Tess stood in Sebastian’s office surrounded by a hand-picked group of Council members and allowed her thoughts to wander while trying to decide just how much she was going to share with this room full of fossils. Had they not been so set in their ways and convinced of the very rightness of what they were facilitating, Phil and Barbara would not have relocated to Adamsville alone. In fact, they could have delved into the abnormal energy levels they’d detected while scouting out new camping spots from a safer distance with the broader complement of resources the Council oversaw. Their attempts to alert the Council to the suspicious activity they’d uncovered were brushed aside as nothing more than conspiracy theory. It sure looked like it was more than a theory now, even to those who preferred putting their heads in the sand when they weren’t giving orders or basking in their own self-importance. There was a part of her, however, that was grateful Phil and Barbara went rogue. This was definitely one of those times when the less the Council knew, the better.
She locked eyes with Ariadne and suddenly, the room seemed to grow hazy and the energy felt dense. In that moment, she realized the actions of the Council over the last decade or so had seemed as distorted as the room currently felt. What was going on here?
“I didn’t want to go into this with Sebastian until I was sure.” Tess heard Ariadne’s voice in her head and knew from the way it felt that the thought was more tightly controlled than any she’d ever received.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Tess used the same tight band to reply.
“I’m afraid so, dear. Someone has been exerting their influence over the Council so subtly that none of us was even aware of it. Recent events led me to examine our behavior more closely.”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Yes and no. There were certainly times we made some far-reaching decisions without our usual care and thought, but I don’t recall feeling coerced in any way.”
“What if someone simply exuded calmness and complacency?” As she uttered the words, Tess’s fur stood on end. Someone was doing exactly that right now.
“Hell and damnation!”
Tess’s whiskers twitched as she tried to hold back a burst of laughter. Ariadne rarely exhibited unladylike behavior. Cursing broke one of her cardinal rules; respect the language.
“Reach out carefully.” Tess knew Ariadne didn’t mean physically.
“OK. Besides the dense, fuzzy feeling I got a few minutes ago…wait. There it is. Someone is definitely trying to downplay the urgency we should be feeling.”
“Yes, dear. I suspect that is how we agreed to stop training the children so easily.”
“Well, that gives rise to at least a dozen questions. Two really do need to be addressed immediately. Is this something new or has it been happening right under our noses for years, centuries, even? And who is behind it right now?”
Ariadne seemed to shrivel in her chair, her face going tight and grey. Tess grabbed frantically for Ariadne’s mind as her resemblance to a corpse grew stronger.
“I’m okay.” The trembling voice only partly slowed the staccato rhythm of Tess’s heart. She brushed past several Council members to wrap her front paws around Ariadne, the audible calming mechanism unique to cats resonating through the room which had stilled at Tess’s sudden movement.
“We have to trick him into exposing himself.” Ariadne’s drew strength from Tess. The gray pallor slowly faded to her normal ivory.
“Could be dangerous. Whoever it is has to be powerful.”
“When has that ever stopped you?” Ariadne patted Tess’s check and pushed her away. “Don’t dwell on it. You’ll know what to do when the moment is right.”
A low growl was Tess’s only response as she returned to her place in front of Sebastian’s desk. The faces before her were a mix of expectant and curious. Unsure which to address, she gathered her thoughts and decided it was best to just begin.
“A little over two years ago, Phil and Barbara took a drive out to the desert, looking for new camping spots for their annual trip. They wanted to find somewhere to offer their daughter some new experiences and places to explore. What they found instead was highly disturbing. Outside a small town in the middle of the desert, they sensed a great deal of activity coming from a gold mine which had been abandoned for years. They were especially concerned by a growing area around the mine into which they were unable to sense any of the normal earth energies, ley lines, animals or even the human...