Placeholder: A Post -Industrial Fantasy Story

Chapter the third


Cassie was not difficult to find. A damp trail led straight back to her room. Some fairy maids were already busy trying to soak it up with towels before it damaged the carpet. Solomon gave them a thumbs up for their diligence; fairies always responded well to positive reinforcement. they acknowledged him and got on with their work. He approached Cassie's door and gave it a gentle knock.

"Are you alright in there?" He did not get a response. "I've got a towel and stuff if you want them." He set the items down by the door and started to leave when the door cracked open.

"Solomon?"

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry. It's nothing against you. It was just too much too soon, y'know?

Solomon sighed and offered her a reassuring smile. "Yeah, I understand. I'm sorry about Makoto. When she gets an idea in her head she can be a bit too… enthusiastic. But don't let her bully you into anything you don't want."

"But I do!" Cassie interjected. She ducked her head partially behind the door, ears flattening nervously at Solomon's look of surprise. They perked back up as she gathered her courage and shyly met his eyes. "I think I do. I'm just… not very experienced. And I wasn't kidding when I said I'm not sure I'm ready for family and kittens. But… I didn't not like it. I'm just not ready, you know? I need time to… think."

Solomon was silent for a moment, stunned, then another slow smile spread on his face, but this time his eyes were warm in a very different way.

"I get it," he said, his voice rumbling in a way that drew Cassie's eyes down the slender vee of his chest exposed by his bathrobe, a blush glowing through the damp fur of her cheeks. "Just so you know… there's no pressure. No one is demanding family and kittens. You never have to do anything you don't want to do with us. But if there is ever anything you'd like to… try out… well… just know, the invitation is open. And… Makoto isn't the only one that would welcome you enthusiastically."

When their eyes met again, there was a smolder of promise in his, and a sparkle of bright, if hesitant curiosity in hers - and between them a first tentative thread of mutual hunger.

Solomon cleared his throat and stepped back, offering her the towel before the exposed outline of her shapely hip and thigh peeking from behind the door made a liar out of him.

"Now please dry off before you catch something. I suspect 'Koto will want to apologize too, so y'know, at least hear her out, okay?"

"I'll try," she replied, opening the door just wide enough to take the offered grooming utensils in one snowy white arm. A few fairy maids rushed inside, eager to prevent water damage.

Cassie shot him one last lingering look and a small, hesitant smile before retreating and closing the door. Solomon lingered until he heard the hair dryer start then went downstairs to get something to eat.

0-0

Makoto sat in the Jacuzzi. The jets of water swirled around her body in what would normally be a soothing manner. However, she was too caught up in her thoughts to enjoy it. Frustrated, she turned the device off and got out, drying herself with a finger snap. She threw on a robe and left the bathroom. Solomon was downstairs watching the morning news and she could hear a hair dryer coming from Cassie's room. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor she retreated to their room to get dressed. It was always good policy to look presentable while delivering an apology.

She emerged several moments later in a short red floral print yukata cut to expose her bare shoulders and highlight her impressive cleavage. She finished tying the rather elaborate Obi. before checking to make sure everything was adjusted properly. She moved to the balcony before leaning over (incidentally drawing attention to her own 'balcony') and asking her husband:

"Are you off today?"

"No," he replied regretfully whilst hurriedly finishing off a breakfast burrito. "Have to fill out some after action reports on last night's raid. Should be due some vacation after that though. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious."

Having put it off as long as was feasible Makoto went down the hall to Cassie's door and gave it a solid knock, then opened the door without bothering to wait for a response.

"Can I talk to you?" she announced.

"Alright," conceded the occupant. The fox was coming in no matter what she said, so Cassie decided she might as well act like it was her idea.

Despite having the hair dryer on full blast, Cassie was still rather damp and gamely trying to brush the tangles out of her fur, a quite laborious task on one's own.

"Here, let me help." Makoto took the items and set to work.

The calico wasn't exactly pleased with Makoto steamrolling into her personal space, but she offered no objection. Makoto was still the dominant predator here. Not to mention… being brushed felt really good. Less work for me, she rationalized, then gave in to the pleasant tug of the brush and began to purr.

For her part Makoto was being very careful to avoid the more intimate areas of the cat's anatomy discreetly reinforcing her dominance while assisting her pack subordinate with the difficult grooming process.

"Miss Cassandra," she said as she drew the brush through the silky fur along one lithe leg. "I would like to apologize for my actions earlier. It was not my intention to make you uncomfortable."

"Mmm," was the calico's response, lost in the pleasant haze of relaxation that Makoto's touch engendered in her.

"Please allow me to make it up to you."

"…alright," The kitten answered faintly, her ire soothed by the fox's skillful ministrations.

"Excellent. Tell me are you working today?"

"No, took a few days off."

"Then might I accompany you in acquiring some supplies? We don't have meals suitable for your nutritional requirements."

"Hmm, yeah," Cassie responded, vaguely aware that Makoto was not actually asking, but telling. Thus she continued: "Need some clothes too. Can't keep running around with my tits out like at home."

Makoto chuckled. "Yes, while neither Solomon nor I would mind if you did, it would probably be for the best." Makoto had finished brushing and snapped Cassie dry. "There, all done."

Cassie blinked a few times to shake off the pleasurable trance the fox had put her in; this was starting to become a pattern, and she wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

"Thank you," said the feline Miss Manners.

"Anytime." Makoto meant it too; it was a joy to work on such a responsive subject. "Allow me to get some breakfast and then we'll see about getting your supplies."

"Ah, okay." No longer so distracted, Cassie sounded much less certain.

"Excellent," the fox said, ignoring her ambivalence and surprising her with a hug. It was friendly rather than suggestive, and not entirely unpleasant. Cassie felt a measure of her tension ease. "Put on something respectable and we'll go once I've seen off my husband."

0-0

Speaking of that worthy individual, Solomon had just finished donning the nondescript gray suit that was his work-a-day attire. Last night's raid had made the news – well, the local anyway. No details had been released besides 'plot thwarted, hostages rescued, no casualties and only one injury'. No mention of his girls, but that wasn't a huge surprise. The fairy unit was still experimental. It had taken quite a while for them to grasp the concept of "excessive force".

He turned off the TV and hung his ID badge around his neck, ready to step out of the front door and straight into HQ. One of the benefits of living in the van – no more tardiness citations for him!

Makoto chose this moment to come down the stairs.

"Leaving for work?" She went to him and pressed herself against his chest, giving his tie a gentle tug. "Kiss," she demanded, unable to reach on her own. He gladly obliged.

"Happy?"

"Quite." She readjusted his tie and collar. "Oh, Cassie and I are going on an outing, so we may not be here when you get back."

Solomon frowned. "Take it easy on her," he reminded. "And keep your hands to yourself."

"Spoilsport," she pouted.

Solomon rolled his eyes and left the apartment, acquiring a brace of fairy escorts in matching skirt-suits and tiny sunglasses as he exited the van.

0-0

Solomon and his entourage strode confidently through the building to his assigned enforcement division, greeting co-workers as he walked. He couldn't help but notice once again that the bureau employed a plethora of attractive females from all races. Orcs, beast-men, every variety of elf, a few dwarves and of course humans. Workplace romances were not only allowed but subtly encouraged by upper management as a security precaution, giving rise to some rather unflattering rumors among the populace at large. The Bureau was a very large organization funded by the United Nations with a multitude of branches in every country on earth. All realized and agreed upon the danger of magic run amuck. In return the MRB was staunchly neutral in all matters beyond its narrow field of jurisdiction and was largely left to its own devices. People might talk, nobody with any sense at all was going to interfere with the bureau's fragile internal balance of power.

Solomon sat at his desk, filling out forms while the fairies sat atop his PC tower playing cards and surreptitiously keeping an eye on his co-workers. The cards were quickly abandoned when a six-and-a-half-foot tall muscular orc strode up behind their master. Solomon quickly signaled for them to stand down when he recognized the lady as Bethany Skull-crusher, assistant and niece of the section commander. (Orcs didn't have a word for nepotism.) She was so polished she practically gleamed; her hair pulled back in a rather severe bun, the short tusks jutting up from her lower jaw buffed to a nearly blinding shine, she was every inch a professional.

"Morning, Bethany," he greeted pleasantly. She gave him a stone-faced stare.

"Meeting in 15 minutes. Don't be late," she rumbled, unimpressed, before purposefully striding off to her next task.

"Nice to see you, too," Solomon muttered under his breath as he shuffled his paperwork into a neat stack and pushed away from his desk.

0-0

Elsewhere and probably else when as well, in a place that wasn't technically real but well within spitting distance, a malign presence stirred. Its indistinct form was wreathed in a fog of chaos radiating contempt and jealousy and twisted ambition. Its latest plan was going well. Soon it would get the recognition it rightly deserved – unlike its utterly contemptible sibling, whose great renown undeserved, its fame mere aberration. But sticking it to the overrated has-been was only a side benefit. Soon the life energy gathered by its acolytes' grisly sacrifices would render it untouchable! Even by others of his eldritch breed! It would humble even the mightiest among them! Then and only then would it release the true measure of its power! Only once its might and position were at the very pinnacle it would unleash its true legacy! Mwahahahahahahaha, etc.

0-0

After saying goodbye to Solomon, Matoko went to collect Cassie for their outing. The Immortal Nine-Tails was a little giddy. She couldn't remember the last time she had the opportunity to shop with another girl. Solomon, while a more than adequate companion in most respects, was not particularly interested in the finer points of haute couture, and thus viewed shopping as a purely utilitarian exercise rather than a recreational activity in and of itself. The fox was practically drooling at the prospect of an extended expedition.

"Knock, knock," she announced as she barged into Cassie's room only to stop short. "Oh my. Is that what you're wearing?"

The kitten stood, embarrassed, in the inexpensive gray suit she had worn the previous day. "Is it okay?" she asked, self-consciously tugging at the hem of the just-barely-long-enough micro-skirt that she wore with her gray blazer and white button-down shirt. "I know it's a bit… well… I didn't think I'd need a change of clothes when I went to work yesterday."

Cassie looked so downcast that the fox took pity on her.

"Oh, it's alright as far as it goes. It just makes you look like you're my bodyguard."

"S-sorry." The kitten's ears drooped; she looked adorably sad.

Kawaii! (So cute!) thought Matoko. "It's fine. We'll just have to get you something better. That is, after all, the point of today's outing."

Cassie perked up a bit. "And to get food!"

"Of course. Shall we get started? We're taking my car."

When the pair had arrived at the garage, Cassie eyed Makoto's er...vintage coupe.

"Is that thing safe?" queried the visibly nervous feline.

"Of course!" the fox replied incredulously. "I've done all the maintenance personally."

When Makoto had purchased the vehicle in 1927 for the princely sum of $7,842.87 (in an era when a three-bedroom house in an upscale neighborhood could be had for under $5,000), her meticulous nature had compelled her to learn everything there was to know about the vehicle's inner workings. She had rigorously followed the manufacture's recommended service schedule. Although the company had long since gone the way of the buffalo, spare parts were still available – for a price – from a small but dedicated club of collectors and enthusiasts, all of whom she knew personally.

"It's perfectly safe," she reassured Cassie before opening the door and lowering herself into the luxuriously upholstered interior. The calico regarded the low-slung, swept back art- deco styling with wary admiration – it looked like it was going a hundred miles an hour just sitting there. It also looked like it belonged in a museum.

"Come on!" urged the fox.

Cassie reluctantly opened the door and lowered herself into the hand-stitched leather bucket seat. Upon fully entering the cabin she felt a distinct presence of... something in the vehicle with them. Rather than the typical malevolence of a wraith or a shade, the presence radiated warmth and comfort in a way that made her feel completely safe and secure – whatever journey she made in this vehicle would be a wholly positive experience. Her MRB training allowed her to recognize the phenomenon almost instantly – the semi-sentience of a concentrated point of magical energy – a genius loci! Cassie knew she shouldn't be surprised; after nearly a hundred years of exposure to the powerful magic of the Immortal Nine-Tails, it would be strange if it hadn't awakened the car's inherent spirit. But still, they were rare and powerful protectors. It was more than a little impressive. After a stunned moment she noticed Makoto sending her a smirk.

"Any problems?" she asked smugly.

"No ma'am," she replied, abashed. This was probably the safest car in the entire world.

0-0

Half an hour later Cassie found herself in an out of the way boutique in an upscale part of the city. She had never felt solvent enough to venture into this part of town. She kept expecting someone to ask her to leave because she was obviously in the wrong place. If she worked really hard and applied herself, she might be allowed the privilege of mopping the floors here – after hours of course, when the customers wouldn't see her.

Makoto on the other hand strode in like she was doing the place a favor by gracing it with her presence. Choosing something off one of the display racks she held it up in front of the flustered cat to see how it would look before shaking her head and putting it back.

"Um...Makoto?"

The fox looked up from her browsing. "Yes?"

"I think this place is a little out of my price range." None of the clothes had prices on them! Even Cassie, as inexperienced in high end retail as she was, knew what that meant: if you had to ask, you couldn't afford it.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Makoto answered breezily. "Consider it a gift."

"EH?! I couldn't possibly! I mean…"

"What do you think of these?" interrupted the fox. Several outfits were levitated over to the sputtering kitten. Most were of an Asian style, very similar to the sort of clothing Makoto herself favored. "Have a feel."

The flustered feline did as she was told.

"One hundred percent natural silk!" the fox proclaimed. "Nothing like it. These will also be enchanted to resist stains and enhance durability."

Cassie wasn't really listening at this point, lost in the feel of the material. It was so smooth and light! Unable to resist, she brushed the hem of a garment against her cheek, imagining what it would feel like against her fur. Almost like wearing nothing at all.

Makoto grinned knowingly at her. "Now what was that you were saying?"

"Um, nothing important." Cassie decided that it would be the height of incivility to refuse her host's generous gift; as difficult as it would be, she would just have to endure.

By now the pair had drawn the attention of the sales staff. An attractive, but not too attractive elven saleswoman subtly introduced herself into the scenario.

"Good to see you again Mrs. Kitsunehime-Grimes. How may we be of service this morning?"

"Ah, hello, Ms...um, Lywern wasn't it?" the elf nodded. "You look well."

"I am pleased you recall, madam. How may we serve you today?"

The fox indicated her young companion. "My friend here –"

Cassie raised a hand. "Hello," she said shyly.

"— needs a completely new wardrobe," Matoko finished.

"Ah, I see," the elf nodded, circling Cassie like a well-meaning shark. "Such lovely fur. Nothing too tight or heavy, then, for maximum comfort. A fine athletic figure, much too tall and slender for the deep vees that are in now, but we can certainly find something to accentuate those long legs…"

"Spot on, miss, quite perceptive I must say," Makoto complimented and turned back to the cat. "Now, Miss Cassandra, what are your preferred colors?"

"Er, Um…"s

"You have a Summer coloring, though you might be able to sneak into the Spring palate now and then. I prefer pastels myself but that wouldn't go well with your coloring. Something warm and bold to bring out the highlight in your fur. How do you feel about lavender? It should accent your blue eyes wonderfully."

"...Okay?" Cassie felt quite out of her depth and sinking fast. What she'd had in mind was some off-brand tank tops ($15 for a pack of five), several pairs of jogging shorts and perhaps something a bit nicer if it was on sale, not...whatever this was!

"Excellent," replied Makoto. She turned to the sales elf. "We'd also like to see a selection of intimates, if you would be so kind."

"Eh!?" Cassie interjected alarmedly.

Before the calico knew what was happening, she was whisked away to a dressing room and had a plethora of fashionable garments hurled at her in a tempest of colors and fabrics. Next came a dance of putting them on, doing a little walk and turn for the judges, then taking them off, only to repeat the process ad infinitum, on her own at first, but before long with her patron's assistance. (With a few "accidental" gropes here and there. Makoto wasn't made of stone.)

The fox was thoroughly engaged and in control of the entire affair, directing it with an unquestionable authority.

As the storm thundered on, Cassie found herself strangely energized and had even made a few contributions of her own. Who knew clothes shopping could be so much fun?

0-0

At just slightly past noon, the sun was high in the sky as the intrepid conquerors left the boutique, burdened with their spoils and chatting happily on the way back to Makoto's esteemed vehicle.

"Thank you," Makoto said as they stashed their prizes in the car's cavernous trunk. "I haven't had that much fun in ages."

"Oh no," the cat protested, "I should be thanking you. You've given me so much." Cassie nervously smoothed down some stray hairs. "I feel like I'm taking advantage."

"Nonsense!" protested the proud nine-tail. "I only did what I felt like doing. You have no idea how nice it is to have someone to go shopping with."

As they climbed into the car, Makoto continued, "It's been forever since I've gotten to play dress-up!" The fox leaned over and gave her a flirty pinch on the cheek. "Especially with such an adorable doll as yourself."

Cassie felt a little blush warm her cheeks at being referred to in such a manner before chastising herself for her shameful acquiescence. She was an independent adult, not a child or a doll! Wasn't that why she moved out? She was tempted to get angry but decided to give Makoto the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps her new friend just spoke in an imperious manner sometimes, which was to be expected of such an august being; old habits die hard after all.

"That took a bit longer than I intended," the fox continued, unaware of her companion's inner turmoil, "but I know just the place to have lunch. Solomon will just have to fend for himself a while longer." A mischievous twinkle entered her eye. "And speaking of Solomon, I imagine you have some things you'd like to show him."

Cassie made an embarrassed noise and covered her face with her hands. She did indeed have things to show her not-quite-lover. In addition to some much higher quality fitted gray work suits, she had also acquired some less professional wares: simple but flattering A-line and baby doll dresses for a casual occasions, slinky pencil skirts and boat-neck blouses paired with silk scarves or statement necklaces, for a hint of sophistication. An eye-catching Chinese cheongsam that showed just enough of her brilliant white fur to be daring but not enough to be indecent. And lastly, because Makoto had insisted, a full formal kimono set with rich elaborate patterns paired with an oriental fan and delicate hair ornaments for the full effect. (She had no idea where she would ever wear it, but the fox had absolutely insisted!) Not to mention some scandalously brief scraps of satin purporting to be clothing, which did nothing to conceal, but rather enhanced her figure to the point that she seemed somehow more naked than if she'd foregone clothing entirely.

Currently she had discarded her cheap rumpled suit in favor of a breezy lavender midriff peasant blouse and some embroidered denim short shorts with a chunky yin-yang belt buckle. She was feeling feminine and confident, and yeah, she wanted to throw caution to the wind and show off!

"I know this darling little cafe that does the most delightful sandwiches, and their tea is simply divine!" the fox exclaimed. "Then we can head to the butcher's shop for your meats."

"Cool," acknowledged the kitten, directing a purposeful smile at the fox. She'd had her misgivings about this outing, and about Makoto, but it was going much better than expected. It seemed silly and rather rude to continue keeping her guard up when Makoto had been nothing but generous and obliging all day. And after all, it was just lunch. She relaxed into the cozy leather with a contented purr. What could possibly go wrong?