• Published 17th Feb 2015
  • 6,218 Views, 203 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.

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Harry Gets No Dignity

I was in a tight spot. No sense in denying it. I had a pair of pissed off mind-controlling sirens heading straight for me, and I’d just learned that they might be able to turn my ace-in-the-hole against me.

In hindsight, I should’ve realized it was a possibility. One thing that I’d learned over and over again while tutoring Sunset was that Equestrian magic didn’t follow the rules I was used to. And yet, I’d never considered the idea that Demonreach could be controlled. I mean, Demonreach doesn’t really have anything like a human mind. I didn’t know all that much about mindbending on account of it being against the White Council’s rules, but one thing I did know for sure was that a wizard couldn’t put a mind whammy on anything that wasn’t at least partially human. You can’t control a mind whose thought processes were totally alien to your own.

Pity nobody told the Sirens that was impossible.

Still, there was a way out of this. Things looked grim, but I’ve dealt with worse in the past. Hell’s Bells, I don’t consider one of my jobs properly started until I’ve gotten out of at least two situations where it looked like I was utterly screwed. Not to mention I hadn’t gotten beaten up yet. Until I got some bruises or broken bones, this was still a softball case. All I needed was a little time to think it over, and I’d come up with some insane plan that—

“Harry.”

“Not now, Sunset.” Normally I wouldn’t have growled her away like that, but I was sitting on the john at the moment.

What? Wizards have to poop too.

Besides, the bathroom’s a nice, snug, relaxing little room. Even if this particular bathroom was an outhouse where all the waste went down into a hole in the ground instead of a proper flushing toilet. At least it didn’t build up and get all stinky—presumably Demonreach broke it all down and used it fertilize some flowers or something. Though I pity the flowers that have to grow off of what I leave behind.

Sunset knocked on the door again. “Harry.”

“I’ll be out in a minute, okay!” I grumbled. “If you need to go that badly, just go behind some bushes or something. For that matter, why do you even need a bathroom? You used to be a horse! I spent a couple years on a farm, so I know horses have absolutely no inhibitions about taking a dump wherever they happen to be standing when nature calls. Besides, it’s like a circle of life thing. You poop on the grass, the grass grows, then you eat the grass and poop on it again.”

“This isn’t about the bathroom!” she snapped through the door. “You need to get out here right now. We have a problem.”

A problem. Of course. Because things hadn’t gone badly enough for me already.

A second later I discovered what the problem was as a dull, steady whumping sound began echoing off the outhouse walls. It sounded familiar, but it took me a couple seconds to place where I’d heard the sound before. “Stars and stones, they brought a chopper!”

I scrambled out of the outhouse as quickly as I could manage without tripping over my own pants. Sure enough, there was a helicopter steadily approaching the island. Once it got a bit closer I realized that those pods underneath the wings weren’t fuel tanks, they were weapon pods. “That’s a military chopper! How’d they get their hands on one of those?!”

“Gee, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say the answer involves mind control music,” Sunset shot back, rolling her eyes.

“When all you have is a hammer...” Though credit where it was due, the Sirens were being distressingly smart about how they were using that hammer. I’d been expecting some dumb muscle, not a freaking military gunship.

Sunset glanced my way and grimaced. “Hey, Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Your pants are still down around your ankles.”

I cursed under my breath and hastily pulled them up. Hopefully the Sirens were still too far away to have noticed that. It would be nice if I could keep at least a small shred of my dignity. Just once, for a change of pace.

The chopper came in over the island and hovered over the two of us, letting me finally get a look at Adagio Dazzler. She’d thrown open the copter’s side door and was casually leaning against a minigun, smirking confidently down at me. Sure, I’d seen her music video, but she looked different without all the makeup, bright lights, and whatnot. Not to mention she was dressed in simple military fatigues instead of being all costumed up.

Oh, and she had a pair of those ridiculously big pistols strapped around her waist. Those were new too. Though I bet that much gun would snap her twiggy little arms in half, especially if she was going to try using one in each hand. Despite what action movies will tell you, using a gun in each hand only works if you have superhuman strength, reflexes, and coordination, or if your favorite tactic is spraying a whole lot of bullets in someone’s general direction and hoping you get lucky.

Either Adagio was an idiot or she was really dangerous. And given which way my luck tends to run and how successful Adagio had been up to this point, I knew which one I would bet on.

Adagio opened her mouth, but I couldn’t hear a word she was saying over the roar of the helicopter's rotors. However, after several seconds I could hear the faint chords of Adagio vocalizing, and a moment later the chopper was hovering the air completely silent. I wasn’t about to complain about that little bit of convenience, especially since it tipped her hand about a Siren trick I hadn’t known about. Villains always love showing off.

“So,” she said, drawing the word out. “You’re the one Sonata let herself get captured by. I was hoping for someone a bit more formidable, but I suppose Celestia had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find anyone willing to oppose us.”

And now it was time for the obligatory pre-fight trash talk. Good, she was playing to my strengths. “Nah, more like she's contracting out to take care of some old garbage that's reared its ugly, excessively hair-sprayed head again.”

“Oh really?” She looked me and my apprentice over, then smirked. “Looks like she should've spent a few more bits to actually get someone worth hiring, but I suppose the royal budget must be limited. So how about you tell me what you’ve done with Sonata.”

The other Siren in the chopper stepped forward. “She might be a useless waste of space, but she's our useless waste of space.”

Aww, it was cute how the bad guys were coming together to protect their own. “Oh, she's wasting space somewhere near here. And don't worry, she's doing it uselessly.”

Adagio glowered at me for a moment. “How helpful. I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell us where exactly she is?”

A moment later I heard her softly vocalizing under her breath, and I could feel tendrils of magic poking at my brain. I grimaced and quickly shook the spell off. Thankfully, Siren magic was more about sneaky mind control than the brute force approach. Now that I knew to look out for it, it wasn’t too hard to stand up to. “Hey now, keep it friendly, or our negotiations are gonna start becoming very aggressive. Throw around more of that mind mojo, and I might take offense.”

Adagio mockingly slapped the side of her face and turned to her buddy. “Oh no, Aria! I think I hurt the kidnapper's feelings! That makes me feel just awful!

Aris snickered, and I got a bit annoyed. I hate it when someone out-smartasses me. Honestly, I think getting beaten up bothers me less. “Just warning you, if my feelings are hurt, they won't be the only things hurting here in a minute. I like to deal with my anger and pain in constructive ways, like using it to beat up bad guys.”

“Oh, so pain helps you, does it?” Adagio turned back to me, smirking again. I had a feeling she smirked so often that it was pretty much her default facial expression. I suppose that's fitting for a Saturday Morning Cartoon villain, though. You gotta have the evil smirk and evil laugh—those are just classics. She proved me right by letting out a sinister chuckle before adding, “Well, I was thinking of shooting you a few times. I mean, it seems a waste to steal a military helicopter and not even use it.”

“Please, I've been shot at by everyone and their mother. Hell's Bells, I've been shot by one of my best friends. I’ve even hired a mercenary to shoot me.” Admittedly, I’d never been shot at with a minigun and rockets before, but it was only a matter of time.

“Well, I have some good news for you,” Adagio announced, her cartoon villain smirk widening. “Once I’m done with you, nobody is ever going to shoot you again.” Her smirk vanished, replaced by an angry glare that promised all kinds of unpleasantness. “Last chance. Where is Sonata Dusk?”

“You really want to stop the chat already?” I asked, affecting an innocent tone. “But we're having so much fun together. I really feel like we’re connecting. Come on down, we’ll have a beer together and talk it all out. Why Aria in such a bad mood, anyway?” Okay, stealing puns from Sonata was a bit bad, but if it succeeded in pissing them off ... well, angry people tend to make stupid mistakes.

Aria glared poisonously down at me. “Can we just kill him already, Adagio? He’s obviously not going to give us Sonata, and even if he did we’d still kill him anyway.”

Oh wow, the bad guys weren’t planning to deal honestly with me. What a shock. I chuckled and shook my head. “You know, you two are some of the most impatient immortals I've ever met. Really, show some class.”

Sunset, who’d been quietly standing by my side while we exchanged banter, finally got in on the act. “Class? From them? You obviously haven't listened to any of their music.”

Ah, smartassery always works better when you’ve got a partner to work with. “No, I have. That’s why I'm telling them they should try and show class, padawan. It’d make a great change from the drek they’re putting out right now.”

Adagio’s teeth clenched and her eyes narrowed. Well, it looked like I’d finally found their weak spot. I guess it figured Sirens would be pretty vain. I mean, you can’t think you deserve to be worshipped and adored by the entire world without having a pretty high opinion of yourself.

I decided to show Adagio what a proper smartass smirk looked like. “Don't feel bad, a lot of beings that live as long as you lose all sense of fashion. And good taste. And any concept of what a reasonable hairstyle looks like. It just comes with old age. Though I feel kinda bad for you guys getting your idea of what a good hairstyle looks like from the eighties, of all times. I mean, out of all the decades to get your fashion sense stuck in...”

“And I guess it figures their songs would all be old and stale too,” Sunset quickly agreed. “I mean, there's no way they could keep coming up with fresh material for a thousand years even if they were the most talented musicians in the history of Equestria. And since they’re obviously not that talented, well...”

“Yeah, they've long hit the point where they can't even claim that they’re so retro that they’re cool again.” As a fairly old-fashioned guy myself, I’m pretty familiar with where that point is. “Nope, their expiration date went out a while ago. Now they’re like sour milk, all thick and gross and with clumps of gooey white stuff in it.”

Well, if I was trying to piss them off, this was definitely working. Adagio was glaring bloody murder at me, while Aria was fingering the handle of her gun as if she was moments away from riddling me with bullets.

I figured they needed one last push before they’d completely lose their cool. As always, I was happy to provide. “If it wasn't for the mind control, nobody would’ve given them a second look. It's all the same-y, derivative crap. Really, you guys are just a couple of burnt-out hacks who haven’t done anything good since the Renaissance.”

“Yeah,” Sunset chimed in. “They clearly sold out a long time ago.”

Adagio turned towards the pilot’s seat and barked out a few words. I couldn’t make out exactly what she’d said because she’d also cancelled whatever spell she’d been using to silence the rotors. However, it was pretty obvious what she’d said as the helicopter turned around to face us, and the minigun started spinning up.

Right, piss off the people with a military attack helicopter. Great plan, Harry.

I quickly turned to my apprentice. “Padawan, I don’t think we want to be here anymore.”

“Right.” She grabbed my wrist, and the two of us vanished in a flash of light moments before several dozen bullets passed through the space we’d been occupying.

Sunset and I popped back into reality about thirty feet away, beneath a thick grove of trees. Hopefully the cover would give us time to come up with a good gameplan. I hadn’t expected to be up against a gunship.

Of course, there were ways I could knock a helicopter out of the sky. Heck, I could probably do the job with just a simple hex; a modern helicopter would be crammed with all kinds of complicated technology. Or I could freeze it up or fireball one of the rotors to knock the chopper out of the sky. Either one was likely to result in a spectacularly explosive crash, at least if every action movie I’ve ever seen was to be believed.

Except that was the problem: knocking the helicopter out of the sky wouldn’t be too healthy for the people inside of it, which included at least one ordinary human being who’d just been mind-controlled into working for the bad guys. I wasn’t cool with the idea of collateral damage. Not to mention I’m pretty sure the Council would take issue with me killing someone via magic, even if it was indirectly. They closed that particular loophole in the laws of magic a long time ago; you can’t magically shove someone off a cliff, then claim that technically it was gravity that killed them rather than your magic.

I did what any smart mentor would do, and checked to see if my apprentice had any good ideas worth stealing. “Sunset, how do you think we should take down that helicopter without turning it into a giant ball of whirling fiery death?”

Sunset frowned as she thought it over, then her eyes brightened. “Maybe we could damage the fuel tank? Obviously we can’t use fire for that, but if you just punch a hole in it with something that won’t ignite the gas, that would force them to land.”

“Good idea.” Sure, it would require a fairly precise bit of evocation, but I like to think I’ve developed a bit beyond the days when I just hurled a bunch of energy in the bad guy’s general direction and hoped I hit something. However, there was a slight problem with that plan. “Uh ... do you know where the fuel tank is on a chopper?”

She grimaced and shook her head. “Maybe I could look it up online if we could get any service out here. And if being close to you wouldn’t break my phone in ten seconds.”

“So much for that plan, then.” I scowled and tried to come up with something else. I could always try to knock out some of the chopper’s weapons, but that was easier said than done. After all, it was a long-distance shot at a moving target, and between the gun and the rocket pods I’d need to land at least three hits. Not to mention that violently ripping explosive weapons off the helicopter might just set them off.

Maybe a wind spell to try and force the helicopter down? It would take a lot of raw power to pull it off, but I just might be able to manage it. Of course, forcing it down without wrecking it would also require some precision. While I can manage precision, and I have plenty of raw power, I still hadn’t quite figured out how to do both at once.

I wracked my brain for anything useful I could remember about helicopters. It probably would’ve helped if I knew much about them beyond what I’d seen in movies and old TV shows. Hollywood tends to play fast and loose with the laws of physics when they think it’ll make the movie more entertaining. After all, people don’t go to the movies for reality, they go there to get away from reality for a couple hours.

Eventually, I remembered a useful tidbit from this one movie I’d seen way back that had been set on top of a mountain. The helicopter had trouble getting up to the top of the mountain because the air got thinner the higher up they went—something about how the blades couldn’t produce enough lift if the air was too thin. If I could find a way to imitate that, it might drop the chopper to the ground. Hopefully the helicopter would still be working well enough to make it more of a really rough landing than an outright crash. There would still be some risk involved, but I didn’t think there was any risk-free way to knock a flying vehicle out of the sky. This seemed like the safest option I could think of.

I spent a couple seconds trying to come up with a good spell for thinning out the air, until I realized I already had something that would do the job. Maybe not the perfect tool for the job, but I’d rather adapt a spell I’m already comfortable with than try to come up with a brand new one on the fly. I leveled my staff at the area just below helicopter. “Ventas servitas!

Normally I use that spell to produce a gust of wind. Technically I was still doing that. I was just changing how exactly the wind was blowing. I figured if I had a strong enough breeze blowing in an outward circle around the helicopter, it might create a vacuum or at least reduce the air pressure enough to cause problems.

Apparently that worked, because after a few seconds the helicopter lurched and wobbled, then dropped down. By the time it got out of the area affected by my spell it had built up some downward momentum. While the pilot managed to regain partial control of his vehicle, it was only enough to ensure that they touched down relatively safely.

Of course, they would be right back up in the air again in a couple seconds. Thankfully, now that the chopper was down I had a lot more options for disabling it without killing everyone inside. “Forzare!” My blast didn’t dramatically snap off the helicopter’s tail rotor the way I’d hoped it would, but it did bend the whole thing about forty-five degrees in the wrong direction. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that was enough to make it unflyable.

I guess the Sirens must have agreed, because it didn’t try to take off again. Unfortunately, they had a backup plan to deal with that. Apparently the pilot wasn’t the only military guy they’d mind-controlled, because half a dozen soldiers in full combat gear filed out of the helicopter and got to work securing the perimeter.

This was ... very not good. Sure, my shield spells and enchanted duster could stand up to military-grade munitions, but holding up a shield against half a dozen guys all blazing away at me on full auto was pushing it, and my duster was still sitting in Thomas’s apartment. Not to mention they’d probably do something smart like try to flank me, which would be a problem because my normal shield spell only covers my front arc. A bit of a weakness, but a shield that covered everything would drain my energy way too quickly, and most of the time someone’s hit me from behind I didn’t know about the attack in time to bring up a shield anyway. The whole point of hitting someone in the back is that they can’t see it coming, after all.

Plus, just like with the pilot, I didn’t want to kill anyone. Which is tricky to pull off when they most certainly wanted to kill me. Nonlethal incapacitation spells have never really been my forte. Not to mention the Sirens might be able to cancel out anything I tried. I didn’t know how much they could do magically, but it would suck to go to all the trouble of working a sleep spell on one of the soldiers just to have Adagio sing him awake a couple seconds later.

It didn’t look like I was going to have much time to think about it either. The soldiers all had flashlights attached the barrels of their gun, and pretty soon one of them found the both of us. I probably should’ve tossed up a quick veil to hide us, but knocking out a helicopter had been just a little tiring, and Sunset wasn’t good with illusions.

“Target spotted!” the enscrolled soldier shouted, bringing his rifle to bear on us. “Engaging!”

I threw up a shield just in time to send a bunch of bullets ricocheting off of it. Unfortunately for me, the Sirens spell didn’t seem to have disrupted any of the soldier’s tactical knowledge, because once he saw I was blocking his bullets he stopped shooting rather than run his clip dry in the vain hope that one bullet might slip through. I was a little surprised he wasn’t freaking out at me having a bullet-deflecting force field, but maybe the Sirens had a tight enough hold him to prevent that kind of thing.

Fortunately, I wasn’t limited to total passivity. “Arctis!” The soldier’s rifle acquired a thick coating of ice rendering it completely unusable. He dropped the gun and immediately went for his sidearm, but another ice spell froze the pistol in its holster. For lack of a better option, the grunt pulled out his combat knife.

I chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure a sharp chunk of metal will work where bullets didn’t.” He hesitated for a moment, and I froze the blade, then followed up with a force spell to shatter it into a bunch of frozen steel chunks. A couple of the shards hit the soldier, but none of them were too deep or in anywhere vital.

Maybe it was a little heartless of me, but I was okay with that. Sure, the guy was just a mind-controlled dupe, but he would still kill me given half a chance. I wasn’t hurting him any way that he wouldn’t make a full recovery from, which is more than I could say for what would happen if he put a couple bullets into me. Sure, I’d survived getting shot in the past, but the last thing I wanted was to spend another year with Alfred keeping me on magical life support followed by another dose of Mab’s idea of physical therapy.

I didn’t have time to waste getting philosophical, though. Not with five more guys armed with very big guns closing in on myself and my apprentice. I threw out a quick one-two punch to buy myself a little more time to maneuver. “Infriga terra!” I covered as much of the ground around myself as I could manage with ice in the hopes of tripping them up. One of the many perks of Winter Knight-dom was that I could walk on ice without slipping and falling on my ass. Sunset would be in just as much trouble as everyone else, but she could always teleport and stuff. Besides, she was adaptable.

I followed that up by tossing a quick and dirty veil over myself. Illusions have never been my strongest skill, but this didn’t need to be a perfect veil—just good enough to throw their aim off. Besides, the distortion effect surrounding my veiled self might freak them out if they knew their eighties action movies.

Forzare!” I carefully measured how much power I was putting into the spell so that I wouldn’t do much worse than knock the wind out the guy, and maybe crack a rib or two. By sheer coincidence, it knocked the guy straight back into the helicopter’s open doorway. I couldn’t stop myself from adding in a faux-Austrian accent, “Get to da choppa!”

That was probably a mistake, since another one of the soldiers whirled around and chucked a grenade my way. I quickly threw up a shield and closed my eyes just before the bomb went off, but even with my shield blocking most of the explosion it still hit hard enough to stagger me, and I heard something whiz by my ear and tug on it, producing a hot, burning sensation.

“Sonuva!” I reflexively clapped a hand over my ear, and was horrified to discover that the fragment had practically split it in half. Not that I would have much time to mourn it, since my shout and the fresh blood falling to the ground had given the gunman enough information to bring his rifle to bear.

I tried to call up my shield, but my brain was just a touch scrambled from being so close to an explosion. Nothing that a second to catch my breath wouldn’t fix, but I didn’t have a second to spare.

Which meant it was a very good thing that I wasn’t working alone. Before he could pull the trigger, Sunset teleported in underneath him, sliding on her back along the ice. As she passed between his legs she punched straight up with a flame-covered fist. The guy’s eyes went wide in shock and pain, and he fell to the ground, clutching the damage.

I winced sympathetically. I mean, come on, the dude just got punched in the balls. By a fist that was on fire. Nobody deserves that. Well, okay, I could think of a couple guys who did, but aside from them...

Sunset followed up her slide by teleporting a few feet up and to the side, so that she landed a flying tackle on another one of the grunts. She followed that up with two more teleports: one about twenty feet up into the air, where she quickly let go of the guy before porting just herself back to ground level. He hit the ground hard, but not too hard.

However, her flurry of teleportation had left her a bit winded, and with myself still partially invisible she was the only target for the two remaining soldiers on the field. I wasn’t especially eager to test her ability to block bullets by having two guys with assault rifles hose her down.

Besides, she’d just saved my bacon. If I didn’t return the favor, I’d never hear the end of it.

Thankfully, I had the perfect spell for the job. I broke out one of the first spells I’d ever created, back when I was still apprenticed to Justin DuMorne. It was a simple binding spell that I’d almost forgotten about it since anyone who had a lick of magical ability or a working brain could figure out how to snap it apart without even trying. That was why I’d practically forgotten about the spell; it’d be useless for just about everything I’ve ever dealt with.

However, right now I was dealing with guys who, as far as I knew, didn’t have any magical abilities or know-how. Heck, I wasn’t even sure how much of their brainpower was under their own control. On the one hand, they still seemed to have at least some of their tactical knowledge and military training working for them; on the other, they hadn’t freaked out at all when I started slinging spells around. Most people who firmly believe that there’s no such thing as magic tend to be very disturbed when a wizard starts tossing out spells that prove them wrong.

In any case, I slapped a cocoon of hardened air around the two of them, effectively pinning them in place. Well, at least they’d be pinned as long as the Sirens didn’t notice the spell’s glaringly obvious weak point, where all the binding energy was tied together in a neat little ribbon at the top of the spell. The whole thing would unravel with just a little nudge, but hopefully Sunset and I would keep them too busy for them to spend any time studying my spellwork in depth.

With all their minions out of the fight, Adagio and Aria finally deigned to step out of their wrecked helicopter. Adagio was still smirking confidently, her hands casually resting on the handles of her paired pistols. Aria was scowling furiously at the both of us while brandishing one of those nasty little guns that’s designed to spit out a whole lot of bullets very quickly. I wasn’t too worried about their gunplay, though. Sure, a gun in anyone’s hands is dangerous, but unless they had superhuman speed and perception, their guns wouldn’t be any more dangerous than the ones the soldiers had been using. Maybe less so; with those thing twiggy arms the recoil would probably ruin their aim.

Their opening move was no surprise: they started singing. I suppose when mind control is how you solve all your problems it’s going to be the first tool you try, even when it’s not likely to work.

I could feel the insidious tendrils of their magic trying to subtly work its way into my brain, but I blocked it out. To be honest, it was a lot easier than I’d expected it to be. After all, a simple recording had gotten past my defenses before. Of course, this time I was ready for the attack instead of being completely blindsided. There was more to it than that, though. There was something missing from the spell—presumably Sonata’s contribution to it. After however long the three of them had been working together, they couldn’t adapt very quickly to being down one member. Assuming they could even get it perfectly without all three of them working in unison. It threw everything off, and with any sort of subtle, sneaky magic you needed to have everything perfectly lined up.

No wonder they wanted Sonata back so much. Without her, they’d have to completely rework their mind control mojo. At the very least, I’d set their world domination plans back by several years. Which was a quite a relief, since by the looks of things they were one major public appearance away from having their own private army.

I took a shot at ending the fight before it even properly started. “Infriga!” I targeted Adagio’s mouth, since I figured it was a pretty safe bet that a Siren who couldn’t sing wouldn’t be doing much in the way of magic. Unfortunately her reflexes were faster than I’d expected, and she managed to duck under my attack. Mostly.

“You froze my hair! she snarled indignantly. Though really, with that much hair hitting it was only slightly harder than targeting the broad side of a barn. Several frozen clumps of hair down the center of her head fell off and shattered, leaving her with a bald strip straight down the middle of her eighties ‘do. While I hadn’t thought such a thing was possible before, I’d somehow managed to make her hair look ever worse than it did already. Though considering the recent loss of my own hair, I wasn’t exactly shedding any tears for her.

Adagio snarled, took a deep breath, and unleashed the kind of high, piercing note you would expect from an opera singer. You know, the kind that makes glass shatter when you’re watching a cartoon. Except that in this case, the glass was my eardrums and soft tissue.

Aria joined in on the fun, and Sunset went down, clamping her hands over her ears in a vain attempt to block out the sounds. Blood was already trickling out of her ears, and judging by how warm mine felt, the same was happening to me.

For lack of a better idea, I threw my shield spell up and ducked as far beneath it as I could. That seemed to help; the sonic attack was still making my ears throb, but it was far less overwhelming. I quickly shuffled to the side to cover my apprentice as well, which seemed to help judging by the pained but grateful smile she sent my way.

That left myself and the sirens at a stalemate. As long as I was holding my shield I couldn’t launch the direct energy attacks I normally favored; any fireballs, force blasts, or ice lances would just bounce off the inside of my own shield. Which meant it was a very good thing that I was a wizard.

Magic-users come in a lot of different flavors. Leaving aside all the folks with just one or two vaguely supernatural talents, a lot of the spellcasters out there were one-trick ponies. They could fling around fire, whistle up minions from the Nevernever or commune with the spirits of the dead, but that was it. A wizard, on the other hand, has versatility.

Geodas!” The ground dropped out from underneath the Sirens, dropping them both down into the sinkhole I’d just created underneath their feet. I followed it up with another nasty bit of earth magic. “Gravitus!” Everything on Demonreach hovered up about six inches into the air as for a brief instant I concentrated all the gravity on the island into a single point at the bottom of the sinkhole. A very nasty-sounding wet squish emerged from the bottom of said hole.

“I hope that wasn’t it,” I called over at the hole, “‘cause I have to say, if I took you guys out with two spells, that’d be really anticlimactic. I mean, it’s just plain rude to come all the way out here for big magical throwdown, then get knocked out in two hits like a chump.”

Moments later, an arm about as thick around as a pencil shot up out of the sinkhole, and Adagio hauled herself out. She was definitely looking worse for the wear, her clothes and hair now splattered with thick black mud. Her glare was positively poisonous, so I answered with a smarmy grin. “Where’s the other half of your three-girl act?”

“I can kill you on my own,” Adagio snarled.

“Aria sure about that?” Sure, I’d done that joke already, but it was just too easy.

Adagio’s right hand dropping down to retrieve one of the pistols holstered at her hip. “And yeah, you are so going to die now. You’d be too much trouble to keep as a minion.”

She leveled the gun at me, and I quickly threw up a shield to block the incoming bullet—which proved to be an unnecessary precaution, since her gun didn’t fire when she pulled the trigger. A quick look at the gun in question made it obvious why: there was mud all over it. Apparently Adagio had gone for a big fancy gun over my preference for tough, simple guns that could keep working after a troll stepped on them, let alone getting a little muddy.

Forzare!” I aimed to knock her back into the mudhole again, which would leave her in a terrible position to dodge any follow-up spells. Plus, I figured knocking her ass back into the mudhole would be funny. It might even be humiliating enough that she’d throw in the towel then and there. Which suited me just fine; even if I knew the Sirens were really ancient mind-controlling abominations, a part of me couldn’t help but feel like I was beating up teenage girls. Returning them to Celestia alive and reasonably undamaged would be easier for everyone.

Granted, that didn’t mean I was going to deliberately pull my punches. I’m a big believer in the idea that when someone tries to kill you, you’re perfectly within your rights to try and kill them right back.

My force blast knocked Adagio’s feet out from underneath her, but she shrieked out another painful note, and this one blasted a chunk of earth out from beneath her while propelling her backwards. She backflipped several times, then landed perfectly on her feet. I tried another blast, but she countered by humming something softly under her breath, and my spell bounced off a shield that looked to be made out of pure sound.

Adagio smirked confidently. “Oh, I’ve forgotten how good it feels to be feeding properly again. I haven’t had this much power in ages.”

“Too bad it didn’t make your singing any better.” I pointedly tapped my bleeding ears. “I mean, I’ve heard the phrase before, but I never thought someone’s singing could actually be that bad.” I winced as I was reminded that one of them had recently been mangled. Useful as the near-immunity to pain I had on account of being the Winter Knight was, it could be a bit disconcerting to realize that I was barely even feeling some rather nasty injuries.

Sunset chucked a fireball Adagio’s way, but the spell just bounced off the Siren’s shield. I frowned over at her and shook my head. “I’ll handle the queen bee, you check that Aria’s down.”

If I’d hit her with my gravity crush spell she wouldn’t be much more than a pile of crushed goo, but I still wanted confirmation that she was out of the fight. My connection with Demonreach told me that she was still alive, at least. The last thing I needed was to get blindsided by her in the middle of the standoff with Adagio.

After Sunset dropped down into the hole to deal with Aria, I turned my full attention back to Adagio. “Looks like it’s just you and me now.” I grinned and rolled my shoulder. “One shall stand, one shall fall.”

Adagio snarled wordlessly instead of providing the requisite followup line, which just goes to show that she has no appreciation for the classics. Though it seemed horribly wrong to be fighting an evil songstress without some awesome background music. I mean, you’d think she could do something to make this whole final battle seem suitably epic.

She was still hiding behind her shield, so I figured my best bet was to toss out another spell that would get around her defenses. I’m a lot slower with earth magic than my usual combat evocation, but when I get a couple seconds to focus on it I can manage.

I was about to get started on the spell when I realized something was wrong. Adagio was just hiding behind her shield, waiting for me to make my move. She didn’t strike me as the type to focus on a purely defensive strategy, sitting back and letting me pound on her shield until I wore myself out or found a way through. It struck me as a lot more likely that she was up to something sneaky. If that was the case, I needed to out-sneaky her.

I levelled my staff at her, but made sure to not channel even a smidgen of actual magic through it when I shouted, “Terrum druptus!

Apparently Adagio had enough working knowledge of badly mangled Latin to figure out what ‘spell’ I was casting, because she immediately used a blast of sound to hurl herself up and away from where she’d been standing, closing in on me way too quickly. If I’d actually committed to the spell, I would’ve been wide open for the kick she’d been aiming at my face. Instead, I managed to block it with my forearm. I had a perfect opening to slug her in the face in response, but I hesitated for a bare fraction of a second.

I admit, I’m just not the kinda guy who would punch something that looks like a teenage girl in the face without taking a moment to remind myself that she’s not actually a girl. Stupid chivalrous instincts.

Adagio thanked me for my chivalry by pulling out her other pistol, which hadn’t been clogged up with mud, and shooting me in the leg.

I went down hard. Even though the bullet didn’t seem to have gone through anything that would render the leg completely unusable, the impact still made it fold faster than a poker player with a hand full of nothing. Adagio casually stepped over me, leveling her ridiculously large gun at my forehead. “Any last words, Mr. Dresden?”

“Yeah. Chivalry is overrated.” I’d kept a hold on my staff after going down, so I quickly swept it around, catching the back of Adagio’s knees and sweeping her legs out from underneath her. I didn’t give her any time to recover before pouncing on top of her as best I could with my wounded leg. Thankfully, the Winter Knight mantle had already shut out the pain, so as long as I didn’t bleed out I’d be fine.

The first thing I did was get that gun out of her hand before she could use it to shoot me again. It really wasn’t a fair contest; in an ugly brawl like this I had the overwhelming advantage of being two hundred pounds of semi-muscular man while Adagio had arms about as thick around as a straw and was maybe half my mass, even counting the hair. However, despite my manhandling she kept a stubborn hold on her gun, and when she managed to kick me in my bullet wound I felt it even through the mantle’s pain-dulling effect.

“Right, no more Mr. Nice Guy.” I found a rock poking up from out of the mud and slammed her wrist down on it. Hard.

Adagio shrieked as several of her bones snapped, crackled, and popped, her hand springing open of its own accord as the gun tumbled out. I would probably feel bad about that later, but at the moment I was still running on adrenaline and anger, so instead I twisted her arm behind her back in a way that would be nasty and painful even if I hadn’t just broken her wrist. “Throw in the towel before this gets unpleasant.” I snarled, twisting her arm a bit to emphasize my point.

While I waited for Adagio’s answer, I took a moment to check my magical connection with Demonreach to see how the rest of the battle was going. Sunset was still down in the mudhole with Aria (or whatever was left of her), the chopper pilot was still obediently waiting inside his vehicle for more orders from his mistresses, and five soldiers were all lying around wounded or otherwise incapacitated, while the guy whose weapons I’d destroyed had managed to get his hands on a new gun and was trying to get a clear shot on me while I grappled his boss.

Man, Intellectus is handy. I needed to remember to ask my island if somebody was about to shoot me in the back more often.

I tried a quick roll to put Adagio between myself and the gunman, but I hadn’t factored in my wounded leg. It might not be causing much more than a dull ache, but the Winter Knight’s power only dulled the pain—it didn’t repair all the tissue damage. The leg didn’t have enough pushing power when I rolled onto it, so instead of quick and agile I wound up limply flopping like a fish instead. Adagio squirmed, wriggled, and managed to kick her way out of my loosened grip. She immediately scrambled clear of me, shouting at her minion to shoot me.

The mind-controlled soldier wasted no time following orders, but when it comes to a quick-draw competition, magic wins every time. After all, he probably needed almost a full second to register the order, aim, and pull the trigger. That might not seem like a lot of time, but it can be in a life-or-death battle. Especially when I’d gone up against plenty of bad guys whose speed and reflexes were far beyond what an ordinary human could use.

Arctis!” Ice covered the rifle’s barrel an instant before he pulled the trigger, with distinctly unpleasant results. The gun exploded in the man’s hands, sending him staggering backwards in shock. I slapped a quick binding spell on him, and was about to go after Adagio again when she blindsided me with a sonic blast that sent me tumbling ass over teakettle. The soldier might not have shot me, but he’d bought enough time for his mistress to recover.

As I slowly climbed back up to my feet, heavily favoring my uninjured leg in the process, Adagio held her broken wrist up to her lips and softly hummed to it. After a second, the bones shifted about beneath her skin until it looked good as new. I groaned, all too aware that my own injuries wouldn’t heal up without a couple weeks of bandages and bedrest. “That is incredibly unfair.”

Adagio answered with her best evil smirk. “Who said anything about this being a fair fight? You should just go to sleep. You’d probably enjoy being my loyal minion.”

“Sorry, Mab’s already claimed my minion-hood.” I chuckled and shook my head. “You clearly haven’t heard of her, because you’re not looking anywhere near scared enough by me name-dropping her. Trust me, you don’t want to get on her bad side—which, incidentally, is what will happen if you do get lucky and manage to kill me. She doesn’t like it when other people break her toys.” I planted my staff in the ground, partly for dramatic effect, and partly to support my wounded leg. “You don’t get it, do you? Sure, you’ve gotten away with the whole Siren act so far, but you’re fixing to kick a hornet’s nest that’ll have every supernatural power on the planet gunning for you. And lemme tell you, out of all the people who could be sent to take you down, I’m the nice one.”

“Yeah?” Adagio snarled out defiantly. “Well I hope they give you a nice funeral. I’ll make sure to send flowers.” She shifted back to the evil, confident smirk she seemed to constantly wear. “Assuming I leave enough behind to bury.”

I scoffed. “Please. In terms of evil psychotic monsters that have tried to kill me, you don’t even make the top ten.” Which, come to think of it, gave me a little extra incentive to not die here. I was so used to being the underdog in all my fights that it was a novelty for me to fight someone at my own level, much less in a lower weight class. If I didn’t lose to demonic superbeasts, zombie hordes, or armies of bloodthirsty vampires, I certainly wasn’t going to let some two-bit songstress take me out.

I leveled my staff at her. “Infriga!” Adagio countered with another sonic shriek, and our attacks met each other halfway. The resulting explosion of sound and ice shards knocked us both flat on our asses, and I felt several spots of dull cold pain where I took hits from ice splinters. Adagio took some damage too, but since Sirens can cheat she patched herself up with a little bit of humming.

I took advantage of her occupation with patching herself up to get in another hit, growling in pain and leveling my staff at one of the largest remaining ice shards. “Forzare!” The dagger-like chunk of ice shot straight for Adagio’s throat.

I’d managed to catch her by surprise for once, and she didn’t get a shield up in time. However, her reaction surprised me. Instead of trying to dodge or throw her arms to block the attack, she turned her back, taking the hit right between her shoulders.

She screamed in pain, but quickly set about healing herself again. However, as she did so I noticed one hand protectively resting over her throat, specifically the large gem sitting in a necklace around it. Come to think of it, Sonata had a gem just like it, and I was pretty sure Aria did too. At the time I’d assumed it was just jewelry, but if Adagio was willing to take a nasty hit just to avoid the possibility that I might damage it...

I concentrated and opened up my metaphorical third eye. A wizard’s Sight is a powerful tool, letting you look past any illusions and deceptions to see things as they truly are. If there was anything up with her gem, my Sight would tell me. The downside to it was that anything you see with your Sight stays with you. Forever. And when you go up against big nasty monsters as often as I have, you end up seeing some really ugly stuff. The kind of things that provide plenty of fuel for a lifetime of nightmares.

The first thing I saw with Adagio was what she looked like when she wasn’t human. A weird hybrid creature with a dragonlike head, the forelegs of a horse, and a giant fish tail on the back. I guess that was close enough to what the classic sirens looked like, once you adapted them to account for being equine instead of humanoid.

However, the gem was what I was focused on. A slow, steady trickle of red mist seemed to be continuously flowing into it from all around, presumably her online food supply. That power spread out through her entire body in thick veins of blood-red energy, all of which emanated outwards from that gem.

I closed my Sight and grinned triumphantly. “Gotcha now. Smash that gem, and all your nasty mojo goes bye bye.” I raised my voice to make sure my apprentice heard me. “Go for the gem, Sunset. That’s their weak point.”

I quickly consulted Demonreach to find out where exactly my apprentice was, then got my answer half a second later when a fireball slammed into my back, knocking me flat on my face.

Dammit, I said I was going to make a habit of checking with Demonreach if someone was about to backstab me.

I quickly flipped over, assessing the damage and relieved to find that I wasn’t sporting the nasty third degree burns a serious fireball can cause. Sunset and Aria were standing together, a triumphant grin on the Siren’s face and a blank look on my apprentice’s. “Why would I want to damage their gems?” Sunset asked tonelessly. “Their songs are so beautiful...”

“Good job, Aria.” Adagio declared, smirking gleefully down at me. “Looks like your apprentice wasn’t as devoted to being Celestia’s lackey after all.”

“Yup.” Aria threw an arm that still looked rather crushed and mangled over Sunset’s shoulders. “It’s no surprise, though. We know all about what Sunset was like before you got her. And really, once a villain, always a villain.” She chuckled maliciously. “Or at least a useful tool for a better villain. It was so easy to get her to see things my way...”

“Sunset...” I carefully rose to my feet. “Fight it. You’re better than this.”

“Am I?” She asked, slowly wrapping an arm around Aria in return. “I was a bad student to Celestia, then a high school bully, and then I planned to take over the world by turning into a she-demon and raising an army of mind-controlled highschoolers. Do those sound like the things a good pony would do?”

Adagio laughed mockingly. “Oh, you mortals are all the same. You think you can change who you are, never realizing that you’re just a bunch of easily manipulated puppets. You think you can escape your past? Please. It’s your past that defines you. Don’t even try to pretend that’s not true.”

Much as I hated to admit it, the Siren had a point. I mean, look at me. My distrust of all authority figures came from having real rotten luck with them in my past. My occasional temptation to dip into the Dark Side? Also from the past. Heck, if our life experience are what define us ... well, by definition any experiences we have are in the past.

Of course, she was also completely wrong. “Yeah, our past influences us. But it’s what we do with it that matters.” I tried to stand tall and defiant, but my wounded leg gave out on me, sending me sprawling back down into the mud. At least I kept hold of my staff, so I wasn’t completely helpless.

Not that it stopped the Sirens from laughing at me. “Aria,” Adagio declared between guffaws. “Have your new pet kill this annoying wizard, would you? Much as I would enjoy turning him into a slave, we can’t risk letting him live now that he knows about our gems.”

Aria nodded dutifully, then turned to Sunset. “You heard her. Try to make it as painful as possible, but don’t drag it out. We need to get Sonata so we can get back on schedule.”

“Yes, mistress,” Sunset answered dully, her arm around Aria’s neck shifting slightly. “Mistress, before I kill him, there’s one thing you should know.”

“What’s that?” Aria asked, feigning disinterest.

Sunset winked at me, and her hand closed around the gem on Aria’s throat.

“My past is not today.” Light flashed between Sunset’s closed fingers, and when she opened her hand, the shattered remnants of Aria’s gem fell to the ground.

Nooo!” Aria dropped to her knees, desperately trying to grab all the pieces of her lost gem, while Adagio watched in numb shock. I sprang back to my feet, no longer pretending my wounded leg had all but crippled me, and smacked her in the chest with a good, “Forzare!” She bounced off the trunk of a nearby tree, leaving a nice Adagio-shaped dent behind.

I strode over to her, intent upon handling her gem exactly the way Sunset had taken care of Aria’s when she did something that surprised me. Rather than try to fight back, she threw her hands up over her head. “I surrender! Take me back to Equestria, I won’t fight you anymore! I give up, go ahead and lock me up in Tartarus!”

After a couple seconds of surprise, I realized what must be going through her head. From what I’d been able to piece together, those gems were the source of the Sirens’ power and immortality. Given a choice between a few centuries of Equestrian jail and getting knocked down to powerless mortality, Adagio preferred the former.

“Fine.” I stepped back. “Surrender accepted. You can patch yourself up, but after that you don’t so much as whistle unless you want me to grind that gem down into powder. And as soon as I find something that’ll work, you’re getting gagged.”

“Deal.” She picked herself up off the ground, humming out some more of that healing music of hers. For a moment I was tempted to ask if she could fix me up as well, but I quickly thought better of that. Giving her free reign to mess around with my body was a terrible idea.

Though I started wondering if even accepting her surrender had been a good idea when her confident smirk returned. “I’d just like you to know that once I get to Equestria, I’ll be sure to tell Celestia how terribly sorry I am, and that I’ve definitely learned a valuable lesson from this. I’ll even promise to never, ever do anything like this again.”

Oh, so that was her angle. Pretend to be reformed and repentant, and hope that after a while the ponies decided to give her a second chance. Not a bad idea, really. Stars and stones, they’d given Discord a chance to redeem himself. Actually more than one, since he’d backstabbed them during the whole Tirek thing. The ponies seemed to really want to believe that the bad guys could be redeemed, and that was a message I could get behind. After all, Sunset had been a budding supervillainess before I took her in.

However, I’d also seen bad guys take advantage of the decency of others. And to be honest, not much pisses me off more than that. “Let me tell you a story, Adagio. It’s about a guy named Cassius. He was a Knight of the Blackened Denarius. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe not. But in any case, they’re the kind of evil your worst nightmares wish they could think of. One day, he ran afoul of myself and some friends of mine.” I stepped into her personal space, looming threateningly over her. “He got the bright idea of trying a fake surrender too, because he knew that my friends were obligated to accept it. The thing he forgot was that I was there too. So you know what I did? I asked my friends to step outside, and then I took a baseball bat to his arms and knees.” I glared down at her. “So, what do you think that says about my tolerance for bullshit surrender offers?”

Adagio swallowed and took half a step back. “But—but Celestia wouldn’t let you—”

“Celestia,” I growled, “isn’t here right now.” I turned my head a few feet to the side. “Alfred, you’ve had a chance to get a good look at Siren magic by now. Do you think you can hold her?”

Alfred himself didn’t appear, but he didn’t really need to. My connection to the island gave me the answer as soon as I’d asked the question. Alfred could handle Adagio just fine as long as she didn’t have other Sirens backing her up. “Do it.”

Before anyone could ask who this ‘Alfred’ guy was that I was talking to, vines sprouted up out of the ground, wrapping around Adagio’s feet and ankles. She let out a startled scream that abruptly cut off when the vines yanked her straight down into the earth. Once things were a bit more settled, I’d have to remember to ask Alfred which crystal he’d imprisoned her in.

Aria was still in shock over losing her powers, and without them she wasn’t a threat in any case, so I went over to my apprentice and gave her a quick slap on back. “Good work, padawan. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.” She smiled, but it slipped a bit as she added. “Sorry about hitting you in the back, They thought I was under their control, so I had to make it convincing, and—”

“Yeah, no sweat.” She’d softened it up enough that it wasn’t much of a burn. To be honest, it barely even registered compared to my mangled ear or the bullet hole in my leg. Speaking of which, I should probably have her teleport me to a hospital or something once Aria was dealt with. I’ve yet to figure out some magical way to fix holes in my body.

I grinned and pulled my apprentice into a one armed hug, but Sunset glanced down, blinked, then grimaced and quickly squirmed out of it. “Er ... Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re not wearing pants.”

I looked down, and discovered that she was correct. Apparently my pants had been knocked off at some point during the fight, and I’d been going through the fight in my underwear. “Oh.”

So much for my wizardly dignity.

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