I sat at the kitchen table. The werewolf sat across from me. Two perfectly round wooden spheres lay on the table, each about the size of a small kiwi. A complex pattern of dark crossing spirals wove through the wood. We’d fished them out of the pot once the flesh had fallen of the stalkers’ bones.
The trackers were inert. No magic emissions. No electromagnetic signals. Just two harmless looking chunks of wood. But when I reached for them with my magic, I felt a spark. It curled deep inside them, vibrant and alive, waiting to be released so it could blossom.
Around us the inn was quiet. Caldenia had gone to bed, having delicately devoured enough meat to satiate three grown men. Outside the windows, a sunset burned down, one of those glorious Texas sunsets, when the color grew thick and vivid and long stripes of clouds glowed orange on a nearly purple sky. Beast lay by my feet, gnawing on a bone Sean had given her. Through the day she had upgraded his status from kill on site to suspicious to the man with delicious treats, who can’t be trusted. She would take a bone from him, but petting was still out of the question.
Sean regarded the spheres with calm interest. “Can you activate them?”
“Did the trackers turn themselves off because the stalkers died?”
“I don’t think so. From the scans, they look simple: turn on, turn off.”
“So the dahaka deliberately turned them off.”
Sean leaned back. “If I were him, in a place I don’t really know, I would want to know where my dogs were at all times. He turned off the trackers. He’s hiding.”
“The question is from whom. He could be hiding from someone he’s hunting.”
“Or someone is hunting him,” Sean said.
If someone was hunting a dahaka, that someone would be armed to the teeth, ruthless, and powerful. In other words, someone we would be wise to avoid.
Sean picked up one of the spheres and studied it. “You have to decide how involved you want to be.”
“I know.” If we left the dahaka to his own devices, he would kill again. I had no doubt of it. He had turned off the trackers for a reason and he would want them kept off. If we reactivated them, he would stop what he was doing and come directly here to investigate. And not just him, but his prey or his predator as well.
“I can ignore him or I can give him a target.”
“Agreed.” Sean leaned back in his chair.
As long as the dahaka concentrated on the inn, the rest of the people would be somewhat safe. I was better equipped to deal with him than pretty much anyone in the county.
Activating that tracker went against the fundamental principle of keeping an inn. The safety of the guests had to be maintained at all times.
I realized I was looking at the portrait of my parents. I wished so desperately I could ask for advice. I might as well wait for money to rain from the sky. I was alone. Nobody would offer me any guidance. I wasn’t even sure guidance would do any good. I knew the appropriate course of action: sit on your hands, guard the inn, and do nothing.
He was eating people. He could come back and start going through the neighborhood at any point on his own. But if I made the inn a target, that would also put my neighbors at risk. If we did activate the trackers, I would have to make sure to hold his attention. The decision was mine and I made it.
I looked up at Sean. “If you’re going to bail, now is the time.”
“I’m in,” he said. “No conditions, no strings attached. He doesn’t get to come to my planet and use our bones for dog toys.”
I reached over the trackers and passed my hand over them, sparking the tiny flame of magic with my power. The spiral lines on the spheres glowed with brick-red. I held my breath. The spheres came apart, the sections of wood turning like a Rubik’s cube. The trackers realigned themselves, the spirals turning into concentric circles, and lay still, emanating a steady pulse of magic.
Sean and I looked at each other.
“I guess that’s it,” he said.
“Did you expect them to explode?” I had, a little bit.
“It crossed my mind.” Sean leaned back. “There is a good chance he’ll show up tonight.”
“Would you like to spend the night here?”
“I think it would be wise. I promise not to try anything funny. Unless you want me to.”
“Let me make this perfectly clear: try something and you’ll find yourself tied to a metal table with steel cables even you can’t break.”
An evil light sparked in his eyes.
“Don’t,” I warned him.
He raised his hands, palms up. “I’ll be an angel.”
Ha-ha. Right. “What are your preferences for the room?” He would want something clean and simple. Probably with a touch of country so it felt more like home and less like Spartan barracks. I could put him into the Romantic bedroom for giggles. The look on his face when saw the canopy bed would be priceless.
He shrugged. “I don’t need much. A bed. A bathroom would be nice. As long as it’s clean.”
I glared at him. How to insult an innkeeper in five words or less…
“No, it’s filthy, but I doubt rotten food and dead hookers under the bed would bother you.”
“I’ve slept in worse.”
I rose. “Come with me.”
I led him up the stairs to second bedroom on the right and opened the door. A spacious square bedroom stretched in front of us. Very light knotty alder wood paneling covered the walls and ceiling, giving an illusion of a rustic log cabin. A large, simple bed with a polished headboard that still managed to pretend it was roughly cut from a random block of wood sat against one wall, supporting a soft mattress with white sheets, a small army of pillows and a sage colored bedspread. Two side tables, a dresser, and a bookcase, all matching the headboard in style but clearly not part of the same set completed the room.
“Nice,” Sean said.
“The bathroom is on your right.” I nodded.
He walked through into the bathroom that was almost as large as the bedroom, looked at the garden tub, the shower, and stopped by the small windows.
“That’s a huge bathroom,” he said.
Bathrooms were my pet peeve. “At least it’s clean.”
He turned. His eyes narrowed. “We’re on the south-east side of the house. I can see the road.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time studying your house from the outside.”
“Aha.” Where was he heading?
“I know for a fact that there are three arched windows side by side with a small balcony in place where this bathroom is.” Sean pointed to two small rectangular windows situated one under the other to flood the tub with light.
“If you would you like a large arched window so people can view you in all of your naked glory while you bathe, that can be arranged.”
“Dina,” he growled.
“People say that physics has laws,” I told him, walking to the bedroom door. “I prefer to view them as a set of flexible guidelines.”
Sean followed me out. A flat screen TV slowly materialized on the wall across from the bed. The ceiling spat a remote and Sean caught it by reflex.
“Thank you for staying, Sean,” I told him. “I’m glad that you’re here. You know where the kitchen is, so if you get hungry in the middle of the night, you’re welcome to the food. Please let me know if there is anything else.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, as if he’d changed his mind, and said, “Sure.”
I stepped out and closed the door. I needed to take a good long shower and wash all the smoke out of my hair.
Two hours later, I was in bed, catching up on my reading and trying to ignore the fact that Sean was three rooms away, when I heard a car roll up and stop by the inn. I checked the window. Two Hummers parked on our street. The doors opened and the vehicles disgorged large men in trench coats.
Hmm. And who would you be?
The last man out leaned in to the vehicle and took out something long wrapped in a cloth. With my luck, it would be a missile launcher.
As he straightened, his coat shifted. Long dark hair spilled out.
Not a government agency. Last I checked, neither FBI nor CIA permitted their operatives to have long flowing locks.
The man handed his burden over to another, pulled a couple more out, and closed the car door. As if obeying some invisible signal, the men stopped and bowed their heads, their hands together, arms bent at the elbow, as if holding their hands in prayer. I squinted. Fingers of their hands together, palms apart, thumbs and pinkies touching and held horizontally. The Holy Pyramid. Got you.
I grabbed my bra and pulled the keeper robe out of the closet. They would want to talk and they were sticklers for formality, and I didn’t have time to actually get dressed.
Ten seconds later I went down the hall, dressed in a long grey robe with a cowl, broom in hand. Sean was already out of his room and dressed.
“Who are they?”
“The Cosmic Holy Anocracy. I don’t know which House.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything. And why are you dressed like a monk?”
“I need to get you a primer to read.” I went down the stairs. “If we’re lucky, it’s just men-at-arms. If they have a knight with them, things could get complicated.”
The magic pinged, letting me know someone stood at the edge of my territory. They didn’t cross onto the grounds. They just let me know they were there. A good sign.
I reached the door.
“Dina,” Sean said. “I need to know what we’re dealing with.”
“Vampires,” I told him. “Please let me do the talking.”