Course Corrected

4:10am PDT
East San Francisco

"Nathan!" Karla glanced around then sighed. "He's not here, Donovan. Neither is Fox Parker for that matter. Just … a lot of dead people. God, this place is a mess. I'm starting to get pissed off. I mean, I'd be happy with left overs at this point, but… I'm not even getting that. Look at the body count!" She waved her hand, teleporting the dead mercenaries three feet beneath the ground, under the concrete floor of the warehouse. She reached for her cellphone and checked the time. "Okay. At nine, we're supposed to be on Nevada Street in west Sausalito. He said we cannot be late."

"As honored as I am to stand with solidarity alongside your peers, I am only in this to find out what happened to the Esoteric Society. I want justice, not revenge, Karla." Donovan rubbed his forehead. "So much for sleep."

"You're such a mensch, darling. And you have your work cut out for you." Karla waved her hand at another mercenary, teleporting him into the concrete beneath their feet. "From here on out, things get dangerous. So let's get you some coffee and breakfast to go, babe. We might actually find out how many mercenaries are under Falcon's employ."

"Not sure I like the sound of that. Has he spoken to an oracle?"

"Yeah," she said. "YiaYia, the cute little old lady with the Greek accent." Karla used a telekinetic blast to bowl over a group of boxes that were in their way. "Well… I mean, heh, she is Greek, after all. Anyway…"

"I knew, rightly so, when he released you into my custody, at the jewelry store, than I was going to be getting in over my head forthwith."

"Oh, there you go – whenever you get just a little upset, you jump right back to that archaic yackity-smackity. Well, at least you're not speaking old English. Last thing I'd want to hear is you spouting, 'Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard.' So… I'll take what I can get."

Donovan eyed her for a moment then a smirk crossed his face. "Is that… Cædmon's Hymn?"

She offered a wry grin in reply and nodded. "I keep forgetting you were born in England. So you were an educated Anglo-Saxon man. Good for you. Don't sing it."

"I wouldn't dare," he told her. "You wouldn't wish to hear me carry a tune. And besides, I have no reason to 'praise the guardian of the kingdom of heaven.' 'Twas ere thy time. As well as my own. Now, stop changing the subject. What did YiaYia say that we should expect?"

"Well, um…" She licked her lips and turned to face the last silver van in the warehouse, over by one of the metal rolling doors. "Nathan talked to her, not me. What he told me was a little over-the-top. I was afraid if I gave you all the juicy gossip, you might back out."

"Details, Karla. Speak straightaway."

"Well, YiaYia told him that shit gets real in Sausalito. A small airplane will be crashing in a field where Nevada Street meets Rodeo Avenue. Nathan said the first to arrive would be a local fire department that is near to the crash site. You and I have to be there before those guys arrive. Then he said we're going to have to protect the first responders from the mercenaries who will want to seize artifacts from the plane."

"Dear God, how long do we have to protect the crash site?"

"Until some FBI guy shows up. Nathanial says the guy is going to help us on the Q.T., because the old man saved his life last night around dusk – or as you might say, 'eventide.' He also said I'm supposed to find something that will look like an emerald. It will be about the size of my thumb. Nathan said I need to take it and keep it. He said that it will give my telekinesis a boost, and that we can't let it fall in Falcon's hands. He was pretty adamant about that part. He said, even if we mess up everything else we must keep that green stone away from Falcon's men. Then he went into a tangent about how Falcon would be unstoppable with telekinesis. So…"

"What will Nathanial be doing?" He stepped over a puddle of blood where the body appeared to have had its throat ripped open by teeth. The man disappeared, as did most of the blood, leaving only a slight discoloration on the concrete. He glanced back at the succubus.

She smiled. "Who do you think is going to be crashing the plane?" Karla saw his incredulous expression. She put her hands up defensively then said, "Nathan will be using Falcon's men to take down their own air plane due west of the Sausalito. I'm not sure how, but that's what he said. The old man also told me that it's a possibility, if he couldn't find Sinopa's object at the ship, or here at this warehouse, that the Japanese artifact might be on the plane. If so, I should bring it to her out at the Vortac Tower. She'll be meeting Nathan out there around nine in the morning, so… not to worry, with Sinopa in the area, I'm sure Nathan will be safe."

"Very well. But we're not teleporting all the way to Sausalito. You almost made me sick when you took me to Millbrae, via teleportation, two weeks ago. We're driving. Rather, I will drive."

"How macho." Karla looked around the remains of the warehouse and shook her head. "I hate cleaning up after a party, especially when it's one I couldn't attend. I'm kinda' hoping Falcon's mercenaries show up if the plane really does crash like Nathan thinks. I'm getting antsy. I've missed three kickass battles in a row. First, those losers attacked Johann when his plane landed an hour before mine. Then the rumble at Pier-80 a few hours ago… then this huge rumble, here at the warehouse. I'm itching to throw people around."

"If this prophecy comes true, we'll be fighting in broad daylight." Donovan sighed. "I'll do my best to hide your actions with my shadows. But it isn't easy."

"Oh, Donovan, you're badass. I've seen you use a shadow during the day before."

"A brief lesson for you Karla: A 'lumen' is a unit to measure the brightness of light. A 'lux' is one lumen per square meter of space. A candle is roughly twelve lumens. You saw me struggle when using shadows to create a wall between us and several flame throwers. The sun, on a cloudless day, is greater than one hundred thousand lux. Creating a wall to hide your war against human mercenaries is far more difficult than you realize."

"Guess we should get espresso with your coffee, then. I'll treat. And relax! We'll be surrounded by trees," she told him with a hint of a smile. "Trees, babe. And as a bonus, that will give you lots of places to pull shadows from." Karla finished hiding the last of the bodies beneath the ground then hooked a thumb back towards the last van in the warehouse near the north rolling-door. "The old man taught me how to hotwire one of these things. Let's see how good I am, and hope they left us a full tank of gas. And yes, Donovan, you can drive, dear."

X


X

Meanwhile…
US101 Northbound

"This was a good idea how?" Rufus shouted back, from where he sat in the driver's seat of the silver van. With the windows down, Rufus's long dark hair whipped about in the wind, wearing only boxer shorts and a tattered t-shirt. "I'mma be late for my flight, y'ole goober! And now I need t' find some flippin' pants 'afore my flight!"

Nathan clung to a gear strap at the back of the silver van. "God, shaddap, fleabag! Just drop me off where I told you, then you can take this van all the way to… what airport you flyin' out of, again?

"Oakland! Now you know why I'm in a hurry!"

The old man laughed and kept his right hand up, creating an energy field to shield the back of the van from stray rounds. "Yeah, well, take that briefcase with you! Maybe they don't know it's empty! You don't think anyone will notice, at this hour, that you're driving a van with no doors on the back, right?"

"I blame you fer letting them get shot off, you old fart!"

Nathan retracted the shield long enough to throw a glob of plasma electricity. He reinstated the field. The plasma connected with the road, in front of the pursuing van and erupted, leaving a crater in the asphalt. The second van slammed into it and blew its front tire then swerved wildly. "HAH! That's right! You'll take it and like it!" The old man hollered back up to Rufus, "How much further till we get to the Vortac tower?"

"Not long! Why am I dropping you off there, anyhow? That don't make any sense! It's in the middle of nowhere!"

"Cause, flea-brain! They're using the Vortac tower west of Sausalito to coordinate a shipment that's flying in on a private plane from Japan. At nine in the morning, that flight will be passing over that tower. I'm going to lure those guys out there, where they'll try and fight me using an EMP device. It will weaken me but it won't kill me. But! It'll wipe out the tower and the plane! When that plane crashes, Karla and Donovan will be the first on scene! They'll steal the artifact that's coming from over the Pacific and keep it from the guy who is behind all this crap!"

"C'mon, man, you're holding back on me, old timer!"

"Listen, dog-breath, see if you can wrap your brain around this," Nathan said, watching as the pursuing van fell behind further. He climbed back up towards the front as they headed over Golden Gate Bridge. Nathanial strapped himself into the passenger seat. "Just go to Marian County airport and charter a plane to drop you off at Oakland. I'll give you some cash to use so you can bribe someone over there. Look…"

"Ayup… just like I thought. You're stalling."

"Yeah. Keep this between us."

"A'ite. Lay it on me, hoss."

Nathan frowned. "It's hard to explain. Long story short, some people are born with abilities. Others are given their ability, second hand. Think of it like a device that gets passed on, similar to a family heirloom. Then it takes a while to manifest in the host. I was so ignorant when I received mine. But… that's not important. What I'm getting at is… there are a few abilities out there that have been passed down… God knows where they came from. There's an object on that plane that allows a compatible bloodline to do what Karla does – telekinesis. Falcon will be waiting to receive that object. If he comes to possess telekinesis, he becomes unstoppable. So I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that plane crashes.

"And yer buddy, Karla, already has that ability? What happens if she gets this artifact?"

Nathan rolled up the passenger window. "If Karla gets it… her ability of telekinesis becomes amplified immensely. She's already mastered the ability; has full control so… there's no learning curve. She'll be responsible with it. It's the only way she will be able to beat that guy. Even if she couldn't throw him with telekinesis, she can use it to supercharge her fist and hit him with a ton of force. Despite popular belief, Falcon can be killed. The only question is… how long will it take for Karla to manifest the additional power? Minutes, hours, days… years?"

"Who are you, old man?"

Nathan chuckled with a shake of his head. "If only I could tell you. Just… hurry and get me out to that tower, then you can go. I'll hold the position until nine, when that small jet crosses overhead. I'll bring it down if it's the last thing I do."

"You act like you know where it's gunna crash, son. You're really sure Karla will get there first?"

"I'm sure. And I do know where it's going to crash. It's going to go down near US101. Karla will be in position and see it crash. If it doesn't land exactly where I told her to be, she'll teleport accordingly and find that object. Then she's going to protect the crash site from any mercenaries that go out there to recover anything. From there, I have a human FBI agent named Philip Michener who is going to arrive and lock down the scene. He's going to have the agency treat it as a crime scene, alongside the NTSB. He promises me that he's going to hide those artifacts where Falcon will never get them. After all, he owes me for saving his ass last night."

"I see, now. We don't have much longer. You sure you're gunna be a'ite?"

"I'll be fine. I was in Siberia in 1908. A few hours in the woods at summer daybreak will be a walk in the park. You have a flight to catch, so … once I get on the other side of the bridge, I'll go the rest of the way alone."

"Say what?! That's a long way for an old man by foot."

"Not for someone who travels on a lightning bolt. Just drop me off on the other side of the bridge, then head back towards Oakland. Alright?"

"Aw hell… a'ite. Am I gunna see you again?" asked Rufus.

"Maybe. Depends on how things play out. I wanted to change the future tonight by stealing two artifacts. One was a Japanese compass; the other was a telekinesis vessel in the shape of an emerald. So far, I'm at two strikes and two outs with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, trailing by three runs. If I don't hit this grand-slam, then I'm on the bench for the rest of my career."

"Game ain't over if you at least get a base hit, son. Then it's up to the rest of your team. Don't be so hard on yourself. So, will I get to meet your lady friend?"

Nathan glanced back to the window. "I'm sorry you just missed Karla. But I promise you'll meet her one-day in the future. Trust me on that."

"A'ite. For some reason, I believe ya', big hoss."

X


X

September 16, 8:47am PDT
Five hundred feet south of the Sausalito Vortac Tower

"Dis guy think he THOR or somethin'?" Jules glanced at Sinopa then back towards the elderly man in the field. "Darlin, are you sure he don't need our help?" He removed the keys from the rental car's ignition.

"He shouldn't be fighting; he's too old and too frail," she murmured then added, "But he's too proud to allow help." She narrowed her gaze, squinting at the flashes of lightening that emanated from the old man's attacks.

Out in the field, Nathaniel Carrington held his hand aloft, surrounded by soldier-like people wearing black uniforms.

One of the soldiers, peering down the iron sights of his rifle, said, "You're done, old man."

The elderly man smirked. "Bullshit. I've just whipped your boys' asses at the Airport twelve hours ago, then again around three in the morning when I leveled that warehouse. I'm ready to go for a hat trick."

The lead soldier began a slow advance, keeping the weapon trained forward. "The way I see it, old man, you've got only one last fight left in you."

"Yeah, is that so? One last fight, huh? Well, you should be glad to know I've been saving it for you, jackass." Nathaniel grimaced then moved towards the advancing mercenary and his remaining team. A bolt of lightning appeared in his right palm, curved like a sickle. He waved his hand back, using the scythe of pure energy to dice through the body of an attacker. The mercenary's torso opened and his legs buckled. The elderly man pivoted less-than-gracefully and backhanded another attacker, cleanly removing the mercenary's head.

Sinopa's eyes narrowed, squinting at the brilliance of the lightning scythe. "Dear me," she murmured. "I… I don't see any blood."

"Something like lightning would cauterize a wound instantly," whispered Jules, watching in awe as the seemingly feeble old man continued to dice through the attackers.

A truck came from the opposite end of the field at a high rate of speed. A cloud of dust billowed up behind it. Nathaniel turned towards it and extended his free hand. A brilliant flash of lightning lanced from his palm and struck the metallic truck frame. The motor shorted, the wheels blew out. The sticky rubber sludge liquefied, dampening the sound of the rims on the hardened dirt field.

Gunshots rang out in the distance. A flash of domed light surrounded the old man.

From up on the hill, Jules rubbed his chin. "Dayum. He's got himself an electric forcefield. That's impressive."

Down in the clearing, the field flashed again as more rounds glanced off its surface.

"I see now why yer pal would wanna' deal with this stuff alone. Seems like he might work well without having to worry about protectin' others."

"Mm, I think you're right." Sinopa stepped out of the rental car and moved around front of it then ran her fingers back through her lengthy red hair. She folded her arms then frowned. After a moment, she tilted her head a bit and asked, "What is that?"

"I dunno," Jules replied.

Down on the dusty field, two mercenaries pulled an object off the bed of the pickup truck then attended to a control panel on it.

A small cargo jet came from a cloud to the west, headed east. Jules looked up and blinked. "A Dassault Falcon cargo jet? That's an old-ass French dinosaur."

A flash emanated from the device causing both Jules and Sinopa to shield their faces, way up on the ridge. Jules put the keys into the ignition and turned it but nothing happened. "He's gunna need our help. That was a chemical explosive reaction, chère. And…" Jules trailed off then turned the key again. "Oh hell, that was an EMP." They both lifted their eyes down to the other end of the field.

The small cargo jet's exhaust trail ended but the jet continued east, towards Sausalito. It began to lose altitude. Jules swore softly in French, adding, "That is not good. They lost power, too. Cell phones will be dead; can't call anyone for help."

Jules and Sinopa's eyes lowered to the field – the remaining three mercenaries leapt upon the old man, overpowering him. Jules flung open his door and sprinted down the hill. Sinopa levitated just above the ground and dashed alongside him, towards the truck and people up ahead.

One of the mercenaries looked up and moved to intercept Jules. The retired aviator pilot dove forward, wrists crossed, and bowled over the soldier. The other two came to their feet and moved to intercept Sinopa Crevan.

She found herself between the other two men; they grasped at her arms. The one her left pushed a gun to her head. "STOP!"

Jules sat up, his left hand around the mercenary's throat, his right hand drawn back in a fist. Both froze, glancing up at the shout. Their eyes met with the gunman, adjacent to Sinopa. Jules glanced back at the man in his grip then back at the two men holding his girlfriend at gunpoint.

She smirked, looking relaxed. "My dear, your weapon – while amusing to me – would be better off holstered. Step aside, I wish to attend to my friend."

"She might be one of them," said one mercenary to the other.

"Yeah," replied the gunman. He cocked the hammer on his pistol for effect. "Don't do anything, either of you, or you two are next to die."

Crevan tightened her jaw. "I hope, for your sake, that your words are figurative. If my friend is dead, so too will the rest of you be."

"You're gunna join him if you don't shut up." All at once the gunman threw his gun to the ground and abruptly favored his hands. Without further warning, the weapon began firing repeatedly, towards the west. "She's one of them!" The gun continued to fire, cooking off round after round.

The other mercenary to Sinopa's right pulled a gun. Before he could put it to her head, however, his black uniform ignited in a brilliant flame. He screamed and dropped to the ground, rolling about. The flames continued to engulf him, only growing brighter and hotter. The screams faded and the smell of grilled meat, along with the stench of burning plastic, fabric and hair filled the area.

The first gunman withdrew a knife, dashed over towards Jules and put the blade to the pilot's throat. "STOP OR I WILL KILL HIM!" The man that Jules had been in a fistfight with reached for his own combat knife.

She made a backhand motion. A flash of light raced through the gap between where she stood and Jules lay. The bright round object split into two then collided with both men and threw them away from the Cajun. Their uniforms caught fire. Both men to began rolling in the dirt.

Jules got to his feet and said, "Darlin, did you just throw a fireball tha' hit both'a them at the same time? Holy hell, I…" He turned back to Sinopa, jaw agape. "I'm jealous. I'm right jealous, darlin'. Don't kill'em, though. We may need answers."

"I suppose you're right." She closed her hands into fists, remotely quashing the flames. The two men lay side by side, with smoldering body armor exposed, but alive and suffering only first and second degree burns.

Sinopa hurried over to Nathaniel then brought her hand to her lips. Jules hurried over to her and knelt by the old man. He touched the man's neck to check for a pulse then ripped open his shirt and began CPR. Sinopa turned back to the two men on the ground then approached them. "Why did you do this?"

"We're paid to take down targets," said one of the mercenaries. "He was a target. We don't know anything else."

She ground her teeth together then said, "You knew what kind of technology to use against him. You know more than you're telling me. Lie again and I will… what's the term? Flame broil you. Now talk."

"Aris Falcon," said the other.

The first one made a fist and raised it towards his coworker. Sinopa waved her hand and a rush of flames raced over the attacker's body like a mix between napalm and molten lava.

The remaining mercenary sat up and scooted away quickly, eyes wide. "That is all I know, I swear. The guy who hires us is named Aris Falcon. I've never met'em, I don't know where he is located and I don't even know how to trace the money back to him. Please, don't kill me like that. If you're going to do it, then make it quick and clean; with a bullet."

"I'm not a killer. I'm not you," she said. "You'll need medical attention but your wounds do not seem terribly serious. It appears our vehicle is no longer operative. You'll have to walk to the hospital."

He got to his feet and began walking. "To hell with this job, I quit. I… look, thank you for not killing me. I'm sorry about your friend, lady. We were told to use an EMP to faze him. I'm really sorry." He continued walking, left hand resting on his right shoulder, where the collar of his uniform had disintegrated. "I swear I'm quitting today. I'm just going to leave town, you have my word, miss."

"I suggest leaving the country," she said then turned back towards Jules. She knelt adjacent to him and frowned. "Can you save him?"

"Even if their truck had an AED, the EMP would have killed its batteries," Jules murmured then went back to his training. After another moment, he sat up and sighed. "CPR ain't any good, chère." He began tracing his hands over the old man's joints and immediately stopped at Nathanial's collarbone. "Dammit. I should'a checked that first, darlin'."

The kitsune drew her lower lip between her teeth. "What?"

"He gotta' broken neck. Ain't nothin' we cin do for'em. I am… truly sorry, Sinopa." He ran his hands back over his head, through his hair. "Dammit."

All at once, the old man's eyes fluttered open. His pupils appeared nonexistent; his eyes glowed as if animated in a Hollywood movie.

Jules, startled, got to his feet quickly. Nathanial looked up at Sinopa and offered a weak smile. "Crevan," he said in a raspy voice. "I do not have long…"

She dropped to her knees adjacent to the old man and cradled his head gently into her lap. "Nathan-sama, I thought you were dead."

"I don't have long, Sinopa. I wish you didn't have to see me like this... I need a favor from you."

"Yes, of course."

"You've now seen what Falcon is capable of. He's killing supernaturals and hunting the handful of immortals hiding around the globe. He's gathering all the artifacts, including the one that you seek."

"There are more artifacts?" she asked.

"It would take too long to explain. If it's not too late, I want you to hunt for Jonathan Conner Parker Junior, the thief, and he will explain it. Keep his children alive. They'll help you. Trust me. Secondly, do you still have the business card you received from Inspector Reno Nevada?"

"I… how did you know about that," she whispered in reply.

"Trust me, I know about it. Find a way to contact him immediately. Do not let anyone near my body until he's seen me first. Supernaturals aren't even allowed to exist anymore – he's a homicide inspector, and he can cover this up – he's seen your ability, Sinopa; we can trust him but only him. Don't let anyone touch my body until he sees me first. Promise me."

"Hai… you have my word, Nathanial-sama."

"Save yer strength," said Jules. "We can't move you. You've got a broken neck. But if you can just hold on a little longer, I'll hoof it east, into town and…"

"It's too late," Nathan told them. "I'm old. I'm done. I did what I came out here to do, and now I understand why things happened the way they did." Nathan reached up and touched a locket that hung from Sinopa's neck. "I never noticed that, before. It's beautiful."

"Hai. Jules bought it for me last year, on White Day," she said softly. Sinopa turned to her boyfriend and said, "Jules, hurry. Find whoever you can." She pulled the business card from a satchel and gave it to the Cajun. "Do not accept 'no' for an answer. It has to be this Inspector, no one else. Tell him it's for me – the woman who saved him from the gunmen by burning their hands. He'll remember. Make haste."

"Hang in there, Mister C." Jules took the card and took off, headed east on a dusty road labeled 'Bobcat Trail.'

The old man closed his eyes and sighed softly. "I can feel it… it's close." His eyes fluttered open again, still glowing and solid white in nature. He reached up once more and put his fingers on another chain that hung from her neck. He pulled her Hoshi no Tama from its hiding spot under her kimono and gazed upon the glowing white ball of swirling orange stars. "I tried so hard to change everything. But it all happened exactly the way it was foretold. Despite all the changes I made, the world course-corrected. And here I am, dying in this field just like I saw it the first time."

"How does all this end?"

"Falcon thinks he's saving the world, but his actions inadvertently trigger the deaths of millions of people. He's focused, motivated. I changed every detail I could, but everything still happened. You cannot let Falcon win this… I fought so hard."

She nodded then frowned, seeing his eyes beginning to dim. The kitsune's lower lip trembled. She shook her head. "Nathanial-sama… I hope you will find happiness and peace when you cross over; I hope you travel to the land of your faith. It was truly my honor to know you."

"Not… sure I understand, Sinopa. …Will find out, soon, though."

Nathanial Carrington shut his eyes. His eyelids glowed from inside out momentarily then dimmed. His nostrils flared with his final breath. Silence.

In a reverent tone, she said, "Your faith held in life takes your soul to its final destination in death. Whether it's Yomi-no-Kuni, the fields of Neorxnawang, Valhalla, Gan-Eden, Heaven, Hell, or Hades, you go to a plane that is sustained by the faith of the believer. I will say a prayer for you, Nathanial-sama."

X


X

9:17am PDT
A clearing in Sausalito, California

Donovan Loupe tensed his forearm. A tendril of darkness engulfed a patch of fire, cutting oxygen to the crates strewn across the broken fuselage.

Karla waved her hand, teleporting the fire outside to the dirt, where it fizzled out. She put her foot up on a crate and climbed over a tree branch that jutted in from the port, and wiggled her small frame over to the other side. "There are a few back here. I'm pretty sure this is the last of'em." She continued to slither between the airframe and tree branch. "You like the view back there?"

Donovan glanced at her skirt then back at the cargo containers at his feet. He heard distant voices. "We have company." He glanced frontward, where the cockpit was missing from the plane crash. "It appears the fire department has found this section of the plane. I assume they've secured the cockpit out in the clearing. I see men in bunker gear coming into the trees."

"I haven't found it yet," Karla said. "Any sign of mercenaries?"

"Thankfully, I don't see any." Loupe glanced back at the succubus, able to see her hunter green panties. "Tight fit?"

"It's too cluttered back here to teleport myself – but I'm going to start taking out the crates that I can see." She squinted in the dim cargo area. "I need a flashlight or something. The smell of jet fuel is awful. Glad this thing was running on fumes when it crashed." She slipped through the gap, creating an unceremonious crashing noise. A second later, she said, "That sucked. I'm good, though. Thanks for asking."

Donovan frowned. "You didn't give me time to ask. I see more men in bunker gear. You're running out of time before they see us." He waved his hands, creating a tint of gloom at the ripped opening of the plane. "They won't be able to see in until they get much closer. So hurry."

The succubus telekinetically supercharged her fist and ripped the top off of a crate that survived the impact intact. She rifled through packing filler then pulled out an ornate metallic box.

She gave the object a shake then murmured, "All the weight is on one side of the box, but it doesn't rattle…" She passed the box through the gap to Donovan. "Hold this one off to the side. I'll figure out how to open it later." Then she went back to rummaging through the crate.

A gunshot sounded in the distance. Donovan saw the firefighters duck down and put their hands up over their heads. Another gunshot pierced the air from back in the direction of the field, on the other side of the trees. "Well… our day has just grown more interesting forthwith."

"What in the world," Karla murmured. She pulled out a marble kabuki mask. "Damn, this thing is heavy. Wonder how much this crap is worth?" She brought the weighty mask up to her eyes. Nothing happened. She heaved the mask back into the crate and reached for another small box and opened its lid. "Whoa. Is this a terracotta pot? Hey, Donnie, I think I found one of those Leyden Jars, or maybe a Baghdad Battery. I thought it was disproven that these could be used properly for gold plating as their main function?" She stuffed it back into its box.

She moved to another crate, which was broken on the side. She rummaged through the contents and said, "Another one of those pots with the metal top. This one didn't survive the crash, though. Hey wait a sec…"

Gunshots rang out again, coming from out in the clearing. "Karla, they're firing on the fire department."

"Yeah? I thought you were all about following the code of secrecy? You suggesting we use our powers to kick some ass?"

"What if I was?"

The demoness smiled. "I'd be glad you're finally growing a pair of balls. One sec, I found something interesting." She pulled another container out from the bottom of the broken crate. The box was cardboard and filled with Styrofoam and plastic air cushion padding.

A stray bullet struck the fuselage; another thudded against a tree trunk that supported the back section of the plane. Karla heard Donovan grumbling but ignored him. She picked apart the stuffing and found a large green polished stone in a plastic baggie. "Oh, jackpot." She passed it through the gap to Donovan. "Hey, jewelry guy, is that a real emerald?"

He glanced back at where the aluminum airframe tube abruptly ended and the trees began. "The firefighters have retreated." Donovan took the baggie and eased the polished green stone free. He held it in his palm then turned it over. "It's beautiful. But it's too heavy to be an emerald. Good color and clarity but something this small shouldn't weight nearly twenty pounds. It's too dense."

Donovan reached his left hand up to Karla and helped her back through the gap overtop of the tree branch that jutted through the side of the fuselage.

Karla eased to her feet and smoothed her skirt down. She reached for the brilliant green gemstone in Donovan's right hand. "It's the color of my eyes. I couldn't really tell just how pretty it was back there in the dark. It's gorgeous." She closed her hand around it, adding, "You're right. It's pretty darn heavy. More than a bowling ball."

Her palm and forearm began to incandescence with a brilliant pink hue. Her arm tightened up and her fingers clamped over the gem. She winced. "I …I can't seem to let it go," she murmured in an uncharacteristically weak voice. "Donovan, I can't teleport it out of my hand." Her forearm tensed up and her knuckles turned white. "I… this is… it's really starting to hurt. I can't let it go," she repeated.

Her eyes became moist. A tear ran down her left cheek. "Donovan… I'm feeling sick to my stomach and my… my arm hurts. My hand," she said. Her eyes lifted to his, glistening in the daylight filtering in through the opening at the other end. "I don't understand."

Donovan saw blood dribbling from her fingertips. He reached for her hand and tried to pry her fingers open but her grip was too strong. "You're going to break your fingers, Karla…"

Despite his warning, as if in contradiction, the green gemstone cracked at the core. The stronger she clamped down, the more the fissure grew until it reached the surface of the stone. The gem shattered, causing Karla to cry out in pain. Jagged flecks of green covered her palm and fingers. Blood trickled down her wrist and dripped over the front of her blouse and skirt.

The glowing pink glyphs in her palm grew brighter, illuminating the interior of the plane wreckage. Karla bit her lower lip; tears streamed down her cheeks. "Hurts," she muttered, adding, "I'm scared shitless, Donovan."

He reached down and tried to pluck a piece of green from her palm but it was too slick with her blood, and didn't budge. The more he tried, the more the gem sank into her skin until it was inside her hand, leaving a lump. "Karla, we have to get you to a hospital."

All at once, the trees holding the rear section of the plane gave out. It dropped nearly two stories and collided with the ground on its side.

Donovan sat up on his hip with a soft groan. Sunlight filtered in where the tree branch had pierced the fuselage earlier, leaving only a hole. He checked his joints. Satisfied he was uninjured, he rolled over to find Karla unconscious, face down.

Donovan checked her neck, shoulders, arms and legs for injury, then he rolled her onto her back. He pulled her head into his lap then reached for her injured left hand. "Karla?" She didn't respond.

"I'll get you out of here. Just…" He froze, feeling something against the back of his head. Donovan glanced over his shoulder at a gun barrel level with his face.

A masked mercenary said, "You're not slinking out of here this time, shadow man."

X


X

Twenty Minutes later…

"I'm not sure what's going on," said Reno Nevada. "Nicky isn't exactly pleased with me leaving the 'getaway by the sea' she set up over in Muir Beach. But, thanks to one of the cleanest beaches in the state, I wasn't very far away. Lucky you." He cut his gaze back to Sinopa and Jules. "I don't know what you guys expect me to do, though. Sanders suspended me until the first of October. I can't get involved with the Medical Examiner, or help you hide any bodies or any of that bullshit. This isn't even my jurisdiction. This is Marin County. And, again, I'm suspended for two more weeks. Me being here, right now, is technically contaminating a crime scene. That's big no-no."

Nobody replied.

Reno knelt over the old man and shook his head with a sigh. "So this old man fought off several mercenaries, huh?"

Sinopa nodded. She reached for the Inspector's hand and said, "Please. Humor me." She felt the resistance of Nevada's hand fade, then guided the inspector's palm to Nathanial's hand.

When Reno's skin touched Nathan's, a hiss-snap crackled in the air, causing Sinopa's ears to flicker in irritation beneath her hair.

Nevada jerked his hand back with a flinch of pain. "What in the hell just…?" He looked back at her then back at the body. Reno stood up and swallowed then ran his fingers back through the dark, full locks of his thick hair. "Look, Miss Crevan, I can appreciate what you're trying to do. You need this to be kept quiet. Okay, I get it. I do. I saw the fire thing. But I'm not the right guy for the job this time." He brought his hand back and favored where he'd been shocked. "I don't know what just happened… but damn that hurt."

An SUV pulled up, adjacent to a patrol car that Jules had flagged down, out on US101, earlier. Three men stepped out, one of which approached the nearby officer. Another approached the truck by the Vortac Tower fence.

The third approached Reno, Sinopa and Jules. He looked down at the body of Nathanial then back at the other three. "I'm Drew Reed of the National Transportation Safety Board. I was told one of you three witnessed men using an EMP to take down the plane that crashed near here?"

Jules showed the agent his blue military ID card. "I recognized the plane as a Dassault Falcon as soon as it came out of the cloud. The men in black gear operated the EMP device on the back of their truck as the small jet flew overhead. I saw the exhaust trail disappear, then the plane began to drop altitude from this point all the way into town. It glided due east, no course changes. It's possible that the pilots had no control due to the EMP discharge. Depends on the model, they might have had limited steering ability. I didn't see any stalled cars on US101. So I assume the device had a controlled detonation, or, at the very least, a limited range… but it affected our cellphones, the pickup truck and our rental car up on that hill." Jules paused to point. "We thought the men in black guard were, uh, terrorists. We started shouting at them and ran down here. They opened fire. Nathan, here, was killed in the attack – broken neck from a fall. The EMP unit finished priming then discharged. The terrorists were standing in front of the unit, defensively, when it went off. It caused their clothes to catch fire. Sinopa and I panicked because Nathan was unresponsive. I ran east to the road and flagged down a passing police cruiser; we called her friend, Inspector Reno Nevada, because we had his business card."

"And… tell me how these attackers burned to the core, again?"

"Oui, yes, about that… I picked up a rock and threw it at their device. They moved into a position to defend the thing… One of them pointed a weapon at us. The other one turned to tinker with the object. Then it flashed and both of them caught fire. Sinopa and I could feel a wave of heat but we were further back. Anyhow, their gear caught fire. One of the pistols went off… possibly cooked off by the heat. The gunmen began shouting; it was jus' awful. They burned."

Reno eyed Sinopa then glanced back at the Federal Agent and sighed. "Listen, this is kind of complicated. But long story short," he guided the agent away from Sinopa and Jules and spoke in a soft tone. "She's in witness protection. Her identification is so new that you might have problems running her prints or anything else for that matter."

"Alright, so… who the hell are you?"

The Inspector smirked. "I'm an Inspector out of San Francisco. I met these two during a case. There was a shooting, so I'm on administrative leave as protocol. But I helped them before, so I'm helping them again, because I was nearby, over in Muir Beach. I'm just telling you, when you run their crap… hers won't show much, if anything." Reno showed the agent his identification and badge.

"Yeah, yeah alright. I'm going to need to take these two in for a statement soon. I'm releasing them into your custody for right now. I'll need your business card so I can get a hold of the three of you when the NTSB moves forward with our investigation." He paused then added, "One sec, Inspector." Agent Reed turned away from the trio and approached one of the other agents. "What's with the hand gestures?" The two Federal Investigators began whispering amongst themselves. The third agent approached and they huddled.

Reno turned back to Sinopa and Jules. "Just play along with the bit about witness protection. Jules, you're retired from the military. So, if anyone asks, you're her personal bodyguard. Lots of military people do private sector security… it's a believable cover story. I'll take you two back to Muir Beach with me. You can stay there; Nicky and I will head back to San Francisco. I'm going to have you two sit tight, lay low, and keep your heads down. Christ, I can't believe I'm lying to Federal Agents for people I only met once."

"Hai, you have my appreciation, Inspector Nevada-san. We will gladly accept your assistance."

"Great. As soon as these guys give me the say-so, I'll get you back to…"

Reed turned back to the group and said, "Gentlemen, madam, something has come up over at the crash site." He handed Reno a business card then received one in return from Nevada. "We'll be in touch." Reed turned back to the other two agents and the nearby county officer and said, "We're going to the crash site. There's been a development. Let's go."

X


X

9:45am PDT
Sausalito Crash Site

"Withdraw another thousand feet, or I kill a hostage," said the mercenary over the phone. "Last chance, Agent Michener. I'm done playing games. You want to negotiate? You need to give me something I want. And right now, I want space, so move it!" The masked man slammed the phone receiver down on its base then turned back to Donovan and the unconscious blond girl. "No one goes anywhere until my people finish cleaning up these artifacts."

"What about letting her go as a sign of good faith," asked Donovan. "She's out cold, harmless, and her hand is in need of medical attention."

"No," said the leader of the group. "If I need to kill one of you two, I'll still need another hostage to show I mean business. You're doing good, Mister Loupe. If you continue to behave, we won't kill you. Falcon said to let you live if you don't cause trouble. You must be important. How do you feel?"

"I'm well, considering. Besides, what are my options? You have two men with flamethrowers."

"Exactly, and you'd best remember that." The lead mercenary tilted his head then said, "We might be here a while. So you can call me 'Smith.' Now, how did you two get here before anyone else? Did you know this plane was going to crash here?"

Donovan stared at the man for a moment then said, "Karla's ability allows her to teleport. We saw the plane going down. She teleported us from San Francisco to Sausalito. We followed the smoke."

"What the hell for?" Smith demanded. "Most of you Esoteric bastards are dead. What do you want with a plane crash?"

"We, uhm…"

"Don't lie to me, Mister Loupe."

Donovan shrugged gingerly. "With our governing body and social structure in ruins, we no longer have anyone to punish us for using our abilities in public. A few of us feel uninhibited, now, and have chosen to use our abilities to actively help individuals in need, while other survivors freely use their abilities for personal gain. When she and I saw the plane crash in the distance, we decided to look for survivors. We saw the plane make a slow descent and we thought there was the possibility that someone survived. What we found was a cargo plane – no passengers. The fire department showed up and found the cockpit first. She and I worked together to put the fires out in this section of the plane, lest the woods catch fire. Then you and your men showed up."

"So you two didn't attack the plane?"

Donovan blinked. "Why on earth would we attack a plane? We saw it drop altitude from a distance. Then it just went down. From what we could see, there were no attacks."

Smith turned back to one of his men and they spoke softly to one another. After a moment, Smith turned back to Donovan and said, "Radio chatter suggests that an EMP may have been used to attack one of you freaks. It could have been a coincidence that the EMP was used in proximity of the plane. Since your details check out, I'm going to assume you're telling me the truth. Something tells me you're leaving out details, though."

Loupe frowned, feeling caught in his lie. "Your employer told you to let me go if I don't cause trouble. So I don't plan on causing trouble. But you have to give me your word that the girl lives, too. Then I'll tell you everything I know."

Smith folded his arms and stared at Donovan for a moment. Finally, he said, "Fine. The girl lives. So long as she doesn't cause any trouble. What weren't you telling me?"

Donovan spoke calmly, choosing his wording carefully so as to speak in modern English. "Last night, I witnessed two supernatural beings attacking a cargo ship. I went to investigate out of curiosity when I saw fireballs from the highway. She was fighting men in black gear, like yourselves. I spoke to her afterwards. She said she was a demigod from across the globe and she was looking for something that your employer stole from either her or her people. She controls fire. If she attacked your cargo ship, then she could have attacked this plane, despite what your recent intel has suggested."

"You think she might be the one who brought the plane down?"

"If she somehow knew this stuff belonged to your boss, same as the cargo ship from last night, then that makes sense. Shouldn't you be less concerned with the cargo of this plane and more concerned with organizing a strategy to fight a fire-wielding Asian demigod? My weakness is fire – she flings fire about without a care in the world. I don't want to be at ground zero if she is on her way here."

One of the mercenaries approached Smith and said, "The jewelry store owner is telling the truth. One of our guys saw a chick with one of those Japanese swords, throwing fireballs at Pier-80 last night. He barely got out of there alive. He said he saw guys catching on fire, jumping into the bay and shit. After that, cops showed up. The whole shipment was secured by the goddamn Feds."

Smith clenched his left hand into a fist. "God dammit." He turned back to Donovan. "Pick up the girl and stand up, Mister Loupe. We're going to walk you out of here at gunpoint. We're going to load these crates into our vans, and we're going to drive away, with you two as hostages."

Donovan hefted Karla onto his shoulder and stood up, slowly, mindful of his footing in the side-turned fuselage. Smith guided them out, while his men started throwing the crates together, preparing them to be moved. The mercenary walked Donovan and Karla from the trees, and into the clearing. He put his gun to Karla's head and shouted, "We're leaving with our hostages."

The FBI and NTSB agents sprang up, keeping their weapons pointed at the trio. Law enforcement officers pointed their handguns towards the tree line.

Smith grimaced, counting the approximate number of weapons pointed in his direction. "Dammit." He turned to Donovan and said, "Your crap doesn't work in broad daylight, does it?"

"No. And knocking them over with an enormous shadow arm would cause them to open fire. I'd rather remain peaceful."

"Well now," Smith trailed off and smiled. At the far end of the clearing, four silver vans and two white vans pulled in behind the federal agents and surrounding police. "Looks like the cavalry has arrived. Perfect timing."

At the edge of the clearing, mercenaries in black gear poured out of their vehicles, pointing their weapons at the law enforcement agents. Officers and Federal Agents reluctantly began to put their weapons down.

Donovan discretely brought his thumb and forefinger to Karla's nose, pinching it shut. The trio continued to walk out into the clearing, approaching the line of over-run cops and agents. "This is a mess," Donovan murmured. "You don't need us anymore. You now have a whole host of hostages. Are we free to go?"

"You stupid fuck," Smith snapped, "I was never going to let you live. We kill people like you because you shouldn't exist. We're exterminating you. Falcon doesn't have to know. You're no longer necessary." They approached the line of agents and officers. Smith gave Donovan a shove. "Down on your knees."

Donovan continued to hold Karla's nose shut. All at once, she gasped for air and flailed in his arms. She let out a telekinetic wave that threw everyone back. The wave flipped the vans, several police cruisers, two black Chevy Suburbans, and leveled several of the trees at the back of the clearing.

Donovan blinked. He looked around the clearing. Smith was nowhere to be seen. No one stood up or moved. He shifted Karla in his arms, and eased her feet to the ground. "Karla, how's your hand?"

"Hurts," she muttered. The succubus brought her left hand up and eyed it then glanced back at Donovan. "It's not bleeding anymore. I don't see… I think the little glass bits must have fallen out."

He gazed over her hand and frowned. "I couldn't even pull one out, before. But you appear correct. I don't see them." He reached for her palm and used his thumb to gingerly pressed against her wounded palm. "I stand corrected. The stones seem to be beneath the skin. We should talk to Lance. Are you feeling well enough to teleport us away from here?"

"We have to go and check on Sinopa first, remember? The plan was to meet them there. Do you have that little fancy box I couldn't open?"

"Indeed. It's under my right arm."

"I hope whatever is in that thing is what she needed." Karla tensed her uninjured right hand. The couple disappeared.

Several moments later, they appeared near the Vortac tower east of Sausalito. There was a Ford sedan up on the ridge, but the area was otherwise empty. Karla sighed. "We may have missed them. I have a killer headache. Let's just get the hell out of here before we get in any more trouble."

"For once, I'm inclined to agree with you."

Karla turned to a pickup truck with the EMP unit on the back. Several plastic number plaques labeled the area. There was a spray-paint outline on the ground, adjacent to another number card. The succubus swallowed and approached it then frowned. "There are two burned bodies over there. But no sign of our people. It looks like the cops started processing this scene. It's roped off with tape. They even left the mercenaries' bodies. But there's only one outline on the ground, and no body. Donovan, that means one of our people was killed. I hate the idea of falling back… but until we find out who is dead and what's going on, we need to lay low. You're going to have to keep your store shuttered because they'll be watching it and waiting for you. We have to change our game plan."

"What about all those people back at the crash site?"

She frowned. "Yeah. I don't even know what to do about that. I'm injured, we're both exhausted, and we need to find our people because that should be the priority."

"I agree. Let's go and find Lance and figure out our next move. Maybe he can figure out what to do with this strange box."

"Yeah…"

X


X

In the Celestial Realm…

Tamamo no Mae paced before two ethereal glowing beings. "Lady Kiko-tenno?, I do understand your orders: I am to place a wedge between Sinopa and her lover. But I cannot deny the three-tail her request to speak with Inari before I force them apart."

The feminine spectral light moved closer to Tamamo. "Then, for her own good, she must 'forget' her request and her lover." The being moved upon the back of the other light form, a blindingly beautiful image of a white fox.

Tamamo swallowed and lowered her eyes. "Lady Kiko. My queen, honorable Dakini-ten, I am at a loss for words. Surely you remember Emperor Konoe and that mortal's obsession with finding me when I disappeared. Perhaps if we let Sinopa Crevan plead her case on the house floor… we could let the bureaucracy body judge. She needs to…"

The light incandesced until it was blinding. Tamamo raised a paw to cover her face. She grimaced in displeasure. "I do not mean to upset you,"

"I am your Queen, Tamamo. I am Mistress Shinko-bosatsu. You will hear my words, girl."

"Hai. Please, Lady Kiko, let me talk to Sinopa again. I beg you."

Kiko's incandescence waned. "She'll demand to speak directly with Inari again. He may grant her wishes because he has shown favoritism towards kitsune whose hearts are pure with true love. I would expect no less from the fertility god, after all." The two glowing beings of light became one. "Tamamo, the mortal realm knows too much about us already. Sinopa is drawing attention and it's not in our best interest. Make her forget again. With her friend dead, and her lover forgotten, she'll have no desire to return to the earthly realm."

"I will follow your orders, Lady Kiko," said Tamamo, defeat in her voice. With a frown, she watched the ethereal light dim as if flying into the distance. Tamamo settled down and ran her paw back through her headfur then leaned back on her nine tails. "And I'm not some 'girl'. I'm a nine tail." Tamamo sighed in disgust.

The ancient fox rubbed her eyes in frustration then ran her paws back up over her head again. "Damn you, Sinopa. Drawing so much attention to yourself with your dramatic little quest." She turned to a free-floating window leading to a brilliant coloration in an open sky. The little white kitsune prayed aloud. "Oh great thinker, Omoikane. I need you to ponder my plight. I have to put a temporary fix to this situation but require you to find a permanent solution in the near future."

A melodic, divine voice returned from the floating window in front of her. "I will ponder this plight. It will take time. Meditate. This is not something that will be satisfied with a quickly drawn solution. To give me time to ponder, you should consider severing all ties to Sinopa so she can become self-reliant and learn how to fix her mistakes without help. It is the only way some children learn. Perhaps you could suggest she marry Jules Guillot and, for a measure of time, she can settle down to stay safe from harm."

"Pardon?"

"Tell her to play wife in the safety of an earthly home while I ponder the Greater Outcome. This will keep her safe from danger until I consider all variables and possibilities. This is larger than Kiko and yourself. I require a significant time table to ponder the best possible solution to this dilemma."

A dove flew through the glassless window and perched upon its sill. The grayish-feathered creature opened its tiny beak yet spoke with an eloquent draw. "Hachiman requires Sinopa's assistance. But he asks that she stay alive and safe until such a time as she is needed."

Tamamo clenched her paws into fists in annoyance. "You're distracting my prayer. Furthermore, we kitsune are not pawns, just as surely as our life is not played out on some chessboard! I'm already trying to deal with Sinopa. I cannot be bothered by a lesser messenger right now!"

The dove fluffed its wings behind its back and said, "The mortals are the pawns. But that does not mean that we messengers don't have our places of rank. Need I remind you that I come on behalf of Hachiman, the god of WAR? If Hachiman asked me to give my life, it would be my honor to give myself to serve the betterment of us all. Sinopa is needed in an upcoming skirmish. Should she die before that time, all may very well be lost."

Tamamo ground her molars together. She turned back to the small grayish-white bird and said, "Tell Hachiman he'll have his precious knight to follow the pawns into battle. But if she dies, even for Hachiman, Lord Inari may not be forgiving. The rice may not be good this season. Fertility may dwindle, robbing Hachiman of soldiers he'll need in his wars for the next generation. Let him consider such a notion when trying to see the bigger picture. Something you'll never understand, birdbrain. Now be gone." She swatted at the bird, forcing it to fly back through the window from which it came. "The queen tenko fox is angry at Sinopa; Hachiman wants Sinopa's safety for future use in battle… why is everything swirling around her?" Tamamo glared back at the window leading to The Great Thinker, pondering his suggestion. "For the time being, I must follow orders. Sinopa cannot remember Jules."

The kitsune trotted away from the window-shaped egress and sighed. She continued up the wide room-like hallway, passing similar windows leading to the rest of the universe. "Surely Omoikane has no idea what he's talking about. I already suggested she settle down, raise kids and come back to serve Inari when she isn't distracted and lovesick. It won't happen! Sinopa is not ready to be domesticated in her current state of mind."

Tamamo crossed the room without walls and approached another glassless window. Within it, she saw Sinopa and Jules laid out upon a bed from the mirrored headboard. Tamamo growled softly, dropped back to her haunches and flung herself across her tails with tears in her eyes. "Oh Konoe… that was us once." She lowered her gaze then wept softly.

X


X

Muir Beach, Sausalito, California

Sinopa brushed her nose gently against Jules' own then leaned up and kissed him again. After another passionate liplock, she gently reached a hand down and touched his hip then patted it. Jules nodded and eased himself from her and came to lay adjacent to her, flush in the face. He leaned to the side and they shared another kiss then his eyes drifted up.

Jules saw the image of a fox in the reflection within the mirrored headboard. He jerked his head back, causing Sinopa to sit up. She glanced at his face then at the headboard and quickly drew the covers up over her body. "Tamamo-no-Mae! How dare you! I summoned for you hours ago and you never came! You demand my respect, but offer very little in return! And for you to appear now…? Were you spying on me?"

"Sinopa… quiet." The being in the mirror shifted her amber gaze to Jules. The fox's pupils dilated temporarily then shrank to vertical slits. "Jules Lenis Guillot, a pleasure. You're certainly not of the quality of an Emperor but she is equally far from being a nine-tail, as well. I'm sure you're both very happy together since neither of you are of prestige. It's of no matter, though." The vixen glanced back towards Sinopa and said, "I've asked Omoikane to ponder your situation, Sinopa. Give it time; for now we need a temporary solution to solve everyone's problem."

"What problem?" Sinopa asked, ignoring the insult. "I'm here to find Aris Falcon and the artifact he's stolen from Japan. There is no other problem. We have tracked down and destroyed his forces before they could receive a shipment by ship, as well as a shipment by plane. Surely his plans have been disrupted, which is a step in the right direction."

"Kiko dislikes your relationship with a human being. I, too, find it distasteful. Furthermore, Hachiman needs you in the near future and does not want you injured with these futile skirmishes before it is time to properly battle. I cannot currently reach Inari but your request has not been forgotten. You are ordered to break ties with this realm for now and return home." She glanced back at the naked human man, looked him over with a smirk tugging at the corner of her small muzzle then she said, "Lord Guillot, you will see Sinopa again in the future but we do not know when. I'm asking that you not hunt for her."

"Miss Reynard, I humbly ask you t' understand our relationship. I must admit I'd go to th' ends of th' universe for my chère. Do not ask a man to forsake his love with jus' a simple request, especially after our passions and emotions are so high as they are right now, after the heat of a physical joinin'. Isn't it obvious that neither of us is in the emotional state to make a commitment to part?" He turned to Sinopa and said, "You'd not let this happen, oui? You'd fight this silliness n'est-ce pas?"

"Hai." She turned back to the mirror and narrowed her eyes. "You have a lot of explaining to do. What does Hachiman wish with me?"

"I will not explain myself to a lesser kami. Hachiman's request was simple: your help and devotion."

Jules leered at the image of the fox in the mirrored headboard. "I cain' believe I'm talkin to'a ...well, yeah, I done seen the tails and th' fire… I s'ppose I CAN believe 'dis. Anyhow..." He licked his lips then addressed Tamamo. "She be 'devoted' only to me, lady. I dunno any of ya' friends but if they're as rude as you, we don't need any of this here drama. We'll make due on our own, y'see?"

Tamamo smirked. "Ignorant human… Hachiman is the god of war. Omoikane is the thinker who ponders for good counsel when we deities are caught up in deliberation. Kiko-tenno?, known by her formal title, the Dakini-ten… is the lady fox queen. She is the one who has demanded your relationship to cease, putting my role as Sinopa's sensei in a precarious position at best. MY relationship with a human cost me my life. I'm trapped in the celestial realm forever. Do you wish Sinopa to die as I did?"

"I won't allow this to happen," said Sinopa. "Jules won't allow this to happen. You have no cards left to play in your hand, Tamamo."

Tamamo blinked. "Pardon? Cards? …Must be an Earth expression. No matter. Unlike you, I do as I'm told." She waved her right paw and the mirrored headboard glowed with brilliance. The luminescence caused both Jules and Sinopa to squint then avert their eyes. Tamamo placed both her paws against the celestial window, flattening the velveteen padding of her palms, unable to cross into the physical realm. Sinopa, limp in form, levitated towards the mirrored headboard and disappeared into the reflective surface.

The image faded from Jules' gaze, reflecting only himself once more.

On the other side of the reflection, Sinopa was teleported to her private chambers, where she awoke with a start in her quarters.

Back in the bedroom, Jules sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Dayum." He glanced around then sniffed at the air and glanced beneath the covers at his unclad body. "Smells like sex in here."

Jules reached for his cellphone and opened an application to display the local weather. It triangulated a position then displayed 'Sausalito, California' on the screen, beneath an icon forecasting light fog and mild wind. "What th' hell? California?" He slid out of bed and pressed his palms against his forehead, then his eyes, followed by his cheeks. "Wha' th' hell am I doin' here? Seems t' me it's kinda' strange, wearin' nothing but a smile, oui?" He gathered his clothes and paused, seeing a kimono on the floor.

Jules picked it up and looked it over, brows furrowed. For a split second, it seemed familiar but that moment faded to confusion. "Where'd this come from, I wonder?" He sniffed at it then frowned. "Either I'm in the wrong room or someone slipped ole Jules a roofie las' night." He placed the kimono on the bed and walked to the bathroom to get a shower. "Somethin' tells me this may be the start of a very strange day. Or, possibly the end to a verra' strange night. I best hush, 'afore I'm liable to start talkin' to m'self, oui?"

The headboard, a one-sided mirror again, allowed Tamamo-no-Mae to watch him, unseen. She rested her paws on the windowsill with a forlorn sigh. "Once again, everyone will think I'm the villainess simply because the situation was beyond my control." She watched as the confused human male walked away from the mirrored headboard and into a bathroom. The scene before her changed to show him step into a shower, across from the bathroom mirror.

Adjacent to her, a three-tailed fox approached and settled upon its haunches. Tamamo glanced to her right then back towards the celestial window peering into Jules Guillot's room. "Er, konichiwa, Sinopa-san. How fair you this day?"

"I, erm, I fear I may have had too much sake, Tamamo-sama. I'm feeling a bit on the hazy side. I don't remember anything and I feel tired. Why are you watching humans?"

Tamamo licked her lips apprehensively and sighed. "I just… I miss my Konoe. Promise me you'll never take up a relationship with a human. It's hard on your heart, little one."

"As you wish." Sinopa turned about but then paused. She glanced back at the window and stared at Jules for a moment then blinked with a double-take. Tamamo watched the younger kitsune in silence, worried that by seeing the human, Sinopa would start to remember all over again. The elder fox placed a paw onto the Hoshi no Tama, a glowing ball of stars that dangled from her collar. She took a deep breath, ready to cast another spell – a more powerful one if necessary.

Sinopa tilted her head, confusion in her eyes and simply said, "He's cute." With a wan smile, she trotted off.

At first, the nine-tailed kitsune sighed in relief. She watched Sinopa leave the mighty window-lined corridor. She glanced back at the egress and stared at Jules. Out of respect, she whispered, "Jewels Leh-nay Gill-oh; that was how she pronounced your name, hai? Oh, human, she truly loved you; I'm so sorry."

Tamamo swallowed back a sudden burst of stowed emotion. The elder kami lowered her head and blinked away tears, which matted down the fur upon her face. She sighed through her nose then lowered to her belly, resting the bottom of her muzzle upon the top of her paws. Her heart ached. She knew she couldn't shoulder the burden with anyone else. Tamamo whispered softly, mostly to herself, "I'm sorry Sinopa-san. Truly, I am. You may hate me one day for this but… I did it for you."

Tamamo-no-Mae reluctantly moved to another window, which depicted Inspector Reno Nevada, Nichole Parker, FBI Agent Philip Michener, and NTSB Agent Drew Reed in a room together. They were having a conversation about Sinopa and Jules. Tamamo listened to their conversation briefly then placed her paws against the glassless window, unable to pass through. "You've never met Jules or Sinopa. They never witnessed the problems of which you just spoke. It as though they've never existed. You will forget meeting the succubus, Karla Howard, as well as the jewelry store owner, Donovan Loupe. There was a machine used to crash an airplane. As a side effect, it caused all of you headaches for several days, to which you attribute your confusion and loss of memories."

The nine-tail approached another window and looked in, observing Karla Howard, Donovan and Lance together. "Forget Sinopa Crevan and Jules Guillot's involvement in your earthly affairs. They never existed to you. The sensation of amnesia is due to the eruption of the nearby EMP device that caused the plane crash. When you awake tomorrow, you will have renewed focus and motivation to stop Aris Falcon but all memories of Crevan and Jules' involvement is forever obscured from your memories." She paused, then looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching. She then said, to Lance, "But you will remember Jonathan Parker's wife. The memory of her will be on your mind when you dream tonight. If you ever discover something more, you will keep it to yourself."

Tamamo left the hallway and crossed a courtyard. In the sky above her, the cosmos swirled about and quasars twinkled in the heavens. She froze. Her fur bristled up. She turned about, seeing Kiko-Tenno. "It is done. I visited each and every human soul she touched, and I erased every breadcrumb until there was no trail left. I do not know the identities of the foes she faced in battle, however." Her eyes lowered, emotionally torn over what she'd been ordered to do.

Lady Kiko dismounted a large white fox-creature and bowed to Tamamo. "The foes will not matter. They will not face Sinopa again; she will be forgotten in time. Only those who cared about her would have sought her out – and now even those loose ends have been tied up. You've done well. Please excuse my tone, earlier. I thought back on Sinopa's first time in the physical realm."

Tamamo visibly flinched. "Please, let it go on record that I followed your orders, both times, against my will. What we took from her is dreadful."

"Even so, Tamamo-san, I need to know that the barriers blocking her memories will hold. Does she suspect that she was married to a human for a number of years? Is it possible that she could remember her children?"

"No. The husband and his sister remember only that his spouse died of cancer. Her twin children equally only remember that their mother passed of illness. No parties suspect anything more."

Kiko nodded. "We were just in time. The old man's dying words to her were to find her husband. The very sight of him may have been enough to break down the barriers around their memories. She would have discovered our involvement, and created a great deal of turmoil. You will continue to uphold our lie. If she ever discovers the truth, she will rebel against us. That cannot be allowed to happen, as Hachiman has a crucial role involving her in the upcoming war for the physical realm. Promise me that she will never learn the truth."

Tamamo felt intense guilt in her heart. She nodded respectfully, "Hai, my Queen. I wish to retire to my chambers, now. My spirit is heavy with this burden. I need meditation."

Kiko watched Tamamo depart from the courtyard, then smiled. "All that matters is that the physical realm will be returned to the ways of old in due time. Things will become they were in the First Age, where deities ruled properly over the humans. Then I'll put an end to the meandering childish politics of what our kind have become – with enough human worshipers, our power will return to what it once was."

"That it will," said a man from off to her left. Kiko smiled at the voice and stepped back into a masculine embrace. "They call us tricksters and 'lower gods.' But when our army of worshipers overtakes, slaughters and converts other mortals, our strength will grow, and the other gods' power will diminish. Do you have everything in order?"

"Hai. And you, my love?"

"Yes," said the man behind Kiko. "Our peers will never speak the word, 'trickster' with disdain ever again. They will tremble and treat us with respect," he told her. "The Gleipnir grows weaker with every passing victory in our name. Before long, the mighty Fenrisulfr will be free; my offspring will devour our so-called rulers, bringing about the Ragnarök on the Earthly realm. Then it will be only us that reign in a thousand years of peace. We will stand before the mortal survivors as their God and Goddess. They will all worship us. And then we will have the respect we deserve, my love."

"Hai, Loki – our fellow deities will never speak ill behind our backs, or call us a 'trickster' ever again. It will be us, as man and wife, who will lead the mortals into their thousand-year peace. And by the strength of their worship, we will have the power to command the Celestial Realm, together. The power of our love will topple their ignorant government."

Kiko's enormous white fox came alongside of them. Loki reached down and ran his fingers through the creature's fur, behind its ears. Briefly, its muzzle appeared less fox-like, and more closely resembled that of a wolf… but only briefly. "Have the memories of the mortals have been erased? Such must be done in order to give an edge to our pawn, the Falcon."

"Yes, it is done. Tamamo-no-Mae is none-the-wiser. And, if she questions it, she will come out looking like the villain yet again. Just as she has to the mortal realm, a thousand times, a thousand years ago."

He rested his chin upon her shoulder. "Excellent. It's only a matter of time before the mortal geneticist has fulfilled his usefulness. You were clever to have chosen that human as our pawn."

"Flattery, my love. You've always treated me as an equal. You've always given me your love and respect. I thank you."

"I've always loved you, Kiko Sigyn. You've stood by me in my darkest times. I must return to the springs, lest the others find out I'm free of my bindings. Together, we will set the events of Ragnarök into motion. Together, we will 'save' the mortals from the revelations of their apocalypse. Together, my love. The survivors of the earthly realm will worship us. You have my word."

She shivered at the sensation of her husband's warm breath on the side of her face. Kiko pushed her back against his chest, reveling in the feel of his strong arms around her body. "You were right, darling. By setting events in motion that caused the deaths of the earthly realm's supernatural community, they are no longer powerful enough to uphold the treaty that bans our kind from their world. The three-tail, Sinopa, was allowed to mingle with the supernatural survivors, and they invited her help. I've tied up that loose end, and she's been forgotten. But it proves you were right… the treaty has been all but abandoned due to their state of disarray. We will walk amongst the mortals again, very soon. And, just as it once was, the mortals will believe what ever we tell them."

He grinned. "Just as I promised you. It still amuses me that you once tricked so many humans into believing that their world rests precariously upon the backs of turtles, all the way down. One of your finest tricks to date. I will see you soon, Kiko Sigyn. I should take my leave before I am seen."

They shared a kiss. Loki left the courtyard. Kiko smiled, knowingly. "Perhaps, by the time I am done with the mortal realm, it will be perched upon the back of a turtle shell. That will be my contribution to offsetting the balance set forth by those who say I am nothing more than a trickster fox queen." She licked her lips with a deviously sardonic grin and added, "And my finest trick to date was my first trick, which cost them their precious Garden of the Plains. Now we wait while the mortals tear themselves apart for my amusement."


A/N: THANK YOU for reading! This concludes the first part of ACT 1's rewrite.

I'll get started on re-writing the second book of act1, next. !yAy!

Thanks again for spending your time reading my material! I appreciate it!

I'm going to go back through and do some editorial to THIS story before I start posting the sequel book. But that won't take long, I promise.

TO BE CONTINUED...

(Please read the rest of the series!)