The rain drummed a steady rhythm against the tile roof of the weather worn mansion, the sheets of water collating into streams, then into rivers, through meticulously maintained gutters. At journey’s end, the now sizable currents cascaded from the mouths of gargoyles and dragons. The silent copper sentries occasionally revealed by a stray glint of light from the few lit rooms below them.
And few they were. Of all the many vast halls throughout the manor, only the light from three broke through the darkness. The grand study shone brightest, flanked by two smaller rooms, where silhouettes occasionally traipsed through the beams of light.
The grand study held no such secrets, however. Curtains drawn wide, its two occupants took center stage. Standing, pacing in fact, before an empty audience, was a rather rotund corgi. Opposite of him was a lanky Cheetah, relaxed in the protective envelopment of his ornate sofa.
And so, the corgi paced. Back and forth across the grand study, compulsively dodging the carpet lest it muffle the displeasure voiced by every footstep.
"I mean it Spots. They're really pushing it now." The corgi uttered to his companion.
"You're being obstinate", remarked the Cheetah, not so much as looking up from his book. It was a statement of fact. One that he felt needed no further supporting evidence.
The corgi halted, his pacing brought to a standstill by the statement.
"Obstinate!" The corgi repeated back incredulously, his face scrunched up in a dramatic exaggeration of personal offense as he turned towards the Cheetah
"They've got no business being here. I didn't ask for them, I don't want them, and I don't trust them. The last thing I need is one of those caffeine addled cowboys to get trigger happy at the first thing that moves out there."
Adjusting his glasses, The Cheetah turned a page with indifference. "None the less, they are here.”
Overwhelmed by the seeming indifference, the Corgi wound up his retort like a pitcher about to throw a baseball "Now see here-"
The door to the study opened, producing a lone panda in a dark navy suit with an ear piece hidden amongst a crop of black hair, as if they knew they were the subject of the discussion.
"Everything alright in here?"
"Everything is quite alright." The cheetah offered, looking up from his book for the first time, a calm smile on his face.
“I heard shouting,” The Panda stated
"Of course you heard shouting. You heard shouting because everything is bloody well not alright." Finding a new target for his aggression, the corgi turned his onslaught on the panda, who looked ready for what was surely the latest attempt to undermine his current assignment.
"And what seems to be the problem Mr. Young?" the agent in the blue suit asked with trained politeness.
"Well for starters, I take exception to the continued occupation of my home by S.P.E.A.R.E. This isn't America. and I'm a private citizen."
"We've noted your complaint Mr. Young. But we're here upon the invitation of Her Majesty’s Government. And on behalf of our sister agency in your own coun-"
"FURTHERMORE, what do you think you’re doing up on my roof? Hosting a parade? They're loud enough that anyone who WOULD be trying to sneak in he-"
As if to prove his point, a resounding crash followed by a distinct thump reverberated through the hall, the ornate crystals of the chandelier ringing like a wind chime
The panda winced before holding a finger up to his earpiece. "Brooker, what the hell was that?"
One muffled explanation later, and the panda turned back towards Mr. Trevor Young, who was quietly turning various shades of red under his already prominently orange coat.
"As you well know, it is raining. One of our agents had a minor slip-"
His explanation fell on deaf ears as the corgi marched passed him, golden eyes ablaze.
Trevor didn’t hear him. His world seemed to reduce to a soft heartbeat as his focus narrowed to a the locked glass case on the wall.
It was such an unremarkable thing really. One of millions, tens of millions even. But he knew it better than he knew his own paws.
Gently he unlocked the case, reaching in to grab the rifle off its pegs. He paused for a minute to feel the weight of it in his arms. The polished wood stock was occasionally interrupted however by familiar notches and scars that he could map out with his eyes closed.
Viers closed his book, setting it aside as he assumed a relaxed but attentive posture on the sofa. He had learned something long ago about Mr. Trevor Young, that S.P.E.A.R.E had yet grasp.
When Trevor decided he was going to do something, he would see that something to its conclusion regardless of the obstacles.
And he was about to do something.
Following a deep exhale, Trevor suddenly tightened his grip on the rifle and began a hurried march for the door.
"Mr. Young!" The panda exclaimed, moving to block his way.
"I suggest you let him go, Agent Palmer." Viers called from the sofa. "He won't get into trouble, and maybe we'll all get some peace and quiet after he's got this bee out of his nose."
Agent Palmer looked between the cheetah and the door, conflicted on his next course. He finally threw up a hand in defeat as the other instinctively went for his mic.
"Brooker? Palmer here. I think you're about to get a visitor.” “Use your best judgment, understand?"
The room was silent for a time, except for the occasional crack of the fire. Several moments passed before the cheetah spoke again, his English carrying a hint of a West African French as he chose his words carefully.
" You know, Tray has been on edge since the… ‘attempt’." He didn't have to elaborate on what “attempt” meant. They had gone over the incident repeatedly with S.P.E.A.R.E, trying to put a face or motive to the assailant that managed to break into the office building and briefly hold Tray hostage.
“He’s never taken well to someone getting the drop on him, let alone at Valkyrie HQ. He built that place to be his fortress…down to each nut, bolt, and pane of glass."
Viers chuckled. "Furthermore, to add insult to injury, you have trapped him in his second least favorite place in the world: his family's estate."
With a sigh, Palmer ran a paw through his hair. " We get that. And trust me we'd love to leave you to you both to your own devices. But this whole ’Slowburn‘ mess isn't just relegated to you two you know. We've got one of you back home to think about if this isn't an isolated incident ...”
Palmer trailed off at the end of his sentence. Something sharp seemed to appear in the swimming amber depths of Viers's eyes as he turned his gaze to the panda fully.
"Ah... yes. I suppose you do.” Viers paused.
"How is he?"
The panda suddenly became uncomfortable, his trained politeness returning, though less confident, as his weight shifted from one foot to another. "I'm not at liberty to say-"
Palmer felt a shiver crawl up his spine, as if someone had suddenly poured ice down his back. The cheetah hadn't moved, but the tone in his voice held a danger the panda hadn't expected or prepared for from the man. He was suddenly reminded of other golden eyes he'd seen, eyes burning with a fury he hoped to never see again.
"He's... fine." Palmer finally conceded. "Last I heard anyway. That's not really my assignment anymore."
Viers’ expression gradually softened. "Thank you.
There was a fresh, awkward pause between the two of them.
“…Can I offer you something to drink, Agent Palmer?”
"Long as it's water, tea, or coffee. Dr. Morrel.
End Pt. 1