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Jackie And Jill: Getting Outed


Rodford Edmiston

      This story is set in the August of 2008.

      The meeting between the principal and the two parents was not going well. One of those seated before the modest desk was a human. The other was pretending to be.

      "If that daughter of yours can't control herself she should be locked away!" yelled the florid man. "Girls just don't act like that!"

      "Please, Mr. Potter," said Principal Bates. "Let's try to keep this calm."

      "Calm?! That little b... minx stuffed my son in a garbage can!"

      "Because he'd just done that to one of her friends," said Bent-Tail, with admirable restraint. "Maybe now that he knows what it feels like he'll think twice about doing it again."

      "Girls aren't supposed to do things like that! For boys it's just normal horseplay!"

      "You think that's normal," sighed Bent-Tail. He shook his head, then smiled unpleasantly at Potter. "People like you are the reason I got arrested for manslaughter in high school."

      "Wh-what...?!" was Potter's reply.

      "I don't like bullies," Bent-Tail elaborated, his tone still deceptively mild. "I know, challenging for pack order is instinctive behavior. And so is rejecting those seen as being different from the norm. But humans are thinking animals. They're supposed to be able to control their instincts. In themselves, and in those who are unable or unwilling to control their own instincts."

      "Now, just a moment..."

      "You want my daughter 'put away,' as you call it," Bent-Tail continued, voice even and calm, but his pointed-toothed smile showing this was just a facade. "Here's a counter offer. You demonstrate you can control your son, or I see that someone controls you."

      "Is that a threat?!" Potter exclaimed, figuring the other had finally said something he could relate to.

      "No. It's a promise. If you can't keep your boy from attacking other kids I'll file a suit, and have him taken from you and put in a foster home, with you forced to undergo a psychological evaluation."

      "I'm not crazy!"

      "Then you are deliberately and willfully refusing to control your boy, which is a form of child abuse. Which means you would face criminal charges."

      Potter took maybe three seconds to let that sink in. Then he screamed and lunged at Bent-Tail. There was a flicker of motion and a meaty thud, and Potter staggered back most of the way to his chair before sinking to the floor in front of it. Neither he nor the Principal saw the punch.

      "That will be enough," said Principal Bates. "Mr. Potter, I know you and your wife, and I know that Child Welfare already has a case against you two. If you do not control your son, I will support Mr. Jones' efforts to have him taken from you, for his own good. Now get out of my office."

      He needed a while to recover, but eventually did, for once not blustering. Perhaps because he still didn't have breath to spare. Perhaps because for once in his life someone had not only faced up to him, but bested him in dominance, and done so calmly, even casually. Bates waited until he left, sighed, and turned to Bent-Tail.

      "Mr. Jones, I almost threw you out, too. That was deliberate provocation."

      "I told you I don't like bullies," Bent-Tail replied with a shrug.

      Bates hesitated, wanting to get back on subject, but curiosity won out.

      "Were you really arrested for manslaughter?"

      "Yes. But the charges were later dropped and I got an official apology from the chief of police. Turns out the boy faked his own death so he could run away from home."


      "Why they blamed me I've never been able to figure out. I never laid a hand on that particular kid. Much as he sometimes deserved it. He was one of those who knew enough not to try anything physical with me, and stuck to the psychological torment. Which was worse than the physical, of course, but..."

      "Getting back to your daughter," said Bates, as Bent-Tail trailed off. "I know she's going through puberty, now, but that still doesn't explain or justify her increased aggressiveness."

      "Our family doctor says she's having a worse time with raging hormones than most girls." Bent-Tail shrugged again. "Something that runs in my family, I'm afraid. You should have seen my sister at that age."

      "Does your doctor say there's anything you can do about the problem?"

      "Yes, and we are doing it. So far it's only had a mild effect, but the doctor says it takes a while to build. So we're still guardedly optimistic."

      "All right," sighed Bates. "For now, I'll put any official action on hold and see how she does."

      "Thank you," said Bent-Tail.

                  *                  *                  *

      "So how's the new brother coming along?" Jackie asked, not looking at all like someone with violent tendencies.

      The two girls were lounging in one of their favorite places, under a huge pine tree in the woods near the daycare center. It was quiet, shaded, private and smelled nice.

      "No, How's my father," Jill replied, innocently.

      "I meant Jonas, furball," the older girl chided.

      "All he does is eat 'n' sleep 'n' cry and poop," the myobu sighed, giving her tails a tiredly aggravated flip. "Not necessarily in that order. You're lucky you're the youngest."

      "No, 'cause that means the older ones can all kid me about how I was at that age," sighed Jackie.

      The fox girl smirked, completely unsympathetic.

      "Well, I am just really glad we have a three-day weekend coming up." Jackie lay back on the pine needles and stretched out, yawning loudly. "Hooray for teachers' conferences! I'm so sick of school. And especially that Potter boy. Jerk. Stupid jerk, even."

      "Whataya wanna do?" Jill asked, trying to get her friend's mind off her school social problems. "I mean, that's three whole days..."

      "How about going over to see the Franklins Saturday?"

      "They're gonna be outta town," said Jill. "Something about getting in touch with relatives, now that they can leave their home for a while."

      "They decided to go ahead with that? I mean, how are they gonna explain where they been all these years? And why they're not any older?"

      "Well, now that there's been Exposure, they figure they'll just say they got caught up in some magic, and only recently got loose."

      "Well, it's th' truth," said Jackie, grinning. "I still wonder why they're comin' out like that. I know my folks and your folks still keep what they are secret, except from people they can trust. And that doesn't include many of their relatives."

      Jill leaned over to peer at her friend, eyes narrowed in concentration, her long, white hair draping around her face, foxy ears perked up and seven white foxy tails held out almost straight. Her entire manner was the epitome of rapt attention.

      "What?" asked Jackie, warily.

      "You're getting a humongous zit on the side of your nose," Jill stated, flatly.


      The older girl went briefly cross-eyed trying to see, then frantically sat up and dug a mirror out of her backpack.

      "Oh, no," she groaned, staring at her blemished reflection. "I am not going to go through a three-day vacation with a pimple."

      "Don't think you've got much choice in the matter," snickered Jill.

      "Can you magic it away for me?" was Jackie's desperate plea.

      "Nope. Sorry. I'm not supposed to do things like that. Because, you remember what happened last time."

      "You mean when you turned my hair fuchsia? That was an accident."

      "Yeah. Now imagine something like that happening with your nose."

      "Maybe Lisa can fix it," sighed Jackie.

      "She'll just give you something to put on it which will take four days to work," said Jill, with a giggle. "She's not supposed to do magic on you, either."

      "Just because I'm a potential werewolf," muttered Jackie.

      "A potential werewolf who's in the period when most werewolves have their first changes," Jill pointed out rather pedantically.

      "Don't say 'period,'" winced Jackie. "My next one isn't supposed to be until after we get back to school, and I don't want to jinx things."

      "Poor baby," smirked Jill.

      "Yeah, yeah, you're a mighty creature of ancient magic and don't have to worry about the sort of biological inconveniences we mere mortals do," muttered Jackie.

      "Well, hey, we've got a whole 'nother set of 'em," Jill shrugged. "'Sides, I'll probably start having my periods soon. They just won't be as bad."

      "I just can't figure it," sighed Jackie. "Everybody in the family is a late bloomer but me, when it comes to the normal stuff, but an early bloomer with shifting. Well, except for Dad, who was a late bloomer with that, too. But they expect me to change when the others did."

      "Girls mature earlier than boys," Jill supplied.

      "I know that! It's just... I'm so different from my brothers and my dad in so many ways..."

      "You're just like them," said Jill, looking puzzled. "Well, except that you're a girl."

      "And may not be a werewolf."

      "You will be," Jill stated, firmly. "And I'm not the only one telling you that. Just don't try to rush things."

                  *                  *                  *

      Jacobs waved the spectralizer slowly around, sweeping its scan all over the house and surrounding grounds. This place was the most highly charged he'd come across yet. He was actually getting distinct images of patterns in the flow, unlike anywhere else he'd tried outside of the lab.

      "Come look at this," Petersen called out, softly.

      The bespectacled scientist quickly finished his scan, made sure the results had been recorded, then moved over to his partner. Who was pointing at some tracks in fresh mud.


      "Could be," said Petersen, his tone doubtful. "But I'd bet not. Especially since I also found these."

      Another set of tracks, nearby, was much larger.

      "That would be a record-setting wolf," said Jacobs, faintly.

      "Not a wolf," said Petersen. "See? How it's shaped differently, here and across here? And there's something else. There's only a pair of tracks."

      That took a moment for Jacobs to parse, and then he went pale.

      "So we've finally found them," he whispered, staring at the paw prints, able to see, now, how they were a hybrid between human and wolf. "At least some of those wild tales from this area are true."

      "Which means we better get out of here, quick."

      "Don't worry," said Jacobs, calmly. "We're still a week away from the full Moon."

      "Doctor, it rained hard during the day, yesterday. These tracks are less than 20 hours old."

      "Oh," said Jacobs, faintly again. "Uh, yes. Let's go. I need to analyze the scans, anyway."

      This they did, with the larger man nervously fingering his AMP unit. Sure, he'd checked it at the car, but even if it worked, that didn't mean it would work on a werewolf.

                  *                  *                  *

      The two girls wound up helping at the daycare center over their vacation, thanks to several of the employees wanting to take off. Saturday afternoon, Jill was teaching singing to some of the youngest while Jackie was in the play area, managing the kids her age and a bit younger. Unlike at her regular school, these all had enough wolf blood - some were even wolves with human blood - that they recognized and obeyed authority without needless aggression. At least, once the pecking order had been determined. Given Jackie's age, size and relations, that made her alpha in this group.

      "Okay, that's break time!" Jackie called out, as her watch beeped.

      She watched them scurry into the kitchen for snacks, then gave vent to a quick, loud sigh, shoulders dropping in an exaggerated posture of fatigue. She was just finishing taking a long drink of water from the garden hose when her foxy friend arrived, looking flustered. Jackie thought about turning the hose on her, but Jill looked pretty serious so she decided to do that some other time.

      "We need to get over to the Franklins' place," Jill said, intently.

      "Are they back already?"

      "No. That's why we need to get over there. One of their guard spells notified me that someone had been monkeying around the house."

      "It came to you, 'cause they're away?"

      Jill nodded.

      "Okay, let's go. If we hurry we can be back before they need us again here."

      The trip was a quick one, far more direct than when they had originally found the old house. When they arrived all looked well. At first.

      "Look, boot prints," said Jackie, crouching and pointing. "Big ones, and medium ones."

      "And they're all around the wolf tracks!" was Jill's alarmed contribution.

      Jackie said a bad word, then reflexively looked to see if an adult had heard her.

      "Not just wolf tracks," she observed, after her check. "There's a lot of midform tracks, too."

      "So somebody came through here and found stuff which could cause trouble," groaned Jill. "Why didn't the MYOB spells work?"

      "Are they still up?"

      Jill did a quick check and nodded.

      "Okay, it could just be an accident. Which means they probably won't be able to find this place again. C'mon; let's backtrack and see where they came in."

      "Let's go get some adults to do that," said Jill, looking worried. "I've got a bad feeling..."

      "You're always getting a bad feeling," muttered Jackie. "C'mon! You're a magical fox girl! Even if they're still here, you can handle a couple of normal guys. And if we need help, your mother is at the center, teaching aikido and stuff; you can yell to her for help, and she can bring the cavalry. Oh, you better go human, though."

      As it turned out, the intruders weren't still there. The footprints began and ended at a set of tire tracks.

      "Looks like they parked here, on the shoulder, and walked almost straight to the house," said Jackie, feeling her nonexistent hackles rise. "How did they know?"

      "There's... something wrong, here," said Jill, reflexively shifting to her seven-tailed midform. "It's like there's a blank spot in the magic."

      "You mean the magic's gone?"

      "No... more like... wiped clean. There's no pattern to the fields, just a sort of general fog." The myobu shook her head. "Am I making any sense?"

      "Yeah," said Jackie, who had long experience hearing magic users talk about their specialty. She rubbed absently at her nose. "Like something erased all the programs."

      "If you don't stop that it's going to get infected."

      "It itches!"

      Jill walked back and forth several times, then in a circle.

      "It's just right here. Where their tracks showed they stopped and did some stuff. In a circle. The blank spot, I mean."

      "Like they were testing something which erases magic," said Jackie, nodding. She reached to her nose again, winced, and jerked her hand down. "Wow. What would something like that do to you or your dad? Or another type of shapeshifter?"

      Jill scowled, thinking hard.

      "I'm not sure. It shouldn't be anything serious. It doesn't remove magic, and all the living things in the circle seem normal. It probably just clears spells. Oh! Yeah! I see! It's like a cleansing!"

      "A which?"

      "It's a magical effect used to remove patterns of magic. Spells, embedded effects, natural flows. Sort of clears out all that stuff, like a reset button. It's used a lot for when some enchantment goes wrong, or there are just too many cluttering a place. Yeah, it should be harmless."

      "This is just too weird," said Jackie, shivering. "Let's get some adults."

      "I'm with you!"

                  *                  *                  *

      "Yeah, this is bad," said Daniel, Jackie's oldest brother. "Could be very bad. We'll tell the others, and let them decide how to handle it."

      Jackie and Jill were actually relieved to have someone else confirm their diagnosis of the situation, even though that was bad news.

      "So we aren't in trouble for running off?" queried Jill.

      Jackie elbowed her in the ribs.

      "No, you're still in trouble for running off," said Tina. "Just not in as much trouble as you would have been if you hadn't told us about it."

      "Awww..." groaned Jackie.

                  *                  *                  *

      The knock on the door was unexpected. Tina hurried over as she pulled her shirt back on, muttering in irritation at having the feeding of her child interrupted. Fortunately the boy had been almost finished; Tina gave him a quick burp and put him back in bed. He should be okay for a while. She pulled the door open, and stared at the stranger on the other side. Not because she was a stranger, but because she was a brown-furred kitsune, and one with six tails.

      "Welcome, honored one," said Tina, suddenly remembering her etiquette. She bowed, and stepped back, inviting the other in with a gesture.

      The kitsune looked startled. However, she recovered immediately and graciously accepted the invitation. Once the door was closed, however, she turned to Tina with an odd, frozen expression.

      "How do you recognize me for what I am?" she asked, in heavily accented English.

      "My husband and others have educated me about your kind," said Tina, modestly. "If you will wait here, I will..."

      "No," said the kitsune, impatiently. "I mean, how is it that you can see what I am?"

      "I... That's a knack I have, which has been improved through use," Tina explained.

      How entered the room, for once dressed formally. Since Tina had just seen him in his studio, spattered with clay, she figured he'd detected the stranger's presence and magicked himself clean and properly dressed to greet her. He repeated Tina's bow and welcome speech. The other kitsune returned his bow. There was an uncomfortable pause, and Tina decided she better take over as host.

      "Would you like some tea? I have several fine blends, including some imported from Japan. I can also prepare rice if you would like."

      "Tea would be fine, thank you," said the kitsune.

      Tina hurried into the kitchen, trying not to be insulted. She realized that the stranger had accepted the tea simply as a way of getting her out of the room. Many supernatural creatures treated humans as something inferior, an attitude she resented. Some who had thus treated Tina had come to regret doing so, and not all of them at her hands, either.

      Minutes later Tina returned with a tray holding the makings of tea, including a steaming pot. She took each kitsune's request for blend, placed the tea bags in the cups and poured. Then stood back to wait.

      "Thank you, Tina," said How. He gestured at their guest. "This is Lady Jun, of the High Court. She is here about Jill."

      What's she done now? Tina wondered, resisting an urge to roll her eyes. "We are honored by your presence."

      "Yes," said Lady Jun absently, tending to her tea. "I was simply asking how soon she can be ready to leave."

      Jill started, and looked at How.

      "She says that the Court feels it's time for Gillian to get proper training," said How, voice trembling just a bit.

      "Nice of them to ask us about it," muttered Tina, giving up on the fancy manners and glaring at the stranger.

      Lady Jun ignored her, or perhaps didn't even notice. Her attention was on How.

      "She can not receive the training in either using her powers or proper etiquette here," said the kitsune. "Therefore, she must attend classes at the Court."

      "Except that she is receiving the proper training in both subjects here," How countered. "You have my word on that."

      "You are only a four-tail, and a common kitsune. You cannot possibly provide training to a seven-tail myobu."

      "She'll be a long time coming into her full power," How countered. "I am still more than her equal. And I am not the only one training her. Many noble elves of many kinds have helped or have said they will help."

      Which may be part of the problem, Tina realized.

      "This matter is not open to discussion," Lady Jun stated, flatly. "It has already been decided."

      "Then I'll just have to appeal to a higher court," said How, smiling pleasantly, mannerism he had learned from Bent-Tail.

      Lady Jun started, then stared at him with contempt.

      "What court could possibly be higher than that of Inari?"

      "They didn't brief you very well," said Tina, scathingly. "We have friends of at least that high a rank, and know how to contact others who are higher."

      "This sort of impudence is exactly why the child must be taken from here." Lady Jun set her tea cup carefully down, then looked directly at Tina for the first time since entering the apartment. She made a graceful gesture with her right hand, and said a Word.

      Tina blinked as the kitsune's magic struck her. Then the kitsune blinked as the human shook off the effects of the mesmerizing spell. Tina snarled and held out her hand.

      "Sword, please."

      A boken, a wooden practice sword, appeared in her hand by magic. And that wasn't the only enchantment on the blade. Lady Jun's eyes went wide with alarm as her mystic senses took in just what the other was holding.

      "No mere human should have possession of such a weapon!"

      "Hardly 'mere,'" said How, grinning proudly at Tina. "This wife of mine has stared down vampires, floored werewolves with her bare hands and driven an ogre off with that stick of hers. Admittedly, she got hurt in that last adventure, but so did the ogre, and it was the one who ran."

      The kitsune examined Tina with a new respect. And tilted her head towards the human, just a bit.

      "A champion, then," she stated. "And indeed a fit mother for one of ours."

      Tina thought about making a snide remark, but instead relaxed, lowered her blade, smiled and returned the nod. Exactly to the same degree.

      "I think you can see, now, that perhaps the High Court is lacking some important information," said How, smirking. "Would you please return to them and ask for a conference, so that both sides might share what they know?"

      Lady Jun, still staring uneasily back and forth between Tina and her sword, nodded.

      "Yes," she said. She retrieved her cup and sipped calmly at the remaining tea. "I think there has, indeed, been a mistake made."

      After she was gone Tina verged on throwing a tantrum.

      "Just who do these people think they are?" she roared.

      "Who they are is important people," said How, ungrammatically. "Listen, we need to talk to Lisa. See if she'll persuade Bast to intercede."

      "Yeah, that would probably do it," Tina acknowledged, calming. "She likes us, and was the one who said in the first place that we should get to keep Jill. She should be able to settle this."

      "I hope," said How, holding up crossed fingers. "Inari is seriously high up in the architecture."

                  *                  *                  *

      "Interesting," said Jacobs, examining the computer screen display of the readings he'd made with the spectralizer. He followed a glowing stream which flowed out from the main body with his pen. "That tail of magical energy seems to head straight in this direction, for as far as can be seen."

      "Next time, then, we should come in from that direction," said Petersen. "See what's there. Maybe keep ourselves from being ambushed at the house."

      "Yes, exactly," said the scientist. He called up a map of Louisville on his screen. "Hmmm, nearest thing in that direction is another house, only it's zoned commercial. Oh, dear God! It's a daycare center!"

      "You're kidding," gasped Petersen. "You don't think..."

      "I was hoping those legends were just legends," said Jacobs, desperately. "Maybe it's just a coincidence, the magical protuberance just happens to pass over that building."

      "Don't count on it," said Petersen, voice low and menacing. "We better move our schedule up some. If they are scouting out those kids for a meal, the sooner we uncover them and notify the authorities, the better."

      "Uh, yes," muttered Jacobs. "Tomorrow is Sunday. That should help. People at church, supernaturals more wary, that sort of thing."

                  *                  *                  *

      "Of course I will," said Lisa. "I delivered her, after all. I have a proprietary interest."

      That last was said with a smile, one which Tina and How found themselves mirroring.

      "I can't give you any guarantees - I wouldn't presume to speak for Bast without asking first - but I know she favors Gillian staying with you from previous conversations."

      "That's good news," sighed Tina.

      "One word of caution, though," said Lisa. "If I ask for her judgement, you must accept it, even if it seems unfavorable."

      "Of course," said How.

      "Don't say 'of course,'" Lisa told him, staring him straight in the eye. "There is a good chance that Bast will want your daughter to learn how to better use her powers. And that might include letting her go to the court of Inari. If you are going to petition Bast in this matter, you must accept her decision."

      "Oh," said Tina, paling a bit. "I... hadn't thought of that."

      "It's unlikely. Just keep in mind that it could happen. And if you object to what she decides, you could lose her support entirely."

      "I think it's a risk we need to take," said How, for once serious.

      Tina nodded, reaching out to hold her husband's hand.

      "All right," said Lisa, nodding in return. "I'll ask her this evening. I'll send word along as soon as I have it."

                  *                  *                  *

      The SUV prowled slowly around the neighborhood, the two men inside each watching in their own way. Petersen with his eyes, and Jacobs with his instruments.

      "That tail of magical energy drops straight down to the ground inside the daycare center," said the scientist, mystified. "Though it seems to be moving around a bit. I wonder if it means anything at all, or if it may be something unconnected to the werewolves. There's still so much we don't know..."

      "Then we should go back to that old house," said Petersen. "Do a more thorough recon."

      "Yes," said, Jacobs nodding. "Yes, it doesn't appear there's any immediate need for action, so gathering more information is a good idea. Still, coming in from a different direction would be prudent."

      "Definitely," said Petersen, looking for a place to park.

                  *                  *                  *

      "I can't believe they actually gave us permission to look for more clues," said Jill, happy to be out in the woods.

      "Face it, kiddo," sighed Jackie. "They didn't give us permission. They told us to do it as part of our punishment. Since they've got all those other, older folks checking further out, and since we can get on and off the property without causing the alarms to go off, they're just using us to save themselves trouble."

      "Well, the Franklins did ask me to keep an eye on the place until they get back," Jill countered. "Make sure nothing goes wrong, or fixing what goes wrong if I can, or keeping it from getting worse..."

      The two girls were near the Franklins' house, circling around the edge of the enchanted property. So far they hadn't found any further clues, or evidence that the strangers had returned.

      "They'll be back when?" asked Jackie, as they crossed a muddy lane through the trees.

      "Next Wednesday," Jill replied, carefully lifting her fluffy white tails free of the mud as she gingerly stepped through it.

      Jackie, in the lead, started to clamber up the bank on the far side.

      "Well, so far this is a bust," sighed Jackie. "We better head back soon."

      "Yeah. We're almost back where we startIPE!"

      The myobu jumped, as her speech shifted abruptly into a shriek of pain and surprise.

      "What! What! What!" Jackie yelled, jumping down from the bank and grabbing her friend.

      Jill pulled her hand from her leg and held it out to the older girl.

      "It's a dart," Jackie observed.

      The pair stared at each other for a moment. Then they both turned and bolted as they realized what that meant.

      Nearby, from where they crouched behind concealing undergrowth, the two men suddenly sprang upright.

      "After them!" yelled Jacobs. "We have to be nearby when the drug takes effect!"

      "Damn!" yelled Petersen. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it! An albino werewolf!"

      "And it's a juvenile!" Jacobs chortled breathlessly. "We should be able to handle her. I hope she doesn't hurt that other girl before the drugs kick in."

      The girls could hear that they were being chased, and put on all speed. They actually pulled ahead for a bit, due to their familiarity with the locale. However, the drug was working fast, and Jill soon started to falter.

      "Come on!" gasped Jackie. "We're almost to the Franklins'!"

      "You go on," murmured Jill, sleepily staggering to a stop. "I'm gonna take a nap."

      "No! You can't lie down!"

      Actually, Jill started to fall down, but Jackie caught her. Draping the smaller girl over a shoulder in a fireman's carry, Jackie resumed running. Unfortunately, she was much slower now, and less agile. She took chances, trying to keep up the pace by being less careful. And that led to her falling down a steep, muddy slope into a muddy stream bed. On the way, she lost her hold on the myobu. And the men were closing fast...

      "Check the girl," panted Jacobs, barely managing to avoid following Jackie's quick trip down. "I'll make sure the werewolf is out!"

      Petersen approached the just rising Jackie, and suddenly found himself under attack. He was surprised when the girl launched a hard side kick towards his gut, but his reflexes let him dodge effectively. A brief flurry of activity later he had Jackie in a firm joint lock, astounded that he'd had so much difficulty with someone so young.

      "Hey, hey, I'm not going to hurt you," he gasped. "We just wanted to protect you from the werewolf!"

      "She's my friend!" screamed Jackie. "You better not hurt her!"

      "We just want to examine her," said Petersen, trying to reassure the girl, who was obviously panicked.

      Jackie decided that she better play along for the moment, and stopped struggling. The big man carefully walked her up the slope to where the scientist was scanning Jill with some sort of instrument.

      "She's a fox," said Petersen, getting his first good look at Jill.

      "She's much too young for that kind of talk," huffed Jacobs.

      "No, I mean she looks more like some kind of Arctic fox than a wolf," Petersen snapped.

      "Humph. Well, I suppose that could be due to her age. Then again, if werewolves are some sort of sport or freak, due to mutation or inbreeding, they could very well have members who don't follow lupine morphology."

      "She's not a werewolf!" said Jackie, exasperated.

      Jacobs reached into his back and pulled out some rather intimidating equipment. Jackie recognized certain pieces from the times she'd had blood samples taken.

      "Leave her alone!" the girl shouted, resuming her struggles.

      "I'm not going to harm her," said Jacobs, placatingly, laying the blood sampling equipment aside as he pulled out a pressure cuff. "Just want to learn what makes her a werewolf."

      The smaller, older man rolled Jill over, face down and arms stretched out in front of her, and closed shackles around her wrists and ankles. Chains went in opposite directions from those to nearby trees. Then he began taking Jill's pressure and other vitals.

      "This is just so she won't hurt us if she wakes up before we're done," Jacobs explained, meaning the restraints. "Werewolves are dangerous when cornered."

      "But she's not a werewolf!" was Jackie's plaintive reply.

      "Surely you can see what she has become?"

      "Well, yeah," snapped Jackie. "A cute little fox girl."

      "That makes two of us who think she's a fox," said Petersen.

      "Now this is interesting," muttered Jacobs, distracted. "The spectralizer shows echoes of her tail, as if she had several of them."

      "She has seven, you idiot!" yelled Jackie. "Can't you see them?!"

      The scientist ignored her, instead lifting Jill's central tail and observing the result on the odd device's screen.

      "Only this one moves. The others appear to be independent, rather than echoes. Perhaps some sort of social display?"

      "She's a kitsune," was Jackie's exasperated statement. "The more tails, the more important - and the more powerful - they are."

      "She told you this, did she?" asked Jacobs.

      "Yeah," said Jackie, suddenly wary, and deciding not to mention that others had confirmed the information.

      "And you believed her," muttered Petersen.

      "She's not going to lie to me about something like that. Not t'me."

      "Look, I know you consider her a friend," was Jacobs' earnest counter, "but she's just using you. Werewolves do that. When it suited her, she'd turn on you!"

      He reached for the tourniquet.

      Jackie's anger and outrage over the situation, especially the assault on her friend, continued to build but it was undirected, leaving her trembling impotently. She felt like she was going to explode, from sheer frustration if nothing else; she just couldn't break free of the big man, and these jerks weren't listening to her. Her anger soared, and she screamed. Then, in one clarifying moment, like a cacophonous orchestra coming together to produce a beautiful chord, she knew. And stopped struggling.

      "You idiot," said Jackie, smiling just like her father. "She's not the werewolf. I'm the werewolf."

      With a howl of pure joy, she shifted.

      She elbowed Petersen in the gut, able to do that now as much because of her greater size as because of her increased strength. He went down. Jackie briefly contemplated mayhem upon his sorry body, but decided the other guy might use Jill as a hostage.

      That was actually on the scientist's mind, as Jackie advanced towards him. Fortunately, fear made him instead back away. Jackie moved forward and stood over her friend, growling at the scientist. There was a standoff in progress. She wouldn't leave Jill to attack him, but he wouldn't move, probably because he was paralyzed with fright, or maybe he didn't want to leave his companion, who sounded like he was still trying to remember how to breathe. Then a squirrel dropped down from overhead, shifting in the air into a brown-furred kitsune who landed nimbly on his feet.

      "Found them!" How called out. "And that was Jackie we heard! She's changed!"

      How squatted by his daughter and looked her over, then glanced worriedly up at the werewolf.

      "Jackie, what's wrong with Jill?"

      "Ah, they darted her. She's fine, just stoned."

      On cue, Jill giggled and moved slightly in her sleep, her bonds rattling. As the two other monsters turned reflexively to look at her, Jacobs saw his chance to flee. He kept glancing over his shoulder as he ran, which explains why he came to a sudden stop, due to encountering an unexpected obstacle: A fur-covered wall. He looked up, startled. And kept looking up, a surprising distance, until he finally came to the face.

      "Y'know, when I see someone running in terror from my daughter, I have to ask myself a question," rumbled Bent-Tail. "'What did they do to make her mad?'"

      "For one thing, he's hurt my daughter," snapped Tina, stepping angrily around the giant werewolf. She held her hand out. "Sword, please."

      Tina's enchanted boken appeared in her hand, shimmering with eldritch power. Jacobs fainted.

      "Great," muttered Tina, sourly, her vengeance aborted.

      "Daddy!" Jackie roared.

      The young werewolf cleared most of the distance between them in one ecstatic bound. She would have made the whole trip in that jump except that she went too high and grazed some overhead foliage.

      "Whoah, there, youngster!" Bent-Tail laughed. He shook his head at the shower of debris raining down on his feral daughter, as she scrambled back to her feet. "I know you feel pretty good right now, but you need to hold back a bit until you get your sea legs."

      "Yes, Daddy," said Jackie, bouncing on her digitigrade feet, her joy not dampened in the least.

      Tina, meanwhile, rushed to her daughter and husband as quickly as she could given the steep, muddy slope.

      "Is she all right?" Tina snapped.

      "She's fine," said How, reassuringly, as he removed the bonds. "They didn't hurt her. Just sedated her."

      Tina rose, doing a good impression of a werewolf with her growl, and started to head over to the slowly recovering henchman. How pulled her back.

      "Honey, it's over. Let's let The Court of Fangs decide their punishment."

      "And you two are definitely invited," said Bent-Tail, tucking his still-furry daughter under one arm, somehow managing to be playful and serious at the same time. "How, if you'll see that they remain unconscious, I'll put the call out. I'll contact Lisa, too, so she can check our kids, just to make sure they're all right."

                  *                  *                  *

      Hours after the girls were safe at home, the bound, gagged and blindfolded culprits were roughly hauled into a clearing in the woods by a pair of werewolves. Extra cords were used to attach their bindings to a pair of trees. When their blindfolds were removed they saw that they were surrounded by over a dozen werewolves in mid-form. Also there were the four-tailed fox man, the woman with the sword, and a cat woman. The men were facing a crude stone slab, which lay on top of a small, grassy mound like a table.

      "Wh-what are you going to do to us?" was Jacobs' timid inquiry, once the gags were removed.

      "Punish you," growled the largest of the werewolves, a giant who towered over the others.

      "Don't we get a chance to defend ourselves?" pleaded Petersen.

      "How can you defend kidnaping two young girls? Unless you're going to try and persuade us that wasn't really you."

      The men cowered, realizing that they could not justify their actions before this court.

      "Here's what we've decided," said Bent-Tail. "We’ve already destroyed your van and the equipment in that house you were renting, so there’s no physical evidence of what you found. We're going to let you keep your knowledge of the existence of supernaturals. We figure you've earned that, and it's so deeply ingrained that removing it would probably leave you non-functional, mentally. We're also going to let you keep your general memories of these past few days. However, we're erasing all memories of any details which might lead you back to us."

      "You can't do that!" shrieked Jacobs. "This a total abrogation of the due process of law."

      "You should have thought about that before you grabbed my daughter," rumbled Bent-Tail, causing the humans to cower. "Where was your respect for the law then? If you act outside human law, that puts your balls in our court. And that brings us to the rest of your punishment."

      Bent-Tail stepped over to the ceremonial slab and picked up a pair of crystal daggers. The two humans tensed in fear as he returned, but even their worst imaginings fell short of what actually happened. The giant werewolf abruptly plunged the daggers into their hearts.

      The men screamed... then stopped, as they realized they weren't harmed. They looked down, and saw that the daggers had vanished.

      "If you ever harm a child - human or otherwise - again, what almost happened will happen. Immediately. No appeal. No parole."

      The men were released from the trees still bound, and had their blindfolds and gags replaced. They were led away.

      "I think you let them off too easy," muttered one of the normal-sized werewolves. "There's no telling what they'd have done to those children if you hadn't caught them in time."

      "But we did catch them in time," said Bent-Tail. "This way, they'll be alive to spread the word to others of their kind that we know they're there and are watching for them. And that we have no tolerance for those who might harm our children. Besides, my daughter had her first change today and I'm feeling lenient."

      "And what if they find some way of removing those daggers?" the other persisted.

      "I think the Niven Effect will prevent that," said Bent-Tail, carefully straight-faced. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a celebration to attend."


      This story is Copyright 2003 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to use this story for anything beyond personal enjoyment must obtain permission from the author, who can be reached at: