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"… lately," Jenny said, "I've been feeling a lot more dragonish."

The other nine people sitting around the circle nodded and made sympathetic noises, as Agent Griggs suppressed a groan.

"I've been hoarding cash," Jenny said, "and feeling greedy and gluttonous. Yesterday, I cooked a meatloaf… and I ate it all in one night. And I've been really wondering what it would be like to sleep on a bed of coins…"

So what you're saying is that you're a fat, greedy bitch? Griggs thought.

"… I really don't know what to do. On the one hand, I want to express my dragonish side a bit more. But on the other hand, I've gained ten pounds, and my friends and family think I'm being weird…"

That's because you are weird, you stupid cow.

"Well," Loredinal, Master of the Summer Court of the High Elvish Legions (better known as Tom Smith of La Jolla) said, "Can any of us think of anything that could help our draconian sister with her problems?"

"I can!" said the peppy young Kasumiko (born Vanessa Charleston of San Diego). "Jenny, maybe you should try roleplaying things out? If you ever feel like kidnapping a maiden, maybe you could have a friend volunteer to get tied up for a bit?" She bounced up and down in her chair, the fake fox ears she wore waving a bit in response.

"I don't know if my friends would be up for that," Jenny said, smiling. "And honestly, it's not really the whole kidnapping maidens thing that's getting to me. More the eating too much and wanting to hoard things…"

"Nightshadow?" Loredinal said to Griggs. "You've been quiet. Anything to add?"

"Hm? Not really," Griggs said. "Sorry I've been distracted lately."

"Ah. Problems with the rest of the Vampire Council?" Loredinal asked sympathetically.

More like problems with the rest of you delusional fucks. "You know I can't talk about that, without breaking my vows," Griggs said slowly and carefully.

Everyone else around the circle nodded sympathetically. "Well," Loredinal said. "I think we've done some good work. Just something to keep in mind, though: AWTOK has been snooping around recently, and we're worried that they may try a snatch-and-grab. Remember what happened to Bianca…"

That angry teenage girl who you swore was kidnapped by government agents, but turned up in a crack house in Compton?

"… and be safe. Meeting adjourned."

Everyone stood up and started to gather their things. "By the way," Jenny said. "I'm feeling hungry. Anyone want to come with me to get a burger?"

"Meat? Ugh," Loredinal shuddered.

"I can't eat gluten," Razorfang the White-clawed pointed out.

"I'll come!" Kasumiko giggled. "Wanna come along, Nightshadow?"

Maybe, if it meant I could put a bullet between your eyes. "I don't eat meat, remember?" was all Griggs said.

"Awww… that's right. Welp. Time to go! Ta ta!" She grabbed Jenny by the arm and dragged the quiet girl out of the room.

Thank God, Griggs sighed.

He drove three blocks away before pulling into a parking lot and taking out his cell phone. He checked his contacts, found the number for his AWTOK handler, and hit the "dial" button.

AWTOK here, the voice said, after the first ring. Report.

"They're a bunch of stupid kids playing elves and dragons," Griggs sighed. "I've been spending the past three weeks going to their stupid meetings. Can I stop now?"

Have you confirmed whether any of them are actual past-lifers or nonhumans? the voice asked.

"What? No. I haven't confirmed anything, because there's nothing to confirm! It's just a bunch of stupid kids playing make-believe!" Griggs repeated.

Unacceptable. Capture them and bring them in for further experimentation.

"… damn it, are you kidding me?" Griggs groaned. "You want me to bring in a bunch of stupid kids just in case one of them turns out to actually be some kind of magical fairy person?"

You have your orders. AWTOK out.

Griggs groaned and rested his head against the steering wheel as he heard the dial tone.

"Shit," he groaned. "Now I gotta rent a van."

"… oh, hey, Nightshadow!" Loredinal said, smiling. "You're here early."

"Was just thinking that maybe I could help out a bit, with the snacks or something," Griggs said. "I've kind of been a bit of a jerk recently."

"Understandable. Vampire court politics being what they are. Kasumiko is in the kitchen, making guacamole. Maybe you can help her out?"

"Sounds good." Griggs said. His index finger gently rested against the small vial in his coat pocket.

In the kitchen, the cute young woman with the fox ears on her head was humming quietly to herself as she pitted and peeled a large number of avocados. "Nightshadow!" she squealed, before giving Griggs a big hug. "Good to see you!"

"Loredinal was just asking if you needed some help with your guacamole?" Griggs asked.

"Nah. I'm just setting up my second batch of avocados so that I can make a second batch quick when the first one runs out," Kasumiko said, giggling. "Why don't you take this bowl out to the snacks table?"

"Sure thing," Griggs said. He calmly picked up the bowl of guacamole, carried it out to the snacks table, then, after glancing to either side to make sure he wasn't being watched, opened up the vial of liquid and poured it into the bright green dip. He took a moment to stir it in with the big wooden spoon, and, having completed his mission, slipped the vial back into his coat pocket and…

"So, what is it?" Kasumiko asked coldly. "Flunitrazepam? Gamma-hydroxybutyrate?"

Griggs spun around just in time to get the darts of Kasukimo's TAZER in his chest. He fell to the ground screaming as the lightning coursed through his body.

"LORE!" Kasumiko shouted.

"On it!" Loredinal shouted back. He raced into the room, carrying some kind of crazy headpiece that looked like a colander with a ton of wires attached to it, and put it on the still-twitching Griggs' head.

"You motherfuckers!" Griggs shouted. "Fucking… I WILL FIND AND CONSUME THEM! NOTHING CAN HALT THE HUNGER OF THE AUTOCH!"

"I'm losing it!" Loredinal shouted. "Damn it! Containment is failing…"

"Exec— SHIT!" Kasumiko shouted, just as Griggs levitated two feet off the ground and lunged for her, his mouth stretching impossibly wide open, revealing a gaping maw filled with razor-edged teeth. Loredinal dove for him, tried to pull him off, only to be flung across the room by a massively powerful arm, slumping, unconscious, to the ground. Kasumiko struggled and screamed, trying to reach her TAZER, but the thing that had been Griggs was too damn strong, and it was choking the life out of her, and her vision was blurring and starting to darken, and…

… and then Grigg's head vanished, bitten clean off by a gigantic saurian head covered in adamantine scarlet scales.

The headless corpse of Griggs fell to the ground, as the dragon that had killed him spit its head out onto the carpet. A thousand motes of shimmering light, and Jenny Lee fell to the ground, blood staining her mouth and the front of her shirt. She rolled over and threw up on the kitchen floor, then started to cry.

"Shit," Kasumiko groaned. "Fucking shit…"

"… how long until you think that it'll find another host?" wondered Agent Lore of Assessment Team 296 ("Eagle Pavise").

"The Autoch? No idea. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes a month. Sometimes only a day." Agent Miko put her hand on her partner's shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "We'll find it. Look on the bright side. No one got offed by it this time."

"We've still got a lot of amnestics to give out," Lore pointed out, "and a PTE to evaluate."

"Why don't you let me handle that part?" Miko said. "You help coordinate the cleanup."

"Of course," Lore sighed, but he straightened up and walked back into the house to help the Laundrymen deal with the evidence.

Miko took a moment to compose herself, then walked across the back yard to where the miserable-looking Jenny still sat on the stone bench, the front of her black T-shirt still covered in blood, bone, and vomit. She shuddered as Miko sat down next to her and put an arm around the younger girl.

"Nice work, kiddo," Miko whispered, stroking her friend's hair. "Nice work."

"I don't know what happened I just came in to help out and saw him choking you and I got so mad and the next thing I knew I was thirty feet tall and I was biting his head off and…"

… and then it was time for the weeping, and the screaming, and the angry shouting, and then the nervous laughing. It was a good long while before Jenny was looking a bit more like her old self again. But it did, eventually, happen.

"… well," Miko laughed, ruffling her friend's hair. "… I hope you've had your fill of damsels in distress for a while."

"For a long while," Jenny agreed, laughing nervously.

She was going to be okay, Miko thought, and she stood up. "Look, Jenny, I gotta go help clean this stuff up," she said. "There's a guy coming… think of him kind of like a social worker for people like you… and he'll help you get situated in your new life. Now that you're an 'out' para-entity, you're going to have to deal with some extra shit."

"All right," Jenny said, taking a deep breath. "Will I ever see you again?"

I hope not, Miko thought, but she gave Jenny a weak smile and stood up to go back into the house.



"Are you really a kitsune? And is Loredinal really a…"

"Prince of the Elves?" Miko laughed. "Past lives and alien souls? Nah. I don't believe in that stuff. It's make-believe."

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