TDTO: "Secrets Of A Demon Lord's Harem!"
by Imran Inayat, with assistance from B. K. Willis
Mephiahna was not in a good mood.
More specifically, she was irritated, because she was having to wrap her brain around an unfamiliar concept, the concept in question being that darling Kari was /willingly/ attached to the Boobless Wonder (or Ayna, as less biased observers would call her), /without/ there being any blackmail, extortion, seduction or use of powers.
Not that she hadn't come across the concept before, of course; one of her favourite pastimes was coming in and breaking up such attachments because by gods they looked so /boring/ - and Mephiahna /hated/ boring.
What was giving her problems was the idea that darling /Kari/ felt this way.
About the Flat-Chested Wonder.
If he /were/ feeling that way, Mephiahna felt, then that attachment should be directed to someone more deserving of it, which was to say Mephiahna herself.
Why, exactly, /was/ Kari attached to that... that /child/? What did he see in her? What was it about her that had caught his attention and prevented it from going where it rightly should? And what could Mephiahna do to make sure it went back there?
It wasn't strength and power, /that/ was for certain, because Ayna wasn't strong /or/ powerful by demonic standards, especially compared with Mephiahna. Yet confronted with a reasonable facsimile of Mephiahna's true form, Kari had /still/ chosen the stick-figure.
So if it wasn't appearance, and it wasn't general aesthetics, and it wasn't strength and power, then...
...what /was/ it?
Mephiahna was /not/ a happy succubus.
She needed to know, and she needed to know right /now/, thank you so very much.
She had no intention of going back to H. G. Wells to try and spy again - one way or another, that would involve /work/, and her recent stint at the school had had her on the verge of swearing a mighty oath to Lucifer and all the Powers of Hell so long as she /never/ had to go back to school again.
She needed to get in /deep/, find out what made Kari /tick/ these days, and short of him willingly opening up while she or a convenient proxy were around - she cursed Maxil again for the destruction of her spy-eye - that wasn't going to happen.
So how was she going to do it?
She was a /succubus/ - she was supposed to be an /expert/ in this sort of social stuff - but she needed to /be/ there, to be present, so she could work him over physically (and oh, how she wished she could /really/ work him over physically, but that wasn't happening any time soon). And she'd /lost/ her best chance to do that thanks to Maxil and that mixed-breed brat.
So what was she supposed to do? She wasn't about to wait around for Kari to providentially open up again - who /knew/ how'd long that'd take? She needed to know /now/.
"I need a way to get someone to open up without having to be there," Mephiahna told Philo, whilst January cleaned up the old Counterfeiting Demon's shop.
"I thought succubi liked getting physical?" Philo said, raising an eyebrow.
"I /do/, Philo." Mephiahna said. "/Believe/ me, I do. But that's not exactly /practical/ right about now. I don't want to have to wait around for them to open up - I need to find a way to get them to do it when /I/ want them to do it, on /my/ time."
"Why am I not surprised?" Philo murmured. "Nope. Can't do it."
"What?" Mephiahna said.
"Can't do it," Philo repeated. "I'm a Counterfeiting Demon, Mephiahna, /not/ an Agent. Not my territory."
"Don't you know of /anything/?" Mephiahna protested. "I mean, /surely/ there must have been times when you needed to find out about that last little bit of authentication or something? How to make it just like the real thing?"
"There were." Philo agreed. "And you know what I did? I /learned/. The hard way."
"Lucifer save us from the work ethic..." Mephiahna muttered.
Philo rolled his eyes. "/Look/. I made my rep in counterfeiting. And I made it by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts. If I was going to do something, I was going to do it properly. People /know/ they can trust my work. They know that if they ask me to do something, it's going to pass muster. And I'm not about to change now - /especially/ not now.
"Counterfeiting, I can do. Creating something original, I can just about do. Getting people to open up - at a distance, no less - no go. That's nowhere near /anything/ I'm comfortable with. You want something like that, go find an Agent or something, but I can't help you this time."
Mephiahna sighed, and prepared to use Hellpuppy eyes on Philo, when the shop door opened, and a grammar devil came in.
"No rest for the weary," the old demon grumbled, rising from his chair. "All right, all right, I'm coming... Good luck with finding someone, Mephiahna."
Mephiahna sighed again, recognising that meant the conversation was over, and got ready to leave, when she caught sight of January beckoning her from behind the counter. She double-checked on Philo, to make sure he wasn't paying attention to her, then slipped off to see what the semi-demon wanted.
"What is it?" Mephiahna said.
January proffered her a shiny, metallic disc.
Mephiahna peered at it, noting its lack of any kind of label. "An unmarked DVD, huh? If it's tentacle porn, I already subscribe to the Ooze-of-the-Month Club, so my collection is pretty much current."
January sighed, pulled a notebook and pen out of her apron pocket, and started scribbling in the scrawl of one who'd come to writing late in life. [majik dvd]
"Magic," the succubus repeated. "Okay, so why are you offering me a magic DVD?"
[u need], January wrote.
"I need? Why-- Wait, are you saying this is something that could help with my problem?"
Mephiahna peered at it again, this time with considerably more interest. "Well, all right then! Now we're talking!" She paused for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, _I'm_ talking, but you know what I mean. So, what does it do, exactly?"
Explaining in words was never easy for January, and Mephiahna could almost see the smoke coming out of her ears as she slowly scribbled, [giv 2 persun thay wach get sucked in hav 2 tell sekrit things. can set 2 no partiklar if u wont.]
Mephiahna parsed her way through that, making sense of all except the last sentence. "Is that 'no' as in shaking-your-head 'no', or 'know' as in finding out something?"
January nodded her head at the second part of the sentence.
"You can set it to search out something you want to know?"
Brow furrowed, the semi-demon flipped the page, and began another round of almost painful scribbling. [putt in playr menu go 2 opshins. set like u wont dun. do that sets up majik]
"I'm getting a headache," Mephiahna mumbled to herself as she read through that a few times. "Okay, so if I understand right, all I have to do is set what I want it to find out in the options menu, then it's armed and the next time it's put in a player the magic gets triggered and it draws in whoever is watching and makes them spill their guts? So all I have to do is slip it to my target and then arrange to watch their TV?"
January grinned and gave an eager nod.
"It _is_ a little gem, then," said Mephiahna as she twirled the disc round her finger. She sent January a narrow look, suddenly suspicious. "And just where did _you_ come up with something so useful?"
[blakmale demon trade 2 Philo Philo giv 2 me]
"Uh-huh. And just what did _you_ want with it?"
January just folded her arms and shook her head.
Mephiahna had to smile. "None of my business, huh? Fair enough. Now, what do you want in exchange for it?"
January rummaged in her apron pocket and pulled out an advertising circular from one of the swankier uptown clothing shops.
"Ah," nodded the succubus. "You want me to take you on another high-class shopping expedition, do you? Well, I'll admit that the last time was _most_ edifying, even if I _am_ still picking golem-bits from under my nails..." She flexed her claws in remembrance. "...but surely you don't need another outfit _already_?"
A deep flush settled on January's mottled skin as she furtively opened the advert to one particular page. The lingerie page.
"I... see," muttered Mephiahna, glancing between the young semi-demon and the item her finger was pointing out. "I certainly can't fault your taste, but are you sure Philo's heart is up to the sight?"
[got 2 get him luking sumhow] January scribbled.
Mephiahna smiled. "Then you've got yourself a deal."
Some days later:
"I have an idea," Nyssaias said.
The rest of the MythMob - which was to say Kari, Ayna, Molly, Kwen and Xeffy - listened.
"How about... we have a study-party this weekend?"
"No sleepover?" Kwen said, raising an eyebrow.
"Not just yet..." Nyssaias said, treading carefully. She didn't think what she had to suggest could really take a sleepover, not just yet. "I was thinking of taking it steadily for the moment."
The others looked at each other, before making general noises of agreement.
"Query: what is a study-party?" Molly said. "It sounds like a good idea, involving much learning of new facts."
Nyssaias chuckled; she found Molly's candour rather appealing. "That's because that's exactly what it /is/, Molly. We meet up in the morning at somebody's house, study until lunch, and then we can watch something or do something or just sit around and talk."
Xeffy and Ayna exchanged a look of mutual understanding, before turning back to the others, grinning.
"How about our place?" Xeffy suggested. "Lots of room."
"What about your father?" Nyssaias said. "Will he say anything?"
Xeffy waved it off. "He'll be fine. No problem."
"If you remember to tell him," Kari noted.
"Opinion," Molly said excitedly, tentacles flubbing. "This sounds like a /wonderful/ plan!"
Kwen glanced at Kari slyly. "Hey, /I've/ got an idea... how about we make it girls-only? Just us, no boys allowed - no offence, Kari, but sometimes you just wanna do something with the girls."
"No problem," Kari said, mouth quirking. "I think I can find something to occupy myself."
Nyssaias coughed, a little uncertainly. "And I wondered if perhaps I could invite Embericles?"
_That_ got the others' attention.
"...Are you _sure_, Nyss?" Ayna said carefully.
Nyssaias nodded. "Yes. I want to invite her."
She looked around at the others. "I'm not asking you to make friends with her or anything like that; I just want to know if you can at least manage to get along with her for a short while, be civil and treat her with respect."
"Believe me, we give her /enough/ respect as is..." Kwen muttered. "A nice, wide berth..."
Xeffy raised an eyebrow. "I think the question is, can _she_ be civil to _us_?"
"She will," said Nyssaias firmly, "or she will answer to me."
"...All right," Ayna said. "We'll give it a shot."
"Ayna!" Xeffy hissed.
"I said we'll give it a shot." Ayna said. "Nyss isn't asking anything more, and it's the least we can do."
"...Fine, fine..." Xeffy muttered. "Just don't blame me when it goes tits-up."
Ayna gave her twin a /Look/.
"...Alright," Kwen said, folding her arms. "If that's what you want."
"I am uncertain as to the wisdom of this," Molly said, "but I will give it a try."
"Mm." Kari said, peering at Nyssaias through his glasses. "Should be interesting."
Nyssaias coughed again, not a little embarrassedly. That was very much what she was /afraid/ of.
"So, um..." Ayna said, in the tone of someone feeling their way very carefully, "what sort of film does she like?"
Nyssaias breathed a silent sigh of relief. She hadn't been at all sure whether the MythMob would go along with this.
Now she had to see whether _Embericles_ would go for it.
"Embericles? Could I ask you something?"
"You're welcome to _ask_ me anything," the redhead replied, glancing up from her book. There was a sliver of amusement in her tone. "The worst I'll do is not answer."
"I wondered if you'd be interested in coming to a study-party with me this weekend," Nyssaias said.
"A study-party," Embericles repeated, voice flat. "With other people, I take it?"
"Well, yes." Nyssaias said. "It's a _party_, after all. We're going to have it at Xeffy and Ayna's house. Molly and Kwen are going to be there as well. It's going to be a girl-only thing - no boys."
"Uh-huh." Embericles said. "Still haven't given up on trying to make us friends, huh?"
Nyssaias flushed a little. "I'm not asking you to hug their necks and share secrets over the popcorn bowl. Just be there, and be polite to them."
"Why?" Embericles said.
"Why?" Nyssaias said.
"Why would I want to hang around with a bunch of giggly girls, and for that matter, why would they want _my_ sunny disposition there?"
"They're not-" Nyssaias calmed herself. "They're not like that."
"I'll take your word for it," Embericles said, raising a cool eyebrow. "But still, what's the point? It sounds like a guaranteed train wreck for everyone involved."
"Because..." Nyssaias hesitated. "Because this is a part of being in the world, Embericles. Trying to get to /know/ people. Or at least how to interact with them, get along with them. I can't be your only connection to the world - that's not the way it works."
"It's worked so far," Embericles said.
"But it can't work forever," Nyssaias said. "At least give it a /try/. The worst that can happen is that you don't hit it off and things stay like they are."
Embericles's mouth twisted. "No, I think it could get worse than that."
"I've asked them to be polite, too," Nyssaias said. "If they're not, then they'll have to explain it to me.
"No one's going to force you to do anything. You can sit off in the corner and not say a word, if that's what you want. But I do wish you'd at least be there with me. It's important to me that all my friends can be
The redhead looked away for a moment, then sighed and looked back at her. "Okay. I'll go with you and I'll try not to piss anybody off. And if this all goes to crap, as it almost certainly will, I won't say 'I told you so.' Because I won't have to."
"Fair enough," said Nyssaias with a relieved smile. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet."
A little later that week:
"We'll take these," Xeffy said, placing the DVDs on the counter.
"No problem," the assistant said, and went off into the shelves.
Had Xeffy and Ayna been able to /see/ what he was doing back there, they might have been a little more worried.
Once the assistant had collected all the DVDs, he headed for another shelf, close to the back, where an unmarked DVD in a plastic envelope lay next to the cases.
He selected one of the DVDs he'd already brought, removed it from its case, and put in the unmarked DVD.
Then he touched the original DVD to the unmarked one.
The surface of the unmarked DVD shimmered momentarily, before morphing into a fascimile of 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'.
The assistant nodded, and went to leave a note on a side table, noting which DVD had been changed.
He then texted a message to a certain number before returning to the counter and scanning the DVDs.
"/Finally/," Mephiahna muttered. Her bad mood had only briefly abated with January's shopping trip, quickly returning as she found out just how much work had to be done to get the DVD into the Allinghams' possession so they'd watch it.
First, she'd had to find out which rental store they used, which she'd done by going through the phone book and visiting each one in person (which, admittedly, had been rather pleasing, but had done nothing for her bad mood).
/Then/, she'd had to charm all the staff at the store - by one means or another - to ensure that the DVD would get into the Allinghams' possession. Again, /this/ had been rather pleasing, but her mood /still/ hadn't got any better.
_Then_, she'd left a spy-eye outside the store, and waited, and waited, and by-the-gods _waited_, until she heard the Allinghams had picked up the DVD. This part had been, by far, the most agonising, and Mephiahna had been busy working off her frustrations in the meantime as only a succubus knew how.
Why couldn't she just get people to do things when /she/ wanted them to do it? Why did they have to take their own damn time about it? Didn't they understand how gods-damned _boring_ it was for her?
But at last - at /last/ - all this gods-damn /work/ would finally pay off.
She sent the spy-eye after Xeffy and Ayna.
"This is it?" Embericles said. "Not quite what I expected."
Indeed, on first sight, the Allingham house didn't look like much; a plain, wood-panelled door, with brass door-knocker and letterbox, sat between a river and a hill, opening seemingly onto nothing.
Nyssaias, however, knew there was more behind the door than met the eye; it was the doorway to a pocket universe, which could be shaped as the owner wished.
That Xeffy and Ayna's father could afford one suggested he was fairly well-off.
She knocked on the door.
"I'll get it!" Xeffy's voice called. "Hey, Nyss!"
Nyssaias looked around, trying to see where Xeffy was looking from. "...Hello, Xeffy."
The door opened, revealing Xeffy standing in the middle of a long dark corridor. She acknowledged Embericles's presence before returning to Nyssaias.
"Come on in," she said. "Take your shoes off first."
Nyssaias entered, looking around herself, and _blinked_. Resting in a rack all its own by the coats was Molly's dataxe, a wickedly sharp double-headed axe-cum-energy weapon-cum-data retrieval device.
"Weapon rack," Xeffy explained. "Dad had to pull it out of storage."
Nyssaias tried to compute this, before deciding she'd be better off asking later.
She and Embericles took off their shoes and followed Xeffy down the corridor.
Xeffy stopped by the first door on the right, and opened it.
Inside, the living room was big and comfy, with deep carpet and heavy old furniture; the TV, DVD player and VCR were in a far corner of the room.
The room seemed to Nyssaias to epitomise warm comfortable nights by the fire. Indeed, it even /had/ a fire, a gas one, burning happily away in the fireplace.
Ayna, Kwen and Molly had already settled in, making themselves comfortable, bags near the door.
On the mantlepiece were a collection of ornaments and photographs, among which Nyssaias saw a family portrait, with Xeffy and Ayna, their two elder sisters, their father, and Kari, a smaller, more personal one of Mr Allingham and a lady who bore a striking resemblance to the Allingham daughters, but not quite like any of them - this, Nyssaias presumed, was Mrs Allingham; she'd never heard where she might be - and-
It was Mr Allingham - or Mr Allingham as he might look if he were a short, chubby bowling pin.
Even Embericles allowed herself a small smile at the thing.
Xeffy caught where Nyssaias was looking, and grinned. "Like it?"
Nyssaias nodded. "Yes."
"Russian doll," Xeffy explained. "Friend of ours had it made as a present.
"Want a look?"
"If that's all right." Nyssaias said.
"Sure," Xeffy said, reaching up and handing the doll to her.
Nyssaias and Embericles sat down by the table, and opened the doll up.
Inside was a likeness of Mrs Allingham; a heart-shaped face in dark skirt and white blouse.
Inside that was Allie - Nyssaias /knew/ it was Allie, as the full Edwardian garb identified her immediately.
Next was Sandra - not transparent, as was the real-world one, but still easy to identify from the cowgirl costume nevertheless.
Next was Xeffy's.
Nyssaias frowned. For some reason, the crafter had shown Xeffy looking into a hand-mirror.
It took her a moment to realise it actually looked as if Xeffy were /talking/ to the mirror, and a further moment to realise that the face looking back wasn't Xeffy's, but someone else's - a woman, a little older than Sandra or Allie, brown hair in a neat bob.
It had been done with remarkable detail, the face in the mirror being no bigger than a fingernail.
Nyssaias frowned again. She wasn't entirely sure /what/ this had to do with Xeffy, and looked to her friend for an explanation.
"Personal thing," Xeffy said. "Go on."
Nyssaias did so, still frowning.
Next up was Ayna, wings neatly folded behind her back, and inside /that/, the very last doll of all, carved from a solid piece of wood, Kari, hand raised to his glasses as if moving them into place.
Nyssaias looked along the dolls. They were wonderful work, it was true, but the anomaly of Xeffy's doll in amongst them threw it off for her. She couldn't work out what about Xeffy had led to /that/.
But still, if Xeffy wanted to leave it as it was...
She reached for the dolls, intending to put them back together, when Embericles stopped her.
Nyssaias blinked - and blinked again when her friend put the dolls back together with consummate ease.
"Mind if we get on?" Embericles said.
Whatever spell there might have been was broken, as the girls started to get down to work.
Nyssaias looked up at the doll, frowning, and decided she'd see if she could ask Xeffy or Ayna - or perhaps Kari - about it later.
Then she settled down to work.
"Kwen?" Xeffy said, some while later.
"Could you take a look at this circuit, see if it works?"
Kwen took the notes from Xeffy.
"...No," she said, after a moment's examination. "The way you've got it now, it'd burn out pretty quickly. You might want to try something like this."
She sketched a circuit diagram quickly beneath Xeffy's original.
"There you go." Kwen said.
"Molly?" Nyssaias said. "Could you double-check, make sure I've got everything right?"
She handed over a diagram depicting the broad outline of Silurian anatomy in both genders, with Nyssaias's carefully added labels, to the Grel girl.
Molly looked it over.
"Yes," she decided after a while. "This is an accurate depiction of Silurian anatomy, albeit simplified enormously."
"Could you say /how/ it was simplified?" Nyssaias asked curiously.
Kwen clapped a hand over Molly's tentacles, causing Molly to squirm them in protest. "/Not/ a good idea, Nyss. If we get her onto that, we'll be here all day. Maybe some other time, all right, Molly?"
Molly glared balefully at her friend, but nodded reluctantly.
Kwen carefully - _very_ carefully - let go.
Kwen had been making frustrated little grunting noises that rose steadily in intensity, until, finally, she let out what sounded like a swear word in her native language and shoved her book and her study guide across the table. "I don't get this at _all_!" she complained, clutching at her snakes, which hissed, some in pain, some in sympathy.
"Query: what do you not get?" Molly asked
"This one here. 'Complete the following quote, identify its author, and explain its significance: "Go tell the Spartans..."' I can't even figure out where to _start_ looking!" She glanced around at her friends in hope of
"Doesn't ring any bells with me," Xeffy said apologetically. "But I don't have Mr. Lethbridge-Stewart for history."
"I just can't place it, sorry." That was Nyssaias.
Embericles, on the settee beside her, set aside her science book and fixed her gaze on the young alien. As their eyes locked, Embericles began to recite, "'Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws we lie.' Epitaph written by the poet Simonides and inscribed on the monument to King Leonidas of Sparta and the 300 warriors who died with him holding the pass of Thermopylae against 200,000 Persians in 480 BC. They inflicted enormous casualties and stopped the Persian army cold, but were betrayed and died fighting to the last man, in accordance with Sparta's customs."
"Uh... Thanks," said Kwen after a moment, but Embericles was already into her science book again.
Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five
Copyright 2005 Imran Inayat.