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I open my eyes to an embroidered canopy. In the distance, the pops and hisses of the hearth’s fire welcome me. I know where I am. This is my mind fortress in all its slumbering glory.


I hear a deep sigh coming from outside. I walk down a flight of stairs to the grand entrance. The gates open as I pass.
Under the serene gaze of the Watcher, flowerbeds extend on manicured lawn according to a bizarre pattern. I make my way to the nearest wall of towering thorn trees and they part before me.


The clouds of the in-between flow past all around before resolving into a familiar sight. Nashoba is leaning against the shell of his giant turtle. He holds his head between two hands, his knees close against his chest. He looks more vulnerable than I have ever seen. I walk to him and sit on the ground.


“Why the sorrow, shaman?”


“Ah, Daughter of Thorn and Hunger. I did not mean to interrupt your torpor tonight.”


“Think nothing of it. Are you in danger?”


Nashoba is one of my favorite humans. I would be displeased if he were to die before his time.


“No. It is not that. Do you remember what I said about planting and weeding seeds?”


“You remove threats before they do too much harm?”


He smiles sadly.


“It is so much like you to forget the growing part, though you cannot be blamed. What matters is that I failed.”


“Perhaps it is not too late?”


“It is. The winds of war are blowing, Ariane. I see crimson clubs raised high to the North. Nothing will stop it now. It is inevitable.”


“North means the Muskogee. If they seek war, it will not be against you, no?”


“You miss the point. Every year more of your kind spills on the shore in search of fortune and every year the newcomers head west to look for land. They find us. This conflict will give your chiefs the cause they need to impose yet another treaty, ancestral land swapped for a few crates of goods. Ah, look at me, trying to hold back a river with two twigs and my bare hands.”


Nashoba sighs heavily once more.


“Never mind that, Ariane. There is more to discuss since you are already here. Yes. Let me worry about what I can still change.”


He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. The tortoise behind him rumbles lightly.


“Death is coming, of a scale that this land has not seen before. We must stop it. You must seek a key that breaks.”


I remain silent for a moment, expecting him to go on. He does not.


“How unusually cryptic of you.”


“I know. The foe only started moving its pieces and something obscures my sight. You must pull on the threads of fate, Ariane. Whack the bushes and see what comes out. If you uncover enough, a pattern will emerge.”


“I appreciate the trust, old friend. I only fear that you overestimate my reach.”


“I do not. This much I know: you will be instrumental in this struggle. Should you fail, this evil will run its course. Test the limits of your hunting grounds, daughter of Thorn. Do not leave the initiative to our foe.”


Nashoba stands up and stretches, looking slightly better than before.


“I must leave you now, we will speak again later.”


The man moves his hand, the tortoise opens one blind eye and I fall backwards into slumber.

 

17th of July, 1812, Higginsville, Georgia.


It has been nine years since I became a vampire.


I cannot agree with my kind’s way of measuring age. I am twenty-eight, with all the experience and knowledge I gained during that time. I draw as much from my human years as I do from what happened after.
I lift the top of the sarcophagus. Soft blue light shines on my bedroom. I lift an arm and look at the black nails that end it.
If I had not gone to the ball on that fateful night, my body would be different now, marked by childbirth and the passage of time. Instead, it appears exactly the same as the night I died, to the last strand of hair.


Appearances are deceiving, however. The human Ariane could not eviscerate werewolves.


What has visibly changed is my room. I used to think it spacious, back when I had three items and a broken backpack to my name. It is now cluttered with books and trophies representing my various pursuits. I stuck my best works on the wall: portraits of Dalton I draw every year, as well as one of Margaret Mitchell I made before she died, a Muskogee on his farm, a black child asleep outside of his house, a Choctaw dance. All of those are painted as seen by my vampire eyes, colorful and vivid even in the dead of night.


In the middle, I placed my most ambitious work, a partial rendition of the Silent Watcher.


Drawing the vampire aster is difficult. When I look up, I reach a state of serenity that is not conducive to the observation of physical objects. Rather, I can focus on parts of it but never the whole. After three days of fruitless attempts I reached the conclusion that it simply does not obey the laws of physics. I will never be able to draw it as it is, for even if my brain could comprehend what it perceives, my tools would not allow me to do it justice. And so I tried to draw a feeling instead of an image. I found a set of colors between purple and red and after almost a month of frantic efforts, I finally succeeded in capturing a glimpse of what it feels like to be in its presence.


Dalton and Loth did not like that, not one bit. Merely looking made them extremely uncomfortable, they said. I count that as a major success.


On either side of the wall, I placed bookshelves. They are filled with copies of Loth’s own books, as well as quite a few others I managed to acquire courtesy of the Rosenthal consortium. I am now well versed in several mage traditions and systems although it is still completely beyond me to work anything myself. I also purchased books on hidden history as well as magical fauna and flora. I also have my own notebooks, packed with references and observations on subjects as varied as shamanic magic and gun smithing.


Finally, the center of the wall is occupied by a desk containing my current subject of study as well as important letters. The most precious one is written in the tongue of Akkad by a steady and refined hand. It reads like this:


Ariane of clan Nirari,


Your request to join our community as an independent House under the Accords has been approved. You will present yourself as well as all relevant witnesses at the 1820 conclave taking place in Boston, Massachusetts, where you will be given the opportunity to argue your case.
I wish you good fortune in this endeavor.
With regards,


Constantine.

 


This specific letter is currently my most precious possession. It is the hope that soon, I may come across one of my kind without having to fear slavery or death. I owe it to Jimena, who submitted my request at the previous gathering two years ago. It is unfortunate that such events only occur every decade, and yet it perfectly reflects the laissez-faire attitude of the current Speaker, the same attitude that may allow a Devourer reject to reach legal status. The wait is a small price to pay, all things considered.


Next to it are the correspondence with my father, Jimena, Isaac who is back in Geneva as well as a few business contacts and even a scholar or two.


The table holds a single fiction, a work by one Cecil R. Bingle titled: “In the clutches of the Blood Cult.”, with an engraving of the man himself on the cover. He looks dashing and holds in his arms a fawning woman thankfully inspired by Rose. It does star as a side character the ‘sensual and mysterious Adrienne, beset by an evil curse because of the sins of her father.’


Loth still laughs about it sometimes, although he slowed down on the “Oh ye sensual and mysterious lass, pass me the number three wrench” since I “accidentally” dropped it on his foot.


Bingle, the mark of your passage still haunts me eight years after.


With a sigh, I get dressed and leave the vault. Loth has dropped two letters in a small basket by my door. I grab them and head up. I reach the smoking room and sit next to the man himself, busy snacking on a handful of nuts.


“Good evening Loth.”


“Evening lass, any good news?”


“We shall see in a moment.”


I open the first letter and read its content. Our good Bingle is well in Sussex, and Rose is expecting their third child. He takes a moment to mention something I was not aware of.


“Loth, why is Bingle lamenting the unfortunate state of affairs between our two great nations?”


“Ah, yes, we are at war with the United Kingdom.”


“WHAT?! Since when?!”


"June. I just got the news. Something about illegal trade restrictions, arming the Indians and abducting sailors.”


“War! How are you not worried? This country has no real standing army!”


“This country, as you say, is not our worry lass. Its citizens will kill us if they learn of what we are anyway.”


“And this mindset will be of little help if a regiment of dragoons turns this entire town into a pile of cinders now, will it? Not to mention the Lancaster may want a larger piece of the pie if their home nation takes over.”


“Ye worry too much, they’re busy in Europe right now. And broke. We’ll talk again if they make landfall.”


I do not reply. Loth is right, I do not have a squadron of ships of the line handy so right now my ability to contribute to the war effort is laughable. I turn my attention to the second letter. I do not recognize the writing style and there is no return address. How peculiar. Well, let us see what this is about.


“Miss Delaney, if you are reading this, then I am dead.”

Well, we are off to a great start.


“I set an arrangement, so that if I were to fall, you would receive this letter as a measure of security. My name is captain Alexander Jenkins. A few years back, you set me on the trail of the Brotherhood of the New Light, after revealing to me that my superior at the time, Captain Lannes, was a member of this most sinister organization.”


Lannes... Lannes...
Impossible. The Tillerson estate party! Is this act giving dividends after so many years? This is incredible!


“What I discovered went beyond anything I ever thought, or even dreamt to be possible. Alas, it is the truth and no matter how strange my claims, how outlandish my accusation, I ask of you that you believe me. Heed my words and heed them well, for we are all in terrible danger. The purpose of this community of people is not to gather wealth and power, nay, it is to achieve eternal life by means most foul! You must find allies you can trust and take up the torch! For if we fail to stop them, I fear that we will witness horrors the likes of which civilization should have left behind.”


How very ominous. Nashoba, and now the dearly departed officer warning me of some impending doom? This is no coincidence.


“Please find in this enveloppe the key and deed to a safe box in the first South Carolina bank in Charleston, where I secured my latest findings. I am sorry I could do no more. Good luck, and may God be with you.
Yours,
Augustin Alexander Jenkins.”


Here go my plans for the week.


“Something the matter Ari?”


“Somebody died and left me with inheritance.”


“Oh? And what would that be?”


“The burden of stopping a mysterious and dangerous conspiracy whose monstrous pursuit will leave uncounted victims in its wake should no one step up to face it.”


We ponder this for a few moments.


“I find that leaving money is usually better received.”


“Mmmmmh.”
“Anything I can do to help?”


“I need to go to Charleston.”


“Ah. Charleston. The third seat of power for vampires in North America. That Charleston. The city Jimena unambiguously told you to avoid. That one, aye?”


“Yes.”


“And what will you do there?”


“I need to retrieve some incriminating documents from a safe.”


“Oh, a heist! I love me some good heist!”


“No, Loth, I have the key.”


“Oh.”


He looks disappointed.


“You know Loth, if you absolutely must commit grand larceny, why don’t you just do it?”


“It’s the stakes. It’s not the same if there are no stakes, ya know?”


This is how I feel about Hunts.


“I do. Now, I need to reach this bank, go in and out and leave with no one the wiser.”


“Ah finally we’re talking! We’ll get to proper planning, right after we celebrate your birthday! Death day! Ah, whatever.”


Loth rings a bell. I hear the sound of something being wheeled to us as well as two heartbeats. An instant later, Dalton rolls in with a trussed-up captive on a sick bed, holding a lit candle in his manacled hands.
Oh, so thoughtful!


“Happy birthday Mistress!”


“Happy birthday lass.”


“Mmgrgnfmmmlf.”


“Oh, you shouldn’t have, thank you, thank you!”

 


 


July 23rd 1812, abandoned house on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina.


I once thought New Orleans imposing. I believed it to be a major trade hub for slaves and agricultural products, a cosmopolitan metropolis to match European towns. How naive I was. Charleston sprawls before me, covering a fang of land nestled between two rivers as wide as a lake. Lines of ships reach and leave its waterfront through a channel heading East, into the ocean.


The city has more than fifteen thousand people in expansive districts, more than half of them black. The rest comes from Scotland, Ireland, France, the Caribbean, Prussia... the list is long. The streets ring with the sounds of a veritable Babel’s worth of language. There is a marketplace made from stone, an exchange and even a bank that was built to be a bank, like on the old continent! Truly, a beacon of civilization. Countless slaves, bales of cotton and other goods pass through it every day.


I wish I could spend more time in it, walking its roads and browsing its stalls. Alas, that would be unwise. As the maps would say, Hic Sunt Dracones, except here the dragons are real and will kill me for trespassing on their territory.


And so, we are reduced to a “smash and grab”, as my friend would say it.


“It’s been a long time since I prepared a heist, feels nostalgic, ya know?”


“It’s not a heist! I have a right to that box. I have the key!”


“We’ve got a plan, disguises, and exit routes. Sure feels like a heist to me, aye?”


“Bah! Nonsense...” I grumble without much conviction.


“Go over the plan one last time, Mistress.”


Dalton is serious tonight, even more so than usual. I have tried to hide my apprehension at coming across a Master or even worse, a Lord. I would not bet on my disguise over whatever Senses they have at their disposal.


“I go to the bank on foot and come in from the front, completely ignore the people keeping an eye on the entrance and get access to the box the normal way. Then I exit from the side entrance and make my way South to the pier. If I am followed, I go through the designated ambush points. I take the rowing boat across the river to James Island and we meet between the two blue lanterns no matter what two hours from now. The most important thing is not to alert the local vampires of my presence, and so I will limit myself to human abilities unless discovered.”


Dalton nods and goes on.


“Is everyone ready?”


“Yes, before ya go, I have something for ya.”


Loth takes out three ceremonial knives and gives each of us one.


“It’s a tradition back where I’m from, for good luck. Stab one into the table. It will be waiting for you to return and so return you will. Go ahead.”


We stab our respective blades in the old wood and leave the room without a look back.


 


The difficulty, I believe, is to stay in character. I am carrying three magical items right now: Nashoba’s earrings, said to protect me from tracking, Jimena’s blade as a safety and a small pendant made from cut glass. The last one is Loth’s most recent prototype, an attempt at reproducing the runes he saw on Skjoll’s armor. I did ask him how he managed to pay attention to those while smashing said Skjoll into the furniture, and as usual the answers were rather evasive. The result is worth it. The creation should mask my cold aura from any casual viewer for the duration of the operation. I would have to come face to face with a vampire for it to fail.
If I do not demonstrate any strange ability or otherworldly speed, no one will suspect a thing. The local vampires should not even imagine that their territory was breached.
I am sure everything will go according to plan. I don’t even know why I am nervous. I am going to the bank to retrieve something that is mine. There is no cause for concern.

Really.


I am greatly concerned as I walk to the bank’s door through a small plaza.
The building is large and solemn, made of sandstone and beige plaster interspersed with white. The windows of the second floor are tall and proud, looking down on the people below underneath a church-like cupola. There are no first-floor windows, and the customers enter the building via a single round-arch gate that looks solid enough to resist a battering ram. It takes all of my self-control to ignore the three goons looking at the entrance like hawks. Three is far too many, and I wish to believe they are not there for the safe, and yet I cannot ignore the obvious. If I had eliminated Jenkins and wanted to ascertain that my plot is still secret, what better way than to capture those who will inherit his notes? It is also likely that they would not dare breach the vault themselves to retrieve its contents while they can have some poor sap do it for them.


Jenkins, what on earth have you stumbled upon?


My disguise gives me the appearance of a middle-aged woman. It is heavily padded, except around the posterior, which according to Loth needed no modification. All my hair is hidden under a conservative bonnet and I look to everyone like a matron huffing and puffing her way through a late errand. A touch of makeup helps with the general impression.


A doorman in uniform with a truncheon tips his hat as I pass by, and soon I find myself inside.


The main lobby is soberly decorated with landscape paintings and wood panels. At this late hour, only one counter is open, behind which a fussy young man with a monocle is working. The lights are subdued, casting the interior in long shadows. A guard struggling to stay awake is the only other occupant of the place.


“Can I help you?”


“Good evening young man,” I say in a lower pitch than normal, “I would like to access my safe, please. Here are the deed and the key.”


The man inspects the key with apparent disinterest until he sees the number. His eyes widen in excitement and fear for a single instant. He mechanically licks his lips.


He knows.


This is bad. The bank has been compromised.


“Of course Madam, of course. Please follow me. Barney? Barney!”


“Sir?”


“We are going to the safes.”


“Very well sir.”


There is no mistaking the brief pause before the guard acquiesces. I am now on borrowed time.


I follow the short man deeper into the building, through a door and down a set of stairs. At this late hour, the place is mostly deserted and gives an eerie feeling of emptiness. After unlocking and relocking a few more barriers, we enter a small room under the watchful gaze of a heavily armed guard. Boxes cover the place, set into the wall. We quickly locate mine.


“We will now give you some privacy.”


“That will not be necessary,” I answer as I open the safe. It contains a notebook, as well as several plans and letters in a great bundle, which I place in a secure briefcase provided by Loth. It should protect the documents well enough provided I am not set on fire.


I quickly close and lock the safe then turn to my guide.


“I am done, thank you.”


Drops of sweat trail down the paper pusher’s brow and he practically fidgets. The armed man looks from him to me with a curious gaze. Whoever he is, he is not involved.


“Shall we?”


“Ah, yes of course, of course, please follow.”


So far so good, it is now time for the next part of the plan. As we return to the first floor, I wait until he locks the door before addressing him again.


“One moment please sir. Circumstances dictate that I take measures to guarantee my safety. Do you have another way out?”


The man’s attention flickers towards the corridor behind me. As expected, there is a direct way to the bank’s side entrance there.


“Yes, however it is for employees only… I do not believe that…”


“Please sir, I am quite certain that there are people after me.”


He laughs nervously, panic making him practically sway.


“I don’t, I think, hum…”


“I am afraid I must insist,” I add, cocking a small pistol I took from my pocket.


It is too much for the poor sod. He hiccups a few times at the sight of the firearm, then stares at me with tears flowing freely down his face. He completely lost his composure at the mere possibility of violence. So, he is fine leading me to a trap and yet one physical threat and he crumbles like a house of cards.

Typical.


With no small amount of impatience, I turn him around and push him in front of me. We walk down the corridor towards the exit. I am about to turn left when I hear heavy footsteps. I grab the man and shove him in a side room, then follow him promptly.
We listen in silence as a guard making rounds passes us by.


My prisoner tugs insistently on a sleeve and so I let him whisper near my ear.


“I cannot stay here, this is the women’s restroom!”


I straighten and turn to him.


Really.


This is what you are worried about?


Without me having to reply, he lowers his face in shame. How meek. Dalton truly is a rarity; I should show him some more appreciation.


After the guard has left, I resume my escape and we quickly reach a square vestibule leading outside, with an adjoining changing room. I open it and shove my unwilling guide inside, stun him with a light hit at the base of the neck and abscond with his keys.


Good, now I only need to get out and reach the docks.


As I step outside, I take in my surroundings, then I turn around to lock it behind me and take a second to think.


There is a bank guard eyeing me suspiciously, and a fourth goon in plain sight. Really, this is too much. I am out of options, I need to run. At human speed.


For a second, I am almost overwhelmed by my instincts. I want to Charm the guard into hitting the goon. I want to draw the goon into a side alley and feast on him. The temptation is strong, and yet I do not yield. The stratagem must be followed to its completion.
I throw the keys at the guard who catches them by reflex, and I walk away calmly.
There is around a second and a half of incredulity before they react.


“Hey you, halt!”


I take off with both men on my heel. I grab the bag between my hands and run at the upper limits of what the human body can achieve. The guard is soon distanced; however the goon is not.


Something strange is going on, something unnatural. The man is gaining on me, which should be impossible. I can also feel a trace of magic from him. He is no mage, nor is it something he carries. I am curious, but not curious enough to risk discovery. I turn South towards the piers and through the traffic. Even at this time, pedestrians, horses, and carriages navigate the streets in clumps. People turn towards us, but not many react beyond the odd shout. My pursuer is still gaining on me. I need to gain some time.
I strafe left across traffic and turn onto a side road just as the goon is about to grab me. I skirt a horse coming from the side. The man, much heavier, smacks right into it. A neigh of pain as well as quite a few curses tell me I have earned a few seconds. I keep going and turn South again, weaving across clumps of people.


“There she is!”


I glance behind me to see, to my surprise, half a dozen horsemen bearing down on me. Well, this complicates matters.


I focus on my hearing. We are not far from a marketplace. If I can last until there, I can hopefully lose them along the stalls.


I run low to break line of sight and weave in and out of traffic. The pursuers struggle to follow, until their leader just pushes his way through a group of slaves without care. I jump against a tall fence and hoist myself in a garden just as he reaches me. Without pausing, I run diagonally across a carefully tended vegetable patch, frightening a nanny and a small dog. No time to stop. I cross the opposite wall into a minuscule side street, not even wide enough for a cart.


Something makes me turn my head back.


The horseman circling the house spots me and stirs his horse to a fast trot. On his face, I see a smirk of triumph, and of contempt.


“Light will be shed!” he screams fanatically.


I do not move.

A feeling of heaviness assails me, of inevitability. The pursuer draws closer. When he is fifteen paces away, reality takes a breath and the wall to his right explodes in a shower of splinters.


Something just blasted their way through a wall.


When the shards clear, a tall man is holding the goon by his throat. The horse is collapsed on the ground, dead.


The newcomer is dressed in finery and has the countenance of nobility. His face is dreamy and regal, and his brown eyes are fixed on his prey with the arrogance of the mighty. When he speaks, his warm voice cuts through the din of the city with supernatural clarity.


“Buenas tardes, gentlemen. Finally, you reveal yourselves. »


Then he drops whatever it was that masked his aura.


Power, glacial and overwhelming crashes into me. I recognize this specific feel, like standing in front of a frigid wind roaring in my face.


Oh. Oh, no.


That is a bloody vampire lord of the Cadiz.


I turn away to run just as the rest of the pursuers enter the alley. A man follows the lord through the crater he just ripped in someone’s business. The newcomer is slightly shorter with a barrel chest and not quite as handsome. The vampire barely spares me a glance before turning towards the incoming cavalry charge. I can hear his words as I start running.


“Get the girl and bring her to me, alive.”


“Yes, Master.”


And off we go. Wonderful. An actual Lord. If I wanted stakes, now I have them, for if this man approaches me, I am absolutely done for. I do not stand the ghost of a chance against that.


I keep running South at the very limit of what would be suspicious. So long as I appear human, I may not be worth the effort. The person behind me is one too, and I can feel in my soul that he is the lord’s Vassal.
I should feel lucky that this is not a vampire and yet I am not. The reason behind his Master’s trust is soon made apparent as my pursuer displays an incredible aptitude at moving through an urban landscape. I cannot compete, I simply lack experience. While I run around stalls, he jumps over them. When I pass a horse, he slides under it. He avoids crates, boxes, and bales with a sure foot and skirts gracefully across groups and individuals alike.

I cannot lose him.


Worse, I cannot hurt him in any way. My very being revolts at the thought. I even hesitate at throwing something in his path. In desperation, I start focusing on the movements of people. My perception slows and I follow a path that closes behind me, running at the edge of moving groups and passing carriages. Even then, he is about to jump on my back when a large man carrying a case of wine bottles abruptly turns and smashes into him.


Both of them collapse in a tangle of limbs and broken glass. I can hear their exchange as I disappear into the night crowd.


“WATCH WHERE YE’RE GOING!”


“Lo siento, senor! I must find that…”


“LEAVE WITHOUT PAYING FOR THE BROKEN STUFF AYE SURE WHY DON’T YE ALSO COME TO ME HOUSE AND SHAG ME WIFE WHILE YE’RE AT IT YA FUCKIN WALLOPER?!”


A most timely rescue.


Wait, do I smell blood? BLASPHEMY, WE HURT HIM. No, No! He’s fine. Completely fine. Please…


Ah, dammit.


The feelings of pain, surprise, and distress must have gone through the connection because something cold and absolutely massive is barreling down the avenue like some sort of natural disaster. I think he is running over the bloody roofs. Damn it. I need out. I need out now!


I sprint low and fast across the street straight to the piers without stopping. The presence behind me stops for a handful of seconds, probably to ascertain the well-being of his protegee, and then it starts after me.


Curses curses curses, I accelerate just above human speed as the docks finally come into view. Stone pavement stops at the edge of the harbor and ships of many sizes rest lazily on the placid waves. I turn right in the direction of the rowing boat, knowing full well that I shall never reach it in time. I need an alternative. Thankfully, there are few people at this time, so I slide left behind a pile of crates and go over the edge. I grab the wall with a clawed hand, then lower myself into the water. I keep the small document briefcase on the top of my head.


A few seconds later, the Cadiz lord lands on the street. His aura bursts out like a miniature winter sun and I huddle against the brick wall praying the Silent Watcher that Loth’s rune works. I do not move, I do not breathe. I even close my eyes.


“Spread out, search the ships.”


The man never raises his voice and yet he can always be heard. I hear no other footsteps, which means that he gave those orders to vampires.


There are a few choice words I heard Loth say that would be really appropriate right now.

I need to cut line of sight. I spot a piece of flotsam and lightly place the precious documents on it with all the gentleness I can muster, then I fully submerge and turn face up, under it.


The edge of the pier is distorted by the squalid water, but I can see and they cannot. With agonizing slowness, I drift along the wall towards my destination. Every time a shadow crosses the light’s halo, I completely stop. I pass under bows, between wooden beams and through piles of detritus without a sound.


Suddenly, a pair of boots appears just above me.

I freeze.


Please do not look down, please do not look down…


A moment later, there is a sort of disturbance in the water not an arm's length to my right.
Ah, it appears that I am being urinated on. Wonderful. If I feel a warm draft, this evening will truly be a complete experience.
My unwitting abuser shakes his… Thing, spits for good measure and leaves. I wonder, with all those cotton bales hanging around what are the odds of burning the whole city to a crisp? I am genuinely curious.
At least he was not one of the vampires.


Fortunately, the rest of the trip is uneventful. I do get a good sample of what Charlestonians throw into the sea, however. Forget fire, I fully intend to flay the entire populace alive and sew a giant flag out of their skins spelling the words: “No littering.”


I need a bath.


I also need to forget.


Eventually, I reach the rowing boat and drag it South fifty meters before daring to climb up. The trip South takes another fifteen minutes of solid rowing. Who would have thought that a river could be so wide?


When I see the two blue lantern I almost cry. Loth and Dalton are waiting with worried expressions, turning into unmitigated relief when they spot me.


I get off the boat and submerge again before joining them. Loth picks up the briefcase from the rowing boat while Dalton simply waits.


“Long night, Mistress?”


“I don’t want to talk about it.”


I really hope this was worth it.

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Mecanimus

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