and what do you want?" Shear abject terror makes me shoot my mouth off, I guess.
Some it makes wet themselves; others cry out and call for mommy; me it makes become a wise-ass to things bigger and stronger and scarier than I am. A head doctor might comment that it says something about my survival instinct. Good thing I am no doctor.
Mab pursed her lips and Grimalkin spoke, "I am here to offer you yet another opportunity. You owe me two favors yet, and I am here to collect per our arrangement."
I grinned at her. My smile tends to piss people off more than actually glaring at them does oddly enough. Side-stepping that issue for the moment, wanting to see if there was some way out of this yet, I answered in kind, "So what's with the Garfield impersonator? You decided to take up ventriloquism for a hobby or something?"
Mab's lips rose up in a facsimile of a smile showing her perfectly straight white teeth. On anyone else it would look cheerful and nice. On Mab, it just looked like a shark just before it was about to rip into you. "This creature before you is serving as my voice for the moment, wizard. Nothing more. "
Wanting to prolong this particular line of conversation and keeping it away from things like favors, tasks, and debts owed, I kept on. "Why would the Queen of Air and Darkness need someone to speak for her?"
Mab looked up me, her bearing now slightly more erect, her pride now visible, and another smile, this one slightly softer than the one previously. She answered through Grimalkin once more, "You owe much already, wizard, and an answer to that question would put you further into my service. I am many things, but charitable is not one of them."
"That's a real surprise," I said softly to myself, rolling my eyes. Huh. I haven't lost my ability to give witty replies to scary things that may or may not end up killing me horribly. That's good to know. "But why would Mab need something like that," I clarified. "She is the living personification of Winter, one of the true constants in all world."
Mab nodded perceptively and the Garfield wannabe replied, "Oh. I understand. You doubt I am who I claim to be." A light chuckle rose out of the inhuman throat. "Like you did when we met those years ago."
My heart started to sink in my chest. When Mab approached me the first time under the glamour of mortal form, I saw things weren't quite adding up and then forced her to reveal her true identity via a .44 revolver and an iron nail. As far as I knew, no one else was aware of that meeting I never told anybody about it and unless she mentioned it to someone, there was no way this person could have known that unless she was who said she was.
Then she did something that cemented her identity. She carefully, making sure I was watching, winked at me. She had done that to me in our last encounter when I was busy invading her capital to rescue my apprentice Molly from some nasties that thought they could get away with kidnapping and turning her into dinner.
So much for getting my hopes up. This was the genuine article, the real Mab, and here she was sitting in my living room no doubt going to force me into a situation I would rather not be in. Suddenly my headache turned into a full on migraine and I sighed. "What do you want me to do?"
She smiled, pleased at my apparently giving in without a fight. Well, we'd see just what she wanted done, and I'd decide from there. Regardless of what it was, I knew one thing for certain. I would not like it.
"Some of the Wyld Fae who normally answer my call and tend to align themselves with my Court in our Conflicts with Summer have stopped responding. It's more than them merely changing their usual alliances and going to Titania's banner. They are attacking members of both Courts equally along with assaults on mortals more than what their natures might beckon them to. Something is causing these disturbances, and I wish you to investigate and put an end to it."
I nodded. The task suited my skills as an investigator well; I was likely among the best assets she had access to get this problem of hers out of the way. Knowing my luck this was going to be harder than it appeared. Still sensing but-wait-there's-more factor, I finally asked, "Alright, I'll bite. What's the catch?" Mab returned my nod. This one of a different sort, a pleasant expression that one might give to their dog when they did an especially good job on a trick. "You will have to move to the mortal nation of Japan, specifically the city of Tokyo. That is where the origins of this issue lay, and where your task is set."
I grimaced, my expression turning sour. "I can't just up and leave my life here to go off adventuring for you halfway around the world. Find someone else to take care of this for you."
Mab simply kept smiling like absolutely nothing was wrong, and she was still getting me nice and agreeable. That made be apprehensive. Normally, my refusing her would make her angry or at the absolute minimum lightly peeved. Her continuing jolly mood meant she was going to get her way in the end most likely. Still I was not giving up without a fight.
"Oh you will, wizard, you will."
Her expression still smug, she reached out her hand and an icy breeze of cold snow formed and coalesced into a tight cylinder before revealing the result of Mab's working of Power. It was a scroll made up of much the same material as her crown, pure ice. The latch work on the scroll was a perfect classical snowflake.
She let go of the scroll, and it floated over to me. After a moment's hesitation I took the hand grasping my towel off it and grabbed the scroll. It felt cold to the hand but oddly not as cold as the ice that it appeared to be formed out of should. Mab via Grimalkin spoke once more, "When you take the job open that scroll. It will be to your benefit to do so."
Mister then jumped off her lap, and, a blink of an eye later, both Mab and her walkie talkie were just gone. I'll give Mab one thing - few can pull a disappearing act like she can.
Turning to Mouse I gave him a half smile. "I am going to get dressed and then let's get to the office, so we can give that engagement ring back to the client . We might have to skip eating lunch, but if we rush, we should be able to make it on time." Mouse wagged his tail, no longer so tense now that Mab was gone. I promptly went about doing just as I said; making it a point of putting the scroll the Faery Queen gave me on the coffee table beforehand where it would not just up and vanish the same way Mab did. I was not going to use it, damn it. But, it wouldn't hurt to make sure I didn't lose it just in case...
Having gotten all my stuff together, now fully dressed, my pentacle around my neck, my force rings on my fingers and my trademark duster on my back, I got in my car the Blue Beetle, putting my staff in the back seat. The Blue Beetle was no longer blue, not any more. Having been damaged and repaired so many times with different parts used to get it working, it was now a blue, green, red, white, brown, and silver beetle. All in all, a motley collection of colors that had no rhyme or reason.
But so long as it ran, which it did nine days out of ten thanks to the efforts of my mechanic Mike, I was happy with it. It was missing a top, having been torn off in a fight with mold demons, and I didn't have the money right now to fix it which was in some ways a boon given how tall I was. Now I didn't have to hunch down in my car to fit. Still the length of the pedals could be killer on the legs sometimes, but then that's why I preferred to walk whenever possible.
Now that I was in the car, Mouse in the passenger seat and his lead around his collar, I drove. On a good day, it could be a good twenty minute drive to the building where my office was leased out of. During winter weather in the middle of the lunch time commute? Good luck getting anywhere in the city in a half-hour or less. While this was no doubt going to making me even later then I was for my appointment, it did provide me with something important; time to think.
Heh. And who said I can never pull off the glass half full, silver lining bit. Fount of optimism, that's me.
Mab's reaction really worried me, and I was not real sure what I could do to get away with refusing her. The word "wizard" comes from the word wys or wise. Being a wizard has nothing to do with magic but with knowing things others don't and then having a plan to put that information to the best use. Knowledge is Power. That is one of the fundamental truths in the universe, and the more you have the better off you are, especially when dealing with the supernatural.
A wizard with time to prepare can do pretty much anything he can imagine given the right tomes of ancient lore and the right materials. For a wizard to be blind-sided is not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Too often it meant a dead wizard because if ambushed we tend to be just as fragile and puny as any other vanilla mortal. Mab knew something I didn't (which given how old and powerful she is, that's as big an understatement you will ever hear) and that made me more than a little worried.
I turned left when the light turned green hoping that one of the lesser used streets might not be so clogged with traffic, and it appeared my gambit paid off. Normally, when I tried this, it failed horribly, and I was stuck on another congested road with ten cars in front and behind me.
That was lucky, but that only sent my mood further down into the dumps. The only time good things happen to me is when I am about to be majorly screwed over soon thereafter. I have no idea what crimes I committed in my past life, but they must have been unforgivable. I really was Karma's favorite whipping boy.
Having reached my office building, I spent a few minutes searching for parking before finding a spot on one of the free ramps the Chicago city government built recently in an effort to help solve the parking problem that was inherent in all big cities. I wouldn't say it solved the problem totally, but given that I just found a parking spot and was not circling the block searching endlessly for one now, it would not be fair to describe it as a total failure either.
I opened my car door and swiveled my hips, freeing myself from the confines of the vehicle. Grabbing my staff from the backseat, Mouse jumped down with a grace unexpected from a creature his size. I gripped by foci reassuringly, the weight of it pleasant in hand as I begin the short walk from the parking garage to the building, my hound companion keeping up with pace without effort.
After a hurried arrival and a quick flight of stairs later (I did not want to chance accidentally hexing the elevator and getting stuck in there with Mouse for two or three hours till the electrician got the thing fixed.), I arrived at my office about to get the keys to my office out when I saw two shorter Asian men in grey cloaks standing on either side of the door looking vigilant, one's hand looking ready to draw a sword at his waist hidden inside the confines of the cloak.
Now I really should have no reason to fear these individuals given I am one of them after I was conscripted during the incident a couple of years ago when disciples of the maniac Kemmler decided to make a play at godhood in my city. That said, those who wore the gray still set me on edge. They are simultaneously the police force, army, and black-ops unit of the Council all rolled up into one nice neat package.
If you broke one of the seven Laws of Magic or they even thought you did, then they'd come after you, capture you, and then put you up for trial. If convicted and 99.99% of the time you were, then they swiftly decapitated you with an enchanted sword. Capital punishment at its finest. Now there are some exceptions to the rule, and depending on if you met the criteria, you might get a stay of execution in a form of probation called the Doom of Damocles. Which is a fancy way of saying if you screw up again you'd get executed on the spot the moment Wardens find out where you are. Overall a swell group of guys and gals, right?
When I was a young punk, my first master, a real bastard by the name of Justin DuMorne, for whatever reason got pretty heavily into some dark magic. He decided to try and make myself and a fellow apprentice by the name of Elaine into a couple of brainwashed minion enforcers of his. He got to Elaine, but I managed to escape before he could do the same to me.
From there I went to my Faery Godmother (yeah I have one of those and she is freaking scary) and made a deal with her for enough power to defeat DuMorne. I ended up killing him in a duel to the death and from there I was found by the Wardens. Only because my second master ,Ebenezer McCoy, stood up for me at the Council did I manage to keep my head. I thought I'd killed Elaine in the fire that I burned Justin in, but luckily she managed to survive.
The two Wardens suddenly turned their eyes to look at me, their heads snapping in my direction so fast I thought I heard a whip crack. When I was close enough to speak to them without having to raise my voice, the one on the left of me spoke, his English heavily accented but still understandable.
Between that and his odd speech pattern he reminded me of from the Karate Kid movies. The originals, not the crappy remake. "Go inside. Ancient Mai is waiting for you. We left message saying we would be here. You are late; we have been waiting for past hour. Go now!"
Rolling my eyes, I flipped him the bird in response. Who says I cannot be mature when the situation calls for it. As I headed inside, I quickly turned my head to give Mouse a look. Muttering just loud enough for a canine's sensitive ears to pick up what I was saying, I said "Stay out here boy. I need ya, I'll call for you." The Foo Dog nodded his head in acknowledgement of my request.
I found the old bird sitting in my chair, apparently flipping through one of my case files that I had left out on my desk the day before. Mai set the case file down and gave me a good hard look before giving me a slow nod in ascent. For some reason I felt like I had passed some kind of test, and I had no idea why.
"Dresden." she said. "I am glad you finally decided to grace me with your presence."
I nodded in return, making it a point to avoid her gaze directly. The last thing I needed was to trigger a soul-gaze with this woman. While I did not fear her seeing something I wanted to hide, I did not want to see what she was inside either. One did not get as old as she was without some kind of mark and I was not eager to have that imprinted on my memories with perfect detail for the rest of my life.
"I had no idea you were coming, or I would have shown up sooner. Now why is a member of the Senior Council visiting my fine establishment today, hmm?"
Mai apparently did not take my wise-assery well, and her lips lowered from a frown into a slight glare. "I am here to deliver your new Orders from Edinburgh. You are being reassigned as Regional Commander of Mid Western United States to Regional Commander of Japan and South-East Asia until further notice. The local Wardens in that area died in a recent raid by the Red Court Vampires."
As most Wardens are currently deployed or otherwise occupied, the Council decided to move one of the few Wardens with combat experience there due to lack of manpower.
"The Warden in Dallas shall be promoted to your previous position and will be assisted by Regional Commander Ramirez until we can find someone to occupy South-East Asia, and you are returned here."
Reaching into the fold of her robes she grabbed a generic manila envelope and slid it across the desk to me. "These are the specifics of your orders, direct from Warden Commander Luccio and Senior Council Member McCoy. I suggest you read them, and then go to your apartment pack a week's worth of clothes or so. Make any necessary arrangements you need to make, and then take one of the Ways to Japan where you will be living. The Council will arrange to have your things moved for you once you alert us to having a living space acquired."
I shook my head in disbelief. So, this was how Mab knew she would get me to do the job, how she was so confident she could get me to move. I put up my argument anyway.
"But, how am I the best person for the job? I mean I don't even speak Japanese for Pete's sake. I have enough trouble with Latin, let alone something like that."
Mai just snorted in derision before poking a hole in my objection. "Please. Since the West has come to dominate the world, you can't walk two feet before finding someone who can speak English. You'll do well enough. As for you not being the best person for the role? I actually agree with you, you're not. You're incompetent, rude, and the last person I would consider for this position. Still, I was overruled by the Merlin and, oddly enough, the Gatekeeper when I raised these very points myself."
Shaking her head she gave me one last piece of advice. "You have to be in Japan in the next 24 hours, or you are to be considered as defiant in a state of war or crisis, and as such will be taken by the Wardens for trial for the crime of high treason against the White Council. I suggest you hurry and arrange your affairs and get over there soon."
I swallowed. The Council and the Merlin, who were no doubt being manipulated in some way by Mab, were playing hardball. It was either do what Mab wanted or end up losing my head quite literally. As I had no intention of rolling over and dying, Japan it was then.
Today really wasn't my day.
I grabbed the envelope, and didn't bother with saying goodbye to the old bird or her pet wardens. As I left, I tossed my key to the office to the Warden who'd greeted me on the way inside so politely, giving him one last parting shot. "Lock up when you're done here okay. If this place is not spotless, I'll report you to the manager."
Mouse looked at me, almost worriedly tilting his head. "It's alright Mouse. We'll figure this out," I said trying to reassure him as much as myself.
I arrived back at my place, sat down in the chair Grimalkin was in a few hours before and opened the envelope Ancient Mai had given to me. Inside were two pieces of paper both in smaller letter envelopes of their own. One of which was addressed to me as 'Hoss,' written in a thick, blocky script. This one must have come from Ebenezer, my mentor and one of the few people I actually respect. I ran my finger under the lip of the envelope, tearing it open and took out the letter and scanned its contents.
I sorry that you gotta be reading this, and that I have to be the bearer of bad news but with the recent raid on one of our strongholds in Berlin by the Reds, we had to call in Wardens from all over to get the manpower to make up the difference. But it ended up being a trap.
The bloodsuckers got intel on the hotel where our Wardens would be staying in the city and set up explosives in the building before anyone was there to check for em. We lost at least fifty Wardens in the attack, many of them from Asia and Eastern Europe.
Without anyone to manage those areas we were forced to spread what's left around to make up the gap. I argued hard to get them to leave you be, but then Rashid spoke up agreeing with the Merlin on your placement.
From there it went to hell in a hand basket and there was nothing I could do. I know you won't want to take your apprentice with you so far away from her home, I figure it might do her some good to spend some time with me on the farm so you can send her my way. That much I can do for you at least, Harry, though it ain't much.
Sorry Hoss and best regards,
PS: I have some allies among some spirits who live in the area of the Nevernever where you will be staying called the Kenku. They owe me a couple of favors and if you ever need competent help in a fight just find your way over there and mention my name.
I folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. It was glad to know the Old Man still cared and wanted to help me, even after the falling out we had when he told me the truth of how he was the Council's resident hatchet man, the Blackstaff. The one man given the outright authority to break any of the seven Laws of Magic without consequence or repercussion.
To kill with magic, to transform another, to invade the mind, to enthrall, to reach beyond the borders of death, to swim against the currents of time, and to seek power from beyond the Outer Gates. He could do all of these things at will if he saw it as necessary. At the time I found out, it had been a huge betrayal of my trust in him. In truth, I still had not forgiven him completely for not telling me.
But to a certain degree I understood the reason for it even though I hated it.
Regardless of how things went, Ebenezer was, is, still my master and I knew one day we would be able to work things out and patch this mess of ours up, but until then this was a nice reminder that nothing is truly static or immutable no matter how we sometimes like to pretend otherwise.
The other bright side of this was now I did not have to figure out what to do with Molly. It was enough that I was being forced to leave my home and all the people I knew behind. I didn't want to have to drag my apprentice along with me while I was at it. Now all I really had to do was give a call to the Carpenter house and let her know. I'm not sure how she'd take it, but it was still not something I was looking forward too.
Not to mention it, I'd have to call Murphy as well, and that made me wince more than a little. I knew just how she would take it, and it would not be happily either. Hopefully, she would let me just get away with some bruises the next time she caught up with me instead of a broken arm. Setting aside the letter from the Wizard Listen-to-the-Wind called an ignorant redneck hillbilly; I reached into the package and pulled out the second letter from Captain Luccio.
After opening her letter in much the same way I had McCoy's, I glanced through it quickly. It was not all that personal in the same my mentor's was given I did not know the Italian Warden all that well, mostly just the specifics of what the territory I was responsible for, and the various contacts and resources the Council had in the region I could call on if absolutely necessary.
Along with that was a bigger packet of papers, apparently everything the Council had on the various powers in the region, all the big fish and players. Basically, the 'Who's Who' of the supernatural community in Japan and the Greater Tokyo area. I put that down, intending to give it a heavy read later on once I had more time to actively study it and commit it to memory.
Now it was time for all those phone calls I didn't want to have to make, unfortunately.
The first numbered I dialed was the home of the Carpenter Clan, figuring I would put the worst of it off until last. It rang for a few times until I could hear the muffled sound of a phone being taken off a hook, then lifted to someone's ear.
"Carpenter Residence. Daniel speaking. Who is this?" a deep baritone voice spoke in a formal and reserved tone. Apparently, it was Charity's and Michael's eldest male child who answered.
"Hey Daniel. This is Harry Dresden. Is Molly there?" I asked a forced friendly cheer in my voice.
Daniel responded, this time more casually now having the identity of his caller. "Sure one sec, lemme get her."
Like an echo of an echo, I heard the shout of "Molly - Phone!" through the other end of the line. A moment later I could hear heavy footsteps thumping from what I thought was upstairs before the brief semi-static of the phone changing hands.
"This is Molly speaking," The red and blue haired goth girl said.
"Padawan," I said in greeting, "It's me, Harry."
From the moment she heard my voice, I could practically hear the smile on her face at my pronouncement. "Harry! How are things on your end? I don't think we have any study sessions today do we?"
I gave her a 'no', confirming her thoughts, my tone somber. "I have some bad news, Molly, and it's fairly important I give you the heads up, all told."
There was a second's pause before Molly, voice lowered a fraction with, finally spoke again. "What's wrong Harry? Anything I can help you with?"
" 'Fraid not, Grasshopper. Something came up from the Council, and I'll be out of country for the foreseeable future,." I said, and then quickly gave her the run down on the situation I was in, omitting the Winter Queen's visit earlier today and Mab's involvement.
I heard the frown in Molly's voice when she responded, "Okay, then. I'll let my parents know, then pack my stuff. When should I expect you to pick me up before we get going to Japan?"
I pulled the phone away from my ear and sighed, rubbing my other hand against the top of my head, the dull throbbing returning full force with the situation.
"Well you do need to pack your stuff in a bit, but you're not coming with me. My old teacher, Ebenezer McCoy, offered to let you stay with him while I settle this thing, at least for the next little while. He lives on a farm a good bit away from here, and once I give him a call he should come on by to pick you up. I know this sucks but-"
Molly interrupted me from there, and I could sense an almost hurt tone in her voice, a fair bit of annoyance mixed in there as well. "What do you mean I can't come with you? I thought I was supposed to stay with you. You know, with the Doom over both our heads and all? Now I know while I may not have the wizarding thing perfectly down I am pretty sure it says somewhere apprentices stay with their masters."
"Look, Molly," I drawled out, my voice exasperated. "I didn't ask for this transfer any more than you did, and in a couple of months, when I got things settled, and assuming your parents are fine with it, we can see about having you come to Japan to stay with me. But even then it's not that bad. I mean with the Ways, it's only a hop, skip, and jump for me to come and visit you. I promise I'll try and stop by for a bit every few days. You have my word."
My apprentice did not answer for about a minute or so, and I was fine with that. Given how quickly I was springing this on her, nearly as quickly as it was sprung on me, she deserved more than a few seconds to think things through. It was only fair.
"Fine, but don't think I'm happy about this Harry. I graduate six months from now, and I'm already legally an adult. Have been for a little under a year or so. The second I get out of school I am coming to find you no matter what you got to say about it. You hear me, Harry?" While she was respectful to me, as she always was, there was just a hint of rebelliousness to it, almost harkening back to a couple years ago when she was still heavy into her goth faze and whole lot stupider than she was now.
I knew this was the absolute best I was going to get from her, and any arguing we did at this point would just make this harder on the both of us.
"Okay Molly. Let your Mom and Dad know about the situation of what's going on, and I'll give Ebenezar a call. He should be ready to pick you up in about two weeks. That should give you enough time to pack all your stuff and get things settled with transferring schools. I'm going to be gone pretty quick. so this number won't be any good in a couple of hours. But once I have a place and a phone in Japan, I'll give you guys a call to let you know my new number if Charity has any questions for me."
Molly's voice subsided, the frustration returning to a simmer from the boiling peak it had reached earlier. "Alright, Harry. I suppose we'll talk in a bit. Can't wait to see you again soon."
"Bye, Grasshopper," I said
"Bye, Harry. I'll miss you," she returned.
Then I hung up the phone and picked it back up , to dial the next number on my list. This was the one I really was not going to enjoy. After several seconds Karin Murphy answered her phone. "Murphy speaking. Who is this?"
"Really Murph. You don't know my number by now? I'm hurt. Really," I said.
"Harry," the five foot nothing police sergeant replied. "Glad to hear from you. I got a case we could use your perspective on. And the station got rid of caller ID. Budget cuts and all that."
I winced twice. Once at my answer to her job offer, and a second time at the budget cuts Chicago PD was facing. "Yeah, about that . I'm afraid I won't be able to help you for a good while, Karin. I'm going to be gone for a while, and I am not sure when I'll be back."
"Dresden," Karin said, her voice sharp, before forcing herself to take a deep breath and calm herself. "Dresden, you know as well as I do SI is competent but sometimes we can't handle some of the cases that we get handed without your take on things, so what is so important that you're not going to be here?"
"You know how I got conscripted by the Wardens during that fiasco with the necromancers when you were gone on the vacation with Kincaid? Well, I got orders from the Council to relocate myself to Japan to man that area because the previous Warden got killed in a raid by the Reds and we're low on manpower. "
The former head of the Special Investigations division sighed. She was a cop who understood the nature of bureaucracy better than most, so I knew she, on a certain level, empathized with my situation. That is to say receiving BS orders from your boss and you having no choice but to comply or face the consequences, which in my case could very well end in decapitation.
"Sorry to hear that. You just give me your word on one thing, and it's important that you do. If you ever run into trouble where you need my help you WILL let me know, alright? Promise me that and I'll call us even."
I smiled briefly. I could count on one hand the number of people I respected more than Karin Murphy and would prefer to have at my back if things ever went south. It was reassuring to know that even after dropping this bomb on her out of the middle of nowhere she still was willing to stand by my side.
"I'll do you one better, Murphy. I'll let you know if I ever need your help AND next time I see you I will buy you a couple of rounds of Mac's finest brew."
Karin softly chuckled, a melodious sound akin to silver bells that could make you forget that she was one of the toughest detectives that Chicago had the honor of serving it. "I won't forget that, Harry. So, be ready to pay up, alright? I'll hold you to that."
Glad that went better than expected, I told the SI cop goodbye and hung up my telephone. From that point I went about the task contacting all the relevant people who needed to know I was going to be gone, ranging from Waldo Butters who was my acting doctor for all intents and purposes, to the Alphas, to my landlady to let her know I would be moving out and had to unfortunately break my lease agreement early but was hoping to come back whenever it was I returned if she had not found any new renters.
Having gotten all my affairs in order, I packed all the clothing I would need, along with all the wizarding paraphernalia and tools I would require in the short term. Next was getting all the rarer stuff that would not be smart to leave behind before the Council came and cleared out my stuff.
While I don't have anything really dark per say, some of the jumpier Wardens might have questions for me if it was still there. Among those rare and potent trinkets that let me do my thing was an honest to goodness literal holy sword. The katana (a Japanese blade which was fitting considering just where I was moving to) had a nail worked into the handle of the blade supposedly from the capital 'C' Crucifixion. It was entrusted to me by a man that had sacrificed himself to ensure that I lived. I just hoped that he would approve of whoever I found to wield the blade when the time came.
The other big item was not so much a thing, as a person whom I call Bob. Bob is a spirit of Air and Intellect who lives in a skull. Having served as a counselor and advisor of wizards for millennia, he was a potent asset to have in my service. He more or less served as my database of the supernatural and kept track of the ever changing metaphysics that directed the way magic worked. Incidentally, he's also a pervert with an obsession for smut so rampant I'm sure I will never meet his equal so long as I live.
I called down into my lab as I climbed down the ladder of my subbasement. "Bob wake-y wake-y, eggs and bake-y. We're going on a trip, and 'cause it's long term, you're coming with me."
Orange lights winked on in the skull's eye sockets, flickering in various degrees in intensity and shade of the color. "Ooh, please tell me we're going on vacation. It's been ages since we've been on a vacation. Vegas maybe? Or perhaps Hawaii," Bob said, like a small child that had just chased down a "Five Hour Energy "with a "Red Bull" and two shots of espresso.
I rolled my eyes, halfway between chagrin and annoyance. Bob tends to inspire both of these emotions in equal measure, so this was hardly unusual.
"Close but no cigar. We're going to Japan. I'm being reassigned there by the Council to act as the region's Warden."
Somehow, and I have no idea how he managed this without lips, Bob smiled even wider. "Ooh, Japan. Just think Harry, cosplayers and tentacle porn! They call it the 'land of the rising sun,' but it's more like the land of epic kinks. You've GOT to take me to a convention there. I've always wanted to meet some real live loli girls!" Bob then frowned. "Still, why the transfer?"
I grunted. "The Wardens just got reamed by the Reds, and their low on manpower. So, they have to spread out our remaining forces to help cover for the areas that lost their Wardens."
Bob inhaled. "Things can't be going very well for the Council if their sending someone as undiplomatic as you to another country, Harry."
I shook my head ruefully. "Ain't that the truth . Though I doubt they came to that decision on their own. This morning I got a visit from Mab. Apparently, she has a job for me over there. I'd be willing to bet you 20 bucks that she had something to do with just where I was placed."
The Spirit of Air and Intellect raised an eyebrow. "What did Mab want from you? 'Cause the last time she asked you for a favor, the world nearly ended."
"Well, apparently some of the Wyld Fae that are normally cozy with Winter have started to leave the Winter high and dry, and Mab doesn't know what's making them decide to go AWOL," I said, swallowing, my throat suddenly feeling rather dry.
Bob was silent for a moment focusing all of his formidable supernatural intelligence on what I had just told him.
"I can see why Mab brought you in. If fae who normally contribute to her power base are no longer doing so, then that gives Summer the advantage. When you combine that with no Winter Knight operating and the peak of Winter's season already passed and Summer getting stronger by the day well... Titania and her Court might decide to press that advantage further come Mid-Summer. Unless Mab can figure out a way to restore the status, let's just say the extra money you'd spend on your A/C would be the least of your worries."
"Well gee," I sighed. "As if there was not enough pressure already. Bob, I want you to take down my Wards so they don't fry the Wardens when they send the movers to get my stuff while I clean up the rest of this."
"Right, Boss. Will do."
The orange light flew out of the eye-sockets of the skull and tore towards the front door. While if I was willing to spend the next couple of hours I'm sure I could have finagled a way to make the wards go dormant indefinitely without tearing them down I wasn't sure the next time I would be back so it did not make sense to do so. In any case, given Ancient Mai's threat I really did not have as much time as I would like to wrap up the last of the loose ends here anyway.
I quickly grabbed the potions I had spent the night before preparing, the black and green notebooks which contained my list of sources in the Nevernever, various knick-knacks I thought might prove useful in the immediate future, and finally Fidelacchius the aforementioned holy sword entrusted to me by its previous owner, Shiro Yoshimo.
Placing everything in my duffel bag, I waited a moment for Bob to finish his job of taking down my boarding house's defenses. Sure enough, the wise-cracking pervert did so, not returning to his sanctuary in favor of possessing Mister my tailless tomcat. Really, I had not thought of it, but that would actually be the best way of taking him with me. That way, at least, I did not have worry about how I was going to take a pet carrier with me on the trip with everything else in hand.
Once that was said and done, I placed the skull in my duffel alongside the rest of my possessions. Really, all I had left that I wanted with me but was too big to bring was Little Chicago. But the Wardens would take care of that soon enough once I sent the call in.
I swung the bag over my shoulder, put my blasting rod in its holster, and then grabbed my staff. Then all but ready to take my leave, I quickly gave a call to Mike my mechanic, telling him I would need to get the Beetle stored in his lot for the foreseeable future, to which he responded by giving me the monthly price for.
It made me wince before suddenly coming to the realization this was just another expense I could put on the Council's dime. I quickly scribbled down two notes, one to the Wardens about my stuff, another to the Landlady (which I later put in her mailbox) telling her I put my apartment key under my welcome mat and to let the movers in when they came to take my stuff away.
Once these last minute hassles were settled, I walked out the front door, Mouse following on my heels only for me to slap myself on the forehead in irritation at my own stupidity. I nearly forgot the scroll the Queen of Air and Darkness had given me. Seeing as I had accepted the job, regardless of my feelings about doing so, it would not do to leave something like this laying around for the next schmuck who walked in to find it.
After a moment of hesitation, I broke the seal on the scroll and opened it. As I did I felt a wave of magic ripple out of it and through me. Suddenly, A mosaic of images and cacophony of sounds swirled around me like mad birds before settling on my skin and dissolving through my body to settle in my mind.
After what felt like an eternity, the sensory bombardment ended and the crystalline scroll dissolved like morning fog.
"Huh," I said to myself and then frowned. "Just what the hell was it that Mab gave me?" Something was strange. Stranger than normal, which given my usual baseline is saying something. Then I realized just what it was that making me scratch my head. Those words I'd just spoke.
That was not English; it was, in fact, the language spoken primarily by the people in my soon-to-be new home. Mab hooked me up with a freaking translating spell. It gave me an ability to speak a whole new language I only had a smattering of experience with before, likely fluently. That scared me.
That sort of magic was so complex that I doubt if I lived a dozen wizards' lifetimes I would ever be able to manage something even in the general ballpark of what went into this. More than that, this was neuromancy of the highest order. Mind magic as a whole is a fairly unexplored aspect of magic by most wizards given the nature of the Third and Fourth Laws of Magic.
If Mab could do this to me, what other ways could she mess with my head? That led to a train of thought I really did not want to contemplate at the moment. I find that while paranoia is a grand habit to partake in as a survival skill, it was never good to overindulge. Everything is best in moderation, and all that jazz.
Hurrying my way across the street with my stuff, Mouse and a Bob-possessed Mister trailing behind me, I walked a couple of blocks down until I hit the alleyway mentioned in the letter from Captain Luccio. If the information she'd gave me was still accurate, this would lead to a Way that would take me directly to my destination.
Supposedly, it would exit on the outside of a mall in Tokyo. Concentrating my magic, I unleashed it with a word and thought guiding my Power, opening a rift between the realms. My loyal animals behind me, I went through the rabbit hole and crossed over to Wonderland. Reaffirming my grip on my staff, I begin my half hour long jaunt through the spirit world.
Surprisingly the trip went smoothly, and I reached the end of my journey, now having made sure I found the right landmark indicating the correct exit back into the real world. If I took a wrong turn, I very well could end up dangling off the side of a cliff somewhere, or something just as equally unpleasant. After double and triple checking that I had indeed found the right place, I cast the spell opening the hole between worlds. Giving it a quick look through before I stepped across the border, I scanned the area.
It was indeed a mall just as my intel had said it was, and, likewise given the conversations I could hear not being in my native tongue, I stepped across the whole in the wall, Mouse and Mister right behind me I allowed the portal to fade out of existence, one more letting the laws of physics take precedent. Now that I was actually in the place, and I could see more than just a few shelves, I looked around. Partly to get a feel for my surroundings and partly to make sure no annoyed employees were about to approach me given I had two animals with me that by all rights did not belong in a place like this I glanced around the store.
This was a computer store judging from all the LCD screens and impressive speakers dominating the vast majority of the area. That meant I should get out of here given that if I spent more than a couple of minutes, I would probably start to fry half the stuff in the store before long.
As I found the walkway out of the store, I could not help but hear a particular conversation, which given as loud as they were, it wasn't like I was eavesdropping or anything.
"I don't see why you asked me to come, Matsu. Couldn't you have asked one of the others?" The first one said a bemused tone that sounded decidedly both female and long since resigned to her circumstance.
"You know as well as I do no one else would have come with me Kara-tan. Miya is on an assignment as is Mutsu, Kazehana-tan is too busy trying to get in Minaka's pants, and who else would I ask? Takami-san? Please. That leaves you Karasuba-tan by default though I would be the first to admit you're not my choice," the newly identified Matsu replied.
As I got closer to my destination, I saw the source of the noise, a pair of young ladies both quite beautiful, who were wearing these odd grey and black uniforms, that looked like traditional kimonos at least until you saw the short skirts that may very well have violated some public decency statutes in some more uptight communities.
One had long red hair braided into a pony-tail and glasses; Matsu if the voice was any indication. The other had this odd over-coat that looked like it was being worn as a make-shift cape. Her hair color, though, struck me as odd, a gray that seemed border-line unnatural given her apparent age.
This one was styled nice and long, reaching down to her waist like the first except her bangs seemed to cover her eyes. For some reason something about her just screamed DANGER to me, even as she smiled at her friend in a wide unthreatening grin. Karasuba, I recalled her name from the conversation I had just overhead.
As I walked past them and left the store, I could not help but turn to look back at the two, and they looked back at me, which in my mind was perfectly understandable. I mean, I am a six foot nine inches white guy in Japan, who carries around a long piece of wood and wore a leather duster. Combine that with Mouse's and Mister's presences, and I had little doubt I was quite the oddity for this island nation, even in a city as big as Tokyo. Gawkers were to be expected, all considered.
But then the red haired one, Matsu, did something that I did not expect. Her eyes widened a bit before narrowing almost accusingly. Then she raised her hand and pointed her finger at me like I'd just committed some grave offense, and said "You're my Ashikabi!"
I had no idea what that meant, but I suddenly had a feeling like something bad had just happened. Today really wasn't my day.
Authors Note: Please review, reviews make me happy and me happy=faster updates. (relatively speaking anyway)