Gerard studied one of his personal monitors, showing the capture from Miami Beach, before glancing down with a disdainful leer while examining the folders atop his desk. Rubbing under his bloodshot eyes, he tried unsuccessfully to stifle an involuntary yawn before looking at the monitor filled walls. On one of the displays, there was a flurry of activity as the team returned from their Miami Mission, other monitors showing much of the evidence they’d been able to gather over the week.
Cracking his neck, he frowned as his lanyard shifted. Tugging on it, he unclipped it and examined his picture with disdain, written along the bottom in red it read SPDC Regional Manager. Tossing it across the messy table top in front of him, he leaned back, stretching; settling back in, he glanced at the piles of information he needed to sort through. Is this a good time to retire?
Sighing, he scratched at his left temple. How can the board expect me to make this many critical decisions in such a short time? Now they’re forcing my hand with incorporating monsters in critical operations—I guess the U.S. has already been doing that for a short time, but with how they want it handled—they’re more ravenous dogs than trusted employees. Give me something to work with besides fear!
Moving his mouse to a window on one of the eight screens in front of him, he opened the email sent from the Western Division Director:
I have just received notice; the board has decided that the best way to move forward with monsters retreating into hiding is to incorporate those captured into our ranks and exploit their knowledge. Therefore, I have been instructed to initiate a pilot program to review and report how best each monster caught can be of use to the organization.
I understand this is an enormous task and you are no expert in the field, yet that is one of the reasons why you will be piloting this effort. Your base has excellent researchers that specialize in specific monster fields, but I feel like you may need some help determining the uses of each specimen and containing them. Therefore, I have sent for Diane to visit and counsel you on each of these monsters and their best function for your base.
I realize that this is a general directive and there can be many uses for them. True, some may only be good for sport; the new investors do love their shows. However, there will be great uses in indoctrinating these creatures into our operation. We need them to cooperate, and the board has determined that a stern hand is the best method, Diane can help you with this.
On to another matter, as you know, with the establishment of a new U.S. Special Committee in 2003 that was appointed to oversee monster integration, secrecy, and protection, the government has placed restrictions on our previous methods. Knowing that we are not hidden from the U.S. oversight and that they have since sent representatives to oversee our operations, we must proceed with caution.
With the previous Senator’s death, they have recently selected their new representative for your base. He will be arriving within the week, and it is paramount that he does not learn of higher clearance operations. You have handled privileged information well with onsite personnel, which is why I accepted your father’s recommendation ten years ago.
We expect remarkable things from you, Gerard. Your father was a shining example of dedication; we know you can live up to his great name. You are piloting this directive and will be the model for other branches. I will be visiting the base within the month to see what progress has been made.
Gerard sighed as he leaned back. Mentioning my father and noting how I was selected, he must be in a bind. He was probably given the liberty to choose someone to pilot the initiative and out of all the other bases he decided I was the best pick, likely because of my dad and the recent captures.
His thoughts turned to his father with mixed emotions. He was dedicated, even made it to the board before his diabetes took him; couldn’t stay away from the cream puffs and Mountain Dew. Still, how could he choose my base when I have so many unknown factors leaping all over me? A new Senator, a multitude of monsters that need processing, and all the new personnel problems, much less the investors’ demands.
Glancing down at a stack of yellow folders, he bit his cheek lightly. They’re sending a special advisor, Diane. She primarily operates out of the French branches, supposedly she knows her stuff, but the French Director did mention that she can be reckless to gain information. We’ll see when she gets here. She is supposed to be the best-outsourced asset in the organization.
A heavy groan rumbled in his throat as he shoved those folders to the side; he’d get to them later. Tapping an LCD next to his desk he watched several monitors exit sleep around him. Monitors lined the walls, hung from the ceiling, and were stationed beside his desk. Most showed less than valuable information; however, a few held pressing data. Tapping his fingers against the folder filled desktop, he took care to not knock over his scotch as he swiveled his chair.
His gaze shifted to a monitor that held the same information for the past week. It had been two weeks since he’d sent his division’s best team to capture a group of monsters that had appeared in the Appalachian Mountains. There hadn’t been a group of that size seen in over sixty years. It was also unusual to find unregistered monsters on U.S. territory after the mass extermination effort that had lasted till the late eighteenth century and cooperative effort that had recently taken place at the start of the twenty-first century.
Gerard’s eyes hardened as he watched the video play, only half of the team returned from that hunt—partly due to the board’s executive decision to capture, not kill. They weren’t prepared for such numbers and the versatility of some of the beasts. They finally managed to catch the more resistant ones when their energy ran low.
Henry, his previous Division Commander, had been one of the deceased. In Gerard’s opinion, it was an irreplaceable loss. Henry was the cautious type and thoroughly thought out his missions, which was the reason he’d been in the position for eleven years in an occupation with a mortality rate of the first few missions.
Working around his mouth, Gerard stared at the screen for several minutes before taking a sip of his scotch, savoring the burn; his mind drifted to memories of his friend. He’d been the best man at Henry’s wedding, went to barbeques, activities with his family, and was even his son’s godfather. It was a challenging task to tell his wife and son; he was committed to helping them. It also left a prominent position empty, the Division Commander was the second in command, and he would’ve taken over temporarily if anything had happened to Gerard.
His face screwed up in disgust as he glared at the pile of folders he’d pushed aside. One of the monsters in that stack had been the cause of Henry’s death, and he was expected to review its profile and determine how best to incorporate the beast. The thought turned his stomach.
Sitting back in his seat, Gerard’s vision shifted to the monitor to his left. It showed a strong man in his late twenties, blonde hair, hard features, and stone brown eyes; he was expected to take Henry’s position. He wasn’t listed as an SPSD affiliate, which was odd. He had to be somehow connected to the organization, but he didn’t know how. The man was listed to have no monster background, yet the higher brass expected him to fill a key role in his division. He wasn’t even considered a hero or listed with any government agency unless you counted his involvement in multiple espionage crimes in several countries’ military operations.
Gerard read aloud, “Benjamin Crystiver: Labeled a multinational terrorist, self-acclaimed mercenary regarding special jobs, and a man with over a thousand civilian lives on his hands, excluding an unknown number of military and private assassinations.” Shaking his head with revulsion, he muttered, “This is the type of man that’s filling Henry’s position?”
Sadly, it wasn’t his decision; in fact, Benjamin was already in the position without his consent. The higher brass had bypassed his recommendations completely and ordered Benjamin effective immediately, likely pushed by private investors. Just as they expected this man in, Gerard was expected to sign off on the monster additions within the week. At least he had some say as to what they’d do in his base, but with so many, he was having a tough time just containing them.
He sipped at his drink, focus returning to a few monitors on the right wall, showing the docking area. He still didn’t know how big this new group would be, it was Benjamin’s first mission, and he’d been kept entirely out of the loop; possibly because he didn’t remember the hourly reports, but likely because he didn’t care.
“Has the entire monster society decided to come back into the light?” Gerard grumbled. Moving some papers to press a touch-sensitive sensor, he asked, “Betty, is Benjamin back from the hunt? Did he capture all the monsters in the Miami group?”
Betty replied promptly, “It seems so—he just walked in now. Should I send him…” As Gerard was about to consent, the door opened to show the tall, muscular man.
Gerard passively watched the man enter through his oak door. He was taller than Gerard by a good five inches and wore an exhilarated expression. Before his second step into the room, Benjamin asked, “Gerard, have you seen the videos yet? It was awe striking! The devastation these creatures can cause and still look so innocent! What I wouldn’t give to have one on some of my old jobs.”
In all honesty, Gerard had wished this man had died on his first mission. Shaking his head as Betty stopped at the door, looking furious at being ignored; sighing, Gerard gestured for her to come in. Vision momentarily shifting back to Benjamin’s excited demeanor, he looked back at Betty and asked, “Is the footage processed?”
Betty glared at Benjamin’s back but began examining a tablet. “Yes, some of it, just give me a moment to put it on the center monitor.” Both Benjamin and Gerard watched the screen shift. Benjamin’s attitude had taken a turn; this wasn’t what he’d come to expect from the hard man. He was jittery like he was coming off a high. His first impression of the man was flippant, yet coldly severe. The change was disconcerting.
As the video began to play, Gerard nodded for Betty to return to her station and Benjamin began to explain as she shut the door behind her. “This is the footage after we’d put them all under and studied the area.”
Gerard’s eyes were instantly drawn to the massive crater of upturned gravel, concrete, and metal. “What did that?” Gerard cut in, watching several men investigate it.
Benjamin shook his head, and Gerard noticed his hands were shaking. “Right now, we don’t know. We began setting up right after that happened. We were going to prepare more before taking them down, but I thought we were discovered when they all froze up, so I ordered the capture. Although, from what some of the scientists on site speculated—” he cut off with a small gulp, “the force implied … let’s just say it’s a lot.”
Gerard’s stomach somersaulted as he studied the scene; the soldier with the helmet attachment moved around the hole to get multiple angles on the cavity. He couldn’t remember a monster in his lifetime that held such power, not even the recent captures. Clearing his throat, Gerard asked, “How many casualties?”
“None,” Benjamin said.
Brows knitting together, Gerard appraised the man with a frown. “How did you manage that?”
“They were fighting each other,” Benjamin said with a gleam in his eyes. “Have your secretary change it to the fight scenes we were able to obtain.”
Gerard repeated the request over the microphone, leaving the speaker on with a double tap. He watched in shock as the screen popped open to reveal a tall girl in a glowing luminescent suit of armor. She held a magnificent looking spear that seemed to pulsate with a white radiance. Beside the girl was a man, a little girl that looked to be injured, and another girl with a tail and ears.
The tailed girl made his heart skip a beat. “Another Vulpes?”
Benjamin nodded solemnly. “I’m a bit disappointed; it was completely exhausted when we captured it. I wanted to see how it would compare to the other.”
Gerard licked his lips and leaned closer as the camera panned out to show dozens upon dozens of werewolves. “That’s a gigantic pack of werewolves,” Gerard muttered. Do we have the space for everything?
“Yeah,” Benjamin commented as his vision shifted over the group. “That isn’t even the full pack. We found others around the area and from what the investigation teams are telling me there are more within the city. It looks like the original fight took place in a golf course then shifted to ravage a construction site, where we found a few others, and finally to the docking area, here,” he finished, pointing at the screen.
Gerard leaned closer as the camera zoomed to the crater and his breath caught. “There’s a body in that?”
Benjamin bit his lower lip with an impressed and uncertain tone as he hummed acknowledgment. “I was wondering when you’d notice. We found a man in his early twenties in there, twisted like a jigsaw puzzle, but somehow alive. Your specialists speculate it’s the pack leader. The werewolves were in a mass of confusion when we arrived—but the real question is about his resilience … your scientists—the momentum involved to create that crater, well, it’s a bit unnerving, and he survived it.”
His dislike for Benjamin was lost in his thoughts as Gerard nodded saying, “Make sure they get processed without incident. If we don’t know what caused that devastation, we can’t take enough precautions.” Benjamin didn’t even let him finish as he turned on his heels and exited at almost a run.
Chewing on his lower lip, Gerard watched the multitude of videos for the better part of an hour before Betty’s voice jolted his reverie. “Sir, Diane just arrived at the base. She’s being guided to you now—the guards say she has Director Clearance.”
Leaning back with a large release of air, he studied his door pensively. Diane, the legendary researcher. Let’s see what she’s worth. Clearing his throat, Gerard asked, “How long ‘till she arrives?”
“With her clearance, she’ll bypass all the security checks. She should be here within five minutes,” Betty calculated. “By the way, I just received notice from Senator Brickly’s personal assistant that he will be arriving today.”
Getting up, Gerard said, “Right, let me know when he arrives and personally show him around the base. Senator Clearance areas only, of course. When Diane arrives, let her in right away.” His focus returning to the center screen, he found his tablet PC under the piles of folders and turned off the monitor, deactivating his microphone connection to Betty.
Trying to look composed, Gerard waited for Diane to arrive. A woman in her mid-forties entered, promptly shutting the door behind herself. She was as tall as Benjamin with very light blonde hair, fair skin, and bright blue eyes. She’s supposed to be in her eighties, yet she looks so young. What kind of treatment does she take?
Diane’s face was firm and scrutinizing as her sharp eyes darted around the room, taking in every detail. Her clothing was that of a scientist, simple in design and around her neck was a shoulder strap bag. Sitting, she turned to stare into Gerard’s eyes. He’d heard that at one point she was a witch’s disciple, and now she was one of the most esteemed magic users in the SPSD, called upon for special assignments.
Gerard spoke first. “Diane, what brings such a renowned academic to my district?” He already knew the reason, but wanted a more detailed explanation.
It didn’t look like he was going to get it. Diane spoke with a light French accent. “You know full well why I am here.” Eyes flicking to the stack of papers on his desk, she asked, “You have the files present?”
Suppressing a sigh, Gerard nodded and handed them to her. She promptly flipped open the first file and huffed with disapproval, tossing it back on his desk. “Kappa are not appealing.” The way she said it made it seem like the monsters were on stage for an audition.
Opening the next, she paused. “You have a Vulpes specimen? Specifically, a Húli Jīng?” Gerard nodded silently and Diane continued to study the information. Nodding, she added it to another pile and opened the next. Shaking her head at the file, she added it to the pile that didn’t hold her interest but lifted an eyebrow on the third. “You captured a Bodach in the Appalachian Mountains. How did you distinguish it from an animal or person?”
Sighing heavily, Gerard shifted in his chair. “Actually, it was dazed when we found it. It was by the Vulpes, so we assume she detained it. We found all those monsters in the Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee specifically. Not necessarily together, but close enough for suspicion. We don’t even know how they made it into the States without being reported; the U.S. special committee usually keeps a tight eye on their land.”
Nodding, she placed the file on the Húli Jīng’s and moved on. An eager smile lit her cheeks. “I saw mention of this in the Húli Jīng’s file. You not only found but captured a Bai-Hu? Do you have footage; we have never captured anything close to the power of this! The closest thing in scale would be the European dragon of seventeen-eighty-six. Sadly, the dragoons dispatched that.”
A thread of unease wove into Gerard’s words and not only from the beast’s circumstances. He assumed she didn’t know about the recent capture in Miami and he knew she’d be interested in what created that crater. He hoped she would have answers once the topic came up. “We didn’t capture it—parse that—it came willingly when it realized we had the Húli Jīng. We’ve managed to keep contained with threats against the Vulpes for the time being. They are separated, but we don’t know how to contain both long term or how long the threats might last.”
Eyes sparkling with fascination, Diane said, “This must be one of the reasons the Director called me. I can handle that.”
She was cut off from adding anything further by Betty’s voice that came from the room’s hidden speakers. “Sir, I have additional information regarding the recent case. I think you should look at this; it takes place about two weeks before the incident and could conflict with the Senator’s arrival, the information might have been leaked to the Special Committee.”
Diane looked slightly irritated but waited silently for him to answer. Internally debating for several seconds, he decided Diane would hear about the news soon enough, and it was best if he could get step by step information from her directly.
Clearing his voice, Gerard said, “Go ahead and put it on the center monitor.” Swallowing, he considered Diane’s uninterested eyes. “We captured a very large group of monsters last night; we haven’t seen a group this big in over two centuries.” She appeared completely indifferent until he said, “In Miami Beach, Florida.”
“In such a heavily populated island?” Diane asked, looking toward the center monitor as it flipped on.
Nodding, Gerard said, “What are the details on the video, Betty?”
The video began to play; it looked like something from a home recorder. A man and woman were looking around a walk-in store. Betty spoke over the speakers. “This footage was taken eleven days ago and concerns some of the captured monsters. The couple are committee agents from the Southern European Branch on vacation. They sent the footage to their own branch, so it took some time to get processed and returned since we have advisement-jurisdiction over this area.”
Noting Diane’s dull expression, Gerard said, “Get to the point, Betty.”
Betty cut off for a moment and cleared her throat before continuing. “They were shooting their vacation when they heard this conversation between two female teens.”
She stopped her explanation so they could listen. One was the girl that held the spear, and the other was the small kid, however, in daylight she seemed older, a teen and Asian.
The girl in the glowing armor had some form of leather covering and a sizeable dazzling diamond necklace, while the smaller Asian girl had standard teen attire. He couldn’t identify the language they spoke, it held an odd fluidity and was somewhat musical. He was about to ask Betty when Diane’s hand shot in front of his face.
Gerard patiently waited for her explanation, but it didn’t come. “Rewind that!” Diane demanded, her accent thickening with excitement. Gerard obediently complied, tapping a few keys on his tablet to return to the start of the conversation, still expecting an explanation with the events.
The folders in Diane’s hand slipped from her grip as she rose to stand before the screen. She carefully examined every lip movement, facial expression, and muscle twitch the girls made. Shaking her head with amazement, Diane whispered, “They are speaking fluent and perfect God’s Nordic. Even the Korean girl is talking without flaw; no human could speak like that—not today, no human,” Diane continued to mutter.
Humming lowly, Gerard asked, “God’s Nordic? What does that make them and how do you know she’s Korean?” He started to become impatient as she watched the footage through several more loops with only soft mumbles. Even if she was renowned for her knowledge, this was rude and to a Regional Manager, no less. Gerard broke her concentration by clearing his throat. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
Diane glared in his direction before returning to the screen. “Excuse me, but I am trying to puzzle out the words and phrases. In case you did not know,” she stated in a very snooty tone, “the dialect is far extinct to the modern world. All I know are fragmented words from early ciphered Ancient and Old Nordic symbols, while also relying on my old tutor’s rudimentary lessons on ancient language.” Her grin brightened again as she turned back to the screen, “They are arguing between snack items, but here,” she pointed at the display as both girls looked off the screen toward the store entrance, “their conversation shifts! They start talking about some beast or something to do with Inari, probably a Vulpes,” she said distractedly. Watching two more runs, she laughed.
“What?” Gerard asked irritably.
“The Korean girl wants to kill the Vulpes outside the store, specifically rip out her heart. However, the Nordic girl pointed out that she does not have white hair and that puts pause in the Korean girl’s plan,” Diane exclaimed. “Not only that but the Nordic girl’s features, clothing, demeanor.” She paused for a second. “I think—she may be a Valkyrie, potentially even some Nordic warrior goddess, some Valkyrie were considered goddesses themselves. What gives me that impression is that unique necklace—what could it be?” she muttered to herself.
Gerard almost choked as he took a drink from his glass, throat burning. “What!” he sputtered, “There was a Nordic goddess in Miami and now in my base? How do I deal with something like that?” His mind flashed to the pre-engagement report about a pillar of fire that shot into the sky. In horror, he started imagining the Nordic girl surrounded by flames in her iridescent armor.
Licking her lips, Diane chuckled. “In your base, you say—yet, that may not be your lightest problem. The way the Nordic girl talks to the Korean girl and the fluidity of her speech … there is a possibility … however, in this age? It might confirm some of my theories,” she mused.
Gerard couldn’t comprehend her statement. “What can be worse than a Nordic angel of death or Goddess?” He could hardly grasp it. From what he’d seen on the previous video, she had to be one of the two, and that terrified him. He had no idea how to contain something of this magnitude.
Enthralled, Diane pointed at the Korean girl. “She is definitely Korean by her features, but for a Korean creature to speak fluent God’s Nordic, without a flaw.” She paused. “It is bad in both scenarios; either she is extremely old, or she is omnilingual, and there are not many creatures with that innate ability.”
Fear ebbed into his gut at her words. He wanted answers. “Betty, play last night’s footage.”
The screen flipped to the video and Gerard watched Diane’s eyes grow in wonder at the sight of the Nordic girl, clad in her luminescent armor. “Amazing…” she trailed off as her eyes locked on the spear. “Pause the video!” she yelled.
A few seconds later, the image froze with Gerard’s tap on the tablet and Diane moved closer still, trying to gain a clearer vision of the weapon. “Zoom in on the spear, clear it up the best you can,” she ordered. Out of his league, Gerard asked Betty to take over and the image enlarged. Diane watched it with a wide smile growing across her lips. “Just as legends say,” she muttered.
Gerard let her continue without interruption; this woman would be pivotal in this evolving situation. He wasn’t prepared for this in the least.
Diane pulled a tablet from her bag and began playing with the touch display. Gerard could see her reading through text at a rapid pace. “Just as it describes,” she said with awe.
“Something worse?” Gerard muttered, starting to feel tired as he massaged his temple and downed the rest of his glass, a headache growing.
“She has Gungnir,” Diane stated in wonder, staring at the pulsating weapon in almost reverence.
“I’m no Nordic major,” Gerard noted. “What’s a Gungnir?”
Diane continued to study the spear as she talked. “It’s the All-Father’s primary weapon, Odin’s spear. It could be the most powerful weapon in Norse mythology.”
“Fantastic,” Gerard huffed, slumping into his chair. “Any more tragic news?”
Diane ignored him, motioning for him to resume the video in a brusque manner. She now watched the video full through with a furrowed brow.
“Gungnir vanishes when the Valkyrie falls unconscious, but her Necklace vanishes when a man goes to take it. There are many things it could be, but there are no clear distinctions of a necklace like that—but it has to be something important!”
Watching through all the footage, she burst out with laughter. “You want more bad news? I do not think the Valkyrie created that crater—the Korean girl caused it.” She paused for a moment and with a confused tone muttered, “That Vulpes is quite odd, blue energy from her tail? I have neither heard nor seen a Vulpes producing blue light from their tails, and this Vulpes only has a single tail?”
For the first time, Gerard questioned Diane’s expertise, sitting up straight, awareness sharpening. “That little Korean girl? How can she cause such a large devastated area, and wait, isn’t she injured?”
A dark smile lit Diane’s features. “Yes, she likely injured herself. She might even trump the Bai-hu and Valkyrie in power; she is a dragon!” she exclaimed with absolute thrill.
Gerard’s body went numb at the word, his breath catching, and blood-chilling. He swallowed, whispering, “Dragon.” Senses returning, he said, “We have to call the dragoons and alert the board.” He was shocked to hear Diane laugh at his statement. “This is no joking matter!” he yelled. “A dragon is nothing to think lightly of; only the dragoons can handle such creatures!”
“You misunderstand the importance of this discovery,” Diane calmly stated as she stared at the Korean girl. “What you are thinking of is the Western dragons; she is something much more sophisticated. A Serpent Dragon—and even greater, she hasn’t reached age; she is an Imugi!”
Gerard’s memory flashed back to some foreign movie that had made its way to the States years previous. If he remembered correctly, it had two monsters known as Imugi that had terrorized New York City. “You mean, she’s like a gigantic cobra monster?”
Diane chuckled lightly. “Where did you get an idea like that? No, she is a dragon, but she hasn’t matured enough to handle her power. Her body harms itself when releasing her innate strength. Her blood heritage has yet to fully manifest; this is the opportunity of a lifetime! To study such high-profile creatures…” she exclaimed with glee.
Gerard firmly said, “That isn’t my decision to make. The board will decide it, and I need to make a call to my new Commander for precautionary measures.”
Diane’s demeanor turned livid as she savagely glared at Gerard. Pulling a cell phone from her bag, she said, “No need for you to call all of them, I’ll have the Chairman on the line in seconds.”
Hesitantly, Gerard complied. She has a direct line to the Chairman and cell service this far underground? The conversation was short, and in a language Gerard didn’t understand. There was a victorious and enthusiastic tone in her voice. Ending the call, Diane turned to Gerard and triumphantly stated, “I have an authoritative directive in matters dealing with the dragon and Valkyrie. I will be meeting with your Division Commander now for a debriefing on handling arrangements. You will have confirmation shortly.” She turned and exited.
Gerard folded his fingers together and waited a few minutes, trying to puzzle out the appropriate measures to take. He jumped as his phone rang. Betty didn’t warn me of any calls? Answering, he said, “Yes, this is Gerard.”
A deep voice answered. “This is Ivan Duchin.”
Gerard swallowed nervously. The Vice President?
Ivan didn’t wait for his response. “Diane has priority regarding the dragon and Valkyrie. However, if things start to get out of hand, put them down, any way possible, and by any means. Contact the Western Director if Diane pushes things too far.” Gerard sat in stunned silence as the connection cut. After several seconds, he realized that he’d have to relay the information to Benjamin as well.
Betty’s voice spoke over the speakers. “The Senator will be here within thirty minutes.” His eyes rose to the ceiling as the lights turned red, signaling an emergency. Gerard’s heart plummeted. Please don’t be an escape!