I wake up and slide the sarcophagus open to an unfamiliar view. The ceiling is ornamented white plaster, a bit gaudy but a welcome sight. Nothing bad happened. I awake truly free for the very first time since I woke up in the Louisiana fortress. There is no abusive Mistress to obey, no knight squad to hide from, nothing. It took thirty years to achieve this state but achieve it I did.
My elation is short-lived. Outside of these thick walls, the sun’s merciless embrace lights the world with its radiance. Its weight makes me sluggish even here, behind walls of unyielding stone. I feel it like a buzz, or a roar at the very edge of my consciousness. Come out, it says, come out and face your nature. You live on borrowed time. You will be ash. Eventually.
I shake my head and force my fingers to open one by one. I need a distraction. I also need to secure a supply of blood before tomorrow, as I doubt that the Speaker tolerates poaching on his territory.
I dress quickly and walk into the reception room. All the windows are shuttered. A pair of enchanted lanterns shine with a light blue glow. A mortal woman in a maid’s uniform consisting of a black dress under a white apron, with a cute little hat, sits at her desk and reviews documents.
I send a tendril of essence to nudge her and she blinks owlishly. Then, her eyes find me by the door.
She lets out a minute gasp, though she recovers quickly. She does her best not to show fear and surprise as she stands up, a good idea when dealing with us. With a careful hand, she places the sheets she was holding on the coffee table beside her before curtseying.
“Good evening milady, my name is Solveig. I will be assisting you during your stay, if it pleases you.”
Solveig is a tall woman with golden blonde hair in an impeccable tail. I would place her in her early forties, though she would look younger to inexperienced eyes. Just like Jimena, she is more handsome than pretty, with a ramrod straight back and a sensible air.
“I am Ariane, it is nice to meet you. What assistance can you provide?”
The maid lets out a small breath of relief. I suppose that some guests can be adversarial, and adversarial vampires can be a daunting prospect.
“Much. You can count on me to arrange anything from baths to a cab. We can get you clothes, weapons, send messages and arrange meetings with vampires and mortals alike. I am also free to share with you details on whoever is available, as well as arrivals and departures, should you wish to engage in social activities. You have access to loyal mortals should you wish to partake in their blood without hunting. Finally, the Speaker has granted you an allowance of two hundred dollars per week for expenses.”
Convenient. Two hundred per week is more than I used to earn at the beginning of my reign in Marquette. Now though, it is merely a pittance. I still appreciate the gesture.
“There is more milady. You have received three letters, and an unknown Nightmare is occupying your reserved stable.”
Excellent, I had been wondering if she would show up.
“She is a picky eater. Let me know if that becomes an issue.”
Solveig blinks slowly, apparently at a loss.
“I-I will relay your words to the stable master, milady. That is all for now. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes, have a bath drawn please.”
“As you wish.”
I sit down and pick the first letter as she heads for the bathroom. The first one comes from Merritt and arrived before I did. I open it with trepidation.
Everything is fine here, though I have news. Your John eloped yesterday—”
“—with Irma’s cousin, Gladys. Now, I am not exactly complaining or anything, but I would appreciate it if you could get him back. He’s been morose since you left (I believe this is the right word), and, well, you’ll see. Let me know how things are going on your end!
With all my love,
He eloped? In ten days? I need to see this. I make a note to summon John, his wife and members of the odd squad who so desire as I expect I will need some hands to complete my missions. The day has not come that Ariane of the Nirari will be outgooned by the locals. I shall show them that when it comes to thugs, I have both quality and quantity.
The next letter comes in an envelope sealed with wax and contains only a few words. Torran of the Dvor cordially invites me, in a sublime cursive, to discuss our possible arrangement at my convenience. He insists that he will wait for me. I find the attention flattering, but I smell a hidden agenda. He probably needs something from me and I better find out sooner rather than later.
The last message is in English by someone with an uncertain command of the written word, asking for an audience. The wrinkled piece of paper is signed with the name “Urchin”. This can wait. There is still much to be done.
Solveig comes out shortly after and I give her my instructions. Tonight, I shall meet Torran, then take a carriage to town for some overdue shopping. To my surprise, she does know of Urchin. I watch, amused, as her manners conflict with her resentment.
“He is one of your own, milady, though, perhaps not quite as… What I mean is… Well…”
I snort, amused by her inner turmoil.
“I shall meet this Urchin and see for myself the cause for your discomfort.”
Her face twists in disapproval, though she only nods. After giving the rest of my instructions, including a letter to Merritt, I finally take that bath.
It was long overdue.
I enjoy the warmth seeping through my bones, but I do not luxuriate. Every time I close my eyes, I remember.
Regrow two and seven. Two is my left-hand ring finger. Seven is my right-hand index.
Regrow one and six. One is my left-hand little finger. Six is my right-hand thumb.
They are still here. I check. Yes, still here, and still fine.
I stand up and towel my body. The pale skin is unmarred, as it has been since the day I was born again. No trace remains of the decades of abuse I subjected myself to. No scar, no blemish, not even a change of texture. It is as soft and spotless as ever.
It feels wrong. I can still taste the ghost of pain. There should be something to show for it. The discrepancy grates on my nerves. With one last shake, I push these thoughts at the back of my mind. There is much to do.
I dress quickly and realize with pleasure that my other dresses have been cleaned. The one I choose is a light grey ensemble with little embellishment. Only the form-fitting cut and the quality of the cloth mark it as a high-quality product.
Those who see it as a sign of meekness will only betray their own lack of insight.
Also, my more elaborate dresses are full of holes, so…
As a last touch, I add Nami’s shawl and, again, feel better as my neck is covered. Solveig brushes my hair with a softer touch than I would expect, then I follow her outside.
“The Knights have left, and so has the Lancaster delegation, milady. Your friends Jimena, Naminata and Salim are set to stay until the end of the week, at least,” she comments as we go.
Torran’s suite is somewhere on this floor, yet despite the short distance, we still come across a Courtier. The man is tall with the build of a soldier, a squarish jaw and angry brown eyes. His aura is undisciplined and tastes of the Roland.
The first chapter of the book Jimena offered me deals with greetings. When on neutral ground like we are now, it is customary for the Courtier to offer a minute bow to the Master who would then return a small nod.
The man’s aura lashes out and he displays signs of defiance.
I stop as Solveig stumbles besides me, and look the man in the eye. I will not tolerate any sign of disrespect, especially not from a youngling.
My own essence uncoils like a lazy snake. Tendrils latch around the man’s figure, smothering his power. In them, I pour my cold anger, my suffering, and the promise of retribution.
The Courtier perceives what I am. He bows respectfully, and I keep going. Things are as they should be.
He and I understand each other.
Solveig swallows nervously and lets out a shaky breath as we leave the man behind us. I cannot let myself be challenged, especially not now.
We make the rest of the way in silence. Torran’s suite is directly opposite mine, I discover, and as soon as he answers Solveig’s knocks, I dismiss her.
“Please make the arrangements I requested.”
“Of course, milady, you have but to ring a bell to summon me or another maid when you are done.”
She turns around and leaves as the door opens. The woman who lets me in isn’t Torran but his Servant. She inspects me with hooded eyes darkened by kohl, curious yet respectful. Her head is completely bald and covered in an intricate lattice of henna tattoos set in subtle patterns. They exude no aura, and I understand that they are purely decorative. She tilts her head before pointing a bejeweled finger to my host.
I turn and take in the surroundings. This suite is a mirror to mine, though while mine is all azure and alabaster, his is crimson and gold. The gaudiness is less pronounced, thankfully, and the darkness gives it a feeling of royal intimacy. Torran himself stands by the fire where two high-back chairs have been placed.
Our eyes meet. The Dvor lord bows first, a greeting I return, and invites me to sit.
We take each other’s measure in silence. His eyes are the color of steel, and his grey hair is bound back in a serious ponytail. A modest smile parts his ruddy face, taking the edge off. He is quite the handsome man if one sees past the wolfish countenance.
Once he sees that I am done gauging him, he nods and speaks first. His voice is rhythmic and strangely melodious.
“Thank you for humoring me, Ariane of the Nirari. Did Constantine convey my request?”
“He mentioned a protection detail?”
“Inelegant, yet accurate. It is tradition that I ask for an escort while conducting my business abroad. We Dvor are cut off from most of our powers while outside of the lands we control. I am far from defenseless, of course, but I have not reached this age by taking unnecessary risks. I would be honored if you would consider accompanying me during my stay.”
I need to confirm something. Nami mentioned such arrangements before. Sometimes, visiting dignitaries are offered a vampire of inferior rank as a guide, guard and intermediary. Physical intimacy is often part of the package, and it is not something that I am willing to offer.
“Before we go any further, I would like to ascertain what your expectations are. I would be willing to guarantee your safety…”
“I understand,” Torran replies, “this is not what I am after.”
I am curious.
“Then what are you after?”
“If I must spend time with someone, why not with a capable and beautiful woman? Beating the Lancaster at their own game is no small feat, and doing so while ruling a city piqued my curiosity. Between this and your reputation, I am confident you are the best person for this task.”
“My reputation?” I ask with a frown.
Torran just smiles. His next offer takes me off-guard.
“Could I interest you in continuing this discussion outside?”
“Outside? What do you mean?”
“Wilhelm keeps a flower garden near the cliff. It is rather beautiful. Would you care for a stroll?”
Come to think of it, I have been cooped up for too long. Some fresh air would do me good.
“Very well. Lead the way.”
Torran stands up, opens the window, steps on the balcony and casually drops down.
I look at his Servant, currently busy reading what looks like a poetry book. She did not even raise her head.
Well… Jimena’s book certainly did not cover that part?
I follow the lord outside and drop down as well, careful not to let my dress flare. I wouldn’t want to give everyone an eyeful on my first night of freedom!
“Is it a common habit to ignore the exits?” I ask the waiting lord.
“What? No, I merely wanted to avoid unwanted social interactions,” he replies without concern.
“Forgive me for asking, is that a common occurrence?”
I would rather find out before someone drops from the ceiling.
“Not at all. Foibles in Courtiers become eccentricities in Masters. What is the point of living so long if I cannot drop from balconies when I please? Shall we?”
He offers me his arm, which I take, and we pass by the fountain. With the inverted U of the manor at our back, we turn left. I remember that the road up the mount is to our right, so I have never been where we are going now.
Torran’s pace is slow and deliberate. The road beneath us changes to a path of white gravel surrounded by grass, until we reach a wall of hedges of tall boxwood, split in the middle by a large entrance above which vegetation closes, forming a natural archway. We duck underneath and walk between two rows of solid oaks, interspersed with yet more hedges. Illumination is provided by runes shining green. We follow the tortuous path with no vision of the outside, until lights are revealed at the corner of a bend.
A massive flower garden opens before us. Small paths weave between artfully arranged beds mixing several species by color and theme. Behind it, a few stone benches against a wall mark the edge of the cliff and beyond that is the bay, with Boston’s shimmering lights far in the distance. The view is breathtaking, especially coming out of the tunnel, and I make a note to return later to spend a few lonely hours drawing and dreaming. With the sketches of the Mississippi, the burning house of the Lancaster and the faces of the mages, my painting list is getting a serious backlog.
Torran quietly guides me around as I take in the exotic perfumes. Wilhelm has gathered four separate beds each with their own personality. The first is red and wild, with earth the color of fresh blood and tall flowers on thin stalks standing proudly and shamelessly. The second is green, blue and pink, with modest bushes arranged as if nature had received a divine inspiration. Only the smallest details reveal the hand behind the arrangement, the will behind the graceful chaos.
In the center, a pond lies around a circle of lilies, surrounded by a handful of mangrove trees.
The last bed is nestled against the wall and it speaks to me the most. The earth is black, and on it, thorn bushes and twisted trees with dark bark and branches like the fingers of a hag struggle for space. The flora is ominous, and yet there is beauty under the apparent savagery. Precious small flowers shine in the moonlight like diamonds on a midnight dress, fearless and uncaring. Elegance and doom living in harmony.
I like it a lot.
I stop Torran when we leave the pond at our back. The last garden, wall, water and sky form four bands of color with the Watcher at the top.
It has been so long since I gazed into its depths. I do so now. The strange entity draws me in. I relax in the familiar embrace as it croons and drinks my madness. It takes the suffering and the hatred and inspects them carefully, then it returns them in full.
I lower my eyes. My fingers are still all here, all straight and… feeling good?
Torran has taken my hand in his own. With one, he massages my palm and with the other, pulls delicately on each finger one by one. When he realizes that I have returned, he smiles sadly. The expression of sympathy is peculiar on his lean face.
“You are not the only one to find herself at the losing end of a political struggle. I developed this method long ago. I had hoped I would never have to use it again.”
Then, as if sensing that he overstepped himself, he lets me go.
“What a bodyguard I am,” I say bitterly.
“You have not agreed yet,” the lord reminds me, amused, “do not be so harsh on yourself. You can take all the time you need to recover. I do not intend to leave the city for a while, and we are as safe as can be. In fact, I would enjoy a little bit of tourism. Can I tempt you into accompanying me?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Music, tomorrow at ten. L’elisir d’Amore, by Donizetti. I am told it is the fury in Milan right now.”
I have never been to the opera!
“Well, of course, I would be delighted.”
I have a social life! And it is fancy!
“It is decided then.”
“I need to find something to wear,” I half-mutter to myself, “Oh, and can you please tell me what you meant when you mentioned my reputation?”
Torran does not object to the abrupt change of topic. If anything, he sounds helpful.
“Certainly. In the following nights, you will meet quite a few new faces, I’d wager, and though you will never have heard of them, they will have heard of you. Most Nirari Spawn are abominations. They are renowned for their physical prowess and the difficulty to put them down in a battle of attrition. And here you come, with allies and plans and tricks. You managed to stay hidden for a decade then two, became the blood sister of Jimena of the Cadiz, have Lord Suarez defend you against Knights and Lord Ceron vouch for you at a Conclave. You befriended the singing spear of the Ekon, a Dvergur warrior King and ruled a city. You overturned a kill order on your person, the first such occurrence in North America, and finally, they say that you defeated Lambert of the Lancaster in single combat. Is that true?”
“Yes. I ate him too.”
“Good.” Torran declares with a smile, and then as an afterthought:
“He was a massive prick.”
“Ah, don’t sir me. He existed only to despoil and the only positive contribution he made for this planet was when his ashes fertilized the ground.”
“But I digress. Suffice to say that others may be apprehensive of you, as they are of any individuals who can show both guile and brawn, as well as the will to use them. But enough of this. You ruled the town of Marquette, would you mind telling me more? I am a member of Eneru, and I am curious to know how a young vampire could take over a town of modern people. You see, I once debated another Dvor Master on this very subject…”
For the next half an hour, Torran and I have a proper discussion. We compare notes on how we rule our respective territories, the main difference being that his people know of what he is and respect it anyway. I find the notion outlandish, until he reminds me that his lands occupy one of the most remote and parochial reaches of the Austrian empire. The locals have been his for generations, and mistrust strangers with a ferocity that no Gabrielites or mages could hope to overcome. My style is closer to the Mask doctrine of hiding in plain sight. Rather than being offended that I would use his competitors’ methods, Torran praises me for creating a sustainable system from scratch. We exchange anecdotes until a heartbeat emerges from the tunnel entrance. A maid I do not recognize timidly informs me that a carriage has been arranged.
I steal a glance to the side. Torran’s appearance is cold when he looks at someone else. His countenance turns predatorial and pitiless though I suspect he is only uncaring. It would be interesting to see him hunt. Perhaps I can arrange something. In the meanwhile, I am on a schedule. Torran walks me back to the garden entrance then stays behind, with a promise that we will meet tomorrow an hour before the start of the opera. I make my way to my bedroom with a busy mind, nodding on the way at the Courtier with a red dress I had seen yesterday.
Nami and Jimena are inside, playing a game of chess while Salim is filling some papers. I do not mind that they let themselves in but I make a mistake by not greeting them immediately. My sister immediately realizes I am a bit flustered.
“What is the matter Ari?”
What is the matter indeed? The matter is that I just realized what happened in that garden.
“I… Torran and I held hands,” I tell her.
Just as the words cross my lips, I realize my mistake. Jimena and Nami share a knowing look, like two wolves spotting a limping fat deer.
“You held hands? Pervert.”
“And on the first night, you shameless hussy.”
“What is going on in here?” Salim asks with a worried expression.
“Torran and Ariane held hands,” Jimena answers with mock shock.
The sly lawyer winces in pretend disgust.
“Please spare me these tales of wanton debauchery. Holding hands? Scandalous. What is next, a stroll in the garden without a chaperone?” he asks in a horrified voice.
“Ariane, you must not succumb to your base desires, or next thing you know he and you may link arms,” Naminata remarks.
“I heard that’s how you catch the pregnant,” Jimena adds helpfully.
“Are you all quite done?” I ask, exasperated, “you forget that due to my status as a fugitive, I had little opportunity for hand-holding.”
“We all know that your dry spell is the size of the Sahara, Ariane. We are just delighted that you would consider his courtship.”
“Hold on, it is a bit early to talk about courtship, is it not? We have only just met. Perhaps he is just being friendly?”
“If I want to know with certainty, I usually walk into their bedroom naked,” Naminata suggests innocently.
“Thank you for your input Nami, I shall consider the next time I want to strut in a vampire den in the state of nature.”
“You should try it. The face on these snobbish twits when you show them a proper ass is always priceless.”
“Yes, well, perhaps later. Now is the time for shopping.”
“I’m coming as well!” Jimena decides with enthusiasm.
Naminata decides to stay behind to “sample” Lord Jarek while Salim waves us off with a last “You couldn’t pay me enough to go shopping with a pair of bored girls.”
We leave hand in hand, and for the first time since leaving that dreadful dungeon, I feel no need to check my fingers. Torran’s massage was surprisingly effective. I should ask him to do it again. Because of the therapeutic value, of course. Yep.
The trip back to Boston proper takes half an hour. Jimena informs me that the maids and other mortals I have seen moving around are not cattle but employees from families that have served us for generations. Their loyalty is not taken for granted either. All those who come here are screened and submitted to redundant security checks. Constantine also has a contract with a die-hard mercenary company and the favor of the local governor, not to mention a dense network of spies, agents and informers handled by his secretary, Sophia of the Rosenthal. It would take an army to make the manor fall when a mouse could not reach it.
I am, of course, not convinced. No matter how good defenses are, there is always a way to get through. Jonathan would find a method, I am sure. I am without alternative at the moment though, and will trust both my host and Loth’s reinforced sarcophagus.
The tailor we are to visit works from the outskirts of Boston, hidden between a large inn and a few barns meant to host animals before they are sold in the city’s many markets. Lines of high trees mask the small workshop and its customers from view. We are welcomed at the door by an old man with curly white hair and beard, and smart chestnut eyes behind a pair of round glasses. He bids us in, clearly expecting our arrival.
“Come in, come in. You must be lady Nirari, I was told you would arrive. My name is Gunther Goode, tailor for over two decades. And you are?”
“Jimena de Cadiz.”
“A pleasure. Please, follow me.”
The workshop is a single room, with models and fabric at the back. It lacks the usual counter one could expect from a business open to the public. A small table holding measuring bands sits near the entrance and this is where Goode leads us. He directs me with expertise, measuring everything and muttering about lavender and blush and whatnot.
“How many dresses did you need?”
“Four would be best, with one at the end of the week and one for tomorrow, if possible.”
“Difficult, but doable. May I ask what the occasion is?”
“I am going to the opera.”
“Ah,” he comments, delighted. The old man loses his professional countenance, replaced by genuine wonder.
“L’elisir d’Amore. It has everything to warm my old heart. Love transcending social barriers, music to melt a statue’s heart, passion, a quack doctor! Yes, I will have your dress ready.”
The old tailor continues his measurements, humming happily under his breath. I find it endearing. He is competent and creative, just what we admire in mortals. I am not surprised that my host would have him on retainer.
“Say, are you two related to Mr. Constantine?”
“He is a distant cousin” I answer vaguely, “why?”
“All those of you who live there, you have this… something…”
His eyes lose their focus. A callous finger traces the edge of my dress to the skin of my wrist.
His mouth opens slightly and his nostrils flair. I hesitate to intervene but thankfully, there is no need. Goode blinks and blushes, red as a poppy. He promptly removes the guilty appendage and finds the courage to meet my eyes.
My instincts are silent. This one is no threat and his touch was a mark of adoration. I shall tolerate it. This once.
When he realizes that I am not offended, the old man sighs in relief though his embarrassment remains.
“Ahem, where was I? Ah yes.”
It doesn’t take long for the measurements to be over and the tailor to usher us out so that he can focus on his craft. Jimena leans into me and whispers as we exit:
“You should tone down your aura my dear. I knew you had absorbed Lancaster essence, I never imagined it would show so much.”
Before I can reply, I feel a tug on my essence.
The feeling defies description, like a tether attached to a part of me that does not physically exist. I recognize it now thanks to my practice with Aisha’s cards.
Fate is calling. I focus on my senses to see if I can perceive anything and soon, I do.
“Shhhh. Do you hear that?”
Jimena tilts her head, then her eyes widen slightly. Thuds, impacts, grunts of pain. A serious brawl is taking place on the other side of the inn. The lack of drunken yells is proof enough that the participants are taking this seriously.
I smile and point up. My sister grins and jumps on the inn’s thatched roof in one graceful motion while I fasten the hooded cape I took to avoid attention. I move to the side of the wall, then behind, and see a sight I did not expect.
The tavern’s back court is a rectangular space occupied by crates, barrels and an outhouse. Four rough men in worker clothes are trying to corner a fifth one and not doing a great job of it. Two others are already out cold on the ground. The brutes are nothing special, the average dregs. The last man, however, is quite a sight. His attire is suitable for court and certainly not for this sorry joint, marking him as an outsider. He wears a black ensemble with a white shirt and stock tie, and even a top hat which currently lies discarded on the ground. In his gloved hands, he holds a scepter with a silver pommel, with which he strikes knees, jaws, noses and as I watch, testes. As a third man falls to the ground holding his abused crotch, a lucky kick finally makes the lone fighter stumble, an opening his opponents use to disarm him. The heroic combatant still escapes their grip and raises his fists in a pugilist guard.
“Now you shouldn’t have done that,” the biggest goon threatens in a low voice. He spits blood and removes a very large knife from his vest.
Now that won’t do. I can’t use a man robbed of his innards after all. I step out of the shadows.
“I believe that is quite enough.”
The three men jump and turn to face me. The lone fighter uses this opportunity to make some distance and I realize that he favors his left side. He did not come out of the ordeal unscathed.
“Who are you? Are you his girl?”
I can almost hear the rusty cog turning in the lead bruiser’s cavernous head. His primitive brain associates me with weakness, and then weakness with hostage.
“Why don’t you come over here girl, and we won’t hurt you. Much,” he declares with a nasty grin while waving his pig-sticker in what I assume is an attempt at intimidation.
I could, of course, kill them in an instant.
I could also Charm them into stabbing each other.
But that wouldn’t be fun. Naminata had it right, gloating is the guilty pleasure of our kind and I am confident I can get the best out of it.
“My dear sir, I fear that you brought a knife,” I say as I pick Aintza’s gift from my left pocket.
“To a gunfight.”
The leader scoffs.
“Pffft, what are you going to do? Shoot me?”
I don’t think I fully understand mortals anymore. Why would he tempt me so? I pull the trigger. The lout falls to the ground, clutching his knee.
“Aaaaaah you bitch! You shot me!”
“Very perceptive of you, sir.”
“Baldy, Shivers, get the whore.”
The two men hesitantly take a step forward, no longer so certain about the outcome of the battle. I calmly holster the first pistol and take out the second one, with the predictable effect. Now that is proper intimidation. Dalton, wherever you are, look down and laugh, for you did not show me this trick in vain. On the field, the two remaining foes smartly step back.
“Take your boss and sod off,” I offer generously. They grab their whimpering leader and the sad trio limps out, leaving three of their numbers on the field, as well as quite a few teeth.
Once we are alone, my rescue greets me with a smile. He has black hair in an aristocratic cut and dark piercing eyes. His face is elegant and refined, even with the beginning of a bruise. As I put back my weapon, he walks forward and grabs his cane and top hat, before offering me a dazzling smile and a flawless bow.
“Cornered and beaten I was,
By treachery and despair,
Till the villains were given pause
By such a maiden fair
Never has there been a rose,
With such a thorny flair.
Now this beauty did give them cause
To fear a new nightmare.
Milady, I thank you for your timely assistance. Nathan Riley Bingle, at your service.”
Hah, his name is Bingle. Just like… Just like…
By the Watcher.
Oh hell no not this again!
“No need to thank me sir, I am merely doing what honor demands. And now, please excuse meeeeee.”
I run away to the corner then move, just as Bingle junior decries “Milady, wait!” I rush headfirst into the carriage and order it forward. Jimena lands atop of it and slides by my side an instant later.
“What was that?” she asks, at a loss, “is he dangerous?”
“Much worse!” I hiss, “He is interesting!”