Workspace 94

The Search For Shēngxiào

A warehouse in Norfolk, Virginia:

"Heironymous... This could get messy."

Agent Crystal Salt edged up to the roof's broken skylight with her gun drawn, aiming it inside as she looked for any sign of attack. Seeing none, she noticed the catwalk directly underneath, and jumped down. Seeing a group of people at the far end of the warehouse, and noticing a pyramid of crates below the catwalk, she jumped down to the top crate, and made her way down for cover. "Heironymous, there's a bunch of people here. This could get messy," she whispered.

"I see 'em," she heard the agent drawl into her earpiece. "It's important we apprehend the suspect before this becomes a hostage situation."

"A shape changer that prefers animals versus that whole group?" Crystal asked. "Why would they take her hostage?"

"I wasn't talking bout them," was Heironymous' simple answer. "We don't know what all this shape changer can become."

"True," acknowledged Salt. "If she can become a rat, we're going to have a problem finding her," she whispered, noting a few rats on a nearby crate. She blinked, and one of them had become a rabbit, and started hopping along the tops of crates. "I see her. She's a rabbit now, moving fast towards the front," she warned as an eerie blue light played along the warehouse walls.

"Be on the lookout for a Tibetan Mastiff."

"Stop her before she gets to those people!" hissed Heironymous. "Something's going on there that we don't have time for."

"On it," Crystal whispered. "Crud! Now she's a dog! Be on the lookout for a Tibetan Mastiff."

"A what?" asked Heironymous in surprise.

"What? I can't know something about dogs? A large brown-and-black dog with a shaggy mane."

"Right," the agent grunted.

A commotion could be heard from up front. There was an audible pop of air, and then someone shouted, "Damn, C-Note! Clean that crap up, and meet us back at the crib!"

"Why me?" complained C-Note.

"Yo! Where'd this danged chicken come from?"

"Because you're--" the rest was lost as there was another audible pop and rush of air behind Agent Salt. She spun to see a man clad in grey plate armor and dressed in blue, all but his mouth hidden behind a mask of like colors.

"Ascalon?" she gasped.

"You're not supposed to be here," the man chided. Before Crystal could respond, the man waved his hand dismissively, and she was gone. Spinning to his left, he caught the hand reaching for him, and growled low, "Neither are you, dragon." The surprise was evident on Heironymous' face before the man snapped, making him disappear as well.

The man gritted his teeth as he heard a loud squawk from up front, followed by, "Yo! Where'd this danged chicken come from?"

He made a grabbing motion in the air, and there was another pop of air up front, followed by one in front of him. Up front, he heard, "Aw, man! Get this stuff loaded up, and let's get the hell out of here!"

"Come back here, and you will face the wrath of The Wishing Demon."

Floating in the grip of his magical force was a rooster that quickly became a pig, and then a goat, and then an ox. "If your next change isn't into your human form, you may not live to regret it," he warned.

The ox tilted its head, then lowered it, and then morphed into a human female in red leather. There was a white Chinese dragon design coiled around the right leg, extending up the back, and wrapping over the left shoulder, the head and front claws on her chest, looking as if about to attack. She wore a red leather mask that covered her neck and head, leaving only her eyes and mouth exposed. There was a Chinese symbol on her forehead that the man recognized with some surprise.

"Another one?" the man asked. "You are interfering with my business," he said angrily. "Come back here, and you will face the wrath of The Wishing Demon." With that, he raked his hand to the right, and the woman disappeared in the same manner as the agents before her.

Across the Elizabeth River:

"What the hell?" gasped Salt as Heironymous appeared beside her. "That was Ascalon!"

"Shen?"

Straightening his trench coat, Heironymous said, "It looked like him, but I don't think so. Ascalon doesn't have that kind of power. If he did, he'd have used it by now."

"Well, what are we going to do about him?" Crystal demanded.

"Nothing. I told you, we don't have time for that right n--"

Heironymous was interrupted by a pop and a rush of air as the woman in red leather appeared before them. Seeing the symbol on her forehead, Heironymous' eyes went wide, and he gasped, "Shen?"

"Shēngxiào, cretin!" she hissed as she shrank into the form of a snake.

"Shin-shaw?" asked Crystal.

"Close," acknowledged Heironymous. "It's the Chinese word for their zodiac."

The snake transformed into a capuchin monkey, and clapped its hands. Raising its arms above its head, it became a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, then coming down into a stance where it turned into a tiger.

"Aw, hell," complained Salt, drawing her gun. "I really don't want to tangle with a tiger today."

"Then you're really going to hate where this is headed," Heironymous deadpanned. Salt just looked at him, and he continued, "The animals she's turning into are part of the Chinese zodiac."

"So?" prodded Salt.

"So there's one I haven't seen, and Shēngxiào's name is a bastardization of her real name- Shen- a shapeshifter. But her real shape is--"

Before he could finish, the tiger let out a loud roar and became a gigantic, crimson-scaled beast.

"A dragon," Crystal said in defeat. "Another dragon," she said looking at Heironymous. Waving her gun in the air, she asked, "Why do I even have this? I may as well throw rocks at her."

"Yeah, maybe you better let me handle this one," said Heironymous. He shrugged off his trench coat, and then he turned into a great, golden dragon.

"Weren't you purple before?" asked Crystal as the two dragons roared at each other. She quickly ran to the edge of the river.

She reared... then spun and ran in the opposite direction...
She reared... then spun and ran in the opposite direction...

The two dragons circled each other, roaring, stomping, and scratching the ground. They breathed fire at one another, neither flinching from the great heat. The golden-scaled Heironymous flared his wings upwards, and the crimson Shēngxiào bowed her head and scrambled backwards. A ripple went through her body, and she became the horse again, the form appearing where the tip of the dragon's tail had been. She reared on her hind legs, then spun and ran in the opposite direction from Heironymous. He roared, angry and triumphant, and returned to human form. His clothes having shredded when he transformed, he picked up his trench coat and put it on to cover himself.

Crystal's shock at the outcome turned to anger. "Hey! What the hell? We were supposed to apprehend her!"

"We're chasing the money, not the dragon."

"That wasn't going to happen," Heironymous seethed. "I'd have had to kill her, and I didn't want it to come to that."

"She was our only lead to the funny-money flooding the economy!" shouted Crystal.

"No," Heironymous sighed, "she wasn't. That blue light in there? That was Wish. And the Ascalon look-a-like? The way he made us disappear? I'm pretty sure that was a jinn. Shēngxiào just led us to what we were looking for."

"So what? She gets a pass?" balked Crystal.

"She does," Heironymous said with a nod. "We're chasing the money, not the dragon. She just led us to the source."

"What now then?"

"Now we report it back to the Secret Service. Drugs are a different jurisdiction. We need to see how they want to proceed."

Crystal sighed. "And our Jeep? It's on the other side of the river."

Just then there was a pop and a rush of air, and their Renegade appeared before them. They stared at it for a few seconds, then stared at each other, then turned and stared across the river.

"I'm tired. Try not to kill us."

"Someone really wants us to leave," said Crystal.

"And we're going to give them what they want," said Heironymous, reaching into his pocket for a set of keys. "We don't have the time or power to fight this kind of magic. Let's go," he said, clicking a button on the keyring, then throwing them to Crystal.

"You want me to drive?" she asked with a laugh.

"I'm tired," grunted Heironymous. "Try not to kill us," he huffed as he got in the passenger side.

Crystal smirked. "We survived magic and a dragon tonight, partner," she said as she got in the driver's side, and closed the door. "I think the ride'll be just fine."

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