Jin let go of Chandrakanta's hand and looked around the location the Megami had teleported her and Isaac to. It was a low desert mountain surrounded by other low mountains with a dry, scrubland valley between. Jin turned around and spoke with hints of disgust and a strong sense of confusion. "Candi, you said you were taking us to your home…"
"That I did." The Megami replied with her usual smile and joyful tone. "It is over here." She started walking towards a rock face. It was more smooth and flat than the other features around it and as Isaac followed the celestial pokegirl closer he spotted a recessed opening. The entrance to Chandrakanta's home was a very weathered opening carved into the mountainside.
There was a dirt colored, tattered curtain hung up a meter in that served as the door. Pushing the flap aside allowed enough light in to reveal mound upon mound of crates stacked from wall to wall. There was no furniture or decor. The Megami pointed towards a few corners and globes of light appeared and raced through the air to hover where she gestured towards.
"You live here," Jin asked with the same disbelieving and uneasy inflection.
"No," Chandrakanta shook her head. "I do not stay here if I can help it. It is simply where I found somewhere to store my things after I was given so many gifts I could no longer carry them with me as I traveled." She smiled deeply and her eyes completely vanished. "I am afraid I am something of a sentimental pack rat. I give away many items if I encounter one who is in need but they always seem to find their way back to me and I cannot bring myself to simply discard anything."
She stopped to look up at the stone ceiling and tap her chin. "I believe it was occupied by religious extremists or opium smugglers before the plagues of the revenge war. There were several mummified bodies of men of fighting age in fatigues, along with a collection of outdated Soviet weapons.
"Every so often I do find I am in the mood for solitude, so I come out to here and work on an enchanting project. Mostly weaving. My workshop is back this way." She led them through the towers of accumulated knickknacks. Right up to a featureless wall. She reached into her cleavage and produced a brass key which she inserted into the stone, the keyhole appearing from nothing to accept it. With a gentle turn the stone shuddered and dissolved into the floor, revealing a massive steel door. "This was installed when I discovered this location. Well, the door. I am responsible for the magical stone portal. It must have been their armory. It is a useful additional layer of security." Chandrakanta pulled another key from between her breasts and unlocked the steel door before pushing it to swing inward.
Chandrakanta's workshop was dominated by a massive loom constructed out of polished wood with bronze hardware. It was set up for a new project with bare and undyed warp threads strung vertically over the frame. To the side was a spinning wheel of the same design and bags of fiber waiting to be spun. Vats for dying were on the other side. Chandrakanta placed her hand affectionately on the loom. "Weaving is my favorite pastime. It is the first sort of labor I learned after I struck out on my own. I discovered that very complex enchantments can be crafted if I apply magic throughout the entire process, from spinning to the finishing embroidery. It does consume a great deal of time, but I am most pleased with the results of my most impressive project. I will show you it, along with something I believe will appeal to Jin. This way."
She walked around a wooden dividing wall and there was a workbench with carpentry tools hanging from tacks in the wall. There was also an incredibly large chest that Chandrakanta opened with yet another key stored within her blouse, or a magical space with the opening accessed there. She produced a wooden scepter with a polished red granite orb set in the head and a colossally sized rolled carpet. "We will need to return outside for me to demonstrate," she said with a smile as she turned around.
Outside she first handed the scepter to Jin. "Do you remember the wand you were given when we were anticipating an attack by GunValkyrie right after Oleksandra joined you in Isaac's harem?" Jin nodded. "This is essentially the same sort of magical device, but I assure you it is not supportive in its function."
Jin turned the rod over in her hand a few times. "Can I use it?"
Chandrakanta's eyes twinkled with light. "Be sure to aim away from Isaac, myself, or my home."
Jin extended her arm and pointed the head of the scepter downhill, taking aim at a boulder below them. She channeled magical energy through the implement and the red granite sphere began to glow with golden energy. A lance of incandescence streamed towards Jin's target, scorching and cracking the face of the stone. Jin laughed exuberantly before she fired another beam, this one splitting the rock completely. "Awesome! What is this?"
Chandrakanta extended her hand to take the scepter back. "You are familiar with the technique of Hyper Beam, yes? This fires a lower power, more precise variation of that technique."
Jin's eyes were ablaze and wide with her mouth open in wonder. "I could use Hyper Beam?!"
Chandrakanta's hair swished against her sari when shook her head while smiling and laughing gently. "You could be using magical variations of far more techniques than you currently are."
Jin's ponytail flicked when she aborted the motion of cocking her head. "How? I've been struggling to use my spells from when I was a Witch the way I used to."
Chandrakanta's eyes opened enough to reveal the challenge in her focus. "Reflect on my question before you answer, Jin. Could you make an item to aid you in performing combat magic?"
Jin's mouth snapped open and she cut off her automatic response and then became thoughtful. Her eyes slowly widened. "I… I never even thought… Why did you wait so long to show me this?"
"Well, I had not seen you demonstrate the patience and diligence necessary until recently. I understand you envisioned becoming a Sorceress but that old dream is restricting your thinking as an Enchantress. You also failed to ask me, even though I have not concealed my capability to produce enchanted items from you."
Jin shrunk down and bunched up her shoulders. "So what's changed?"
"You have, Jin. You accepted that Anahita has wisdom to share with you regarding the techniques you discovered. You accepted the restriction of The Fiendish template preventing you from evolving. You have proven willing to adapt to the circumstances as they are rather than how you wish them to be."
Jin still held her sulking posture, but the hostility softened when she blushed and turned her eyes away. "I… okay. What about your rug? You said that's your best piece."
Chandrakanta gave a haughty laugh. "Rug," she said with the faintest hint of contempt. The Megami unfurled the carpet, revealing its rich, predominantly red and violet woven pattern trimmed with gold. It hung in the air rather than fall to the ground. Two ornately carved, L shaped wooden poles stood of their own accord and suspended a silk canopy over top and plush velvet lounging pillows lined the edges of the levitating textile masterpiece. "Star used to relentlessly tease me for my awkward flying," Chandrakanta began explaining. "She has her wings and Nel has her staves. I produced this so that I could outpace them in the sky if I truly wished." She fluttered an eyelash at Isaac in a wink. "To be honest, I have made more use of it as furniture than a vehicle. It is a wonderful platform for amorous activities. Better than any mattress, if I do say so myself."
Jin knelt to put her face right at the level of the gilded trimming then stood and slid her hand over the canopy supports. "This is incredible. You weren't joking about weaving in the magic. You seriously enchanted every individual thread? Isaac, look at it!"
Isaac squatted to examine the flying carpet but he couldn't perceive what the Fiendish Enchantress was. He could appreciate the artistry of the Persian style pattern work. He looked up at the Megami as she responded to Jin's question.
"That I did. Not complex magic, mind you. Like so much else in the world, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The results speak for themselves, do they not?" The Megami grinned and a glint of pride showed through her eyelashes. "Would you two like to go on a short flight?"
The carpet was fast, but an incredibly smooth ride. The canopy also produced an invisible magical screen against the wind and Isaac and Jin were supported against the G-forces by the Megami seated behind them. After a fast, low, and exciting circle around the mountain they returned to the entrance of Chandrakanta's home. They were going to disembark but were held fast in the Megami's arms. "Come now," she said with a teasing pout to her lips, "you two will truly be satisfied with only exploring one use for my pride and joy? No one is expecting us back for some time yet." Isaac and Jin looked at each other, shared lecherous grins, and allowed themselves to fall on top of Chandrakanta as she fell backwards with a joyful laugh.
"Knife fight, first blood, one round. It'll be fun." Nadezhda twirled a blade artfully between her fingers while waiting for Anahita to respond to her challenge.
"I don't want to fight…" The templated Seraph looked nervously towards Jin, who was grinning like a fool. "Why does she want to fight me? She knows I fought Astoreth."
Jin shrugged. "It's just what we do here."
"It's because you fought Lady Astoreth that I want this. She hasn't had the time for a match with us for months and I'm getting a lot stronger now that I'm not a pokekit. If you're a match for her then a match with you should let me know where I stand."
Anahita looked around nervously. She wanted to associate with these young infernals to prove her negative presumptions wrong, but they were all eagerly watching with anticipation for this blood sport. "I don't think this is wise."
Jin snagged the Seraph's arm by looping hers around Anahita's elbow. "Hita-chan, let your big sister Jin give you some advice."
Anahita didn't resist being dragged away but, as she was, she protested, "Big sister, I am older than you by several years."
"Details, I'm senior in the harem so I'm the big sister. Or you could call me senpai, if the age thing is such a big deal."
Anahita used her free hand to peel Jin's arm away. "I will continue to call you Jin. What is your advice?"
Jin smirked towards where Nadezhda and the other three of Astoreth's maids were clearly eavesdropping. "Yes, it's dumb that she's challenging you, just as dumb as it was for me to. If you refuse they won't respect you, so just show her how mismatched this really is. Star-nee always held back." Jin put a hand on the Seraph's shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze. "Jailbait doesn't have any surprises to her. We can use techniques too, so you should be able to end it without any issues."
"Jailbait… I thought these were your friends, Jin."
Jin tilted her head slowly. "They are my friends."
Anahita shook her head. "I will take your advice just so I may be free of this madness."
Nadezhda and Anahita squared off behind Astoreth's house, knives in hand. Jin assumed the role of officiator. The older occupants of the manor were seated around the patio furniture entertaining Astoreth's other guests. "Jailbait, ready?"
Nadezhda aggressively waved her knife towards the Fiendish Enchantress. "I'm legal for Isaac now! You're next, Crybaby, and to celebrate beating you I'm sucking his dick while you watch!" The Succubus growled. Jin bristled. Besides the threat of poaching Isaac, Crybaby was the only insult that the maids found that worked.
It had only been the first night. That they saw.
Back when they were all younger, calling the then Witch 'Crybaby' was also the surest way to receive both a loss and a nastier than necessary cut. They refrained from using it out of fear and respect. Both fear and respect had waned over the past couple years. Nadezhda's eyes narrowed to slits. "Ready."
Jin had to shake her head after staring daggers at her rival for a few more seconds. "Anahita, ready?"
Anahita nodded and responded with a flat and forceful, "Ready." Both feuding, younger pokegirls missed the dangerous flash in the Seraph's eyes when Nadezhda issued her boastful threat.
"Begin!" Anahita's wings shimmered into existence and snapped forward. Six Feather Shurikens left shallow lacerations on Nadezhda's cheeks, shoulders, and thighs. The Succubus didn't even register the cuts until she finished dropping down into a ready stance. She touched one cut on her face and blinked owlishly at the sight of red. Jin called out triumphantly, "Jailbait loses!"
Nadezhda whirled to face the 'neutral arbitrator,' stomped her foot, and demanded, "Go get your knife, Crybaby! I'm even faster now and I figured out how to enchant myself too!" Jin stuck out her tongue as she skipped over to where her pack was lying in a pile with the rest of Isaac's group.
Neasa nudged Oleksandra from where the two of them were spectating. "Are you tempted to get in on that at all? I wouldn't mind the chance to draw blood from either of those two."
Oleksandra's left ear twitched. "My participation in this ritualistic violence would prove inconclusive and would only be likely to increase resentment and hostility."
Neasa raised an eyebrow up towards her taller harem sister. "Why do you say that?"
Oleksandra's armor flowed and unfolded to cover the side Neasa had gently elbowed. "Do you anticipate I could successfully be cut with a mundane bladed implement?"
Neasa blinked as the armor plates vanished. "Good point." The Elfqueen and BATTLE Battle Angel watched Jin and Nadezhda's knife fight play out. As usual, the two were closely matched. Anahita was officiating.
Both Enchantress and Succubus spotted an opening at the same time and both threw caution to the wind to score the win. Steel flashed and crimson lines were drawn. Neasa blinked when Anahita declared the winner, or lack thereof. "Draw!"
Jin and Nadezhda stood panting, both with a cut in nearly the exact same spot on their unfavored upper arm. Jin laughed. "If I won, I was going to rub it in your face by trying to convince Isaac to let me blow him in front of you."
Nadezhda laughed as well. "Of course, you're always stealing my ideas."
Jin stepped up to the Succubus and delicately took her arm and started healing. "You uh, you wanna go find him, tell him about our bet, and ask him what we should do for a draw?"
The Succubus placed her fingertips on the wound she gave Jin and started healing it as well. "I think we should go get your old maid outfit first."
Jin laughed as she responded. "I haven't worn that in two years. There's no way it will fit."
Nadezhda's eyes narrowed enticingly, the lids forming a relaxed arch. "It'll fit better, trust me."
Jin offered her arm to her rival. Nadezhda looped hers through and snaked her tail around Jin's waist and the two strolled off towards the exit for the garden maze. Pazuzu wanted to go through it with Isaac, who was watching the pokekit so Augusta could be a part of entertaining Astoreth's guests.
Astoreth tracked the two with her gaze for a few seconds and then returned her attention to her other guests. Why did she let Candi convince her to invite them?
'You've accepted Augusta into your makeshift family, Star. They're important to her and she misses them. I had to go on her behalf just to let them know she was still alive. That was very cruel of you.'
Astoreth sighed, earning an inquisitive stare from the Megami whose words she was recalling. Astoreth narrowed her eyes and then shifted them to the Cherub and three Angels who were happily chatting and still hugging the infernal's Fallen Angel employee. At least one embrace every minute. The sentimentality was thick enough to choke on.
Aspelenie broke away from the celestial cluster and approached Astoreth timidly. The Cherub appeared to be around the age of Nino and Sveta but was closer in age to Yevfrosiniya, Astoreth's cook who happened to be months away from becoming a great grandmother. "I thought you were simply evil, Astoreth, but you are a much more complicated individual than I thought."
"No I'm not. I want to be accepted by society so I contend with my nature and do my best to negotiate with others, so long as they're reasonable. It's what almost everyone does." Astoreth's eyes narrowed slightly. She was a little envious of those who were so simple and docile that they got along with no conscious effort on their part. Then again, such simple sheep could be led blindly into disaster. Like trusting the words of a strange Megami that brings dire news of a harbinger of the end times. Speaking of which…
Astoreth reached into a pocket inside her jacket lining and produced a film canister. She handed the small container over to the Cherub. "I don't believe I need this anymore. You're free to do what you want with them."
Aspelenie popped open the top and pulled out the strip of developed film. She squinted at the tiny, color inverted image and then convulsively shoved the small roll back in the canister. "There's so many pictures. How did you get these? Did you take them?"
Astoreth snorted with contempt. "No. Unlike those modified utility tunnels you were living in, the deputy mayor's residence is well protected against intrusion by phasing." Aspelenie shrunk down even smaller. "Someone there took them for Deputy Mayor Utkin, but she had them thrown out after a while. It's part of her fetish for 'corrupting' devout celestials. You'd do well to warn those three Angels you're caring for."
"I already have." Aspelenie hung her head. "I was financially compensated for my participation. It's my hope they never have to do the same. So do you make a habit of digging through the refuse of city officials?"
Astoreth rolled her eyes. "People like me don't need to. The servant never disposed of them. She sold them to an individual who makes a living procuring blackmail but they were of low value given the men participating. I wound up overpaying to help her recoup her losses, but it was a nonlethal solution to the problem you presented."
"Thank you for your restraint, but what made you decide to free me from this leverage you hold over me?"
"It's simple, Aspelenie. You're not a threat, you're not vindictive, and you're smart enough to recognize a gesture of goodwill. I don't have enough compassion to do more than tolerate you, but Chandrakanta wants to offer you guidance and for you to remain involved in Augusta's life. She's far too gentle of a soul to have fulfilled that mission you charged her with in your haste and hysteria. I acknowledge you're trying to accomplish something not dissimilar to my own goals, but you need to pay more attention and consider your actions. I don't believe you could endure the weight of the sins you nearly committed." Astoreth's glare made the tiny, neotenous celestial shrink in fear. "Believe me."
Aspelenie was frozen with wide eyes for a moment but then nodded slowly and returned to her tiny flock without another word. Chandrakanta came over and put a hand on her taller, infernal friend's shoulder. "That's enough obsessing over sins, Star." The Megami switched to telepathic communication. 'They are not yours to bear. You are guilty of no more than any other soldier deployed by the maker and his handlers. You hold onto them solely because you are the last living member of the Twelfth Legion and Hild's Coven.'
'Rusalka is still out there.' Chandrakanta's gaze shifted away from her lover's face. 'She is still out there, isn't she?'
The Megami remained silent and refused to meet the infernal's stare.
Astoreth's every muscle tightened. "My office," she said with a terse and low voice. The towering Hild teleported there. The tall Megami walked. Their conversation continued within their minds.
'You didn't know where her lair was.'
Chandrakanta passed through the rear entry doors. 'You had me verify your location spell without telling me what you were locating. It was not much of a leap to deduce it was her.'
'She's a powerful spellcaster, trained by Hild herself.'
Chandrakanta now made it to the curved double stairway ascending to the second level of the mansion. 'So are you, Star. A more powerful one at that '
'She's devious and paranoid, her entire lair would have been full of traps.'
Chandrakanta made a sad smile as she paused outside the double doors leading into the office. 'Against a precognition specialist, Star?'
'You hate fighting.'
'But you know I will.'
The Megami opened one door. Inside, Astoreth was standing behind her desk in her reduced form, holding the vial of eye drops she kept in a drawer. Drops of the solution fell on the papers stacked on her work surface from the trembling of her other hand. Chandrakanta walked over and carefully pried the vial and dropper free. "Tilt your head back, Star." The blue skinned pokegirl complied. Several drops were administered to both eyes, then the dropper was placed in the mouth of the vial, which was placed on the desk.
Astoreth stared up as the excess clear fluid ran down her cheeks. "Why? You… you…"
"Because I know you, Star. You would harden your heart, because you know she needed to be stopped. You would find thrill in the battle and the killing, because you are and always will be a warrior. And then you would feel exactly what you are feeling now but you would be alone with her blood on your hands. I did not want you to have to endure having killed the last member of yet another family, Star," Chandrakanta answered sadly. Astoreth lunged forward and buried her face against the stomach of her friend while raining down pitifully weak blows with both fists. Chandrakanta let her hands fall behind the presently tiny infernal's back and held her there wordlessly.
To protect the G-Spot from having its secret location from being uncovered, the lab tests performed on Oleksandra at the behest of the Martian Office of Science were done within a university laboratory in Kyiv. Beru 2.0 emphasized to Oleksandra and Isaac that their contributions and cooperation were deeply appreciated using her professional demeanor and assuring words every time they came in. The Office of Science and their Terran colleagues were abundantly happy.
A certain rabbit eared Battle Angel was not.
Oleksandra's ears tipped back while the rest of her leaned forwards. “This is the third time one of the solutions presented for the purpose of disabling the broadcasts has proven unviable and now this is the third time you ask for my patience and understanding while you look deeper into the issue. Your word selection has been unusually consistent through all of your communications to date and you never communicate further when confronted. Why do you expect me to accept your words at face value? I am not unintelligent and you have consistently demonstrated untrustworthy behavior."
Beru 2.0 was completely stunned in her response, her eyes briefly flickered with rapt attention. After three nervous little pulls she managed to reaffix her smile before reciting word for word the same response as the previous time Oleksandra raised this issue. “We understand that you are unhappy with the situation, but again we’re asking you to please understand that we are doing everything reasonable to resolve your issue. I’ll contact you the next time I’m planetside to schedule our next meeting.”
Oleksandra rubbed her forearm from which tissue had recently been extracted, then folded her arms across her chest. "That will be unnecessary. I have disabled the broadcasts by my own efforts."
Beru 2.0's expression went blank and she was silent for an awkward pause. She dropped out of the character of professional diplomat when she muttered, "That should not be possible…"
One of Oleksandra's ears raised. "Do you mean that it should not be possible to disable the broadcasts at all and that you have been negotiating in bad faith or that it should not be possible for me and my allies to succeed where your handlers have failed?"
Beru 2.0 raised her hands in front of herself. "I- Neither, I assure you. How is it you managed to disable the uploads?"
"Application of the scientific method." Oleksandra's stare was as steely as the color of her eyes. "Having your organization collecting data on every moment of my life was sufficient motivation, as your unsolicited advice regarding my sexual engagement clearly indicated." Oleksandra actually snarled. "It did not change anything, by the way.
"I feel no reason to disclose anything more to you and your masters at the Office of Science. I also feel no reason to continue cooperating with you as you have provided me with very little in terms of compensation for the robust quantity and variety of samples and data you have acquired."
Beru turned to Isaac. "Are you going to allow your pokegirl to jeopardize such a potentially lucrative relation between you and those I represent? She is acting based on impulsive emotion."
Unfortunately for the Zeromer's plea, Isaac was finding it refreshing that Oleksandra was feeling aggressive enough to assert her own will in this matter. "I believe in pokegirl autonomy. They can decide things for themselves and I'm kinda regretting that I agreed to this when she deferred to me. Honestly, I've just been tagging along because of the legal situation and because she wants me to." Isaac felt like he was just tagging along a lot lately… "Oleksandra spoke with me about her decision and I agree with her. She really hasn't gotten anything out of this deal."
The mouthpiece for the Martian Office of Science was unusually focused on Isaac when the BATTLE Battle Angel was the subject of her organization's interests. "We’re disappointed you’re reluctant to provide us with further samples but respect your wishes. If you change your mind, the faculty here will be able to get in contact with us. Please do reconsider." She went over and opened the door to the small office they borrowed for these brief meetings. Once Isaac and Oleksandra were ushered out, she began composing a message to her handlers on Mars. Beru 2.0 knew what her duties were, what she had to report, but for the first time since she could remember from either sequence of operation she had questions for her masters. Doubts regarding her directives.
How was she to maintain regular contact with her target now that the pretext of assisting the BATTLE Battle Angel had fallen through? Why didn't the Office of Science provide the assistance she had assured Oleksandra they would provide? What was the purpose of remaining near this particular Terran? How did these lies serve Martian interests? How did her first death, for that matter?
Isaac looked over his shoulder and gestured for Oleksandra, Jin, Neasa, and Anahita to move to the side to allow the Amachop carrying a crate past them. People walking in a group were always slower than individuals. The strong little fighting type muttered her gratitude and bustled on by, turning down an alley with her cargo.
While he was in Kyiv, Chandrakanta wanted Isaac to come see her at a gig shift she was filling for a friend. The establishment wasn't going to open in another few hours. He decided to burn the time by wandering to Kyiv's international district rather than return to Slov'yanka. It wasn't a large part of the city, only a few blocks devoted to each foreign league with cultures distinct enough and economies robust enough to warrant their presence. There were stores and restaurants and apartments for those families that relocated from their distant homes. Once in foreign lands these expats discovered that they still preferred the company of peoples from their own cultures, for the most part.
Isaac specifically wanted to bring Jin to the part of the district he wanted to call Little Edo in his head, but it was simply known by its Ukrainian street names. It was the largest of the subdistricts on account of so many breeds fixating on cultures encompassed by the territory of the Edo League. Maybe he was still spoiling the Enchantress, but he thought it would be nice to try to find someone for her to converse with in her native languages. Maybe some immersion in Korean or Japanese would help her remember how to produce the proper sounds she lost from the ranch's speech T2s.
They wandered through the door of the first import shop. "I'll be right out," a voice called from the back room as the bell hanging over the door chimed. The speaker was male and he didn't produce a proper L sound. The rest of the speech was clear although a bit off rhythm.
"Isaac, over here," Jin called out excitedly. "They've got some of the books I used to read. This one is a war drama and this one is based on Journey to the West. Ooh, and here. These are the snacks I would always beg for. They're filled with different flavored cream. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry… And here-" The Enchantress froze as she was suddenly looking through a gap in the shelves rather than at the small toy she had picked up.
In the opposite aisle, putting out stock, was Lera. More likely another of the septuplets born to Albina from the Borisov Ranch. The voice from the backroom called out again. "Emi, would you see if you can help the customers?"
The blonde Witch who was obviously one of Albina's daughters rose from her squatting position. She was dressed in a very stereotypical 'Asian' silk dress with black leggings underneath. She had her blonde hair tied in a round bun. Her blue eyes swept the store and fell on Isaac. She bowed. "Greetings, sir. May I help you find something?"
"Are you Emiliya?" Jin's blurted out question drew the Witch's attention.
The magic type pokegirl studied Jin's face intently, the polite mask of one engaged in customer service slipping out of place. "Do I… know you?"
A young man of East Asian heritage entered the showroom. "Emi-" He followed his Witch's gaze and gave a start. "Jin?" Jin Yun Park?"
"Cousin Duri?!" Jin gasped.
"Jin, what are you doing in my shop," Duri asked.
"What are you doing in Sapphire," Jin asked without answering.
"What is going on," both Isaac and Emiliya asked at the same time.
"Isaac, this is my cousin Duri Park," Jin answered Isaac.
"Emi, this is my uncle's pokegirl child, Jin Yun," Duri answered Emiliya. Then there was an awkward hanging silence as individuals pieced together information. Neasa looked to Oleksandra and Anahita and then gestured with her thumb towards the other side of the shop.
"Your name is Isaac? You are Jin's tamer," Duri asked and offered his hand to shake. "I am Duri Park. What brings you here?"
Isaac clasped the hand and gave it one shake. "I learned there were a few Edo establishments in the international district just recently, we're killing time while in Kyiv and thought I'd bring Jin by. She gets nostalgic sometimes. I thought maybe having someone to talk to in Korean or Japanese would help."
Duri's face showed the same comfortable pain of longing. "What strange fortune. To be honest, I have been here with Emi for over a year. Home became unbearable, the opportunity to run this shop came up, and I had hoped to reunite Emi with her mother and sisters if possible. I didn't dare think I would see Jin again, especially with her mind intact."
"Duri! You-" Jin's ponytail jigged when she leaned aggressively towards him.
Emiliya moved to stand between her tamer and the Enchantress. Duri laughed and gently pushed the blonde Witch's shoulder aside as he stepped around and hugged his pokegirl cousin. "And that is precisely why I feared for you, Jin. I didn't think anyone besides your own father would put up with your attitude."
Jin made a strange noise in her throat and suddenly returned her cousin's embrace fiercely. "Why didn't uncle say anything? Why did he trade me so far away?"
Duri sighed and his response was a quiet mutter. "Father fell apart after the Annt raid. He couldn't keep the shop running, all he did was drink. He already had to have his liver regenerated once and I'm sure he's needed the treatment again by now. I don't think he could face you, Jin. You look too much like Uncle Jeong."
Jin let go of her cousin and stepped away. "If you've been in Sapphire so long, how come you haven't been to the ranch in Slov'yanka?"
Emiliya looked down to the floor. "I had never been outside of the ranch. I only knew that it belonged to Mr. Borisov and there are too many people with that name for anyone to find it worth helping us. Tell me, is my mother still there?"
Jin stared deeply into the Witch's pleading eyes for a second before breaking eye contact and muttering, "Sorry, I'm not the best person to tell you about the ranch."
It was like Isaac could watch Emiliya's heart visibly sink from the sudden drop of her hopeful expression. "Jarek…"
"Yeah," Jin said. "Jarek…" She returned her gaze to the other magic type. "Your other sisters were all sold, but Lera stayed on. She's helping Mr. Grigori run things. The two of them keep in touch with who they can. You able to teleport?" Emiliya nodded. "Isaac, I'm taking her to the ranch, kay?"
"No problem, Jin."
Jin closed her eyes and focused. She was down to forty-five seconds to prepare her teleport these days. "Ready to go," the Fiendish Enchantress held out her hand to the Witch. Emiliya took it and the two vanished.
Duri smiled, but also had a speculative tilt to his eyebrows. "Uncle Jeong was always considered odd for how much freedom he allowed Himiko. Everyone said Jin was doomed to suffer some sort of conditioning cycle when she became a pokegirl. She expected to be treated the same way. I do not mean offense by this, but you're not usual either."
Isaac shook his head. "Never have been. Why do you say that though?"
Duri motioned towards where Jin had been standing. "She declared her intent to you. Most pokegirls would have asked for permission, or waited for their tamer to give the order."
Isaac chuckled lightly. "That wouldn't work at all with us."
Jin reappeared without her passenger. "Emiliya and Lera are doing the whole teary reunion thing. She wanted me to let you know she'll be here in a minute."
Duri shook his head. "You've been the only customers all afternoon. I was looking for an excuse to close up early." Duri bowed low and his voice was heavy with gratitude. "This will mean a lot to Emiliya. Thank you, Isaac."
Isaac felt embarrassed. "I didn't do anything."
"You've cared for Jin and that is why both of these reunions have been possible. Could I have your contact ID? Everyone here knows one another, I can introduce you and Jin to whoever."
"Yeah, sure." Isaac gave the string of numbers to the other young man. "You know Duri, you don't seem to be what you consider usual either."
Duri smiled. "Father could never understand why his pokewomen didn't treat him as well as Himiko treated Uncle Jeong. It was rather obvious to me, though. So I am glad to be unusual in that regard. Let me show you and your pokegirls out." He grabbed a handful of the cream filled cookie boxes. They were pressed into Isaac's arms once he was through the door. "This is all I can offer you for now, but tonight you and all of your pokegirls will have dinner with us."
"Uh, thanks. Okay." Isaac managed to agree and express his gratitude before the door was shut. There was a bench right outside the shop so he sat down. Jin sat next to him, Oleksandra sat down next to Jin and Neasa hopped into the Battle Angel's lap. Anahita elected to remain standing rather than squeeze in. Isaac studied Jin's face, trying to get a read on how the Enchantress might be feeling.
She was quiet and pensive, but looked into his eyes when she noticed him looking and smiled with just a little effort. "Come on Isaac, don't just hold the cookies. Here, give me the strawberry ones, they're my favorite." Isaac handed the package over, and a chocolate and vanilla one further down the bench. They sat and exchanged cookies for a few minutes, not doing or saying much else.
After cookies they explored some more shops. One specialized in clothing, another in furniture, and one that refused them admittance specialized in luxury items. They then wandered into the blocks occupied by North American shops, with imports from Crescent, Indigo, Johto (a very North American name), and Capital.
It was a strange experience. The people there all could recognize that Isaac was from the region, but they all placed him in a league that wasn't their own. Apparently his dialect didn't truly exist in the world anymore. When he thought about it, it was amazing that he could communicate as clearly as he could after three hundred and fifty years. Oleksandra explained that the existence of speech T2s were observed to have a stifling effect on the evolution of language.
Apparently this had been considered essential knowledge for Martian reconnaissance agents to possess.
When he got in touch with them later, Duri took them to a food cart where it seemed like every Edo expat was dining. Jin got plenty of opportunities to socialize but Isaac and the other pokegirls with him were mostly ignored, as was Emiliya.
After dinner it was time to go find Candi. The business and capital districts were between the international districts and wherever the Megami was working. There were many restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues ranging from theaters to casino arcades and, of one peeked down the right alley, a brothel or two. It seemed to be a center for nightlife and wasn't terribly far from where Oleksandra had participated in the VideoGirl games.
So what sort of job was Chandrakanta working?
Isaac and his girls walked the entire length of the block without finding the entrance. Telepathic inquiry over the delta bond guided them to the alleyways and a single recessed door with no windows. A worn poster plastered over top even more damaged signage informed them finally about the nature of the establishment. A bar with live dancers. There was a graphic of a Titmouse swinging on a pole with tassels over her nipples.
"Anahita, I can recall you if you'd like," Isaac offered the Seraph who was staring at the unassuming door as if it was the gateway to her nightmares.
"Yes, please," she responded with a small bow of her head.
The rest of the pokegirls had the courage or curiosity to step across the threshold.
There was a small lobby with a reception desk. Behind the desk was a tired looking human woman in full but provocative and revealing dress who smelled like stale cigarette smoke and heavy perfume. The same pole dancing Titmouse logo was painted on the wall behind her. At the larger scale Isaac could perceive that she wasn't a member of the mouse breed but a human woman or very near human pokegirl in costume mouse ears and tail. Block lettering framed the graphic informing customers that all of the dancing girls were pure human but eager and willing to do anything a pokegirl would. After presenting ID and paying a cover charge, Isaac was allowed inside after a warning that he would be held responsible for the behavior of his pokegirls and they would need to be put up to make room for human clientele should the club start to reach capacity.
It was small and mostly featureless inside, filled with lounge furniture that almost matched, by virtue of it all being cheap and bland, around a center catwalk stage with a fixed pole. To the left of the entrance was a bar with bar stools and a cluster of small tables, along the right wall were "private" booths formed by curtains. Entrances to the restrooms and a door marked for employees only was tucked in the back corners.
The claim that the working girls were all human was instantly proven untrue by Isaac's extra-sensory identification of breeds. Well, around half true. There was about a fifty-fifty split between humans and pokegirls who could pass for human, although some were a hard sell given their heights or other proportions.
There didn't seem to be that great of an effort to sell the illusion of an all human staff. The thinnest veneer.
The girls were all wearing costume elements that gave them fake ears, tails, horns, and sometimes fuzzy paws or miniscule and unconvincing wings.
They didn't wear much beyond the costume parts, thong bikinis, either bras or pasties, and stockings and gloves. Many had brightly colored hair and eyes, it would make it difficult to differentiate the humans and pokegirls. The club had just recently opened so things were rather inactive.
There was a dancer on the pole though, wildly spinning while inverted right as Isaac walked through the door. She was high enough on the pole to risk kicking the stage lights with her obscenely tall platform heels. Her long black hair swept the raised floor of the stage as she spun, she was one of the ones who drew skepticism regarding the claim of an all human staff thanks to her extreme height and figure. She was wearing a headband with curved horns and floppy white ears and a whippy white tail with a hairy tuft on the end. Her enormous breasts, nipples concealed by white pasties the size of saucers, kept swinging for a few moments longer than the rest of her and then fell to almost hide her face. Eyes like prismatic moonstones locked onto Isaac before hiding behind the veil of long and full eyelashes, but a flutter conveyed a sly wink before the Megami gracefully dismounted the pole.
Chandrakanta's strut carried her backstage and Isaac and his pokegirls were left to collect their mandibles, which all four of them had clumsily let fall to the floor. The tall and buxom Megami entered the club floor through the employees only door, dressed in a short satin robe over her 'work attire' and slippers on her feet instead of the ridiculous heels that made her close to Astoreth in height. She still had the cow ear headband and tail. "Isaac," she either said or mouthed out, he couldn't tell from the volume of music still playing.
They sat in a mismatched set of loveseats clustered around a scratched up coffee table that was about as far from the stage as the lounge furniture got. "This isn't what I was expecting when you said you were picking up a shift for a friend in Kyiv, Candi." Isaac felt like he had to shout over the pounding synthetic music.
Chandrakanta laughed. "Do not tell me you never made the association because of my nickname." She winked again. "That would not be honest of you. My friend is helping her sister take care of her children, they all have become ill and none of the regular girls could pick up this time slot. It is fun, every so often. You do not mind, do you?"
"I'm… not really sure," Isaac answered. He looked around. There was a girl with a tiger 'costume' on the stage now. A human. She was putting in nowhere near the effort in her dance Chandrakanta had. The only other patron was at the bar.
"I've heard of this sort of dancing," Neasa said speculatively while eying the pole. "Is it difficult to learn?"
"Some of it is, but it is all an excellent workout," Chandrakanta answered. "Ask Tamila to show you once she is done with her routine. She would be happy, with no customers at the moment." She stood up, "I am going to the bar for some water. Would any of you like something?" They all declined.
"I'm going to see if she'll teach me," Neasa declared while focused on the tiger-clad woman.
"Me too," Jin responded as if it was a challenge.
Everyone looked to Oleksandra, who merely twitched an ear. "I do not appreciate the level of volume in this establishment. May I be recalled to my pokeball like you did for Anahita?" Isaac did as she requested.
Tamila, supposedly the name of the woman in orange and black stripes, was finished with her set so a young Elfqueen and Enchantress jumped up to intercept her.
Isaac felt something slip across the bond with Chandrakanta, so he looked towards the bar. The man who was the only other guest of the topless bar had risen from his stool and was crowding into Chandrakanta's space, backing the Megami against the bar. Isaac moved to do something, what he would figure out when he got there, but a sudden dazzling flash of color from the Megami's eyes caused him to pause.
The man who had been harassing Candi suddenly shrunk back. His shoulders slumped, he ducked his head down and held a hand up to hide his face from the Megami's gaze. He dug in his pocket and tossed a clump of SLC notes onto the bar and then slunk for the exit. Isaac made his way over to where Chandrakanta was watching the retreating man's back. "Candi, you okay?"
Chandrakanta's eyes vanished as she smiled. "I am. So will he be, for the most part. He was being rather rude but suddenly was overcome with a great deal of shame,” the Megami informed Isaac while touching her chin with her index finger.
Isaac wondered and asked his question out loud. "Candi… did you take this gig just to deal with that creep?"
Chandrakanta smiled without providing an answer. Her eyelashes flicked towards the center of the club. "Oh look, Neasa seems to be a natural." Isaac's attention was drawn to where Chandrakanta indicated. The petite Elfqueen's body was suspended straight out from the pole in the flag pose. That meant she was gripping the pole with both hands extended past her head with her legs straight out. Her shirt rode up a little to reveal the tension in her abdominal muscles and they fought against gravity in such an unusual direction.
By the end of the tutoring session Tamila had suggested Neasa should seek employment at a club that didn't operate based on the, admittedly false, pretense of being staffed by human women. Jin she praised for her intuition for sensuality and the Enchantress received encouragement to keep practicing the more athletic movements. Chandrakanta had to heal Isaac's bruised coccyx, the tailbone, when he lost his grip after giving in to peer pressure.
After insisting Isaac stay while she performed one full routine, Chandrakanta promised to stop by Elena's after her shift was concluded, some time in the morning.
Jin pressed a small iron band into the palm of the Elfqueen, her eyes intent and the pressure of her finger constant on the piece of jewelry until Neasa closed her grip around it. Then the Enchantress looked up into the Elfqueen’s eyes. She put on a quick smile to try to disarm any tension but the joy didn’t stay on her face. There was none of the quippy rate of speech she got when happy either. “So this will give you those same enchantments as when we fought those Buzzbreasts. It’ll last for half an hour, that’s as long as I can manage for an object until I get my hands on some more copper. I can show you how to recharge it, I mean I could show Isaac how to recharge it except it would take him half a day. But I’m gonna need to charge Leksya’s and if one of you uses it I’m sure the other will too. It doesn’t take any longer for me to do both. Up to you.”
Neasa tipped her hand to let the ring slide down her fingers and then pinched it between her index finger and thumb. She lifted it up to examine the design. A plane band with shallow engravings. Her eyebrows were furrowed in concentration and her response was hesitant. "Thanks, it’s just…"
The corner of Jin's mouth twitched in a smirk, acknowledging the Elfqueen's confusion. "Not my usual style, I know. I’m trying to think of things differently. If I can count on you two to take care of things in a fight, that frees me up to experiment more."
"How long did this take to make?"
Jin shrugged and bobbed her head to the side with the motion. "Not that long. Couple of weeks once I decided on it. Candi has one hell of an enchanting lab. I asked her to show me some of her enchanting projects after she suggested Isaac suggest I ask her-" Jin stopped and grinned when she thought she could see Neasa attempting to follow the chain of communication. "Star, Elena, Isaac, and I all try to keep track of the different sneaky ways she influences people. It’s good if you need to tease her." Jin pulled a second ring that appeared to be an exact match to the one the Elfqueen was holding. "It was really helpful though, got me thinking about how I’ve been failing to consider all of my options…"
Jin flipped the ring like it was a coin. She caught it while pointing away from where Neasa had been watching the autumn leaves tumbling in the wind. “... Now come on, I’ll give Leksya’s hers and then show you two how to activate them."
Astoreth sighed with melancholic disappointment. "I remember when the last wall coming down was in the news." She handed Catalina's slab computer back. The honeymooners were back and still avoiding their families, so they were eager to accept Chandrakanta's suggestion of celebrating the Harvest Festival at the Borisov Ranch.
Catalina Stephania Dragulescu-Paza accepted the outrageously expensive and bulky digital media device and proceeded to the next set of photos. "Did you get to see any of the Hagia Sophia before it was ruins? I understand you have been alive for a great deal of time."
Astoreth regarded the young woman through golden eyes that betrayed no emotion. Then she grinned, revealing canines. "Not up close, but my legion passed through Istanbul during the war. It's a shame, we could have given it a more noble end than agonizing neglect."
Catalina regarded her intently for a moment. "Legion… You were…" The Transylvanian aristocrat's daughter's eyes lit up with wonder. "Is it true that you filled an entire swimming pool with human blood?!"
Astoreth made a tiny motion to back away, then shot a wary glance towards Vardan, who clapped a hand over his mouth to suppress his laughter. Once he got it under control he shrugged and answered the infernal's unspoken question. "My beloved wife has always had a dark fascination with ugly periods of history."
Astoreth rolled her shoulders. "No. That wasn't us. I heard that happened in Beverly Hills. It would have been… that was the Third Legion of Terror. I was in the Twelfth. We didn't earn that much infamy for ourselves, starting in East Africa. The big bitch took all the credit." Astoreth rubbed her right forearm and suddenly seemed distant.
Catalina looked to her husband with a questioning glance and then asked, "Big bitch?"
"Typhona," Astoreth answered. "We were in Alexandria when she made landfall. Lost my arm, trying to pull one of my sisters out of her black holes. One moment, was there, holding her wrist, then it was all gone…"
"Why were you there if Typhona was going to destroy it all?"
Astoreth was quiet for a moment, unmoving. Then she shrugged. "Handlers ordered us to. They wanted to be rid of us."
Catalina's eyes narrowed. "I hope you skinned them alive for their treachery."
Astoreth found herself grinning in spite of the grim memories. "Some. You would have made a great member of the Vampire auxiliaries, you know."
"My blood is pure," Catalina said petulantly.
Astoreth chuckled. "Some of the best auxiliaries were recruited by bite. I meant it as a compliment.” Catalina didn’t look convinced it was, at least not to the infernal veteran. She felt compelled to make her case. “We… we had our own form of honor, you know. We were proud. We thought we were doing the right thing, what we were made to do. Clearing away the rot of the old, to usher in the new. A force for progress…"
Catalina gently touched the massive infernal's sleeve. "If you meant it as a compliment, then thank you for the compliment, Astoreth." Catalina returned her attention to her tablet. "Anyway, from there we traveled to Amethyst. Here are the ruins at Patmos…"
The pokekits surrounding the ring toss stand watched in silent wonder as the ring wobbled and spun through the air, slowly drifting closer and closer to the space right above the target bottle. Jin grinned and briefly cut the power from her levitation enchantment, causing her audience to all let out an excited gasp when the ring suddenly dropped precariously before resuming its hover.
The youngsters remembered the excitement from Jin and Neasa's extended game from the previous year. They demanded the same spectacle this year. The Elfqueen and Enchantress accepted that their abilities were too divergent to make for a fair competition so they immediately resorted to trying to one up the other in showgirlship. Jin was using her enchanting abilities to dazzle and Neasa demonstrated a wide array of trick shots accomplished with her living bow at the archery booth.
There was the idea that they were competing for applause but the cheering was only intensifying as the games went on. Oleksandra had been tasked with determining the winner but the BATTLE Battle Angel was hopelessly lost regarding how to quantify the responses of the spectating pokekits.
It would be another year's celebration ending without a clear victor.
Anahita dipped the ladle into the bowl of punch and poured the drink into a cup to replace the one Chandrakanta gave to the impatiently waiting pokekit. The young Pri-mate ran back to a ring of onlookers. Anahita tensed up but Candi smiled as they saw the head of a massive serpent rise above the heads of the spectators. Gabi was performing a rendition of The Serpent Wife with Mandi playing the field worker while the Titto assumed every other role, including the titular serpent. It was another Slavic folk tale.
"So," Cosmina began to ask Isaac with a sky smile on her lips. Her eyes were on the Titto.
She and Isaac were out in the open area in front of the hobby band, hand in hand, or hand on waist and shoulder. They were doing little more than moving back and forth to the music, each step bringing their bodies just a little closer. "Nerses tells me you and Gabi make regular rendezvous together. Also that he's going around as a he less and less."
Isaac turned his head to the subject of their conversation just in time to see the giant serpent head squash down and vanish. "Gabi's exploring things and I don't mind."
Cosmina grinned and pressed herself into Isaac's space a little more. "You know me, I'm all for exploring. If you don't mind, what's the most adventurous you two have gotten? Is he still a boy when you're together?"
Isaac looked into her eyes, he felt like her asking was a minor transgression but what was a minor transgression between friends? She backed away from the hesitancy before Isaac answered but he shifted his hand to her lower back to hold her close. "Sometimes, usually when Mandi joins in. Other times it's the shape of some of the less human breeds I'm curious about. But I don't want to risk bonding her to me over something so frivolous. We've done Arachne, Basilisk, Titacruel, Dildoqueen…" Isaac waggled his eyebrows.
Cosmina burst into laughter. "Seriously?"
Isaac smirked. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure you're having fun imagining, though."
Cosmina made an exaggerated moan. "What I'm having fun imagining is you, Gabi, and Vardan alone together during this hunting trip you're all going on. Everyone knows what young boys get up to out in the woods together."
Isaac turned his face away to hide the sudden heat. "Vardan's married."
"I know, Isaac," she said kindly. "Just teasing. Sorry, I didn't realize you still felt for him."
"I… I don't really stop feeling things for people. My memory is too…" He didn't want to say it was good, "potent. I miss being with him but, not really so much the sex, you know? We barely got into that but just being… close. I miss that…"
Cosmina tightened her grip on his fingers, "So why not just be close?"
Isaac smiled after letting out a tiny embarrassed laugh. "Because we'd probably wind up having sex. He's a natural seducer, you know."
"Oh, trust me, I know," Cosmina took her turn to waggle her eyebrows. Then she lagged behind Isaac's steps and her expression got distant. "Sorry I turned down the invitation to join you guys. Just thinking about being back out on the steppes." She shivered, "Even knowing… knowing Neasa won…"
Isaac shook his head. "It's alright, Cosmina. I'm glad you came out here tonight."
The crimson haired young woman stepped back in time with him and moved close enough to press her front against his. "I am too." They finished the song in silence, but after the band finished and started introducing the next tune Cosmina tugged Isaac's hand towards the edge of the dirt dancefloor. "Want to go somewhere a little more private?" There was a clear suggestion in her question, the way she tilted her head so that she was giving him a sideways glance and pushed away her hair, leaving her neck exposed. Isaac answered with a smile and was led away into the shadows between the barracks buildings.
They took things slow but steady, lots of kissing and touching and breaks for continuing idle chit-chat. Cosmina was still in her bra and her skirt hadn’t quite descended past the curve of her ass when the two of them were discovered by Lera ushering the young 'kits to their sleeping quarters. A pre-adolescent Terra Bird was already unhappy about being sent to bed when there was still fun going on. Having two ‘grown ups’ in her bed ‘wrestling’, which was very much against the rules, was enough to elicit a meltdown from the poor child.
(-[|]-) End 17.1 (-[|]-)