Claim: All plot, characters and situations belong to me. Nobody but me is allowed to copy any of it without my consent, lest you want me to let loose a herd of hungry lawyers after you. Copyright as of 2013 - Present time. ©KuraraOkumura

If you like my work, you can like my fan page KuraraOkumura's Disciples on Facebook, and also follow me on tumblr as KuraraOkumura. I update about in-writing chapters there, and you can talk to me directly too if you have any questions. :P

Chapter 1

I'm Kaori Maorimiio, but you already know that. I'm also a warlock, and common belief wants this to mean that I'm in league with the Devil. Please. The Devil wouldn't want to have anything to do with me.

No; I'm the strongest warlock who ever lived. And I'm not just saying that to brag.

The guy I sent to his suicide not hours ago – because I know André Pichon enough to know that he won't give up his chase of me – was a 'goon', one of the French warlock's human thugs. Goons are humans who want to become warlocks; the only way to do that is to impregnate oneself in warlock Magick. I don't really care what the guy's name was. He'll be dead by dawn if he isn't already, and I won't be seeing him again.

Pichon, on the other hand, I'll be seeing again sooner than I'd like. The French guy's been after me for the best part of fifty years. No matter how many times I tell him I don't want him, he seems to believe I exist only to entertain his arrogant ass. Pichon sees himself as a womanizer. To be totally honest, he is, though I'm pretty sure I'm the only girl –warlock, human or other – who's ever turned him down. He thinks he's a hot shot; I just don't like guys. Well, not in my current form, anyway.

You see, here's the thing. I'm not just any warlock. I'm the most powerful. I can do whatever the hell I want. And one of the other reasons I'm worldwide famous is because I'm transgender – the magical kind. Some people might call me hermaphrodite. Meaning I can become a guy on a whim, and nobody's gonna notice shit difference. I was born over two hundred years ago – not even that old in warlock terms – and I've always felt at odds with my sexuality. The 1800s weren't exactly a safe environment for lesbians, and changing sexes had never even occurred to me as a possibility. It wasn't until the mid 1960s, one hundred and sixty years later, that I realized that it was, in fact, a possibility. And the amazing thing was that I had enough power, even then, to do it. And to remain as such – contrary to my contemporaries who inevitably reversed to their original appearance and gender after minutes, hours at best.

So, I'm a special case. As a woman, I'm a lesbian, and I'm known as Kaori Maorimiio. That's the name I'm mostly known under. Most people aren't even aware that I have another name as a man, even if they do know that I can perform permanent sex changes on myself. As a man, I'm Kinori Maorimiio, and I'm gay.

I'm like the two sides of a coin – printed on the same face.

So, Kaori Maorimiio doesn't like André. Kinori wouldn't mind, but André's just too damn straight. Too bad. It's his loss after all.

As of now, it's night, and I'm running. Well, I was running, except now I'm standing at the top of a building and it's kinda hard for me to go any farther. There's someone standing right in front of me; warlock - I could tell by her smell and by her Magickal signature even if I didn't know her. The figure's caped in blue and has orange-dyed hair, a sort of eerie clash of two worlds with the night sky in the background. I like that about her. Ruth tends to clash with everyone and everything except me; she follows her own trends and never takes shit from anyone.

Grinning, she steps forward and throws an arm around my shoulders, pulling me into her chest for a short embrace before I pull away and we both set off again. We run through the city, jumping from rooftop to rooftop easily with Ruth only shortly behind. She's been my apprentice for five years; before that she was my goon – the only one I've ever accepted. She grew into the job more easily than most humans, and it only took her fourteen years of proximity to me before she began to feel the call of Magick. For comparison, it took me two years. That's how freakishly strong I am. That's also why warlocks like Pichon, who's been around for twice as long as I have, tend to freak out when I say I'm out to gut them. I say like Pichon, because André's never been afraid of me. Instead of backtracking like most sane people would when they see I'm about to crack a pipe, he pokes my ass to get my attention and manages to make me rein in my power. His usual tactic is to encourage me to kill him, and since I don't like being given orders, I do the exact opposite. Which, I inevitably realize afterwards, is exactly what he was trying to make me do. Either way, I can't win against him. He's possibly the only person, along with Ruth these last few years, who can calm me down when I break a fuse. Unless he's in the mood to fight, that is.

As we run together, I can feel Ruth's power, bright and blazing, trailing right behind me like a living thing. It's ironic that the imprint of her Magick so resembles the fire that took everything from her nearly twenty years ago. Though ironic is perhaps too positive a word. Ruth describes my power as a blotch of ink, a smudge of darkness resembling an oppressing block of void-like jelly. Apparently my Magick is aggressive even when I'm not consciously using it, and attacks anyone who comes too close to me and whom it does not recognise as friendly. It also makes it easier for me to trance people, and that's damn handy.

Suddenly I stop, and Ruth, attuned to both my senses and hers through our apprentice bond, manages to interrupt her strides in time despite our speed, narrowly avoiding a collision. I drop into a crouch, and my Magick hides me instantly. Beside me, Ruth copies me, and says-


She's right.

I roll my eyes as I catch a whiff of his heavy cologne, the one he only ever wears when he knows I'm going to be there.

I can't help it. Still hidden by my Magick, I jump and disappear again, swallowed by the empty air. I reappear two roofs further, blue-hilted dagger to André's throat and his back against my chest.

He chuckles. I don't move my blade.

"André," I say, my voice as cool as ice, "did you get my message?"

"You mean the body you left me with?" he replies, sounding amused. "Yes, I got it. I assumed you knew I would disregard your valuable piece of advice, given that you had implanted that order in my dear Carlson's head."

"Indeed. Would you like to choose the way of your death? Or will you leave me with that honour?"

"Nee-san, I would appreciate it if you didn't completely annihilate him," says Ruth, sounding just as amused as André. I don't need to turn to her to know where she is, leaning against a chimney with her arms crossed and a laughing smirk twisting her lips. I can associate every one of her voice tones with a particular facial expression and body language, without seeing her; that's how well I know her. Of course, it's the same for her. Knowing each other for nineteen years does that to people, you know. You end up knowing the other better than yourself – even when you've had two hundred years old to get bored before that.

Oh, and by the way, nee-san is the term used to address an older sibling where I come from. That's Japan for ya, if you hadn't guessed already by my name.

Ruth's taken a liking to André, despite or maybe because he's so much older than her. I don't really feel like letting him go just now though. I have a reputation to hold up.

"Thank you for taking my defence, dear Ruth, but I believe that it is, for this once, infructuous," André says gallantly, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down against the blade of my blue dagger.

"André, mon cher, one more word and I'll cut your throat," I interrupt, concealed venom in my falsely sweet voice.

"Still intolerant as ever, I see, Kaori-chan," he chuckles, and before I can move he's behind me, my dagger is on the ground, and he has an arm locked around my neck and the other across both of my arms in front of me.

As if.

It only takes me a second to have him on his back, on the ground in front of me.

"Haha," I taunt him, shoving my foot into his face. I feel a really strong urge to laugh just now. You know, the kind of maniac laughs you only ever see in movies. I break down snickering instead at that thought. "Haha," I repeat between two chortles, still holding André's wrists stuck in mine.

Except now he's slightly annoyed. I can tell by the way his fingers are drumming against my wrists irritably. I kinda forgot to take my foot off his face, so I do now, and release his hands while I'm at it. I step back, and as he stands I put up a shield between us. He's still got dirt on his face from having my boot shoved into his mouth. My lips twitch again, but I set them stubbornly into a thin line, forcefully pulling the corners downwards, against the pull of my private hilarity.

There's a thump, and my eyes snap back to André as he sighs. "Your hospitality is as disappointing as ever, Kaori-chan."

"Oh please, André. Oshikomeshitte! Why would I be hospitable to you? I sent you a message expressly informing you that if you persisted in coming after me, I would dispatch you. And dispatch is the nice way to put it, mind you. As of now, I see no use in being hospitable or charitable. I see only use in slitting your throat open and repainting the roof of this building with your blood. What would your input be in that regards?"

Oh, I forgot to mention; André has a slight double personality disorder.

"Kaori Maorimiio," he snarls at me, the good humour on his face suddenly gone. "Si tu ne me laisses pas sortir de cette cage sur le champ, je vais-"

"You what, André?" I interrupt him sarcastically. "You know I'm more powerful than you. There's nothing you can do about that. Niente. Get used to it."

"There may be nothing that I can do about that," he spits, switching back to English, "but the Council will not appreciate you killing me, Kaori Maorimiio."

This full name basis is getting on my nerves. "Now you listen to me very carefully, André Pichon. I don't give a damn. When was the last time I've cared about what the Council thought? What, when I was a squire, a novice? Well I've got news for you, boss. I'm not a newbie anymore. I'm the most powerful warlock on this earth, and there is nothing that the Council can do against me. Nothing. And though they still mightn't have absorbed that, every time they send someone after me, I will kill them. Again, and again, and again. Now, would you like to rephrase your argument, or should I dispatch you now?"

"Nee-san," Ruth starts, closer to me than she was before, her voice uncharacteristically strained. "We have to go. Whatever you want to do, do it quick, but we have to go. Now."

I freeze. If Ruth is telling me this, then there's a very real reason to it. Both André and myself fall quiet for a second, and then I hear them.

Shifters on the rooftops – and they're heading straight for us.

I swear. This isn't good. Not good at all.

I whirl around to face Ruth, and the sparkling purple shield restraining André falls. I hear his soft laugh, and then he's gone. He knows better than to stay. The Shifters won't kill me, but they don't care about him.

I shout Ruth's name, and then she's behind me. I crouch and prepare to jump, but even as my body tenses for the leap, I freeze.

Too late.

The Shifters have us circled in seconds, and the sallow-red shield around us betrays the presence of someone I'd never expected to see here – or ever again. I close my eyes, motioning to Ruth for her to keep an eye on the panthers around us. My sensors reach out and pinpoint the outflux of Magick just outside the circle made by the Shifters. I was right. She's here. I'd recognize her Magickal signature anywhere. Why she's siding with the Shifters, I've got no idea, and I've got no way to find out right now since she's restraining both myself and Ruth inside her dome. I could break her hold easily, but it would still take me a few seconds of focused concentration, and that would give the Weres plenty of time to attack us. I can't do anything. I can't make my move. I've got no choice but to wait and see what they want from us.

One of the panthers pads out of the circle, and I turn to it while Ruth keeps a vigilant eye on the others. This one's massive, with startling violet eyes just like mine and a glossy black fur that looks like it's just been shampooed with one of those 'high-lustre' bottles puked up by the media. I nearly go back to snickering again, but Ruth's sudden hand at the small of my back where they can't see it settles me again. Right. Focus, Kaori.

I wait patiently as the panther turns into a human, still just outside the red circle of Magick confining us. It's a man, stark-naked up until the moment when a black cloak suddenly appears from thin air and he puts it on, and inside me Kinori is thinking, Yum. He's got long black hair, pulled back from his face into a thin, loose ponytail that only takes the hair from the top of his head into consideration; the rest is flat, so fine it's nearly vaporous, and drops just past his shoulder-blades. He has a long, aristocratic face and sharp, angular features, pointed eyebrows and laugh-lines around his eyes that don't look like they were made because he laughed too much. His mouth is set in a frown, his forehead is wide and strong, and he has deep dimples at the corners of his mouth and biting high into his hollowed cheeks. Haloed skinned and battle-scared, he looks like a man in his late thirties, maybe even forties, and Kinori loves that.

Dammit. I should have Changed before I left the building where André's pup tried to kill me. As it is now, Kinori is just begging to be let out, and I don't think I'll be allowed a private moment to Change.

Oh well. I shrug. Can't be helped. After all, my body's still only nineteen, even though my soul is over two hundred years old. I can be patient when I want to - although most of the time I'm just wanton.

So I just grin and let the moment pass. Ruth's hand drops from my back.

The man in front of me, standing just outside the circle of red Magick, opens his mouth, and I nearly stagger when he speaks, like a rush of hot air's just hit me in the face. He smells of sulphur and wood.

"Ruth Reygnak?" he says.

I nearly 'awww' out loud in disappointed expectation, but don't, since it tends to make people look at me kinda funny. If he's not here to talk to me, well, his loss. Still, I feel a kind of thwarted hope deflating somewhere inside of me. Sorry, Kinori. This one ain't for you, it seems.

Behind me, Ruth doesn't move. She's as stiff as ever. I give her a mental pat on the back. Good girl.

"What's'it you want with Reygnak?" I drawl, and mentally cheer when his eyes focus on me. I give an extra saunter to my stance, letting Kinori surface slowly in my appearance. The man blinks, frowns almost imperceptibly, but his eyes remain focused on me, and he suddenly goes up in my opinion. Not many people can look a warlock in the face while their Magick is at work; the compulsion to look away is usually too strong, and when they look back it's already too late. But this guy looks like he's learned from past mistakes. He looks me full in the face even as I Change, and his eyes only waver once as he does it. Yup. Definitely going up in my estimation.

Seconds later I'm Kinori, same long black hair as Kaori but without the fringe, a sharper face, squared and slightly more lined, but still the same slitted, dark Asian eyes, and I can tell by the abrupt and sudden wave of surprise going through the Weres that they've never seen a warlock Change before. To his credit, Badass only looks slightly troubled as he looks me up and down. My clothes have changed as well, though only in shape and size; I'm still wearing a black, tight-fitting shiny-leather pants, a maroon button-up shirt and my midnight-black cape/long coat. I never take that one off anyways. I like the badass movie-vampire look.

Taking advantage of the man's momentary muteness, I bend to retrieve the blue-hilted dagger I'd dropped earlier. I slip it into the leather scabbard attached to my belt, and at the slight whistle of iron on the metallic ring of the scabbard, I look up and meet the other guy's dark eyes. They're definitely a shade darker than before. Or maybe I'm just imagining it.

He straightens, his jutting chin high once more as he looks at me and Ruth with guarded eyes. "Kaori Maorimiio, I presume? Or should I say Kinori?"

I'm impressed. Really, genuinely impressed.

"I'm impressed," I voice out loud, my voice newly deep and soft at the same time. "Not a lot of people, least of all Shifters, know both of my names."

He gives a short acknowledging bow, one hand in front of him and the other behind his back, one shoulder jutting forward, and his black cloak juts out to reveal bits of a muscular chest and legs. I drag my eyes all the way up his figure appreciatively, until I meet his steady gaze. So he knows I'm looking. Kinda hard not to, in my defence. My lips twitch upward in a slow, slow smirk. I raise my eyebrows at him, and I might be imagining it but I think he's trying not to smile. Woohoo! Maybe I have a chance after all.

He straightens from his bow. "Your identity then only serves to confirm that your apprentice is indeed the one we were looking for."

I don't move. Behind me, Ruth isn't moving either. I can tell something's wrong, can feel her subdued panic through our bond. As per usual when she's unnerved about something, she has her feelings bottled up, and even through our bond, instead of getting a full onslaught of emotions, I get them muffled and vague as though she's put a dinner bell over them.

I look at the guy. He knows I'm not going to give her over. He knows and there's noting he can do about it.

I close my eyes. Reach out.

And then I have her.

The red shield falters and fades, and I jump into the portal I've just created. I reappear only meters farther, my blue knife once more at someone's throat, someone's back against my chest.

"Anna," I whisper into the warlock's ear.

I don't give her time to answer. I turn her ninety degrees to the right, and with a wave of the hand not occupied by the knife, I send half of the advancing Shifters on our left sprawling. Then Ruth is behind me, setting up a blazing shield of Magick between me, Anna, herself and the alpha, who was approaching us. In my arms Anna's gone limp, and I swear under my breath when I realize what's she's doing. I tighten both of my arms around her lifeless body and my Magick implodes around the two of us, our hair and clothes flying like we're suddenly standing on a valve of gushing hot air, and the shimmering of air that is her escaping soul hisses at me from within the boundaries of the newly created purple shield. "You're not pulling that stunt, An. I won't let you escape. Not again."

Then I drop my free hand on Ruth's shoulder, the three of us spin on the spot with me at the center of the formation, dropping into the ground, and we're gone.


Translations, because I do realise that most people here don't speak as many languages as I do:

Oshikomeshitte: "Shut up" in Japanese.

Si tu ne me laisses...: "If you don't let me out of that cage right this moment, I will..." in French.

Niente: "Nothing" in Italian.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. ^_^