I racked my brain, trying to recall what I knew about Daniel. He was a Jewish noble who, together with three others, had been taken to Babylon around 600 BC to serve as an advisor at the court of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, whose chief claim to historical fame was the construction of the Hanging Gardens for his main squeeze. Daniel had many prophetic and apocalyptic dreams and by all accounts lived to a ripe old age, managing to survive the toxic Babylonian politics.
What could Daniel have possibly encountered in Babylon to have this vision? The only remotely similar creatures were the Assyrian lamassu, but there were no records of them being shapeshifters. The Assyrian Empire lay in a region I knew well. The ancient Assyria, Babylon, and Nineveh all were around long before recorded history. They were the cemetery flowers that grew from the dead body of my father's once-mighty empire.
The clock said it was almost time for the meeting. I'd have to come back to it later. I stacked my books in the corner of the room, grabbed the Bible and the Almanac, made a beeline for Doolittle's room, and rapped my knuckles on his door.
"Come in!" Eduardo called.
I opened the door. A large room stretched before me, easily as big as Desandra's suite. Two doors stood open, one on the left leading to a bedroom, the other on the right opening into a bathroom. To the left two tables had been set in the shape of an L. Glass vials and beakers lined the surface. Doolittle sat in the corner of the L looking through a microscope. To the right, two oversized plush couches flanked a coffee table. Derek sat on the closest one, holding cards in his hand. He'd pushed them together into a single stack. Across from him Eduardo lounged, taking an entire couch by himself. He held his cards in a wide fan.
"What do you mean, come in? You don't even know who I am."
"Of course we know who you are," Derek said.
"He smelled you coming," Eduardo said.
Life with werewolves. Why me?
I dropped into a chair by Doolittle's table.
He looked at me. A pair of glasses perched on his nose.
"Why do you wear glasses? Doesn't Lyc-V give you twenty-ten vision?" I asked.
Doolittle tapped his glasses. "Yes, but these give me twenty-two."
His voice with its coastal Georgia overtones made me so homesick, I almost hugged him.
"How's the head?"
"Fragrant." Doolittle opened a cooler that sat next to him. Inside the severed head rested, wrapped in plastic and half submerged in ice.
Doolittle leaned back. "It's a shapeshifter. The blood reacts to silver and shows the presence of Lyc-V."
"Aha! So I'm not crazy."
"You are most definitely crazy," Derek said. "But in a deranged, endearing way."
"Don't make me come over there." I looked at Doolittle.
"They are rambunctious this morning," he told me. "Unfortunately my resources here are limited. I don't have access to any of the genetic sequencing methods I have at home."
There was more to it, I could sense it. "But?"
"But there is the Bravinski-Dhoni test."
"I've never heard of it."
Doolittle nodded with a small smile. "That's because it's not very useful under ordinary circumstances. It's not precise. It is, however, very reliable."
He pushed a wooden rack of test tubes toward me. Each was half filled with blood. A small label identified each test tube: Bear, Wolf, Bison, Hyena, Mongoose, Jackal, Lynx, Badger, Lion, and Rat.
Most of these probably came from our team. "Where did you get the jackal, lynx, and rat?"
"The locals," Eduardo said.
"Hibla got upset," Derek elaborated. "When you fought, someone deployed a gate that sealed the hallway. The gate mechanism was guarded."
"Let me guess, the local guard was murdered in a horrible way."
"Probably," Derek said. "The body is missing but there was a lot of blood. Hibla wants to know what's going on."
Doolittle picked a pipette and dipped it into the Wolf test tube. "The essence of the test is based on the assimilation properties of Lyc-V. When faced with new DNA, it seeks to incorporate it."
He uncorked the Bear test tube and let two drops from the pipette fall inside. The blood turned black, swirled, and dissolved.
"Assimilated," I guessed. The Lyc-V had chomped on the foreign DNA.
"Precisely." Doolittle picked up a test tube marked Bear II. "The blood in this test tube is from Georgetta, but the blood in front of you is from her father."
He sucked a couple of drops from George's test tube and let them fall into Mahon's blood. Nothing happened.
"But wouldn't the difference in human DNA affect it?"
"It does, but you won't see a dramatic reaction." Doolittle leaned forward. "We've tested the blood from the man you killed against all of these. Every single one gave a reaction."
"Even the lynx and lion?"
Doolittle nodded. "Whatever it is, it may look feline, but it's not. If it is, its DNA is significantly different from that of a lynx or a lion."
"So where do we go from here?"
"We try to get more samples," Doolittle said.
That would be problematic, to say the least. I tried imagining walking over to the Volkodavi or Belve Ravennati and telling them, "Hi, we suspect that one of your people might be a terrible monster; can we have your blood?"
Yeah. They would just fall over themselves to donate a sample.
"I could pick a fight," Derek said. "Get some blood that way."
"No fights. We start nothing. We only react."
"That's exactly what I said." Doolittle fixed Derek with his stare. "Also, Kate, if you do run across another specimen, do try to keep him or her alive until I get there."
Ha-ha. "Will do, Doc. My turn." I opened the Bible and showed him the verse from Daniel.
Doolittle read it, raised his glasses onto his forehead, and read it again. "I've read the Bible hundreds of times. I don't remember reading this."
"You weren't looking for it."
Derek came over and read the verse.
I brought them up on Daniel's brief history. "The beasts in Daniel's dream are usually interpreted to mean kingdoms, in this case Babylon, that will eventually fall from glory. But if taken literally, it could mean a shapeshifter."
"Were there winged cats in Babylon?" Doolittle asked.
"The only thing close were the lamassu," I told him. "Lamassu served as the guardians of ancient Assyria. Assyria spanned four modern countries: southern Turkey, western Iran, and the north of Iraq and Syria. Assyrians liked to do war, and they fought with Babylon, Egypt, and pretty much everyone they could reasonably conquer in ancient Mesopotamia for about two thousand years. Around six hundred BC, Babylonians, Cimmerians, and Scyths, all the nations who had once paid Assyria tribute, finally banded together and sacked it. We don't have many records of the Assyrians. They left behind some ruined cities and stone reliefs depicting fun things like impaling entire villages of subjugated people and riding around in chariots hunting lions."