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Bonding Allure [The Return Book 6 (SM, R.5)]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Sunshine Temple, Dec 7, 2018.

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    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    That's right, after 9 months of revisions.... I've got new content.

    After Tessa's rampage (and getting a new baby sister), Ranma catches her breath and looks to her family and her relationship with Usagi. In both cases things get more complicated as both Ranma and Usagi begin to be drawn into their extended family and the consequences and legacies of those. Meanwhile time is running short for the Combat Cyborgs and Mistress Mercury is worrying about where all this is going.

    ( Book 5 can be read here)

    The Return Book Six: Bonding Allure
    Chapter 1: Invitations and Impositions
    Chapter 2: Extending Family
    Chapter 3: Persuasive Outreach
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2018
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    The Return
    A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.
    By Sunshine Temple

    Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

    Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

    Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.
    http://jtemple.florestica.com/

    Temporary Backup Site.
    http://www.fukufics.com/fic/


    Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
    http://fukufics.com

    C&C is appreciated.

    Book 6: Bonding Allure
    Chapter 1: Invitations and Impositions



    Agents and officers in grey uniforms slowed to detour around a chuckling redhead in leather pants and matching jacket. Standing in the center of the junction of two hallways, a sheaf of un-folded papers were held in her hand. Much of the foot traffic for this level of the underground facility went through those two major corridors.

    The broken tiles had been replaced and most of the bullet holes in the walls had been repaired. A young teen with pastel blue hair helped direct traffic around the redheaded blockage with an apologetic smile. Rapt, her mother hardly noticed. Her shoulders began to quiver, and her wings fluttered a bit.

    "You don't have to read the whole thing right now," a third woman, just as unnaturally pale as the other two, but with loose lavender hair, dryly said.

    The redhead's daughter sighed and not so subtly tried to nudge the slightly taller woman down one of the hallways.

    "This is too rich Cecilia; some guy horned in on our sister's business when she was over here." The redhead laughed. It was a deep chuckling sound.

    "And she only found out after looking in the Yellow Pages under wizards, and she's complaining about how his advertisement is a full page ad. With color?"

    The lavender-haired woman shook her head. "BlackStone gets to the real problem with... 'Wizard' Samri Balducci later in the letter."

    "Oh?" Tail swishing, the redhead flipped to a new page while her youngest daughter shot a glare at Cecilia.

    "Ranma, you were headed to the commissary?" Cecilia ventured.

    "Yah, but it's not every day I hear from our baby sister. Ah, Doctor Butters' girlfriend helped her. Good, someone sensible enough-"

    Cecilia narrowed her eyes and plucked the letter out of the redhead's hand.

    The redhead glared; her purple eyes flickering for a second.

    "Come on." Cecilia had folded the pages once more and fanned them making a rustling noise.

    "Fine, I can finish it later." Pouting, Ranma snatched the letter. "Come along Nabiki."

    Nabiki glowered, the expression marring her youthfully adorable face. "I was the one trying to push you out of the way. Did you want to stand there until someone ran into you?"

    "Oh, it wouldn't have gone that way."

    "Your tail was out and wagging Mom." Nabiki adjusted her periwinkle and silver silk dress. "Did you expect someone to slap you on the butt to get you out of the way?"

    Eyeing the letter, Ranma murmured. "Um... I was going on my way to talk to Serenity."

    "Oh? Her and not our other guests?" Cecilia chuckled.

    "Well, she's fun and her girls are very cute," Ranma allowed as they neared the doors to the commissary.

    "Please, Scarlet's hair is a bit overdone for Misako and her dresses are too frilly and sparkly for my tastes. Though I do like their mother's taste in dresses; they are cute, if a bit plain," Nabiki said.

    "Firstly, that's not true, Misako loves that girl's hair, and you only object to Scarlet's clothes because you prefer her mate's," the redhead chided.

    Nabiki tilted her head causing her pastel powder blue tresses to swing about. "Yes, why would I prefer yukata with snowflake themes to acres of pink frills and black ribbons?"

    "You make it sound like you wouldn't happily wear the latter," Cecilia reminded. "There was that one time when... our previous mother..."

    Nabiki winced, her face clouded a bit, as did Cecilia's. Both their tails drooped in concert.

    Ranma put her arms around both of them and eased them into the commissary. "It's okay, Alexia was a monster but she's gone."

    Nabiki shook her head. "No... Cecilia... she's talking about a dress that Alexia-Mom got me... I think... I think she was trying to be nice. She didn't have Eclipse or Aurora force me into it or torment me at all."

    Their mom was a monster, but she was still.... Mother.

    "It's okay," Ranma assured, she gave Cecilia a look.

    The lavender haired woman nodded. "It came up during therapy with Lydia."

    "Doctor Du Maurier does help," Nabiki said. The physiologist was a Company agent so she could comprehend their problems; still there were things that were hard to talk to humans about.

    Ranma hugged them tighter and focused on giving them feelings of love. She knew she could have said something like: Just because she could be... kind doesn't mean she was not a monster. Or assure them that Alexia was dead.

    But the redhead knew they already knew. She did step to the side of the doorway to not block things.

    After a few moments, her daughter and sister recovered. Or at least enough that Nabiki was able to pull her mother towards the far end of the commissary where they got in line.

    Things were a bit subdued as the trio got their food. A banh mi pork sausage, pickled cucumber, carrots and daikon sandwich with pate and jalapeno mayonnaise for Nabiki, while Cecilia simply got a brownie, and Ranma filled a whole tray with a pair of banh mi, hot and sour seafood soup, rice, dessert, and other odds and ends.

    "Are you going to be okay?" Ranma asked Nabiki, while juggling her tray and the letter.

    Cecilia deftly took the letter back.

    Nabiki nodded. "Nariko and Grandma are waiting for me."

    "Ah, inspecting your blades?"

    She smiled. "Grandma wants to get some measurements on my knives and ScarletBane."

    Ranma smiled. "Right, it just happens that we have another Dantite weapon on base and she wants to compare the blades she and Master Nishina made with a certain demon spear."

    "Maybe." Nabiki gave a giggling smirk.

    After hugging her, Ranma watched her leave the commissary.

    "She'll be okay," Cecilia assured.

    Nodding, the redhead scanned the room. It was futile, if the person she was looking for was here, she would have felt her, but some human habits die hard.

    Finding a quiet spot in a corner, Ranma sat down at the table and unpacked her laden tray. Idly spooning some of the savory hot and sour soup she resumed reading the letter from her sister.

    Cecilia stood a bit behind her.

    "You’ve already read this?" Ranma asked, then chuckled. "A birthday party. She crashed some kid’s birthday party?"

    "Yes, and yes she did." Cecilia glanced at one of the exits to the commissary. Her tail twitched a bit on sensing her daughter Priscilla.

    "And Eve read it," the redhead stated.

    "Of course, Lady Pluto delivered it to her."

    Ranma snorted. "Eve’s the first to read anything regardless. Puu giving it straight to her just saved time all around."

    "Oh?" Cecilia frowned. "Does Eve intercept all your inter-dim communications?"

    "It’s not like I have that many people writing to me from other worlds." Ranma put a bit of chili paste into the seafood soup. "Our sister aside, it’s not like Grandma or Sun write all that often."

    "Sun? Wait…" Cecilia paced to Ranma’s other side. "You don’t mean Sailor Sun?"

    "Yes, that was before we found you." Ranma tapped the table with her spoon. "Hell, that was before Eve turned. Has it been that long?"

    Bending forward to put a hand on her sister’s shoulder, Cecilia smirked. "Please, we’re still babies by the standards or our extended family. Even our guest is very young and she’s been a demon for a few years."

    "And Yohko had experience before being turned," Ranma murmured.

    Cecilia studied her sister. "This Sun’s a version of you, but still human?"

    Ranma waggled her hand noncommittally. "She’s a Pattern Silver."

    "They’re close enough to human. Isn’t her husband an alien prince anyway?"

    "Yeah, that and going back to his family’s homeworld and raising their daughter Akiko is keeping her pretty busy."

    Cecilia turned and nodded to her waiting daughter. "You know…"

    "Yah, I know it’s not a coincidence that Yohko’s visiting. At least we had a couple months warning."

    "But between Battle of Ottawa and Tessa's summoning scheme we've been a bit busy," Cecilia looked about. The Fallen's incursion into the base did not reach the Commissary but there had been plenty of damage.

    "At least it accelerated us getting Site C setup."

    Cecilia nodded. "Priscilla has been trying to get my attention, and I really should get going."

    "I'm fine," the redhead waved off her sister.

    The lavender-haired succubus gave her a hug before meeting up with her daughter.

    Ranma resumed her lunch and eventually finished the letter. She laughed a few times and felt a tinge of concern. She conceded her baby sister had more experience with the supernatural.

    Yellow Pages issues aside, BlackStone had been a professional wizard for far longer than Ranma had been a demonic mercenary. Though if she were going by time in the field, she would have to admit that the Pattern Silvers had more experience.

    Please, let's not kid ourselves, while I didn't see how they performed in Ottawa, Eve's girls did. Serenity took out a shoggoth herself. Where I got tackled and blew up my Jammers when I faced one and the Canadians had to use a tank,
    Ranma thought to herself as she finished a sandwich.

    And then there was Serenity and her girls teleporting into Tessa's summoning.
    The demon's tail curled as she remembered the battle. Specifically, Serenity using her scepter to spear giant nightmare monsters with beams of blinding light.

    Ranma smiled, Lady Mars' service also played a part. It was not every day one got to see Amaterasu's will in full display.

    "My, the food here must be good," a voice interrupted the redhead's daydream.

    Ranma cocked her head and looked over her… she was not sure how they were related. Given the visitor was of House RedStorm's royal line, and the founder of that polity was a daughter of BlackSky there was a blood link.

    "It is. One of the perks." Ranma nodded at the lithe brunette. Her hair was braided up in a pair of rings. She wore a flowing silk, black cheongsam with silver trim and little ruby lightning bolts at the collar. A long bundle of red silk over two meters long was carried on a sling over one shoulder.

    "Mind if I sit?" Teal eyes studied the redhead.

    "Sure, Yohko." She gestured to a chair. "Where are your girls?’

    "Sleeping in, they had a late night training."

    "More like an early morning." Ranma gave a vicious grin. "How’d they enjoy their first helicopter op?"

    Yohko snorted. "You don’t train by halves do you?"

    "Nah." Ranma paused to have some soup. "This was me taking things slow."

    Tilting her head, Yohko sat down.

    "I’m serious, ask around about the training my baby sister went through." The redhead gave a low laugh.

    "The arcanist?" Yohko asked.

    "Wizard."

    The brunette murmured. "Still, it was handy that you were able to whistle up air-assets for training."

    "You don't work that closely with the Company?"

    Yohko glanced about. "I'm not a full-time contractor."

    Ranma nodded. "Don't worry, it's not like you've got a bunch of agents babysitting you."

    Her teal eyes sparkled. "Please, we both know that all Company visitors, human or non-human, special contractor or no, get escorts. They spy on everything."

    The redhead finished her soup. "Certainly, but you don't have to worry about a bunch of agents babysitting you," she repeated, with emphasis.

    "Ah." Shaking her head, Yohko gave a sly smile. "Full time has its rewards?"

    "A few," the redhead shrugged. "But being independent gives a lot more flexibility."

    "Yes, I may settle down as my girls are getting older," Yohko paused. "Maybe go to Silvana or somewhere else in House BlackSky."

    "I'd like to visit, maybe when things calm down here."

    Yohko tapped the table. "Yeah, you've had a crazy year here." She gave the younger demon a contemplative look. The redhead had a veritable flock of daughters and a clowder of sisters.

    It was a bit intimidating to find such a young brood mother with such a large extended family. And one where there was no senior brood mother over the redhead and her sisters.

    No wonder DarkStar was Grandmother BlackSky's favorite.

    Eyes shifting, the redhead's tail flicked. "I didn't ask for this," she soothingly said.

    Yohko smiled. "No, but you did make the best of it," she purred. "You do know how sexy you are?"

    Ranma blinked and looked down. "Huh. Yeah, still a succubus."

    "Not that." The brunette snorted. "I mean the easy confidence and command, without coming off as some spoiled, prissy princess."

    The redhead coughed.

    Purring, Yohko's tail swished. "First time being hit on?"

    The redhead looked down and flushed. "Well... all the succubae I've ever met are either grandma, daughters, nieces, sisters or... food." She smiled, revealing her fangs.

    "Oh."

    "Come to think of it... Alexia was my cousin so all those poor minions I ate were first cousin once removed..." Ranma brightened. "Yup, that makes you the most distantly related succubus I've met!"

    Leaning forward, Yohko's smile widened. "We might have to do something about that."

    "Visiting home, er the Home Plane? That would be nice, but me and my girls will need some time off...." Ranma took a bite out of her second sandwich.

    Yohko looked coy. "There are other options."

    "Oh?" Ranma met her gaze then turned to the side. "Senny!" She waved.

    A tall, almost willowy, woman crossed the room. Her features were pale and statuesque, but not the unnatural succubus pallor, or sharp features of the redhead. Long silver-blonde hair was pulled up into two inter-braided buns on the back of her head before spilling down her shoulders in a pair of long tails.

    A silver jacket, just a tinge darker than her tresses, was open over a cream-colored blouse with heavy decolletage in front. A matching silver skirt managed to conceal more of the tops of her stockings than was given by first impression.

    She strode closer, white pumps clicking on silver-chased toes and metallic silver heel spikes.

    "You were looking for me?" she asked the redhead. Her smile beamed out, complimented by the relatively understated cosmetics that focused on drawing to her eyes and lips.

    "Senny?" Yohko asked.

    "Yes, that is a.... new one," Serenity's attention went between the two brood mothers. "Ah, your new friend, Ranma?"

    "This is Yohko of House RedStorm; she and her daughters are visiting," Ranma said as she motioned for Serenity to take the seat beside her at the table.

    Yohko's tail swished at that. "And you're the Lunarian Queen," she bowed her horns to Serenity.

    Taking the offered chair, Serenity gave a little sigh. "Am I that obvious?"

    "You might not have your calling card on your forehead," Ranma purred. "But you certainly taste that way."

    "You two are tasting me?"

    Yohko waved. "More like smelling, but saying your odor is recognizable is not exactly complimentary sounding is it?

    "It's not a bad smell, it's a very enticing one," Ranma turned so her knees were closer to Serenity's.

    The queen smiled and looked at the depleted tray. "And here you are after such a light meal."

    Yohko chuckled.

    "I do have some experience in managing hungry little demons." Serenity squared her shoulders and was just tall enough to loom over the short, but not petite, redhead.

    Ranma put on a faux pout as she snaked her tail over to Serenity.

    "You do," Ranma purred. "You all moved into the new place?"

    Serenity gave the teal-eyed demon a slight glance. "Yes, Meiou is still getting escape plans setup. I'd say she's paranoid but..."

    The redhead nodded. "You know, you could have moved onto my street."

    "And put all the Company's high value assets in one place?" The Moon Queen laughed. "Your sister would hit you for suggesting that."

    "Eve wouldn't... hit me," Ranma pouted.

    "Maybe not, but I know she finds Succubus Street risky enough."

    "Succubus Street?" Yohko asked.

    "Eve, Cecilia, and their girls live just down the road from where I live with my girls."

    The brunette demon nodded. "Right, centralization allows for more efficient defense and access control, but it makes a bigger target."

    Sighing a bit, Serenity eyed her. Age was hard to tell with succubae, but the Japanese woman had an air of more maturity and age than the redhead. "Is every succubus an expert in... tradecraft?"

    "I have been a contractor for a while, more independent than some, but similar job," Yohko shot Ranma a look. "Though I specialized in Pattern D's who didn't play nice."

    "And even those of us who aren't 'on the job' have to live among humans, which requires being able to hide our true nature."

    Serenity rolled her eyes. "Ranma, you do the bare minimum to not look blatantly demonic."

    "Still!"

    Before turning to Yohko, Serenity gave Ranma a smile. "How long have you been a well... demon hunter?"

    The brunette gave a fanged smile. "Since before I was turned."

    Serenity looked the brunette over. She was not sure on the etiquette here. Was asking how someone was turned a sensitive topic? It could be very traumatic, such as how Ranma, most of her daughters, and Cecilia and all of her daughters got turned. For that matter, Eve's daughters were also turned during battle.

    "How'd you get turned?" the redhead blurted out.

    Yohko looked a bit embarrassed. "A dumb teenager got in over her head and tried to banish the wrong demoness. My grandmother, my human grandmother was... not happy."

    "You attacked a succubus and got turned?" Serenity frowned.

    "There was more to it than that. For one Mom's really powerful and... patient," Yohko blushed. "At least my dating life got better, which made both my new and old mother happy."

    "Yes, succubae seem to have little problem dating," Serenity glanced to Ranma. "Normal succubae," she teased.

    Ranma stuck out her tongue.

    "Both were happy?" she then asked Yohko.

    "My mother, my human mother, was always... sexual. She gave me a package of condoms when I was sixteen."

    Serenity coughed.

    "Hey, I was boy crazy back then," Yohko's cheeks tinged and she caught Ranma's eye. "Not... that I am 'boy' crazy now. Also... I obviously wasn't that boy crazy even as a human."

    "Obviously?"

    Yohko worked her jaw. "Oh. Um... well... how to put this..." Her eyes went to the silk bundle she'd propped up next to her.

    "What... did your magical powers only work if you were a virgin?" Serenity blinked at the teal-eyed demon's sheepish nod.

    "Oh... no wonder your human grandma was mad."

    "Granny Madoka was more than mad. I mean her own daughter, my mom, couldn't be a Devil Hunter because she was pregnant with me. The mantle had to go from my grandmother to me. And now I was a demon, and worse a sex demon? Who ever heard of a virgin succubus?"

    Serenity chuckled. "Yes, imagine such a thing."

    Ranma blushed.

    "So... how bad did it go with Granny Madoka."

    Yohko put her hands on the table palm down. "Adopting my friend Azusa helped. It was complicated but..." The demonic hunter bit her lip. "Azusa was training to be a devil hunter and had been... my sidekick. She's the 109th Devil Hunter now."

    "I'm sorry." Ranma put her hand on Yohko's.

    "Grany Madoka still talks to me. She... um, I'm not the one she blames." Yohko gripped the redhead's fingers. "Funny thing... I should have been, the 109th Devil Hunter."

    "But your mother..."

    "Yeah, she got pregnant with me too early. Though I don't think I was conceived her first time."

    "Oh." Serenity gave a sour expression. "She blames your mother for not being a virgin?"

    "She blames both my mothers!" Yohko looked to Ranma and gave a little smile.

    "If my human mother had taken up the mantle. And had fought she and grandma could have trained me. I would have been stronger, would have been wiser. And I wouldn't have fallen to some temptress."

    Serenity could just feel the wave of sympathy going from the redhead to the brunette.

    Yohko gave Ranma's hand a pat. "We can't all be the result of magical reincarnation."

    "It's overrated," Ranma and Serenity echoed.

    The brunette shook her head. "Magical girls."

    "Hey!" Ranma groused.

    "Its' not all bad. My human mother loves seeing my girls."

    "And given they're succubae, her sexual attitudes probably mean she's the fun grandma," Ranma offered.

    "Yes, but as much as my daughters love Granny Sanyoko, she's still only..." Catching Serenity's gaze, Yohko trailed off.

    "Human?" Serenity asked.

    "There is a gap between our kind and your kind," Yohko awkwardly looked to Ranma for help.

    The redhead frowned and finished her soup. "My last relationship was... challenging. That she was human wasn't the only problem, but it... contributed."

    Serenity put an arm around the sad succubus's shoulder. The shorter woman leaned on her.

    Yohko turned away. "Um, there was another reason why I wanted to talk."

    "You didn't just want to flirt?" A bit of a smile crossed Ranma's face

    "Well, we got to talking and..." Yohko pulled out a black gilt-edged envelope and placed it on the table.

    Recognizing the sigil embossed in wax on the black Ranma tilted her head. "Grandma?" she looked at the surprisingly slim envelope.

    "I can guess what it is," Yohko took out her own black envelope.

    The redhead was already slicing off the edge and pulling out a cream slip of paper filled with a very neat set of Hiragana characters.

    "BlackSky knows Japanese? And calligraphy?" Serenity asked after Ranma handed her the short message.

    Yohko gave the silver-haired woman a perplexed gaze. "Grandma BlackSky is the mother of RedStorm, the head of my House. She rules directly or indirectly the better part of a continent."

    "She invaded this world." Ranma reminded. "And used my death to destroy a rival and further her dealings with your Mother."

    Yohko nodded. "BlackSky is."

    Serenity picked at the letter. "And she's inviting herself over for dinner?"

    "Oh no, she's just expressing an interest in meeting both of us again, and invites us over to Silvana, but is more than understanding that our busy schedules would not allow us to attend."

    "And she just happens to imply that she would not be insulted if you made an offer that was more convenient to you." Serenity shook her head. "I'm Japanese too, we all know about politeness games and saving face."

    Ranma snickered.

    "Okay, maybe not all of us," Serenity added.

    "I can be plenty polite, diplomatic even," Ranma crossed her arms.

    Serenity nodded. "Sure."

    "I was diplomatic with that scary fae queen, even got a deal out of it."

    The moon queen's eyes met Ranma's purple ones and she gave a tiny inquisitive look. The redhead nodded ever so slightly

    "You mean when that queen's leg breaker tried to phone home for support and figure out why she-"

    "He," Ranma interrupted. "At the time," she added to Yohko.

    "Why he had been sent here, when it turned out that another fairy queen sent him over?"

    Yohko's hand played against the bundle of red silk she had leaned against the table. "Right, can you summarize what you're talking about?"

    "You how over a month ago there was a... gas explosion to the east of Toronto?" Ranma asked.

    "You mean when some terrorists angry at Canada's middle eastern meddling prematurely set off an improvised fuel air bomb they had made out of some tanker trucks they had staged near a hospital they had planned to destroy?" Yohko flatly recited

    "Hey, I don't write the cover stories. I mean the guys in Public Relations Section make sure to keep me well away from the media."

    "They really do," Serenity added. "It's a challenge given all that red hair."

    "Says the woman with all the blasts of brilliant glowing light."

    Yohko shook her head. "Right... some Pattern F bigwigs sent you an asset to help you kill whatever it was you two blew up in London, Ontario last month."

    "It was more than just us," Serenity assured.

    "And the asset was a powerful Prime, a full blown wizard."

    "And from the pronouns, and that I'm the first succubus you've met not of your brood, you turned him."

    Ranma gave a smug smile. "Sister."

    "You made a fae queen's wizard asset..."

    "Her knight," the redhead corrected.

    "Her knight into your sister? And this queen didn't flay you?"

    "I'm pretty sure Mab's quite happy with the results."

    Serenity shook her head. "She gets insufferable like this."

    Yohko blinked. "Oh, her. You did that... to Mab. "

    "You've met?"

    "My mother told me about her, from her mother." Yohko exhaled. "Okay, that's pretty impressive."

    "Don't encourage her," Serenity mock sighed.

    "Hey, I was also diplomatic with you."

    "Are you talking about the deal to train me or the insurance deal."

    "I got better with those," Ranma's tone was sheepish. "But no, I'm talking about how I treated the Ami situation."

    Serenity quirked an eyebrow. "You mean how you haven't eaten my friend?"

    "Your friend who is playing evil Mistress and doing naughty things in Japan. I've been exceedingly polite with her."

    "Dare I ask?" Yohko asked.

    "My friend Ami was- is- "Serenity corrected herself with a snarl. "A magical girl. Six months ago, she got corrupted by the same bozo who got this one all demony." She waved to Ranma.

    "And she's running around being a dark magical girl?"

    "She thinks she's saving me from dark influence, and learning how to make us stronger, better able to fight what's coming." Serenity flexed her right hand and then clenched her fingers.

    "Oh... "

    The table grew silent for a bit.

    Yohko gave the redhead a wistful look then shrugged. "You know, when Grandma visits..."

    "You're assuming BlackSky will get her wish and they'll setup a dinner thing?" Serenity asked.

    Both demons chuckled. "The brass here want to keep her, and by extension her spawn happy," Yohko said.

    "Yeah, not to mention Jacob and Stillwater see this as a way to learn more about the succubus Homeplane," Ranma added.

    "I'd bet Eve already knows and is ironing out all the logistics and planning," Ranma chewed her lip. "Picking a location will depend on a lot of things, like how many will show up, and how private it'll have to be."

    "Not just that," Yohko gave the redhead a coy smile.

    "Oh?"

    "It might be best if you brought a date to this dinner; to keep Grandma from meddling." Yohko then pointedly turned to Serenity.

    The silver-haired Senshi coughed. "Um..."

    Ranma gave her a wry smile.

    ***************
    .

    Shaking some snow off her coat, Ranma slipped into the booth in the back of the Red Turtle. She rolled her shoulders as a waiter put down a glass of water and a small glass of scotch. The redhead took a sip and sighed with relief.

    The two girls already in the booth exchanged a glance.

    "Long day?" the short-haired blonde asked.

    "I'm not late," Ranma assumed.

    "That's not what Sam meant," her pony-tailed brunette companion said in a sing-song.

    The pale redhead put down her glass.

    "You're still in work-mode," the brunette continued.

    Ranma looked down. "I was in training today. I'm wearing bustier and skirt today. It's been a long time since I wore leathers into combat."

    "It's not that," Sam teased. "It's your face."

    The demoness blinked.

    Sam sipped her hard cider. "You look all 'mom', like you're trying to pass as having teenage daughters."

    "Nah, she only looks like late twenties when she does that, she looks older now," Naoko shook her head and idly twirled the glass of mead.

    "Oh, that!" Purple eyes widened in realization. And she eased some of the slight wrinkles and age-lines from her face.

    The two looked expectant.

    "JTF2 had a visitor in this week to augment their Unarmed Combat Instruction. And Major Sifton invited me up to audit." Ranma gave a little smile.

    Naoko leaned forward. "Who was it?"

    Ranma looked eager. "Grand Master Chae Hung-Jun. He's a primary student of Jun Mu Kwan founder of Lim Chae-Kwan."

    "Um?" Sam asked.

    Naoko paused then thought for a bit. "That's Hapkido right?"

    "Yes! And from a Master in offensive techniques for joint locks and throws. The guy really knows leverage," Ranma said eagerly.

    Sam nodded. "Okay, I can see why you'd love to study under someone like that, you are a giant martial arts geek."

    Ranma snorted and sipped her drink.

    "But that doesn't explain why you look like you're nearing forty," Naoko added.

    Sighing, the redhead slumped in her chair. "It's easier that way."

    "Easier?"

    "People my age don't normally have their own schools, let alone my skill in martial arts. Less questions if it looks like I've had a couple more decades of experience." She looked at her glass with a little frown.

    "You also had to hide that you were... you know," Sam gestured to where Ranma's wings would be.

    "I wonder if Master Chae knew you were holding back?" Naoko pondered.

    Ranma nodded. "A... young female instructor from a very -well- select Japanese school that vanished years ago, who just happens to also be training Canadian special forces? It didn't take much after warm-ups for him to know something was up."

    "Gee, it's like you were dealing with a grizzled old martial arts master," Naoko dryly said. "Did you at least pretend to be, not abnormal?"

    "I wasn't blatant," the redhead stated. "Sure, my joints are at the... upper limits of human norms, and most pain compliance techniques don't really work on me. Though he did find a nerve that does trigger a reaction. That alone was worth the visits."

    "That's good," Sam sipped from her bottle. "Did you bring any of your girls?"

    "Not... every day."

    "Having a gaggle of female students all with similar... builds would be suspicious?" Naoko asked.

    "They are related to her, and their builds aren't all the same. Nariko is willowy, Yuki, well Nabiki, is petite, Misako is more buxom, Akane is more athletic, and Ukyou is more... elegant."

    "There's nothing wrong with saying Ucchan's very pretty in a specific way," Ranma grinned.

    "Bifauxnen is the Japanese word for when a woman is pretty but in a more androgynous, well, masculine way," Naoko said.

    "Like how she wears suits in a more masculine cut?" Sam took another drink.

    Ranma smiled. "It's not just bringing in a mess of people. The class wasn't for me, I was a guest. Really, I brought my girls so they could learn a bit... and as demonstration partners," the redhead gave an evil little smirk. "How have things been with you girls?"

    "Not that different from the last time we met," Sam said.

    "Yeah, not much changed in two weeks. School, hanging out at the weekend, homework." Naoko gave Ranma a contemplative look.

    "Dropping out of school didn't make things easier for me. Not like Eve lets us slack off," she murmured.

    "Is it dropping out if you're doing it for military stuff?"

    "And didn't your sister make you get your GED?" Sam smirked.

    "Yeah! Technically that makes you more educated than us."

    "Really?" the redhead scoffed. "I attended Furinkan High for, like, half a year. And that was the longest I'd ever been at a single school. Damn Pops." She frowned a bit and sighed. "And sure I was able to cram my way into a passing 783."

    "Out of?"

    "Eight hundred, but it's not like the test is hard, just long. And that's a better score than my little sister got when she took it."

    "This the new one, with the blue hair?" Naoko asked, then narrowed her eyes slightly. "That we never got to meet?"


    "Those were a couple of crazy weeks. I mean between Lomar and London -"

    Sam patted her friend's hand. "It's okay. But you do know what's a really good score right?"

    "It's a GED. You girls are going to get real diplomas and then go onto college."

    Naoko rubbed her forehead. "Yeah, but at that level you could apply to have those as college credit."

    Ranma gave a little smile. "Yes, Eve told me about the GED College Ready program. And Nariko has shown some interest in it, Nabiki too but..." the demon shook her head. "Heck, you girls could test out, too; get an early jump at university. Sure, Kuno doesn't run a bad school, but the place is weird, and you could get an early start."

    "Honestly? After you and Tendos, your other girls, and Tsukino and her friends left the place calmed down a lot."

    The redhead played with her drink. "Sure..."

    "We don't just mean the big stuff like monster and terrorist attacks," Sam sighed.

    "Heck, even that smarmy creep Rod Ferris and that pasty spooky guy.... what was his name?" Sam asked.

    "Hikaru Gosunkugi," Naoko supplied.

    "The waxy guy with the circles under his eyes? Looks like he never got enough sleep?"

    "That's the one, just up and transferred out one day. Maybe he was some type of zombie," Sam offered.

    "If he's the guy I'm remembering, he smelled human," Ranma said.

    "Doesn't mean he wasn't trouble," Sam said.

    "I dunno, maybe he was just some normal awkward geek?" Naoko asked.

    Sam scoffed. "Right, he hung out with Rod, and that smarmy guy just rubbed me the wrong way." The blonde looked to the redhead, expectantly.

    "What? You expect me to know if my former classmates are secret double agents?" Ranma gave a forced laugh. Janet had been an infiltrator; she had really been Usagi's friend Naru and had been sent, with her similarly altered mother, to try and capture the Moon Princess.

    She had ensnared Mercury instead.

    "Eve would know," Naoko pointed out.

    "But would she tell us?" Sam inquired.

    "Other than being quieter how has school been? Maybe you got some new people transferring in?"

    Naoko laughed. "From what we heard you're the one with the interesting visitors."

    Ranma frowned. "Misako told you?"

    "Maybe."

    Leaning forward, Sam propped her head up with her elbows. "Tell us about this new succubus in your life."

    "Eve's not going to be happy with this."

    "If she complains after reviewing tonight's footage she knows where we live," Naoko assured.

    Chuckling, Ranma took another sip. "Yohko's nice, has two kids, her girls are very cute, though Ukyou does get twitchy around them. Similar job as me. Past.... not quite as complicated as mine. And it's neat to talk to someone... who is... you know, and isn't closely related to me."

    "But?" Sam asked.

    "Well, Usagi likes her too."

    "Ooooh!" the two girls said simultaneously. "Do you have a little love triangle?" Sam asked.

    "Though I suppose it doesn't need to be unrequited, given things," Naoko added.

    Ranma gave a long blink. She chewed her lip thoughtfully. "I'm not sure Yohko would go for that... or Usagi for that matter."

    The demon's two friends smirked. "So, you two?"

    "Nothing, big," Ranma waved. "She's just accompanying me to a family dinner."

    "As a date?" Sam asked.

    "Which side of your family?" Naoko's question was more pointed.

    "Um, the out of town one. The way out of town one."

    "Really?"

    Ranma nodded. "Eve's spinning a bunch of plates getting things ready. Apparently, one of Grandma's cooks, a Gloria SpringLeaf, and another aide will be coming in a few days to help with the preparations."

    "That sounds like more than 'nothing big'," Sam noted.

    The redhead shook her head. "No no, this is merely a family dinner with my grandmother, a couple aunts, my family and some guests."

    Sam tilted her head. "I'm missing something."

    "My grandmother kind of has her own... empire, and hosting an official state visit is a bit beyond the Company's contract with the Canadian government," Ranma quietly admitted.

    "Ah... but just a family dinner with your grandmother is fine?" Naoko asked.

    "Wait... if your grandmother is an empress, does that make you some kind of princess?" Sam asked.

    "Yeah, isn't that two for you?" Naoko nodded.

    Ranma downed the last of her drink.

    ***************


    Sergeant Jared Dirac completed his checks, secured the jamming equipment, saluted, and left the office.

    Shortly after the lanky agent's exit, Colonel Jacob Edwards leaned forward, undid the clasps of his briefcase and started taking out tools.

    At his desk, Commander Stillwater watched with some amusement in his pale blue eyes. "Don't trust the young man?"

    "I would hardly have recommended his promotion otherwise," Jacob readied some slightly more... arcane equipment.

    "One could point out that people with skill-sets such as those young Mr. Dirac has should be given some extra consideration." Tapping a short memo, Stillwater gave a cool ghost of a smile.

    "Provided our counter-intelligence section gives the clear?" Jacob asked as another slight hum began to fill the room. This one prickled against the more regular rhythm of the equipment Dirac had set up.

    "And if the head of counter-intelligence is also someone with a 'special' skill-set?"

    Closing the briefcase, Jacob eyed his superior's neat desk. "You worry Captain Jarvis' opinion would be biased in this regard?"

    "I do not doubt her loyalty to this organization."

    "Her," Jacob repeated, idly scratching the scar on the back of his palm.

    "Indeed, we crossed that Rubicon half a year ago when we approved the Capitan's change."

    "The benefits of giving Miss Saotome a sibling have been quite solid." Jacob stood and went to a side table in his boss' office and filled three glasses with amber liquid. "Imagine the consequences for us if Miss Saotome did not have one of ours as her first sister. The temptation to seek out BlackSky, to seek out family, would be much stronger. It would be done before Miss Saotome had defined herself."

    Stillwater accepted a glass. "Does this count as too much success?"

    "The family dinner or Major Saotome’s proposal?”

    The commander took a drink. "Both have their risks. And the former alone is a considerable logistics effort."

    Jacob sat back down. "We need allies to survive what is coming." He turned his glass, his expression sober.

    "Like the Winter Queen?"

    "If I had to choose, I think Pattern Ds are preferable to Pattern F. But we shall see."

    "What of Pattern Silvers?"

    Jacob sipped. "After Ottawa and London, I am less concerned about Miss Tsukino and her team. However, Miss Mizuno and hers are more of a concern."

    "The reports from Tokyo are worrisome." Stillwater put his glass down next to the memo and frowned. "Perhaps we-"

    There was a knock on the office's solid door.

    Stillwater checked the security feed and nodded to Jacob.

    Picking up a slim device, the tall, spare man stood and unlocked the door.

    An auburn haired woman in a grey WIC uniform with a white lab coat stepped into the office.

    After closing the door, Jacob wanded the humming device over the officer.

    Her lips quirked after the inspection finished and she stepped up to the desk and saluted.

    "Please, take a seat, Major Saotome," Jacob said after returning the salute.

    Nodoka took a chair before the desk.

    Jacob handed her the third glass.

    She sniffed and gave a quizzical look. Her memo, her request was the only paper on the commander's desk.

    "You joined our organization for one reason," Jacob said without preamble.

    "To find my child."

    "To find your son," Stillwater corrected.

    "Technically, the Company did find your ex-husband and your daughter. But a reasonable person could be justified in taking issue with the time it took and the results."

    Nodoka took a sip. "On balance, I find reuniting with my daughter more than acceptable."

    "And it's not just her," Stillwater said.

    "Miss Dresden is alone. Well not alone, but without support who understands her condition."

    Nodoka frowned. "Her half-brother is the closest to understanding; they have similar urges."

    "Your daughter, your eldest daughter is planning to visit her."

    "Yes, Sir." Major Saotome nodded.

    Silence entered the room as the three mercenary officers thought. There was the clink of glasses being put down.

    "Your proposal is not without risk," Stillwater eventually said.

    "I am willing to submit to Dr. Du Maurier for examination," Major Saotome said.

    "That is good to know, if not strictly necessary." Jacob allowed. "Captain Lydia Du Maurier's expertise is not... fully applicable here."

    "A counter argument could be made, Sir," Nodoka said. "While her research is in NH psychology, Dr. Du Maurier has spent more time helping humans with post battle trauma. Not to mention her direct experience with my family."

    "And since she is already read-in she is less of marginal increase in security risk," Stillwater stated.

    Nodoka nodded at the commander's subtext. "Like how Captain Jarvis could be brought in?"

    The two senior officers exchanged a look. Faded green eyes met pale blue. "Not exactly," Jacob said.

    "With the Captain, we could make that decision with our own authority, our inability to do that with your proposal is, for several reasons the main point of contention."

    Nodoka finished her glass. "Yes sir, I am well aware that I will have to petition a higher authority to get my request."

    ***************


    Snow beat against the tall windows of the lodge. The long building stood on side of a hill giving a view of a meandering river valley. The interior was rustic, but with polished wooden floors and walls complete with open rafters, a full kitchen, and an adjacent grilling and other outdoor cooking under extended eaves and wind shields.

    Wood smoke and the scent of cooking meat wafted into the hall rising and falling with the wind. Nearly a dozen banners periodically rustled whenever someone went in or out the doors.

    A redhead in a slit calf-length purple dress stood before the windows, watching snow cover the trees in a fresh layer of fluffy whiteness. Her hair was teased and curled to a customary wild mane, and accented with obsidian earrings in silver settings and matching necklaces.

    A statuesque woman with long, tightly plaited, silver hair glided next to her in a tight white gown. "Are you nervous?"

    The redhead turned and flashed a cocky grin. "Why would I be?"

    "Because you're meeting your grandmother," Serenity's eyes went to one of the dangling banners that had a black field with half a dozen silver four-pointed stars arcing across on the upper half and thin grey lines radiating out from the bottom edge.

    "I've already met her."

    "And two of her daughters." Serenity turned to a pair of rippling banners. One with burning golden clouds that made burning rivers on black cliffs with silver thread emphasizing the shadows. The other had descending arcs of grey motes falling onto on turbulent ocean. Both banners bore gold trim.

    The redhead shrugged. "CloudFire and AshRain sound nice enough."

    "Demon names." The silver-haired woman shook her head.

    "Really, we're going there, Serenity?"

    "Why not? Apparently I warrant a fancy flag."

    Ranma turned to study the silver-chased golden crescent moon on a shimmering white background. "It does look nice. Very simple."

    Serenity chuckled. "I don't know if Puu pushed for it or if your sister thought it was proper."

    "She made sure the Canadian coat of arms was up."

    Serenity turned and looked at the banner in the far corner by the entrance. "It's rather... busy." With the lions, unicorns, crowns, flags, maple leaves and spears, the Canadian heraldry was far more complicated than the other banners combined.

    The only one that came close was the Company's logo, that was across the hall from the Canadian banner, with its grey globe surrounded by three symbols of warding alternating with the letters W, I, and C on a black background.

    Ranma followed her date's gaze. "It's kind of ironic, Grandma and her people speak Latin, well a Latin, but it's the Canadian's that actually has Latin on it. 'A Mari usque ad Mare'."

    "Meaning?" Serenity asked watching a group of agents and other... guards organizing tables and setting places.

    "From sea to sea."

    "Huh, rather manifest destiny of them," Serenity absently said as she studied the two remaining banners. One bore a familiar four pointed purple star outlined in Silver on a field of dark grey

    The last bore sleeting red lightning bolts over a grey mountain.

    "Where is Yohko?" Serenity asked.

    "Helping her girls get dressed," Ranma said, looking towards the kitchen as her tail swished about.

    "And your girls?" Serenity asked.

    "Ukyou's helping Mother and Gloria SpringLeaf with the cooking. And Gloria's being very patient in letting her practice her Silvan Latin," Ranma added with a smile

    "And the others?" Serenity noticed that the redhead was leading her towards the kitchen.

    "Nabiki and Nariko are with the librarian who came with Gloria, or maybe SharpSleet."

    Serenity raised an eyebrow.

    "She's an officer... or maybe a non-com in their military. She's in charge of some of the guards that came over." Ranma gestured towards a group of succubae who were helping organize things.

    They wore polished armor of a glossy almost ceramic looking material fashioned in interlocking plates that looked a bit like lorica segmenta. With some extra embellishments and skirting that Serenity found a bit uncomfortably similar to her own Senshi's battle uniforms.

    Wings and tails poked out from slits in the back of the armor. And little jeweled pins were set in their hair and earrings dangled in what had to be some sort of display of rank or merit.
    Some had slung rifles with long shining wood stocks while others had glaives with oddly gleaming blades.

    "They're getting along with your mercenaries?" Serenity asked.

    Ranma chuckled. "Seems like it. Though I'll admit the whole idea of the House Guard is a bit weird. I mean it's not like BlackSky needs a bodyguard, even a whole legion."

    "I have the Guardian Senshi," Serenity countered.

    "Yeah... but they're not just your bodyguards." Ranma took her arm. "And they were very helpful in the beginning."

    "Not just then," Serenity admitted.

    "And where is Mina?" Ranma asked looking around the room, hand held to her brow.

    Serenity shook her head. She knew the redhead could smell if Minako were here or not. "With Puu, watching the arrival site."

    Ranma looked up at the banners. "Is that the first impression we want to make?"

    "You think your grandmother would be offended by Sailor Pluto lurking about as she teleports in?"

    The redhead simply gave the moon queen a look.

    "Wait, we?"

    Smiling slightly, the redhead tilted her head, angling her horns. It was not quite a bow. "I suppose that's why Puu brought Minako and they'll stand back, more to make sure nothing... breaks when Grandmother and her daughters arrive."

    "And why is Eve there?" Serenity did a similar obvious look around the room and pointed out Cecilia with her daughters split between helping the troops set things up and going over to Misako to get their hair and makeup and accessories put in order.

    Ranma's cheeks colored a bit. "Protocol."

    "Really? And I thought she was there as some sort of trip-wire in case this was a trap and thus some of you could escape or have a counter-attack."

    The redhead chuckled. "If BlackSky wanted us gone..."

    "Please, you and your mercs have plots to get rid of everyone. You took out a millennia old literal Fallen Angel last month."

    "Technically, that was the Fallen's host. And you were a critical part of that plan."

    Serenity grinned with a flash of teeth.

    "Besides, if things went... wrong. Say it wasn't really grandmother that came, worst case.." The redhead exhaled. "Worse case still wouldn't result in my whole family being wiped out."

    "BlackStone?" Serenity asked.

    "It's hard having family far away," Ranma's tail curled. "I shouldn't have said things about you leaving your daughter in Japan."

    "Well... I have been talking to her more."

    The redhead nodded. "You head-butting Lartessa was something else." She then resumed taking her towards the kitchen.

    Serenity saw Doctor Saotome, apron over her formal black and grey WIC uniform, step into the kitchen from outside in a flurry of snowflakes. The older woman gave a restrained smile at the two.

    '"Flatterer," Serenity told the redhead.

    End Chapter 1

    And here we go, the first new Return stuff after Blood Debts. And it's now all inline with the "revision standard".

    There's also work on some BlackStone one shots that document her life and trials.
    I'm currently working on: "Invisible Hand", "Our Sister, the Idiot" and "Family Business".

    There's also been a mess of new art for this story (and other art that's not for this story) on my Deviant Art account.

    I'd like to thank. DCG, Ellf, Kevin D Hammel, J.St.C.Patrick, Henry Stickman, and Toxinvictoria. They were very helpful from the spelling and grammar, to World Building, to Continuity, to Characterization. They've been helping me with this project for a long time. Some of them since the very beginning.

    I'd also like to thank all the other prereaders I've had in the past for their contributions, and everyone who has commented and enjoyed my stories.

    Thanks all.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2018
  3. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    As a bonus I just got in some art that seems very appropriate.

    Cecilia, Ranma and Eve.

    [​IMG]

    I'm very happy with this one, once again Scittykitty is great with their expressions.

    Link
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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    The Return
    A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.
    By Sunshine Temple

    Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

    Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

    Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.
    http://jtemple.florestica.com/

    Temporary Backup Site.
    http://www.fukufics.com/fic/


    Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
    http://fukufics.com

    C&C is appreciated.

    Book 6: Bonding Allure
    Chapter 2: Extending Family


    Serenity stared at the bodies as flakes fluttered onto her gown's shoulders. Limbs splayed, skin flayed, each was racked on a metal frame. Empty eyes stared at her as the corpses hung over a slow, smoldering fire.

    There was a ratcheting noise as the racks rotated from horizontal to vertical. Skin crackled but flesh did not burn. No, the demonic cook, a tall green-haired woman with red skin and silver eyes, worked the racks and the coals with consummate, patient skill. It would not do to... ruin the meat.

    Serenity inhaled. The smell was enticing. Everything succubae touched was tempting, and this was one of BlackSky's personal chefs. She wore a practical dark grey dress and black apron, which were still tailored in a rather complimentary manner.

    "Oooh, are they ready?" Ranma leaned forward towards one of the bodies. She inhaled deeply nose to... snout.

    "It's a whole pig."

    "And a cow," Ukyou said, putting a brush into a bucket of sauce.

    "And a whole one of those." Serenity stepped around the racks. The metal structures were immense.

    The windbreaks and the sheltering roof helped keep most of the snow away, but they were still outside.

    "There's a very similar style of cooking on your world." The green-haired demon bowing her head to present her horns. "Vaca Entera."

    "Argentinean, I think it means 'entire cow'," Ukyou smirked.

    Standing next to her mother, Ranma laughed. "Accurate enough."

    Looking to her fellow cook, Ukyou said something incomprehensible to Serenity who dully nodded.

    The green-haired demoness smiled then answered in the same language.

    "What's wrong?" Ranma asked. "Her pronunciation isn't that bad."

    The chef's silver eyes widened slightly. "No... not much, given neither of you have spoken with native speakers," she allowed, switching to English.

    "I didn't think you knew Silvan Latin," Ranma looked to Serenity.

    Serenity blinked.

    Nodoka gave her daughter a look.

    "You could put people in there," Serenity mumbled.

    The demoness shook her head. "Different body shape, your Highness. Especially when you cut down the sternum and butterfly along the spine."

    Serenity's mood lifted as she inspected the racks. "Ah yes! Um, Gloria?"

    "Yes, Gloria SpringLeaf," she bowed again. "Racks to fit humanoids are more historical curiosities."

    "Oh? Like in a museum?" Serenity had heard of museums of old torture equipment.

    "In the central kitchen of the Upper Palace's main storage room," Gloria shrugged as she went back to tending the meat. "Getting cuts like those, whole and with enough time to cook them? That's rare, even at BlackSky's court."

    Serenity looked a bit green.

    "It's supply and demand. Do you know how expensive it is to get an entire body?" Gloria pointed to Ranma. "How many of your kills did you save off the battle field? Uneaten, whole. And then cook?"

    "None." The redhead coughed then gave Serenity a bashful smile.

    "It does smell wonderful," Nodoka said.

    "Ukyou has been a great help," Gloria assured, her gaze going to each of them.

    Serenity met the direct eye contact, then nodded respectfully.

    "Ah, they're over here!" exclaimed a chipper voice. A woman with amber-colored hair cut into a neat pageboy stepped out through the kitchen door. She wore a prim charcoal-colored suit with a black bustier instead of a blouse.

    In addition to the red tail and dark horns curling up back from her brow, her skin had a slight purple tinge that was decidedly not human. Slim glasses were perched on her nose and red eyes darted about alert and amused.

    She wore a sable choker with silver edging, several intricate dangling earrings, and slim silver rings on all her fingers. A pair of delicate, tiny tattoos that were vaguely evocative of comets were high on her cheekbones.

    "Ah, hello, I'm... Queen Serenity. And you are?" The silver haired woman blinked. "I'm sorry, that sounds presumptuous."

    "Oh, no offense, it comes up with my job." Adjusting her glasses, the red-eyed demoness smiled. "I'm Mira HeartWood, aide and personal librarian to BlackSky. Pleasure to meet you."

    "Librarian?" Serenity asked after the two exchanged bows. She was never big on bowing, but after a year in Canada, she had come to miss the ritualized politeness. Sure, the succubae bowed more with their necks and their rules of etiquette were slightly different but there was a commonality.

    "BlackSky is a patron of the arts, and gives generously to the Silvan public library system, ensuring everyone has library cards. And the rest of the empire too. Not to mention her personal collections," Mira brightly said.

    Serenity paused and let her brow furrow a bit as she pursed her lips. "Of course," she eventually stated.

    "We could talk books later but..." Mira gave an apologetic look as the trio of women she had been guiding followed in after her.

    Wearing a gold-trimmed red cheongsam Yohko stepped in, one arm around each of her daughters.

    Both girls were pale, demure, and draped in frippery. The girl on the left looked a bit more delicate and wore knee-length flounced pink dress with black ruffles and bows. A set of pink stockings complimented shiny white heels. Her pale purple hair was swept back by a ruffled black hairband, while pink jewelry and pearls sparkled on her ears and neck. She clutched a porcelain doll clad in an equally frilly and pink outfit in one hand.

    Ranma, who still remembered the weapons her daughter Misako used when she was a human acolyte of the Assembly of Man, noted with interest the pink parasol with its thick lacquered handle the girl in pink carried in her right hand.

    The other young succubus wore a lavender kimono with a silver obi. Both had a subtle snowflake pattern. Her pink hair was tied up with black ribbons and dangled in curled spirals. Her makeup was more subdued, but a bit more elegant than her companion's.

    Ukyou looked between the two. Puzzlement and apprehension flicked over the platinum blonde woman's face.

    "You girls are lovely," Ranma said as she guided Serenity towards them.

    "Wow, yeah, they are," Serenity admitted as they exchanged greetings.

    Yohko beamed. "Everyone this is ScarletWings and Kon-"

    Ukyou stared at the plum-haired demoness in her pink finery. "Tsubasa? You got turned into a demon, and a girl?"

    Pink eyes blinked in mock surprise. "Why yes, Ucchan. It took you long enough," she said in a shy voice.

    "You know her?" Nodoka asked.

    "Both of them, but Konatsu, right?" Ukyou asked, and the demoness in the kimono nodded. " Konatsu only in passing. She," the blonde succubus pointed to Tsubasa. "Was... well... it doesn't matter, but she did pester me a lot when we were... both human."

    Scarlet's cheeks tinged pink. "I had a crush and wanted you to like me and I thought you'd appreciate me dressing up."

    "Dressing up?" Ranma asked.

    "Long story." Ukyou shook her head.

    Yohko stepped forward and Konatsu comforted her mate.

    "You do look cute, both of you."

    "Her style is a bit similar to Misako's," Ranma said.

    Ukyou coughed.

    "The girl with the orange hair and green eyes?" Mira asked. "She was doing an excellent job getting everyone ready." She then glanced at a silver-banded watch on her wrist.

    Brushing off a bit of snow, Nodoka gave the librarian an appraising look. She was close to BlackSky, and would know more about the demon empress' moods.

    "We should talk more during dinner!" Scarlet chirped.

    "You and Misako could swap hair care tips," Ukyou offered as her tail flicked.

    "That would be delightful."

    A few steps away Ranma and Yohko exchanged a look.

    "They are a handful," the redhead said.

    "Very much," the brunette agreed.

    Moving closer to Ranma than Yohko was, Serenity looked out at the snowy valley beyond. Flakes continued to fall in billowing sheets.

    "How's the meat look?" Ranma asked the green-haired demon. "I mean the smell alone..."

    "Oh, we'll make it in time." Gloria smiled.

    Yohko gave a slightly apprehensive look as she turned back to her daughters.


    "Nervous?" Serenity asked. "About BlackSky?"

    Yohko shook her head. "My girls and I have met Grandma BlackSky, it's just... well it's..." Teal eyes went between the silver queen and the redhead. "It a bit more formal today."

    Ranma snorted. "But this is just a family dinner."

    Rolling her eyes, Serenity turned back to watch the valley. The white-trimmed trees were peaceful as more crystalline precipitation floated down.

    Then her blue eyes narrowed.

    The snow had stopped.

    There was no tapering off or even a sudden halt; the flakes froze in midair.

    Serenity stared at a sky full of stilled crystals. An instant later, the snow resumed falling.

    Glancing back, she saw the demons, tails straighter, had tilted their heads. BlackSky had arrived.

    ***************


    Galina watched the heavy, wet flakes cling to her gloved hand. Making a fist, the snow sloughed off her fingers. A mottled, pale hood was up covering her dark brown hair as she crouched in the backside of a forest slope.

    A scarf with the same pattern as her hooded mantle and bodysuit wrapped around her mouth and lips. Each measured exhale went into the cloth and transported the warmer air down towards her back. It did more to hide the visual cloud of exhaled breath than the thermal bloom, but it helped with the latter as well.

    The wind and snowfall gave a constant, if soft, counterpoint to the rustling of the bare deciduous and evergreen trees. For a moment, Galina let her tension and focus slip. The decades of aimless surviving, of grubby mercenary work to snatch enough currency to purchase the parts needed to buy another year of life in their cobbled-together bodies weighted down on her.

    Comrade Scarlatti had been a visionary. Galina and her sisters were better than human, but in their own way, they were just as mortal. The rulers behind the Party had betrayed them, betrayed the Motherland. In the end, the Checkists had won.

    Their nation was no more. It was small consolation that the West was also falling into depravity, indolence, and decay. The West had been destroying itself for a century, there was no great victory in watching a rival's self-inflicted long-term rot.

    Arisha, her number two, still believed, still hoped. But Galina was just weary.

    Finally, she indulged in letting her mind ease off the mission: this disheartening, decimating mission. They had lost more of their number, more combat cyborgs, going up against this blonde, self declared queen and her flunkies than in any other mission. Over half of those who remained had been mauled by the demons.

    Which cost more precious, hard to source, parts. Between that and the expense of retaining their Bulgarian subcontractors for months, Galina knew they needed to finish this contract and collect in full.

    But finances were the first worry she put aside.

    Instead, she looked across the slope and enjoyed the scenery. Not as places to set an ambush or beware of one. Not in terms of defense or reconnaissance or even how the loose, but heavy, snow would affect even her ability to run.

    Dim memories of before, when she had been just a human, when she had still believed, came to her. Family. A twinge of jealousy flittered in her heart, or maybe the spherical armored nuclear battery just below.

    There was the tiniest displacement of air to her side. It all washed away as her attention, her systems, came back into sharp focus.

    A diminutive, but lithe, woman with pixie-cut hair wreathed in snow flowed up from the ground to appear next to her.

    "The perimeter, Shest?" Galina transmitted to the woman.

    "I would not recommend approaching any closer; in any direction." Shest shivered. "There are things in that dacha. You didn't see the snow stop."

    "Explain." Galina slowly shifted her position. It would be too dangerous to have direct line of sight with the large "cabin" where the demon, their client/target and others had sequestered themselves.

    "Things... things like that redheaded Tvar, but more. Vaster than her, older perhaps. For a moment the snowfall... halted." Shest exhaled.

    "Older... demons?" Galina frowned.

    "It is a feeling, I did not get closer once I sensed them."

    Galina nodded. Her orders had been clear. Any reconnaissance would be limited in the attempt to avoid detection.

    Shest paused.

    The taller cyborg felt her apprehension and nodded for the woman to continue.

    "We need more assets and knowledge with these things. Our current resources are limited, not trustworthy. Dve'nadtsat can only do so much research. She has made progress with the books our last sub-contractor had gathered but..."

    Galina had to keep from chuckling. Shest was addressing Mal de Veste. The cultist they had hired with... dubious results. Arisha still complained that the punishment Galina meted out on him was nowhere near severe enough, given the mess he had created in Ottawa.

    Shest gathered herself. Galina had shot down this idea before, but perhaps things were different now. "There are other... experts in this city. Ones not affiliated with these mercenaries nor our target. One is a young man, he should be more pliant than our last... consultant."

    "Perhaps." Galina exhaled. "But our time is limited."


    ***************


    Setsuna and Minako moved up to flank Serenity. The diminutive, green-haired Senshi nodded to her queen and gave a quick bow in her black, iridescent-accented seifuku. Minako's uniform was golden. She bore a massive sword held in a tooled, engraved scabbard on her hip. She smiled at her queen and took position.

    Ranma and her daughters stood further down the aisle closer to the double doors. Nodoka, in her dress uniform, hovered a bit behind her. By her side were Cecilia and her girls all in dresses and gowns a bit less revealing but a bit more ornamental than Ranma's brood.

    Eve and her three daughters entered through the double doors at the entrance to the hall. Morgan, still carrying her sniper rifle, was quickly brushing snow off the suit she had changed into. The Palace Guard actually gave the immense weapon some attention while Misako groused about not being able to bring her gun.

    Morgan's sisters were similarly geared up and also freshly clad in dark suit-coats, blouses and skirts. Exchanging a glance with her sisters, Eve went to Mira.

    The librarian stepped up the aisle along the middle of the double line of tables. The two women had a quick conversation and then Eve and her girls took position near Ranma.

    The pressure built. Serenity felt the same sensation when the snowfall froze for a beat, but it was closer more... familiar. She was reminded of Ranma's presence. The magical girl swallowed.

    Every demon in the hall went to one knee. Serenity felt the pull for a moment, but Setsuna squeezed her hand and the sensation eased. Taking an almost rigid stance, they gave a fractional bow to their heads.

    Doctor Saotome was the only one who hesitated, for a moment it looked like she would take a knee, but instead she remained standing.

    The doors opened.

    A quartet of succubae entered.

    Serenity stared. Power washed over her.

    First was a woman with slim black horns and cobalt blue hair tied in a heavy French braid. The fins to her tail and membranes to her wings were deep blue. Glossy black boots rang over the floor. She was dressed in a military uniform with fitted black pants, a blouse with gilt braid and a handful of ribbons and awards on her chest. There were oak wreaths rendered in gold, and embossed silver disks, but the most prominent seemed to be a ruby emblem set in silver pinned just below her neck.

    A sword was belted at her right hip. Sheathed in a scabbard with gilt accents, it had a basket hilt and a silver wire-wrapped grip. On her opposite side was an onyx-hilted dagger.

    There was little makeup on her blue-tinged, sharp, almost crisp, features. Serenity was a bit surprised at the jeweled hair pins above one ear. They seemed oddly flashy given the relative lack of adornment the demoness had.

    She walked with a plain confidence and she stopped a few paces within the hall.

    Mira raised her head. "Daughter of BlackSky, House Legate AshRain."

    Serenity's eye went to the gold-trimmed banner with grey motes falling into a turbulent ocean.

    Grey eyes, that same shade, studied the room and, Serenity observed, immediately went to Ranma.

    As one, the Alpinum Guard tilted their heads and then, with their left pointer and middle fingers extended, tapped their exposed necks. AshRain bent her neck and mirrored the salute.

    After blinking at that bit of ritual, the Moon queen's attention went to the next arrival.

    Where the first was understated to the point of stark elegance, this demon was luxuriously indulgent. Her makeup was artistically applied and was just a hair under being too heavy. In layered shades of red to orange and yellow, her hair was teased and fluffed into an enflamed coiffure. That her tresses gently wafted about heightened the illusion. Six silver horns curled up around the "flames" of her hair.

    Her figure was voluptuous with bulging curves that reminded Serenity of taut, slightly-overripe fruit. Marring these haughty statuesque features was a chin-line that seemed a bit strong as her jaw jutted a bit.

    And that her eyes glowed like miniature furnaces.

    Golden jewelry flashed at her neck, her brow, her ears and down her arms.

    She wore a flowing ruby dress that clung to generous curves. Scale-like obsidian accents adorned the clothing in accents and edging. Her be-ringed hands were demurely held forward revealing long silver talons. A heavy crimson tail weighed with an abundance of jewelry and elaborately gilt orange fins swished behind her.

    On her arm was another demoness. A sparkly silver gown clung to glossy ruby skin. Silvery hair was sculpted into a sweeping bun and a pair of ivory horns arced out from her forehead. Her makeup and ornamentation was a bit more elaborate than the flame-haired demoness'.

    Sauntering forward on gleaming golden hooves, the flame-haired demoness smiled, revealing a maw of gleaming fangs. Her ruby-skinned companion also walked on polished hooves, daringly marbled gold and silver, and had a bit more of a sway to her step.

    "Daughter of BlackSky, Censor CoudFire and her mate Liviana," the librarian announced.

    Noting the gold-edged banner with burning golden clouds, Serenity exhaled. More than being much more overtly demonic, she could feel yet more power radiating off of CloudFire.

    Serenity kept her composure. Of the daughters AshRain felt almost... normal. The power roiling from her was akin to the confident, martial aggression that roiled off of Ranma. But CouldFire seemed to revel in her nature.

    Then BlackSky arrived.

    Shining black hair tumbled down slim shoulders. The tall demoness imperiously strode in. Her black gown was the pinnacle of sleek elegance with a few twists of fabric and silver accents, that, along with intricate silver diadem, necklace and earrings, raised the whole ensemble to new heights.

    Cool blue eyes took in the room and she seemed to make eye contact with each individual person at the same time.

    This time Mira simply stood and bowed her head.

    I guess she doesn't need announcing, Serenity thought to herself. Where AshRain was a focused blade of power, and CloudFire was an indulgent inferno, BlackSky simply... was. It was like suddenly finding you were in the presence of a mountain, something so vast that it, she, defined the landscape. Her power seemed to be... higher than CloudFire's, but other than that, Serenity was at a loss on how to quantify it.

    The doors closing behind her, BlackSky's heels clicked as she stepped forward. "Please, no need to be so formal," she assured.

    The succubae rose up and the mercenaries assumed a more relaxed stance.

    BlackSky continued to stride into the hall. Her daughters fell behind her. Serenity watched as the broods coalesced around the dark-haired empress. "Yohko, Ranma, how wonderful to see you and your daughters again."

    She leaned over to hug each of the women in turn before going to their daughters.

    While CloudFire and AshRain introduced themselves to Ranma and Yohko, the ancient demoness then turned to Eve and Cecilia's broods. "Captain Eve Jarvis, when we first met you were not part of our Family, but I was impressed. So good of you to have joined us, and such lovely girls."

    Eve bowed and then introduced her daughters. AshRain nodded with interest, giving particular attention to Morgan's rifle.

    After she had finished with Eve's branch of the family, BlackSky turned to Cecilia.

    Sadness fluttered over her pale features. She pointedly met Cecilia's eye, then took in each of the lavender-haired demon's daughters before adding Akane, Nabiki, and Misako.

    "All of you, I am sorry." BlackSky bowed her head presenting her horns then bent further at the waist. "My mistaken judgment brought you all so much pain."

    She nodded to Eve. "Not to mention the life of Agent Aram Kowalski and countless others who died by Alexia's callow claws."

    Returning to Cecilia, BlackSky held out her hand behind her.

    AshRain's features paled to a slightly lighter shade of blue, but she wordlessly unbuckled her sword and put it in her mother's waiting fingers.

    CloudFire's tail stilled and Serenity looked around. The tension in the hall had suddenly spiked. The mercenaries, the brood, even BlackSky's aides, Gloria and Mira, were taken aback.

    The Palace Guard, in their gleaming ceramic composite uniforms with silver accents and gold insignia with crossed spears over a snow-covered peak, had gone still. Their hands hovering over their weapons.

    BlackSky drew the sword. A silver blade shone as she offered the wire-wrapped hilt. "Cecilia you are of my Family, twice by my measure. By my actions, offense has been given." She went to her knees.

    The lavender-haired demon swallowed. The sword felt nearly weightless in her hand. Looked down the nearly luminous edge, she recalled the Silva Succubus books. Many dealt with biology, birds and the bees and the like, but others talked of protocol and etiquette.

    Tail curling, she closed her eyes. She could not lie. Alexia had been a monster, one loosed by the demon before her. "Offense has been taken, Grandmother."

    Yohko and Eve both shifted their stances as CloudFire's eyes began to burn a shade brighter.

    BlackSky remained kneeling. "Do you require my Apology?"

    Cecilia quivered. Not since the monster that had murdered her sisters and her mother had found her house and threatened her daughters had she felt so much anxiety and fear churning her chest. Knowing Desiree had been disemboweled was a close second, but she had only seen her daughter after the fact, after that knight doctor had saved her girl's life.

    The daughter of Alexia knew there was only one answer that protocol demanded. The blade felt right in her hand. Its balance felt even better than the pieces Doctor Saotome had made with Master Nishina. Her niece's katana, ScarletBane was a masterpiece, but this was another level.

    She opened her eyes. "Yes."

    Cecilia was not surprised to find the blade had drifted closer to BlackSky.

    The empress nodded. A slight feeling of satisfaction emanated from her.

    "Left hand. Pinky out. Tip up," Cecilia stated.

    BlackSky complied, maneuvering her fingers as if she were reaching for a cup of tea. Cecilia's grip tightened.

    All eyes were on her.

    The blade lowered. The edge kissed the end of BlackSky's finger. For a moment even the luminal silver edge was held at bay, but it bit in and a brilliantly deep bead of ruby blood welled out.

    Another bead formed and the first drop of blood ran down BlackSky's pinky.

    Forcing herself to breathe, Cecilia lifted the blade and offered the sword to BlackSky's daughters.

    CloudFire stared at the streak of blood running down one side of the edge, while her younger sister snatched up her sword.

    "Really? You've seen me bleed before," BlackSky chuckled as she rose up.

    "Not in a long time, Mother," CloudFire whispered.

    "This hardly counts," BlackSky wiped the blood from her fingertip. The cut had already healed but a tiny white line crossed her pinky.

    She smiled at the crowd and briefly dipped her head. "Pardon that family business. It was vital that I addressed it." Inhaling, the black-haired demoness clapped her hands. "Now that protocol is out of the way, I can smell that Gloria and Ukyou have some wonderful dinner for us."

    BlackSky gave a slight gesture with her hands and the attention became less focused on her and chatter started to grow. Mira and Gloria went about their business, while CloudFire and her mate had started to mingle. AshRain hovered at her mother's side and sheathed her cleaned sword.

    "You didn't have to do that," Cecilia said when BlackSky turned back to her. There was far less pressure, and, despite still being in a room full of people, the interaction felt a bit more intimate.

    "She did." Ranma slipped up next her sister and gave Cecilia a hug.

    Joining the group, Eve handed out stout balloon glasses each filled with a dark mahogany colored, slightly carbonated lager. "You are too kind Grandmother." She gave a glass with a bow of her horns.

    BlackSky accepted the compliment and took a sip. "Oh, delightful. Malty, hint of caramel, touch of raisin." She swirled before having another sip. "There is a town near the summer holding of my daughter Felisia's that brews something similar, a doppelbock I believe you would call it?"

    Eve bowed her head again. "Samichlaus, a brewery in Vorchdorf upper Austria makes it, once a year."

    Releasing Cecilia from her hug, Ranma gave Eve a knowing smile.

    Nodding amiably, BlackSky looked around her granddaughter and inclined her head to Nodoka. "A pleasure to see you again. I see my trust in you with my granddaughter was well merited."

    Major Saotome gave a slight bow. "Allow me to give the apologies of my youngest. Dame BlackStone was unable to attend and she sends her deepest regrets."

    Ranma almost kept in her snort. "That's not exactly what Dresden said."

    BlackSky sipped. "Pity. We will have to make arrangements, but I know how difficult scheduling can be." She nodded to Nodoka. "I was only able to bring two of my daughters."

    "But our sisters are quite jealous of us," CloudFire smirked as she returned flashing her fangs. Liviana was at her side carrying a steel platter and the two started giving out sliced samples of freshly cooked meat on little saucers.

    "DawnStrike was quite put out," AshRain agreed.

    "Like she has room, given her standing in the Old Game," CloudFire sniffed.

    BlackSky's expression turned ever so slightly disapproving.

    "She very much did want to come." AshRain coughed. "But there was a summit with House Andromache about House Luxon's incursions into their territory. And not just DawnStrike, our other sisters wanted to come as well."

    "Though I would not be shocked if they also talked about House Elena's growing boldness," CloudFire grumbled.

    Ranma sampled some beef and nodded. "Oh? She sounds familiar. Pretty tall, slicked-back black hair. Green eyes?" she ventured.

    "Yes that's her! DawnStrike is our eldest sister," CloudFire said.

    AshRain gave a skeptical look but held her tongue.

    "She's so fond because she's already met you. Before," BlackSky said.

    The redhead blinked. "Oh, you mean in my past life. During the Invasion."

    Nodding, BlackSky helped herself to one of the pastries that were also on the platter.

    Nodoka exhaled. She knew that BlackSky was old enough to have been around during the height of the Silver Millennium. She also knew, intellectually, that BlackSky had daughters, and legions during that time. DarkStar's demonic mother Lilith was an example. But to know that at least one of BlackSky's daughters was still around, was daunting.

    "However, I believe she was not Praetor Peregrinus back then," Pluto stated as she and Venus approached at Serenity's side.

    The two Senshi bowed. Though Pluto had to remind her queen.

    "Ah, the Lunarians," BlackSky inclined her horns. "I knew your mother." She looked the statuesque silver-haired woman over. "Good," she said, seemingly satisfied with her evaluation.

    "Thank you?" Serenity blinked as CloudFire handed her a glass. She eyed the very decadent and very demonic woman.

    BlackSky gave a small smile. "Something bothers you?"

    "Uh..." she looked to Pluto. "Yeah? What are all the titles? I mean House Legate, Censor, and now Praetor Peregrinus?"

    AshRain gave a somewhat stiff smile. "House Legate is a senior general officer. In my case, I command eight legions with attached arcane, fleet, forward scout, air assets, and even a couple cohorts of the Alpinum Guard when on Field Secondment."

    "And that is?" Serenity asked.

    CloudFire looked around at the succubae troops in their polished armor. "Instead of spending all their time patrolling the Palace corridors and marching on the parade grounds, the Alpinum Guard gets to spend some time helping various Legates add strength to their legions. Before they were mountain troops before they were Mother's personal guard, and they still excel at that."

    Serenity nodded. "But air assets? You're succubae. Don't you all fly?"

    CloudFire chuckled. "Some of us fly better, others can use some special equipment."

    The Rubenesque elder demon looked to her more slender sister.

    AshRain shook her head. "Regardless. Censor CloudFire is in charge of the imperial census, hence the Latin root, finances, and gauging public morale. Hence the latter colloquial connotation."

    CloudFire gave little a salute with her glass. "Where our big sister, the Praetor Peregrinus is mother's head diplomat and Foreign Minister. She oversees all those clerks and diplomats who make sure we don't get into the wrong wars."

    "And your clerks make sure we can afford it," AshRain mildly said.

    "Ah," Serenity took a tentative sip. She was not sure what she had expected from House BlackSky, but governmental positions and what sounded like bureaucracy was not it.

    "You should visit. Silvana is a lovely city," CloudFire said.

    "We have trees and, how do you call them, funiculars?" AshRain offered.

    "What?" Serenity blinked.

    "Inclined railways," Pluto explained. And nodded to the others. "Pardon, but English is not the native language for any of us."

    "Those are the things you mention to entice her to visit?" CloudFire scoffed. "Not the opera houses or the theaters or the museums. Maybe she'd like to visit the Arcana Academy? The Domum Venari Silva Palace itself can take weeks to explore and that's only the highlights of the orchards, theaters, libraries, museums and restaurants."

    "That's your mother's palace?" Serenity politely asked.

    "Yes, translates to 'House in the Forest for the Hunt'," CloudFire waved her hand. "Mother founded Silvana on the Palace grounds as a hunting lodge. But that was a long time ago."

    Serenity absently nodded.

    "The Phlegethon river does bisect the city as it meanders down from the Romwell Alps. There are some lovely boat tours. Maybe go upstream of the city, on one of the tributaries with less trade use and visit a spa or a retreat?" AshRain offered.

    "Phlegethon?" Serenity asked.

    "One of the five rivers of Greek mythology, a stream of fire that empties into Tartarus," Eve explained. "I'm guessing the original surveyors named it after the Greek myth? Or was it the other way around?"

    "The former," CloudFire nodded. "While our river is not on fire, but the first spring snowmelt often has enough mineral content to turn the river red. Hence the name."

    "And why upstream?" Serenity asked.

    AshRain looked a bit embarrassed. "Silvana is hemmed in by the Kinitou spur of the Romwell Alps. The city itself is built on levels, downstream it flattens out, but that's where the Phlegethon forms a river delta before emptying onto the Acheon."

    "Another underworld river, or a lake in some myths," Eve supplied.

    "The latter, well, more of an inland sea. In fair weather it is easy to travel, but in winter or in storms it is quite dangerous," CloudFire explained.

    "The delta and the spreading lands makes that area of Silvana a natural seaport. Which is where our stockyards, storage faculties, and our rail hub are placed. Important but not exactly a picturesque vacation spot," AshRain affected a shrug.

    "You have an open invitation to visit," BlackSky met everyone's eyes one by one, ending at Nodoka, to whom she gave a slight nod.

    "It's not just stuffy museums, stockyards and sylvan glens." CloudFire smirked and appraised her glass before sipping. "This is a city of half a million succubae, and a tithe in humans and another tithe in other species. The fashion houses alone should tempt, whatever your taste."

    "Thank you, for the generous offer," Serenity bowed her head. "Hopefully, one day the crises here will allow me to spare the time."

    "Ami isn't that pressing of a threat?" Venus quietly asked.

    "Clothes shopping? Really?" Pluto asked.

    The golden-haired Senshi shrugged. "She didn't take everything away."

    BlackSky gave an intrigued look but did not pry.

    CloudFire studied the blonde. "Is this Ami responsible for your, well, condition?"

    Venus gave a very deliberate exhale.

    "Miss Ami Mizuno was one of Queen Serenity's associates; it is a delicate issue," Eve said.

    "She was turned evil, tried capturing her friends and experimented with making them 'better'," Ranma bluntly stated.

    "It was her and my oldest friend. They both went bad," Serenity's fingers tightened on the stem of her glass. "I trusted Ami, she was the smartest of us, and Naru was smarter than I ever knew. They both were turned. Right. Under. My. Nose."

    Venus put an arm around her queen. "They're victims too. You know she's not in her right mind."

    Flexing her fingers, BlackSky gave a single nod. "You cared for them, your love for those close to you blinded you to the dangers to what was happening." She looked at the scar across the tip of her pinky. "None of us are perfect."

    CloudFire and her mate looked a bit uncomfortable at that, while AshRain was more contemplative.

    Serenity felt her mouth go a bit dry. She finished her glass. "What did you do?"

    "Which time? When I lost my favored granddaughter during the Invasion, I blamed myself and killed an entire House. When my leniency to another granddaughter resulted in much pain, death, and a violation of all of my values... by the time I arrived she was already dead. What could I do but make Appology?"

    Her silver-blue eye looked distance. "And in the early days, before Silvana, before the Invasion, DawnStrike's older sisters..."

    The ancient demon shook her head. "I ended things before things, before they got too far." She nodded to Yohko. "And not all was lost. House RedStorm has grown into a treasured ally."

    Yohko bowed her head while her daughters listened with rapt attention.

    BlackSky bowed to Serenity. "I wish you the best in reforming your wayward friends, before this Mizuno with her conceited cleverness causes-" she nodded to Venus. "-further distress."

    Taking a new glass, Serenity muttered her thanks. She was still stunned at the idea of a demon queen hoping against corruption. She had other questions, including a couple about BlackSky's daughters, but she was still a guest here.

    Yes, she was the guest of the favored Granddaughter, but she was still an outsider.

    She sipped her drink and followed the conversation as it shifted to lighter subjects. BlackSky asked where that nice Colonel was, and took the answer that he had a meeting with the host government with good grace.

    By now, Gloria, Ukyou, and a small group of helpers, including several of Cecilia's daughters, had finished sectioning the carcasses they had pulled from the rack, slicing all of the meat, and filling heaping platters. The scent was heavy, savory, and salivatory.

    Ranma took a pair of plates and got some for herself and Serenity. She noted her date's inquiring look at her aunt and nodded.

    "Legate AshRain, there's something different about you," the redhead asked as she took a seat at the central table. BlackSky sat across from them, flanked by her daughters.

    "Oh?" AshRain glanced at the somber uniform she wore versus the gowns the rest of the Family members wore.

    "You seem, well," the redhead paused to bite through a sweet-roll. "I mean, no offense is intended, but you seem closer to well... me than your older sister."

    "Ah, that is correct. She is the older sister, they all are." AshRain's sharp features shifted to self-depreciating humor. "I am the youngest. The baby daughter, at a mere four centuries."

    The redhead gave a glassy nod. "That would explain it. Though I feel a bit awkward comparing us, since I've been a demon for what... it's been at least a year."

    "Fifteen months," both Eve and Nodoka replied.

    Yohko shook her head. "It does show we've got a long way, eh Ranma?"

    The redhead nodded.

    "Don't let your youth get you down." CloudFire said as she spooned some soup. "You're both quite mature, with broods of your own."

    "That is what marks a succubus as being an adult?" Nodoka asked.

    "Quite so. There are loopholes such as Adoptio. That's a civil adoption. Where a succubus takes a daughter but only in the legal sense," CloudFire shrugged.

    "Most times the brood mother merely formally takes the demoness into her brood," AshRain added.

    "Still, I'm confident in time all of you will find mates and start making daughters the slow way, the fun way," CloudFire smiled.

    Serenity found the demon's attention a bit disquieting; the flaming eyes were only part of it, the sheer presumption in her attitude did not help a bit.

    "Young broodlings make all the difference," Liviana looked to CloudFire with a dreamy expression. "We were only able to visit because Drusa was willing to stay home and watch our three youngest."

    "Drusa? A nanny?" Serenity asked.

    "Our Mistress," CloudFire corrected with a saucy smirk.

    Serenity chewed some steak. "Right... succubae. But a mistress and a mate?"

    CloudFire chuckled.

    The lunar queen waved her hands. "I'm not questioning the ethics, merely what the difference is."

    "A mate is the one you are fully bonded to, complete commitment, a part of you," AshRain's tone became bittersweet. "A Mistress is close but there is some... separation. Not as much as, say, a concubine however."

    "There are also social considerations. A mate has certain obligations social and carnal." CloudFire gave Liviana a blatantly wanton grin. "And for succubae of our position, Family concerns may have to be weighted."

    BlackSky tilted her head a tiny, tiny bit.

    "Where a mistress has more flexibility," CloudFire continued.

    "But the children?" Venus asked.

    "I have had three daughters with Drusa, and they are just as legitimate as the ones with Liviana or the ones I have turned," CloudFire's voice had a tiny edge.

    "Wow, how many kids have you had?" Ranma leaned forward.

    CloudFire waved the question away. "Fewer than you'd think, we tend to space them out." She gave her younger sister a pointed look.

    "I'm still mourning Sunder," AhsRain's tone was frosty as she tapped the hilt to her sword. "Mother understands."

    "She does," CloudFire agreed, glancing to their mother.

    BlackSky smiled. "Don't mind me girls. I was just ruminating on how wonderful our hosts have been." She turned to look out the sweeping windows. "Such a picturesque location. So quiet, without bothersome interruptions." Her gaze went far away, as if she were looking through the forest and her little smile grew fractionally.

    Keeping her perfect poise and composure, she relaxed just a bit and resumed her meal. The conversation was pleasant and she was proud of her granddaughters, direct and honorary.

    The humans, both true and honorary, were fascinating. As a Queen, Serenity the First had reached untold heights, but as a mother...

    BlackSky put a wry edge to her smile.

    The conversation had eased as the meal progressed. Gloria and Ukyou had made sure to have specific courses based on the tenderness of the various cuts of meat.

    "Really, you have your own armored flight systems?" Nodoka asked.

    "The armor aspect is only part of it," AshRain stated. "The ritual plate also supports the arcane systems for propulsion, scrying, and weapons."

    "What combat roles?" Eve asked. "Ground attack, reconnaissance, air superiority, bombing? If it is a personal armor system, I doubt transport or cargo."

    "Quite so," AshRain grinned. "There are specialized suits for various roles. The primary advantage is that the bonded Zephyr allows a succubus to fly much faster."

    "How much faster?" Ranma asked.

    "With the right... aero shell is the term?" AshRain asked. "With the right shield, the speed of sound can be breached.

    "It is possible to go further, but the increase in motive force and protection for the pilot reduces capabilities in other areas."

    "Quite the propulsion system. Zephyr... some type of spirit?" Eve ventured.

    CloudFire clapped. "Clever."

    "After our youngest sister left, we did brush up on our mythology," Cecilia said.

    "Yes, much of the ritual plate works by bonding wind spirits to it and harnessing their desires. Which is a limiting factor as a certain arcane aptitude is required to use such a suit." AshRain shrugged.

    "Armored flight suits that use spirits to fly above mach one and can dogfight and do all sorts of combat stuff?" Ranma smirked. "Yeah, BlackStone is going to be so pouty that she missed this. She loves this magical nerd stuff."

    The amber-haired librarian gave an approving nod.

    "But what are the suits made out of?" Nodoka asked. "Weight is clearly an issue. I doubt they'd be steel. Do you have industrial aluminum production? Or titanium? The latter can be difficult to machine without the right technology."

    Still smiling, AshRain's expression got a little bit guarded. "Are we exchanging military technology, Doctor Saotome?"

    Nodoka bowed her head slightly. "Pardon if I intruded. As a materials scientist, and given my employer, I do know the exact composition of armor is extremely closely guarded information. I was merely asking in generalities."

    "I am used to such inquiries from Mira," AshRain waved off. "Frankly, I'm a bit surprised you're not picking her brain."

    The amber haired librarian adjusted her glasses and nodded respectfully. "I did not want to dominate the conversation, Legate."

    AshRain shook her head. "The question is if you are asking as an officer of your mercenary company," she gestured to Eve. "Or as one of DarkStar's blood relatives," again she gestured to Eve.

    "What armored suits do you have?" Venus asked.

    CloudFire gave a belly laugh. "Oh, golden one. We're daughters of BlackSky; we don't need suits."

    Venus nodded.

    "Not that you'd need such things, given your own powers," AshRain said, soothingly.

    Serenity coughed. "Ah, yes, a bulky armored Senshi suit, how silly."

    Ranma patted her on the hand and gave the mildly put-out Venus a sympathetic look.

    "Maybe if we learn from the demons, we can make something better," Venus' tone was a tad waspish.

    "That has potential," CloudFire offered.

    Nodoka make a thoughtful noise.

    BlackSky looked up from her meal. She took a few bites and lowered her fork. "I would offer my full support to whatever you require."

    Serenity felt the weight of the demon's gaze before BlackSky's eyes went to Nodoka and then Ranma and her sisters.

    "To any of you," BlackSky continued. "But I'm well aware of how that would sound." She made a vague gesture that took in her daughters, the banners, her servants, and the guard. "Even casual help is not without entanglements."

    "Fewer strings than Dresden's boss," Ranma said.

    "Dame BlackStone services the Winter Court, directly," BlackSky said with a pointed sliver of pride. "Family, has a different set of obligations."

    Serenity squeezed back Ranma's hand, but she saw the redhead's attention was on her mother.

    BlackSky bowed her horns. "You have excellent judgment in expanding your branch of the Family, Granddaughter."

    "Yeah, well, it's not like Dresden had a clue what he, she, was getting into. Poor, dumb Harry."

    "You gave him a fair explanation and choice, no?" BlackSky's tone was mild but the entire table felt the undertow trembling beneath.

    Ranma snorted. "I made him beg me, made him convince a Knight of the Sword to give him permission."

    "Which Sword?" AshRain asked.

    "Kusanagi." Ranma paused. "Also known as Fidelacchius."

    Making a pleasantly surprised noise, the cobalt blue-haired demoness nodded.

    "It is not just your youngest sister that I approve of," BlackSky stated

    Seeing the pleasure on the brood's faces, Serenity leaned back. Then seeing their tails swishing, she had to put hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

    "Fidelacchius? That would be impressive to see." AshRain idly tapped her own sword.

    "It was," Ranma nodded.

    "I'm sure BlackStone will visit again, and she may bring Doctor Butters," Eve said.

    "A doctor and a Knight? Impressive," CloudFire purred. The flames to her eyes flickered and she sniffed the air. "Is it dessert? Already?"

    Ranma smiled. "Ukyou knows her way around a griddle and batter."

    "Something sweeter would be lovely," BlackSky bowed to Ranma, Serenity, and after a moment, Nodoka.

    ***************


    "It's a question of priorities, Flavia," BlackSky told a purple-haired Alpinum guard with golden eyes. They both stood near the kitchen with Mira.

    The demonic empress took a sip from a steaming cup. "I know you love Linda, and you have two beautiful daughters, but they are getting ready for the academy themselves. The time may be right."

    Flavia bowed her head. "Pardon the forwardness, my Imperatrix. What would you have me do?"

    "Oh, I couldn't possibly tell you what to do, my Decanus." BlackSky smirked and tapped the book before her. "That is in this specific case. I would hate to see you go, but talk it over with your mate, let her know there are options available. There is plenty of room in the Palace or a Secondment is available, you could teach at the War College"

    The Decanus bowed her head. "Thank you."

    "The thanks are mine." BlackSky smiled. Putting a few tiny marshmallows into her mug. "I still owe you for your actions at the Vorian Salient."

    "It was nothing, my Imperatrix." Decanus Flavia assured, giving a blush.

    "You spotted her Veil and wounded her while I was busy stopping the Cocytus river. Do not make me heap more praise upon you."

    "Yes, my Imperatrix," Flavia nodded.

    "Now, I know your contubernium are well-fed, but check with Sinma and Anvis' squads, they may not have been eating. Also keep an eye on SharpSleet, she does want to look good for her mother. Oh, and do mix a bit more with the human mercenaries, we have much we can learn from them, and I do not want our language lessons to go to waste."

    Tapping her fingers to her neck, Flavia saluted and spun on her heel once BlackSky returned the gesture, dismissing the mountain troop in her polished armor.

    BlackSky went back to her book. She sensed Mira's mild amusement, but her librarian stayed silent. After a few minutes, she felt others approach.

    "Yes?" she asked, handing the slim volume to Mira before taking a sip of her hot cocoa.

    Yohko looked to Misako. The coiffed girl rolled her green eyes at the brunette then quickly bowed to BlackSky. "Um... Great Grandmother, we would like to request your help."

    "It's a minor matter," Yohko assured.

    "But worthy of my attention?" BlackSky's smile brought some levity.

    "It's about DarkStar." Yohko pointed to the far end of the hall where the redhead, in her purple dress, stood alone looking out a window.

    "She's not with her date." BlackSky observed.

    "Lady Venus caught up to her before she went to the restroom," Yohko said.

    "She's still in there, powdering her nose," Misako's own cosmetically accented features smirked.

    BlackSky inclined an obsidian brow. "Ah. I see." She handed the mug to Mira. "Apologize for the others that I'll be a tad late for the next reading."

    She then strode straight towards her granddaughter with Yohko and Misako in her wake. BlackSky put an arm around the redhead who nearly spilled her drink in surprise at the embrace.

    "You seem pensive, Granddaughter," BlackSky stated.

    "Oh, just waiting," Ranma purred as her tail swished out.

    "I know," BlackSky leaned over the shorter demoness. "Would you like a bit of help?" she whispered.

    "For?"

    "I can guess what she wants." BlackSky gave a wicked smile. "Or what will floor her. We have a bit of time."

    Ranma looked at their reflection in the glass. Licking her lips, her hand trembled.

    Misako deftly plucked the glass out of her mother's hand.

    The redhead nodded.

    "Lovely."

    And there was a rumbling that at first Ranma thought was a small earthquake but then realized it was BlackSky's purring. One of the empress' hands slipped around the redhead's hip and cupped along her side and gave a gentle pressure that caused fabric and flesh to shift. Her other hand came up and with claws extending went through the teased crimson mane.

    Hips broadened and skirting tightened around her legs as the purple dress' slit sealed up and ruffles flounced the lower hem and the curve of her backside while bows blossomed on her hips. Her stance shifted as feet shifted to gleaming silver hooves that just peeked out of her gown's growing hemline.

    After giving her backside and skirt a final shape and appraising caress, BlackSky moved her attention higher up. While her other hand still worked the redhead's coiffure, she crafted a plunging lace-top violet bodice with silver accents and white ribbons.

    Shoulders fluttered out to billowy tuffs as the redhead's fingers shifted to elegant talons and more jewelry formed about her wrists, ears, plunging neckline, atop her brow in a heavy silver tiara, draped over her folded wings and spiraled near the end of her tail.

    DarkStar's hair piled up in a glossy ruby sculpt adorned with ivory and jet colored pearls. Two smaller knots of hair were tied behind her horns and bejeweled twin crimson tresses dangled just in front of her ears.

    Accented features gave a dreamy contented look, while Misako clapped over subtle shifts in makeup that heightened the impact of the redhead's appearance.


    "Good luck," BlackSky leaned down and gave her granddaughter a quick hug and a kiss.

    Purring Ranma returned the gesture.

    The hug broke apart and the redhead exhaled and took a step. A little frown marred her face, but after a couple of steps she got used to the combination of hooves and tight skirting. There was more swish to the gait than she was used to, but Ranma was optimistic towards the effect.

    Flanked by CloudFire's ringing hooves and Venus' deliberate gold-booted stride, Serenity seemed to glide into the room. Moving smoothly, almost effortlessly a shimmering golden gown clung to her and almost seemed to flow with every swaying step. White trim edged the flowing gold and starched white bows were held behind her waist and in front of her chest.

    DarkStar gasped and stared.

    White gloves with golden accents and little crescent moons went to her upper arms. A pair of feathery white wings were folded on her backless gown. Her silver hair was still tightly plaited, but that was not why DarkStar was staring.

    A woven golden headdress was mounted atop Serenity, lines of golden threads bearing the planets in cupped hands symbols of Unification and the Lunar court netted over her hair a shimmering mesh holding back most of her silver hair. Jeweled odangos escaped on either side, but the crowning glory curved out from the top.

    Sculpted from the same glistening golden material was a pair of delicate, pointed horns.

    The two neared and continued to stare.

    "Wow, you look like a princess," Serenity said with a small smile. She knew Ranma was royalty, and had seen her glam up before, had even had the redhead sit in her lap while dressed to the nines, but this was more... natural.

    "And you..." Ranma tilted her head. "Venus helped with the horns?"

    The golden Senshi nodded.

    "You're not offended?" Serenity glanced over. "CloudFire said it was okay."

    "It was her idea," Venus confided.

    "Nah, you look great," Ranma purred slipping up towards her.

    Serenity gave a somewhat bashful smile and ran her gloved hands down her dress.

    "Now kiss!" Venus teased, as she nudged the redhead into her queen.

    Even with the hooves and restrictive dress, the redhead was agile enough to keep her balance, thus it was deliberate indent that she fell into Serenity's arms and leaned on the taller queen's torso.

    Serenity leaned down and, after a slight hesitation, gently kissed one of the redhead's curving horns.

    Ranma cooed and her tail wrapped around Serenity's legs.

    "Ah, how sweet," CloudFire smirked.

    BlackSky's own grin was far more reserved.

    Beaming, Misako clapped. She circled around her mother and flashed a broad smile at BlackSky as her tail curled and swished.

    "I'll find a nice table to the side for them to share some dessert," Yohko offered, giving Ranma a slightly regretful look.

    Pluto came out of the kitchen carrying a platter with a collection of small pastries and cakes and sorbets and practically baited her queen and the redheaded demon by tempting and staying just out of reach.

    CloudFire went to Misako as Yohko started maneuvering Serenity, while the queen adjusted her hold on the redhead.

    "Mother does know what she's doing," the flame-haired elder demon assured. "And you do have lovely hair."

    Misako's grin grew.

    Encompassing her Family and guests, BlackSky gave a contend look and pulled back her deep, infrasonic rumbling purr. Turning, she found Mira waiting by her side.

    The amber-haired woman handed back the cup of cocoa and adjusted her glasses. "That was lovely."

    "It is nice to help. Did they mind waiting?" BlackSky asked as they went back to the other end of the hall where a semi-circle of chairs had been arranged to one side

    "Of course not." Mira gave her empress a polite smile.

    ***************


    Clutching a leather folder, Eve waited for her grandmother. Between worries over her offering and Major Saotome's concerns, Eve had to actually concentrate on maintaining her composure.

    BlackSky neared. Mira HeartWood followed at her side, looking prim and unobtrusive.

    Eve smiled. She had played that role to the Colonel and the Commander. Miss HeatWood even wore a charcoal suit, albeit with a bustier instead of a blouse. But that garment, like the delicate tattoos on her cheeks or academic earrings, were normal in the society Miss HeartWood came from.

    From what Eve had managed to glean, all that made her look every part the dutiful, if very bright and credentialed, librarian and aide. Naturally, that raised Miss HeartWood in Eve's estimation. Like Gloria SpringLeaf being evidence that not just anyone would be the empress' personal chef, BlackSky's personal librarian was another position of great trust and perhaps indirect power.

    "Ah, Eve," BlackSky bowed her head. "Are you here to join in?" she gestured to the arc of seats. Cecilia and the bulk of her daughters were there. Additionally, Nabiki, Akane, Nariko, and a slightly awkward-looking Sophie sat at one end.

    Eve sent a bit of reassurance to her youngest before returning the bow. "Yes, I'm sorry if I missed the first parts."

    "The books are short." BlackSky waved that away. "But you did arrive at a particularly good one."

    Mira handed her a thin book entitled: Silva Succubus and the Museum of Art.

    Eve eyed the cover. There was a familiar adorably cartoonish succubus bounding up the steps of a somber marble building with elegant sweeping pillars.

    "This one has pirates," Mira said.

    "In art museum?"

    BlackSky leaned in and theatrically lowered her voice. "They are robbing it."

    "That does sound like it has much potential."

    "There is a battle on a zeppelin with teleporting ninjas," BlackSky added.

    Mira gave a demure cough. "Technically they are not ninjas, but members of a stealthy, close combat order trained in a remote mountain monastery." The librarian hesitated. "Also while the text is vague, the illustrations clearly show the frame of the airship is not rigid enough to quality as a..."

    She trailed off and took a step back.

    BlackSky waved her hand in placation. "She is right. The book is Silvan and thus neither ninja nor zeppelin appear."

    "The book seems very adventurous. It is good that the Silva Succubus books grow in complexity as they go on."

    "But?" BlackSky asked.

    Eve steeled herself. The being before her was her grandmother as much as she was Ranma's. "I have a gift of my own." She handed the leather folder over.

    "Do tell?" BlackSky opened it and her cool blue eyes lit up. Inside was an even thinner book. A rotund puppy pranced on the cover. "The Pokey Little Puppy?"

    "I had a... challenging childhood." Eve kept down her blush. "When I had my daughters I wanted to make sure I did right to them, and reading them this helped."

    BlackSky opened and started to read, her eyes scanning the pictures, her smile grew.

    "I translated it into Silvan Latin and had it reprinted, I hope I was correct." Her tail flicked.

    "Yes, you were" BlackSky closed the book and placed a hand over it. "This will do. After everyone gets a bit more dessert." She glanced over.

    Pleased Eve turned.

    Ukyou and Gloria approached carrying a pair of platters full of shallow oval, flat-bottomed bowls. Peaks of light golden-brown souffle rose out of each dish. Powdered sugar capped the crenulated pastry tops in a bit of snowy decadence.

    "Kinitou nockerl?" BlackSky asked.

    Gloria SpringLeaf nodded. "Ukyou wanted to make something traditional," she said putting her platter down and starting to serve out the dishes.

    "Nockerl?" Eve inspected the dessert and took a bite. It was light and fluffy but there was a savory and almost cinnamon taste that made it different from the version she was more familiar with. "And Kinitou because the pastry resembles the mountain chain?"

    BlackSky chuckled and took a dainty bite of her own.

    "We also wanted something that you might enjoy," Ukyou said.

    "My sister has a sweet tooth?" Ranma asked slipping up to table behind the circle of chairs.


    Making sure the taller queen's arm was around her waist, she leaned on Serenity's side. Little gold crescent moon earrings dangled from Ranma's ears as she gave a sharp smile. Serenity seemed a bit more comfortable, especially when she took a seat and positioned Ranma close to her.

    The Moon queen casually checked her headdress and faux horns to make sure they were straight before adjusting the redhead's own hair ornamentation and bodice. Ranma accepted one of the dishes and nuzzled Serenity before taking a fork to the pastry.

    Bearing a little smile, BlackSky watched the two for a moment. She then went to the seat in front of the circle of chairs. Pulling one of the front row seats closer to her, she sat down and opened the book. "Next we'll be reading something Eve, who will be helping us read got for us. Everyone please take a moment to get a refreshment and settle in before we start."

    The dark-haired elder demon watched as Ukyou and Gloria finished giving out the desserts. She bowed her head to Doctor Saotome who waited a couple steps behind the impromptu reading area. BlackSky's tail swished to one side then back.

    She then motioned for Eve to take the chair next to her.

    Tail swishing, the blonde slowly sat down.

    Running her fingers over the large blue fins, BlackSky maneuvered her granddaughter's tail so that it draped over her legs. Then using it as an impromptu stand she opened the book, resting the slim volume on an angle.

    Eve coughed a bit.

    BlackSky gave a regal smile. "Next we have The Pokey Little Puppy by Lowrey, illustrated by Tenggren and translated by Eve." Leaning forward she flipped the open book around so the audience could see the pages.

    As she began to read the story of curious, but naughty puppies, holes under fences, harried mother dogs, custards, shortcakes and other desserts, BlackSky noted Doctor Saotome taking a chair that was between Cecilia and Ranma
    `
    The story finished and she handed the book back to her granddaughter. "It was a good translation."

    Eve bowed her head.

    Sensing her emotions, BlackSky patted the blonde's tail. "I can see why the book appeals to you."

    Considering her response, Captain Jarvis paused. Eventually she simply nodded.

    "All the desserts in the book did encourage the broodlings to eat their fill," BlackSky slowly stood.

    "Will you read another?"

    "Perhaps that Silva succubus story. It does have blimps and ninjas, but someone has been very patient," BlackSky gave her granddaughter a hug. Then said a few words to the other demons as she made her way down the hall.

    DarkStar's youngest daughter waited, all pastel ribbons and ruffles and glossy hair. She held the copy of BlackSky's diary. "Have you enjoyed it?" BlackSky asked in Silvan Latin.

    "It has been... informative." Nabiki slowly said as she tried to find the right words. "I did not expect so much... tragedy in the early days."

    "Neither did I," BlackSky knelt down and hugged her. "But it gets better." She rose.

    Nabiki blushed.

    "I'm glad you enjoyed it, I'll have Mira give you some more books before we leave tonight," BlackSky said before resuming her walk.

    The woman who had waited for her had stood up and adjusted her grey uniform.

    "Major Saotome," BlackSky bowed her horns to the human.

    "Imperatrix," Nodoka bowed at her waist.

    She gazed down at the officer. "You wish to speak with me."

    "I have a request." Nodoka met her eye. "One that will serve both our interests."

    BlackSky put a finger to her lip. She then nodded. "Do tell?" the dark-haired demon asked as they walked to the far end of the hall. On the way she grabbed a pair of small tulip-shaped glasses filled with a clear apricot liquor and handed one to the Major.

    Looking out the window, Nodoka sipped. Snowflakes fell in swirling waves.

    The succubus stood next to the scientist.

    "It's about my daughter... my daughters."

    BlackSky lifted her glass. She turned somber. "Lilith, my daughter she named her daughter DarkStar in part after my own mother, StarFall."

    Nodoka waited for the demonic empress' expression to become less remote. "I love them, I am there for them, but there is still more that I can do." Nodoka flexed her free hand.

    "What holds you back?"

    Nodoka laughed. "Logistics."

    "Oh?"

    Staring at her reflection in the glass, Nodoka steeled herself. She downed the glass. "A succubus can create a daughter, she can help make a sister, a mate, but she cannot make a mother."

    Exhaling, BlackSky let a bit of her poise slip as her posture became a bit less formal. "Meanwhile I am your daughter's grandmother."

    "That... that presents an opportunity."

    BlackSky sipped delicately. "You realize what you ask? The consequences?"

    "Not in full, no." Nodoka rotated the empty glass by the stem. She looked up at the taller woman. "That is where I trust you would inform me, before I commit to anything. And there will be a contract."

    "Daring." BlackSky appraised the woman. "You ask for much."

    Her eye went to AshRain who was quietly chatting with Eve and CloudFire, who was with her mate, and Misako who was being far more boisterous. "Given what I would become? What you would gain?"

    BlackSky took another sip. "A daughter."

    Nodoka exhaled. "For Ranma, for DarkStar, for her sisters. But I would need to be more than... I would also need to be their mother."

    The elder demon's tail slowly swished. "Ask."

    Major Saotome squared her shoulders. Her brown eyes met BlackSky's cold blue.

    The demoness gave a slight nod.

    "Imperatrix BlackSky would you be willing to take me as a daughter?"

    BlackSky's smile grew showing a hint of her fangs. She bowed her head. "I would be honored. For our mutual family, I hope we can come to an agreement."

    End Chapter 2

    And here's the Return (sorry) of BlackSky. Congrats to all who guessed what Nodoka was up to in the previous chapter, and previous books.

    Thanks to DCG, Ellf, Kevin D Hammel, Henry Stickman, and Toxinvictoria. Special thanks to , J.St.C.Patrick for putting a rush on doing some detailed grammar and structure reaching so this chapter could be posted for Xmas.

    Also, my DeviantArt page has some especially cool art of Ranma and all her three sisters by Cheaplymade.
     
    firedragonboy20 likes this.
  5. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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  6. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Know what you're doing yet?

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