Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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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 rewinded, 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, it 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,” her sarcastic statement caught in her throat as she 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 timeframe. 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 ‘till they met her. “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 and 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. 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.” Ranglor gestured, 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 passed a few jokes and queries about the previous guard’s family, the off duty attendant left.
Opening the doors, the Bodach raced out into the forest. The display changed to a new angle, and they watched the disguised monster drop to the floor curling into a ball as it whimpered. 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 like 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 definite proof that the base was secure.”
Breathing a sigh, Gerard nodded. “It was hard to watch, Orrin,” Gerard concord, “but I needed definitive proof. What about Eric and this other girl, his sister? How are they going to be contained if needed 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, Morgane.”
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, and 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-bu 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, which 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, by 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?”
Ranglor quickly answered. “The last time she woke, she almost took a researcher’s arm off with foxfire.”
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. “The—the Vice-President is on his way—with the President.”