Gerard leaned back in his chair; he closed his eyes for a moment, sighing as the speaker activated. “Sir, I just finished giving Senator Brickly the tour. We will be in shortly, and he seems to have a monster bodyguard,” Betty informed.
Stretching out his back, he yawned before rubbing his eyes. Connecting to Betty’s headset, he replied, “Thanks, Betty. I’ll be waiting.”
Gerard prepared himself, doing a quick once over of his appearance. He’d been wearing the same pinstripe suit for the past twenty-six hours, but it was still presentable. He pressed a button on his tablet and the screens rose to the ceiling on rails, rails following the displays.
The door opened to reveal a man of average height for Americans. Gerard had read Senator Orrin Brickly’s file that Betty organized; the man was a registered Republican but held a few Liberal views.
His initiation into the monster community was less than four months ago, and he’d shadowed several positions in the American Monster Initiative to understand their proceedings. He had serious sway within the committee from personal ties and had plenty of power to red tape their operations in America; Gerard was expected not to blow this.
The man wore a simple black suit with a peak-fold pocket square and a red tie; his formal white shirt seemed pressed, gold cufflinks gleaming alongside his wedding ring. He was clean shaven and had a decent amount of black hair that was pulled back, piercing blue eyes swiftly examining the room behind sharp glasses.
Just behind him was a dark-skinned, clean-shaven man in similar attire; he filled out the suit well with his muscular physique. Completely yellow eyes swept the room for danger, obviously the Senator’s monster security detail.
Once securing the room and shutting the door, his uncanny eye settled on Gerard. What kind of monster is he? I’ve heard rumors that some of the American diplomats in the Monster Initiation contract monsters for security, but it’s something else to see it.
Rising, Gerard asked, “Senator Brickly, I hope your trip was safe?” Extending his hand as he neared.
“Call me Orrin,” he responded, firmly taking Gerard’s hand. He had a slight southern drawl. “And yes, no trouble.”
His bodyguard took up position by the door, standing firmly alert as Orrin took the seat across from Gerard.
“Good,” Gerard said as he sat back down. “We can keep it on a first name basis then, since we’ll be working together.”
Orrin nodded. “I was briefed on how the Special Paranormal Defense Corporation has handled monsters in the past, and I wonder if it will clash with our Monster Incorporation Act? I want to get your views on the matter before any official proceedings begin.”
Gerard hummed as he leaned back. So, he’s pro monster; it makes sense that he’d side with the Republican party on the matter. Why do the Republicans want them incorporated into American society? Plus, his only guard is a monster after a mere four month of exposure to the monster community.
Did the Western Continental Director pull some strings to send him to my facility; I bet he’d be interested in a few of our recent captures. They are illegal, so it doesn’t break the Act. If he understands the dangers of monsters maybe the next revision will call for harsher restrictions.
Smiling, Gerard folded his fingers together. “Orrin, I’m with you that monster rights have needed to be addressed for some time, and the organization has recognized the American movement, being a legitimate company. America has a history of protecting rights, but also the overall safety of its citizens.”
Orrin nodded, lips lifting slightly. “Of course, you understand very well; public safety is our primary objective. That said, the understanding of monsters and the study to differentiate between nature vs. nurture is imperative in determining the level of integration that is acceptable.
“The fact is that we do not know enough about monsters, in general, to sanction the mass slaughter as done centuries past; there are many peaceful creatures that have lived among humans for centuries. We need all the facts about their behaviors and types of monsters to accurately determine placement. That is why we have made great efforts in learning about the monsters within our borders.”
“Completely understandable,” Gerard returned. “I’ve read some of the reports and opinions you’ve had on the matter recently. I must say that I am a little biased toward certain monsters from the loss of friends, but I do recognize that that is not a reflection of the entire monster community.
“Because of that, the organization has taken upon itself to revisit its monster policy as mere study subjects and vermin; I have recently been given a directive, by the board, to incorporate monsters into our facility.”
“Is that right? Then you have captured some creatures on American soil recently that we weren’t aware of?”
Gerard shook his head promptly. “I have reached out to the appropriate intermediaries within your department, but the news is so recent that perhaps you haven’t been informed. There have been two massive groups captured, and because of that, and the circumstances surrounding their appearance, we have had to tread very carefully.
“The information gathered should be passing the Committee’s desk within the next two days. That being said, we have been making efforts at incorporating them, but with the sheer size of the groups, and their hostile actions, we have had to be cautious for the safety of our staff. We’ve already had casualties.”
Leaning back further, Orrin crossed his legs, a low hum in his throat. “What are the details?”
Gerard resisted the urge to lick his lips, straightening in his chair. “The first group was seen in the Appalachian Mountains, in Tennessee, near the Virginia and Kentucky borders outside of a small town called Big Stone Gap. I assume you’ve at least heard about the capture within that time. It was a group of about fifteen monsters in all, each very different from the rest, yet upon seeing us, they initiated an attack.”
“Is that right?” Orrin asked, eyes narrowing. “You have footage, I assume.”
“Yes, and I’d be happy to put it on for you after I’ve discussed the groups. Is that acceptable?” Gerard responded.
I need to make him see that these creatures are dangerous. He couldn’t have come to a better base to understand that.
“Yes,” Orrin said as he shifted to a more comfortable position.
“We lost half our initial unit and had to call upon reserve personnel to apprehend them after their opening attack. Most of the casualties were from a Húli Jīng—a Vulpes—which killed my Division Commander. We lost about thirty men to her alone.” Gerard let the silence hang for a moment.
Orrin folded his arms together as his eyes shifted to the side. “Duncan, what is a Húli Jīng?”
Gerard’s vision turned to the dark-skinned man as he spoke, his tone deep. “A Húli Jīng is a Chinese Fox Spirit. They are generally seen as the weakest of the Vulpes race but depending on the number of souls they ingest, or in having an affiliation to Inari—basically the fox Goddess—they can become quite powerful.
“They are known among Vulpes for their ability to alter light, making mirages to trick people around them. Their specialty is tricking their prey to their deaths and subtle manipulation within their victim’s emotional state to kill one another as they watch for enjoyment, feeding off the emotional energy produced.
“Often, they seek to make others work for them, and choose the easiest route—in general; they are known to be quite vindictive and cruel.”
Lips tightening for a moment, Orrin nodded. “Thank you, Duncan.” Turning to Gerard, he asked, “the men’s families?”
Studying Orrin for a moment, Gerard rested his hands on his lap. Does he care about the soldier’s families?
“Working for the company gives them life insurance; they will be taken care of, but I trust you understand that isn’t what their families wanted. The incident will be covered up, naturally, since to the public they are coal miners; their bravery will not be made light.”
Sighing gravely, Orrin nodded as he pushed up his glasses. “Then I assume you killed the Húli Jīng?”
Gerard’s eyes grew cold while shaking his head. “No, against my wishes; the board chose to try a different tactic in hopes of mitigating the loss of personnel. The Vulpes created disorder and confusion with its illusions, causing our own men to kill each other, manipulating their emotions into acting erratically.
“It ran out of energy after a time, and we captured it. The other monsters were captured in smaller hunting parties; we couldn’t take any more risks after the Húli Jīng incident. Some resisted and had to be killed, by my order.”
Orrin didn’t respond, so Gerard continued. “The second group had more bizarre circumstances. There seems to have been a fight between two monster groups from what we have gathered; a massive Germanic werewolf pack and another smaller group of various monsters in the middle of Miami Beach, Florida.”
Gerard repressed a smile as Orrin’s face paled. “Were there any casualties among the public?”
“I’m afraid we don’t have the numbers added up yet,” Gerard said with a sigh. “There definitely were, though. Our investigation is ongoing, and it is of such urgent attention that we are coordinating closely with the Committee in real-time on site,” his eyes lifted to study Orrin, “however, we believe there is a reason to worry.”
Turning to Duncan, Gerard asked, “Can you explain the means by which Germanic werewolves bolster their ranks?”
Duncan’s eyes narrowed, he didn’t speak for a few seconds. “Germanic werewolves infect humans with their saliva to change their victim’s DNA and basically create hybrids. They are very particular about who is of lesser rank, and these human hybrids are front line soldiers, fodder to be used in territorial battles in place of the select purebred.
“Therefore, it can be assumed that within Miami this pack could have infected a large selection of the general population, depending on time active and the number of pure breeds.”
Rising from his chair, Orrin looked sick. “What’s the current report? When did it take place?”
Holding up a hand, Gerard said, “Yes, as I said, we notified the Committee just after we initiated contact with the group. Shockingly, there were no casualties among our men; however, there is one body we are aware of, likely a human turned—a girl, no more than the age of sixteen.
Orrin’s composure had dropped as he began pacing. “Oh, my … do we have identification of the body? Do we know who her parents are?”
Gerard’s face was expressionless. He is taking the news as expected. This will put a pause in future decisions, which might be the swinging vote we need.
“No, not yet, but we need to proceed with discretion and have our doctors do as best they can to, ahem … clean her up—if they can’t we’ll have to turn to an unidentifiable corpse.”
Orrin’s eyes went wide. “What—for the girl … why?”
Sighing as he leaned back, Gerard scratched his left eyebrow. “We need the touch-up work done because the girl had her heart ripped out—there is a gaping hole clean through her chest.”
Orrin stopped pacing; he seemed winded, so Gerard continued, “The capture happened several hours ago, and we were as discreet as possible, but we had to initiate a few protocols. We led the public to believe there would be a terrorist attack within Miami Beach through text.
“There were some disturbances, but the local police were able to handle it. We also have a few terrorist groups already claiming credit—there was a lot of public damage done. We are working with the Committee and our own contacts to cover it up.”
Gerard’s eyes shot open as Betty’s voice sounded over the speakers. “Sir, there is a situation happening in the Valkyrie’s room. She is breaking out.”
His vision shot to the ceiling as the lights around the room turned red, and the siren blared. Why now…
Duncan had moved in that brief time to stand beside the Senator. “A Valkyrie? Sir, we need to get you to a secure location!”
Gerard held up a hand. “This is one of the most secure locations in the facility. With the lockdown initiated, all entry points are sealed.”
Nodding, Duncan moved a chair to the side of the room. “Sir, if you could sit here.”
Orrin mechanically moved to the chair. It took him a few minutes to regain control of himself before his vision shot to Gerard. The lights had turned normal, and Betty’s voice came back over the speaker. “The Valkyrie has been subdued by Benjamin and Diane.”
“That was fast,” Gerard mumbled.
“A Valkyrie … like the ones from Nordic mythology?” Orrin still sounded a tad breathless.
Uneasily Gerard shifted in his chair. “Unfortunately—yes.” Pressing a few keys on his tablet he said, “Benjamin, come to my office to debrief the Senator and me on the Valkyrie incident.” Turning back to Orrin, he continued, “She was captured with the Miami group. They were unaware of our men as she and the werewolves were in a stand-off, which made the capture easy.”
Turning to Duncan, Orrin asked, “What can you tell me about Valkyries?”
Perhaps I can get a bit more information from an actual monster.
Duncan’s eyes were alert as he spoke, eyes never leaving the door. “Valkyries are servants of Odin and Freya; two of the most prominent gods in Asgard. Odin fell at Ragnarøkkr by the Founder Fenrir; Freya, however, survived with several other gods, and last I heard, Asgard is partially rebuilt.
“Some Valkyries are goddesses themselves; they are fearless warriors with skills that far surpass my own. I will not be able to defend you against one, Sir. However, they do adhere to a strong code of honor and their bond with those they call brother and sister is legendary.”
Grinding his teeth for a moment, Gerard tried to keep it from showing. This has gotten messy.
Opening the comms, he said, “Betty, can you come in here and put the incident on the screen?”
Knocking, Betty waited a moment before opening the door and moving to the side of his chair. She played with the tablet in her hands, and the screens on the wall across from Orrin turned on. The scene soon followed, which made both Orrin and Gerard lean closer. Heart racing, Gerard watched in silence.
If she’s this powerful, maybe I should have her shipped back east and drop her off on an island? If she really is this strong then could we risk it, though? What if there are other Valkyries or gods looking for her?
What if she has someone close to her that she was defending? The Vulpes and Dragon? We haven’t been able to confirm anything yet. There will be a lot of questions from this that I can’t answer; I need to sell that I had reason to be cautious or else he might want to launch a full investigation.
Orrin cleared his throat, but his voice was hoarse. “Gerard, why was the Valkyrie being detained in the first place?”
Eyes closing, Gerard scratched below his left eyebrow, unable to restrain a short yawn. “Excuse me; I’ve been up for a while—Betty, could you put the Valkyrie capture video up?”
Betty complied and they watched the scene unfold.
While the video played, Gerard explained, “We were in a very delicate situation—that this group would cause havoc of this magnitude in a public place, such as Miami Beach, and with our recent history—and lack of personnel—we had to be certain to get them out of the area.
“We had no information other than a massive pillar of fire that shot into the sky, and a lot of destruction as an aftermath of a battle we knew nothing about, but the public safety needed to be secured.
“We were taking precautions, and I understand you are uneasy about this situation; I am as well, but we haven’t come across a group of this power in some time. Do you see that little Korean girl?”
Orrin slowly nodded, expression serious.
“My experts say she is a Korean dragon—not matured—still, a dragon.”
Orrin and Duncan went silent as they worked through the information. “A Korean dragon?” Orrin asked, acting like someone had kneed him in the gut. “Duncan…”
Swallowing, Duncan said, “A Korean dragon that hasn’t matured is called an Imugi. They can cause themselves harm if they release too much of their energy, yet that isn’t a deterrent to them. I haven’t met one before, but from what I’ve heard, they can be quite temperamental and aggressive … they don’t shy away from confrontation easily.”
Nodding, Gerard said, “My experts—” he cut off as Betty held up a hand, “yes, Betty?”
She quickly pressed a few things on her tablet, and the video cut to a live feed of the Húli Jīng and Bai-Hu. “Sir, it seems Fen is going to meet the other Vulpes, and the Bai-Hu has knocked out a few guards with the janitor down the hall. No casualties as of yet, but men are currently getting ready on Benjamin’s orders to mount an assault.”
A low growl rumbled in Gerard’s throat. How did this even happen? This is not setting a good image for the Senator.
Duncan turned a shade paler. “A Valkyrie, Imugi, and Bai-Hu…”
His attention was diverted as Ranglor briskly walked through the door, his eyes instantly shifting to the monitor, then the room’s occupants. Smiling widely, Ranglor said, “Gerard, I’m aware the Vulpes are about to meet, and request that we give them some space.”
Confused, Gerard asked, “Oh, and why is that?”
Placing his hands behind his back, Ranglor nodded, understanding the need for an explanation. “I’ve read Diane’s report after I left and reviewed some conversations between Fen and Jian that occured during brief video conferences over the past week, the compiled version, of course. With Fen and Jian’s reaction when I suspect they noticed the Nogitsune’s scent, I’ve come to suspect some very troubling things.
“The data on Vulpes shows that a taste of freedom loosens their tongue the best and there are some things about this Nogitsune that don’t add up. To glean some valuable insight, I’d like to loosen the leash, let them roam a little and put some faith in Diane’s wards; she has my full confidence.” His eyes shifted to the Senator with glee. “I’m sure the Senator will also like to see them in a more natural state than confined.”
Gerard’s eyes narrowed. That was slippery to bring the Senator into it. Glancing at the feed, he locked his jaw. I don’t want any casualties with the Húli Jīng loose, and the tiger has already knocked some guards unconscious, heavily trained at that. However, they aren’t dead, which shows restraint, at the least.
His vision turned to the Senator, he could tell that he was considering Ranglor’s words, but still reeling from the previous information he’d been bombarded with. I’ll need to play this carefully, and I need advisors with more expertise and different opinions on this matter.
Sighing, Gerard said, “Orrin, this is the organization’s lead expert in Vulpes studies, Ranglor, I take his opinion seriously, but also suggest we bring more counsel.”
Pressing some keys on his tablet, he contacted his new Head of Security. “Benjamin, hold your advance on the Vulpes but have your men standing ready to apprehend them if anything goes awry. In the meantime, come down to my room to provide me council and direct things.”
Ranglor’s pleased voice interrupted him. “Also, Sir, I think it would be best for Diane to be present. I’ve seen her remotely activate her wards if needed. The best way to snag her attention, I think, would be to put an order that she is not to have access to Eric. She has been spending some time with him over the past hour. That will get her rushing here in a titter, but she’ll quickly get over it with interest.”
Gerard eyed Ranglor suspiciously. What is it that you’ve discovered that you want all of us here for? I don’t like his approach, but he usually gets results.
“Benjamin, give the order that Eric is now outside of Diane’s supervision, and after his next exam, confine him to his room.”
“You sure?” Benjamin asked over the intercom. “She’s gonna be pissed.”
“Yes, and make your way to my room as quickly as you are able,” Gerard finished.
Moving to a chair, Ranglor motioned to Betty. “Could you rewind the footage to the time Fen and Jian were speaking in the detention room. I’d like to walk everyone through some bits of information. I’m sure Benjamin’s men will keep reports on the Vulpes.”
Gerard’s attention was diverted as Orrin spoke up. “Gerard, I have another personal staff that is with me on base. Her name is Kelsey, would it be a problem if she joined us for this discussion?”
Jaw working around, Gerard hesitated. Betty didn’t tell me there was a second, when did she get here? There are already quite a few people privy to what is happening, and there is no telling what information might be given with Ranglor’s approach, yet I do need to accommodate the Senator. This is turning out to be a nightmare.
“Sure, as long as she does not disclose anything heard without explicit instruction. The information shared could be very valuable, and we must protect our secrets.”
Nodding, Orrin said, “Not a problem.”
“I’ll have the contract written up.” Gerard turned to Betty; nodding she quickly left the room, the feed rewinding as she left.
* * *
Diane swiftly moved down the halls with long strides as a fire burned in her chest. Gerard can’t interfere with my study of the Valkyrie or dragon, so instead, he decides to meddle in my experiment with Eric?
Entering the first room, she watched his blue-eyed attendant quickly contact Gerard about her appearance. Storming past her desk, Diane threw open the doors and paused. There was a small crowd of people sitting in the room, studying a few screens; Benjamin, Gerard, Ranglor, Senator Orrin Brickly, what seemed like his bodyguard—likely a monster—and a woman she didn’t recognize moved their heads to acknowledge her.
Her fury turned to curiosity. Why wasn’t I invited to this closed-door meeting? Her vision darted to Ranglor. Unless … the clever snake…
Sniffing snootily, Diane said, “You could have told me about this closed-door meeting instead of irritating me.”
Ranglor’s wrinkled lips curved into a wicked smile. “I said it would draw her attention faster than anything else.”
Gerard sat back in his chair, studying Diane. “There seem to be some things you’re missing.”
Diane’s eyes popped. “I am the most knowledgeable academic in this entire organization and have the highest regards. What could I be missing?”
Nodding, Gerard calmly said, “I am well aware of your achievements. However, you’ve been fluttering around different subjects like your hair’s on fire.” He shrugged. “I understand, it’s like the base is filled with chocolate.”
“Oh, what have I missed or neglected?” Diane challenged, disliking his comparison.
He pointed at the screen as it rewound, Ranglor keeping a close eye on it. Gerard kept his lax demeanor.
Moving to sit in the only empty chair, Diane studied the screen. “Yes—the Tennessean monster group, while interesting, takes minor priority under much more important studies.”
Shaking his head, Gerard motioned to keep watching. “Ranglor said there are some things you’d be most curious about.”
Feeling like her time was being wasted, but piqued if Ranglor was the source; Diane decided a few more seconds was worth belittling the arrogant man. However, instead, she found herself leaning forward as she watched herself appear inside the monster observation room.
Her eyes quickly accounted for all the monsters, before it clicked. “The Húli Jīng saved spiritual energy in her bead, obviously. You should know that, Ranglor! She is creating an—”
Diane’s sarcastic statement caught in her throat as her doppleganger unlocked the biometric checkpoint and even stated her password. She didn’t know what to make of the incident as she turned to Gerard with questioning eyes.
Sliding his finger across the tablet, Gerard said, “Ranlgor was about to explain a few things. He said you’d be important for the following clips, so let me rewind it a bit.”
“How old is this footage?” Diane asked, watching the screen with a furrowed brow. “It can’t be that old. I met Fen in the halls a short while previous. She is cleared for stage two of the initiation…”
Benjamin answered with a chuckle. “About twenty minutes ago.”
Diane hummed in response. I haven’t been near that room within that time frame.
She watched carefully as Fen whispered in Jian and the Bodach’s ears. The Bodach then entered a dazed state and Jian moved back to his chair as the Vulpes called to go out. Understanding struck. “I was unaware Húli Jīng could transfer their energy, and I would have imagined a more—explicit transfer method than this,” she stated bitterly. Her teeth ground together at Ranglor’s chuckle. “I met Fen and Jian in the halls … I didn’t see the imp, but it could have changed to look like anyone by that time,” Diane commented, “did you secure them?”
Slowly shaking his head, Gerard said, “No, we decided to play it out.”
“Excuse me?” Diane stated incredulously. “A Bodach can be very dangerous if not kept in check! It could figure out the key functions of the facility with its abilities.”
Diane caught Benjamin’s glare. “Dangerous like a Fenris Wolf running around the facility with BB guns for safety?”
Her eyes shifted momentarily to Orrin’s bodyguard as his face went white. “A Founder is in the base—Sir, this—we need to leave…”
“I need to be aware of the situation, Duncan … We must take this risk.” Orrin muttered.
“This is different, Sir…”
Ignoring him, Diane shifted uncomfortably. “I have my own plans for Eric, but you people sent him to—other parts of the base, you are ruining my plans! Besides, I have a ward on him, and silver bullets are a bit more than BB pellets; he’s not a full Fenris Wolf, mostly a Germanic werewolf.”
Gerard nodded, but for some reason suddenly looked extremely displeased as his left hand pressed against his forehead with a tired sigh. “Yes—your wards. You said you didn’t have any kind of wards that would work against monsters of physical nature. That’s why we are using those golden threads you brought to restrain that … wolf girl, that’s what you’re calling her?”
Diane studied the screen as they followed Fen and Jian down the halls, heading to the clothing department. “Do you doubt my magic? Also, I’ve updated the wolf girl report, she is, in fact, a Fenris Wolf; Eric’s little sister, and from what I can tell, near pure-blooded.”
Ranglor chuckled. “Oh, a near full-blooded Fenris Wolf, fascinating. However, on account of your magic, of course, there would be doubts from those who have not seen it work; I am a scientist, so I conducted an experiment for their benefit. I, of course, have complete faith in your abilities as I have seen them demonstrated many a time.”
Sighing, Diane closed her eyes and placed a finger on her temple. “And what were the results?”
“An innocent monster’s death,” Orrin stated darkly, turning to his bodyguard he asked, “Duncan, you mentioned a Fenris Wolf a moment ago—why do you look so pale?”
Swallowing hard, Duncan said, “Fenris Wolves are not something any of us can deal with. They are nigh-immune to magic, more physically powerful than most any monster near the same age, and extremely hostile creatures … They’re Founders—beyond gods in scope—Sir. Alpha creatures, not running with their own kind because of that, and are viciously competitive.”
Ranglor’s features shifted to feigned pity, and his hand waved gently, drawing everyone’s attention. “As the Senator said, the imp died; it was quite—horrifying to watch. If you would, Gerard, and don’t worry about the Fenris Wolf; I’m sure we will discuss it in a bit, but Diane has her well contained.”
The researcher made a gesture gesture, and Gerard opened it on a separate screen. Silently, Diane watched a guard change watch at the outer doors. He gave the right code phrase and entered the room through biometric identification. After the disguised Bodach told a few jokes and queried about the previous guard’s family, the off-duty attendant left.
Opening the doors, the Bodach raced out into the forest and the display changed to a new angle for the disguised monster to drop to the earth, curling into a ball while whimpering.
The cries slowly became higher pitched as it returned to its previous form, writhing across the dirt; it took several minutes for black blood to start appearing out of his eyes, ears, and nose, before finally dying by bursting into flame.
“Truly fascinating what the spirit can do to the body,” Ranglor commented. “Yet, horrifying at the same time.”
Orrin spoke up, “How can the monsters trust you when they are treated as criminals and in less than a humane manner?”
Sniffing, Diane said, “I understand, Senator. That was a wasted experiment; I have records showing the results of spiritual and physical rejection if you had only asked.”
It seems Ranglor has put Gerard in quite the pickle. Let’s see how much he’ll owe me after this.
“Senator, my wards are not meant to be permanent but give us time to know them. Otherwise, they would simply run. I understand that the Committee has a similar approach; not nearly as violent as what just happened, but effectively they are prisoners until the creature’s nature is better understood.
“Every creature within the base was trespassing on U.S. land. If I am not mistaken, we are within our rights with the current Committee law. I also understand why Gerard felt the need to perform this action and it was the creature that chose to run, effectively killing itself. He needed definitive proof that the base was secure.”
Breathing a sigh, Gerard nodded. “It was hard to watch, Orrin,” Gerard concurred, “but I needed definitive proof. What about Eric and this other girl, his sister? How are they going to be contained if, as Duncan said, they are extremely dangerous?” he asked.
Leveling her eyes with Gerard, Diane evenly replied, “I said, I didn’t have many means of containing physical monsters—the ward I placed on Eric is not of my making.”
She paused, letting the rest of the room look at her questioningly. “It is a ward I still have from my tutor, Morgan.”
Ranglor’s wrinkles shifted as he grinned. “Oh, interesting. That’s what you put on the Valkyrie and Dragon?”
For the first time, the woman she didn’t know broke into the conversation. “What does it do? I was able to deconstruct and analyze your ward on the imp, but I have no idea where to even start with the ward I saw on Eric!”
Diane could tell the woman was born in North America, and the energetic vibe that infused the woman’s voice made her sick. When did she have a chance to see Eric’s ward? Scowling at the woman, Diane growled, “A magic investigator and analyst.”
The woman nodded emphatically. “Yes, I’ve followed some of your work, some excellent deductions on the diverse types of Fae, and puzzling out the Miami Monster’s identity, brilliant.”
Gerard stepped in as he saw Diane’s anger rising. “This is Kelsey, an associate of the Senator, she’s the U.S. Committee’s leading magical investigator and analyst.”
Diane sniffed with disdain. “Thieves and crooks that steal true artisans’ spellcraft and arduous work.”
Kelsey smiled at her comment; clearly, she’d received this reaction before. “You could say I’m the best thief in the business.”
Ranglor interjected, “Hold your disputes in methodology until we finish analyzing this new piece of information.” He turned to Gerard. “Could you take us to the video when the Húli Jīng and Bai-Hu have their conversation?” Turning back to Diane, Ranglor asked, “What do you make of this, Diane?”
Biting back a nasty comment out of pure curiosity, she watched the conversation with growing interest. “Did she say Yìnglóng, and refer to her as the Dragon Founder? This is an amazing discovery!”
Ranglor’s smile grew, but he stayed silent, knowing the reason for her excitement, but their attention was diverted as the dark-skinned man spoke.
“What did she say?” the man asked with horror.
Orrin’s demeanor shifted. “What is it, Duncan?”
“Yìnglóng is only a myth among monsters and only one of her many names; yet, if Long Mu is actually looking for her … could she be real?” Duncan whispered to himself.
Kelsey frowned, interjecting, “Would you care to explain why?”
Gerard added, “And who is this Long Mu? Is she a threat to be taken seriously?”
Brimming with glee, Diane extracted her tablet and began writing down a new chapter on one of her many books in progress. “Yes, if Long Mu is willing to chase down Fen. Long Mu was a human, who found and raised four dragons, obtaining the human title Dragon Mother, and was gifted by those dragons. However, Fen says Yìnglóng is the true Dragon Mother, which means she’s not only a Founder but the Founding Mother of the dragon race! Moreover, she may be alive, or so it seems.”
Kelsey looked skeptical. “So—this Long Mu is looking for the first dragon?”
Diane completely ignored her. “There is more to this video though, insight on the Tennessean incident.” Smiling challengingly at Ranglor, she asked, “Did you catch it?”
Ranglor’s smile didn’t falter. “Of course, your theory seems all the more plausible, judging from the Húli Jīng’s statement.”
Glowing with pride, Diane said, “Pocket dimensions and gateways!”
Licking his lips, Ranglor said, “Not only that, but it seems she obtained her white tail recently.”
He eyed Diane, who returned his stare with complete understanding and finished his answer. “She met with Inari, and not long ago, at the meeting she mentioned perhaps.”
Ranglor’s smile widened further. “There’s no feasible way we could get our hands on a Founder of her level, no chance whatsoever, but we might be able to have a chat.”
Diane mused at his statement; Inari was his major study point. She watched Ranglor’s smile diminish as he stared at the live camera feed following Fen. Turning, she sat at the edge of her seat. “How long ago was it since the two Vulpes met?”
Benjamin snorted. “While you three have been playing academic chess,” he scoffed darkly.
“Well—turn up the volume!” Ranglor demanded. “And rewind it to the start; you have men watching them so they will be fine.”
Gerard frowned, but complied. “Yes—I’ve been watching it; the Húli Jīng and even the Bai-Hu seem frightened of the other fox.”
Orrin’s brow furrowed further. “What’s the meaning of that girl’s confinement?”
“The last time she woke, the Vulpes almost took a researcher’s arm off with foxfire,” Ranglor quickly answered.
Diane shook her head as she scrutinized Fen’s expression. “That is not correct—Fen is terrified of Sora, and what is even more baffling is Jian, he’s petrified—something is not right.”
Volume rising with Gerard’s taps on the tablet, Ranglor, Duncan, and Diane’s faces paled. Swallowing, Diane asked, “Did—did she just call her—Mia?”
Ranglor moved as quickly as his old body would allow to press his hand against the screen, shouting, “Rewind that!”
Benjamin had straightened, and Kelsey was studying the two researchers with a frown, but Gerard sharply asked the question. “Who’s Mia?”
Duncan answered, his voice quivering, cool demeanor lost. “A second generation Vulpes Founder. The younger sister to Inari, second oldest Vulpes known among monsters.”
Diane completely ignored Gerard as Fen’s question replayed and the Nogitsune responded. Fumbling with her bag, she extracted her cellphone and speed dialed the Chairman; the response came after two rings. Everyone but Ranglor listened to Diane’s conversation. Her French accent accentuated with her rushed words. “Chairman, this is Diane.”
The voice on the other end was relaxed and deep. “I’m aware. Diane, I am quite busy at the moment.”
Swallowing, Diane said, “I understand, but—Mia.”
The voice went dead on the other end for several seconds. “What about Mia? Was she spotted?”
Diane shook her head as she responded, “No, but—but, we have a Nogitsune that is claiming to be her daughter—claiming to be a Vulpes third generation Founder.”
The Chairman didn’t answer for several more seconds. “I remember being told Mia couldn’t have children. This Vulpes must be a fraud.”
Clearing her throat, Diane said, “Well—yes—but she has red hair, red-furred ears, and a single red tail; also, a multitude of abilities that she should not have. On top of that—another two-tailed Vulpes just asked if she was Mia.”
Silence followed again. “Very well, keep an eye on her and try to gain more information, she takes top priority. The Shadow Order is on their way, and the dragoons will be arriving shortly. In addition, the Vice-President just left with the President; they’ll be there within five hours. Don’t do anything rash.” The line cut.
Her hands lowered in shock. “Th-The Vice-President is on his way—with the President.”