Honor's Debt

Tuesday Evening

Chapter 14

Ever have one of those moments in life where almost all the options you have totally suck or suck even worse than that? Yeah that pretty much describes a vast majority of my life as of late it seems. And what makes it even worse is that I could objectionably argue that in this case it was not really my fault that I was in this situation. Worse still under a second thought I also knew based on all I had been told that there really was no other option but to see this crisis through to the end. Unfortunately with what I was now faced with understanding is that 'the end' in this particular case had some rather potentially fatal implications for one rather cute and perky wizard apprentice.

With the departure of Erik and Leigh following the vampire's forced revelations Daniel and I returned to my car to consider options and discuss our next moves. I let him carry Bob's case and the sword hilt so I could keep my hands free if spell casting became necessary. A Fomor wizard had been around during the raid and while I could sense his entropy spell was no longer operating that did not necessarily mean he had departed. He might just be playing possum and waiting for the next round with something even nastier in mind, say like a horde of Elvis impersonator ogres or something.

The smart thing for me would of course be to depart the immediate area as having both a large contingent of the police and also an enemy wizard nearby meant loitering was hardly a good idea. However, I was trapped waiting for a delivery from the Japanese consulate so it's not like I was free to flee like any reasonable person would do when faced with these situations. Blowing off the party was no longer an option. I was pretty sure it was one of the events I just could not afford to miss. At least part of me was hoping this was true.

I explained my trapped dilemma to Daniel and between the two of us we identified a nearby chokepoint that the delivery vehicle would almost certainly have to traverse past, be it either a FedEx or UPS truck as Daniel expected or a diplomatic car from the consulate as I suggested. Either way the crossroads at that point were pretty open and would allow for observing such a vehicle in advance so we decided that was a good place to park my car to sit and wait without drawing too much attention to the pair of us from the police or nosy neighbors.

Daniel was fidgety coming down off a fight, and verbally took it upon himself to keep an eye out for the vehicle. His unspoken aspect to this was he was expecting me to come up with the miracle plan to solve everything. I joke that deeper thoughts were hardly the forte of my brother, who more so than even dad was becoming a man of action in our little group. Truth be told Daniel was just smart enough to understand that he did not have basic understanding in magic and the numerous players involved to offer a reasonable plan of action. It was comforting to have him rely on me, though I almost wanted to point out that even with some of the wisdom he lacked I did not have all the answers at the moment either.

Regardless with Daniel on point this left me with ample time to try and lay out the situation fully in my head instead of just playing off of instincts like I had in suggestion meeting Hisha and Lord Kline at the Parthenon. I started by arranging the problems in my head and tried to figure out what was required to solve each one and where I would come up with the necessary resources to do so.

The simplest of my current concerns, which is a truly relative term in this case, was what to do about Murphy, Will, and the others. Even with the BERT team's sensor data testing positive, it would not take long for the authorities to figure out the reading had been false as I was pretty sure Murphy was not cooking up biological weapons in her kitchen. Second and third tests with new equipment would show nothing dangerous like that in the house leaving the police without much in the way of evidence. Still the authorities would want to play it safe and keep the group under custody for twenty-four to forty-eight hours as a precautionary measure as they checked everything out thoroughly before begrudgingly releasing them all with the city's apology.

I figure as smart as the opposition had demonstrated itself to be in dealing with Marcone by having backups for backups, the period of sidelining Karrin's team is probably the acceptable contingency in what the Fomor were hoping for if the police had not gone in guns blazing. That to me meant the bad guys had something big planned during this time and did not want any potential interference by the alliance when executing their plan. We had proven fairly adept at this over the past few months.

Interference, or at least the potential for it, was therefore called for. So I at least needed Karrin and her team on the streets, and the Fomor to know they were there as a means to either screw up their plans, make them delay, or at worst at least keep them distracted looking over their shoulders.

The only way to get Karrin and company out, well besides a rather loud and flashy jailbreak which unlike Harry I was not actually in the habit of contemplating, would be to have the courts order them released immediately and for the press to be there to broadcast this to the public and the Fomor. I do not of course have any pull with either of those groups but I knew Gentleman Johnny Marcone could probably do so with just a few phone calls. So that meant I just needed to get him working this problem as quickly as possible to achieve this goal. And if I had to deal with Marcone I might as well consider what else he could solve for me. Of course I would have to offer him something in exchange, something perhaps like the data his spy had lost.

I pulled out the sword hilt Erik had surrendered and after a few moments of not being able to figure out how to open the damn thing handed it to Daniel who I was happy to note was equally confused and annoyed after examining it too. Finally he solved this issue the old fashion way by using a bit of leverage, those construction company improved muscles in his arms, and the tire iron in my trunk to break the hilt open revealing some notepaper scraps rolled up inside. I scanned these pages as quick as I could, the spy's penmanship left a bit to be desired, and saw that the data and map the notes contained described the imminent plan of the Fomor wizard and gave a real good reason why the Fomor wanted him unable to pass this along.

As magic goes, it was a rather simple, yet diabolically clever idea. The Fomor it appeared had learned that there was little profit in dropping a biological disease on humans to wipe them out as they would only come back stronger and more pissed off the next time. This was before even accounting for modern medical capabilities like the CDC and modern hospitals to fight such things.

The Fomor wizard also seemed to really enjoy having slaves and the power and prestige this provided his race. So the plan in this case was for the wizard, apparently the race's lieutenant assigned to control this city, to install some sort of magical device, the spy was unclear on its working details, on the top of the Sears Tower that was based upon the Fomor's own unique brand of magic. From what I read in the notes the device was some sort of magical equivalent to a nuclear bomb in that there would be a huge magical burst that would take down not only all other types of magic but also all modern technology like electronics and cars within the visible horizon from the point of detonation. Only unlike a real nuclear weapon it would not harm people or buildings; that was a perk left for the Fomor to accomplish themselves at the appropriate time.

The expected effect for magical beings, such as myself and the Faerie Courts, would mean we were all cut off from our power sources and would therefore be unable to offer any resistance in that form. It was also designed to create a continual ward around the city causing magical creatures and technology that came into the area after the blast to fail as well. It appears that the Fomor wizard had mapped out that a ley line passed right under the necessary building capable of continually supplying all the magic the spell would require.

Chicago would be back in the nineteenth century and without any realistic hope of help coming from the outside as military and commercial aircraft or vehicles coming within range of the spell would fail as well, probably with fatal results for the crews. If the citizens of America's third largest city wanted to prevent becoming slaves they would need to escape the city on foot before the Fomor came for them neighborhood by neighborhood, not something the average city resident spent much time planning or were prepared for. Hopefully they could 'get medieval' and fight clubs and blades, something that could happen in certain parts of the city, but the Fomor had considered that as well as they understood they were vastly outnumbered.

Without communications to coordinate and things like running water and food supplies trucked into the city most of the city's residents would at first suspect a natural disaster had occurred instead of an attack. It would not take long however, for panic to set in and the battles for life's necessities like food and water to spill out onto the streets. With humans turning on themselves it would soon make the Fomor's job collecting the surviving slaves who would be the strongest by a brutal Darwinian process of elimination even easier.

According to the wizard's notes the Fomor's biggest problem was seen as getting to the top of the Sears Tower and holding it long enough to install the device. The spy had suggested that Marcone place his defending forces here to stop their plan.

Because the Tower is a continuously occupied building the plan was to strike at midnight, tonight at midnight it turns out, with nearly two hundred of their kind to secure the building and hold off any assault Chicago's finest might attempt until the device was installed. This was close to the full strength of the Fomor in Chicago because of how well we had been whittling them down. While that might seem a lot, as long as we could fight we had a chance. Once the device was running though, the advantages would all be rather one-sided from that point on.

Okay I have now gone from 'sucks even worse' to 'totally sucks beyond any reasonable notion.' I took a moment to explain this all to Daniel as I continued to look at the last few pages and an attached hand drawn map. That last was at least more easily understandable than the spy's scribbles and showed the three places the enemy army would emerge from the Undertown to assault the tower. Thankfully I was recently familiar with this area.

"Molly you have to take this to the authorities and let them stop this." Daniel said.

"Yeah and tell them what exactly?" I asked without meeting his gaze. "An army of extremely hard to kill magical beings from ancient Ireland is going to detonate a bomb to take away all our technology?" Hell with my luck they would make it into a television show on NBC where after fifteen years humans with access to libraries had not figured out how to at least get steam powered devices running again. The world obviously needed many more Steampunk enthusiasts and stories.

"Well no, you do not have to say they are magical." He tried to defend his original position but it was half hearted at best as he began to work out the problems with it just as I was.

"Daniel, think about it. When the authorities stop laughing and ask for proof what can I show them, this?" I responded. "These papers talk about wizards, magical devices, and ley lines. Do you think anyone in authority will take them seriously?" I asked again. "Add to that little problem that both you and I are probably currently 'known associates' of Karrin in every law enforcement computer in the state so we would surely be held for questioning once one of the officers ran our identities through a police database which would give the Fomor an even better chance of succeeding."

He paused and took this all in not finding any easy answer or argument to counter my points. "So what do you suggest?" He asked as if he expected me to have all the answers.

"I am working on it." I said looking at the last of the notes finding two very important tidbits that could offer potential options.

The spy had also recorded that the Fomor wizard was seeking a talking skull to use as payment to its hired agent, known as 'The Merchant.' It seems like Bob was becoming more and more of a commodity. Knowing the potential for damage that could cause there was no way I was going to let that happen.

Without the skull the wizard was going to have to accept becoming the Merchant's high priest or some such thing. Daniel looked on this with confusion and I gave him nothing though with what Lara and Thomas had shared yesterday I could see this was some more really bad potential here. Please move the dial up from 'totally sucks beyond any reasonable notion' to some other reference for sucking now even worse.

Moving on…

It appeared the Fomor had also identified that there was a small outpost of Svartalfar or Svartalves in the tunnels of the Undertown near where the Fomor were going to come up. The wizard seemed very intent on avoiding these beings at all costs before the assault on the Tower, but they were identified to get a special attention once the magic bomb was up and operating. I must have spoken their name aloud unknowingly because Daniel piped in with an answer to a question I had not even asked yet.

"The Black Elves?" Daniel replied. "Yeah I know of them from when I was apprenticing in metalwork under Master Highpelt we would trade either for raw materials or finished goods."

Soon after my dad had retired from being a Knight of the Cross because of almost dying, Daniel had taken it upon himself to help pay the medical bills by apprenticing with a Ferrier. Knights of the Cross do not get company medical insurance. What Daniel did not know at the time was his 'master' happened to be the notorious Rumplestiltskin who tried pretty well to kill both of us. To this day my brother still preferred to refer to him as Master Highpelt.

"Ever have any dealings with them personally?" I asked.

"Yeah. They are fair but a pretty standoffish and secretive bunch led by their master smith Mr. Etri." Daniel reported which of course went well with what Harry had taught me about the Norse Black Elves. "The fact that I worked forming metal though made him willing to speak with me when Master Highpelt sent me to deal. He can be a rather big, scary guy in the middle of a negotiation." Daniel reported.

It is an odd irony that in our modern mythology the most common description of an elf was a small cute character that helped Santa make toys all year long. The oddity was not that elves were craftsman, but rather that they were small in these stories. True elves were actually man-sized or even slightly larger though very light weight comparatively.

Thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien there was also a misconception that elves and dwarves were two races that despised each other, the former loving forests and the latter their dark and musty mines. Once again this was a distortion of the Norse basis of the truth.

The light Seilee elves, those aligned to the Summer Court did prefer the wilds of nature, however their cousins the Unseilee Dark Elves were the ones who lived underground and created wonderful metal objects. In Norse mythology dwarves were merely a type or family of Dark Elves, probably ones slightly shorter or more likely stooped over. And in other such stories the tall Dark Elves were often times mistakenly called trolls for their dangerous nature and rather short tempers. May I remind you that Bob reported the Fomor did not like trolls. No wonder they had this group selected for that special level of Hell.

Okay, so I had Marcone, the location, and potentially another ally to use to my advantage. The barest makings of a plan that would probably be worthy of having the Mad Hatter offer me his 7 ¾ hat began to form in my mind. I checked Daniel's watch, a spring wound older type that tended to survive better than modern ones did around wizards. I had less than eight hours to pull everything together if it had even a ghost of a chance.

Worse still I would have to get Daniel to agree to my plans because I needed him to perform two actions that no one else could. The first was only mostly suicidal so I did not doubt for a second he would agree. Convincing him to perform the second was going to be harder still once he put the pieces together. I started with the easier of the two.

"Do you think you could still find the Svartalfar Daniel?" I asked, split between wanting him to say yes and no for his own sake.

"Sure." He said without hesitation. "It is not that far from my work site in fact."

"Yeah I figured." I agreed. "But keep in mind the Fomor are using these tunnels now as well. If you encounter any of them and you and pretty much the entire city of Chicago are screwed." The thought of my brother trapped in tunnels with them did not sit well until I considered the echo effects of such locations and popped my trunk before handing him two strings of firecrackers and a container of waterproof matches. Once he had those in his hands I explained request for a meeting I wanted him to pass to the elves. I chose the swankiest hotel in Chicago knowing it was a landmark and figuring I would put to use one of those gold coins I had collected.

"That is easy enough." Daniel said. "I can set I up and come back with Mr. Etri in a couple of hours and meet you…"

"No!" I said firmly stopping him in mid thought. He looked at me like a confused and scolded puppy.

"I need one more thing from you." I said and then laid out the second half of my plan for him, what that required in way of actions on his part, and then got ready for his explosion.

"NO WAY!" Actually there were a few additional explicative words caught in between those two that nearly left my mouth agape as they spewed from my brother's mouth. Had my mom Charity been here Daniel would have immediately come to savor the fine taste of Irish Spring. I will leave them to your imagination so as not to harm your sensibilities.

"Daniel, it will be fine." I said with a smile interrupting his current rant to prevent him from having to spend the next two weeks in confession. I also pushed a little confidence and calming emotion his way before continuing. "It's not like I am purposely suicidal or anything."

"Since when?" Ouch that hurt. Of course there was a grain of truth in there which is probably what made it hurt. But still that was not going to deter me from my plan considering everything at stake.

"Daniel, it is the only way to stop this." I explained trying to turn up the confidence but running up against emotions in him that were defying my subtle touch. I was not willing to push that any farther and not only because he was my brother though I admit I was tempted.

"Then you need to come up with another way." He said. "You cannot make me do this."

Actually I could, were I willing to cross that particular line again. Being apprenticed to someone like The Leanansidhe who had no convictions or restrictions against using her powers was rather educational to someone like me fighting against such desires.

Having the power to make someone do what you want them to, do what you know is right and necessary, has its own brand of seductiveness. I found myself sitting there in the car gathering magic even without noticing it as I thought out what little it would take to prove my brother wrong. But I had made a promise to Harry and I refused to go back on it even with everything at stake. If I had learned anything lately is that we are all subject to our choices, and so are those we make choices for.

This called for one more bit of reasoning. "Daniel, consider what this means for the rest of our family if we fail tonight." I said in just above a whisper and with my face staring down in my lap. Yeah it was a shot below the belt but at least it was an honest one where he would have to make his own final decision. The seriousness of my composure could not be faked.

We sat in silence for five minute. Him battling the argument I made within himself and me silently acting as an observer of his emotional struggles knowing that in the end as my father's son he could only make one choice. "Alright I will do it your way." He agreed finally and less than happily. "Will there be anything else?" He asked.

I thought quickly about the other aspects of my current set of problems. There were two he would be perfect for. "Yeah I assume you have your hardhat and toolbox in your truck?" I asked and he nodded immediately and confused. "Go get the truck and bring them back here please…" Another thought hit me at this moment as well "…oh and pick up three packages of Twinkies too." I offered an honest smile and he just shook his head before getting out of the car to do what I asked.

That left me sitting alone in the car thinking over the other facets of the problems I was facing and how exactly to manage them. It was times like these that I missed having Harry around for guidance. I did of course have Bob the Skull, but Harry had made Bob promise not to work directly with me fearing what could happen if the two of us ever joined forces.

I had learned of this arrangement overhearing Butters explaining it to Karrin one time but eventually with Krystal's help we came to an agreement that as long as Butters had possession of Bob, I could ask questions and the skull could answer without violating this pledge to Harry. Okay maybe it violated the underlying intent of the promise but it did not screw up the actual wording.

I smiled at my cleverness. It seemed like I was becoming more Fae-like every day. This moment of clarity led me to realize who I needed to speak with for advice and there was no time like the present.

"Leananasidhe, Leanansidhe, Leanansidhe I summon you…because I really need your wisdom." I said the last part low and meekly though I was certain the Handmaiden of Winter would hear it all the same. I just also knew she was very busy as of late and it was usually a good idea not to get too pushy with powerful Fae beings when calling them forth.

Over the past few months since Harry's death, something I had not wanted to fully believe until I was visited by his ghost, and up until just a two weeks ago Lea's training had become ever more intense and focused on making me a better and stronger wizard. Sure her tactics were just short of being classified as sadistically homicidal; high praise for the Fae. I could not, however, deny that in a short period of time I had gained more ability that I would have under Harry's steady tutelage in the same timeframe. That is not to say that I preferred her process, but I could not argue that the results were probably the reason I was still alive at the moment. As most millionaires and living wizards will tell you it is hard to argue with success.

"It is nice to be acknowledged for one's talents my dear." Lea said appearing in the very seat Daniel had been occupying a few minutes ago. She wore that annoyingly calm demeanor that the Fae wore most often, and especially right before they planned rip your heart out; trust me I had observed her do such things wearing this same look.

Lea was a beautiful woman and tried to project a caring, motherly type of aura toward me but I had witnessed both her power in Mexico as well as the way she had sang a little ditty as she braided entrails two weeks ago. There was a lot here to respect and fear regardless of her motherly attempts. "I could never get poor Harry to understand the need for such social amenities except in the direst of emergencies."

"Sorry to disappoint you Lea but I'm afraid this is also one of those 'direst of emergencies' situations." I said just a little embarrassed.

"Of course it is my dear." She said without breaking her smile or showing even a flicker of surprise. "You were Harry's apprentice after all, almost a daughter to him even. I can report with first-hand confidence that such things tend to follow his family line."

That was so true. However, I had hope for little Maggie that this particular trend had grabbed onto me and not her, or at least skipped a generation or ten. Lea continued to speak.

"What wisdom of mine is it you seek my dear?" She asked.

I laid out the situation as I understood it without divulging my knowledge of the Oblivion War aspects and then turned to what I had in mind currently on how to resolve it. The scheme I devised lacked the elegance of a Faerie's plan and the common sense and self-protections of a normal wizard's plan. Not that I had ever actually worked with a normal wizard, but I had read about them in books that Harry kept. I was hoping that Lea might offer a better option than the one I was creating or at a minimum suggest ways of improving the personal survivability of a rather perky wizard apprentice.

"I see all my training has not been in vain or a waste of my time after all my dear." Lea said with an odd nod of approval and a smile that could not possibly be faked. "You turn your opponents' strengths to weaknesses and their weaknesses into your strengths. You have others expend power and resources while you harbor yours for the most appropriate time. And you show a full commitment to your cause, willing to face your own destruction to achieve your desired ends."

I almost blushed under her honestly given compliments, though in my own analysis I would have used many other words to describe the plan; words like stupid, dangerous, and self-destructive. That said the confidence boost was not totally unwelcome at this time and place even considering it came from a rather psychotic Fae handmaiden with a perchance for internal human organ arts and crafts.

"I swear I will make a Faerie out of you yet my child." The Leanansidhe said with an even warmer smile that did nothing but send a cold chill running up my spine. It was like being complimented by Hannibal Lector on my unique cooking recipes.

Still as chilling as it was, hey it's a Winter Court faerie we are speaking of, I had to admit part of me basked in the compliment. Not that Harry had been stingy with them or anything, but I had to admit he had protected me more than push me like Lea did. She often said there are few things like life and death situations to truly test a student's powers and what he or she has learned. Therefore realizing I had her respect was not something I could ignore even though part of me wanted to simply because of how she had phrased her compliment. I'd have to watch myself even closer; that is if I lived through this evening.

"Will there be anything else?" Lea asked but I barely heard her as my mind had wandered a bit afield.

I wondered if Harry was watching over me from wherever he was now, and if he was doing so, would he was proud of who I had become. Or would he see a monster?

"Oh Harry…" I said aloud praying to God I could just feel his presence protecting and guiding me once more.

Almost as in response the world seemed to shudder. Okay that is not quite accurate. My emotional world seemed to shudder as if something great had occurred, though nothing I could immediately account for. It was like a geological gauge measuring an earthquake in a far off land without those taking the readings feeling any of the actual motion themselves.

My first instinct that someone close to me had died, my dad, mom, or maybe Daniel but the emotional resonance, for lack of a better word did, not have that type of feeling of finality. It did send a lance of physical cold through me, however, which was an odd effect for the fifteenth of August. Sure I was sitting across from one of the Winter Court and that might account for such a feeling too, however Lea's expression seemed to echo the shock of my own. I knew whatever it was The Leanansidhe had felt the sudden change also.

"Lea?" I asked confused but her cold and emotionless mask returned immediately. Still I knew that she was wise to what had really just happened somewhere even if she chose not to share.

"I believe you have things here well in hand child and now I know my presence may be required somewhere else." She said confirming for me that she knew something big was afoot.

She took a moment to calculate. "You should focus on the tasks and training at hand dear and not get distracted." She patted my cheek. "You have come a long way, but still have an interesting journey before you."

That was either incredibly dismissive of the threat I had explained to her, or rather intimidating in boding that what I faced now was merely a step toward issues even greater in my future that she seemed aware of. It is not surprising why so many wizards are not particularly large fans of prophecy. Rarely is it something you look forward to.

"Remember, only eleven more shopping weeks left…" She said and faded away from sitting beside me.

This instinctually struck me as wrong. "Christmas is more than four months away." I said aloud and confused to the space she had been sitting in moments before.

"Who said I was speaking of Christmas child?" Lea's voice spoke in my head with a hint of shared enticement and then I knew she was truly gone and off handling other issues.

I ran the calculation through my head. Eleven weeks from today would be October thirty first; Halloween. And at that moment Daniel's truck came around the corner and stopped right behind my car taking me away from the future and back to the here and now.

I watched in the rearview mirror as he got out of the car carrying his big heavy tool box in one hand like it weighed nothing and his yellow construction helmet under his other arm. As a fan of roadrunner cartoons I never understood how a piece of plastic was supposed to protect a guy's head from a falling girder until my dad explained it was made for protecting from smaller things like hot rivets which suddenly made a whole lot more sense. I still thought it looked funny though.

Daniel did not, however, and opened the door and sat down again leveraging the toolbox into the backseat next to Bob's carrying case while I continued to keep an eye out for the delivery vehicle. While he fussed around I figured I'd see if he knew if things had calmed down near Karrin house yet or if we still had reasons to worry.

"Police still have the cordon up?" I asked looking at a panel truck turn the corner but then recognizing with a little disappointment it was a plumber's vehicle and not a FedEx truck. It was not lost on me that the enemy had used a moving van to get weapons close to Marcone's hideout so as the plumbing truck got closer I tensed a bit, but it eventually pulled into the driveway at a home up the street. The man that emerged could not possibly be a trained killer mercenary based on way too much butt crack he was showing even at this distance. Yet another image I should scour from my mind.

Daniel finished his fiddling around and turned back to me and then placed the toolbox on the floorboards at his feel. "Everything you need is in here just as you asked. I'd like you to give it all back in the same pristine condition when this is over." He said tapping the box. The fact that it was steel helped ensure a bit that stray magic would not damage anything inside if monsters came calling and spells were required.

"No promises little brother." I said yanking his chain as he did somewhat tower over me in both height and mass. "You know how things go. If I can I will try to leave all of it here in the car for you to collect later." I tried to smile but he was not going for it.

After a moment I nodded that I had said all I could since there just were no appropriate words and he did the same before opening his door and getting out. I pulled Bob's case from the backseat and handed it to him. "Don't forget to take this along." I said as took it from me.

"Are you sure about all of this?" Daniel asked one last time trying to stay my protective brother who had hated every date I ever brought home.

I wanted to explain to him that since Harry died I don't think I have been sure of anything in my life this complex. Hell I was never even sure where I was going to sleep or eat one day to the next. I was never sure if I was even going to be alive to see the next dawn or if I would see my family and friends again. As far as my existence was currently concerned, surety was not currently a part of it. Maybe if I lived through this night I could do something about that.

But of course we wizards have to appear all knowing, at least that is what the propaganda literature we subscribed to said. Even though I was not sure, I had to seem like I was for Daniel…and for myself.

"Of course." I lied. "Watch out for yourself bro." I said as lighthearted as I could muster.

"You too sis." He said nodding before going back to his truck carrying the case and driving off. I watched him turn the corner out of sight and then put all those thoughts out of my mind until all this was resolved. I had other things to focus on and time was becoming more of an issue.

I realized that there were still aspects of information and communication that I needed to pull this all off and thankfully I had the foresight to set a means to achieve this. Of course since I did not have the access to the internet or cell phones I was forced to improvise with a magical world equivalent. On the bright side instead of being trapped with a two-year data plan all I needed was an occasional pizza, or a few packs of Twinkies.

I pulled together a small amount of magic and then released the power as part of a summoning spell. "General Toot, I have some Twinkies here with your name on them."

True the process of summoning was hardly as fast as dialing someone on the other side of the planet and immediately talking to them, but then again it was hardly as long as waiting for your favorite author to put out their next book either. Within a minute of my magical call there was a red streaking comet flying down out of the sky and straight toward my car. The unwrapped Twinkies never had a chance…

With his sweet tooth momentarily sated, and after a quick count of my fingers to ensure they were all still there, I looked to Toot who sat casually sated on the passenger seat with one hand wiping the last drips of whipped cream from his lips while his other rubbed his stomach. He turned to me with a smile. "Oh hi Molly, when did you get here?" The eighteen inch sprite asked me with a true sense of surprise. No one ever doubted the single-mindedness of beings of the Faerie world.

"Um for a little bit." I said not wanting the sprite to feel self conscious or let him understand I knew his weakness for food.

"Wow, would you like a Twinkie?" He asked looking around but of course there was only the wrappers left from all three packages.

"No thanks." I said. "I'm on a diet." I tried to get him to stop looking for more Twinkies so I could focus on my own purposes. I took a breath and decided to ease my way into it.

"What have the ZaZaGuard learned lately of the magical problems facing Chicago?" I asked wondering if the sprite would even recall the mission orders he had agreed to. I also wanted to make sure I was specific enough to not get bogged down with traffic reports and such.

Without a pause he responded. "We have maintained surveillance on all the required targets and completed the underground reconnaissance you directed." He said surprising me by not only recalling my directions but obviously staying on top of these issues. But my shock was only just beginning.

"Oh and the wizard that Harry called The Gatekeeper is in town and says he is looking for you." He reported as an almost afterthought.

"WHAT?" I asked in near panic completely blowing my all cool wizard persona. "What does he want?"

There were not too many reasons why a wizard of the ruling White Council would come looking for me and I none of those I could come up with were particularly good news to me. Considering the timing of this arrival it could also be an extremely bad reason, worse even than fulfilling my execution sentence, – not that my survival was all that assured at the moment anyway.

"He merely has been asking after you and your location though none of us has chosen to provide him the answers that he seeks." Toot said proudly. It was not that I doubted the fairy, but as I was all too familiar with their loyalties could easily come into question with the right application of sugar or tomato sauce. Time suddenly became a much bigger concern and now I obviously needed some breathing room as well.

"Okay Toot first I need the finished reconnaissance map and then I need your guards to pass along a few vital messages for me." I explained quickly trying to piece things together in the face of this added complication. Why does everyone screw with the wizard apprentice?

He handed over the map and the sharpies, those showing a bit more wear and tear than when I had provided them. I guess fairies like to bite on the ends of pencils too, rather than merely restricting themselves to just every type of food product they can get their hands upon. A quick glance at the street map of Chicago showed me the appropriate scribbles I was hoping for and in combination with spy's map I probably had a good wealth of data for Marcone. This led me to my first request.

"I need the spy you have on Marcone to pass along a letter from me." I said trying to think of how I could convince the crime lord to come out of hiding and meet with me tonight. It was doubtful that he would believe some random fairy showing up on his doorstep so the wording had to be something that left no doubt that it came from me. The other messages would face similar doubts so had to be properly tailored to each audience as well. I took some scrap paper out of the glove compartment and with the same Sharpies wrote messages to three intended targets.

I sent the first to Marcone and basically explained in my rather annoying tone that his golf date said if he had any hope of reaching second base next time he better offer to buy me dinner tonight, preferably Chinese. Keeping it personal and annoying would be my best chance of convincing him the message was not a trap while the vagueness would prevent too many enemies from understanding my plan if the message was intercepted. As an afterthought I also promised to return to him what he had lost recently hoping he understood the reference to the spy's data. Since he suspected how valuable it was I figured her would either come himself or at least send a trusted agent for it.

The second letter I sent addressed to Thomas, though I did explain that if they could not find him – since he had not been one of the targets I had set a fairy spy on – then they should give it to Felecia who was one. That message was far more direct and to the point merely saying that I would reveal the identity of the White Court vampire's who killed Marcone's spy to either of them if they showed up at the consulate party tonight.

I had little doubt with Lara's pull either of them would have any trouble getting on the invitee list even at the last moment. While I did not trust Felecia, I did realize that her desire to benefit by providing this information to Lara herself would guarantee her cooperation and attendance if the fairies could not find Thomas. This was one of those problems I hoped would not come back to bite me in the ass; or anywhere else for that matter.

The last letter I sent to The Gatekeeper hoping to buy myself a little bit of time and distance to see my plan through. The problem was I was unsure what to say to him as I barely knew him and certainly did not know his current motivations. "Please leave me alone" was just not going to cut it with him if he had come here to kill me. If he had come for some other purpose then I did not want to anger him to the point of actually wanting to kill me. What was required was hopefully to get him to step aside for tonight and if I lived through all of this I could deal with him tomorrow. But how does one delay one of the most powerful wizards on Earth?

"Senior Council Member (The) Gatekeeper,

I hope my delivery fairy finds you well. The fairies of Chicago have informed me of you desire to speak with me but events currently in motion make this meeting impossible before tomorrow at the earliest. Measures of great importance are underway that reach from these city streets to the cornerstone of the Parthenon itself and bode the direst of consequences for us all if not properly attended to. I ask your indulgence to await my conclusion of this business and especially not to seek me out in Greece this night. I humbly thank you for this consideration.

White Council Apprentice Molly Carpenter"

Yeah this was like asking the executioner to be gentle but since I figured I had nothing to lose I went for it all the same. My biggest concern is that apprentices were not allowed to lie to members of the Senior Council. That was why I had to be very precise in my wording. You will note I did not say I would be in Greece, merely that I requested he not seek me out in Greece. If questioned later I could reply honestly that I did not want him wasting his time looking for me where I had no actual intention of going. If he misunderstood my wording then he would have my apology for poor choice of words but I would not truly be guilty have violated the rule on lying.

With those messages completed I sent Toot on his way just as the familiar dark brown of a UPS truck came slowly down the street toward me just as Daniel had expected. I got out of the car and flagged the driver down. Thankful he was male and willing to stop presumably for all young women obviously wanting to get his attention. It cost me a little small talk of explaining about the police barrier ahead and then presenting him with my driver's license as proof of my identity but my winning smile, and subtle 'trust me' nudges of magical emotions and he agreed to sign over my package right there.

I tossed the package, a three-foot long wrapped box, on the passenger seat of my car and headed off for my destination – The Waldorf Astoria hotel of Chicago. Though some may choose to argue, most of the residents consider this the pinnacle hotel in the city harkening back in its architecture to the 1930s and the glory days of Al Capone. Chicago still has an odd love affair with the notorious gangster.

For me on this night I knew the Waldorf would offer both anonymity and protection I needed in the sense that no one would come seeking the Rag Lady here. Sure it was not cheap, but armed with gold coins and an understanding hotel concierge the price was not really a problem.

Truth be told I was quite aware my chances of surviving this night were less than slim to none and staying at the Waldorf was one of those bucket list promises I had made to myself long ago. All things considered now seemed like the perfect time.

I checked into my room, something I learned had more acreage than my family's entire yard, and breathed deeply of the decadence the room was bathed in. Yeah I could certainly get used to something like this for myself I thought with a smile.

I placed the UPS box on the sitting room table and slowly unwrapped it. Madame Yukihyou it appeared had rather expensive taste I noted as I pulled the black and pale silk kimono out of the box and spread it out neatly on the bed in the next room. I was so taken in by the garment's feel as I pulled it from the box that I barely noticed the matching silk slippers that came with it.

The kimono's back was decorated with the face of a white Bengal tiger. I smiled wondering if this was sent as an intentional subtle message to me of some sort or just an issue of random chance.

I knew one thing though. Wearing this tonight I could never be called the Rag Lady.

For tonight I would be Apprentice Wizard Molly Carpenter.