I do not own anything written by Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima.


Sitting on her couch, Calise wriggled her bare toes in the grassy sward that covered her Niflheim apartment floor and giggled as she gazed at the video playing on her tablet, just made available to the demonic public from the imps assigned to shadow Akane and Ranma that day.

It hadn't taken the imps long to realize just what the Saotomes — Tatsunos, now that Nodoka had legally re-assumed her maiden name for herself and her son — and the Tendos had done, and they had immediately closed the distance. It was obvious that Akane was now Awakened and so seeing the true world she lived in, the way her eyes followed the unusually large number of sprites all around her even as she avoided looking at anyone else made that obvious. But she didn't have Ranma's ability to see through nonliving matter — and so long as Ranma was merged with her new Champion, she would be looking through Akane's eyes and so couldn't see through nonliving matter, either. That had greatly enhanced the imps' ability to hide up close to the pair, and they had taken full advantage of it in spite of the risk that Ranma might separate from her Champion at any moment and catch them in the act — assuming that Ranma ended up next to Akane and not back wherever she was when Akane had 'called' her, the imps hadn't been sure which would happen.

The results had been worth the risk for the entertainment value alone, and Calise returned the recording to the point where Akane had walked through the school gate, the demoness helplessly giggling at the close-up shot of the girl's stunned, disgusted, hungry expression when she'd seen all the students through Ranma's eyes. Yes, the results were well worth the risk.

Then the apartment doorbell chimed. Calise pouted as she paused the recording and set the tablet aside on the couch before rising to answer the door — that particular chime indicated her visitor was someone that she couldn't ignore, much as she might have liked to after the long, boring day she'd had at work. She understood why field agents were occasionally assigned to Records, experiencing the Hellish bureaucracy from the 'other' side was useful, but she was going to be very happy when she finished her stint and got back into the field.

She padded to the door as the chime sounded again and checked the viewer, and her pout vanished into a broad smile as she opened the door to reveal a tanned, blonde Mara dressed in a vest open to the waist with clearly nothing but skin underneath it and an inch of skin showing between the bottom hem of a tight miniskirt and thigh-high boots, all in red leather. "Girlfriend, looking good!' she enthused. "You finished with Europe for the moment?" Mara had to have been back for awhile, that wasn't normal attire for hobnobbing with European Union business elites — at least not while doing business, by now Mara was senior enough to leave most seduction work to underlings.

"For the moment," Mara replied as she stepped into the apartment. She sat down on a padded stool on the small tiled section of floor around the door and lifted a foot. "A little help?"

Calise laughed as she pulled off first one then the other of her friend's thigh-high boots. "You wore those on purpose!" she accused.

Mara smirked. "Well, maybe, though you're welcome to join me in blowing off some steam tonight." She stood and stepped onto the thick soft grass and wriggled her now-bare toes in the grass, sighing contentedly. "Your floor isn't exactly practical, but it's certainly easy on the feet," she enthused.

" 'Practical' is for my servant to worry about, it's the one that has to maintain it," Calise replied. "And Araj likes the feel as much as I do, it only grumbles about the extra work enough to maintain its preferred image as a put-upon work drudge."

Mara laughed and ambled over to the couch. Picking up the tablet, she laughed again when she saw the frozen image. She backed it up to the beginning, and chortled as Akane again walked through the gates. "Oh, yes, that one's a classic," she caroled, but then sobered, frowning as she saw the source code in the corner. "But when did the Nerima operation become public entertainment?"

Calise shrugged as she joined her friend. "Someone in Records just found this too good not to share. I suppose we could try and track it back to the leaker, but I doubt we'd manage it. Unlike the temps like me, that Pit's permanent denizens are very good at manipulating the system — whoever dumped it into the open databoards will have covered his, her or its tracks."

Mara sighed but nodded, ignoring Calise's putdown of her own capabilities — her friend was better than most at navigating Nidhogg's databanks, but compared to the professionals permanently assigned to Records she was a rank amateur. So was Mara. "True, but it's unfortunate — it may attract the attention of some of my rivals, and I could do without the unasked for interference." She paused for a moment, then sighed again and reached under a jacket flap barely covering an otherwise bare breast to pull out a paper square and hand it to her friend. "Speaking of unasked for interference," she said, "would you care to explain this?"

Calise glanced at the sheet and was hard-pressed not to flinch at the sight of a photo of a black jewel set in a silver band with red-enameled traceries, gracing a woman's neck — the choker she had arranged for Kodachi to acquire. "A pretty bauble," she said, handing the picture back to Mara.

"Yes, Jenkin's Amulet is pretty, but it's far from a bauble," Mara replied. "Why did you arrange for Kodachi to have it?"

Calise's mind raced as she tried to come up with a way to avoid the responsibility, but when the silence had stretched too long she finally shrugged. Please don't let Mara read too much into this! "It's safe enough with Kodachi," she replied, "the girl is a Sleeper so most of its powers are unavailable to her — but it will let her see what would otherwise be invisible, including Ranma. I thought that would add to the pressure on Ranma and Nabiki, maybe push them closer to accepting your offer, and when Kodachi inevitably fails to return it as promised we simply take it back and she'll owe us. I don't know what use a debt owed by a nutcase like her will be, but who knows?"

"And if Nabiki traces it back to you? What then?" Mara demanded. "She'll reject the offer if she thinks I'm forcing it on her."

"Not happening," Calise asserted. "Kodachi was the one that sought out the shop where she acquired it, and the shopkeeper whose form I wore is actually the shop's owner, and fully human. And since he watched the entire encounter through a security camera, he'll have no trouble pretending he was the one that loaned it to her. And the choker is a human artifact, no demonic influence in its creation. No, we're covered."

Mara frowned staring intently at her friend, while Calise did her best to maintain her air of nonchalance. It was hard. It wasn't precisely unheard of for a demon at their level to give unasked for aid to another demon, but when it happened the volunteer was usually angling for some sort of favor or advantage — at least when the aid was as extensive as Calise's had been. The next logical question for Mara to ask was what was in it for her friend, and Calise had no idea how she was going to respond.

But to her surprised relief, Mara only nodded and said, "Good enough, thank you."

When it became clear Mara wasn't going to continue, Calise asked, "How did you recognize it?"

"You were a little too eager to make your move," Mara replied, grinning. "I imagine you just researched its nature and capabilities. If you hadn't been so eager to play that you skipped studying its history, you would have found that I was the one that originally handed it off to Stores a few centuries ago, at the same time I handed its creator's soul off to Assignments."

Calise winced. "Careless, maybe I do belong in records."

"No, you're just little rusty and bored, nothing that won't be cured as soon as you get back in the field," Mara disagreed. "No harm done, just don't do this again — I know you want to help, but they'll have more than enough trouble coming their way from the Gosunkugis, no need to push it. So why don't you get changed and join me for a rather different cure for boredom? After those long, boring meetings pretending to be oh-so-sophisticated corporate raider, I need to get laid."

Calise grinned her assent and eagerly headed for her bedroom. As soon as the door closed behind her she collapsed on her bed, shaking in sheer relief — it looked like their friendship was going to survive her screw-up. After a few minutes as the shaking eased she forced herself to sit up. Hurry up, girl, Mara's waiting. Now, what do I have in my closet that complements that outfit? Something to show up Urd if we run into her — in style, anyway, impossible to wear a party outfit that's skimpier than Urd's typical party wear without having it masquerade as a swimsuit. A skimpy swimsuit. Not that the men would mind if Calise did try to outdo that slut, she had no idea why the traitor had broken Mara's heart by choosing Asgard, or why they'd accepted her...