Entering the office of owner and Chief Executive Officer of Palace Industries Jiao Li Wong, was like stepping into some weird kind of fantasy world where only the loveliest things had survived. A small pond was built into the middle of the office and from it crystal clear waters bubbled happily, inhabited by a variety of nishikigoi and one or two lily pads. Under Erin’s feet was the greenest and most luscious artificial grass money could buy and along the edges of this indoor lawn, were pink wisteria and red roses that bloomed unnaturally, their vines creeping up the vibrantly painted walls.
It was an explosion of colour at every turn, yet did not seem overdone, but as though everything was in its proper place. Erin sat in a large leather office chair. The armrests and back of the chair had been specially designed as a kind of fish tank, so that tiny fish could be seen darting this way and that. It was the same with the glass desk and the near identical leather chair that her host was soon to be seated in. She hadn’t yet appeared and Erin was becoming more restless as the minutes ticked by. On another day she might have been tempted to be impressed by the extravagance of the office as she waited, but this was not that day and either way, it was no surprise, succubi were always a bit over the top.
“So sorry,” came a cheery voice from behind her and Erin stood, turning to greet the CEO. She was a slender woman, fair-skinned with large slanted dark eyes which matched the dark hair that fell to her back and was in a word, striking. Erin shook her offered hand.
“It’s no bother, I had nothing better to do,” she said with a touch of sarcasm. Sitting behind her desk, the three-piece designer cream-coloured suit she wore making her look as though she were the centrefold of a Vogue shoot, the succubus merely smiled demurely as her assistant had.
“I feel better about my tardiness then,” she replied, ignoring Erin’s jab.
“Miss Wong, you called Praesidium, but wouldn’t say why you needed us over the phone?” Erin asked, trying to move the meeting past small talk.
“Please, Jiao, after all, we are better friends than that are we not?” Jiao said and laughed, a tinkling sound that seemed to make the flowers dance right along with it and Erin tried to tune it out, knowing how easily one could be caught under a succubus’ spell from something as simple as this. She had spelled herself against hypnotic influences even before walking onto the Palace Industries building’s street, wanting to take no chances as she did business with the Leader of the Succubi and Incubi Nation, more commonly referred to as S.I.N.
“Okay, Jiao, are you ready to tell me why you called us?” Jiao just looked at her for a little longer before throwing her well-manicured hands into the air.
“You don’t want to catch up after all we’ve been through, so be it.” She laughed again and Erin grimaced. She might enjoy being in China, the culture, the food, the soda, but she couldn’t exactly say that she’d liked the reason either of the times she’d been there previously.
Before Jiao was willing to see the value of being a part of the Gathering in Albania, she had ruled the succubi and incubi of the East with an iron fist. She was as beautiful as she was unrelenting and her particular talents had also allowed her to become one of the wealthiest individuals in all of China.
Erin’s first meeting with Jiao had been to bring Praesidium’s terms to her, an agreement Jiao had thrown back in her face. On the second attempt, Erin had been accompanied by a team of wardens and containment officers, who had made it clear to Jiao that all she had would be stripped from her, should she choose not to comply. If there was one thing succubi loved more than riches and the life of debauchery they lived, it was power, and Jiao, not ready to give up her position, had eagerly signed on for peace in the supernatural realm.
“Let’s not pretend at being bosom buddies shall we? You kept me waiting for more than an hour and now you’ve decided to waste more of my time with your worthless chatter,” Erin said, hardening her tone, she stood before continuing, “I’ll be at Hop Inn, call when you’re ready to talk.” She turned and heard Jiao stand behind her,
“No, please sit,” she implored.
Erin turned to face her, Jiao’s solemn expression making her relent. She sat again, folding her arms, “Go on.”
Jiao didn’t sit, but turned away from Erin, looking out from her large glass windows at the busy street below. She spoke in Cantonese, her words flowing more effortlessly in her language, than they did in English.
“You remember Meihui Lang?” Jiao did not wait for Erin to answer and continued with little pause, “She has been invading my territory of late and buying up properties all over China in an attempt to overthrow me and all that I have built.” Erin frowned. Meihui was also of the succubi bloodline and was Jiao’s main business rival. She had been Praesidium’s first choice to take Jiao’s place if she hadn’t decided to work with the organisation, was a regular face at the Gathering and had not raised any red flags on the organisation’s radar as far as Erin knew. She answered carefully in her host’s native tongue,
“Our job isn’t to fight your battles for you Jiao. If Meihui is making a play for your businesses and land, then take it up with her lawyers. Now, if that’s all—”
“No, you have to listen!” Jiao’s head whipped round, and she looked at Erin angrily. Her eyes pooled inky black and Erin folded her lips, quite prepared to send the succubus flying through the window should she decide to make any moves. Almost as quickly as her anger had flared up, it subsided and Jiao took a breath, smiling at Erin as her eyes returned to their usual hue. “My outburst was uncalled for,” she said bowing apologetically.
“There’s obviously more to this than you’re telling me, so why don’t you save us both the trouble and clue me in,” Erin replied, not at all pleased with the way the day was turning out.
Jiao considered her words, then, touching the thin gold chain around her neck replied, “Succubi feed, but they must not kill, those are the rules of the Gathering. Meihui and her harem aren’t obeying this rule. You are a warden, you have no choice but to investigate my claim, am I not correct?” Jiao smiled smugly.
Erin sighed, “I hope you’re wrong.”