"Guess who's house sitting tonight," he said with a pained expression on his face.
"Oh, son of a bi…I've been here all day!"
"Sorry, Ted's orders. Plus, with the Flare coming, every knight…"
"I know every knight but one will be on patrol, no exceptions. Fine."
"I'll bring you chocolate."
"Like hell you will. You couldn't afford it and your wife would kill you if she found out."
Another fun night polishing bowstrings and guns, I thought to myself. Maybe now would be a good time to M-scan those things from Milliways.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Half an hour later and I was staring at two printout sheets from the M-scans I did of a book of matches from the bar and a bullet I had taken from here to there and back again. Both pages were blank. Huh. Weird. Convenient but weird.
Andrea dear? Maxine, the Order's telepathic receptionist's "voice" said in my head and I quickly pushed thoughts of Milliways into a box. Kate Daniels is on line four for you.
Got it, I projected back as I picked up the phone. "Hey, Kate."
"I really hate to ask you this," Kate said, "but I have no choice. I'm trying to escort a little girl to the Order so I can hide her in the vault. I need three horses."
YES! I thought and nearly danced in place. "No problem. Where are you?"
"I'm at the Pack's Southeast Office. I'll meet you on the corner of Griffin and Atlanta Avenue. And I have a shapeshifter with me."
Pack territory...that could be tricky The Pack was a confederation of different clans of shapeshifters, all ruled by one man, Curran or as he is most often called, the Beast Lord. The Pack didn't let just anyone into or out of their territory but then I was just a knight helping another knight do her duty. "Sit tight. I'll be right there," I said and hung up.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The ride to pick up Kate and her posse (a young waif of a girl who was maybe ten and who reeked like she lived on the streets and an Oh-My-God-Lock-Up-Your-Women hansom young man of maybe 18, the aforementioned shapeshifter, a wolf if I wasn't mistaken) was straight forward and boring. Well, as boring as heavy traffic in Atlanta can be. Everyone could tell a flare was coming and so was taking care of business, leaving town, or batting down the hatches. Flares could be bad news. Normally, a magic wave comes and goes, maybe leaving behind a harpy or some other challenging but not impossible to kill monster. Flares could leave dragons or even gods behind.
We made it back to the Order's HQ in decent enough time with me riding point, though I could tell Kate was anxious with our pace. Once we got there, she sent the little girl, Julie if I caught the name right, upstairs to her office and brought the two horses she and Derek's had been riding over to the stables while I grabed mine and Julie's. Derek took up a position at the front of the building to give us girls the illusion of privacy. I knew wolf ears would pick up anything we said and was pretty sure Kate knew too.
She filled me in on her case; a missing person with a twist as only Atlanta could provide. Kate was looking for Julie's mom, who went missing after some big ritual. The twist came in the form of something Kate call reeves, which sounded like twisted vampire mermaids who could use their hair like tentacles, and an entity she called Hood but apparently was more commonly know as Bolgor the Shepard and somehow I just knew he didn't care for little sheep.
And I was right. Bolgor is one of the fomorians, ancient Irish sea demons or something. I didn't really know a fomorian from a leprechaun but sea demon seemed to be enough information to know they were bad news. Kate finished talking so I said, "Fomorians," as if I really knew what that meant. "What's the world coming too?"
Kate scowled a nod and said, "Three things: what are they doing here, why do they want Julie, and what happened to her mom?"
I shook my head. "I have no clue. But that's not my area. I shoot. I make gadgets work. I'm good with post-Shift resonance theory. Ask me something about folklore, and I draw a blank every time. But I'll keep you girl safe."
"I'm sorry to dump this on you."
I looked over at Derek and sighed. "I wish everyone would stop walking on eggshells around me. It needs doing, so I'll do it. I have to stay in the Chapter anyway: it's standard procedure during a flare for one knight to always be present. I'll guard your girl."
Kate didn't look assured.
"Should I write up a petition for safe asylum?" She asked chewing her lip in thought. Obviously rules and regulations were not her thing but I caught her drift.
"Worried about the Danger to Humanity clause?"
I smiled as I'd nailed it on the head. "The good news is, you don't have to file one. She is an orphan with no known relatives. Under provision seventeen, you can assume temporary guardianship of her due to the fact she's can't legally enter into contract. Fill out form 240-m, and she becomes your ward in the eyes of the Order. During a flare, all families of Order personnel can legally seek shelter at the nearest Chapter without being subject to the imminent danger clause. Unless she attacks, they have no authority to neutralize her."
"I don't know if she would sign something like that," Kate said, still doubtful. "She still thinks her mother is alive. And so do I. It might hammer some unpleasant possibilities home."
"You don't need her to sign. That's the beauty of it–all you need is the testimony of one knight besides yourself who agrees that you're acting in her best interests," I replied with a Cheshire grin. "And lucky you, you know one."
"Thanks," Kate said and I could tell she meant it.
"No problem. This is kind of fun for me–I'm so freaking bored. If magic hits, we'll skedaddle down into the vault, and if the reeves show up while the tech is up, I'll use their heads for target practice."
The Order's main door burst open. Julie ran headfirst into Derek and flailed in his hands. He grabbed her and lifter her off the ground. "What? Speak!"
She stained and spat a single word. "Vampire!"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~It waited for us upstairs in Kate's office; a hairless, emaciated nightmare, wrapped in steel-wire muscle and hidden in human skin. It was nude, ugly, and had been dead for three or four decades. Someone had smeared copious amounts of purple sunblock over its hide. For some reason the sunblock didn't disappear but dried into paste, as if the creature had popped a giant bubble of grape gum onto itself.
"You've got to be kidding me," Kate said upon seeing the creature.
The vampire unhinged its mouth and a deep, cultured voice issued forth. "A pleasure to see you, as always."
I entered the office on Kate's heals, stepped to her left to leave her sword arm free, and drew both my SIG-Sauers. I saw Kate's eyes widen minutely and internally I cringed. At this point I was going to have to get horn-rimmed glasses to keep my secret identity.
"Lovely firearms," the vampire said.
"SIG-Sauer P226. Move and you'll go blind."
"Do you really think you could beat vampire reflexes?" The vampire asked, the voice light. Or the pilot I should say, for vampires had no consciousness and since it hadn't already attacked us, it was being driven by a necromancer. The pilot wasn't challenging me; he was merely curious. But then again, he wasn't the one facing physical harm.
"Do you want to find out?" I replied, just for the record.
Kate interrupted us by saying, "She can blow his head off before you finish a twitch. Trust me, I measure speed for a living." I was liking Kate more and more. "Fortunately for all of us, we don't have to fight."
She smiled at me, telling me it was okay and so I put my guns away. "I'll be down the hall," I said and left the office, closing the door behind me. I wondered if we had any of that powdered stuff people claimed tasted like hot chocolate to feed the kid, hoping kids still liked hot chocolate.