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      Foxx and Wolfe, Supernatural Detectives


Rodford Edmiston

      Part Three: Things Get More Complicated (This story is set in late August of 2017)

      "Oh, great," muttered Jackie. "I don't believe this!"

      That last was said in a guttural roar. Jackie's roommate, concerned, quickly went to her friend, where she sat in their apartment's living room at their shared computer. Jill put her hands on the larger woman's shoulders. She could hear, see, scent and even feel the rage pouring off her friend.

      "Easy, girl," Jill said, soothingly. "You're actually getting shaggy. What's got you so upset?"

      Jackie gestured at the screen.

      "I was checking my clipping service, and found an article on a bill introduced before the US Senate," the young werewolf explained, with exaggerated calm. She gestured towards the monitor. "This idiot from Idaho wants all supernaturals to register with the government. Says if they have nothing to hide they'll willingly help in this effort to 'curb the outrages perpetrated upon our nation by the godless creatures of darkness.'"

      "Wait a minute," said Jill, leaning forward to peer at the image on the screen. "Isn't that the guy who got impeached as Governor because he was almost single-handedly supporting both a brothel and a brewery?"

      "Yeah, I remember that, now," said Jackie, nodding. "Didn't some Fey do a very unflattering psyche profile on the guy?"

      "What I want to know is how he got elected to the US Congress after such a scandal."

      Jill leaned forward to read the information displayed on the monitor.

      "This... is crazy! It de facto declares any supernatural creature who doesn't register to be a criminal - without bothering to define 'supernatural creature' - and allows all the information provided by those who do register to be freely used by any government agency! It even calls for setting up an interagency database to share and correlate information!"


said Jackie.

      Jill started, and realized she was blocking her friend's view. The kitsune quickly moved aside. She perched on the filing cabinet abutting the computer table, her seven fluffy, snow-white tails draped over the top and down the far side, brushing against the printer.

      "Watch with the tails," muttered Jackie. "The hairs get in the printer and smear the ink. You don't see me sitting around the place in my midform."

      "That's 'cause that's not your base form," said Jill, wrinkling her short, white-furred muzzle into an incredibly cute grin. "This is me, here, the way I really am. I'll put a charm on the printer which makes it be clean all the time."

      "Anyway, I'm gonna print this out," Jackie stated. "You can read the hardcopy, while I read the screen. And then I'm going to start a search for more information. Speaking of charms, you sure your secrecy mojo is working on this?"

      "If you mean the effect I created which shows all queries from here as coming from the free computers at the main University library," she stated, smugly, "the answer is 'Of course!'"

      "Good," muttered Jackie, starting to type.

      Jill watched in wonder. She was used to werewolves being stronger, faster and more athletic than her, but usually forgot their physical superiority also extended to manual dexterity. Jackie opened a browser window, linked to a search engine and buzzed through entering a query description with a casually deft demonstration of inhuman speed. The young werewolf submitted the query, then hot-keyed back to the clipping service page. She had just resumed reading when the computer binged and spontaneously switched back to the search engine page, which had completed its work.

      "I HATE it when it does that!" snapped Jackie, re-hot keying. "Why haven't they fixed that yet?!"

      "You say that every time," teased Jill.

      "Yes, because it DOES that every time! If I want to see whether a computer has finished something I told it to do, I'll look for myself!"

      Meanwhile, the top page of the article which had started all the fuss dropped into the out tray. Jill grabbed the slim stack and started reading.

      "Hmm, despite what the Idiot from Idaho claims, it's an amendment to a bill on creating a shared federal database. He didn't make a proposal to create such a thing, which he implies in his statements to the press."

      Another page dropped out and was scooped up. While Jackie could type much faster than the little fox girl, the kitsune was a blazingly fast reader. Jackie let her read and voice a digest version.

      "Looks like it - the amendment, that is - doesn't have much support, either. Not in the Senate. Not in the House. Not among speakers for the administration. Not in preliminary surveys."


said Jackie. "At least some people have sense enough not to repeat a tactic which has not only failed to achieve its stated goal every time it has been used and eventually declared unconstitutional, but also been perverted to harass innocent citizens."

      "Of course, that almost guarantees it will pass," snickered Jill.

      "Don't say that," muttered the werewolf. "Oh; just remembered. Have they found that location in Arcadia yet? The one you managed to tag?"

      "Not yet," sighed Jill. "There's no hurry. The enchantment I embedded in the aggie is pretty much permanent. If someone sends the keying signal from close enough, it will respond. And since glass is amorphous it shouldn't change any time soon. Not much organized structure to affect."

      "No hurry because of the spell, but what about all the people killed and hurt, and all the property damage? The incursions just keep coming, faster and faster."

      Jill, sighed, and gave a helpless shrug.

      "From what I saw through that portal, the other side was near the Heart of Arcadia. That is not a place you enter casually, or stay in long. Not if you wish to retain your form, your sanity, your memories..."

      "Okay, okay, I get the picture."

Jackie sighed and stretched. "You're such an expert on Arcadia, I just figured you knew some way to protect people visiting there."

      "I'm not an expert on Arcadia," said Jill, firmly. "No-one is."

                                    *                              *                              *

      Toole felt relieved when he saw the two furry young women approaching. Yes, one was taller and heavier than him and had fangs which would have given Dracula a turn, while the other had pure white fur and seven tails, but by now they were familiar and even reassuring figures.

      "I'm glad you finally made it. The owner has been pressuring us to go ahead and start our operation without you."

      "It's 6 O'clock on a Saturday morning," said Wolfe, blearily. "I'm sorry, but even werewolves need sleep, and need time to get ready after being awakened from a sound sleep."

      "I'm not criticizing," said Toole, calmingly. "I just..."

      "These are the 'experts' you were waiting for?" cried a shrill voice. "Well, you might as well have not wasted my time keeping me waiting! I'm not letting those... things in my home. I bet they aren't even housebroken!"

      From the woman's looks, the others had reasonable doubts she was housebroken. She wore a tatty housecoat, the remains of an overnight facial and curlers in her hair. Wolfe was too surprised at the woman's outburst to feel angry. Before she could correct that shortcoming, Foxx shrugged, turned and began walking away.

      "Hey, where are you going?" blurted Wolfe, her anger replaced by surprise.

      "You heard her. She doesn't want us inside. So, we leave."

      Wolfe stumbled after the kitsune, protesting but going. Toole started to call after them, but changed his mind. Foxx was young, but she generally knew what she was doing, and he suspected she was making some sort of statement. He instead turned to the homeowner.

      "All right, we'll go in using just my people," he told her, with a hard expression and a no-nonsense tone. "But if any of us get hurt you're leaving yourself open to legal repercussions."


she shrieked. "You can't do that! I'm a taxpaying citizen! The government can't sue me!"

      "You rejected the most qualified help available, increasing the risk to my people. That makes it your call and your responsibility. And I'm not just talking lawsuits. If things go bad in there we could file criminal charges."

      Toole turned and walked away, leaving the woman sputtering behind him, curlers bouncing as she shook her head in exasperation. He was quite serious about putting the blame for any injuries on her. He was completely fed up with people who expected the government to do everything for them, including take the blame for their bad decisions. He didn't feel uncomfortable about handling this particular situation using just cops. With the improved armor and techniques members of his team were using lately injuries were unlikely. Especially since this eruption was reportedly patterned after goldfish. Besides, like Foxx, he wanted to make a point, take a stand.

      "All right, people," he announced, as he approached the assembled officers. "We have to do this by ourselves. The owner doesn't want Foxx and Wolfe going inside her home. So let's be careful, and let's be thorough."

      There was some grumbling over the homeowner's decision, which Toole found gratifying. Those two girls worked hard to help, and he was glad others besides him appreciated that.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Wolfe marched directly to the fire hydrant on the corner and - without breaking stride - gave it a good, hard kick. She didn't quite send it flying, but it bent over and water began gushing out around the base. Wolfe limped quickly out of range of the spray.

      "Feel better?" said Foxx, sarcastically, as she tricked the fire hydrant into thinking it hadn't been damaged.

      "As a matter of fact, yes!" the werewolf snapped, gently shaking her wet and injured paw/foot.

      Jill sighed. Werewolves were notoriously temperamental. Fortunately, they also healed quickly.

      "Let's find a secluded spot and watch what happens," said Foxx. "They might need us."

      "I have a better idea," growled Wolfe. "We watch from the sidewalk. Openly."

      "Oh. Yes, that might actually be better." Foxx wasn't sure if she said that because it was a good idea, or she was just being diplomatic, or because Wolfe was definitely not in a good mood. Probably some combination.

      They walked back to the sidewalk in front of the house, causing a parting of the sea of curious onlookers. Wolfe was surprised this many people were up and about so early on a Saturday. A large portion were children, and most of those appeared to be unsupervised.

      "Goldfish," muttered the werewolf. "What next? Perverted parrots? Corrupted cockatiels? Fulminous felines?"

      "Hush. Here comes Detective Toole."

      "You two better get in here," said Toole, looking grim.

      "But what about the owner..." Wolfe began.

      "Come inside and you'll see why that's not a problem."

      He led them into the house, through the kitchen and into the basement. There they found the remains of a peculiar disturbance. The creatures were actually twisted versions of guppies, rather than goldfish, making them even less of a menace than expected. There were only a few whole ones visible, and those were all dead, mostly by being smashed with a boot or buttstock. However, there were many of the creatures' tails lying around, looking as if the rest of their bodies had been snapped off in one, large bite each. Foxx began to get a bad feeling...

      This grew stronger when Toole led them further into the basement, to a section full of toppled aquariums. There, lying among the dead fish, broken glass and water on the cold concrete floor, was the homeowner. She had a number of minor injuries, all appearing to be "guppy" bites. However, she also had a quite obviously broken neck.

      "The Coroner will have to verify it, but I'd say she's been dead at least a couple of hours," said Toole.

      "We finally got a smart one..." whispered Foxx.

      "That's what I was afraid of," said Toole.

      "They came in through there..." Foxx said, squatting and pointing.

      "That old aquarium, on the floor? Fits the pattern."

      "The first ones through copied the guppies, which were right above the portal," guessed Jill, straightening. "Mostly they just flopped around, helplessly, but a few managed to adapt to land and began moving, exploring, disturbing things. The woman..."

      "Mrs. Cooper," Detective Toole supplied.

      "Mrs. Cooper must have been down here already. When she came over to see what was happening, the next one through - which was probably also the last - copied her, and killed her."

      "How do you know it was the last one through?" one of the officers demanded. "There could be dozens of fake Mrs. Coopers running around."

      "This one was intelligent," said Jill, with conviction. "Otherwise it couldn't have carried off that masquerade the way it did. And the smart ones are rare."

      "So there could be more than one, but it's unlikely," said Toole, "and even then there wouldn't be many of them."

      "Yes," said Foxx, as she distractedly ran her hand over the still damp top edge of an aquarium frame. "Also, you saw what it did to those ur-guppies. It ate them not for physical nourishment, but to get their power. Individually they weren't much, but it must have consumed nearly two dozen before you folks arrived. Anyway, these things are very competitive. If more than one intelligent one had come through, they'd probably have fought."

      "What sort of abilities would this thing have?" Toole asked, obviously concerned.

      "Well, being smarter than the usual ones, it copied her - Mrs. Cooper - pretty much exactly."

Jill frowned, thinking. "Its base strength is probably that of a middle-aged housewife, but it can almost certainly boost that with magic. How much depends on how magically powerful it is. I'd say it can also do other things, like change its shape. It may even copy someone else. So finding it will be hard."

      "There's still something I can't figure out," said Toole, rubbing his chin and looking puzzled. "Who called 911? The real Mrs. Cooper?"

      "Over here," said one of the officers, squatting and shining her flashlight. "There's a cordless phone lying under this table. Looks damaged, too."

      "She must have had the phone with her, or somewhere handy down here, then," said Toole, nodding. "She noticed the ur-guppies, and called in. I'll check the 911 tapes. Dollars to doughnuts the call was cut off. I wonder if we'll hear any of what happened between her and her imposter."

      Toole looked over at the two shapeshifters, who were standing uneasily and uncertainly among the also uneasy and uncertain police officers. He understood their reaction. The combination of a special anti-monster police unit and Foxx and Wolfe had proven very effective. This was the first fatality in this area in the two months since the shapeshifters had first offered their help. Of course, part of that was due to greater public awareness of the incursions, and part to luck, but the teamwork certainly had contributed. Now they were all depressed at their first loss of human life.

      "Think the Press will be on us for this?" mused one officer, voicing a common thought.

      "Why are you worried about the Press?" demanded Toole. "Not only did someone die here, but that thing is out there loose!"

      "If it were simply a monster I could find it magically," said Jill, apologetically. "This thing, though, is smart enough to cover its tracks. I've already tried."

      "It even smelled like a human," muttered Wolfe, irritably.

      "Which leaves us with good, old-fashioned police work," sighed Toole. "All right, people. This is now officially a murder scene. Everyone out until the coroner arrives."

                                    *                              *                              *

      "Still no sign of the escapee," sighed Jackie, throwing herself down on the apartment couch.

      "How you can do that without breaking at least one of the legs is beyond me," Jill smirked.

      Jackie muttered something and stretched out, putting her arms behind her head.

      "Well, at least it's not going on a murderous rampage. Speaking of murderous rampages, I hear you and Todd have a big weekend planned."

      "Yeah. We're going to a dance club in wereform. They've started letting supernaturals in openly as a publicity stunt."

      "You're just barely of age, and look even younger. What're you gonna do if they card you?"

      Jill smiled, and smoothly changed from cute to sultry. This came as much from subtle alterations in posture and expression as from slight changes in form.

      "That," said Jackie, sitting up to examine her friend, "is creepy."

      "What, you don't think of me as being a sexual creature?" asked Jill, her voice now dripping allure.

      "Yes, but a cute, innocent one. Like your dad."

      Jill stared for a moment, then burst out laughing.

      "Oh, my, I don't think I've ever heard anyone call my dad 'innocent' before," she cackled, her form still curvaceous but her manner now pure Jill.

      "Okay, laugh it up, fuzzball," muttered Jackie. "I know Chinese foxes are supposed to be very sexy and romantic, but you're more Japanese."

      Jill simply smiled enigmatically.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The place was noisy and crowded, the more so because some of those dancing were larger than human in size. Foxx and "BB" had arrived early, and still found themselves the fourth and fifth supernaturals there, respectively. Two of the other three were Pookas - a rabbit and a squirrel - but the third was a gorgeous Sidhe female. She was appropriating every good looking male - and some of the females - in turn.

      However, heads turned from her toward the door when Foxx and BB entered. Partly because of Foxx's own exotic beauty, emphasized by the slinky pastel blue dress she wore. And partly because BB was now the tallest person in the joint, by a considerable margin.

      Foxx noted the Sidhe woman's reaction to their presence; carefully controlled envy and a bit of irritation. While she didn't have anything against the Sidhe in general or this one in particular, Foxx was definitely in vixen mode tonight. Smiling, she guided BB straight to the dance floor, where they joined in the ritualized mating practices of the humans.

      BB was quite agile for someone his size. Jill was fluidly graceful, almost as much so as her feline godmother, Lisa. They were both trained athletes and practiced dancers. The two of them quickly stole the social spotlight from the Sidhe woman and her current partner. Apparently not wanting to share, she stopped dancing and took her boytoy off to the side, to watch.

      Foxx and BB danced to three songs straight, including a particularly difficult one the DJ played just to challenge them. Then they went to the bar and ordered, looking completely unwinded.

      The music resumed, and humans and the rabbit Pooka danced, but the Sidhe woman instead came over to meet her competition.

      "Hello," she said, not extending her hand. "I'm Molyenna."

      Her voice was deep and spoke of barely hidden lust, her smile was an exotic thing of ancient legends, and her scent was... intoxicating.

      "I'm BB," the werewolf replied, grinning, tongue almost hanging out. "Stands for Big Bad."

      "And I am Foxx," the kitsune added, in a much more controlled manner.

      "Would either of you care to dance with me?" she asked, half turning towards the dance floor, smiling back at them over her shoulder.

      BB immediately started to rise. Foxx grabbed his arm.

      "Thanks, but we've got drinks on the way."

      The Sidhe woman shrugged, and moved on to the squirrel Pooka.

      "Uh, what just happened?" asked BB, shaking his head.

      "She's putting out enough pheromones and glamour to seduce a herd of monks," muttered Foxx. "If you didn't have some of your daddy's stubbornness..."

      "Is that legal?" the big werewolf asked, still a bit dazed.

      "Probably," sighed Foxx. "She's not doing anything specifically against the law, and from what I can see she's just doing it to get handsome guys and beautiful gals to dance with her. Doesn't mean I have to like it."

      That last was in a tone which was a bit out of character for her. BB glanced at his date, frowning.

      "You okay?"

      "Yeah. It's just that... as beautiful as she is, why does she have to cheat?"

      "You think that might not be her real appearance?"

      "Uhm, with Sidhe that's hard to say," muttered Foxx. "Their naturally high level of magic tends to mask a lot of things. As beautiful as most of them are, though, probably."

      "Can you do something to keep me from being caught by her again?"

      "I think you'll be all right, now that you know about it." She smirked. "Besides, having to resist will make you stronger for later."

      "You mean when you turn your wiles on?" he asked, grinning back at her.

      They went nose-to-nose for a moment, then broke off as their drinks arrived.

      BB had a virgin Long Island iced tea; in other words, plain iced tea. Foxx had a definitely non-virgin daiquiri. Alcohol had little effect on either of them, but BB didn't like the taste, while Foxx loved it. Of course, that meant she'd have to magically cleanse her breath later...

      They alternately danced, drank and socialized for nearly three hours, meeting the Pookas and some other supernaturals who came in, and a large number of appreciative humans. Molyenna even managed to get one dance with each of them, but apparently recognized her influence was being resisted and didn't try for more. Both Foxx and BB danced with other partners, but always made clear that they were a couple. Finally, the time grew late enough that they decided to head out, even though the club would still be open for some time.

      "What a night," sighed Foxx, cuddling up against BB as they walked slowly down the quiet street.

      BB has his arm around her, holding her tight. He was really looking forward to getting back to the girls' apartment; Jackie was also out for the night, and would probably not be back until the next morning. A little intimate privacy was just what Todd and Jill needed, right now, after barely seeing each other during the past month and more.

      Jill suddenly straightened, pushing away from Todd. She took several steps, ears up and tails lashing, turning her head as if trying to catch a scent.

      "What's wrong?"

      "Can't you feel that?" she responded. "Hear it? Smell it? There's something..."

      She broke off abruptly and charged down a side street. Muttering irately about the flightiness of kitsune, Todd hurried after her.

      Jill ran down a dark alley, Todd still trailing behind. He put on a burst of speed when he heard a shrill yell. It was less a scream of fear than a cry of shock and anger. There, in the alley, Jill faced off against something not clearly seen. On the dank pavement in front of her lay another form.

      Todd shook his head. The influence Molyenna had exuded was minor compared to the effluvia coming off the creature Jill faced. It wasn't even aimed at him, and still it nearly forced him back. He snarled, and took a step forward. Then another. Though he couldn't see its form too well, it seemed startled by his approach. He moved up behind Jill and put his huge paw/hands on her shoulders.

      Thus emboldened, the little kitsune cranked up whatever magical effect she was using against the creature. It shrieked again, with outrage this time, and fled. Jill sagged.

      "You all right?" asked Todd, concerned that she had overreached herself.

      However, her reaction turned out to have an emotional cause, rather than a physical one.

      "Oh, Todd... look what it did to her..."

      The form lying there was Molyenna, though he needed the clothes she wore to confirm it. Something had drained the vitality out of her, leaving an old, wrinkled woman.

      "Is she still alive?" asked Todd, as he dashed to the far end of the alley to try and discern where the creature had gone.

      "Barely," said Jill, a catch in her voice. "We stopped it before it finished."

      Todd decided that the thing was gone for now, and hurried back to his date and the victim. The kitsune had returned to her normal cute form, dress now hanging where it had formerly been overfilled. She was kneeling beside the fallen Sidhe, hands held palms-down over the body, eyes closed, mouth moving silently. The werewolf could actually feel the energy gathering and flowing.

      Slowly, the desiccated form of Molyenna regained some of its color, vitality and beauty. Todd tore his eyes from the spectacle to look around; fortunately, no-one else seemed to have noticed what was happening in the dark alley.

      "That's about all I can do," said Jill. "She should recover, but it will be slow and difficult."

      "Is there some place we can take her?"

      Jill nodded. She rose, stepped over to the concrete wall to her left and pulled a piece of pastel blue chalk from her purse. With this she drew a large oval on the wall, over two meters from top to bottom. Then she gestured with both hands, using the chalk for punctuation, chanting under her breath as her hands moved.

      The dirty grey of the wall inside the oval disappeared, replaced first by solid black, then by a soft, white glow.

      "One of yours has been harmed," said Jill, to the circle. "We have helped her all we can. Do you have someone to send, or do we bring her through ourselves?"

      There was a pause, and then a tall, very dignified, young-looking man with fine features and pointed ears stepped through. His clothing was an odd mixture of Renaissance and modern, and he had a sword sheathed at his hip. He looked mildly surprised as he saw Jill and Todd, but devastated when he saw Molyenna. He quickly knelt beside the Sidhe and briefly examined her.

      "What did this?" he demanded, looking up at the other two.

      "We don't know," said Jill. "I felt an odd stirring of power, and came to see what caused it. There was some... vague form hanging over her, draining her life. We chased it away and I did what I could to heal her."

      "Thank you," said the man, briefly. He gathered Molyenna in his arms. "We'll handle it from here. I suggest you go to a safe place."

      As Todd bristled he stepped through the portal, which closed behind him with an audible snap.

      "Well, how do you like that?"

      "Don't be too hard on him," sighed Jill. "He just had a shock. They're not only very long-lived, there's very little which can hurt them magically. So to see one of his own, brought down like that..."

      Todd considered this for a bit, decided he still didn't like the man's attitude but that there was nothing he could do about it at the moment.

      "I think we need to tell somebody," he stated.

      "Several somebodies..."

                                    *                              *                              *

      Detective Thompson was desperately trying to stay awake long enough to finish her paperwork and go home when someone knocked at her office door.

      "Detective? You have a couple of visitors."

      The familiar form of the white kitsune flounced through the door, tails bouncing after her, followed by the biggest werewolf Thompson had ever seen. The sergeant who had escorted them seemed glad to be rid of the pair, hurrying away the moment he closed the door.

      "Hello, Foxx," said Detective Thompson. "Who's your friend?"

      "Oh, I'm Wolfe," said Todd, grinning and mincing a bit. "You did know we could change gender, right?"

      "Right," said Thompson, skeptically.

      "Told you that wouldn't work," snickered Foxx, giving the big werewolf a quick hug. "This is my date. We were at a dance club earlier. As we were leaving we heard someone in trouble, and found a Sidhe woman we'd met at the club being attacked by something. We saved her, but the attacker got away. Have you heard of any supernaturals being found as dry, aged husks?"

      "Whoa, slow down," said Thompson, her head spinning. "Let's go over this step-by-step."

      That they did, with Todd - or BB, as he was still calling himself - providing most of the details this time.

      "That does not sound good," said Thompson. "Could this be the thing which was masquerading as that woman this morning?"

      "I don't know," admitted Foxx. "It could be, or it could be a vampire who's learned some new trick, or something else entirely."

      "Well, I haven't heard any reports of other supernaturals being attacked," said Thompson, thoughtfully, "but as secretive as most of them are that's not surprising. I notice you didn't tell me where you took this Molyenna."

      "We don't know where she is, actually. The Sidhe don't trust even each other much, and non-Sidhe not at all."

      "I'll write a report, based on what you've told me," said Thompson, "but unless Molyenna herself comes forward and files charges I can't devote any real manpower to the problem. For all we know, this could be some other Sidhe who had a grudge against her."

      "Could be," Foxx acknowledged, nodding. "The thing had a sort of Fey feel to it."

      "All we really need right now is to let people know about this thing," said Todd. "Communication, that's the key. We need to spread the word, as a warning to others, and so anyone with additional information can contact you, and through you, us."

      "You do sound like Wolfe," observed Thompson. "Where is she, by the way?"

      "She had her own date," said Foxx. The cute little kitsune interrupted herself with a jaw-popping yawn, then shook her head to try and wake up. "I just hope her's won't be as interesting as ours was."

                                    *                              *                              *

      "That was a great concert, with great company," purred Jackie, as she and Jeremy walked arm-in-arm through an alley on a shortcut back to the parking lot. "Thank you for a great evening."

      "It's not over yet," he replied, grinning, as his hand slid down to squeeze her rump through her jeans. "We can still go back to my place. I mean, if you want to."

      "Well, yeah," said Jackie, nibbling his ear lobe. "The evening wouldn't be complete, otherwise."

      Unfortunately, others had other ideas. Jackie and Jeremy stopped abruptly as a handful of toughs stepped from behind a dumpster.

      "Hey, there," said one of them, mock-amiably. "We saw you drive in here earlier in that classic Mustang. Just hand over the keys and you can go back to the concert and call a cab."

      "That's my car," Jackie growled, with a fierceness which startled the speaker.

      "You get out of here," growled Jeremy, in turn, pushing Jackie away. "I'll hold them off."

      "No way," said Jackie. "I can take care of myself in a fight."

      The hoods looked back and forth between the pair, obviously baffled by the lack of timid obedience.

      "Look, these guys are serious. I'll fight better without having to worry about you. You go that way and we'll meet back at the car. Trust me, I'll be all right."

      "You really think the situation is that bad? Well, I guess it's time to let you in on a secret of mine. Hope you won't hold it against me."

      "Hey! Hey! We are still here, in case you forgot! You will talk to us, not each other!"

      Jeremy turned to say something firm and manly to his girlfriend, then started and stared as Jackie changed. She made the shift to her midform more slowly than usual, partly hoping this would scare the punks away, and partly because that might let Jeremy take it better. Once finished, she grinned and winked at him. Then stared as he shifted to midform.

      "No wonder we get along so well together," he chuckled, in his now growly voice.

      "Ooooh, bay-buh," purred Jackie, nuzzling his muzzle, absently noting that she was a bit taller than him, now.

      The hoods chose that opportune distraction to retreat briskly around the corner. The two werewolves stared after them for a moment, then burst out laughing. This cut off with a grunt when Jackie abruptly play-punched Jeremy in the gut.

      "Just exactly when were you planning to tell me?"

      "Just exactly when were you planning to tell me?" he countered, with mock fierceness.

      This set off another bout of laughter.

      "Oh, I can't wait to tell my roommate about this," gasped Jackie. "She's been worrying about your reaction when you found out."

      "She knows?"

      "Yeah. We've been pals since 4th grade."

      "Huh. Only my family and a couple of werewolf friends know about me."

      "Well, Jill is practically family. Her parents and mine are all great friends, and she's dating one of my brothers."

      "Uh, is he...?"

      "Yep," snickered Jill. "Most of my family are. Remember that daycare center we run? Nearly everyone in it - kids and employees - is either a shapeshifter or related to one."

      "Wow," said Jeremy, boggled. "Guess I've lived a sheltered life."

      "Why don't we head to your place and do something about that," purred Jackie, resuming her nuzzling.

      Some time later she took a step back and shifted to human, then looked expectantly at Jeremy.

      "Uh, I kinda grew outta my clothes," he muttered. "How come yours...?"

      "It's a trick you can learn."

She made a show of inspecting him. "Rowr. Wish I'd known about this sooner. There's nothing like a guy with a sheath to turn a weregal on."

      "Guess I better go full wolf before we head for your car," said Jeremy quickly, obviously embarrassed. "Get my stuff, huh?"

      Jackie sighed as her boyfriend shifted into lupine form, then quickly began gathering his shredded clothing and other belongings. She stopped once to yawn prodigiously - the afternoon nap she'd taken had helped make up for being roused early, but not enough. When she looked around, though, Jeremy was nowhere in sight. Puzzled, she resumed the interrupted trip down the alley. Outside, standing on the sidewalk, she saw nothing, not even over by her car. She paused and listened, and heard an odd sort of moan from near the empty parking lot attendant's booth. Concerned, now, she hurried across the street, in that direction. There, on the other side of the booth, Jeremy lay naked in human form on the ground, a strange, misshapen creature lingering over him.

      Jackie screamed and leapt, shifting to midform in the air. Despite initial appearances, the thing wasn't actually shapeless; the outside part seemed to be some sort of camouflage, like a shifting fog, but with a bit more substance. The core, though, was most definitely solid, and though she couldn't see it clearly was just as definitely humanoid in shape. She slashed furiously, driving the thing back, away from Jeremy. She got in perhaps a dozen strikes before it turned and fled. Jackie almost chased after it, but the knowledge that Jeremy needed help penetrated her fury. She turned towards him, staying in midform just in case.

      He looked... wasted. Like he'd been on a drinking binge for a week. Pale, thin, hair disheveled. And he wasn't waking. Even in human shape, a werewolf could recover from injury or exertion with awesome speed, unless the damage was supernatural in cause. Which this obviously was.

      Still furry, Jackie quickly gathered him in her arms and carried him to her car. She buckled him carefully in the passenger seat, then growled at a sudden thought and went back for the clothes she'd dropped. No sense leaving his wallet and such here for someone to find. Finally ready to leave, she shifted to human as she ran to the driver's door, not caring that someone might see her. Once inside she fired up the 5.0 and took off with squealing tires. Her destination was only a few miles away; a few minutes travel for her in this car.

      "Hold on, Jer..."

she breathed, sparing the ailing teen a quick look as she drove furiously towards Lisa Dawnwind's.

                                    *                              *                              *

      "This makes no sense," muttered Toole, reading the reports left for him by Thompson and others. He was especially grouchy over having to come in on a Sunday. "We've got at least 8 attacks last night, spread all over the city, during a four and a half hour period. There's at least one incidence where two of the attacks overlap. No way this could be the work of one creature."

      "We don't think it was," said Foxx. "This was apparently a move against any supernaturals who happened to be out in public."

      "Any idea by whom?"

      "No; sorry," sighed the kitsune. "But whoever it is, they're using magic."

      "Well, yes," said Toole.

      "No, I mean this is someone - probably several someones working together - working major magic," said Foxx, emphatically. "This sort of stuff is not only risky, it leaves signatures which are easy to detect. Like a pirate radio station. Or at least it should."

      "Ah," said Toole, thinking. "So, they are either good at covering their tracks, or prepared this stuff elsewhere, or both."

      "Yes. But either way, this gives us a chance to find them. Now that we know to look, and have a vague idea of what to look for."

      "Good," said Toole. He sighed, and shifted uneasily in his chair. "Look, I know that so far these attacks have all been against supernaturals, but I'm asking you not to deal with this like old-fashioned vigilantes. These attacks were made within our jurisdiction, and you need to work with us dealing with them."

      "I have no problem with that," said Foxx. "I can't vouch for every shapeshifter and Fey in the city, though."

      "Trust me, while it's best to set a good precedent, I'm not looking forward to the legal aspects of this." Toole gave a short, humorless laugh. "Though putting a case trying a coven of wizards on the DA's desk does have certain attractions."

      Foxx grinned at that. She'd worked enough with Toole to know there was a long and deep schism between him and the DA's office, particularly with one female Assistant DA.

      "I think it's 'bevy' for wizards," she smirked.

      "I couldn't help but notice you don't have a partner this morning," said Toole.

      "Yeah. T... uh, BB went back home, and Wolfe is with her boyfriend."

      "The one who got attacked. Any word on how he is?"

      "Not since last night. I'll check as soon as I leave here. He should be fine, though."

      "And you still won't tell me where any of the victims are," Toole mused.

      "Sorry. Those aren't my secrets to tell, even for the ones I know about."

      "Y'know, I have to think that these are meant more as warnings, or even punishments, rather than attempts at murder or serious harm. From what you've told me, none of the victims were killed, and all are expected to make a full recovery."

      "I hadn't thought of that!"

said Foxx, startled. Now she scowled. "Yes. That is definitely something to check into."

                                    *                              *                              *

      Jeremy woke slowly, feeling sore all over, like he'd been beaten very thoroughly with multiple blunt objects. Or had a bad case of the flu, which he didn't get any more, not since learning to change. He opened gummy eyes and looked around. There was Jackie, asleep in a reclining chair. The rest of the room looked like a cross between a hospital and a hospice. He was in a proper hospital bed, complete with call button cable box. But there was no TV, no sterile flooring and shades. Instead, there was an indoor-outdoor carpet of a pleasant green, wallpaper with a forest pattern, and a ceiling painted medium blue with patches of white, obviously meant to represent a sky with clouds. The drapes over the window were also in a forest pattern. Even the air smelled fresh, like trees after a rain.

      Before he could clear his throat and try to talk, Jackie started awake. She sat up quickly, looked at him and smiled.

      "Good morning," she announced. "Lisa said you'd probably be coming 'round soon."

      Jeremy did clear his throat now, but before he could reply to that greeting was muzzled by a passionate kiss. This continued even after the door opened and someone entered. Jeremy couldn't see who until Jackie finally broke away. The newcomer was a tall, dark-skinned woman with hair down below her waist. Something about her, the way she moved, gave the young werewolf an odd sensation.

      "Jeremy, this is Lisa Dawnwind. She's a friend of my parents', and a healer. She fixed you up, last night."

      "Good morning," said Lisa, with a perfunctory smile. "Good to see you awake."

      With no more ceremony than that, she began an exam, prodding, listening and asking questions.

      "Not bad. Figured if I gave you a head start your own vitality would do the rest before Noon. It's not often I get to give a werewolf even this much treatment, of course."

      "She knows?" Jeremy frantically asked, looking at Jackie.

      "She is," laughed the other werewolf.

      "Oh," said Jeremy, feeling a bit overwhelmed.

      "Do you remember anything about the attack?" asked Jackie, getting down to more serious business.

      "What attack?" asked Jeremy, baffled.

      "Well, that answers that question," was Lisa's wry comment.

      "I don't even know how I got here."

      "We were leaving the concert. We'd just scared off a bunch of thugs by changing, and letting each other know for the first time we were werewolves," Jackie prompted.

      "That I remember," Jeremy stated, nodding. "I shifted to wolf and started for the car, with you right behind me, and..."

      He scowled.

      "Don't force it," said Lisa. "I suspect magic at work, here."

      Jackie supplied the rest, or at least what she knew about it.

      "But that's not right," said Jeremy. "You were right behind me! I could hear and scent you!"

      Jackie looked up at Lisa, who nodded sagely.

      "Definitely magic."

                                    *                              *                              *

      The war council was no less serious for being held outside in a sacred circle on Lisa's property, or for the fact that it was made up of several shapeshifters, a sloughy, and five other Fey, two of them high-ranking Sidhe. Lisa claimed she wanted the meeting in her circle to ensure privacy, but those who knew her figured she was also getting a kick out of how unnerved the Sidhe were over the level of power there. Even Professor Finlay seemed impressed.

      "We know of no such activity," insisted one of the Sidhe. "Not in this area, nor in any other area where there is an open Changeling population. Neither have there been any such attacks elsewhere, that we know of."

      A long silence followed, as the others digested this.

      "There goes that hope," sighed Jill. She looked up at the Sidhe who had spoken. "Though we would definitely appreciate knowing if you do learn anything."

      "Oh, we will be certain to inform you," said the elf, managing to look elegant even sitting on the grass under the enfolding arms of a huge willow. "One of ours was injured; this matter is important to us."

      Which meant that they would try to handle this themselves if they did find out anything, only telling someone else afterwards, or if they could not take the matter further. Jill sighed.

      "I've been doing some checking," said Jackie, perhaps to change the subject. "Louisville has one of the highest rates of incursions, but the lowest rates of property damage, injury and death from them. The other places with high incursion rates are much worse. And it's because all of them are relying on cops, firemen and such alone to handle the problem."

      "There's a lot of public outcry in those cities for a 'program' like Louisville's," observed Lisa, nodding. "The press and the governments ignoring the fact that there is no program, just spontaneous volunteerism."

      "So why don't those cities start programs?" asked Jill, confused. "Or, like here, why don't the local supernaturals just start doing it?"

      "Because 'The people won't stand for it!'," Todd declared, sounding very much like his father.

      "But... but..."

sputtered Jill, looking bewildered.

      "Bureaucratic inertia, mostly," said Lisa. "With the fear of offending some vocal minority a close second. Doesn't matter that some of those same vocal minorities are already yelling at the cops and mayors for not stopping the incursions."

      "My point is, maybe Louisville is being singled out by someone because we're doing so well defending ourselves against the incursions," said Jackie.

      There was a stunned silence as this was digested. Then a murmur of quiet speculation. After several minutes, however, they reached a consensus that even if that were true, they had no way to tell. Not yet, anyway.

      "I believe we have done everything practical we can for today," said the Sidhe who had spoken before.

      "You're right," sighed Lisa. She gave a wry chuckle. "When the conversation degenerates into political criticism the meeting is over."

      People of various types rose and stretched. The two high elves were - not surprisingly - the first to start walking back to the cars. On the way they resumed their human seemings, complete with grey pinstriped suits.

      Jill wanted to stay and talk, but Jackie reminded her they had school the next day. The kitsune said her good-byes quickly and hurried after the impatient werewolf.

      "Wish Jeremy had stuck around," she mused, as she buckled herself in. "I still haven't gotten to show him my trueform!"

      "Oh, stop trying to flirt with my guy," snickered Jackie. "He left for his apartment right after lunch. Lisa made sure he knew there was a meeting he wasn't invited to."

      "Well, that's hardly fair," pouted Jill. "He was a victim!"

      "Did you see any of the other victims there?"

      As the Mustang exited through Lisa's gate Jill suddenly stiffened and gave a strange gasp. Jackie, in the process of turning right onto the county road, looked over at her in alarm.


yelled Jill, startling Jackie. "Go left! Left!"

      The werewolf didn't know what was going on, but she knew her friend well enough to do now and ask later. She cut hard left, gunning the engine to kick the car around. The cause of the kitsune's distress became obvious as they rounded the first curve. Just ahead, in the ditch off the right side of the road, lay the Mercedes driven by the two Sidhe. It was under attack by something which looked very much like what had hurt both Molyenna and Jeremy. Only this was much larger. The thing straddled the car, prying at the passenger side door.

      Jackie slid the 5.0 to a halt and jumped out too quickly for Jill to stop her, changing as she charged in. The thing batted her away almost casually. As Jill clambered out she noted more cars stopping behind the Mustang; some of the others leaving the council had turned after them, and were just now arriving. Bent-Tail bailed from a still-moving SUV, and in his huge midform scrambled on all-fours towards the thing, while Todd likewise in his merely very big midform headed for his sister. Bent-Tail managed to knock the creature off the car with a tackle, but then was forced to dodge frantically as it countered. The others held back, milling in confusion. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to close while the huge werewolf was in melee. However, Bent-Tail couldn't regain the initiative, and finally threw himself completely off the road to avoid a sweeping blast of magical energies which slashed into the pavement, sending small chunks flying into the woods.

      The thing turned towards the watching group, and for just a moment it stood there, motionless, defiant. Then there was a sound which hurt the ears and minds of the werewolves, a single syllable in some tongue not meant for mortal ears. A gout of blue-white flame roared down the road like the exhaust from a nuclear rocket engine. The creature had barely enough time to look startled, then vanished like a balloon in a blast furnace. The jet of flame faded quickly to nothing.

      There was a moment of stunned silence. Then the others turned to stare at Jill, who was standing there, right arm stiffly outstretched, palm forward, the other arm reinforcing it with a grasp around the wrist. She was pale, rigid and panting.

      "You watch too much anime," muttered Jackie, as Todd helped her limp back to the road.

      "Not... bad," said Bent-Tail, stepping cautiously forward to examine the bubbling asphalt. "Though I think you might have overdone it. Just a bit."

      The blast had cut a chord across the curve in the road and gone on into the woods a considerable distance, leaving a smoking, smoldering tunnel through the greenery for as far as they could see. Several trees directly in the path had toppled due to their trunks being destroyed, and many others were leaning perilously.

      "S-sorry," said Jill, suddenly relaxing, almost collapsing. "It just seemed... so powerful. And after that one got away last night..."

      "S'okay, gal," said Jackie, hugging her. "Maybe that much overkill will send a message back to whoever sent it."

      A pounding sound from the Mercedes reminded them of the Sidhe pair they had come to rescue. Bent-Tail hopped over the scorching pavement and almost casually ripped the whole door off.

      "What in the name of Danae happened?" the leader of the delegation demanded, as he stumbled from the wrecked car.

      Several people started to reply, but Bent-Tail held up one enormous paw/hand to silence them.

      "Let's hear your version first."

      "Our version!"

the elf snapped, striding angrily onto the road as he glared at the huge werewolf. "You speak as if..."

      He stopped, not because he wanted to, or intended to, but because his shoes were stuck. He teetered, almost fell. His companion, alarmed, hurried forward to help, and also became stuck. The two stood there, supporting each other, as the heat rapidly seeped through their shoes.

      "Careful," said Bent-Tail, dryly, "it's hot."

      The two high elves quickly used magic to cool the road and free themselves. A bit chastened, they joined with the others at the Mustang.

      "'Our version' is very simple and straightforward," said the leader. "We headed back to town and were ambushed."

      "Town is the other way," grunted Bent-Tail.

      "Eh?" said the second Sidhe, who had been driving. "No, you turn right out of the driveway."

      "And you turned left," countered Todd. "If Jill hadn't noticed, that thing would have had you."

      "If we're going to argue," said Bent-Tail, in a loud voice, interrupting the Sidhe who were obviously about to do just that, "I suggest we cover our tracks here and get back to Lisa's."

      "Oooh, I know," said Jill, excitedly. "A burning gasoline tanker truck came 'round the curve at high speed and went off the road!"

      "Let's just repair as much as we can and glamour the rest," said the Sidhe driver.

      "That's the trouble with you guys," said Jackie. "No sense of adventure."

      End Part 3

      This document is Copyright 2002 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reproduce it must obtain permission from the author, who can be contacted at: stickmaker@usa.net