So here it is!
See the disclaimer in chapter one. Beta'd by Starnyx
Somewhere along the line, I must have pissed off a being so obscenely powerful that it'd make even Mab pale in comparison. There is no way that something as fickle as chance, karma, or destiny or a dozen of other things could be responsible for all of the bad situations I have gotten into over the past decade or so.
Situations just like the one I have found myself in right now.
The three of us just stood there for a few seconds not moving, not breathing, not doing anything at all. Not wanting things to get any more awkward than they already were, I chose to break the silence.
"I'm your 'what' now?" I asked, confused.
For some reason the translation spell was not providing me with an English equivalent of the word. Either Mab somehow flubbed the enchantment when she was putting it together (doubtful), or it had no counterpart that my mind could comprehend.
I was not sure how I felt about this. Even some of the slang terms I heard used in the background had translations, terms that were not a part of any formal dictionary that Mab would have used to create the spell. That meant it most likely operated on some metaphysical level of communication rather than a dictionary in my head that it consulted. For something on that level to not be able to work sent a shiver down the back of neck. For it to not be able to function, meant that the term was wholly unknown to humanity to such a degree that my mind was incapable of fully processing it in whole.
The word was so alien, so foreign, so beyond my perspective that I felt an ancient terror from my youth start to creep up on me as I made the connection in a burst of insight. If my suspicions were correct, and I would put one of Mac's brews on the line that I was...
Something in my mind breathed the word Outsider. All the hairs on my body stood at attention at the implication of that one word.
Tentacled abominations from beyond the Outer Gates.
Lovecraftian horrors that live for nothing more than destruction of the universe.
Beings of such immense power whose nature is so antithetical to our plain of reality there mere presence has a tendency to cause it to warp reality perverting the natural order of the world. As bad news as you can get, given they are immune to just about anything humanity can throw at them.
Carefully I placed my empty hand in the pocket of my duster, feeling the reassuring cold handle of my revolver, while simultaneously drawing in as much Power as I could handle. The air around me began to feel ionized from the amount of energy I held ready to release with a word of quasi-Latin. If these 'girls' were Outsiders or something similar, then my gun would do little more then annoy them. But, it would buy enough time to pull something a tad more potent together. It would be enough. It had to be.
"Ashikabi," Matsu repeated, shaking her head vigorously, her cheeks flushed cherry red to the point her hair almost to the point they matched.
Then out of nowhere she lurched forward, tackle-hugging me to the ground and grinding her rather… ahem… pleasant assets into my palms and crotch, nuzzling - of all things - her cheeks against mine not unlike a cat, the former sending my staff clattering to the ground along with me, and knocking my hand loose from my pocket.
In the wake of this rather unexpected turn of events, I was a deer caught in the headlights frozen and immobile. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bob looking out through Mister smug as I have ever seen him.
The power I had called up moments before fizzled out with my lapse in concentration and grounded out into the earth beneath us. While Harry Junior might be enjoying the treatment he did not get a say in anything.
Her pupils dilated and eyelids half-closed, she leaned forward, placing her hands on my stomach and letting her weight rest on my hips as she straddled me. Arching her back forward, she lightly traced circles on my chest rubbing up and down without a care. Her lips pursed and her eyes shut, she sought mine out.
Grabbing Matsu as securely as I could short of accidentally hurting her, I tried to hoist her to her feet and get her off me, but she struggled and fidgeted the entire time perfectly content with the situation puckering her perfectly formed lips trying to lay big one on me. For several seconds we wrestled, but even with my best efforts, she was like an anaconda finding a new hold on my body every time I thought I had her.
Just as she was so close to kissing me that her mouth was centimeters away from mine, and I could feel her hot breath on my skin, I saw Karasuba move. One second she was watching with interest that odd half-smile of hers on her face, not helping but not interfering with Matsu's onslaught, the next she was yanking her off me in a literal blink of the eye and back several yards away near the side of the mall hallway restraining her.
In my time I have seen things so fast that they could keep up with a speeding car with ease, but this gray-haired lass was on a whole other level. She did not even leave an after-image or create a blur. Just there one second, here the next. Worse yet, she was not breathing hard in the least. The action was so effortless she seemed like she could pull the same trick a thousand times over and still breeze through a marathon.
When I first saw her, Karasuba set off my danger sense for reasons I was unsure of at the time. Reason now found and acknowledged. While she was clearly Dangerous with a capital "D", she was not being hostile towards me, at least for the moment. Maybe there was a chance everyone could walk away without one of us maimed if I played my cards right.
Grabbing my staff from the floor, I scrambled to get up now I was free from Matsu's amorous attention and carefully looked at the pair extending my sixth sense towards them. While it was nowhere near as accurate as the Sight, it did not come with the same side-effect of your sanity being ripped from your mind if you looked at something nasty. Maybe if I could get a read on them, it could give me a clue as to what they were and if I needed to get the hell out of dodge.
The first one, Matsu, was odd. Her aura was... orderly to the point of artificial. She read of straight lines, patterns, numbers, and analysis. The same feeling I got the first time I watched the Matrix or read an issue of Popular Mechanics. It 'spoke' of the future, of progress, of dominion over the natural world by the power of innovation. If I was unsure whether these two were human or not, this wiped away any remaining doubts I had.
Karasuba... she reeked of blood, conflict, and of the battlefield. If death ever manifested itself physically beyond the stereotype of old-scythe-and-bones, Karasuba would be a great candidate for the role. Her essence was overpoweringly sweet, not quite the rotting of the dead but close, with a heavy metallic tint counterbalancing the sweet with rusting iron. She was a goddess of war and bloodshed reveling in the carnage every drop of crimson a sacrifice to her name.
Just tasting her aura, not even looking upon her with my Sight, made me shudder and my hands start to shake. Reflexively, I pulled back my sense and steeled myself to force my involuntary reaction to Karasuba's aura down. Biting down the terror, I closed my eyes for a second and took long even breaths. Once I was sure I was not going to piss myself, I opened my eyes.
Matsu, for the moment at least, had gone slack in Karasuba's grip, no longer fighting against the gray- haired killer.
"If I let you go," Karasuba asked her "will you try and jump his bones again?"
The pony-tailed girl tilted her head, considering the question. "Mhm. Probably not, Kara-tan. I just saw him and I...I lost control. I mean I knew reacting could be intense, MBI has done more than a small amount of research on the topic, but I was not expecting it to be like THAT. It won't happen again. I promise."
Turning to face me having been released by her friend, Matsu bowed her head lightly in apology her face blushing red once more, this time with embarrassment.
"I'm sorry about earlier..."
"Harry," I said filling in the blank. "Harry Dresden." By all rights I should be running away given what I learned with just a cursory scan things were not dire quite yet. For one thing, Mouse wasn't so much as making a peep, so it was unlikely I was going to get my head torn off this second. Even if Karasuba was scary as hell, Matsu did not give off the same vibe.
That combined with them not putting off the same inherent wrongness I've felt from Outsiders in the past meant that at the very least my initial assumption was off base. Without knowing more, my best bet was to play this out and see where it lead.
Pushing her glasses up in a gesture of habit she chuckled nervously. "Right, Harry-san. Nice to meet you. I'm Matsu, and I am really, really sorry about..." She motioned awkwardly in a circle before reaching down to smooth away nonexistent wrinkles in her top.
"So what exactly was that about? I mean it's not that I object to being seduced by a beautiful woman, but could you give me some warning next time please?" I asked dryly, only half-joking. Maybe I was being a tad bitter about my sex life, but honestly I could barely remember the last time I'd been with a woman.
Matsu nodded, her expression dead serious. "Will do."
What the hell…
"And," she continued, "I really can't tell you. It's classified."
I quirked an eyebrow and folded my arms. "Oh, really? This is the first time I've heard that one."
"No really," she insisted earnestly. "I cannot tell you, it's classified." She bit her lip in frustration, running her fingers through her auburn locks.
"Okay, I'll bite. Why is the reason you decided to dry hump me classified?"
"She can't answer that either," Karasuba cut in before Matsu could reply. "All either she or I can say is that we work for a pharmaceutical company called MBI. Maybe you've heard of it. And, the answer to that question is related to trade secrets we cannot release without authorization. But, if you come with us to headquarters, we can see if we can get one of the higher ups' okay."
I had heard of MBI before. They were a huge technology conglomerate that has taken the business world by storm in the last few years. Calling them a simple pharmaceutical company is like calling the Titanic 'just' a boat. They had their fingers in every pie imaginable. You could not walk five paces in a Walmart without finding at least one product with the small silver MBI logo stamped on the bottom.
Supposedly they had been in the middle of a U.S. federal anti-trust law violation case last year, but the investigation got killed and nothing more had been heard of it in the news since. To shut down something on the federal level took influence comparable to Marcone's organization and any legitimate company with that kind pull had to have its fair share of skeletons.
I did not like the implications of MBI being involved in something supernatural. One major mortal organization having connection to my side of things was enough. The last thing anyone needed was a second John Marcone.
I shook my head in a negative. I needed to find a place to set up shop and make a call to Edinburgh ASAP so that stay of execution order on my head did not fall and Morgan or whoever they sent did not try and have their vorpal sword go snicker-snack.
Karasuba sighed. "I tried to do this the friendly way… who says I can't be nice? We can do this the easy way, or the hard way: your choice. Regardless, you are coming with us, so let's not make this a pain in the ass for the both of us. Okay?"
I felt my lip curl into a sneer. "I'd like to see you try." Regardless of whatever she could do, I do not take bullies well.
"You're not going to hurt him, Kara-tan. You might be my friend, but he is my Ashikabi, and I won't let you hurt him." Matsu said, her voice wrought iron.
Distantly, like an echo of an echo, I could hear Mouse begin to growl warning. I glanced at him for a second, and he was not growling at either Karasuba or Matsu.
Instead he was facing out toward one of the mall exits. Whatever it was, he smelled trouble. As if this cluster-fuck was not enough to deal with already.
The door to our right busted off its hinges and slammed into a glass display and, with a thundering bellow, a swarm of eight-foot tall, red one-eyed monsters (cyclopsi?), each built like a tank and carrying some sort of giant wooden club the size of a refrigerator, rushed in from there and a half dozen other places. A tetsubo, my mind registered courtesy of Mab's enchantment.
Around us, the previously amiable pedestrians panicked in the chaos, running every which way like chickens with their heads cut off.
Snapping toward Karasuba and Matsu again, I thumbed towards the monsters. "You know these losers?" I asked as I reached for my gun and pulled it out, to cock the hammer and aim at the closest blue man group knock-off reject and squeezed the trigger.
Matsu's eyes widened as the creature fell to its knees in raw agony from being blasted in its center of mass. Whether that was from the gun in a country notorious for its strict firearm control laws, or the appearance of something out of a B movie horror flick, I could not say. But in the next second, the entry wound burst into a blue-green flame.
Huh... It was weak to cold iron. I was here not five minutes, and it looked like I had already found Mab's rebellious wyld fae. That was a nice start. At this rate I might not even need to get a hotel.
"Never seen them before," Karasuba said. Her tone was almost gleeful, and a smile was on her face as she gazed towards the wyld fae malevolently. "But, I may have to let you off the hook Mr. Dresden."
"Why's that, you figure?" I asked sarcastically as I walked towards the wounded faery and executed it with a shot to the head, splattering its grey matter all over the floor.
Karasuba ignored my jibe and reached towards her waist, grasping for something that was not present. "Well, that's no good," she muttered unhappily. "Of all the days to leave my sword at home."
At the mention of a sword, an idea flashed through my head, but I immediately put it out of mind. I DID have a sword, a rather good one at that, she could use. But, she obviously was not the right sort of wielder for the Sword of Faith.
And yet, this was a situation where its purpose could be fulfilled, and she was obviously in the know to some degree. She had to be, given that blatant supernatural speed she'd showed off earlier. I bit down, weighing the situation over in my mind.
With this many mooks, only five more rounds in the gun, and all of these people in danger, I knew I would not be able to live with myself if I could have made a difference but failed because of a bad call. The words from Shiro's letter flashed before my eyes. 'I was the Custodian. I would know who to give the blade to'.
Well, here were people in need, and I could not stand by idle. I came to a decision. "I have a sword you can use, but I need a promise first. You will only use it to help these people, and you will give it back to me when we're through with this mess."
The silver-haired swordswoman looked at me with renewed interest. "You have a sword I can use, and all I need to do is make a promise?"
I just looked at her expressionlessly, my face hard as stone. "It's an important one, one you need to keep. You break it, and I'll be the least of your problems."
Chances were the Almighty did not look kindly at people who did not play nice with His toys.
"Fine. I promise to restrain myself, and I'll give it back when I'm done with it."
"Good." I replied. I did not know how seriously to take her word once given but at the moment I did not really have a choice in the matter given the stakes.
Taking my duffle bag off the floor, I hurriedly unzipped it and pulled Fidellachius still in its sheath out of the bag and tossed it to Karasuba who caught it out of the air with a lazy motion.
"Ooh. It's even a katana. Nice. I'm surprised."
Holding the sword's handle and sheath with a careful air of ceremony around it, she drew the blade an inch from its sheathe taking a careful look at the quality of the steel. It shimmered with a white light that to any but those aware of the blade's true nature might think was a trick of the light. The fact she was not struck down where she stood the moment she touched the sword was a good sign.
I hoped it stayed that way.
The longer she studied the weapon, the wider her smile became to the point she reminded me of a kid in a candy store.
"This sword... It's one of the finest I have ever seen. It's damn near perfect. In fact, it IS perfect. I don't see a single flaw of the smallest imperfection anywhere in the steel. When this is all over Mister Dresden, we are going to have to sit down and discuss this sword. I'm interested in just how you got your hands on such a quality blade."
I struggled to keep myself from smiling. She did not know the half of it. Shaking my head I quickly put my game face on.
"I hate to break up your love affair, but we got people to save and monsters to stop." I snarked as I ran toward the direction the one-eyed gang had headed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Karasuba nod, her face smoothing, becoming focused on the task at hand.
In one smooth motion, she drew the sword of Faith from its scabbard and placed the sheath in a belt loop to her side.
Karasuba turned towards Matsu, who had stayed oddly silent during the whole exchange looking at her with concern. "Stay close to me. If we get separated, I won't be able to protect you."
Matsu waved Karasuba off, dismissing her concern. "This isn't my first fight, Kara-tan. I can hold my own. And, don't worry. I won't let Ashikabi-tan out of my sight. Now that I found him, I am definitely not letting go."
After several minutes of solid running we arrived upon the lair of the beast. Well the mall cafeteria anyway.
The Oni were partying hard it like it was still 1999. Smashing anything breakable, eating anything editable, and well... you get the idea. It just was not a pleasant sight to be held. Honestly the most apt comparison I could think of was a bunch of frat boys out of control. A bunch of big, red, single eyed dumb frat boys that had way too much drink and got off on hurting people.
I threw up my hand, motioning for Karasuba and the others to pause as I quietly advanced on the scene.
For the most part they were just being idiots, causing mayhem, but not doing anything I wouldn't given a nasty temper and carte blanche to blow the steam off how I will.
Except for one of them.
He was doing something I would never do. Not if I made pacts with the darkest of creatures, started practicing the foulest magics, and became a full card carrying member of the Disney Villains Union.
He had her bent over, and she was screaming, and crying, and -
The runes carved on the foci lit up the room, as fire lashed out and struck the Oni dead center, pushed off of its victim into the nearby wall, smashing through the plaster into a support beam, its neck snapping with a crack. That pissed me off, it didn't deserve to go that quick.
Now I had the attention of the whole room.
That was fine with me.
I released the built up energy in the rings and invisible force shot toward the nearest of the beasts and it made an almost pleasant crunching noise as I raised my blasting rod again idly deciding on my next target.
The oni had been dumbfounded by the sudden attack, but that wore off fast, and in less time then took a goon to blink a good fifteen hundred pounds of muscle and anger was charging right for me. As the three demonic frat boys charged I replied with a bitter smirk. That made the choice easier. I loved having a volunteer.
I aimed slightly past the Oni and I released the fire outward, shaping it not into a lance as before, but a wave, a wall of white hot fire. I let the wall come back toward me, like a tsunami from hell. Red flesh burned black sizzling and popping like fajita meat in a cast iron skillet.
From the burst of pain the charging monsters turned into a crash, falling to the ground and rolling, trying and failing to sooth the pain and put out the fire.
That just made them easier targets. Focusing the wall into a lance one more, I dragged the beam near the Oni, savoring the expression on their faces as they realized what was coming, even as they struggled to get up and continue their attack.
On a whim I tried something slightly outside of my norm: I focused the flame even thinner, where it might be even closer to describe as a small pipe and cut the Oni from the waist down in two, cauterizing the wound shut even as it cut. While not a needle exactly it definitely was hotter and thinner then my average fire evocation.
My previous migraine came to the forefront of my mind from the strain this kind of control took. I think I was right in my estimation of the level of skill of the Warden Captain, whom I first received the idea of this trick from.
This kind of thing was definitely harder than it looked.
One of the Oni died outright but two of them crawled forward, still trying to get to me. I fished around my coat pocket again, and drew my .44 and took aim at their heads, even as they struggled to close the gap.
Now there were two less monsters in the world. Good
I looked up from and there were several less of the oni then there were before, I mean not counting the ones that I just put down.
Karasuba was...well she was mowing them down like a scythe through wheat. She was moving so fast that I could not keep track of her motions.
Fidelacchius flashed and the brutes fell to the ground bleeding and in pieces.
In the time it took me to finish that scant handful the silver haired warrior was already mopping up the last of the Oni's number.
On one hand it was a shame they went so quickly, too quickly given their crimes. On the other hand the quicker we finished up the sooner we could get to helping the victims of this bloodstained party.
And their well being was more important then any sense of vengeance or righteous fury I felt on there behalf.
I scanned the room for the assault victim that was the original trigger for my rage. Given how horribly she had just been hurt she couldn't have gone far, as hurt as she was.
She wasn't anywhere. No trace, no blood, no scuffle on the floor. Nothing. My brow creased. There were three possibilities here and I did not like any of them.
Number one, the girl here was taken in the middle of the fight when I was distracted. Possibly dragged into the Nevernever by one of the Oni, not wanting to lose its prize.
There were a couple of creatures with the power to hide there tracks, mostly ones with stupid amounts of magical talent. I did not have reason to believe that the Japanese ogres were one of them, but assumptions like that tend to get a squishy wizard killed in my life of work.
The second option was that someone pulled a fast one on me. Possibly an illusion that made me see something that was not truly there, a phantasm.
While not strictly black magic, illusions on that level tended to involve some level of mental component that rubbed up against the fourth law of magic so closely that it made the Council uncomfortable.
For good reason. Veils and glamours strong enough to the point that you could no longer trust you own senses were scary: how can you fight that which you can not be sure whether its real or not?
This lead into the final possibility that I could see as reasonable. Someone had directly influenced my mind itself in such a way I was not able to tell till I was already under their influence.
Unlike 'mere' illusions this sort of thing is every bit the work of a neuromancer of the highest caliber. A warlock so deep into the black arts that I did not want to even contemplate what it hold be like to have to fight so someone like that.
The first possibility would be something to look into, and would be the easiest thing to check.
Having someone check the security feed for the mall would let me know if they were real in the first place. Of at least visible to a mundane camera.
If not well that narrowed it down to two possibilities which would let me check on which exactly it was. Worst case scenario I could head back home and have the Grasshopper look at my head and see if anyone tampered with it though it was not my preferred solution.
While she has come a long way since I first took her on as my apprentice I still was not comfortable putting her in a situation which might set the Council into leveling the Doom if it chose to view it less then favorably.
In any case, while this was definitely something I had to look into when I had less pressing issues. Right now I had other business to care of.
So here is the impromtu chapter. Technically its only half of what wanted to write, but I figured its better to get something up now and just deal with the moans of posting a cliffhanger. Please review if you want to see the next part soonish!