Three hours of delightful, blissful not-nearly-long-enough sleep later I’d OK-ed the new quarters Marco had shown me, and was dressed and headed off for my breakfast with the Searle. I had new guards this morning, Johan and Dina. Johan seemed friendly and engaged, Dina quiet and aloof. I chatted with Johan all the way across the compound to the main entrance of the vampire sector, and in that short time I learned that he had a wife and three children, two girls and boy. That his wife mainstreamed as an attorney, and his kids attended the local public school, rather than the Council school we ran here. When we approached the guards manning the vampire entrance, Johan sobered and was the one to introduce me. I was starting to think that Dina was some kind of selective mute. Whatever.
“Her Ladyship, Theron Embry Aylen Gyrwulf, to see Searle Malcolm Aucliffe MacDowell,” Johan intoned, throwing me a quick smirk when the guards turned their backs to grant me entrance.
“You have been expected, Lady Gyrwulf,” one of the guards said, gesturing for our group to move through the doorway. “I am Obachan, I have been waiting here to escort you to his Lordship the Searle.” Obachan wasn’t what you’d typically imagine of a vampire. He was short, swarthy, and vaguely round, appearing to be a mix of Portuguese and some kind of islander, possibly Filipino. His skin was still a healthy, alive-looking shade, letting on how dark he’d likely been before he met the little death, as the vampires called it. I’d have assumed he was a relatively young one, until I happened to look up high enough on his face to catch a glimpse of his eyes, they were a blood-red as the Searle’s.
We followed Obachan down a long hallway and into an elevator. A computerized female voice spoke after the doors to the elevator swished closed behind us. “Destination?” she asked.
“Receiving hall,” Obachan said, and a panel swished open on the wall, next to the door where you’d typically expect to see the floor selection buttons. Obachan pressed his palm to the panel and it made a buzzing noise, punctuated by a loud click. I light I hadn’t noticed beside the door switched from yellow to green, and the elevator began to descend. Catching my quizzical glance, Obachan smiled, flashing his fangs as he did so and causing a low mental growl to start-up from my wolf, where she observed from behind my own eyes. “The panel tracks my finger and palm prints and matches them to the prints on file. At the same time, microscopic tissue and blood samples are taken to further track both my identity and status,” Obachan explained.
“Status?” Dina asked. It figured that the security crap would be what got her talking.
“It measures certain chemicals that are released into our tissues when we meet the true death, or for example, if my hand had been severed from my body and was being used to fool the security system.” That was surprisingly forthcoming from Obachan, but I suppose a security feature like that worked best if it was known, so as to discourage attempts to foil it.
“What happens if you don’t pass the test?” Dina asked. I shot her a look, thinking that was perhaps a bit pushy, but Obachan seemed happy to answer.
“First, lights in the ceiling of the car would switch to a UV burst that would fry any vampire in the car within seconds. Then the air would fill with an aerosolized silver-iron bromolate that should take down any were, and all but the most iron-impervious fae changeling within five minutes. Even an iron bound fae would likely suffocate by then, but just in case, the bromolate is evacuated and replaced with halon fire suppression gas for a half hour, at which time the central security desk can choose to lower the elevator car to a secured level where it can be opened and anything that might still be alive, or whatever remains happen to still be lying about, can be dealt with. Alternatively, the car can be held sealed indefinitely, or released to drop ballistically, crushing on impact with the floor of the shaft, which would likely be a fall of at least several hundred feet,” he explained.
“Well then,” I said, overwhelmed at the severity of the reaction that had been planned for. The lift arrived at its destination and the doors opened. I stepped out quickly, shaking myself and rolling my shoulders, happy to be out of that little moving chamber of horrors.
“Impressive security,” Dina said approvingly, gracing Obachan with a brief smile. “Would you be willing to share the schematics with me?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t be able to place much trust in my security if we went around handing out the means to subvert any measures we’d taken. I think you will have to remain happily in the dark,” Obachan smiled at Dina again, the double entendre behind his words quite obvious in his expression.
“Well then,” I said again, not entirely comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken, but not sure how to redirect it.
“So the Searle lives in the basement of this place?” Johan asked bluntly. I winced. I needed to come up with some inoffensive, bland diplomatic small talk topics to keep in the back of my mind, or situations like this would probably crop up for more often. Wolves were not know for their delicateness and aplomb.
“The basement is not an entirely inaccurate description. The whole of the compound is subterranean. The Searle’s offices are located on the lowest functional level, however there are several levels of electrical and engineering equipment below us.” While Obachan talked I took the opportunity to look around the reception area we had ended up in. It was decorated in a style that I could best describe as Scottish modern. The floor was a high gloss white tile, in twelve-inch squares. The walls were similarly a high gloss white, though I couldn’t tell if it was paint or paneling. Several bookshelves were inset around the room, and areas without pictures were graced by paintings of men and women in kilts and other traditional Scottish attire. At one end of the long room was an ornately carved dark oak desk with matching chair. Obachan moved to settle in behind the desk, depressing a button on some kind of communication device. “My Lord, the wolves are here,” he said, leaning forward to speak into the device.
“Send them in,” came the gravelly voice of the Searle from the speakers attached to the device. Obachan pressed another button and the double frosted glass door to his right swished open. He gestured silently for us to pass through.
“Dina, Johan, if you could wait for me out here please?” I asked.
“Ma’am, we have very strict orders not to let you out of our sight,” Dina protested.
“I don’t believe I am in any danger while alone in the Searle’s office, you will wait out here,” I said firmly, making it an order with my tone of voice alone.
“And, if you were in danger from the Searle, there would be nothing either of them could do to stop it, even if they were standing right next to you,” Obachan said, looking right at me.
I dropped my gaze to avoid meeting his eyes and instead looked directly into Dina’s eyes. “Stay here,” I said.
“Yes, Ladyship,” she mumbled, bobbing her head.
I nodded, turned, and marched into the Searle’s office. I didn’t get more than a few feet into the room before the Searle’s voice startled me, coming from an area off to my right. Rather than being at his desk, the Searle was seated at one end of a dining table, holding a wine glass. He set his glass down on the table, stood, and pushed his chair back slightly and gripping the napkin that had been on his lap.”Welcome, daughter of Adelina, come, be seated at my table,” he said, gesturing at the chair opposite of him.
As soon as I sat another, single door swished open and a vampire in chef’s garb stepped through. “Greetings, Lady Grywulf, I am pleased to serve you. What would you like to eat?” he asked.
“I-I don’t know,” I said, flustered at the unexpected question. I’d assumed I’d just be served whatever they had prepared, but I suppose that not needing to eat made regularly cooked meals unnecessary. “Um, is there a menu or something? Something I could choose from?”
“We can prepare anything you might desire Theron, you must simply request it,” the chef said.
Well that wasn’t very helpful. I thought for a moment, trying to decide what I might be in the mood for. “Truly, I’d love to just have a plate of pancakes,” I said finally, deciding that was probably a safe choice.
“Butter and syrup on the side?” the vampire chef asked.
“Yes please,” I replied.
“Bacon or sausage on the side as well, perhaps?”
“Um, bacon please.”
“Regular or crispy?”
“Crispy,” this was getting ridiculous.
“Some fruit perhaps? We have some lovely fresh strawberries and a bit of pineapple,”
“And to drink?”
Finally an easy one, “coffee please, and could you bring a whole pot?” I asked.
“Happily ladyship,” the vampire smiled, flashing fangs at me, and I got the distinct sensation of a prey animal, being fattened up for the slaughter. Whatever, who cared, so long as I got bacon and coffee out of it.
The Searle took another sip from his wine glass and set it down onto the table again, folding his hands in front of him before addressing me. I noted the viscosity of the liquid in his glass, not that I hadn’t caught the scent of it as soon as I walked into the room. Blood. But then, what else would I expect? “Now, Lady Embry, if I may call you Lady Embry?” I nodded slightly and the Searle continued, “to what do I owe the pleasure of your company on this fine evening?”
“Sir, I believe you know. Upon my ascension to Theron I received all my mother’s notes on the ongoing, erm, situation. I know that you and she had a somewhat clandestine meeting immediately before she was killed. I need to know what you talked about that didn’t make it into her notes that night.”
“I’m not sure I’m aware of the situation you’re referring to,” the Searle said obliquely. “Perhaps you could provide me with some more detail?”
So this is how he was going to be. I sighed, not that I should be surprised that someone who had lived, as it were, as long as he had would have done so by playing things very close to the vest. I was just opening my mouth to begin my description of all that I’d learned in the last days, when the chef returned with a tray. “And here you are milady!” he announced, filling the area around me with plates. I’ve got your pancakes and bacon, crispy style, with butter and syrup on the side. Plus a steaming carafe of coffee. I forgot to ask, but I took a chance and brought you regular instead of decaf?” I nodded my approval and he went on, “I also have your mixed fruit. It turned out we had some lovely cantaloupe that I included with the strawberry and pineapple. And, I took the liberty of bringing a selection of breakfast pastries, as well as some oatmeal and a simple omelet with bell pepper, mushroom onion and three kinds of cheeses. Is there anything else I can get for you at this time?”
I sat back in my chair, stunned. Talk about overboard! I smiled up at the man, fixing my gaze on his forehead to keep from locking eyes. “No, thank you, this is absolutely fabulous. I cannot imagine how I’ll manage to eat it all.” The vampire chef smiled at me again as he bowed slightly and backed out of the room. I tucked in. No sense in letting all this fabulous food they’d made for me go to waste, and who else would eat it if I didn’t? I thought briefly of Dina and Johan out in the reception area. Surely they’d be able to smell all of this, but what was I going to do, take them each a doggie bag? Anyway, back to the work at hand. I finished off the rest of the bacon before pulling the omelet over to me. Studiously avoiding the mushrooms, I looked back up in the direction of the Searle. He was still sitting there patiently, sipping his goblet of blood and obviously not about to divulge a thing until I showed my hand.
“My understanding,” I began, ” My understanding is that you and my mother met to discuss the growing threat posed by an underground sect operating under our noses, trying to revive the ancient elemental dragons. As you can imagine, I could hardly believe my ears when I got Adelina’s message, recorded for me just before she was killed. She ascribed her death directly to the machinations of this group, and now we’ve had another murder, that of Queen Betta of the Unseelie. I’ve spoken to King Kallan and brought him up to speed on what I know of the situation. We do not believe a new Unseelie Queen will be chosen with anything approaching haste, so it comes down to the three of us, myself, Kallan, and you, Lord Searle. Do you still profess to not understand what I refer to?” I asked boldly, almost immediately regretting my words as I waiting in the stillness for the Searle’s response.
“Yes, child, this is the matter I spoke about with your mother on the night of her death. I have learned a few new things since that time. I’d imagine from her notes that you have a fairly detailed understanding of the situation, so I won’t bore you with more minute detail. Obachan can be in contact with your office after this to set up a sharing of information. Know though, that one of the things your mother came to me for, was information about the dragons themselves. I was not alive when they were bound to sleep away the centuries, but my sire was, and I have all his memories from that time. Truly they are fearsome beasts, and a blight upon this world. I fear that if they are released en masse that we will not have the power to bind them all again, and that would be a very bad thing.”
“I’m beginning to understand that,” I said. I took the next few moments to describe the dragon that had been conjured the day before, spoiling our ceremonial first hunt. I made a mental note to speak with Marco about the fallout of that event. I’m sure that I’d have some questions to answer from the other alphas, and I wasn’t sure how we’d be able to keep the secret. I didn’t want to lie to my wolves, but I also didn’t think we were ready to show our hand. Not that we had much of a hand to show. Either way. I returned my attention to the Searle, he’d been silent since I completed my description of the dragon we’d seen conjured.
“In truth, I was hoping we had more time before L’Air Noir struck out publicly,” the Searle said.
“Excuse me, L’Air Noir?” I said questioningly.
“Ah, I apologize,” the Searle said, pushing his chair back slightly from the table and folding his hands into his lap. “This is one of the things I wished to share with you. One of my operatives was able to successfully infiltrate the rebel organization, but only long enough to get one message out to me before he was found out and brought to the true death. His message was brief, but contained a few key details, among them the name of the group itself. L’Air Noir, the Black Wind.”
“Is that French?” I asked.
“It is indeed. Although I believe that may simply be to throw us off, as I do not believe the core of the group has strong ties to France. Indeed, this most recent intelligence tells us that one of their leaders has strong ties to the Night Council itself.”
“How is that possible?” I asked, shocked. “I mean, I knew we likely had a leak somewhere, but Adelina had assumed it was one of the lower level functionaries, she’d been specifically investigating people from her court who were on the periphery, or had arrived in the last two years. Are you now saying we need to move our investigation in a different direction?”
“I believe so. From what little data we received, it now sounds as if one of the leaders of the group lived here, on the Council compound, up until a few years ago. After yesterday’s display, we can see that they are able to access the grounds at their leisure, so that would supplement whatever intel that key figure is providing. I believe we need to focus our investigative efforts on discovering the identity of that key person,” the Searle said.
“You said you’d learned a couple of things, what else do you have to tell me?” I asked.
“This is true. I have also learned the manner in which the dragons are being resurrected, which is tied to the manner in which they were bound. The elemental dragons cannot be released singly, they will all burst forth from their cages simultaneously. There are five of them, and I’m sure you’re aware, one each that holds the power of its element at its core. It takes death magic to release the bindings on each dragon, and some of the strongest death magic I’ve even seen invoked. The dragon of water was released first, with the death of Adelina.” The Searle paused to sip from his wine glass while I processed what he’d just said.
“So you’re saying that this group, L’Air Noir, used some kind of magic to kill my mother, and steal the energy that was released at the moment of her death to break the chains on the dragon of water? Is that why she was drowned? And why Betta was burnt? Her death released the dragon of fire?” I asked.
“That is precisely what I believe has occurred. From my research I know that this is the only type of magic that would have done the job, and that the deaths used to release the bindings had to release an exorbitant amount of energy into the void. So, L’Air Noir is targeting the most powerful beings it can find, and their circle must be strong indeed to work such magic, through all our wards and defenses.”
I was halfway through my pancakes by now, having slathered them in butter and syrup, and was beginning to feel pleasantly full. “My compliments to your kitchen, my Lord Searle, this breakfast is delicious,” I said.
“Please, child, call me Malcolm, as your mother always did, and I shall call you Embry,” the Searle said, flashing that fangy smile at me once again. I didn’t necessarily relish the level of camaraderie implied by the use of our first names, but I certainly didn’t want to insult the man.
“Of course Malcolm, happily,” I said.
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