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A post-industrial fantasy story

Chapter the First

Not a dark and stormy night

It was not, in fact a dark and stormy night, much to the consternation of a certain nefarious group of individuals wearing ominous robes in the basement of the (Placeholder) Community Center, (All parties welcome! See Sharlene to register a room for your group or event today!) As was to be expected there were various mystic and arcane symbols spread liberally about the room – some of them were even real – seemingly scattered randomly without rhyme or reason. Along with the aforementioned robes the atmosphere had a very "we are meddling in affairs beyond the ken of mortal men" kind of vibe that all really legitimate evil mystic cults tried to cultivate.

"The paper said a big thunderstorm was supposed to happen tonight. They're usually pretty accurate," said one of the lower ranking members to a man in a much more expensive looking robe, most likely the leader (probably called "High One" or some such).

"Well," the probable High one replied. "It's not actually a requirement of the ritual, it's just recommended, so we should be fine." He cleared his throat loudly. "Did everyone hear that? We are proceeding with the ritual. Prepare the human sacrifices!"

Attention moved to said sacrifices, whose protests and struggles against their bonds took on a renewed vigor. The most-likely High One was quite pleased with the group of vacationing college students his followers had managed to abduct. They were all conventionally attractive, ethnically diverse young people of both genders. (Worshiping an eldritch horror beyond the comprehension of mortal man didn't necessarily mean that one wouldn't support ethnic and gender diversity.) The sacrifices were manhandled up onto the sacrificial alter (i.e. some folding tables wrapped in gold foil with arcane sigil drawn on them with magic markers) and secured with some off-brand zip ties.

"Is all in readiness?"

The congregation acknowledged that yes, it probably was.

"Okay then, just like we practiced, a-one, a-two, a-three!"

The cultists began to chant ominously, the purported High One was pleased. It sounded very authentic, especially considering he had gotten it off of 4chan. He paused for a moment, enjoying the atmosphere, before producing a ceremonial dagger he had purchased off Amazon for nearly $150 (the handle was shaped like a dragon with (fake) jewels for the eyes!).

"Oh Great Hastur," the former Performing Arts major turned self-styled High One intoned, sliding the capital letters neatly into place. "We Your Unworthy Disciples Give Unto You These Sacrifices That You Might Prevail Against the Dread C'thulu And Awaken the Great Old Ones From Their—AAARRRGGH!"

The High One screamed like a little girl as his wrist was cut to the bone by a streak of light from out of nowhere. He dropped the dagger in panic (and because the tendons in his wrist had been severed) and his head swiveled wildly around in search of the attacker so he could sic his goons on them. What he found, hovering mere inches from his face, was a seven inch (17.78-cm) tall woman with sparkling dragonfly wings, carrying a fourteen inch (35.56-cm) long razor sword. She winked at him, then made a rude gesture and flitted away.

"Alright ladies and gentlemen," boomed a deep resounding voice. "This is a raid! The Magic Regulation Bureau charges you with attempt of a non-sanctioned ritual to a known hostile entity!" The speaker was a rather large burly gentleman in a nondescript gray business suit under a long trench coat.

The cultists made to attack the interloper, before noticing at least a dozen more of the small flying women, all of them armed with a mix of razor swords and long, thin, very sharp-looking spikes. They had the cultists surrounded, and looked eager for a reason to use their weapons. After a quick discussion amongst themselves, the cultists all raised their hands and surrendered. Having secured the scene, the mysterious man and his gang of winged women withdrew so that local law enforcement could arrest the offenders while emergency medical personnel saw to the Not-Really-That-High-After-All One.

Later that evening at (Placeholder Inn), the same enormous man entered followed by a glittery trail of tiny women. It was a popular haunt for off-duty law enforcement operatives and the like, and the man, Solomon Grimes, was a regular. He was, as you may have gathered from the prologue, an agent of the Magic Regulation Bureau, an international extra-governmental agency tasked with monitoring and regulating the use of magic by groups and individuals in order to make sure no one did anything really stupid, like summon an army of horrors to take over the world, or really corrupt like using charm spells to make everyone buy Beta-max video recorders. It covered rather a wide breadth of duties.

Solomon, as has previously been noted, was quite a large man, built like a professional wrestler. Quite muscular and nearly as wide as he was tall he cut an intimidating figure. His face was rather unremarkable but pleasant, in an open, honest way. He worn his brown hair cropped very short so he wouldn't have to waste time fiddling with it and had a persistent five o'clock shadow no matter when he had last shaved. The Agent made his way up to the bar and grabbed the attention of the owner, a female Drow known only as "The Owner".

"Excuse me, Milady," he hailed her politely. It was always a good idea to treat Drow with the utmost respect (and to use capital letters wherever applicable); they took offense easily and bore long grudges. The Owner acknowledged him with what he recognized as a friendly smile, but what many others might interpret as a vaguely threatening display of her pointed, shark-like teeth.

"Ah, Agent Grimes, what can we get you this fine evening?" she said in the odd, clipped accent of her people.

"Is the kitchen still open, fair mistress?"

"Indeed it is, good sir. What may our fine staff prepare for you?" She leaned forward, skillfully displaying the obligatory cleavage; as a Drow she had a certain reputation to live up to. He appreciated her professionalism.

"I had heard you've started serving a Lobster bisque?"

"An excellent choice sir, and to drink?"

"I'll have a beer, and also some hard cider for..." he gestured to the entourage of tiny ladies fluttering about his head and shoulders.

The Drow gave a genuinely amused smile. "I shall see what we can do, Agent. Please have a seat."

He slid into a nearby booth. It was too late for the dinner crowd, but not yet late enough for the graveyard shift, so the place was fairly empty. Soon the Owner appeared with his food and drink, as well as twelve thimble-sized mugs of cider. She gave a subtle laugh as the fairies swirled around her with high pitched cheers of gratitude; he would have to leave her a generous tip later.

"Good work tonight girls," he said to the pixies while they were still sober enough to remember it. He took a sip of his beer and regarded his miniature companions fondly. All of them resembled an attractive human female in her early twenties, with large iridescent dragonfly wings protruding from their backs, though that was where the similarities ended; their hairstyles, coloring, and mode of dress were all over the map. They chattered rapidly amongst themselves in their high pitched buzzing language that was much too fast for him to follow. Fairies were able to learn to understand the spoken languages of other races rather quickly, and written languages over time (in theory they could text, but no one has yet created a keyboard small enough for them to use in the field), but their own language remained a mystery. As they consumed more alcohol they became more raucous as they argued and chased each other around the booth.

Officially Grimes was listed as their animal trainer, but his charges were clearly more than that. Long considered vermin, it was only in the last hundred years or so that fairies had been thought worthy of serious academic study, when it had been discovered that they functioned similarly, though not exactly, like a hive mind, possessing a form of collective intelligence. An individual was just that, an individual. But the more of them were gathered in one place, the smarter each individual became. (Rather the opposite of humans.) Some form of telepathy was suspected to be at the root of it. Larger wild colonies, consisting of up to a hundred thousand or more, were theorized to be able to calculate with the speed of bleeding edge super computers, though at the moment there was no way to confirm it. Wild fairies, being somewhat larger (up to 12 inches, 30.48-cm) and much more aggressive than their civilized kindred, guarded their territory rather viciously, which was why most of the world's old growth forests – the natural habitat of fairies and jealously protected by them – remained unexplored.

Solomon's tame colony was around 230-350, making it about as smart as a bright teenager, (though much less melodramatic.)

Just as he was about to start in on his food, he was interrupted by a friendly, "Solomon!"

and a slightly more than friendly hug from behind. The arms doing the hugging belonged to an enthusiastic calico by the name of Cassandra Sockstealer-Takesnaps. A 25-year-old rookie agent, the anthro cat-woman had worked under the more experienced Grimes for the better part of a year. They had quickly developed a very close bond. Everyone, apart from them of course, knew it was only a matter of time before it developed into something more intimate. (there was a betting pool among their fellow agents). Solomon couldn't help but give her an appreciative once over. She had a dancer's build with long slender limbs and a compact core, with delicate almost childlike features that made her look innocent even when she very clearly wasn't. Her lithe form was covered in soft brilliant white fur, besmirched randomly with black and ginger splotches. Not exactly small at a conservative 5'10" she was still greatly overshadowed by his massive 6'7" frame.

She affectionately rubbed her cheek against Solomon's and shamelessly insinuated herself onto his lap with a typically feline disregard for personal space, tail flicking playfully against his leg. Solomon knew such behavior was normal for felines but it was difficult not to take it as flirting, which, unknown to him, it was.

"Ooo! What's this?" she wondered, regarding his dinner.

"Mine."

Cassie gave him the sad kitten eyes.

You could almost hear the man fold (it was a kind of 'whump' noise.)

"Lobster bisque. Would you like a taste?" he offered reluctantly.

"I would be delighted!" she squealed joyously, lifting the spoon to her lips and giving a little shudder of delight. "Mmm! So good!" she trilled, then had another bite, and another and-

"Hey! Leave some for me!" Solomon protested.

Cassie raised the spoon to his lips. "Open wide!" she said with a grin. He replied with a grumpy, annoyed expression, but let her feed him nonetheless.

"Mmm!" His eyebrows rose in surprise, it was very good. He abruptly shoved the girl out of his lap. She landed on her back with an indignant squawk in the empty seat next to him with her legs still laying across his lap. "You could just get your own," he suggested at her pout.

"But I want yours!" she replied, proving that a cat is still a cat, no matter what shape it takes.

In an incredible display of maturity he stuck his tongue out at her and proceeded to finish off the bowl whilst making exaggerated "Mmm!" noises. Some of the more daring and less sober of the fairies flew up to poke at the triangular cat ears that peeked out from under Cassie's short mop of tangled black and ginger hair, which flicked in annoyance. (The ears, not the hair. That would be weird.)

Cassie pulled herself into a cross-legged position and glared at him, absently licking the back of her hand and smoothing her facial fur in another unmistakably feline gesture. Pointedly ignoring the smirk on his face, she continued the initial grooming impulse by fastidiously straightening her rumpled suit and readjusting her definitely-too-short miniskirt, flicking her ears again in a vain attempt to dislodge the raucous hangers-on who had decided that her head was the optimal vantage point from which to view the proceedings.

"So how did the raid go?" she asked once she had gotten bored with being mad.

"Ugh." He made a put upon face. "Almost a complete waste of time – bunch of wannabe Cult of Hastur clowns. The sigils weren't even aligned properly, probably got the ritual off of the internet. Best case scenario nothing would have happened. Worst case, they would have sucked the entire county into the void. Fucking amateurs." He took a pull of his beer. "Still, we rescued some college students and the fairies followed orders and didn't shred anyone. So it went alright." He paused. "How are things with you? Don't usually see you here this late."

"My family is driving me crazy! They keep pushing me to find a mate and join a harem and it's getting to be too much. They don't understand that I want to focus on my career. I don't even know that I want kids yet. Or at all, for that matter!" She folded her arms on the table, slumping uncharacteristically with detection. "I just need some space to think."

"You're drawing a decent paycheck now. Why not move out, get your own place?"

"I'd like to, but with my student loans I can't really afford it. I don't know what to do!" she lamented, letting her head fall onto her folded arms and burying her face in the crook of her elbow.

"Well, we've got a spare room if you don't mind putting up with 'Koto and me." Solomon offered.

Cassie's head popped up, ears perking. "That would be AWESOME!" exclaimed the catgirl. Getting to be closer to Solomon and getting away from her nagging progenitors? Sign her up right now! "Oh, but what will your wife think?" Cassie was kind of scared of Solomon's wife, a very powerful Kitsune or Japanese spirit fox.

"I don't think she'll have a problem with it. But I'll text her and check."

FairyWrangler: Are you there?

9Tailsgoddess: Always for you dearest(kiss emoji) What's the matter, missing your lovely Koto-chan?(Wink emoji)

FairyWrangler: Always, but have kind of a situation here. Cassie is fighting with her parents and I offered to let her stay with us. Is that alright?

9Tailsgoddess:…

FairyWrangler: Koto?

FairyWrangler:?

9Tailsgoddess: That's a wonderful idea! It would do the kitten a world of good, spread her wings, have new experiences! Like a, what's that French thing? Ah, yes, a Menage a trois.

Solomon choked on his beer and sprayed a mouthful across the table.

"What's wrong?" asked his concerned partner.

"Nothing," he reassured. "Just went down the wrong pipe." he continued reading.

9Tailsgodess: I think it would be absolutely delightful if thatdelicious partner of yours were to join us in our den of iniquity.(Heart emoji) Oh dear the plane is taking off, see you in the morning, have fun with sexy kitty-chan! (x3 kiss emoji wink emoji)

Solomon took a moment to collect himself.

"Yeah, she's cool with it."

"Really?" Cassie questioned, nervously biting her lip. While she had grown up in a typical feline household – that is to say with one male and several females (like lions!) – she was regretfully aware that humans were traditionally monogamous. Kitsune behavior was rather more idiosyncratic and quite difficult to predict. So acceptance was not entirely without precedence, but neither was insane jealousy.

"'Koto likes you," Solomon reassured. He downplayed exactly how much Makoto liked his junior agent. It would ruin the surprise.

"Well, okay, if you say so." Her musings were interrupted by her growling stomach, much to the amusement of the fairies perched in her hair.

0-0

Cassie did eventually buy her own bisque.

0-0

Once they had paid and left the Inn, Cassie spoke up.

"So should I, like follow you or what?"

"Oh, right, you haven't seen the new place yet, have you? We just moved in over the weekend."

"No, I remember you talking about it though. Sounded nice. Is it around here someplace?"

Solomon grinned in anticipation. He loved showing off his toys. "In a matter of speaking…" he replied cryptically.

Now where had she parked… ah, there she was! He spotted her sporty three-wheeler next to his van. It had been a gift from her family upon joining the bureau. He paused to admire the reverse trike. Two wheels in front, one in the back, an enclosed cockpit for the driver and a single, rather small passenger. It was red of course, lightly built to emphasize handling and brisk acceleration over pure speed. It was quite a fun little runabout. He'd considered getting one for a while, but he needed a bit more room in a vehicle. With that thought he turned his attention to his custom van. Originally a short wheelbase design for deliveries in crowded cites, Solomon had lowered it and flared the fenders to give it a low, muscular stance, painted it a uniform matte gray, and blacked out all the windows. The result was rather sinister looking.

He walked around to the rear doors. Cassie was looking at him with her head inquisitively cocked to one side. He opened the doors and climbed inside. A moment later an electric whirring filled the air as the entire rear section clam-shelled out, nearly doubling the size of the opening, and a ramp was lowered to the ground. She cautiously ascended the ramp and had a peek inside.

"It's bigger on the inside?" she asked redundantly, as she could see that it led, inexplicably, to the entrance a large garage. Along one side were three parking spaces, one occupied by an imposing vintage coupe she recognized as belonging to Makoto.

"Well, not really," Solomon explained. "This isn't the inside of the van, it's a pocket dimension. The actual back of the van is full of Magi-Tek equipment to keep all of this running. Pull your car in and I'll give you the tour."

"You mean there's more?"

"Oh yes, quite a bit."

Cassie quickly drove in and parked.

Solomon closed the rear door before motioning for her to follow him to a sliding door at the other end of the garage. Before entering, he stopped first at a miniature railway depot situated to the side of the door and herded his drunken charges onto the waiting tram. They cheered and waved goodbye as it left the station to return to the colony in his basement. He turned his attention back to the door, opening it to reveal the front seats of the van. They were aftermarket sport seats meant to hold the body stable during tight turns.

Cassie eyed them dubiously. "Uh..."

"Buckle up," Solomon suggested as he strapped himself in. "The Owner doesn't like people staying in her lot overnight."

As soon as she was secure, he inserted his key and pressed the red start button, lighting up the dashboard. With her sensitive ears Cassie detected a low electric hum from somewhere in the back.

"That's a low charge perpetual lightning rune. It powers the 200 kilowatt motors in each of the wheels as well as providing electricity to the living quarters. It's all self-contained." Solomon explained proudly as he reversed out of his space and exited the lot with an obnoxious burnout.

0-0

After a rather... exciting drive, the van pulled into the employee parking garage of the local branch of the MRB. Cassie slowly released the death grip she had on the armrests, hoping Solomon wouldn't notice the deep claw marks in the passenger side armrests.

She'd had no idea he was such an... enthusiastic driver.

"Are you okay?" said speed freak asked her, somewhat contritely.

She swallowed and gave him a look.

"Should I give you a minute." Cassie nodded her head at him. "Sorry, I don't get many chances to open her up, and the road was empty...I'll just..." He left the cabin and went into the back.

When she stopped shaking Cassie unbuckled herself and stood up. After taking a second to smooth down her puffed up fur, she followed him into the garage. Solomon was waiting next to another sliding door in the wall opposite the parking spaces.

"So you said something about a tour...?"

"Yeah," he replied. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine," she replied coldly, obviously still mad. "Get on with it."

Knowing better than to argue he slid open the door, which led to a small cloakroom. Hangers hung on hooks in rows on the walls above shoe cubbies lining the floor.

"No shoes in the house." Cassandra didn't know why he said this, she didn't wear shoes. They cost too much, were supremely uncomfortable and inevitably got clawed to pieces. He hung up his coat and slipped his wingtips into the appropriate cubby. "Go ahead and make yourself comfortable."

Cassie grinned to herself, struck by sudden inspiration. Now was her chance to pay him back for his terrifying driving.

So she deliberately waited until he was done and had turned to her before sensuously slipping out of her blazer and slowly undoing her tie. Her hands went to her skirt, tugging it down with an exaggerated wriggling motion. A flash of red panties was just visible from beneath the fall of her shirt, which she slowly unbuttoned, divesting herself of it with an enticing flourish. When she wasn't working, she didn't normally wear a bra, her breasts being rather too modest to require one. But in deference to social norms and the semi-transparent nature of the bargain bin garments forced upon her by her woeful finances she had compromised and wore a white(to match her fur) tube top underneath her shirt. That, and those minimalist red panties, was all she left on.

"What?" was her innocent reply to his shocked expression. "You told me to get comfortable. You have no idea how uncomfortable clothes are when you have fur."

It wasn't a lie, and consequently nudity wasn't really a taboo amongst anthros. But humans could be rather insistent about the silliest things, so she was quite proud of herself for making such a bold move.

"Uh, yeah, I do recall you saying something like that now that you mention it," he eventually replied after a few moments of shocked goggling and several more appreciating her slim physique.

Cassie tried to be magnanimous but was unable to help feeling a little smug; she put a lot of effort into maintaining her athletic aesthetic. Moments like this made it worth it.

Once he had recovered himself sufficiently Solomon opened the door and made an elaborate gesture, urging the feline to enter. "Milady."

"Thank you, kind sir," she replied before strutting through the door. Then she gave an indignant squawk and a skittish jump as he gave her passing posterior a sharp smack. Her dirty look was met by a mischievous grin and a playful grab at her tail, which she deftly avoided with typical cat like grace. She sent him a warning growl from the back of her throat – she was still upset with him and not in the mood for horseplay right now, so back off.

Taking the hint Solomon held up his hands in a gesture of surrender (completely undermined by his lingering smirk) and resumed the tour. "This is the main living area," he continued as if nothing had happened. Cassie took it in. It was a large loft apartment with a high ceiling and a second floor balcony extending halfway over the ground floor.

"Here's the TV." He pointed out a modest home theater set up in front of an old but well preserved and excessively comfy looking couch. "Back there is the kitchen," he indicated a minimal kitchenette at the near rear corner. "Neither of us is much for cooking," he explained as they traveled towards the stairs at the far end of the room. The plush carpet felt warm and inviting on Cassie's bare feet. "That's Makoto's office," he pointed out halfway to the stairs. "It's not a good idea to bother her when she's working, so don't go in there. Next to that is a half bath. The main one is upstairs. Down there is the fairy colony," he said when they arrived at the staircase. "Do NOT, under ANY circumstances go down there." His face and voice were deathly serious. "They do not like ANYONE near the colony. Even I'm not allowed down there without an explicit request. Is that 100% clear?"

Cassie, who with typical cat logic had decided that it would be really fun to go down into the basement and watch the cute fairies, gave a non-committal grunt.

Solomon wasn't having that. "They are VERY paranoid about the safety of the colony."

At that moment Cassie noticed several fairies sizing her up. Their revealing French maid uniforms and comically large cleaning implements did little to assuage her building concern. 'We are watching you out-lander.' they seemed to imply.

Solomon continued, his voice suddenly hard with the authority of the seasoned MRB agent Cassie had grown to respect so much, "They know you're with me, so there's a good chance you won't suffer anything permanent, but it will be extremely unpleasant. There are credible stories of intruders being tormented for weeks at a time and I won't be able to help you. Do you understand?"

The catgirl was wide-eyed in shock. Were they really that dangerous?

"Y-yessir!" she squeaked thoroughly chastised.

"Okay then," Solomon nodded, relaxing. "I'm not trying to scare you, but it's very important. Other than that one thing they're actually quite helpful." The fairy maids had gone back to doing their jobs in a whimsical manner. "Er...I don't know why they dress like that," he explained awkwardly. "Anyway," he mounted the stairs, "up here are the bedrooms." They climbed up to the balcony. On one side was a railing looking out over the lower floor, on the other was three doors. He indicated the furthest door. "That's where Makoto and I sleep."

"Uh, Where is she anyway? I saw her car and kind of assumed she'd be here." The calico was obviously uneasy.

"She's out of town on business. I'm supposed to pick her up at the airport early tomorrow morning," he reassured. "She's... very excited to see you again." His mouth opened as though he had something more to say on the subject, but then thought better of it and instead turned and indicated the middle door. "That's the main bathroom, That's where the shower is. Makoto insisted on getting one that doubled as a Jacuzzi, and it's pretty nice, I have to admit." He gestured to the near door. "And this is your room. Now if you'll pardon me," Solomon yawned and started towards his room. "I do have to get up early so I'm going to bed. You can stay up if you want to and watch TV or whatever."

"I think I'll turn in as well," Cassie returned with a yawn of her own, suddenly tired. She tried to open the door and found it wouldn't open. "Hey, it's locked! What's the deal?"

"Oh, right, forgot about that. It's a new bit of Magi-Tek one of Makoto's companies is working on. A customizeable room. Just press the green button. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."

After the two wished each other goodnight, the feline agent did as she was instructed and pressed the button. A compartment opened up revealing a bowling-ball sized crystal sphere with a video screen above it reading 'Please place both hands upon the sphere.' A motorized tray slid out allowing her to more easily follow instructions. Another message came up on the panel that read 'Please remain in contact until scrying is complete' in red letters. After a few minutes there was a pleasant chime and a 'scrying complete – proceed,' and she opened the door to reveal her new accommodations. The result was quite serviceable.

The the room was comfortable looking, if a bit generic, like a hotel room. She could add some personal touches later if the mood struck her. As she entered the extra plush carpet felt wonderful on her bare feet and the indirect lighting gave the room a warm glow. In the middle of the room was the room's only furniture; a scratching/climbing post reaching to the quite high ceiling. Approximately three-quarters of the way up hung a queen-sized padded hammock piled with cozy-looking blankets and fluffy pillows. (cats prefer to sleep up high) The whole room was done in warm earth tones and smelled like fresh linen, it was all very inviting.

There was another chime, drawing her attention and she went back out into the hall to see what it wanted. 'Is this configuration acceptable?' She clicked 'yes'. 'Room confirmed and set, have a pleasant stay.' The crystal retracted back into the wall, the screen deactivated and a panel slid closed.

What an interesting apparatus she thought as she re-entered the room, closing the door behind her and immediately divesting herself of her remaining garments. She could practice modesty for the sake of Solomon's delicate human sensibilities, but she preferred her bare fur, especially to sleep. Tossing her clothes onto the floor, she sashayed up to the post and stretched her long arms up as high as they would reach before hooking her claws into the material. Enjoying the sensuous pull in her muscles, she gave a sharp tug to test her grip. Finding it sufficient, she dug in with her opposite foot and climbed up into the hammock. There she snuggled into the heap of pillows and cocooned herself into a warm ball of blankets with a contented purr. It was even cozier than it had looked from the floor, swaying gently and molding to her body. Today had gone much better than expected. She was finally away from the stifling traditions of her people and starting a new life on her own! The excitement of the day soon caught up with her and soon she was fast asleep.