• Published 17th Feb 2015
  • 5,017 Views, 204 Comments

Dresden Rocks - Chengar Qordath

Just when Harry thought he was finally done with all the crazy things that have grown out of his involvement with Equestria after gaining Sunset Shimmer as an apprentice, he learns that three creatures have followed him back to Earth.

  • ...

Harry Gets No Respect

Life takes you weird places. A few years ago, I’d just been another wizard private eye. Well, okay, not another one, because I’m kind of unique that way. Not many wizards go into the private investigating business. But you know, my life was as normal and grounded as a wizard who regularly fights demons and monsters can get. I had a normal guy’s problems, like ‘this toad demon is spitting face-melting acid at me’ or ‘every relationship I have with a woman ends in misery and pain’ or ‘the rent is late.’ You know, standard stuff.

But lately, my life has gotten weird.

My apprentice, Sunset Shimmer, teleported into my cabin on Demonreach. She can do that, you see. Instant teleportation is something wizards have never figured out, most likely because it’s one of those spells that combines two traits that discourage experimentation—namely, it kills you the first time you screw it up, and it’s complicated enough that nobody ever gets it right on their first try. Sunset, however, had a bit of a cheat: unicorn magic doesn’t work like human magic.

Granted, Sunset was running around in more-or-less human form right now. Thankfully she looked a bit less like a cartoon character and more like an actual human being, though that came with problems of its own, especially since the Winter Knight mantle kept trying to kick my libido into overdrive. It was hard not to notice that Sunset’s new mostly human body was pretty darn attractive.

I say mostly human because she could still use unicorn magic, which only works with a horn. Sunset didn’t have a huge honking horn sprouting out of her forehead, but from what Celestia had explained, Sunset’s anatomy was still a bit off-human. Close enough to pass for human when she went walking down the street, but most folks on the spooky side of things would be able to tell she wasn’t normal. I imagine that if she wound up in a hospital for a bunch of complicated tests, they would also notice something was off about her.

So there was my apprentice, the not-unicorn. See what I mean about my life being weird?

I waved at her. “I’ve got some hay and alfalfa in the icebox, if you’re hungry.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “That joke gets funnier every time you use it.”

“Which is why I keep telling it,” I shot right back, smirking. “So which one do you want next, the stable joke, or the saddle one?”

She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I know this is a completely crazy suggestion, but you could spare me from any more bad jokes.”

I grinned and slapped her on the back. “You’ve been my apprentice for three months. You should know by now that the jokes are never going to stop. In fact, they’ll probably just get worse and worse.”

“Trust me, I know.” She walked over to the ice box and pulled out a coke. “It’s no wonder Celestia likes you so much. You’re like her on one of her especially mischievous days, except you don’t need to hold back for the sake of your royal dignity.”

Of all the things I’d ever expected to be compared to, pretty white pegacorn princess was pretty far down on the list. And yes, I call her a pegacorn—I don’t know where the cartoon got the idea that ‘alicorn’ is the right term for what she is. Alicorn is the substance a unicorn’s horn is made out of. Though I guess the people making a children’s cartoon didn’t have all the arcane research aids I do.

Those issues aside, it was no surprise Sunset would measure me against her other teacher. I can’t imagine that comparison made me look good. I’m not so hot at the being wise and all-knowing thing. Then again, Celestia can’t crank out nearly as many smartassed pop-culture references, so I guess it takes all kinds.

Sunset sipped her coke, then started tapping her foot. “So, what’s on the agenda for today? Much as I’ve been enjoying the ‘how to be a decent pony’ talks, I was hoping I could work on my magic some. After all the time I spent trapped in high school-land I’d really like to stretch myself out a bit. Maybe you could even take me along on one of your jobs.”

I wasn’t too sure about that. That seemed to be a common desire for my apprentices, though. They wanted to jump right into the deep end. Most of my jobs were a bit ridiculously dangerous. Just look at everything I’d put Molly through.

Of course, Sunset was different from my last apprentice. Molly had a knack for sensitive magic that required a delicate touch, while Sunset was much more from my school of spellcasting. Sure, we could do the sensitive and delicate stuff if we wanted to, but our default tactic was to apply large amounts of fire to the problem until it stopped being a problem.

From what I’d seen of her skills, I wasn’t worried that Sunset couldn’t handle herself in a fight either. She might be out of practice at magical combat, but a few months of work had honed her skills nicely. Spellcasting is like riding a bike; you never really forget it, unless you go to a lot of effort to deliberately block it off.

Sunset shuffled her feet, then walked over to one of my couches and flopped down on it. “Yeah, I know, you’re sick of me asking to come on a job with you. I just ... I wanna do something. Practice is important, but all I’ve done is practice. I have my magic back. That counts for something.” She leaned over towards me, idly playing with her half-empty soda can. “I spent more than a year after I found myself at Canterlot High trying every single trick I could think of to get my spellcasting back. None of it worked. It was infuriating.”

I could believe that. When you’re a wizard on our level, your magic’s more than just a tool; it’s a fundamental part of who you are. Having that taken away would be just like going blind or having one of your limbs crippled. The times when my magic had been taken or just outright unusable were among the scariest experiences of my life, and considering how ridiculously terrible my life has been, that’s saying something.

Sunset got up and started pacing around, clenching and unclenching her free hand. “What more do I have to do? I listened to all your lessons, and my magic’s as good as it was back when I was with Celestia. I bet I could keep up with you just fine, one-on-one. Maybe even beat you. I went through all the redemption stuff, learned my lesson, and now I wanna make good on it.” Her grip tightened on her coke can, making the aluminum crunch in protest. “I’m one of the good guys now, Let me go out and help you, so I can prove it.”

Sunset had plenty of fire, and I couldn’t fault her enthusiasm for kicking evil’s ass. Those weren’t bad things by any stretch, but they could pretty easily lead her down a bad path. As a very old and very wise muppet once said, once you embrace the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny. After all, a couple months ago she’d been one of the bad guys, even if she hadn’t crossed the line into being irredeemable. A lot of my missions can get hairy, and the middle of a fight is no time for a trust-building exercise. I’m not saying I expected her to stab me in the back the first chance she got, but I wasn’t going to put a knife in her hands and turn around either.

Sunset was frowning at me, and I guess she could read me well enough to figure out what was going through my head. Figures; controlling an entire school through manipulation and lies requires some of those pesky people skills I’ve never quite mastered. The soda started fizzling, and a few wisps of smoke drifted off her hand. “I’ve been busting my ass for months. I’ve done everything you’ve asked, and haven’t started a lick of trouble. I’ve been a model student!” The soda can crumpled in her hand. “What else am I supposed to do? You’re gonna have to trust me not to go all she-demon on you sooner or later. I’ve had plenty of chances to go back to being bad if I wanted to, but I’ve stuck with staying one of the good guys. Doesn’t three months of good behavior earn me a little credit?”

“Sunset, calm down.” A part of me was suddenly very intensely aware that I was in a small cabin full of very flammable furniture, and I did my best to sound very authoritative and in-control. Pyromancers have a bad habit of setting things on fire when their tempers get a bit too frayed. I’ve experienced that first hand. Admittedly, a fallen angel had been working to make me even more hot-tempered than usual, but I’d still done a couple thousand dollars worth of property damage just because my temper was fraying. And more importantly, I hadn’t double-checked that all the buildings I’d damaged were empty beforehand.

It’s easy to lose your temper. It’s a lot harder to take back what you do after you blow your top.

Funny thing about her being my apprentice: there wasn’t really much for me to teach her about casting spells. Hell, she’d taught me as much as I’d taught her, given the differences between human and unicorn magic. Her spellcasting was flawless. But then, that had never really been the lesson she needed to learn.

I had the exact same problem when I was her age. Being a teenager is rough. Being a teen with a ton of magic at your fingertips and a couple bad decisions haunting you is a lot worse. I hadn’t made the same sort of the bad decisions Sunset had, but I easily could have. I’d spent of lot of time being angry and not having any healthy way of dealing with it. I could’ve ended up like she did, lashing out at everything and everyone.

Thankfully, someone had been there to help me through all of that. Sure, Ebenezar had taught me a few things about magic, but he’d taught me a lot more about how to be a good man. That’s what Sunset needed from me.

Well, okay, she needed to learn how to be a good woman, but you know what I meant.

I walked up and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Feeling like nobody believes in you?”

“What are you talking about?” Her voice came out a bit sharper and terser than it usually did. A bit more like how she’d been when I first met her, running around as a high school bully.

“It’s why things got so bad between you and Celestia, isn’t it?” I’d never pushed her on this particular topic before, mostly because I was pretty sure bringing up the incident that made her turn to the dark side was hazardous. “It was because you didn’t think she believed in you anymore. Your lessons stopped feeling like she was helping you unlock your full potential and shifted to, ‘Here’s the list of things you’re doing wrong.’ Must’ve been frustrating.”

“It was.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Y’know, I still remember the moment it changed. There was this one colt I knew back in Canterlot. A bit of a nerd, and one of those types who’s always just a bit too eager to be your friend. Constantly hanging around, trying to talk about whatever’s on his mind, even when you’re sending every signal you can that you’re not interested. You know the type, right?” She waited for my acknowledgement, then continued. “So, one day he was sitting next to me at the library, blathering on about some new models he’d added to his Warmarechine army while I was just trying to study. I had this really important test coming up, and he just wouldn’t shut up...”

“So you let him have it,” I concluded.

“Yeah.” She slumped down in her seat, curling her free arm over her stomach. “I tore him a new one. And for a moment after he ran off it felt so satisfying. But then I realized all the yelling had attracted a crowd, including Celestia. And she just ... she just gave me this look.” She shivered and downed the rest of her coke, looking like she wished it was something a lot harder. “It’s kinda hard to put it into words. It wasn’t like she was disappointed or something. I could’ve handled that; even in the good times, we butted heads every once in a while. But this time, it was like she wasn’t even really seeing me. Just this problem that she was going to have to solve. Things went on for more than a year after that, but it just ... wasn’t the same.”

She sighed and crushed the empty soda can. “I guess I understand it all, now that I know the full story. She probably wanted me to be the one to use the Elements to save her sister and realized I might not have what she wanted. At least, not without a lot of work. It just ... it felt like she’d given up on me. Maybe she had—she likes to plan things in advance. She probably went looking for a replacement student later that day. And I guess she found one.” She brought her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “In the end, I had failed. And maybe worse, I was completely replaceable.”

Ouch. I could sympathize with that. It wasn’t exactly the same, but I’d been through something like that with the White Council. Most of the Council had treated me like some sort of ticking time bomb. Like it was just a matter of time before I turned into a psychotic warlock. They’d all given me up as a lost cause before they even met me, just on the basis of who my teacher was. If not for my grandfather sticking his neck out for me, they probably would’ve killed me right then and there. Dead before I even got a chance to prove myself.

My grandfather had been the only person in the world who’d believed in me, right then. If I’d lost that ... yeah, I might’ve gone bad too.

Sunset had a lot of problems. She was still full of anger, with no real healthy direction to toss it in. I’m no psychologist, but I’d bet that a lot of that anger had turned inward with no other target to go after. Tearing herself apart for every mistake and bad decision, then lashing out at anyone nearby to distract herself. That kind of anger isn’t the sort of thing you can solve overnight, and I didn’t have a huge rainbow of light handy to blast her with.

Taking Sunset on one of my jobs was a big risk, whether it was taking care of Mab’s dirty laundry or just hunting the usual the monster of the week. Anyone with that much anger could be a loose cannon. I know I had been. Hell, I’d survived a lot of my earlier jobs because I’d been in a place where I was okay with doing the stupidest, most suicidally insane thing imaginable, which caught the bad guys completely off guard. Most monsters don’t know what to make of a guy who has no sense of self-preservation.

At the time, I told myself I was just so full of the usual youthful piss and vinegar that I’d beaten all those bad guys with sheer audacity and good looks. Now that I was a bit older, and theoretically a bit wiser, I had a different perspective. Back then, when I was still sure I’d burned my first girlfriend along with Justin, I’d had a lot more of that internally directed anger. Maybe I’d been so pissed off at myself that a part of me would’ve been okay with buying it. Not that I was gonna go down easy—I’m too much of a stubborn bastard to make anything easy, even dying—but a nice heroic last stand for a good cause would’ve been fine with me. Any cause would do in a pinch. In those days, I didn’t have much else but a cause to live for. Or die for.

So yeah, not the healthiest place to be, psychologically. Certainly not the sort of place where Sunset should be going into battle. So why was I thinking of taking her along with me?

I guess it went back to what we’d talked about earlier. I would’ve been lost if my grandfather hadn’t taken a chance and believed in me. Sunset had a made a choice to leave the dark side behind, and right now she needed someone to believe in her, even if that wasn’t the smart move. And hell, I’ve never been good about making the smart move anyway.

As luck would have it, Sunset and I didn’t have very long to wait for the next bit of work. There’s always some monster waiting to go bump in the night. I let my contact know to meet me in the usual place, and then hooked my arm around Sunset’s. “Can you get us to the mainland?”

There was a flash of teal light, and next thing I knew, we were in a rather nice suburban Chicago house right across the street from where my daughter lived. Molly had picked the place up for me so I could have a home away from my creepy island that nobody liked, but I’d already settled in at Demonreach. Plus, when you’re training a temperamental young apprentice with a talent for fire, a deserted island in the middle of nowhere is a better choice than a highly flammable city. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow has nothing on an apprentice pyromancer. Besides, now that I had Sunset, she could just teleport me to and from Chicago in the blink of an eye. That took away a lot of the urgency of moving back into the city.

“I really wanna learn that trick.” Sure, I could travel halfway around the world in about half an hour using shortcuts through the Nevernever, but there’s a big difference between that and instant teleportation, even within a limited range. For one, I didn’t have to worry about little things like giant fairie spiders trying to eat me every time I wanted to get someplace.

Sunset had her hands on her knees, breathing a bit heavily. Carrying a passenger always added some extra strain to her teleportation spell, and Demonreach to Chicago wasn’t a short jump. “Sure, I can teach you right now. First things first, you need to channel magic through your horn...” She trailed off and smirked.

Why are all my apprentices such smartasses? I don’t know where they get it from, but it certainly isn’t me. I tell you, I get no respect, no respect at all.

After a few more minutes of catching her breath, Sunset started to get back on her feet. I offered her my hand out of habit, but she waved it away. “So where’s the meeting at?”

“We’re meeting with one of the most powerful and important and influential wizards alive,” I told her. “A man of such power, wisdom, and experience that even fricking Mab treats him with respect. He could've become the Merlin or the Blackstaff if he’d wanted to." I caught the blank look on Sunset's face and quickly explained. "Basically, the head of wizards, or else our black ops guy. Hell, maybe even both at the same time.” I finished up my impromptu speech, then turned to her with the utmost solemnity. “There’s only one place I could meet such a distinguished figure.”

Sunset might only have been my apprentice for a few months, but she was already getting to know me pretty well. “Burger King?”

“Burger King.”

My visit to Burger King got off to a great start. I walked past a cluster of kids using those little portable music players on the way in, and my general wizardly-ness messed up all their high-tech gizmos in the middle of a song. I felt a bit bad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. Wizards and technology just don’t agree with one another.

Rashid the Gatekeeper was already waiting for us when we got to Burger King. I gotta say, seeing one of the oldest and most powerful wizards on the planet sitting on a cheap plastic bench at a fast food restaurant made for a very strange image. I’d only ever seen him in good old-fashioned wizard’s robes before, but those tend to stand out a bit too much when you’re not off wizard-ing. He’d traded them out for a suit that looked like it was almost a hundred years out of style, but it fit him. He was sporting an eyepatch, which made me briefly wonder if he picked it up from the same place Vadderung got his.

Traded away an eye for wisdom, insight, or magical power? Shop at Jim’s Discount Eyepatch Warehouse! They had to cancel the buy one get one free deal, though—apparently someone complained that it was in bad taste.

What caught me by surprise was the woman sitting next to the Gatekeeper. Tall, thin, pale, and just as sharply dressed as him, her hair was a long flowing mane of pastel green, pink, and blue. There was something eerily familiar about her, but it was Sunset’s surprised hiss that finally let me place the woman.

I flopped down onto the bench across from them. “Always nice to see you again, Rashid, but you should’ve told me to expect royalty. I would’ve dressed up a bit.” I glanced down at my ratty jeans and the old t-shirt I’d been wearing for the last three days. Sure, my natural inclination is to be a bit of a slob (okay, a lot of a slob), but even I would at least throw on a clean shirt and pants without any holes in them for most royalty. Not Mab, though. The Ice Queen has to deal with me as I am.

Princess Celestia answered with a gentle, understanding smile. “It’s quite alright, Mister Dresden. This isn’t an official visit, so I hardly expected a golden chariot and an honor guard.” She glanced at Sunset, and a teasing grin crossed her lips. “Besides, I have seen far worse from students on the tail end of a week-long cram session.”

I glanced back at my student, then over to her first teacher. “You two want a minute to catch up? I need to grab a burger anyway.” A thought occurred to me. “Er, that’s not gonna be rude or something, is it? Eating meat in front of you?” See, I’m totally capable of being thoughtful and sensitive. Sometimes. Occasionally. Well, at least this one time.

“I won’t be offended, if that’s what you mean,” she reassured me. “Being a ruler requires a certain degree of tolerance for other societies’ customs and cultural mores. So long as you aren’t consuming the flesh of a sapient animal, I’ll spare you any moral outrage.”

I stole a joke Butters had used once. “As a rule, I don't eat any species that has members who can do calculus.” Though that rule does mean I would be fair game if not for the world’s population of people with a better mundane education than I have. Even when I was still going to public school, Justin never really cared about my grades all that much. He probably only sent me to school because not doing so would’ve drawn too much attention.

I got in line and ordered my burger while Sunset made small talk with the princess. It was the usual exchange of pleasantries, catching up on news, and making sure I’d been doing a good job taking care of her student. That led me to briefly wonder if pissing off Celestia by being a bad teacher would be worse than if I had messed up with Molly and faced Michael’s wrath if he ever found out just how much of a mess I’d made of Molly’s life. There was going to be a reckoning for that someday.

Once I had my burger and fries, I went back to the table and chowed down. The princess politely waited while I had lunch, and I was uncomfortably reminded of some of the stuff I’d been forced to tolerate when playing diplomat, like the feeding habits of vampires. To a pony perspective, me eating a cow probably wasn’t all that different than when vampires ate humans. That didn’t do my appetite any favors.

I set what was left of my burger aside for the moment and got down to business. “I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’re not just here for a social call.”

That was a pretty safe guess, all things considered. Princess Celestia and Rashid the Gatekeeper are both very busy people ... well, person and pony. The point is, if this was just something like Celestia checking in on Sunset, she probably would’ve asked me to bring her to Equestria, or sent a letter and arranged the visit well in advance. Dropping in unannounced probably meant trouble.

The fact that it was Celestia and the Gatekeeper together gave me a worrying premonition about just what kind of trouble, too. “Something from Equestria got here, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” Celestia confirmed. “Though it’s a bit more complicated than just that. From what we’ve been able to piece together, creatures were imprisoned in the same dimension that Sunset was living in. As best we can tell, it seems that your own activities alerted them to the location of the portal between their world and Equestria, and they crossed over before it closed.” She paused to very regally eat a french fry. “At least, that’s what we pieced together from the guards I left watching the entrance and a few logical inferences.”

Oh. Great. So this was indirectly my fault. In hindsight, firing off a gun on a school campus and effectively kidnapping a student probably did cause a bit of a stir. Hell, the people back in Sunset’s home dimension had probably assumed I’d murdered her and buried her body in a shallow grave somewhere. More importantly, Sunset’s little minions had heard enough before they ran off that anyone else who’d come through that portal could connect the dots about where Sunset and I had come from.

“Okay, so what are we dealing with?” Hopefully it wasn’t anything as bad as Discord. Judging by the fact that the planet hadn’t been plunged into chaos and panic, it was a safe bet that he was still statue-fied.

“Sirens.” That alone was enough to give me a pretty good idea of what I was dealing with, but Celestia gave me a bit of quick exposition anyway. “Three of them. They’re monsters who use music to control the minds of sapient beings and encourage chaos and disharmony, then they feed on the negative energy that creates.”

Okay, a bit different than the classic Greek myth, but still close enough that I knew what I was dealing with. Looks like I needed to invest in some earplugs if I wanted to avoid the mind control music. I could probably stand up to it, since it wouldn’t be the first time I’d gone up against a supernatural critter that wanted to mess with my head, but why take that chance?

I thought about asking why they’d come to Earth instead of staying in Equestria, but the answer seemed pretty obvious. Equestria presumably knew what they were dealing with and how to beat them, while Earth wouldn’t. Not to mention that for monsters who feed off of negative energy, Earth probably looked like an all-you-can-eat buffet compared to the cartoon pony land of sunshine and rainbows.

“Okay, so they use music for mind control...” The gears started turning as I worked out what their plan would look like. “They’ll want a big audience, which means they’ll need a venue. Somewhere they can get a whole lot of people together at once, then slap the mind-whammy on all of them. Do you know anything that could help me narrow down where they are?” Even if I knew to check concert halls and music festivals, it might be just a bit hard to find them if they could be literally anywhere on the planet.

Rashid turned to me with a faint frown. “In all likelihood, they arrived at Earth by following your trail. Crossings between here and Equestria are very rare and tightly regulated.” A hint of a mischievous smirk crossed his face. “And, no offense, you leave behind a much more noticeable trail than I do.”

“Well, excuse me for not having centuries of experience in trans-dimensional travel.” Considering my limited experience, I thought it was pretty darn impressive that I hadn’t scattered my atoms across the multiverse. “If they followed me, that probably means they’re set up somewhere in Chicago. It’s a good place to start looking, at least. Certainly plenty of places they could use.” I looked over at the two heavy hitters. “I’m gonna take a wild guess that I’m on my own because you two have other fires to go put out.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” For a moment I wondered if Celestia was actually going to help me out, but then she turned to my apprentice and smiled. “After all, you won’t be alone with Sunset helping.”

“That’s right.” Sunset grinned at me, looking entirely too eager at the prospect of taking on a nasty trio of mindbending monsters. Kids.

“Well, if you’re so eager to get right into the thick of things, then let’s not waste any more time.” I got up and nodded to Celestia and the Gatekeeper. “Unless there’s anything else to cover, we should probably get to work. I’m gonna assume there’s some sort of ticking clock involved, and that bad things are gonna happen if I don’t stop them in time.” Neither of them had said anything like that, but my life’s been pretty consistent that way. Just once, I’d like to face off against some bad guy with a non-urgent plan. Maybe an evil cult planning on blowing up the world four hundred years from now, instead of some time in the next twenty-four hours. It would be a nice change of pace.

“I think we’ve told you as much as we can.” Celestia paused and put a hand on Sunset's shoulder. “Well, one last thing. Take care of Sunset for me.”

To my surprise and mischievous delight, Sunset actually blushed a bit at that. “I can take care of myself, Princess. I’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t the only one who spotted that opening, either. The barest little smirk crossed Celestia’s face, and she grabbed a napkin from the dispenser. “You have a little bit of mustard on your cheek, Sunset. Let me just...” She promptly went to work scrubbing her former student’s face and generally fussing over her, drawing many more half-hearted complaints from the girl. “And really, we need to do something about that jacket. Don’t you think black leather’s a touch too aggressive?”

“Considering my own fashion sense, I feel obligated to point out that black leather is timelessly cool.” Granted, I went for a black leather duster rather than Sunset’s shorter jacket, but we black leather wearers have to stick together. It’s like a sacred brotherhood.


Siblinghood. Whatever.

Celestia turned a rather pointed look at my unwashed t-shirt and ratty jeans. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t really need to. The point got across loud and clear.

Having thoroughly cowed me, Celestia turned her attention back to her cringing student. “I hope you’ve been eating properly. You barely touched your salad. At least I’m reasonably certain your studies have been going well. How are you doing on bits? Or ... thalers, was it?” The non-stop barrage of maternal care continued, making Sunset blush harder and harder as she desperately tried to sink into the floor.

For such a benevolent being, Princess Celestia can have a bit of a mean streak when it comes to teasing. It’s probably why I like her so much.

The first stop on our grand investigation was Butters’s place. Waldo Butters was something unique in the supernatural community, on account of being a well-equipped and clued-in mortal. More than that, he was a guy who’d put way more work into figuring out how magic worked than a lot of people who could actually sling spells. I was usually alright with just knowing what I could do, but Butters always wanted to know why I could do those things. Not to mention he’d put a fair bit of work into finding ways to pull off magic tricks without having any magic of his own. And since he wasn’t a proper spellslinger like I was, he could keep himself equipped with all the latest tech.

Right now, I was visiting since he was one of my best ways of getting in touch with the Paranet, a network of minor practitioners which kept an eye out for any supernatural weirdness. Keeping up with the Paranet was always difficult for me, since it was an internet thing which I got along with about as well as any wizard got along with technology. I could ruin a computer just by being in the same room as it, unless I was very careful about controlling my magic. Thankfully the lower-level talents the Paranet didn’t have enough magic to cause any problems.

Because unicorn magic is horrendously unfair, Sunset didn’t have that problem. However, she still spent enough time hanging around me that she couldn’t really use any high tech stuff either. She’d picked up a new smartphone (whatever that was) a couple days after coming to Earth, only for me to break it a few hours later. Needless to say, she was still a bit annoyed with me over that, despite the fact that it was still covered by her warranty. Apparently breaking a phone she got an instant free replacement for was still enough to earn me a black mark in her book.

Thus, the two of us had to sit in the hallway outside Butters’s apartment while he checked in with all his contacts. The Paranet was usually pretty good at spotting anything going on in the supernatural world so long as it wasn’t too carefully hidden. To break out a ridiculous analogy, they couldn’t tell you what the Dark Overlord’s evil master plan was, but they could tell you a lot about where his troops were going. And for my purposes, someone might have noticed a big musical performance in the works that seemed just a bit off.

Sunset was pacing up and down the halls, occasionally grumbling under her breath. Clearly, patience wasn’t one of her virtues. I could relate; when I was her age, I would’ve hated being stuck in the hallway waiting for results too. Like Sunset, I had been absolutely certain that I should be going out there and doing something rather than standing around while somoene ese did all the hard work. Now that I’d gotten a bit older and wiser, I’d learned that more often than not spending five minutes to get the right information will save you hours of pain later.

I decided to share some of my wisdom with her. “Patience, young grasshopper.” Sunset stopped pacing and shot me an annoyed glare, which I answered by narrowing my eyes in muppety wisdom. “Patience you must have, my padawan.”

Sunset huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “When are you going to learn that quoting human movies I haven’t seen yet doesn’t work?”

Ugh. This is what I get for taking on a non-human apprentice. All my wonderfully witty pop culture references were wasted on her. I really needed to set aside a week or two of her education to get her properly steeped in the classics. Though that was going to require a bit of effort when my current residence was a cabin on a deserted haunted island. Hopefully Michael or Thomas or someone else would let us borrow their place.

Before I could come with a good snappy one-liner to restore my smartass cred, Butters stepped out of his apartment with a large folder tucked under one arm. “Good news and bad news, Harry. The good news is the Paranet came up with plenty of information. The bad news is it’s one of those cases where none of it’s an obvious smoking gun.”

“I guess it was too much to hope that there’d be a concert hall booked solid with performances of ‘The Evil Siren Mind Control Band.’” Sure, most of the Equestrian baddies I’d run into had the Saturday Morning Cartoon brand of villainy, but that didn’t mean they were stupid. Besides, knowing my luck if there was a band with that name, it would be some weird postmodernist thing instead of the actual bad guys. Or some unrelated monsters that would want to kill me once I stuck my head into their business.

“So it’s just chasing down a bunch of vague leads and hoping one of them pans out?” The grunt work of being a detective is never fun, but it’s something I’ve dealt with before. Plus, I could always call up some of my supernatural sources too. Drop enough hooks into the water, and I would eventually get a couple bites.

“How sure are you that they’re working out of Chicago?” Butters asked. “Because I’d think someone local would’ve noticed if we had sirens building up an army of brainwashed thralls. Plus you said they’re supposed to create a lot of negative energy wherever they’re working, and things have been as close to quiet as they ever get lately.”

“All we know for sure is that they crossed over from Equestria in Chicago,” I admitted. “It’s the first place we should check, but it’s entirely possible they’ve left.” If the sirens shared the ponies’ ability to speak most of Earth’s major languages, they could potentially be just about anywhere on the planet. That would make tracking them down impossible until they became powerful enough to not care who noticed them. I didn’t exactly like that idea.

“It would help if we knew what their goal was.” Sunset leaned against a wall, staring down at the floor. Her voice was a bit gentler and more subdued than normal, probably because she was thinking back to her own villain days. “If they just want to gather power and followers before returning to Equestria for payback, they’d probably still be close to where they crossed over. If they’re fine with taking over Earth instead...”

“They could be anywhere,” I finished for her. A second later, I amended that thought. “No, not anywhere. They’ll want to be somewhere with a big audience. If people need to hear their music to get mind controlled, they’ll wanna be somewhere that lets them reach as many people as possible. Probably a major city. Maybe one in one of the uglier parts of the world, so the negative energy they’d be building up wouldn’t stand out so much.”

Great. That pointed towards the sirens operating somewhere that was way out of my comfort zone. I’ve got plenty of contacts, but almost all of them are based in the United States. The sirens would probably be better off operating somewhere in Africa or Asia. The more problems their base of operations had, the better. Nobody would assume any built up negative energy was coming from evil magic when it was happening in a city where food, clean water, and electricity were all hard to get.

On the other hand, if they operated in too much of a hellhole, they might not get noticed at all. Since these were Saturday morning cartoon villains, it was a pretty safe bet that their end-game was world domination. Maybe instead they’d head for Washington and put on a private performance for the President, or go to the headquarters of the UN? That would be a risky move—most of the major players in the supernatural world kept an eye on world leaders to prevent exactly those sorts of shenanigans. That didn’t mean the sirens wouldn’t try, though, and even the best security in the world doesn’t have a one hundred percent success rate.

Some music drifted in through the open doorway into Butters’s place. Nothing I’d heard before, but it had a nice beat to it. That was probably his girlfriend, Andi. Somehow, despite being one of the nerdiest men I’d ever known, Butters had landed a bombshell redhead, and she was a werewolf on top of that. Meanwhile, despite being a monster-slayer with rugged good looks, the closest thing I had to relationship was that non-starter of a thing with Murphy that had been stuck on the ground floor for almost a decade. Oh, and the time I kissed Rainbow Dash and promptly got kicked in the junk for it. From there it just went downhill. Life is so unfair.

“So what’s the plan from here?” Sunset demanded. “Even if we don’t have any rock-solid leads, we have to start looking somewhere.”

“Yeah, we do.” I passed Butters’s folder full of info over to her. “Since you can actually use that internet stuff and phones without melting them, call up all the concert halls and music venues in Chicago, find out who’s performing at them, and then do some research on them. The sirens can’t have been on earth for more than a couple months, so look for any group that’s popped up out of nowhere and become way too popular way too fast. I’ll see what I can dig up on my side of things.”

Sunset’s eyes narrowed, and she let out an annoyed grumble. “So I get stuck with all the boring pointless drudge work while you get to actually do something interesting that’s likely to yield results.”

Oh, I was not in the mood for any attitude from her. “Yeah, that’s how it is. It’s one of the perks of me being the master and you being the apprentice.”

“Some master,” she scoffed. “I think you’ve learned more from me than the other way around. And we both know that if it came down to an actual fight between us, I’d tear you to bits. The only reason I’m here is that you pulled a gun on me in a null-magic zone.”

I’ve always had a bit of a temper, and becoming the Winter Knight had only made that worse. Give me some stress like a back-talking apprentice, and... “You think you can take me, bacon-head?” Not my best one-liner, but her hair did look kinda like bacon. I shook out my shield bracelet and pulled out my blasting rod. “I think it’s time we reestablished what the pecking order is. You think the only reason I won our first match was because your magic was locked up? Fine, let’s put that to the test. Right here, right now.”

Butters ran between us, holding his arms out. “Whoa, guys, chill! I don’t know what’s got you two so pissed, but don’t throw down in the middle of my apartment building!”

“Stay out of this, Butters!” I snapped. “This is wizard stuff between me and her, it’s none of your business.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and did his best to stare me down despite the fact that I was a foot taller than him. “If the two of you are gonna burn down my home as part of some stupid dick-measuring contest, I’m pretty sure it is my business.”

“All of you, shut up!” Andi called out from inside the apartment. “I can’t even hear the song over all of you arguing!”

“You shut up!” Sunset shot right back. “Nobody cares about your stupid music!”

I was about to give Sunset a piece of my mind for yelling at one of my friends when something clicked in my head. I closed my eyes for a moment and concentrated on the music itself. I couldn’t make out the lyrics, but I could still follow the beat—and once I concentrated on it, I quickly noticed something else. A subtle undercurrent of power, laced with several very nasty compulsion spells. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. “Andi, turn that music off! It’s the sirens!”

“They’re not the sirens, they’re the Dazzlings! And they’re the best band ever!” She shot back. Then, just to be contrary, she turned up the volume. Now that I could actually hear it properly, the siren song was hitting a lot harder. I’m a pretty tough guy, mentally speaking. I’ve had enough things try to get into my head that I’ve got some experience holding them off, even if my success rate leaves something to be desired. Now that I knew to resist it, the music wasn’t too bad, but it was obviously still getting everyone else, and I couldn’t hold it off indefinitely.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. “Sorry, Butters.” I pointed my staff towards his apartment, specifically the computer Andi was sitting at. “Hexus!

A couple thousand dollars’ worth of electronics abruptly and noisily died, taking the siren song with it. The pressure against my mind abruptly ceased, and the others all stood there, blinking and looking vaguely confused.

I turned to them all and put my best smart-assed grin on. “Good news, everyone! I found the bad guys.”

Thankfully, Butters kept enough spare parts on hand to fix the damage I’d done to his computer. I was sitting on his couch, which now sat in the middle of a nice big circle of salt that should keep my ambient magic contained enough that any electronics would be safe.

While Butters and his girlfriend worked to get his computer back up and running, Sunset had pulled her new smartphone out of the lead case she kept it in whenever I was around and was doing some research on the band. With the sound turned off, of course. “Adagio Dazzler, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk, aka The Dazzlings. They just popped out of nowhere a couple weeks ago and posted YouTube’s biggest new hit music video. Nobody knows much about them yet, but according to the comments, they’ve already got a couple record companies looking to sign them.”

“Great, they’re going Hollywood.” I guess it made sense if what they wanted was a big audience. Especially now that we knew their siren tricks could work over the airwaves. If they could get their mind-control mojo playing over the radio, we would have a real crisis on our hands. “Well, at least we found them before they got too many people under their spell.”

Sunset grip on her phone tightened. “Harry, their YouTube video has almost a billion hits.”

I blinked, and checked that my ears were still working properly. “You said billion with a ‘b,’ right? Not million?”

“That’s right,” she confirmed grimly.

Wow. I had no idea the whole internet thing was that big. “So a billion people have already heard the evil monster mind control song?”

Butters frowned. “Without getting into a whole lot of complicated internet stuff you wouldn’t understand and a lot of fuzzy statistics ... let’s just say that it’s entirely possible a billion people have been exposed.”

“Oh.” The Sirens already had a decent-sized chunk of Earth’s population under their spell, and from what little I knew about how the internet would work, it was only a matter of time before they got the rest. “Oh crap.”

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