Soft music drifted into the room, delicate and precise. Tanaka Yashida and Asahina Ito sat at a low table, watching a video feed on a large screen mounted to the wall. A young boy sat in a chair nearby, legs crossed and eyes closed in meditation. It had been six months since their information gathering attempt had failed, the moment Ichi and Shinobu had set foot on Izu Oshima they had lost all contact. Asahina saw it as a diplomatic snare. Tanaka saw it as a declaration of war.
Using his contacts on the island, he had first tried to remove the Jade Lady from the hotel she had taken up residence in, only to find out that she had indeed purchased the Miharayama Onsen hotel. She had also paid twice the market value with cash. He’d tried to get local suppliers to stop selling their wares to the hotel, but he’d only managed a temporary pause in their business.
From there, Tanaka had widened his efforts to disrupt life on the island itself. He had undermined the reliability of the power grid by cutting auxiliary power lines, sabotaged the ferry and bribed the local traffic authorities to undertake major repairs on the only bridge that connected to the mainland. The Jade Lady had responded by constructing solar and tidal power generation that made Izu Oshima energy independent and helping to revive the local farming and fishing communities. The need for people to leave the island dropped dramatically.
Eventually, the amount of influence they could enact to change things on Izu Oshima had dwindled to almost nothing. Councilors and officials politely declined bribes, business owners ceased responding to threats, and even locals who owed him favors only grudgingly agreed to do small things in return for being released from their obligations. He had finally resorted to magical means.
One of the people who Asahina had helped him recruit was an Adept who had an affinity with animals. Together with Tanaka’s tech department they had outfitted a few dozen pigeons with small cameras and deployed them to the island for spying purposes. Now they watched in disbelief at what was happening in the city of Motomatchi.
The Jade Lady was walking the streets in formal dress from centuries ago. She wore a flawless kimono of white embroidered with sakura trees, wooden sandals with high platforms to keep her feet out of the road dust and carried a parasol. A huge Bengal tiger walked next to her like an obedient hound, everyone seemed to take its presence in stride.
She exchanged pleasantries with every person she passed, calling them all by name, giving some gifts and accepting small tokens from others. Children occasionally begged rides on the tiger’s back in exchange for small dishes of liquor that he lapped up with apparent relish. The townsfolk weren’t being forced or intimidated into obedience, they actually loved and respected her.
“It can’t be real,” Tanaka said, looking at Asahina. “Looks like you were right. She is using some kind of mind control.”
“As strange as it seems, I don’t sense any kind of magic.” She said, “But I’d have to get closer to be sure.”
They watched as the lady walked into a small town square. A gang of young men with masks over their faces ran from alleys in front of and to either side of her. Most of them had knives, but their leader and two others had pistols.
“Tsung, please move one closer so that we can hear,” Asahina said, and one of the images on the screen came closer to the square as one of the pigeons landed on a fountain.
“-you stupid bitch?” The leader was yelling, “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but you don’t get to tell us what to do! You might have a pet tiger but that’s not gonna help you against bullets!”
“You are being most uncouth youngsters.” She said, snapping her fan open in front of her face. “One should show more respect for one’s elders.” A low rumble of a tiger’s growl rolled through the air. It cut off when she put her hand on his head.
“The Tonda gang has run this town for longer than you’ve been alive.” He pointed his gun at her, “We don’t take anyone trying to get a piece of the action. We sent you warnings but you just wouldn’t let it go.”
“Izu Oshima is my island.” She said calmly, “No gang of young fools can alter that. Your guns cannot help you accomplish your goals. The only way you will be able to remain here is to agree to serve me and obey my commands absolutely. I will not allow you to further trouble my people.”
The gang began laughing and their leader shook his head. “You’re outta your goddamn mind. I’m gonna paint the walls with your blood!” His gun fired, and a bright splash of blood began to stain the Lady’s pristine white kimono.
A hail of stones flew as Sai’Li fell to sprawl on the grass in an expanding pool of blood. Dozens of the citizens ran forward, throwing more rocks, carrying bats, sticks and carrying other improvised weapons. Shopkeepers still wearing their aprons, servers from restaurants, students, housewives, and fishermen filled the square, skirting around the tiger where he stood protectively over his mistress.
“You boys leave now.” A man in a business suit said, pointing at them with a golf club. “Lady Sai’Li has done more to ensure our prosperity in the last two months than anyone in my lifetime. You always said you were helping us but I never saw you do anything but demand free drinks and cause trouble.”
A group of teenage girls ran up to Sai’Li, stopping nervously a few feet away from the still bristling Ignis. “Lady!” One shouted, “We need to help you! If we don’t stop the bleeding you’ll die!”
The tiger looked at them with a baleful glare but moved to put himself between her and the gang. More rocks flew and the gang leader brandished his gun, causing some of the people to flinch.
“I’ll shoot you just like I did her!” He yelled, “Nobody fucks with the Tonda gang!”
A rock struck him in the face and he stumbled back, blood running from a broken nose. The businessman ran forward, smashing his golf club into his gun hand, sending it flying. One of the others aimed his pistol but went down under a half-ton of angry tiger before he could pull the trigger. The remaining gang members fled.
“Something’s not right,” Tsung said, his voice soft and dreamlike. “No! They’re dying!”
The video feeds closest to the square changed perspective and the ones further away caught the motion of small bodies falling. The birds that had been carrying the cameras had fallen over. The leaves of the trees in the square turned brown and began to fall off in the light breeze.
A white Mercedes arrived, and a group of figures sprang out. The Lady struggled to her feet, and the man in the business suit seemed to be talking to her. Despite her injuries, she bowed to him before allowing the new arrivals to help her into the back of the car, leaving a trail of blood behind her.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Tanaka said, running his fingers through his hair.
“Yes, she seems to have truly captured the hearts of those people.” Asahina said, “I did not think that kind of tactic would be what she employed.”
“I was referring to how she tricked them all into thinking she had been hurt defending them,” Tanaka said, tapping a cigarette out of a pack and lighting it. “After word of that little display spreads there won’t anyone in that city who wouldn’t die for her.”
“If she doesn’t die from being shot.” Asahina said, “That wasn’t a trivial injury.”
“She uses some kind of life magic.” Tsung said, “Or if it wasn’t her, someone else drained the life from everything around her. The people were strong enough to stay alive, but the plants and smaller animals all died.”
“What does that?” Tanaka asked, looking at Asahina.
“Oh no.” She said, her face going pale. “We thought they were all dead.”
“You thought WHO were all dead?” Tanaka snarled, “What have you been hiding from me?”
“I thought she was laying claim to the Jade Court out of ignorance or because none of them still lived to dispute her words,” Asahina said, her face pale. “If my fears are accurate she may be an ancient evil returned.”
“What?” Tanaka looked caught between anger and surprise. He’d never seen Asahina frightened before.
“Remember when we first met? When I was hunting that creature and found out it had been stalking you?” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Remember how hard it was to kill?”
“Once you told me how dangerous it was and we ganged up on it with the proper tools, it wasn’t that hard.” He said, but the memory of the thing she had called a Black Court vampire still sent a thrill of fear down his spine. “Garlic, crosses, and stakes through the heart, a scene right out of Brahm Stoker.”
“That’s why the Councils around the world worked to propagate that story,” Asahina said, pouring a glass of scotch with shaking hands. “That’s one of the only times the wizarding world has used the power of normals to defeat a supernatural enemy.”
“I remember your history lesson from last time.” He said, “What’s this got to do with her?”
“The Jade Court left a few centuries ago.” Asahina said, “They weren’t driven out, they weren’t forced to go, but it was right before the first war between vampires and mages began. At first, we thought it was because they were weak, there never were very many of them and nobody knows how they’re actually created.
“I haven’t been able to find more than rumors, but it seems as though this was a strategic move based on divination or maybe even advice from a dragon. Either way, it was not due to any weakness that I could find.”
“So we should stock up on crosses?” Tanaka asked, lighting a cigarette.
“I looked through all of our records back then.” She said, “After we drove the Black Court from our lands I wanted to research the other courts so that we could defend against them if need be. I couldn’t find one single instance of a Jade Court vampire being killed. Not one.”