Dragons of the Ice
It has taken five years for this idea to come to fruition. I'm about to introduce dragonlings and another species of dragons who call themselves Earthers.
Dragonlings are a challenge during the best of times. When the plot to extinguish the dragon shifters of the world is uncovered, parents to be Petra and Dagmar, Olga and Lee fear for the future of their little ones.
The purveyor of this evil, red Chinese Storm Dragon Master, Ao Jun, will meet an American dragoness shifter and full blood warrior dragon who prove courage recognizes no boundaries.
Dragons of the Ice
Lee gazed at the reflection staring back at him. He’d become so used to cloaking his eyes that this move to leave them natural disconcerted him a bit. He completed dressing and headed for the hotel’s restaurant.
He let a smile touch his lips as he thought about the rice porridge and broiled fish. He couldn’t get Olga to serve it at home so he was relishing the treat. Opting for a table facing the street, he ordered and sipped his coffee while waiting. The changing sky fascinated him; one moment the blue beckoned him to abandon his work and go fishing, the next clouds rolled in and threatened rain.
He started when he looked at the table and found his breakfast in front of him. The white uniform clad waitress was quietly slipping back to the kitchen. “I love the consideration of the Japanese.” Lee dug into his food with gusto. He’d not eaten a warm meal in thirty-six hours and his stomach was loudly complaining. Finishing with a warm, damp towel to his fingers, Lee leaned back in his chair and considered his next step.
Reports were filtering through his office regarding the disappearance of Swedish citizens and embassy soldiers in Japan. The vanishings were being reported in Sweden as well. Not many who lived there voluntarily chose to leave. His office disregarded most of the claims and put the details on the back burner. But his senses, his dragon senses, made his skin prickle and scales rustle. An ominous feeling growing in the pit of his stomach set him to questioning his superiors. They’d grown tired of his persistent doubts regarding their methods.
“As it appears your decade of military service makes you feel you’re more accomplished at this than Verner and myself, we’re assigning these reports to you. Lycka till! You’ll need it.” Lee’s boss stomped out of his office leaving a towering stack of files teetering on the edge of his desk.
Lee signed his name to the breakfast bill, putting his room number at the bottom, and gathered his belongings. His human counterparts had no idea how important the instances of missing persons would become; not just to the shifter community but to the two-legged community as well. He signaled a taxi and gave the address in the Higashi-ku district, sitting back and taking in the city sights. The streets were busy with shoppers and tourists, but Lee didn’t get the rushed sensation he’d felt in European towns of the same size.
The Swedish embassy’s sleek modern look was not at odds with the surroundings. Quite the contrary, the neighboring buildings seemed to have adopted similar architectural lines, embracing the glass and steel so popular in his country. He paid the cabbie and thanked him, disembarking from the vehicle and staring at the facade in front of him. Standing here looking at the office won’t get the job done. Let’s get a move-on.
He walked through the security station giving up his briefcase and undergoing the less than invasive check of his person. When the detector beeped, he indicated he needed to reach into a pocket. The guard eyed him suspiciously, watching his every move as Li pulled a folded sheet of paper with two fingers from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He thrust the paper toward the guard and resumed his stance.
The embassy policeman opened the paper with one hand as he simultaneously unsnapped the weapon strapped to his side. Quickly scanning the document, the guard’s only reply was to grunt and secure his pistol. The paper was shoved at him when the guard waved him through to the reception desk. Lee grabbed his briefcase, making his way to the counter. A smiling, fair complexioned younger woman greeted him.
“Good morning, sir. Can I help you?”
“Yes, I believe I’m a bit early, but I have an appointment with the ambassador at 8:30 am. My name is Lee Svensson.” He pulled out his military identification and presented the plastic encased card to her.
She looked at the picture on the card then keyed information to her computer.
“Oh, yes. I see it here on the calendar. Please take a seat over there.” She waved a delicate hand to an area set up in the center of the room. The beech wood chairs had been carefully arranged in a conversational setting to encourage visitors to feel comfortable. Haggå-patterned material covered the couches lending a feel of Swedish flair to the area. Lee chose a seat with a view of the door. He pulled his laptop from the briefcase and flipped it open. Starting up the computer, he aimed the camera lens toward the entrance. Here, he needed to employ a bit of acting if he was to insure no one would suspect him.
The atrium-styled lobby echoed each time the door opened making subterfuge difficult. Lee tapped lightly on the keys, not depressing any but the lens button, with each new visitor. He checked the timer at the bottom. Twenty minutes had passed since he’d checked in, and the receptionist had yet to announce him. Gritting his teeth together to hold back his impatience, he was about to get up and reintroduce himself when a new visitor caught his attention.
The man was a mountain. Taller than Lee at over six and one half feet, his ill-fitting suit emphasized the mass of human being captured beneath the cloth. He clumped up to the security area.
Lee leaned back in his chair and watched the events unfold on his computer screen.
The guard stood up, staggering backwards as his eyes scanned the new visitor.
Giant man pulled out identification and tossed it on the table in front of the screening machine.
With practiced slowness, the security guard picked up the ID while not taking his eyes off the Goliath before him.
Lee tapped up the volume to hear the interchange.
“Mr…” The guard cleared his throat and swallowed. “Watanabe. I’ll need you to walk between the posts…” He looked up at the massive human. “Please.”
Lee smothered a grin. I’ve got to see how this turns out.
Placing his car keys in the provided tray, the big man stood blocking light from the front windows.
“Okay, sir, you can go through.” The squeaked instructions reverberated throughout the concrete and steel atrium.
Lee watched the massive man walk up and turn sideways to get through the metal detector. He held his breath. The large human he now knew was Mr. Watanabe sailed past the arch with nary a sound. Upon exiting the detector, he grabbed his keys and placed them in his jacket pocket.
The guard, hand-held detector at the ready, took one look at the ferocious expression facing him and opted to take the easy way out.
“Thank you, sir. You may pass.”
Lee couldn’t help himself and chuckled, drawing a dagger-laced glance from the giant. He pulled in a breath as, in that split second, the man dropped his cloaking to show his gold eyes and red scales. Lee coughed.
Holy mackerel. The guy must be huge in his dragon form.
“Mr. Svensson?” The receptionist broke his concentration.
“The ambassador will see you now. Please continue to the fifth floor secretary and she’ll direct you from there."
Lee shut down his computer and trotted to the elevator. It wasn’t until he was inside the lift; he realized he was sharing the ride with the giant.
The man stared straight ahead.
Lee pushed the fifth floor button and tried to keep his anxiety in check. The elevator stopped, a female voice announcing in Swedish and Japanese the third floor. The giant stepped to the doors. Upon opening, he stuck a foot in the track and turned to Lee.
“Enjoy your visit, brother.”
He was gone before Lee had an opportunity to respond. Somehow, he didn’t think the large man was a representative of the Chamber of Commerce sent to welcome him.
The elevator doors slid shut and he pushed out a breath. “Close… too close.”
The large man, Mr. Watanabe, knew he was a shifter. Lee had no doubt in his mind. The silky female voice again announced the floor, and Lee departed to face the secretary mentioned by the receptionist in the lobby.
“Mr. Svensson?” The surprised expression on her face was something he faced continuously. About to let loose his irritation; Lee realized she might be responding to his gold eyes as opposed to his oriental looks. This young woman was Japanese; yet, she’d spoken to him in perfect Swedish. It was his turn to look surprised.
“Yes. I'm here to see the ambassador on an urgent matter."
She dropped her gaze. “Please accept my apologies. Your eyes are quite lovely. It must be wonderful to experience good fortune throughout your life.”
Lee stopped for a moment. She’s congratulating me on my gold eyes? He’d read somewhere the Japanese considered gold-eyed, black cats to be good luck. His black hair and oriental looks combined with his unveiled gold eyes must have triggered the secretary’s remark. Better than the usual responses.
He graced her with a rare smile. “I’m very fortunate to have good luck follow me.”
She picked up the phone and announced him to the party at the other end.
“Mr. Svensson is here. Yes, sir.” She rose and moved from behind her desk. “Please follow me, sir.”
Lee trailed behind the young woman, taking in the rich carpet and upscale furniture. Glass walled offices slipped past as they headed down the hallway toward a closed door crafted in carved blonde wood. The secretary knocked tentatively.
She turned to Lee. “Please go in.”
He turned the brushed nickel handle and entered the room.
Behind the antique desk sat the Ambassador. Blonde locks glinted in the sunlight streaming through the window. Nels Lundquist looked up, and his sapphire eyes crinkled with the large grin covering his face. He stood, all 6’7” of him, and extended a tanned hand.
“Lee. How terrific to see you. I’m glad you could make it.”
Lee set his briefcase on the floor and slipped his hand inside Nels.
“Nels? It’s been too long. How are you? I see…” he held up the tanned extremity, “you’re still hitting the links.”
Nels pumped the younger man’s hand enthusiastically.
“Yeah, and still losing like crazy. You’d think I’d find a better hobby.” With a wave of his hand, he indicated Lee should sit.
“If I remember correctly, you were pretty darn good at hockey and coached an Olympic Gold Medal Team in 1994."
Nels leaned back in the chair. “Yeah. Those were the days. Unfortunately, I experienced one fight too many. When I’d broken my collar bone for the third time, my wife threatened to leave me. Don’t know why, but I took her seriously.”
Both men chuckled. Lee knew very well Nels worshiped Johanna, his wife. They’d gone through the end of the Mage Wars together, and she was a fearsome warrior in her own right.
“What can I do for you, Lee?” Nels settled in his chair.
“I've been receiving some disturbing reports from the field regarding occurrences here."
Nels leaned forward and started to say something.
Lee held up his hand. “Yes, we have plenty on our hands back home. The reason I was sent here is my familial connections. I have uncles living at the north end of the island. They’re… uhm, monitoring the air waves.” He raised his eyebrows to emphasize his point.
Nels nodded. “I understand. There’ve been numerous incidents where we’ve been called by the authorities. Officially, we can’t get involved.”
“We sent out investigators to validate the claims.”
“What did you find?”
“Very disturbing circumstances. Folks going about their daily routines suddenly change in the middle of town or at the shopping center.”
Lee slumped in his chair. It was as he feared. Reports had trickled from America about something similar, but nothing could be verified.
Nels continued. “Panic seems to be at a minimum as the Japanese aren’t immune to the idea of our kind, and the Ancients among the populace. The local cops show up and, with surprising speed, another group of people dressed as prefecture road workers appear. The cops are handed paperwork and disappear into the crowd. Accident tape goes up, then tarps, and within an hour, the scene appears as nothing more than roadwork."
“I’ve assigned Marcus Alrikson, my deputy, to cover the news outlets for any information he can obtain. So far nothing. Whoever these people are, they are very careful.”
Lee worried his lip with his teeth. This was far worse than initially reported.
“How many of us are here?”
Nels opened a bottom drawer and retracted a manila file folder. A quick glance at the paperwork inside provided him what he needed.
“Of the fifty staff I employ, there are four of us.”
“That's spreading it pretty thin. Anybody experiencing any unusual changes?”
Nels shook his head. “Not to my knowledge.”
“Do you have a notepad and pencil I might borrow?”
Nels lifted a brow. “Sure.” Opening his desk drawer, he supplied the items to Lee.
Lee spent a moment scribbling on the pad and shoved it to Nels.
Can’t be too careful. Realized after you mentioned ‘us’, we should have done this sooner. Who are the rest of the shifters?
Nels read the message and chuckled. Lee, in his job at the Criminal Investigation Division--CID for short, was always acting as though the world was involved in cloak-and-dagger. He’d play along.
My second in command who I’ve already mentioned, Marcus, the Deputy Head of Mission, is one of us, but he’s currently in China on a trade mission. Our head of Defense, James Sakura, is also a shifter and, Nels smirked as he wrote the final name on the page, Lovisa Stromberg, the receptionist.
“Are you serious?” Lee spoke aloud his incredulity.
Nels leaned back and laughed. “Who better? Nothing wiser than to have a strong front line.”
“True. Tell me, Nels, how is your agenda today?”
Nels shot Lee a wary look. “I have a light day today.” He toggled the computer mouse and brought up his schedule on the screen. He was set to confer with his staff on possible budget cuts at 2:00 pm, otherwise his afternoon was clear.
“Just a budget meeting at two I’m sure my staff would love to skip; aside from that… clear sailing. You thinking of a round of golf?”
Lee watched Nels eyes light up.
“Sorry, friend. I’d like to offer to take you to lunch, but I don’t want to be bound by time constraints.”
“Consider it done. Let me contact Mizuki.” Nels picked up his office phone and a muted conversation ensued. With a nod of his head, he replaced the handset. “Done. The meeting has been moved to next week; I'm sure nobody will be disappointed except the accountant, and you have me for the afternoon.”
He winked at Lee. “Where do you want to have lunch? Do you want to go native or have comfort food from home?”
Lee, a lopsided grin betraying his answer, rubbed his hands together.
“Let’s do native!”
“Sushi it is. I'll call the driver and have him bring the car around. We'll head for Uoisshin. You'll love it. Best raw fish in town; on a conveyor belt, no less.”
Lee rose from his chair and walked to the window as Nels contacted the garage for a car and driver. He’d been feeling unsettled since his encounter with the giant in the elevator. His profession, the department of the Army where he worked, was obsessively compulsive about the secrecy surrounding their work.
The large man today had recognized Lee’s odd colored eyes for what they were. His sure movements through the building disconcerted Lee. Yet, Nels made no mention of him in his listing of shape shifters working within the embassy walls. This little detail rattled him. He’d have to discover the extent of Nels knowledge, or lack thereof, about the organization.
Apathy could be his worst enemy here. If Nels knew more than he was letting on, Lee would find the truth. If he was as ignorant as he acted, the shifter community was in for a rough ride.