Fen puffed out her cheeks as she sunk into the purple velvet sofa she rested in. Growling with frustration, she glared at Jian next to her. He sat comfortably in a large armchair, examining some book their captors had provided; his blue eyes casually scanned its contents, occasionally flipping between select pages to reference whatever he read.
Flipping to her back, Fen repositioned her tails to look at the white fur. Her attention shifted again, pursing her lips as she smoothly lifted her legs to look at the utterly drab white pants they’d given her; she’d never taken the time to learn the rough material’s name. Sighing, she let her legs drop to the cushions and looked around the oddly designed room in absolute boredom.
She could tell that it was a large empty holding area before their captors added a few objects and furnishings; trying to sell their speech about becoming a team. Diane had met with her an hour ago and trapped her within the base, but at least she was with Jian and out of that oppressive cage. Her eyes turned to the room’s single door. Thick steel, but Jian could easily rip it open. He won’t though … not while I wear these dispiriting wards!
She pulled back her extremely plain shirt to stare at her stomach with disdain. She began to trace the intangible paper that was attached to her spirit. “Jian, are you sure you can’t remove these stupid wards?” Fen asked.
Jian’s gaze didn’t leave his book. “Not right now. I could attempt it if I focused, but I could just as easily damage your spirit in an attempt.”
Fen growled, she couldn’t think of a more depressing way to live her life than trapped by humans. “If only that stupid portal would have transported us together!” she seethed. “All that work for a stupid tail! She didn’t help at all…”
Closing his book, Jian looked at her questioningly, sitting back. “We have escaped our pursuers, at least for the moment, and it wasn’t a complete waste,” he noted, staring at her white tail.
Fen hummed lowly as she twisted her new tail around to look at it. “I still don’t think it was worth the trouble … I can’t pass her trial. It won’t be long until Long Mu finds us and when she figures out we don’t know where Yìnglóng is—she’ll kill us for lying to her. You know how desperate she is to find a dragon Founder.”
Jian continued to stare at her, and finally, she broke down. “I know—I shouldn’t have even brought up Yìnglóng, but I panicked! The meeting was starting so soon … and of course I wouldn’t have gotten an invite; I can’t pass those ridiculous tests.”
Returning to his book, Jian said, “It makes little difference. We are trapped until I can remove those wards.”
Her head sank to the cushions, hair tickling her neck. Her vision moved to the ceiling lights as they turned red and sirens shrilled around the base. “I don’t know how long we have. Someone’s trying to escape again, and I heard dragoons are coming. If they are anywhere near as powerful as we’ve heard, we’ll be trapped for life.”
“We’ll meet each obstacle as it rises, right now, we wait,” Jian stated.
In frustration, Fen threw her hands down on the cushion, causing the wood supports to snap, which only made her more annoyed with the shift in weight. Sinking into the sofa’s depression with a pout, Fen asked, “We could make that witch take it off?”
Jian shook his head. “Too risky. Her wards can even suppress my released spiritual pressure. If she’s not frightened by that, then your control magic won’t either. It’s as you said, dragoons are on the way, we need to be careful of our actions.”
Fen fumed silently for a few minutes before a terrifying scent carried up through the ventilation system, it smelled like a wolf. Calm down—Jian can handle a wolf, but a dragon… Lowly, Fen asked, “Jian, do you actually think they caught a Korean dragon?”
“I don’t know,” Jian said with a deep frown, “but I can’t win if they put me against one, not if it’s matured—even if not matured, it would not be a one-sided fight.”
Fen examined her guardian for several minutes as he picked up his book again. He was trapped here because of her mistake, because she decided not only to leave before the speech ended, but because she baited Long Mu for the information. Her soul was bound to this base; if she left, the seal would kill her.
Head drooping to the sofa cushion, Fen sulked, “I just want out of this room … it’s so depressing.” Glaring around the area, she added, “And the company is horrid.”
She made a note of each monster her vision caught. First was a Kelpie, which was pensively staring into a body length mirror, mourning over her circumstance, while combing out her long blue hair.
There was a troll that had been shunned by the entire group and for good reason; he sat contentedly by himself in the corner, staring at the floor. Why haven’t the Humans killed it by now; the stupid thug thought his rancid race could rule over Vulpes! At least I was able to see Inari put them in their place.
A Kappa seemed satisfied with a constructed swimming pool on the left side of the room, sitting at the bottom, and finally, there was the Bodach. The little pest had instantly started pestering her in every way possible. She’d promptly grown tired of its bothersome antics and stuck it in a dream of its own making. She watched it giggle to itself, which didn’t give her much amusement. There had been more, but most that had refused to cooperate had died in the humans’ showcase they called the arena.
Drawing out a deep breath, Fen asked, “Jian, why are we staying here?” She huffed at his creased brow. “In this room, I mean—we’re limited to this base, not this room.” Jian lowered his book and waited for her to continue. Fen flushed as her stomach growled. “And I’m hungry,” she admitted.
Jian sat back in his chair, brooding lining his lips; he glanced at the door, rubbing his hairless chin. “What do you suggest?”
A grin spread across Fen’s face, she knew her hunger would get him up, and she truly was ravished with the wards continuing to consume her spiritual energy. “Well, Diane said we could both move around this floor with guards. I can only use a little of my charm with this spell attached to my soul, but I don’t need a lot,” she finished with a wink.
Staring at the door for a few more seconds, Jian sighed and lifted from his seat. Before moving to the door, he glared down at the vexatious little Bodach, “You’ll have to end its dream to conserve energy.”
Fen didn’t particularly want to; she knew he would want to join them and Diane had specified that only Jian and she were allowed to leave. Sighing heavily, she snapped her fingers, releasing her magical impression. Quickly moving to Jian’s side, Fen said, “Right, let’s go!”
She cringed at the Bodach’s high pitched voice as it lifted from behind her. “Oh—where fox and tiger going? Clach wants to come!”
Lowering her voice, Fen whispered, “C’mon, Jian, let—” she cut off with a discomforting yelp as the little imp grabbed her black tail. Her tail whipped to the side, flinging the creature off to tumble across the ground. Wrapping her tails around her body, she hugged them protectively. “Miserable little fiend! I’ll have Jian eat you!”
Completely undeterred by her statement, Clach jumped back to its feet and scurried over to them, whispering, “Clach can be useful; Clach can turn into things, tricky things!”
Fen sniffed, “I can as—” she cut off as a plan ebbed its way into her mind, a very unpleasant idea, but it could give her a bit of entertainment. She knew the imp couldn’t transform itself while sealed, but perhaps if she gave him the energy, just maybe, they could pull it off, and it could provide Diane with a nasty headache, the thought alone was enough to tip the scale for her. It would be an appropriate trick, something that would lift my spirits if successful.
Grimacing with the thought, she motioned for Jian to bend down, and whispered her plan. He lifted an eyebrow as he straightened, clearly doubting its success, but didn’t disagree. Reluctantly, Fen bent down to Clach’s level, keeping her tails as far from him as possible. She explained her plan to him and watched his excitement grow as he danced around in circles screaming, “Clach can do it! Clach can do it!”
Rolling her eyes as the other monster’s heads darted their way, Fen made decoys while wrapped them in illusions to keep the other monsters oblivious to her actions. She knelt and ushered Clach forward, biting her lower lip with repulsion while watching its jaws eagerly open.
Her bead was a part of her body that could be separated and housed a stored portion of her energy, meant for desperate times—times like this.
She put her lips an inch from the creature’s foul mouth, and almost choked as she inhaled; fighting the urge to vomit, she blew into its mouth a portion of her bead’s energy. Finishing as quickly as possible, she straightened and covered her nose with her shirt sleeve.
Fen caught Jian’s ever so small grin and glared at him, which only made his smile grow. Melding her illusions to flow into their actual positions, she released the mirage. Clearing her throat, Fen muttered, “Right, let’s get this over with.”
Just to make sure her plan would work, she winked at Clach and smiled, pushing her influence over his weak will. She animated their illusions to the proper spots as the fiend eagerly hurried beside her, the two invisible while walking to the door to join her.
Speaking up, she knocked on the door. “Hello, I’d like out, please.”
“You know the drill…”
She sighed and made an apparition of Jian moving to sit in the armchair again, and another with the Bodach still lazing around, and the door smoothly slid open, which caught the attention of every monster in the room.
The three of them quickly went in, following their Fen’s illusion; the other creatures moved to the door with surprising swiftness but didn’t attempt to pass through. They merely watched it shut with longing eyes.
They were now in a secondary restriction area, just before the research room; Clach started to morph within her illusion until he became a perfect mimic of Diane. Say what you will about Bodach, they do have their talents.
Several of the staff seemed hesitant to let her through the second door but complied as guards positioned to escort them—the next door opened as the first shut—and the fake Diane strode further in.
Fen released her illusions around him, tying off his illusionary dozing image in the last room; it would hold for a few hours.
All of the researchers’ surprised gazes were on her illusion with Diane, making them jump as Clach spoke with perfect harmony to Diane’s persona, causing every eye in the room to pop as their heads whipped to study the fake as she passed through the opening door.
“I’m rather disappointed you didn’t notice I was inside the entire time,” she briskly stated in the standard Diane manner.
“D-Diane, the whole time—how did—”
“Figure it out yourself, fools—the incompetence of wasting my time in this facility is astounding—I’m taking the Húli Jīng and Bai-Hu with me.”
Fen bit her lower lip at his comment. Did I not push him hard enough? He does take on special characteristics of the people he morphs into; maybe he’s resilient to my charms now?
The men and women in the observation room looked utterly confused. One woman asked, “Diane—really, when did—two monsters … Isn’t it just—yeah, just the Vulpes,” questionably staring at the observation screen, “the Bai-Hu is still in the room?”
Fen couldn’t help but smirk at how perfect Clach was at imitation. His voice was sharp, unforgiving, and cold, yet still held her slightly thick accent, “Are you blind? Fen! Quit your tricks! You are wasting my time.”
The researchers and guards were baffled by Clach’s statement and even more when Jian appeared behind the fake Diane as she loosed all the illusions beside the fiend’s, still in the room, and causing the guards to raise their weapons.
Clach didn’t skip a beat, “There, satisfied, or should I demonstrate that wasting my time is a bad career choice?” Glaring at the guards, Clach snapped, “Put those down, you imbeciles.” The men hesitated at her words, but slowly lowered their guns as Clach continued, “I have them perfectly under control. They have accepted the terms to cooperate with the organization and will now be sanctioned for stage two of the incorporation act.”
The woman hurriedly typed on her keyboard Diane’s instructions. Briskly turning to the door, he motioned for Fen and Jian to follow, while shouting orders, “The monsters inside are to be given no food until they accept the terms, and where is my armed escort?” The room fell silent for a moment as the men and women looked around in confusion.
The fake Diane’s face twisted with irritation. “I said they were on stage two, not members of your team! They will be monitored for commitment … I’m taking two monsters through the base, and I will leave them in someone’s care! Are you all morons?” Pointing at two guards, Clach motioned for them to accompany them.
They quickly left the room and passed through several checkpoints to reach the main base, Clach opening them with ease. Fen suppressed a laugh as Clach took a cellphone out from its pocket, stealthily snatched from a researcher as they passed. Grimacing, he muttered, “Incompetence.”
Pointing at the two guards with an expectant and intense glare, he said, “You two, watch them. Get them comfortable and accustomed to base life.” Clach’s eyes narrowed at their questioning looks, before speaking in a demanding tone, “Or is that too difficult, maybe you’d like to get another guard for security?” Clach huffed at their unsure demeanor, skillfully faking exasperation. “Do I need to babysit you both? I have things to do, important things! So, do your jobs, and initiate stage two of the Incorporation Act!” Clach bluntly stated in a dangerous tone.
The two guards snapped to attention and nodded. Clach passed Fen and Jian with a wink as he muttered, “Simplicity.” Fen was thoroughly impressed. I won’t downrate Bodach talents, but their hygiene is another matter.
Energetically turning on her heels, Fen winked at the two guards. “Right, why don’t we start with new clothes!” Jian uncharacteristically rolled his eyes, which made Fen giggle. “Don’t worry, we’ll eat, but priorities demand new attire!”
Carefully manipulating the guards with select word choice and slight magical influence, she made them a little more susceptible to the idea, and they led her to the clothing department. It didn’t take her long to find clothing that suited her taste; most couldn’t even pass as clothing in her eyes. She also found Jian’s old clothes since nothing else fit him, and coaxed him into changing as well.
Her nose picked up a few oddly faint scents that made her a bit nervous. The trail was faded but smelled a bit too much like a Vulpes, but mixed with varying chemicals that she couldn’t properly identify it. Finishing her new apparel by slitting a line in the back for her tails, she carefully slipped them through to not rip the fabric. Exiting the changing room with a smile directed at Jian and the guards, she twirled and asked, “How do I look?”
The guards were trying to keep their composure, but her magic was continuing to increase at a gradual level; her spiritual energy invigorated with her brightening mood, making both men turn away with blushes. Fen’s giggle turned into a pout with Jian’s expressionless appraisal. Humming lowly, she snapped her fingers, which brought the guards attention back to her. “Why don’t you two go with Jian to fetch me some food. I smell pork buns!” Jian frowned and Fen was a little annoyed that he stood with the guards on this topic.
“No,” the first guard stated. “We are here to guard you both. You can’t leave our sight.”
A sly grin touched Fen’s lips. “Oh—wasn’t I just out of your sight—behind that curtain?” Both guards began spewing unintelligible excuses, which Fen cut off. “See, I won’t try anything, and Jian can find me no matter where I am in the facility. I can’t even step one foot outside anyways,” she said with a sad expression as her hands guided their eyes to her stomach. “And,” she added with some fake tears coming on, “I can’t even get past a single checkpoint without you boys allowing it. I’m trapped, and all I want is something to eat.”
The first looked unsure, but the second was a bit firmer. “No. We can’t. Diane’s orders…”
Fen interjected, folding her ears down to try and sell the look. “Weren’t they to make us comfortable?” Licking his lips, the second guard said, “It was … but—that doesn’t mean leaving you two alone.”
Smoothly walking to the door, Fen sighed, while leaning up against the wall. “I just want to explore my new home.” She had to focus not to spit the word with venom. “And—again,” she pointed at her stomach, which drew both their eyes, “Diane sealed just about all my magic and bound me to this facility. I can’t escape or cause trouble; I used all my magic to play that little trick on you before.” She wasn’t entirely lying, she still had a bit of spiritual energy in her bead, but if she kept using it like this, it would disappear quickly.
The men still looked unsure. Feeling her patience waning, Fen said, “Jian, will you go get me some food?” She beamed at his nod and clapped her hands together. “Right, will you let Jian, a Bai-Hu that is not sealed, go by himself to the weakly guarded kitchens? Perhaps you can pick up another guard along the way and send him back for me?”
Slowly, but inevitably the guards relented, thanks to her subtly influencing their minds, and began to follow Jian, who didn’t need a guide to the heavenly smelling pork. Looking around the space with a deep breath, Fen enjoyed her momentary freedom.
It took a little more energy than I anticipated to sway those guards. These men really are something else, but in the end, they’re only men—and humans at that, she giggled.
Gracefully walking through the halls, she kept her keen ears listening, there was a network of information to learn from, and the room they’d been caged in was all but soundproof, even to her ears. She was disappointed with what she was learning, though. All she overheard were boring office conversations, guards’ small talk, and researchers talking about experiments, which she didn’t really understand.
However, something finally caught her interest, guards talking about an incident—an attempted escape—a wolf of some kind, but it was the other talk that made her nervous. Licking her lips, she listened to the full conversation, slowly continuing down the halls.
Where and how did they find, subdue, and capture a Valkyrie? Valkyries are a very loyal bunch; she will have powerful gods looking for her … she doesn’t sound powerless herself—quite the opposite—and Diane can’t control her. It seems like all she can do is keep her under, which won’t last forever.
That means she will eventually be taken to that arena and Jian’s the only creature here able to even try to compete with such a legend. Things continue to get worse… They also talked about a Korean Dragon, but it sounds like it isn’t mature. Oh, great, now they’re talking about a whole pack of werewolves they have here. A pack of werewolves, dragoons, a Valkyrie, and a Korean dragon, how much worse can it get for me?
Turning a corner, she forced a smile as she smelled Diane nearing. What will my story be? She was a little less than thrilled by the tall woman’s reaction; confusion and the slightest hint of curiosity.
Diane stopped in front of her and asked, “Why are you freely walking around, Fen?”
Fen’s vindictive emotions were beginning to overtake her will, and she hid her hands behind her back, claws extending. Trying to keep herself in check, she smiled, “Ah, Dio, I’m not alone.” She had heard Jian and smelled the buns turn down the last hallway she’d walked down. Snapping her fingers as he neared the intersection, she watched with pleasure as Diane’s composure wavered ever so slightly.
Jian’s lovely voice spoke from above her, “I have the buns, Fen. Did you need anything else?” She shifted to look up at him as he appraised Diane. Fen knew Jian’s glare, and he was glaring as he released his spiritual pressure, she could hear the heartbeats of the people around them escalate as they swiftly left the hall.
Nodding with praise, Fen exclaimed, “Wonderful work, Jian, and I do not need anything else at this moment.” Turning to smile at Diane, she said, “I was just telling our good friend Dio that I was not alone.”
Jian’s scowl directed down at Diane. “I see.”
Even under the influence of Jian’s dangerous aura, Diane’s nervousness was barely hinted at, but Fen enjoyed every moment.
Fen’s own composure slipping, she had to get away from Diane or she’d rip her throat out and watch her choke on her own blood. Forcing her claws back in with effort, she lifted her hand in recognition as she broke the conversation.
“Remember to behave yourself, Fen…” Diane slowly broke off as Fen briskly walked to the end of the hall, turning down the next junction. Fen breathed a heavy sigh, looking down at her trembling fingers while seething.
Jian studied her from above, his features once again unreadable. “You almost lost control,” he stated.
Fen growled as the guards rounded the corner at a run, continuing to follow them and with an extra man, no less. Running her tongue over her canines, Fen nodded. “I almost did.”
She halted as a sudden scent carried to her; this scent was clear as day, one that turned her stomach and stopped her heart. Fear leaked from her voice as Fen asked, “Jian—do you smell that?” Jian’s calm demeanor had stiffened, and he didn’t have to nod for Fen to recognize his own fright.
Jian’s voice was aberrantly high. “There are only two beings that have that scent. Why is one of them here and—after the gathering?”
Shaking her head, Fen fought down her stomach, whispering low enough so only Jian could hear. “I don’t know, but if—whichever it is—they can take us out of this place.” Jian nodded, and they tentatively made their way to the scent, the guards quizzically following behind.