Let’s try not to fight in the comments this time. :) Aaand is intentional. :)
I woke up because the morning sun shone bright through the gap in my curtains, flooding the bedroom with honey-yellow light. It was so quiet. Usually birds chirped by my window, but I guess I slept too late.
Common sense required that I had to come up with some sort of plan of action regarding the dahaka. I needed information, and I would have to somehow get that information out of the two vampires. Although my main reference was out of date, I’d read what I could on the House of Krahr. They were a mid-sized vampire House with a long lineage and a fine tradition of extreme violence in the name of the Holy Anocracy. So far they hadn’t contributed either a Hierophant, who served as the religious leader of the Anocracy, or a Battle Prince, a designated commander-and-chief of Anocracy’s combined military forces if an invasion occurred to the country. However, they were financially stable, politically adept, respected by their peers and their rivals, and disinclined to suffer any insults.
In other words, Krahr was a traditional House, which meant the two vampires downstairs would be secretive and close-mouthed. I was unlikely to be getting any answers out of them. I would need a crowbar just to learn the Marshall’s name.
I looked at the wooden ceiling. Sadly no answers appeared on the planks. I’d gone through several bedroom styles in my life and my parents’ inn always obliged. When I was a small child, I had a pretty princess bedroom, complete with a four poster bed and clouds on the ceiling. When I was around ten, I saw a documentary on Dale Chihuly glass exhibit and became obsessed with the strange bright shapes. My parents’ inn grew glass tendrils on the ceiling in every color of the rainbow. When the sun hit it in the morning, my room shimmered like a mermaid’s underwater palace in the middle of a magical reef. By thirteen, I wanted my room to be solid black. By sixteen, some of the black turned white for a monochromatic look. I had thought it was very adult. Going away to college was the strangest experience of my life, because for the first time my room refused to change depending on my mood.
When I moved to Gertrude Hunt, I wasn’t in a good place. I wanted comfort and I wanted to feel at home. I always had this romantic idea about a mountain lodge lost somewhere in the snowdrifts. I didn’t want to completely replicate that, but I came close. Above me, heavy wooden beams crossed the knotty pine boards. The ceiling slanted at an angle, simulating an attic room, the lowest point near the queen-sized bed, the highest at the opposite wall where a tall window flooded the bedroom with light. The walls were a soothing beige, the thick rug by the bed was eggshell, but the same wide planks of knotty pine lined the floor. It wasn’t a fancy place, but it was warm, comfortable and completely mine.
Right now I had three beings in the inn who were neither guests nor staff. Having strangers in the inn was a really bad idea. When a guest was admitted to the inn, both the guest and the innkeeper were bound by the rules of hospitality. The innkeeper promised to protect and shelter the guest, while the guest promised to abide by the inn’s rules. Compensation changing hands sealed that deal.
Neither Sean, nor the vampires promised to abide by the rules of the inn. They were in this grey undefined area and I liked things to be clear. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow I was botching this whole thing up. Somehow even my bedroom didn’t feel as secure as it did a week ago.
Laying in bed brooding about things wouldn’t solve anything. I got up and went to the bathroom to freshen up. I was brushing my teeth when the house creaked. Something was happening downstairs.
I got dressed and went down the staircase. Lord Soren still lay on the table and the Marshall still knelt by him. A circle of thin sage-green stalks sprouted around him, each delicate two-feet-tall stalk tipped with a narrow bud.
Sean still sat in his chair. Beast sat on his blanket-covered lap. They were both staring at the vampire with identical freaked out looks on their very different faces.
Sean saw me, pointed at the vampire, and mouthed, “What the hell?”
I walked over to them. “Has he moved at all?”
“No. Stayed like that the whole night. Are you seeing this?”
I had expected as much. “He’s praying and emitting a lot of magic. The inn is responding a little. Nothing to worry about. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve given them a private space, but we were in a hurry.”
When things settled, I would need to allocate an easily accessible room specifically for emergencies. A hospital room wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway, when the funds were less tight.
Lord Soren took a long shuddering breath. His eyes snapped open. The buds split, turning into flowers, each with five intense blue petals. At the very center the petals suddenly turned bright purple, forming a thin round border around five stamens, tipped with yellow.
The Marshall raised his head and smiled. “Hello, Uncle.”
“Arland,” Lord Soren said, swallowing, his voice labored.
What do you know, no crowbar was necessary.
Arland stood up. “Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“Time was short. I was afraid he would leave the planet.” Lord Soren cleared his throat. “I have failed.”
“No.” Arland shook his head. “You found him.”
“Five men.” Lord Soren’s voice shook. “Five good men.”
“It’s in the past. You must rest, Uncle. We’ll need you. We’ll need your strength.”
Lord Soren lunged forward and gripped his nephew’s arm. “Don’t go after him alone. Promise me.”
“You have my word.” Arland touched the metal disk and gently lowerd Lord Soren back onto the table. The big man sighed and closed his eyes. His breathing evened out.
Arland turned to me. “Thank you for your hospitality. I’m afraid I must impose further. I wish to rent a room for myself and my uncle.”
Now was my chance to squeeze some information. “You and your uncle pose a significant threat to my guests. I will gladly rent you a room but I must ask for explanations.”
“You’re asking me to disclose the confidential business of my House. I can’t do that.”
“In that case, I can’t rent a room to you.”
Arland stared at me. His eyes perfectly matched the flowers from the floor – the same deep, intense blue.
“My lady, you leave me no choice.”
“You have a choice,” Sean said. “You can walk out of here.”
Beast barked once.
Arland raised his eyebrows. “A Shih-Tzu-Chi. What a delightful animal. My sister had one.”
He took a step toward her, his hand raised. Beast bared her teeth at him and growled low.
Arland turned to me. “I ask for sanctuary.”
The inn creaked around me, waiting. It was an ancient request. It meant a guest was in imminent danger. To turn him down now would be fly in the face of everything innkeepers stood for.
I raised my head. “Sanctuary granted.”
Magic rolled through the inn.
“What does that mean?” Sean asked. “So what he can stay here and he doesn’t have to tell us what’s going on?”
“To hell with that.”
“Do you have a problem with me?” Arland asked.
Sean rose. “Yes. I do.”
“Are you a guest?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Arland nodded. “I thought so. You’re neither guest nor staff, therefore your problem is irrelevant.”
They glared at each other. The testosterone in the room was getting thicker by the second.
“I’ll make it relevant.” Sean’s voice dropped into a dangerous icy quiet.
“If you attempt to fight on the inn grounds, I will restrain both of you,” I said.
“I was always a curious child,” Arland said. “I took time to educate myself about the folklore of various places.”
“And?” Sean asked.
The Marshall’s eyes narrowed. “I’m made of neither sticks nor straw.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you should find yourself another house to blow on.”
Tension sharpened Sean. Suddenly he looked feral. “That’s it. Outside. Unless you’re going to hide behind Dina.”
“Perfect.” Arland turned to me. “I apologize for this rude but unavoidable interruption in our conversation. I promise you I will make it as brief as possible.”
“Exactly,” Sean nodded, his face frightening. “This will only take a minute.”
Aaand the vampire and the werewolf went off the rails. “This is stupid.”
Sean opened the front door. “After you, Goldilocks.”
Arland’s eyes turned dark. “With pleasure.”
He strode to the door. Sean glanced out and shut the door with a quick jerk. “A cop’s walking toward the house.”
Magic tugged on me. I hurried to the door and glanced through the glass on the side. Officer Marais. Of course.
I send a pulse of magic through the house. The table with Lord Soren on it slid back through the hallway.
“Stay out of sight,” I hissed.
“No.” Sean said.
“Absolutely not,” Arland said.
I didn’t have time for this. “He’s a cop. What do you think he’ll do?”
“I’m not taking any chances,” Sean said. “With all the weird shit, he might not be a cop.”
“This is a valid point,” Arland said.
Aarrrgh. “You are wearing armor.”
“She’s right,” Sean said. “You should hide, Tinker Bell.”
“I’m nearing my limit,” Arland growled.
Officer Marais was almost to the door.
“Go down the hallway, first door on the left is the closet. Change into normal clothes and try to act like a human. Sean, help him. Go.”
The doorbell rang.
I summoned every ounce of intimidation I could muster and whispered, “Go, or I will drown you both in raw sewage.”
They took off down the hallway.
The doorbell rang again. Beast barked, bouncing up and down. I waited another second to make sure they disappeared and swung the door open. “Officer Marais. What a lovely surprise.”