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A note from Mecanimus

You know the drill!

Up to the end of the arc >;) (sorry for the teaser)

Join us for dinnerrrrr

Behind the Dream, two minutes on foot eastward, one can find a small shop called the Seamstress Union. Every month, a cart makes the rounds of nearby farms to drop off spools of cotton thread and pick up finished cloth. The best are dyed and sold here to Marquette’s more affluent citizens, under the watchful eye of its proprietor.

“Good evening Debbie.”

“Ms Lethe.”

Deborah frowns. I’d like to think that, if I had stayed human, I would have been a bit like her. She has five children and a loving husband, a flourishing business, and bears her age with beauty and dignity. The grey in her auburn hair and the crow’s feet by her dark eyes fail to extinguish her charm. She carries herself with poise and confidence.

She is also an untrained mage. I can feel in her the telltale aura of spellcasters.

Perhaps because we are far from large cities, she never had any magical education and her potential only manifests in one curious quirk. She can spot lies in mortals.

“What is tonight’s guess?”

“Sophia.”

“Wrong again.”

“One day I’ll find out what your first name is.”

“Don’t bother, it’s Fernande.”

“Truly?”

“No, it is Berenice.”

“You are making a fool of me!”

She pretends to scowl, then we both chuckle.

“How do I even know that you will respect your promise? I still cannot tell when you deceive me.”

“I gave you my word.”

She snorts with bitter amusement.

“Who respects their promises nowadays?”

“I do.”

Our eyes meet and though I do not use Charm, she recoils and shivers. She is quite perceptive despite her lack of formal training, sensitive enough to pick up when my own aura flares. I hold my promises, oh yes. All of them.

“You are one strange woman, miss Lethe.”

“I will accept this as the compliment I am sure this was meant to be.”

“Ah yes, of course.” She answers, lowering her eyes.

I need to remember to blink more often. I did not mean to be intimidating.

“There is something I would like to know.”

“Yes?”

“The caravan Roger was in, was there anyone new in it?”

“The murders. Why can you never ask me about the latest gossip like everyone else? It’s always dark things with you.”

“Someone has to ask, or nothing is ever solved. Speaking of which… I would like my answer now.”

“Yes, sorry. It was only the old team. They struggled to make their way here from Springfield through all that snow and I don’t think they could have a stowaway. Not unless it could have gotten its water from sucking icicles.”

“Fair enough, tell me of Mrs. Tucker’s death.”

She shivers and crosses herself. I resist the urge to hiss softly.

“Dreadful affair, that. She was found in her bedroom earlier today if you will believe it, only a few hours after attending Mrs. Callaghan’s tea party. Did you… Did you go to her house?”

“I did. Unfortunately, the body had been picked up and dragged to the morgue under the judge’s office. He made it clear to his doorman that I was persona non grata.”

There was only a pool of congealed blood in her study, a sure sign that she was slaughtered on location. It was old as well, at least a day.

“Pushing you away, is he? Don’t you think you ought to let him work? I know that John of yours is a fearsome lad but… It may not be enough this time if that madman comes after you.”

“Two persons were butchered Debbie, people are scared and when they are, they tend to do unwise things.”

“But it’s good for your business, right? Desperate people do things to feel alive? So, it’s not too bad?”

I stop flat and study my counterpart. This was… Odd. For a mortal. Valuing profit over gruesome death is considered amoral. I know she is not, and her tone is slightly hesitant. Why would she ever risk appearing callous? Unless…

“Are you worried about me?”

The mask breaks and she explodes.

“Dear lord woman, this is not your duty! Do you know how horrible the town center was before you settled in? I remember it well! What happens if that maniac goes after you and your dunce of a bodyguard misses him? Everything will go to hell, again!”

“Calm your nerves Debbie, I have taken precautions. Should I disappear, the Dream will be taken over by people I trust.”

“Everybody may be replaceable Ms. Lethe, but not always by their match. Just… Keep it in mind. Before you end up way over your head.”

“I shall take your advice under consideration. Now, the murder please.”

“You know, I don’t need any intuition to know that was a crock of shit.”

“I did not lie just now; I used a polite yet unambiguous way to tell you off.”

Debbie shakes her head and leans against the counter. A deep breath later, she returns her attention to me.

“I didn’t want to tell you this. That old bat has been harping since yesterday about the dangers of accepting misfits and the inevitable fate that befalls those who frequent them. She insisted that God protected her because she was living a life of purity and avoided the congress of whores, witches, savages and foreigners.”

“Charming.”

“Is it not?”

“It’s almost as if she provoked whatever killed Roger and the thing answered.”

We stare at each other, the silence pregnant with signs of dispute. Debbie cracks first.

“You’re going to do it, aren't you? Set yourself as bait.”

“It could work.”

“Jesus Christ, I knew it!”

“I will be careful.”

“Right you are. Just… Get out. And don’t you dare die on me you hear?”

I wave goodbye as I turn around. Her concern is touching, but I am not exactly defenseless, and it has been too long since I had a proper meal.

 

 

 

 

 

A welcoming party awaits my return to the Dream, one I could have done without.

“Judge Sullivan.”

“Miss Lethe, I was wondering if you could clarify some elements for me.”

“Of course, would you like to step inside?”

“I would rather not.”

Three of his marshals move to surround me and John in a thinly veiled gesture of intimidation. I raise one brow in mock surprise then we wait in silence. I have perfected the effect of annoyed boredom over the years and this is the expression I serve them now.

Behind the judge, the gates of the Dream open and a man steps out, then gets back in. Annoyed at the delay, Sullivan speaks first.

“Two people have been horribly murdered in the past few days.”

Silence.

“I could not help but notice that old man Roger was working for you.”

“Indirectly, yes. And?”

“There are rumors that he stole merchandise destined for the Dream.”

I shrug.

“It would not matter. We check every delivery and only pay for goods that actually enter storage.”

“And Mrs. Tucker was quite vocal in her condemnation of your… Establishment.”

“Her and quite a few others.”

While we were talking, a steady stream of armed men have been leaving the Dream and casually taking position around our group. The marshals notice it but too late, they are already surrounded and vastly outnumbered.

They think they can pull an intimidation on me? Preposterous.

“Do not play coy with me woman. I just arrived here and a killer butchers two citizens, whose disappearances favor you? It seems like somebody is killing two birds with one stone, removing opposition while making me look incompetent.”

“Why would I produce any effort towards an end that you yourself pursue so relentlessly?”

“You dare!”

Sullivan takes a step forward only for John to repel him with a small hand push. Despite my bodyguard’s apparent restraint, the older man almost loses balance. Only his associates manage to hold him upright. Sullivan inflates with anger like a furious toad but finally notices the dire straits he finds himself in.

Most of my guards have completely encircled the lawmen. They stand close enough that any conflict will end up with the defenders quickly overwhelmed. Sullivan realizes this, just as he realizes that quite a few patrons have come to witness the debacle.

I could make an effort to salvage the man’s honor. On the other hand, I have the perfect opportunity to impart some rules to the newcomer. About our respective balance of power, for example.

“I find it curious as well. The deaths occurred shortly after your arrival, after all. Perhaps a member of your party is a monster in human clothes?”

“Scandalous! This… Slander!”

“Just a theory, one that has as much merit as your own. More, perhaps. I have suffered insults from the likes of Tucker for more than a decade without ever losing composure. I have little reason to act now, especially because Mr. Tucker himself is one of our regulars.”

“What?!”

“Surprised? You should not be. All of those gossips, the town’s history, and information on its most influential members are easily acquired through simple conversations with your constituents. And yet you did not even bother. Instead, you brought your goons from out of town and strut around like a rooster, throwing empty theories in the winds. We, the town council, have kept order since your predecessor’s untimely death and you would do well to remember that we can still have you recalled. Now, if you will excuse me…”

I walk without resistance past the judge and his small squad with my men trailing behind. There are quite a few sniggers and I hear the distinctive sound of Horrigan spitting on someone’s shoes. Lovely. And a waste of my time. I need a plan to have Sullivan expelled from the city just in case he perseveres in his error. Killing a judge would be messy and I have reached my quota of “mysterious disappearances” for the year. One more hurdle.

I walk to the bar and smile at the friendly greetings I receive. Removing my coat, I lean forward over the bar to a few appreciative “aaahs”. Oscar nods in greeting.

“I need a rumor started.”

“Yea?”

“Make sure everyone hears that I think Roger’s killer is a coward, that he would never have the balls to come here and that my room is the safest place in the city. Safer than the bank vault.”

The head barman stops wiping a glass and fixes me with his sad chocolate eyes.

“You sure about this boss?”

“Very sure.”

“… Alright then. I see how it is. Be careful though.”

I make my way to my bedroom. The truth is that I know too little about my target. I smelled nothing inhuman around the bodies, nor were there any traces of aura nearby. The only elements I have come from the victims. First, the corpses were left in supposedly secured locations where they would inevitably be found. The warehouse has a large traffic, even now, and Mrs. Tucker’s house is a normal place of gathering for righteous old harpies to eat cake, break wind and blame it on their rat-like dogs. This speaks of supreme self-confidence. The monster does not care to stay hidden, for it believes that the entire population is powerless to stop it, which leads to the second point. If the bodies are messages, then Roger was meant to announce its arrival and Tucker’s, to show that no one is safe. My intuition tells me that my target’s arrogance knows no bounds, and that it delights in putting a show.

Clearly, it has never come face to face with a vampire.

In any case, setting a bait should work better than running around and attempting to track a creature that can quite obviously hide its presence. In the meanwhile, there is the small matter of securing my bedroom against further visits from my secret admirer. Then I will teach him or her the meaning of boundaries, one phalanx at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

One night later.

 

All my preparations are complete. I reinforced my door with two more locks and installed one of my creations near every exit. Based on Loth’s take on a magical capacitor, the tool is a piece of silver looking like a drill on one end, and a key on the other. Its function is simple. Any spell cast in its vicinity will be disrupted and its energies absorbed. It will allow me to circumvent my own lack of magical skill and hopefully provide a bit of a surprise to any spellcaster who will not expect it, should they attempt to gain ingress through supernatural means. An elegant solution, if I do say so myself. There are limits of course. The range is extremely limited for one, and I also doubt that it will affect spells that are already cast. To guard my nest, it should be enough.

In the end, I decided against placing mouse traps in strategic places. I would rather break those fingers myself.

The last measure I took concerns my fellow hunter. She is ready and more than eager.

And since everything is done I have no further excuses. Paperwork it is! I am not sure why I am billed fifty chicken but there better be fifty damn chicken on that Christmas table or I know how I will use those feathers. I will even pay for the tar out of my own pocket.

A pair of footsteps announce the arrival of visitors. I recognize Margaret’s fearful touch but not the other. Heavier. A man.

After a moment of hesitation, Margaret knocks and I answer.

“Mistress, Mr Tucker is here. He wants to talk to you about the murders.”

How interesting.

“Come in.”

Margaret lets the man enter and leaves immediately, as ordered, and I take a moment to inspect my guest.

Mr. Tucker is a mousey man. He has been one of our more discreet guests over the past few years. He owns shares of the mines, and works at one of the city’s two banks as an accountant. Or owned, I suppose. Under his normal human smell, there is now another one, the light rot of a dried corpse. I would not have noticed it in a crowd, only the clean environment of my room allows me to pick it up with ease. There is still no trace of aura.

“Ms. Lethe. Good evening,” he says as he holds his hat between two nervous hands. An impressive facsimile, even to the mannerism.

“Ah Mr. Tucker, we have been friends for a long time, you and I, have we not?”

The man blinks, then lowers his head nervously.

“I wouldn’t say that…”

Alright, I am impressed. And a tad worried. Was it a lucky guess, or does it have access to its victim’s memories? If it does, then I hope there is a limit to it or this creature may have access to the collected knowledge of humanity.

It would be dangerous if it had a physique to match.

“You were going to speak about the murder? You know what I find the most interesting?”

I turn away and approach one of the two windows leading to the inner court, opening it despite the weather and the late hour.

“The victims were seen moving after they were dead.”

I duck under the swipe of eagle-like talons coming from an elegant sleeve, grab it and pull. The thing that used to be Mr. Tucker is sent screaming into the night, properly defenestrated.

I’m not going to risk a fight indoors, not with how much furniture costs in this forsaken place.

I jump lightly and land in a crouch next to the creature as it stands up. Besides the clawed hands, the thing’s head is also split in half by a nightmarish mouth covered by a forest of needle-like teeth. Strands of skin peel off from the inhuman parts as if they had burst from the inside. The rank smell of carrion is stronger and I can finally feel the beginning of an aura. Where a werewolf is anger and unbridled fury, this thing is envy and pride, meant to pervert and desecrate. I feel disgusted at its sight and outraged at the challenge it dared offer.

Judging from the speed of its attack and the strength it exhibited when slaughtering its prey, the creature is slightly more dangerous than a Wendigo.

I am offended that something so weak would trespass on my territory.

“What are you?”

It still speaks. I, however, am done. I move in and dig a hand in its chest to find… Nothing. Not a hint of blood. Only layers upon layers of parchment-like skin. I recoil in surprise and swipe its face with a similar result. Only a trickle of blood drips from a few teeth I raked in passing.

Before I can attack again, Tucker’s face just falls from the monster’s head like a poorly pinned drawing from a wall and below I find a young, handsome man with a haughty composure and deep blue eyes. The clawed hand extends towards me and my foe’s aura flares, its tainted nature supplemented by the shimmering aura of spellcasters.

“Firewhip!”

I focus. Deep in my mind palace, the statue of the transformed Herald shines an ominous blue light and in the real world, purple essence lines my claws. I swipe and the spell breaks, its heat dispersing harmlessly in the winter air.

The surprise in its eyes is precious. An instant later, I pierce them and see a satisfying fountain of fluid emerges from the wound. Then the creature screams. The horrible and tremulous sound is ear-shattering, and the music inside of the Dream stops.

“What the HELL was that!?”

Oh no you little prick, that’s my business you are trying to disrupt! I prepare to jump after it but reconsider. The creature is turning tail and I cannot butcher it in the courtyard. Curtains are already being thrown aside by alarmed patrons. A change of scenery is called for.

I let it run away and whistle. On my right, the stable’s door bangs open and Metis comes out, fully harnessed.

She is massive, a towering black presence that fills its surroundings with an ominous aura. Her hooves thunder on the packed snow as she trudges forward. I grab a leather strap on her chest and nimbly twist around as she passes me by, landing on her back. Metis is never saddled. The harness is only here to keep my hunting implements secured.

I don a black cloak I had prepared and we rush left on a side street after the fleeing shadow. The creature is fast, but Metis is faster. The light of the moon reflects on a pair of panicked eyes, dark brown this time. A new face is shed and its limbs grow thinner and longer, then it jumps on a nearby roof.

Wendigo. It can mimic magical creatures, not just mages. I lean to the side as my mount turns without prompt. When Metis has prey in her sight, a forest fire would not stop her.

Now I don’t want that thing jumping around delicate tiles, waking everyone around in the dead of night. One silver dagger later and the creature falls with a yelp… On the other side of the street.

I crouch and leap in turn. In a single motion, I reach the top of the incline and push myself to the other side.

Too late, the street is empty.

This isn’t over. It THINKS IT CAN HIDE. I sample the air. The stench of rotten skin is strong but fading. I move up and down the street. Nothing.

It is still there, hiding. There are only large log houses and a ceramic shop around. Nothing moves. I close my eyes and focus. I hear a few slow heartbeats barely perceptible through the thick walls, and then something else lighter, faster.

I turn and throw at the same time. My third and last dagger hits MY PREY, a huge bat almost fifty feet away, which shrieks and falls in the snow.

Uh, what. That is not my prey at all!

With a revolting squelch, a stag emerges from the remains and flees away. Nevermind, it is. I rush after it and hop on Metis as she joins me from a side street. We gallop down the street like a charge of Hessian hussars, leaving clouds of brown and white in our trail. The stag is close enough that I could shoot or catch up to it but it is currently heading out of town and that suits me just fine. Metis will have her fun and I will have my peace of mind.

We lightly jump over a fence and the last of the houses fall away. In front of us, there is only an endless sea of flat snow dotted by the odd copse of trees, shining like powdered diamond under the moonlight. The stag has grown large enough to break a path through the pristine layer. I can hear its panicked breath and Metis’ own as the frigid wind caresses my skin. My hood falls back and my hair is free. There, under the dark heaven, there is nothing but the three of us dancing a ballet with an end as old as time and just as inevitable. It will soon be over but for now, we race and I cherish the moment.

With Metis now at full speed, the distance between us closes until the metamorphosed horror can hear the nightmare at its back trampling snow beneath its cruel hooves. It darts to the side and enters a thicket. I hear another crack, yet another discarded skin, and take out my large game spear.

Another one of my creations, this lance is a weapon designed to hunt from horseback. It has a spiked guard designed to keep the harpooned prey away from its wielder and a silver and steel blade two feet long, enough to pin two grown men to a brick wall. I lower it in anticipation.

The largest werewolf I have ever seen emerges from the treeline. Its fur is dark and criss-crossed with claw marks and other scars. It opens its fanged maw and lets out a monstrous howl, a promise of blood that would make any mortal pale and any horse falter.

Metis is not any horse. She accelerates, eager to answer the challenge. I lean into her, use my legs as support and catch the surprised foe in the throat. The spear lifts the beast off its paws and I stab it in the trunk of a great pine as deep as I can. Without waiting I jump off for the kill.

I don’t know how many layers of skin this thing has but I certainly intend to find out. Even if I have to spread enough human vellum on the forest ground to furnish the library of Alexandria. It’s going down. Now.

I savage the chest, break a clawed limb. With another hand, it quite literally grabs its face and discards it. The flesh disappears and a large bird is freed.

The head! Of course!

I grab the feathered head and tear off its beak, which breaks without resistance. We tumble on the ground as I ravage layer after layer of caked dermis, sometimes an animal but mostly humans. I do not hesitate when the creature changes into a child, or a pleading mother, or a sad-looking old man. CHILDISH AND PATHETIC. Such artifice is wasted on my kind. After twenty more faces, I stop the cast of another spell, then rip off the muzzle of another wolf, then break the spine of another wendigo. The skins are now shed faster, the creature desperate to break my hold by changing shape as fast as it can. A hopeless struggle. The only thing it unsettles is my sense of smell.

I stop counting the shapes. I just slice and rip and tear and catch a limb when my captive manages to slither away. This is no longer a fight, just a messy execution, and after a few minutes my claw draws blood.

I stop out of curiosity for a moment, even though I should know better. The real features are those of a native man, twisted by malice. Its eyes shine with utter malevolence. It spits insult and imprecations.

Yes, struggle and blame your fate INTRUDER, YOU DIE NOW.

I lean forward and… Recoil.

Ew ew ew he stinks to high heaven! Pwah! I would have retched my last three meals if it were physiologically possible. What in the name of the Watcher is that?! Did his real body marinate for a decade under all that skin!? Pah!

I shove the man headfirst into the pure snow, curse my delicate nose and drag him around the closest trees. When I am done, I slap him unconscious for good measure and look at the crook of his neck.

No. Just no. Nope!

I grab a wrist and wipe it energetically with handfuls of ice. I’m not letting my meal go, out of the question! Seriously though… I am not entirely convinced this is worth the effort. Eventually, the skin is clear and only smells marginally like a tanner’s armpit.

“It was a good…”

I cannot say it. This was unique and entertaining right to the moment where I had to dress my kill like some cavewoman. Well, nothing to it. Close your eyes Ariane and think of America!

I bite down.

A foreign land, red and cracked like an old farmer’s skin. Men on horseback emerge from a scar in the earth, bringing prisoners and captured cattle. Father is a good chief and one day, so will I.

My leg did not heal right. I did not want to be a Hatalii, a healer. At least I will have Shandiin. Her beauty will soothe my pain.

I hate them, hate them, hate them. I drop the bloody stone on the back of my dead brother. If Shandiin will only spread her legs for the mighty Hashké Dilwo’ii and not for a cripple then I will give her what she wants. I grab out a skinning knife and smile for the first time in months.

I am mighty of body, mighty of magic! I am yee naaldlloshii, a skinwalker. Travellers and raiders and villagers and herders, all fall before my guile and their skins and memories join my collection. All those that scorned me, I cast them down. No one can…

I pitch forward, nudged by an impatient and hungry creature. Her warm breath tickles my ear.

“Hsss! Impatient girl! It is your time soon I promise! Let me finish!”

No one can stop me for they do not even recognize the danger in their-

Bump.

“Aw Metis come on!”

I stand up and let the exsanguinated body fall. I was almost done too! Alright, I will give the attention she deserves. I pat her head to congratulate her for a job well done and negotiate a truce until it is her turn.

“There, there…”

Metis’ nostrils flare and I realize my mistake.

“No wait, metis, I’m sorry!”

Too late. The proud and offended equine neighs in distress at the ungodly stench coating my fingers, turns tail, and gallops away.

“Metiiiiiiis!”

Dammit. She got my shovel too!

“Stupid pony!”

Agh I’m going to have to return to the Dream and then come back with a shovel to hide that disgusting thing. This evening couldn’t possibly get any worse!

 

 


 

 

I stare at the opened door of my bedroom. I had left specific orders that it be locked again after my departure and I know for a fact that Margaret did it.

I push it open and my nose is assailed by the cloying scent of roses. All the little silver traps I had prepared to disrupt magic have been carefully cut, twisted and assembled in an artful rendition of a nativity scene on my desk. Another envelope has been placed on my bed.

I jinxed it, didn’t I.

With a heavy sigh bemoaning the cruel fate befalling this poor, humble vampire trying her best, I open it.

“My cute little princess,

Now that you have resolved your territorial dispute, so to speak, do come and find me. We have much to discuss.

With much love,

Your admirer.”

Arg. That little…

“Hsss! Oh, that is IT!”

I step out and immediately hail Margaret.

“Besides Roger’s caravan and Sullivan’s group, did anyone else come to town recently?”

“No mistress the town is entirely devoid of travelers, I am not sure that handsome gentleman even stayed.”

What?

“A handsome gentleman? What handsome gentleman? This the first time I hear about this!”

She blinks in surprise and her mouths twists with worry.

“I never mentioned him before? I apologize Mistress!”

“Nevermind that.”

A handsome gentleman. Right. At least I know where to start looking. First the swan, the only formal establishment in the city. This is where visiting dignitaries and clergymen stay while they pass through town.

Officially at least.

I shall start my search there. Failing that, I will return to the Seamstress Union tomorrow and ask Debbie where that man is and why she failed to mention him before. This is just unacceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

The Swan’s main entrance reeks of roses. A fully blossomed flower thrones proudly next to the clerk’s desk.

Unbelievable.

“Excuse me sir, I am looking for a friend.”

“Of course you are Ms. Lethe… Please refrain from disturbing the peace and silence of the place while you are here, yes?”

The clerk, a tall and thin old man with a respectable air, struggles not to smirk at his own joke. I should have woken John up.

I lean forward and stare him in the eye, letting a hint of threat slide through my composed mask.

“The owner can afford to disrespect me in public sir, can you?”

The sneer turns to anger but I recognize him now. He is the night manager for this inn. Mostly incorruptible but not exempt of weakness.

“Can you, Philips? Can you afford to be unprofessional? What will your daughters do if you lose your income?”

The sneer falls.

“I will ask you to leave, Madam.”

“After I am done.”

I climb up the stairs, following the trail of perfume to the top floor and its master bedroom. I open the door to a well-furnished receiving boudoir around a fumoir occupied by a roaring fire. The balcony’s door is open despite the polar temperature and from it, a melody emerges. The voice is male, with a tenor pitch that is nothing short of exquisite. A few notes played on a small harp or lyre accompany the song with tasteful and delicate arpeggios. The lyrics, however…

"There once was a spawn so fair,

Whose foul mouth was beyond compare,

And while she did try her best,

The mortals were impressed

By the beauty of her derrière."

I look out the opening into a vis à vis bedroom. In it, I see a majestic couch upon which languidly lounges a man I recognize.

I groan and smack my head on the sill out of sheer frustration.

“Sineaaaaaaad!”

The Likaean looks positively princely in an ornate green jacket. Gone is the emaciated ghost we rescued from that cave, his twinkling amber eyes are now surrounded by a filled-out, handsome face, both delicate and somehow virile. His hair is grown and surrounds his face in a pleasant halo, shining like wheat under the July sun. As I watch, a golden shimmer comes upon him and for an instant, his colors grow incredibly vivid before fading back to normalcy.

“Good evening poppet, it has been too long.”

That rake! He planned this so well, I cannot even pinch him as he is in someone else’s home. I even see a white leg emerging from the heavy bed cover, distinctly female…

Something clicks in my mind as I remember this part of town and who the house belongs to.

“Sinead, is that Louisa Watson’s bedroom you are in?”

“Ah yes, Louisa, such a precious young woman.”

“You… She has a fiancé!!!”

“And they will be promptly married within the next two months thanks to me, I guarantee it. The lad should feel grateful!”

“Sinead!”

“I even taught her a few tricks that will positively delight him.”

“Oh my… cough… SINEAD YOU ABSOLUTE CAD!”

“Shhhh! You will wake her up. I am not here to talk about my delicious snack, no, I am here to discuss our upcoming cooperation!” he adds with a devastating smile.

“Cooperation my… My posterior! How dare you!”

“Tut tut tut I did tell you I would test you when we next meet. Can’t say I am impressed. It took you long enough to find a man who does not even try to hide.”

“I was otherwise engaged!”

“What, with the skinning monster? Pffffft. Laughable. It should not have taken you more than a few minutes to take it apart.”

“Aaarrg!”

“But let us first leave this dreary place. People here are so stuffy, so officious. Reminds me of the court back home. I have had enough seducing the virtue off of spout frogs mind you, I want some salacious lasses climbing all over me, three at a time.”

“You are so dead.”

“None of that! I have a wonderful proposal that you will not refuse. Just offer me the hospitality for a week and I will expose it in detail.”

“I don’t see what…”

“I have the location of the Order of Gabriel’s main prison on the continent, less than two days of travel away from this city.”

The end of my sentence dies on my lips as Sinead smiles like the very picture of innocence. He is telling the truth, without a doubt.

“Well?”

“… Fair enough, but there better be no tricks. One week of hospitality I grant thee.”

“Excellent!”

Sinead lithely jumps, closes the windows and picks up a prepared travel suitcase. We walk down the stairs and he stops at the welcoming desk, from behind which our dear Mr. Philips gazes at us like an irate gargoyle.

“Ah yes, Ariane dear I appear to be strapped for cash. Would you mind filling for me, seeing as I am your guest?”

“What?!”

The Likaean leans in and whispers in my ears.

“Is it not your duty to guarantee my well-being? We would not want me to go to prison surely, how would I guide you to the aforementioned locale then?”

I should just let him rot. Or wipe the memory of my coming from Philips’ mind and let that imbecile cool his rear on a prison bench for a bit but… Gah, he is right, I cannot have the mortals annoy my guest.

With clenched teeth, I ask for the bill.

Philips smiles like a cannibal at a battle site and draws a veritable bundle of papers from a nearby drawer.

“Let us see here. Three nights, three breakfasts, lunches and dinners, bath supplement, as well as two bottles of Romanée-Conti, three of Vosne-Romanée, one Saint-Emilion, one Riesling, one bottle of Mumm black ribbon champagne, one of bourbon, a mignonette of Peach schnapps, a dozen pots of honey, three bars of Swiss chocolate and a quart of mead for a grand total of one hundred and twenty-six dollars and fifteen cents.”

Breathe Ariane, just breathe. Count to ten.

Can’t kill him, that would be breaking the oath.

“Herm. My bank will honor it.”

“Certainly. Please sign here Ms. Ariane Lethe.”

It takes all of my self-control not to stab the bill, Philips’ eyes, then myself with the stupid pen.

Once out, I immediately turn left on a side street.

“Hey, the Dream is not that way!”

I find a metal bar in a barrel next to a construction material stand and twist it like a wet noodle.

“This better be a great, magnificent, STUPENDOUS OFFER YOU ABSOLUTE BLOODY SCANDALOUS RAKE! SCOUNDREL!”

“Tut tut no need to make a scene poppet, why, traveling here was a horrible experience and I needed to recover. Surely you understand? Don’t you ever indulge?”

I move and stop with my index’ claw right under his nose.

“Once this truce is over, I’ll show you exactly how I ‘indulge’ mister, you can count on it,”

Sinead just frowns.

“What’s that smell?”

I have unknowingly died and been sent to some absurd circle of hell.

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Mecanimus

  • Shanghai

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