NaNoWriMo 2018! Post 3

It’s been ages. it seems!

Here’s a dump of more of my NaNo novel:

nanowrimo2015-design-by-eric-nyffeler

Irena closed the door behind her and stood awkwardly before her mother. The Torssons were all the color of honey with bright amber eyes. Irena, on the other hand, had come out with skin and eyes as dark as carob fruit, which she’d always figured were traits gifted her from her father. Her mother had been the only Torsson to truly treat her like a member of the family.

“The Society is fine,” Irena lied. “But they’re sending me on a really big commission, and I wanted to sort of see you first.”

Her mother fluffed a pillow and sat on her couch. She patted the spot next to her, gesturing for Irena to come sit. “Is it a dangerous commission?”

Irena joined her on the couch. “It could be, because they’re sending me to an integrated city, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She gave her mother a tight grin, hoping it was at least a little convincing. “But it’ll pay really well, and the actual reason I decided to come over here was to tell you what I plan to do with the money.”

Her mother’s smiled faded a little, and her brows knitted in slight concern.

Irena continued. “I want to use the money to visit Kyra Forest, to visit my father.”

Her mother’s face softened, though the concern didn’t completely fade from her countenance. She placed her hand on Irena’s and looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t know where to begin. Irena waited patiently. The evening light dwindled, and her mother turned on the lamp on the side table next to her. The bulb flickered to life behind it’s pink, rose-shaped lamp shade, bathing that corner of the room in its soft, warm glow.

“What brought this along?” her mother asked once she found her voice.

“He sent me a letter,” Irena replied. “I’m not sure how he figured out where I lived, though. I was thinking maybe he’d contacted you, too.”

Her mother said nothing for a while, though she looked deep in thought. Her eyes misted over, and she looked down at her lap. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty-five years.” She sniffed and wiped her face, smearing a little bit of the kohl lining her eyes. “I wonder how he found you.” She sniffed again. “What did the letter say?”

That he misses me, loves me, tried everything he could to find me…” Irena let her voice trail off and paused to gauge her mother’s reaction. It was clear to her that if her father had truly done everything in his power to contact his daughter, then he must have sent a number of letters to her mother. At some point, he must have made a trip to Wyrria — at least that’s what made sense to Irena. So what had stopped him? Had someone or something turned  him away? In the silence that followed, her mother remained quiet.

Irena continued. “He didn’t really abandon us, did he?”

Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, Irena. He loved you so much. He never would have left us.” She looked her daughter in the eye and sighed deeply. “No, he didn’t abandon us, dear heart. That was my story when I returned home.”

“Your story?” Irena frowned.

“I needed something plausible.” Her mother shrugged helplessly. “I was twenty, a child. And I had the nerve to run off with a fairy, and then we had you. It just went against the values my parents had taught me all my life — values their parents taught to them and values I tried to teach to you all on my own.”

Irena’s heart sank to her stomach.

“I’m a Wyrrian elf first and everything else second, Irena. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice?” Irena stood up. Even though she’d suspected such was the case, she knew she’d need time to process this, and she couldn’t it here. “Since your Wyrrian values are so important to you, aren’t you going to stop me from seeing him?”

Her mother looked up at her and shook her head. “No. You’re very nearly an adult now, and I don’t want to step in the way of you making your own decisions. But be wary, Irena. There are consequences for Wyrrians who stray. I was lucky to have been accepted when I returned home, and you know I’ll always love and accept you. But others… won’t be so kind.”

One corner of Irena’s mouth rose in a joyless smirk. “And that’s why you left and took me away from my father?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Her mother’s kohl-streaked face in the pinkish red lamp light was a pitiful sight. It didn’t feel right to leave her mother like this, not after a six-hour ride, and not after her first visit home in months. But she needed to at least take a walk to clear her head a little. Not far from the cottage lay a path that circled a pond and a small field of lavender. It was one she’d often strolled on as a child.

“Mother, I’m going to walk the path a little. When I come back, why don’t we have some tea?”

 

Chapter 2

Irena’s carriage arrived at the campus temple a little after five in the morning. Hanna was waiting for her, sitting on the steps and reading a book by candlelight. When Irena stepped off the carriage, they locked eyes. As Irena had suggested, Hanna had left her gray robe at home and instead wore a drab, brown dress that looked more like a sack than clothes, but it looked comfortable and practical for travel.

“This is your first commission, isn’t it, Hanna?” Irena said as the coachman unloaded her luggage.

The girl nodded mutely. Even in the dark, Irena could tell Hanna was nervous.

“Have you ever been on a train?”

Hanna shook her head. When she spoke, her voice came out hoarse. “My family would never be able to afford those.”

The first trains, powered solely by steam, had always been a luxury. Since Air Elementalists began harnessing lightning to help power the engines some then years ago, steam-powered trains remained an extravagance reserved for the well off, but the electro-steam hybrids were reserved for the very rich… which, luckily for them, included the White Reaper Society.

Irena grinned. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

*

Irena was amazed that the Society had booked for them a double-decker hybrid. Seats were so hard to come by since only really half of them were ever available. The only beings wealthy enough to afford the top seats were vampires — not the relatively newly turned, but the ones who’d been dead long enough to amass hundreds of years of wealth. As they waited in line to board the train with their tickets, it was all Irena could do to keep her composure. This wouldn’t be her first train ride, but it would be her first time on a double-decker. Beside her, Hanna openly gawked at her surroundings. All campuses of the White Reaper Society were tucked away from the bigger Wyrrian towns, so it was likely that she’d only ever seen elves, or an occasional fairy. Here, the passengers leaving the train included dwarves, humans, vampires, weredragons, werecats, and werewolves, most of whom were boarding an open-roofed tour bus that would take them around the nicest spots in town.

Hanna tapped Irena on the shoulder. “Is… is this safe?”

“What do you mean is this safe?”

“I mean,” Hanna looked around conspiratorially and lowered her voice in case someone might hear her, “I mean will we be safe?”

Irena laughed. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been to an integrated city before, so I’m excited. It’ll be an adventure.”

She hoped she sounded convincing. Her greatest fear was getting lost in a district in which no one spoke passable Elvish, in a place where all the signs were written in Vampyric or Felidaen. But, again, Elvish was the official language in all of Rowanston, so what was the likelihood of that happening?**** [add 9]

They boarded the train. Inside the double-decker, brown cushioned seats long enough to fit three passengers lined the walls. The seats were set in twos, facing each other. Whey they found their seats, Irena realized they were sitting among passengers heading home from their Wyrrian tour. A young Fairy couple sat across from them, gave Irena and Hanna a polite nod, and each busied themself with a book.

In the seats just behind sat a group of Werecats whose dialect marked them as urban Rowanstonians.

“Fel and fecking hell, I’m still mad they didn’t let us tour campus.”

“They’re all the same, yah. Secretive, like they have something to hide.”

“Well, if I’d just hacked off twenty poor yits and wanted to get away with it, I’d keep my doors closed, too.”

“No, they’ve always been like that, yah. I told you we  wouldn’t get to see it.”

“Well, I think it’s jah suspicious and a damn shame. What have they got to hide?”

Irena’s mood immediately soured. If they knew anything, they’d know that most Reaper societies host quarterly open houses for curious denizens wanting more more information on what Reapers do and how their campuses are run. These tourists had just missed the White Reaper Society’s open house by two weeks.

Hanna leaned over and whispered, “So that’s really what they think of us?”

“Yes, now hush,” Irena replied, glancing at the silent Fairy couple. “Someone could hear you.”

Hanna clamped her mouth shut and sat back in her seat. In front of them, one of the Fairies fell asleep on the other’s shoulder with ehr book lying open in her lap. As it slid toward the floor, Irena stooped to catch it before it fell and handed it to the other Fairy, a young man with warm, tan skin and frosty blond hair, lightly tousled as was in urban fashion.

He smiled and whispered in a lilty Faen accent, “Insufferable, aren’t they?”

“Pardon?”

“The tourists.” He nodded at the seats behind Irena and Hanna. “A bit ungrateful, don’t you think?”
Irena smiled. “Maybe a bit.”

*

The train sped east over the Great Elven Canal. At the end of the bridge, they stopped at a station, at which time they depleted Air Elementalist responsible for powering the electric components of the train completed his shift and switched with the Elementalist meant to replace him for the next shift.

“I used to want to be an Elementalist,” Hanna said.

“What’s stopping you?” Irena asked.

“Well, you know, our studies.

Irena nodded. “Fair point, btu what’s stopping you from having a hobby?”

“Oh, no.” Hanna sighed. “I don’t want to dabble. I wanted to be a professional Elementalist, you know?”

“I understand,” Irena said after some thought. “My mother’s an Earth and Water Elementalist, and one of the best botanists I know. Her green thumb is a force to be reckoned with…”

Her voice trailed off as she lost herself in nostalgia. When she was small, she could help her mother in the garden during the day and watch her study at night. She, too, had wanted to become a professional Elementalist, but as she grew older, she began to realize how little money her mother had to support them. Her mother hid her poverty well. Running off with a Fairy man and coming back without him but with a child hadn’t exactly sat well with the Torssons, so Alva was cut off, financially. Because of this, Irena hadn’t enjoyed the privilege of following her whims, all funded by her pristine and full-blooded Wyrrian elf family. Instead, she’d needed to find a way to make her own money, and the White Reaper Society paid quite handsomely. Now, sh glanced at Hanna and wondered why she’d chosen to be a White Reaper, but often, these reasons are quite personal, and Irena felt that asking would have been intrusive. Perhaps Hanna would feel comfortable to tell her some day.

“I have two sisters,” the male Fairy chimed in. “One’s a Healer, and one’s a Summoner.”

“And I bet you’re a Necromancer.” Irena grinned and crossed her arms. She’d intended it as a joke but was now worried it didn’t sound that way and tried to hide it by broadening her grin.

He shook his head, matching her grin, and said in a hushed voice. “Reaper, actually.”

Irena’s smile dropped. Hanna spoke up first. “You’re not joking?”

“I’m actually from the Royal Reaper Society myself.”

“The one in Valoria?” Irena asked in disbelief.

He nodded. “I figured I’d find friends in you two.” He offered his hand for a shake, which Irena and Hanna accepted. “I’m Wyren.” He pointed at the Fairy woman sleeping on his shoulder. “And this is my fiancee, Fredrika. We came to visit because the White Reapers are like our big sister, and we wanted to see it in person. It’s a beautiful campus.”

Irena and Hanna exchanged glances, and Irena said, “ My name’s Irena, and this is Hanna. We’re actually heading to Rowanston on commission, to investigate the incident. There are four of us, actually. We’re heading to New Gotha, and the other two are heading to Orsons Town.”

“Great Goddess, that sounds like an adventure. Have you been in integrated society before?”

“No,” Hanna blurted. All eyes turned to her, and she looked down at her hands, twiddling her thumbs. Then, she said in a smaller voice. “No, I haven’t.”

Wyren chuckled. “Don’t worry. Just about everyone speaks Elvish. I had to learn it when I was in school, along with Valorian. I grew up speaking Faen, though.”

Irena said, “I taught myself a little Faen. It’s a lovely language.”

Hanna’s eyes danced between the two. “Oh. I only know Elvish.”

“Ah.” Wyren snorted. “Thank your lucky stars for imperialism, then. Ah, yes! Excuse me!” He caught the attention of an attendant. “I’d like a coffee, please. Black is fine. Irena, Hanna, would you two like anything? My treat.”

Precisely six and a half minutes into enjoying their coffee, Irena heard one of the Werecats behind her turn in his seat and said, “Hey. Royal Reaper Society, yah?”

Hanna froze. Irena set her cup on the saucer, trying to force her rage down as far as it would go. This idiot was going to say something moronic, and this wasn’t the time or place to start a fight. Wryen, on the other hand, sipped his coffee, unbothered. Fredrika continued dozing peacefully on his shoulder.

“Ah, you overheard us, then,” he said.

“Yeah, fecking yit. So you’re a Reaper?”

Irena could feel Hanna’s body begin to tremble next to her. If this girl didn’t get it together, she wouldn’t make it halfway through the commission without suffering a heart attack.

Wyren replied, “Yes, but I have a brilliant idea. I think we’d all have a significantly better time if you turned back around in your seat and minded your own business.”

Another Werecat, a woman, chimed in. “Fecking body wielders, yah, got a lot of nerve. Is this one getting lippy with you, Aruk?”

Irena set her cup and saucer on her seat next to her, closed her eyes, and tried to count to ten. Now wasn’t the time to get angry.

“Mm.” Wyren took another sip of his coffee and set his cup and saucer down as well. “If you lot had half a brain, you’d know by now that what you’ve just described is a Necromancer. It’s Necromancers that reanimate dead bodies. But, I do like the concept of referring to us as wielders. You can call us soul wielders if you like. It sounds delightful.”

“This one’s having a jah go at you, Aruk.” The female Werecat growled.

Aruke rose from his seat and walked into the aisle.

Hanna clasped her hands together and whispered hastily under her breath, “Oh Great Goddess Wyrria, protect us from harm. We mean no harm. I beg you keep us safe from it. Oh Great Goddess Wyrria, protect us from ha-”

Irena elbowed her in her side. “There’s no need for all that, Hanna.” Then, she turned to Aruk. “Listen, we haven’t done anything to you, and we certainly haven’t done any harm to anyone else. I heard you talking about not being able to tour the White Reaper Society, but they had their open house not long ago. I’m sure you’ll be able to catch another one soon if you keep up on the dates.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, spoon. I was talking to him.” Aruk pointed to Wyren, whose impassive face showed not an inkling of care. Fredrika stirred a little but remained asleep.

Irena’s fists clenched. Her nails dug into her palms. “Call me a spoon, one more time, you-”

“Right then!” Wryren reached out and muttered a spell under his breath tethering Aruk’s soul to his hand. One flick of the wrist, and the Werecat’s soul would be ripped from its body. “I’m going to suggest to you one more time that you return to your seat and leave us alone. If this continues much longer, you’ll end up waking my fiancee, in which case there would be grievous hell to pay.”

Wyren closed his fingers into a fist and Aruk yelped. “Are we clear, Mr. Aruk?”

The Werecat nodded, Wyren released his soul, and Aruk — now sweating and hunched over — limped back to his seat. Irena didn’t hear from the Werecats for the rest of the train ride.

*

The train dipped south into the Kingdom of Valoria, where Wyren bid adieu. He woke Fredrika, thanked Irena and Hanna for pleasant conversation, and departed. New passengers boarded, and the Fairy couple was replaced with three petite, elderly elves, who kept to themselves and spoke what sounded like Valorian to Irena’s ears. When the train chugged off once again, they were still some ten hours from Rowanston. Irena fluffed her complimentary pillow and tried to find a comfortable position in her seat. Beside her, Hanna was stiff.

“Irena, I’m still kind of scared.”

Irena yawned. “That’s understandable.”

“But Wyren was nice.”

“That’s because he was one of us, I suspect,” Irena said.

Hanna nodded. “Well, yes, but he was nice all the same.” She paused for a few moments, then added, “But he wasn’t really going to kill that Werecat, was he?”

“Considering that would be murder, and murder is among the most heinous crimes,” Irena replied, “I assume not.”

“You’re right, of course not.” Hanna gave a tight smile.

*

The double-decker, at long last, pulled into the eastern New Gotha station, and the two emerged into the city. The roads bustled with speed-walking pedestrians, crowded carriages, and haggard beggars dressed in tattered, mud-caked rags. Wealthy vampires in chic, tailored clothes of the latest fashions strolled alongside Humans holding hands, Weredragons reading the newspaper, and Dwarves covered in oil from the day’s work. Above, sirens flew to their apartments at the tops of the tallest buildings. Each sign featured titles and directions first (in the largest, boldest letters) in Elvish, then translated underneath, in smaller letters,to Vampyric and a couple other languages Irena didn’t recognize. Not far down the road stood an elaborate, spired church run by The United Believers of Aeron. The building itself looked a couple hundred years old, built in the style of the Church of Great Goddess Wyrria before the fall of the empire.

Irena heard heavy breathing next to her and turned to see Hanna nearly hyperventilating and pressing both hands to her chest.

“Hanna, for goodness sake, we’re not going to die. Now get your luggage.”

While Hanna did as she was told, Irena pulled Headmaster Torrin’s notes from her vest pocket and reviewed them.

  • The incident occurred in Orsons Town, in Orson University’s courtyard during a sporting event.
  • The suspects are believed to have fled to New Gotha.
  • Though all the victims were Elves, it is yet unclear whether any of them were Wyrrians. Orsons University is largely attended by Elves, mainly from Kyra Forest, though there are decent Wyrrian and Valorian populations. In any case, the school is quite small, and the community is closely knit.
  • Shortly after after the incident, a group of men and women no one recognized boarded a train to New Gotha. This same group was seen earlier lurking around the courtyard before the sporting event during which the incident occurred.
  • None of the victims were athletes. All athletes have been accounted for. It appears, also, that the suspects were visitors from out of town.
  • Please send me a letter once you arrive in New Gotha, and continue to update me on your progress. I have arranged it so that you may rent P.O. Box 3031 for the duration of your stay in New Gotha, and I will send you whatever new information I acquire. As always, the cost of this service is taken care of by the Society and is of no cost to you.

Irena decided their first stop after settling in at the inn would be the post office, where she’d send Headmaster Torrin news of her arrival in New Gotha, and where she’d send the reply she’d written to her father.

*

The grandfather clock in their inn room struck midnight, and Irena still could not sleep. As much as she tried to hide it, being in New Gotha had ramped up her nerves. Hanna, on the other hand, slept soundly soundly in the other bed after consuming several sleep aids she’d bought to overcome her anxiety. Irena looked at the young Reaper-in-training with mild irritation. Why had Headmaster Torrin sent this timid, excitable rabbit of a an Elf to shadow on such a huge mission? This poor girl, who had only ever seen Elves all her life and who only knew small town Elf life, was forced into this big, integrated city, indefinitely. Irena would have to make it her mission to keep Hanna from developing an ulcer. In the meantime, though, the sleep aids were starting to seem like a good idea, and she was slightly upset she didn’t’ purchase any for her herself when they’d stopped at the pharmacy after dinner. Irena left bed, got dressed, and headed out into the night.

*

Back home, the most places close by nine at the latest. Here, most restaurants and shops remained open until the late hours of the night — something Irena still couldn’t quite believe but would always be thankful for. When she entered, the only others in the pharmacy building were two cashiers and one customer perusing the same aisle from which Hanna had bought her sleep aids. The customer’s ear shape and lack of wings had clearly marked him as an Elf, but when she approached the aisle and he gave her a polite smile, she noticed his eyes were red — the tell-tale mark of a Vampire. Although Vampires were everywhere, usually inhabiting the wealthiest districts, this was Irena’s first time seeing one so close up in person. It helped that he was handsome, with full lips, caramel skin, and a light sprinkle of freckles across his nose. His kinky coal black hair was pulled back into a curly poof of a ponytail. He had a slender built with broad shoulders, narrow waist, and, from what Irena could tell from his arms revealed by his rolled-up sleeves, taut muscles. Her imagination was torn between taking him to bed and running far, far away. Presently, he was looking for blood.

Irena had been vaguely aware that different blood had different effects, but she never knew what those effects were. As she read the labels, she read that Fairy blood granted accelerated healing; Mermaid and siren blood granted extra energy (“Good for that midday boost!”); Werewolf blood increased strength; Wereunicorn blood (at 135 Elven Royals a bottle for how rare Wereunicorns are, nearly thirty times more expensive than the other bottles) granted both sun protection and accelerated healing; Weredragon blood granted resistance to extreme heat (obviously, but who needed this kind of resistance — Vampire firefighters?); Werecat blood increased precision and spiked the senses; and Dwarf blood was simply nutrient dense (“Miss a meal? Sip on Dwarf blood!”).

The bottle he currently held was Elf blood, meant to grant protection from the sun. This one, Irena noticed, was nearly out of stock. He looked from the bottle to Irena, who realized she was staring and immediately felt ashamed, and gave her a sheepish grin.

“I know it’s kind of awkward, us being Elves and all. I’ve been a Vamp for thirty-one years, and I never get used to it,” he said. “But that’s the price we pay for living in a place that thrives during the daylight hours.”

Irena cleared her throat. “I’m really sorry for staring.”

“I get a lot of stares from people who aren’t used to integrated society…” He raised his brows, making it a question.

“Oh, I’m from Wyrria.”

He nodded. “Well, that explains it. And I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you’re not looking for blood.”

“Oh, no!” Irena laughed nervously. “I was actually looking for sleep aids.”

“Ah.” The Vampire pointed further down the aisle. “They’re just there.”

“Thank you,” Irena said, but she didn’t move. She tried to will her legs to walk, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the Vampire placing three bottles of Elf blood into the basket hanging from his arm.

He smirked. “It’s a little weird, I know. But if you’re here long enough, you’ll get used to it.” He looked at her now that he’d taken what was left of the Elf blood from the self. “How long are you here for, little Wyrrian?”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. I guess I’m visiting indefinitely.”

“That can’t be good for your wallet.” His smile broadened, revealing his fangs. Again, Irena found herself conflicted between wanting him to bite her and wanting to promptly leave the store without having bought a single thing.

Her face grew hot. “I’m here on commission, and commissions usually last a day or two, but this one… This one is a bit of an outlier.”

“Commissions?” The Vampire glanced at the cashiers standing idly at checkout and lowered his voice when he returned his attention to Irena. “You’re a White Reaper?”

“That easy to guess?”

“I’ve been walking this earth for fifty-six collective years. I know a thing or two.” He leaned closer and whispered. “And anyway, I’d always known the difference between Reapers and Necros. I’m from rural Valoria.”

“Thank the Great Goddess I ran into someone who understands here,” Irena said. “You never want to let the wrong people know you’re a Reaper. It almost caused a fight on the train.”

“That’s one way to start a trip.”

“It certainly is.” Irena’s face heated up more. All she’d come here for was a simple sleep aid. She could have been halfway back to the inn by now.

The Vampire bowed slightly and elegantly, like a dancer. “I’m Elrik Valhansson, by the way.”

“Irena,” she replied, smiling more broadly than she intended. “Irena Feyr.”******[add 2]

Elrik switched his basket to the other arm. “Well, Irena Feyr, are you ever going to get those sleep aids?”

Irena bit her lip, thinking of an excuse to continue talking to him. “I guess I do have a question about… the blood.”

He laughed slightly. “Go on.”

“Where do they…? I mean, how…? Is it… voluntary?”

He laughed more loudly. “Oh, it is one hundred percent voluntary, and the volunteers are paid well. Trust me. There isn’t a dungeon somewhere where we suck the blood out of kidnapped passersby.”

“Good to know. Thank you.” Irena grinned. “And, it was nice meeting you, Elrik. I guess I should be getting to the sleep aids if I’m to be of any use to my shadow tomorrow.”

“Your shadow?”

“My Headmaster sent a Gray robe to tag along,” she explained. “I’m surprised she hasn’t died of shock yet. The poor thing had only ever known small town Wyrria. Now, here she is.”

Elrik snickered. “Poor thing indeed. And you said this particular commission is an ‘outlier’?”

“Oh, yes.” Irena walked backward toward the sleep aids, still facing him. “This one isn’t the usual sending souls along. It’s an investigation of sorts.”

Elrik followed. “Do tell.”

“I’m not sure how much I can tell you, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the incident at Orsons University.” Irena grabbed a bottle of sleep aids.

“Ah, say no more.”

“Yes, so you see what kind of a situation I’m in.”

Elrik looked at the sleep aids, then looked at Irena. “You’re not going to get any sleep.”

“Probably not without shoving a handful of these down my gullet like my panicky shadow did.” She shrugged. “I’m not fond of the idea of putting my liver through so much work, but I need to at least try. With the intended dose, I mean.”

“Oh, the pills will make you sleepy, I’m sure. But you don’t seem like you’ll be getting much rest.”

Irena looked at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” he replied, “unless you follow in your shadow’s footsteps, your mind’s current state, I mean its near constant need to process your investigation and new surroundings, will keep you from getting any rest. You may not be as anxious as your shadow, but you definitely have your guard up.”

Irena set the sleep aids back on the shelf. “Well, aren’t you insightful?”

“I’m not sure if I can offer much in the way of helping with your commission,” he continued, “but I do own a telegraph machine. You could send me a message from the post office whenever you might need a local to brainstorm with, and I’ll meet you wherever you’d feel comfortable meeting. I’m personally a fan of a cafe not far from here, and the library next door to it.”

Irena’s head was swimming. Sending telegrams from the post office wasn’t exactly cheap, but this man owned his own telegraph machine? As far as she knew, only the most wealthy could afford one of their own, and Elrik wasn’t quite old enough to have amassed that kind of wealth, was he?

Elrik seemed to have read her mind. “It was a gift. From my Volte.”

“Really?” Irena didn’t know much about Vampires’ relationships with their Voltes, the ones who’d turned them into Vampires in the first place. Didn’t they hate their Voltes from taking their lives away? Perhaps there were more people than she thought who’d gladly give up their lives for a chance at immortality and becoming a member of the most powerful race on earth. Somehow, Irena didn’t quite think it was worth it.

“You’re on good terms with your Volte, then?” she asked.

Elrik smiled. “It’s more common than you think.”

“Did you want to be a Vampire, then?” Irena regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. This was, perhaps, too personal a question to ask someone she’d just met. “Oh, Great Goddess, I am so sorry. You don’t have to answer that.”

“Well, that’s a complicated answer.” Elrik rubbed his chin in thought. “Although, I might be convinced to tell you all about it over coffee if you’d like.”

Irena’s heart stopped.

“Not now, obviously, because the cafe is closed,” he continued, “but if you find time during your stay here, and I’m sure you’re uncommonly busy, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Irena thought back to Hanna sleeping like a log at the inn. Judging by the amount of sleep aids she’d taken, the young girl would sleep all through the morning, and Irena would have to get breakfast alone. Well. Now, she didn’t necessarily have to get breakfast alone.

“Tell me what cafe you’re talking about, and we can meet there tomorrow morning, around nine, perhaps?”

*

What had she done? Ultimately, Irena ended up buying the bottle of sleep aids, which is what she’d intended to do, so that was fine. But it was the other thing she was concerned about. Now wasn’t the time for dates, especially with vampires. What would Headmaster Torrin say? What what Hanna say if she found out? What was the point in this date, anyway? Once the investigation was underway, everything else would have to be pushed to the back of Irena’s mind, including meeting her father in Kyra Forest. After this breakfast date, she’d likely never see Elrik again, so what was the point? Irena took a couple of the pills and paced the floor as she waited for sleepiness to overtake her. What was the point? She had half a mind to walk right back out and to the post office and send Elrik a telegraph saying that, on second thought, she couldn’t make it to breakfast (sorry!), but it was closed at this ungodly hour of the night.

And anyway, she didn’t really want to cancel her breakfast date with him.

Why not enjoy the one morning she’d have to herself before delving into the mysterious deaths and disappearances of twenty Elves? Irena sat on her bed and started at the ugly, brown wallpaper. A green vine pattern crawled from the floor to the ceiling. The grandfather clock struck the second hour after midnight.

Indeed, Irena wasn’t going to be getting much sleep.

[[To be continued…]]

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