This story takes place in the Fall of 1996.
"As far as I know, no vampires are planning any sort of retaliation against Lisa," said Brian. "For one reason, there's no-one left who has cause to seek revenge. Janos took all the vampires under him - those he Made and his immediate allies and servants - with him, along with nearly all his human underlings. The only people left at his home are a few elderly retainers who weren't even told where he went. In fact, outside of those who went with him, no-one I am aware of knows their destination or purpose, though many assume it had something to do with Il Capo's attempted coup.
"Another reason, as I just implied, is that there's no-one still around who has more than a suspicion that Lisa was connected with his disappearance and presumed death." Brian shrugged.
"But people - vampires - know Lisa was after Il Capo," said Tina.
"Yes, but he died at the hand of The Greek, who has decreed Il Capo a rogue and his death justified," said Brian. "Also, since Lisa was there, hundreds of miles from Louisville, she could not have been personally involved in whatever happened to Janos.
"Incidentally," Brian continued, looking deliberately in turn at both How and Tina, "what did happen to Janos?"
"Oh, I was the one with Lisa," said Tina, quickly. "How was there, but hiding under a truck."
"I was not hiding under a truck," said the kitsune, defensively. "It was an SUV."
For a moment - just a moment - the vampire might have actually been about to smile.
"I see. Well, I can't fault you for not telling me. Though I am curious about what happened to the bodies. Not to mention the vehicles..."
They refused to rise to the bait. Though Tina was tempted. She wanted to see if he would change expression when told that Lisa, Tina, How, several local Fey and a handful of werewolves had loaded the bodies into the vehicles and driven them to a nearby location where Lord Teleomier had opened a gateway to the fringes of Arcadia. The deceased humans and vampires were buried there later, and the vehicles left for possible future use.
Tina was stirred out of her fantasy by Brian suddenly frowning.
"There is one thing which might be a source of concern," he stated. "It occurs to me that Janos might have left a record of his plans. I know he kept a journal, as well as records of certain events. Partly for use against other vampires, and partly to aid his recollections."
"Yeah, I guess when you can reasonably expect to be around for several centuries it's a good idea to keep notes," said How.
"Where would he have kept such a thing?" asked Tina.
Brian actually smiled. The expression looked as practiced and polished as that produced by any politician.
"As a matter of fact, I happen to have a good idea where. I'm the one who recommended his home in Louisville, which he bought a little over forty years ago. I knew it had some features he was interested in, left over from the Prohibition era."
"Oh, right," said Tina, suddenly remembering something Lisa had told her about the vampire. "You were a, uh..."
"A mob boss," said Brian, face once again a blank mask. He leaned back a bit and steepled his fingers. "There is an extensive underground facility with a direct access from outside, as well as a secret entrance in the house. From what I gathered over the years, Janos told only his three chief lieutenants about these features. Which means that besides us there may be no-one else who knows. However, that is not a certainty."
"So you'll go and check?" asked How.
"Not I," countered Brian. Again, that practiced smile. "Going during the day would be least likely to attract attention. And I'm not a day person."
"You want us to go," said Tina.
"As I said, only the three of us know about this. Maintaining that situation seems best. If Janos did keep his records there, the fewer who know about them the better."
"So what's the deal?" asked How, looking Brain straight in the eye.
"I tell you how to get in. You go there, search the place thoroughly, bring me any records. In return you can keep anything else you like."
"Even if it's the contents of Al Capone's vault?" asked How innocently.
"That's unlikely, since I emptied it back in Forty-Seven," said Brian. "Which is why I'm not concerned with material treasures. No, if I can get Janos' records, and no-one knows I have them, that will give me a considerable amount of leverage in attaining my own goals."
"That's the real reason you want us to go for you, isn't it?" demanded Tina. "So that even if someone goes looking later and finds the records missing, they won't connect that to you."
"Quite perceptive," said Brian, nodding.
What do you think? Tina silently asked How.
Probably something we should at least look into, he replied in like manner. Vampires are supposed to collect interesting stuff. And if this works out well we'd have a nice nest egg.
"Okay, we'll do it," said Tina.
"Excellent," said Brian.
He rose, went over to a large bookcase and reached behind the books on one shelf. A muffled click, and the entire structure swung open, revealing a small room behind. Brian entered, rummaged around for a few moments, then exited, a time-darkened manila folder bulging with papers in his hand.
"Aren't you afraid we'll tell someone about that?" asked Tina, pointing to the still-open bookcase.
"'That' is already known to anyone who knows me more than casually," said Brian. "As is the fact that the entire house is alarmed and trapped."
"Oh," said Tina, faintly.
"Be advised that Janos' underground facility is almost certainly likewise alarmed and trapped," Brian added. "Though hopefully it will be unattended."
He opened the folder, selected a plan, and spread it on the large cherry table. As he pointed out features, How - ever the artist - pulled a sketchbook and pencil from one of the pockets of his voluminous lavender coat and began making notes.
"The outside entrance is here," said Brian, pointing to a location in a dense copse of trees near the Ohio River. "The tunnel slopes up to the house, so there shouldn't be any problem with standing water. Originally the tunnel was closed with a padlocked grate, and the entrance was designed to look like the end of a drainage culvert. I haven't been there in decades, though, and have no idea how much work Janos did towards altering the door or its concealment.
"Once inside, assuming he kept things up - and Janos was not the type to let something stay broken for long - the tunnel has light fixtures the whole way. The end under the house was closed with an armored door. There were gun ports in the wall on either side of this, but I doubt Janos has any gangsters stationed there with Tommy Guns. He may have other traps, though."
"This is starting to sound like fun," said How, grinning as he copied the diagrams Brian showed them.
The briefing continued for over half an hour. At the far end of the tunnel was a large room for temporary storage and inspection. Through another armored door was a small warehouse, with three other doors. Two were in the same wall as the entrance, and led to the gun ports. The last led into the living area.
"Alvarez, the man who originally built the place, used this both for himself and for mobsters who needed somewhere to hide from the cops," Brian explained. "After he died in prison the house went to one of his nephews, who carried on the family business for a while, gradually converting it to legitimate interests after Prohibition was repealed. Eventually he died, and the heirs sold the estate to a local businessman with no Mob connections. He knew nothing about the underground facilities. After he died the mansion sat empty for a while, until Janos contacted me about finding a place in the Louisville area."
As he spoke, Tina noticed that for the first time he seemed to be experiencing genuine emotion, a strange wistfulness. Perhaps he was remembering the days before he became a vampire.
"And that's all I can tell you with certainty," said Brian, finally. "Remember, while Janos didn't like to change things just to change them - vampires as a group being very conservative - he might have had a good reason to remodel or rebuild any of this."
They stood. None of them offered to shake hands to cinch the deal.
"Good luck," said Brian, after a brief, awkward silence.
The youngsters said their farewells and left.
* * *
"I know Lisa trusts him, and he seems to be playing straight with us, but that guy gives me the creeps," said Tina.
"Did you notice that he doesn't move?" asked How, as he unlocked door of their Corolla. "I mean, most humans - well, most live animals - will occasionally twitch, or glance to the side, and so forth. But not him. He just sits there, or stands there, and when he moves it's like a machine. I suppose all vampires are like that."
"What was it Lisa said?" asked Tina. "Oh, yeah: 'Vampires are only passionate when they feed or when they fight.'"
They got in their car and drove away, How nimbly maneuvering the little car down the long, sweeping drive and onto the public road.
"So, we gonna go straight there?" he asked.
"How, it's already after 9 O'clock, and we have an hour and a half trip to Louisville," said Tina, tiredly. "Also, we're supposed to go during the day."
"Good!" said How, leering at her and almost going onto the shoulder of the narrow country lane. "We can go straight back to our place and have some fun, then. I love Summer vacation!"
"Remember, I'm in training," Tina said in a teasing tone.
"Well, consider this an extra workout."
* * *
The two otters swam up the narrow, overgrown ditch until they reached the old concrete apron. They scampered out, shook themselves dry and looked carefully around. The male, satisfied, briefly nuzzled the female. Then shifted them to human form.
"That was fun!" said Tina, in a subdued voice, grinning. "And I am so glad you can change my clothes with me now."
"You say that now," said How, imitating Groucho, "but just wait until you find out you're not wearing underwear."
Tina play whapped him, How ducking out of the way.
The pair headed towards what looked like the business end of an old culvert.
"Brian didn't say anything about all this water," mused Tina. "I wonder if he just forgot, or if Janos caused this, or if there's a leak somewhere."
"Well, the mansion is on top of the ridge over there, and even the basement should be above the water table, so it should be all right."
The grating was old and rusted, as was the padlock.
"So, which is better?" How mused. "Change us into something which can squeeze through, or try to gimmick the metal?"
Tina looked at him, then grabbed the padlock and yanked. It made a loud clink and stayed obstinately intact.
"Well, that's not as weak as it looks," she mumbled.
Tina positioned herself at what appeared to be two of the most rusted vertical bars, wrapped a hand around each, and pulled. They yielded slightly, but rebounded when she let go. Muttering, she took a deep breath and tried again, harder. Still no luck.
"Wow..." said How, from inside the tunnel.
"How did you get in there?" asked Tina, who hadn't even noticed him move.
"I'm not sure. I just really wanted to watch your tits while you did that, and here I was!"
Tina grabbed for him through the bars, but he danced back, laughing.
"All right, that's enough," she sighed. "Now, get me iiiii..."
Tina's body suddenly compressed front to back to about half the normal thickness. The sensation was incredibly strange, though not painful nor even uncomfortable. Still, she quickly turned sideways and squeezed through the bars.
"Gee, you look funny that way," said How, grinning.
"C'mon, How; make me thick again!"
Tina's body responded, pushing outward to its normal dimensions.
"Whew! Sometimes you can be just too weird for even me."
They turned and proceeded up the tunnel. A short distance in How spotted a switch on the wall.
"That must be for the lights!" He reached for it.
"Wait," said Tina, "remember what Brian said about traps. That's the obvious place to put one."
"Hum, yeah," mused How.
He frowned, looking at the switch for several seconds. He then traced along the conduit, following it to where it reached the top of the tunnel and turned ninety degrees, towards the house.
"Don't feel anything here but normal wires," he stated. "Still, I guess we shouldn't mess with anything we don't have to."
He raised his hand and a glowing yellow-green light appeared. At his direction, it rose to hover above them.
"Now that is cool," said Tina, grinning.
"You've seen this before," said How, with a casual shrug.
"Yeah, but you were just practicing then."
They started in, walking on either side of the small stream trickling down the center of the culvert. About two-thirds of the way they found the source of the water: a large crack in the side of the tunnel. With that mystery solved, they continued, now on a dry floor. Soon they came to a heavy-looking steel door with a combination lock.
"Hmmm..." said How, bending over to peer at it. "It's dryer here, and somebody has kept this well oiled. I don't sense anything but metal and such, either. No explosives or gas canisters."
He reached out and carefully turned the dial. It was completely silent.
"Well made. Probably Swiss."
"Since when do you know anything about safes?" asked Tina.
How ignored her, continuing to manipulate the dial. There was a soft click, and he grinned. Grabbing the handle he jerked it downward. With a muffled whoosh the door opened slightly.
"After you, my dear," said How, pulling on the heavy door to finish opening it.
Beyond, as expected, was the inspection room. It was empty.
"No surprise there," mused How.
They entered and crossed the room. The far door was a heavy piece of steel with a key lock. How stuck a blade from his knife into the hole and wiggled it a bit, then turned it. There was a click, and the door opened towards them, hinges creaking slightly.
"Now we're getting somewhere," said How, as he peered into the next room. It was also empty.
"Look," said Tina, grabbing his arm and pointing down.
A fine wire, glinting greenly in the conjured light, was stretched across the doorway at about knee height. Leaning in and looking left and right, they could see the wire connected to a shotgun on each side.
"Yow!" said How, in obvious alarm. "Guy must not have liked salesmen."
"Or Revenue agents," muttered Tina.
They stepped carefully over the wire. How examined the guns, and determined that they were cocked with the triggers wired back and the hammers held by the tripwire, and would fire if it were broken or cut.
"Nasty," he remarked. "Remind me of this on our way out. I really don't want to fool with this."
"Oh, How, it's easy," said Tina. "Look; you hold the hammer on that one and I'll hold this one. I'll break the wire and we just let the hammers down slowly. No problem."
How was still not certain, but did as Tina instructed. In moments, the trap was neutralized.
"Good," said How. "Now for the prize."
He turned and headed for the far door, but Tina called him back.
"Let's do this right," she said, pulling out her flashlight. "You check that gun port door and I'll check this one. That way we'll at least know what's behind us."
These doors were wood, not even locked. Minutes later they met back in the warehouse.
"Well, now we know where to come if we need an arsenal," said How, looking impressed.
"Old machine guns, new machine guns, shotguns old and new, grenades, ammunition clips..." Tina shook her head. "Even Lisa doesn't have this much stuff."
"Well, we can take some of it on the way out as a gift for her, then," said How, grinning.
They went to the next door, which was a repeat of the one opposite it. How pulled out his pocket knife, but Tina stopped him.
"Put the light out," she hissed.
He looked at her quizzically. Tina sighed and reached up for the glowing ball. It felt warm and rubbery, almost like a balloon, and for a moment resisted her pull. Then it vanished with a soft pop. How started to protest, but Tina put a hand over his mouth. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness he understood why. A strip of light was shining on the floor, from under the door.
How put his ear to the door and closed his eyes. After several seconds he pulled back.
"There's nobody close to the other side of the door. Maybe not in the room at all."
"So do we go in?" asked Tina anxiously.
How frowned, thinking.
"Okay, I myob us, and the door, then open it. That should at least allow us to look in at what's there without being noticed."
"Okay," said Tina.
She stepped back a bit, positioning herself so she could see into the room through the first crack as the door opened. How did his magic, then worked the lock - carefully - with the knife. Then he crouched down and very slowly pulled the door open. The hinges on this one were silent.
There was a den of some sort inside, well-cared for but with old fashioned furniture. No trip wire. No sign of anyone. Just a dim lamp on a table under a mirror. The pair crept inside. Four other doors - one each left and right and two in the far wall - led out of the room. Besides the table and mirror near the door on the right there was a sofa with an end table carrying a lamp beside each arm, a coffee table, two ladder-back chairs and a freestanding cabinet of some sort between the pair of doors in the far wall. All of these pieces looked to be both old, of good quality and in excellent condition. Covering most of the floor was a heavy woven rug, fortuitously muffling their footsteps. The place smelled of moth balls and age, and was as quiet as a tomb.
Do you think Janos is the type to leave a lamp on? asked How.
And I would know this how?
They moved around the room slowly, by unspoken agreement heading towards the left door. How listened again, then nodded and opened it. A bathroom, with rather antique fixtures. There was another door there, leading in the same direction as the one directly across from where they had entered. Leaving the euphemism for a moment, they continued around the room to the next door. Again, How listened, then nodded. Inside was a combined library and office. The furniture looked quite expensive without being overstated, though the style was long out of date. Several bland paintings hung on the wall between the book cases.
Jackpot! thought How.
Yeah, but can't start searching until we check everything, Tina cautioned.
Back in the sitting room the checked the drawer in the coffee table. It proved to hold several decks of worn playing cards, plus a Canasta set. The cabinet held a few books and magazines, all of them old, and a small but well-stocked wet bar. The other door in that wall was next. It opened onto a narrow and dark staircase, leading up. Finally, the went to the door on the right. How listened... and stepped back, looking worried.
There's something... weird in there he told Tina. I'm not sure...
If it's a vampire it's probably asleep, Tina decided. So if we open the door carefully, we won't disturb it.
It does feel a bit like a vampire, How agreed, but... Ah, Hell. I'll myob the door and we'll look. Otherwise we'd just stand here discussing it until sundown.
He focused on the door, frowning a bit. Then nodded. With Tina in position he carefully opened the door. The room beyond was dark as a tomb. How sighed, quietly, and opened the door further. Slowly, they could make out the furnishings, and see that this was a bedroom. A rather frilly one, obviously intended for a female occupant. The covers were rumpled, as well. Finally, they could see the head and hands of a sleeping figure. Pale, delicate, with small, pointed ears, and obviously as female as the decorum.
What's a Sidhe doing here?! demanded Tina.
How waved her to silence, and eased the door closed.
If she is Sidhe she might hear us, he said, in a mental whisper.
So, what do we do?
How thought furiously, and began pacing, his three tails whipping around in an agitated fashion.
Watch the vase, Tina warned.
How winced, and diverted clear of the ornate Oriental vase and its stand.
Yeah, that's all we need, was his wry comment. Vampires tend to be very heavy sleepers, but that...
How gestured broadly. Too broadly; his hand brushed the shade of a lamp on an end table. The lamp tottered, and How made a grab for it. In his panic, he knocked it over. Fortunately, it landed on the couch. Unfortunately, How landed on the end table. Being a sturdy piece of furniture it held up admirably well, but there was a mild clatter, and How grunted in pain. Tina, meanwhile, caught the lamp as it rolled off the couch.
"Will you stop playing around?" she hissed, aloud.
She helped him up and replaced the lamp.
Who's playing? was How's pained reply. I think we better put off hoping for children until I get checked. I think I did myself an injury.
You're bleeding, said Tina, noticing a stain spreading on the inside of his left thigh.
Ouch. Guess I caught myself on the sharp corner of that table.
Tina added the scent of fresh blood to their presence in a vampire's den and got a total she didn't care for.
How was still in pain, but responded to the worry in his fiancé's mental tone. They hurried towards the entrance.
Once in the warehouse with the door closed behind them, Tina turned her flashlight on and How paused to heal himself.
"Ow," he said, rubbing his leg. "That feels a lot better."
"Yeah, well you better do something about the blood on your pants. Or should we leave right now?"
"Give me a minnit..." muttered How, looking at his damaged pants.
He concentrated and the stain vanished, the small tear also repairing itself.
"Good," said Tina. "Now, what do we do?"
"Well, she's probably not a vampire," said How, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I don't think that's possible. We'd die if a vampire tried to Make us."
"You saw her!" said Tina, exasperated. "She's so pale!"
"A lot of Sidhe are pale," said How, defensively. "Some of them even have pointy teeth. That doesn't make them vampires."
Tina started to reply, but was interrupted by blinding light. She and How were stunned for a moment, and as they were just starting to recover their wits and their vision the inner door opened. She stood there, in diaphanous gown, tall and thin and fragile-looking. Her face carried an expression which was the oddest combination of angry... and hungry.
"Did Janos bring you for me?" she asked, in a quiet voice, full of odd longing.
"I'm sorry if we disturbed you," said How, thinking quickly. "Janos is missing, and presumed dead. We were sent to get his records, to try and find out what happened to him."
"Oh," said the pale creature, calmly and with perhaps a hint of disappointment.
Tina thought it odd that she simply accepted this. On the other hand, the vampire/elf/whatever looked so spacey that she'd probably accept being told that she was missing.
"Do you know where his records are?" How continued, smoothly. "If you can show us, we'll get them and leave you in peace as quickly as we can."
The stranger considered for a moment, then turned and walked back inside. Tina and How glanced at each other briefly, then followed.
She led them into the office/library, and pointed vaguely at a bookcase. Again, How and Tina briefly exchanged glances. Then How walked to the end of a shelf, fumbled behind the books for a moment, and found the latch. The case swung quietly open, making Tina shiver with deja vu. Behind it was the door to a walk-in safe. How glanced at the strange woman, but she seemed oblivious to the situation, eyes vacant. He turned back to the safe and began fiddling with the knob. After several tense seconds, he straightened, and triumphantly turned the handle. The door eased open.
"Oh, my..." said Tina, as she saw the contents.
How stepped in, flipping the light on. He glanced around the shelves filled with boxes and strange objects. Many of the latter were gold, silver, and/or encrusted with gems. Tina felt an unfamiliar pang of greed. She was startled out of this by How motioning for her to join him. With a wary glance at the pale woman, she entered the vault.
"Okay, the records are in these three boxes," said How, barely above a whisper. "I think I can manage one. Can you get the other two?"
"Yeah," said Tina. "If it will get me out of here I'll carry all three."
How helped load her with two of the boxes, then gathered the third in both arms. They stepped out, How setting his box across the arms of a chair to free his hands for closing the vault door and bookcase. That done, he reached for his box, then paused as he thought of something. He turned to the strange, pale creature.
"Did Janos have something like a daily journal he kept notes in, which might not have been put in the vault?"
Wordlessly, the stranger pointed to the desk. How stepped over to it and tricked the lock. A quick search later and he had three likely books, as well as a few manila folders. He piled these on top of his box.
"Thank you. That should be all we need. We'll be in touch!"
With that he lifted his box and headed out, Tina following. She glanced behind them after they entered the warehouse, and saw that the woman had followed only as far as the middle of the den. She looked... puzzled, as if just realizing that something was not right with the situation. Tina stepped quickly out of the way as How closed the door.
"I can't believe we got away with that!" Tina hissed.
"We're not out of here yet," said How.
They hurried on through the rest of the rooms, closing each door behind them, and into the tunnel.
"These are getting heavy," said Tina.
"I think we better get out into the sunlight before we rest," said How, seeming more nervous now than he had while still inside. "I'm not going to make a witchlight. I think our eyes are adjusted enough, and I'm running low on juice."
Several tense minutes later they reached the grate, by now both of them staggering from their loads. They dropped the boxes onto the dry concrete away from the small stream and caught their breaths. Then How checked the grating.
"I'm about tapped out. I could probably gimmick the lock, but that would leave me with nothing for emergencies."
"Move," said Tina, determinedly. "No, stand there, and push. I want the grate hard against the padlock."
She stood sideways to the gate, a short distance back, prepared herself for a moment, then lashed out in a sidekick. The rusty hasp of the lock snapped, and the grate rattled open.
"Wow," said How, grinning.
They rested a few moments more, then lifted their loads and headed towards the river.
* * *
"According to these notes Janos made, she just showed up at a nightclub frequented by vampires, openly claiming to be one of them," said Lord Teleomier. "That's considered bad form, even in a place where vampires congregate, so the manager took her aside. A few minutes later he came to Janos - whom he knew had an interest in unusual creatures - and called him into a back room."
"You can read that?!" said Tina, leaning forward to stare at the journal page he was reading. To her it contained what seemed to be gibberish.
"It's scholarly Latin, with a simple transposition cipher," said Teleomier.
"You know how I have a talent for finding things?" said How. "Well, he has a talent for solving puzzles."
"Janos quickly confirmed what the manager suspected; she wasn't a vampire, but she was something," Teleomier continued. "So Janos took her home to study. That was over a year ago."
"So what is she?" Tina asked, impatiently.
"She's apparently a dekkalfar, or dark elf, if your and Janos' descriptions are accurate," said Teleomier. "A type of Scandinavian elf. They're not the most stable of the fey, and seem attracted to nastiness. They normally have skin the color of pitch, but they can change their appearance. If she was trying to pass as a vampire, or actually believed she was one, she could easily adopt pale skin as a disguise."
"She also looked like she was drugged," said Tina. She and How were seated together on Teleomier's roomy couch, facing him across an ornate cherry coffee table.
"Most likely," said Teleomier. "Which means there could be trouble when the drugs wear off. Assuming they were being given to her by Janos or one of his aides, and that she's not simply an addict."
"So what do we do about her?" asked How. "I mean, for now she's not causing a problem, but if the drugs wear off or she gets hungry..."
"Lisa is gone somewhere," mused Tina, "Bent-Tail is busy with family stuff, and we don't know how to contact any other werewolves. And there aren't many Fey in the area right now. So it's probably us, and maybe a couple of others."
"Physically, she shouldn't be that formidable," said Teleomier, "but the Norse elves are known for being very powerful magic users."
"Well, at least we don't have to worry about her drinking our blood," joked Tina.
"I... wouldn't be too sure of that," said Teleomier. "The alfar are known for their bizarre diets. The dekkalfar do drink blood, though not exclusively."
"I wonder why she was pretending to be a vampire," mused How.
"I have no idea," said Teleomier, "and Janos never found out, for certain. She seems to have amnesia. It could be that she - like others of her kind - has a morbid fetish, and wants to be a vampire."
"Amnesia?" asked How. "Does she know her name?"
Teleomier shook his head.
"Janos couldn't get an answer to that. He simply named her Luna."
"So what do we do?!" demanded Tina. "Go there and take her prisoner?"
"That would work," said Teleomier, nodding, "assuming she let us. Perhaps she has a bondage fetish."
Tina resisted an urge to throw something at him.
"It's the middle of the afternoon and I'm still not recharged," said How, semi-whining.
"Well, since she's not really a vampire it shouldn't make a difference if we go back at night."
"It might," said Teleomier. "A psychological one. If she's rested, and especially if she actually thinks she's a vampire, through self delusion or Janos' machinations."
"Oog," said Tina. She sighed in exasperation, the threw her arms up. "So do we go tonight or not?"
"Yes," said Teleomier.
"Yes," said How.
* * *
This time they approached in human form, myob effect working, and wearing dark clothes. As they climbed towards the culvert the trio could see and smell smoke, and even see it, hanging in the clear night sky and illuminated by the waning Moon. The grate was ajar.
"This is not good," How whispered.
"Could it simply have blown open?" asked Teleomier.
"No. We propped it closed with those rocks, there."
As the entered the tunnel Lord Teleomier and How took on their trueforms. The trio proceeded with care. Inside they found chaos. Not only were the contents of the underground facility strewn around and wrecked, but the bookcase concealing the safe was toppled to the floor and the door of the safe blasted open. Most of the treasure inside was gone, though some still lay scattered on the floor. The door to the stairway leading up into the mansion was open, and a crackling sound of fire could be faintly heard.
Of the dekkalfar there was no sign.
* * *
"This is definitely not good," said Teleomier, dabbing a lace handkerchief at his brow, his tawny tail twitching in agitation, "not good at all. I can already hear sirens in the distance, so we'll have to work fast."
"What do you mean?" asked Tina. "The place is burned down. We already have the records. The vault is looted. What's left to cover up?"
"The existence of this room," Teleomier replied. "It would raise uncomfortable questions. Besides, we may need access to it later. So, How, you and I need to go as far up the stairs as we can and do whatever we can to hide the entrance at the top."
"Wait a minute!" said Tina, moving protectively towards How. "The place is still on fire up there! The only reason there's not more smoke down here is that hot air rises!"
"All the more reason to block that entrance. You can feel the draft going up the stairs. It would be quite noticeable to the firefighters. They could probably see it's effect on the smoke and flames."
"We'll be all right," How assured Tina, giving her an affectionate nuzzle. "We can use our talents to provide fresh air and keep cool. And the air rising up the stairs will help."
"But we must go now!" said Teleomier, quite earnestly.
"All right," was Tina's reluctant reply. "But if you're not back in five minutes I'm coming after you!"
"Ten," said Teleomier. "That should be all we need."
Tina nodded. How gave her a quick hug, then hurried after the cat Pooka. They were soon out of sight.
True to her word, Tina kept track of the time on her watch. At a little more than eight elapsed minutes she paused in her pacing, feeling a decrease in the draft. A few moments later she thought she heard something. She had; she stepped quickly to the base of the narrow stairs, just in time to see a very sooty How come into the light, tails drooping and ears half folded flat. She grabbed him in a firm hug.
"Hey, oof easy on the ribs," he gasped.
"And I would like to get down there some time tonight," huffed Lord Teleomier.
"Sorry," muttered Tina.
Instead of putting How down she simply stepped back, still holding him off the floor. When Teleomier arrived, she continued to hold How with one arm and gave the cat Pooka a briefer but no less emphatic hug with the other. Both men were quite dirty, and after hugging them Tina was only slightly less so.
"Say, I just thought of something," said How, looking around. "The lights are still on down here."
"Hmph," was Lord Teleomier's puzzled reply, "you're right. Perhaps there is a pirate connection, separate from the legitimate connection of the house to avoid arousing suspicions due to the excess amounts of electrical consumption from the activity down here."
"Okay, it's a mystery," said Tina. "Now, how did it go up there?"
"No real problems," said the kitsune. "The work was simple, but extensive, to make sure no-one would find the hole."
"Basically, we filled in the bricks of the basement wall where the concealed door was," said Teleomier, "then back-tracked down the stairwell, filling in with dirt and stone to below the basement floor level. For all intents and purposes there now never was a secret door to a secret stair."
"You both look exhausted," said Tina, peering at them. "Let's go home. Teleomier, if you don't mind using our fold-out couch bed, you can stay at our place tonight."
* * *
"Still no luck?" Tina asked How, as the latter entered the apartment.
"Well, a little," said How, throwing himself on the couch. "We think we know who was behind burning down the mansion: Sigfrid Dorn."
"Wait a minute," said Tina, stopping her sit-ups. "That's the really old vampire Lisa told us about. The one who told Il Capo where the Knife was."
"The very one. He's probably trying to either recover some incriminating info Janos had on him or use the info Janos had on others to recover some of the power and influence he lost to Il Capo."
"Or he's trying to find the Knife," said Tina.
How looked startled.
"I never thought of that," he said, after a moment. "Neither did Teleomier or any of the other local Fey, for the simple reason that they don't know about it!
"Say, what did Lisa do with the Knife?" How continued, frowning.
"She said she knew who to give it to," Tina informed him. "That's all I know. Maybe that's where she went."
"Okay, Lisa's gone somewhere, and nobody knows where except maybe Bent-Tail and Mariah. Mariah is off visiting her parents in the circus, and I'd like to see some uppity vampire just try and get information out of Bent-Tail. Even if he could make the connection!"
"But just because Dorn can't connect any of us to the knife doesn't mean he won't cause trouble looking for it," Tina pointed out.
How stayed quiet, obviously thinking hard. Tina, after a moment, went back to her workout. This state continued for several minutes, interrupted by a knock on the door.
"We've had a break," said Lord Teleomier, without preamble, striding into the apartment as How opened the door. "Dorn was sighted in..."
He trailed off and stood staring at Tina, sitting on the floor, doing splits.
"And?" said How, encouragingly.
"He, ah..." said Teleomier, obviously distracted, "he is making inquiries about Janos' records and properties."
"Stop staring at my girl," said How, grinning.
"Uhm, my apologies," said Teleomier, tearing his gaze from Tina's crotch. He shook his head. "For the most part he's trying to be discrete, but he distinctly asked about a pale woman recently added to Janos' entourage."
"Bingo!" said Tina, bounding to her feet.
"Brian, uhm, says he'll keep us abreast... I mean he'll keep us appraised of any new developments. He owes us a boob... I mean, a boon for recovering the décolleté... I mean documents."
Lord Teleomier paused, took a deep breath, and looked Tina directly in the face.
"My dear, please excuse me for asking a personal question, but do you always exercise in just your underwear?"
"It's hot, the air conditioner isn't working right, and I'm not ashamed of my body," was Tina's irritated reply. "Besides, this isn't any more revealing than what you'd see at a public pool."
"Hold on, I'll fix it," said How.
Knowing how his mind worked, Tina knew he wasn't referring to the air conditioner. She expected him to alter her clothing into something more concealing. However, while her clothes did alter, so did her body, her breasts flattening, her hips narrowing, and the jockeys Tina was now wearing leaving no uncertainty as to the male equipment inside them.
"How!" said Tina, in a loud, baritone voice.
"Dorn," said How, ignoring Tina.
"Right," said Teleomier, startled, but now able to devote all his attention to his news. "The spy spell at the entrance to the underground rooms reports no-one entering or leaving since we placed it. No reports of the woman elsewhere, either. She seems to have disappeared."
"Could she have died in the fire?" asked Tina.
"Unlikely. If Dorn is still looking for her he almost certainly didn't find her at the mansion at all, so she must have fled before his people entered the underground rooms. Therefore she was probably gone before the fire was set. Though how he knew to look for her at all is still unknown."
"Great," muttered How. "Did she go to ground somewhere, or head home?"
Lord Teleomier just shrugged. After a bit more discussion he left, promising to let them know if he came across any more news.
"Oh, well," sighed How. "Guess I better get busy on my art project."
He turned to leave, only to have his attention brought back to his fiancé by Tina clearing his throat.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Tina stated sarcastically, gesturing at his body.
"Oh, I'll have to rest a bit before changing you back," said How, innocently. "Just go ahead and finish the workout. The benefits will carry over."
"I can't do splits like this! These... things are in the way."
"Bent-Tail does splits," How pointed out.
"He's used to a male body; he knows how to do it without injuring himself!"
"Oh, quit griping," How grinned. "I'll make it up to you later."
"And just how will you do that?" was Tina's irritated query.
How's form flowed and shifted, to that of a cute young Asian woman in a tight red dress.
"Hey, sairor," she announced, in a heavy accent, "new in town? Me show you good time."
"Oh, no," said Tina. "You are not talking me into having gender-reversed sex with you."
How just grinned and sashayed out, her hips swinging in an exaggerated manner.
"How! Come back here! How!!"
* * *
Yet another night, yet another brainstorming session. This time they were in a private room at a restaurant owned by a human who was allied with the local Fey. Lord Teleomier, How and Tina were currently the only occupants. A wonderful dinner, courtesy of Teleomier, was helping things considerably.
"I just don't understand how she could be hiding this well," muttered Teleomier. "According to what you two say, she's either mad or was heavily drugged. How could someone that obviously noncompos go unnoticed?"
"Yeah," sighed Tina, "you'd think she'd have been picked up by the cops and sent to a mental hospital for evaluation."
There was a moment of dead silence, as How and Teleomier stared at each other.
"What?" demanded Tina.
"All this time we've been operating under the assumption that she was roaming around free and somehow keeping out of sight," said Teleomier. "We never thought of checking the..."
Teleomier rose and quickly left the room, somehow managing to look graceful even when in a great hurry. Moments later he was back with a phone book and a phone. While How plugged the phone in the Pooka began paging through the book.
"Egad," he said, suddenly, "there's dozens of them."
Which was an exaggeration, but not a great one. At Tina's insistence, instead of just plunging in and making calls, they worked out a methodology. What to say, which institutions to call first, how to keep track of what they learned, all went onto a page of How's sketchbook.
"Just had a thought," said How, suddenly, as Lord Teleomier was about to dial the first number. "Why don't we call that detective friend of Lisa's? Toole."
"Right," said Tina, wincing, "should've thought of that myself."
"A tall, thin woman in a negligee who appears drugged," said Toole, flatly. "I might have known. The pointed ears told me there was something more to her than the average crazy, but I just passed it off as plastic surgery. People are doing the strangest things to their bodies these days."
"Can you please tell me where she is?" asked How, flashing two fingers in the "V" sign at the others. "All right. Thank you."
"Well?" demanded Lord Teleomier, as How hung up.
"The third one on our list," the kitsune announced, grinning. "Normally they'd have used another but it was..."
Lord Teleomier was already dialing. After several frustrating minutes of listening to one end of the ensuing exchanges, How and Tina saw him grin and wink at them.
"Thank you. We've been very worried about her," said Teleomier. "Yes, we'll be right out. Yes, I understand that it's after visiting hours, but we're bringing her medication. Yes, in about half an hour, perhaps a bit more. Thank you again."
"Yes!" cried Tina, going for a high five.
Unfortunately, How and Teleomier were already heading for the door. Tina headed after them, muttering about the flightiness of Pookas and kitsune.
* * *
"This is not good," said How, weakly, as they pulled up the drive to the facility.
The place looked like it had been attacked. People were running, staggering or sitting everywhere, staff and patients alike. Many appeared injured. The light coming out the windows seemed... strange.
"Dana protect us," groaned Teleomier, "did Dorn arrive here first?"
They piled out and began asking questions. In the confusion no-one thought to question them, or their presence there. However, neither did anyone know what was going on. Fortunately, none of the injuries appeared serious, most being cuts, bruises and abrasions. Teleomier began mentioning the names of people he had spoken to on the phone. Finally, he was directed to one of them.
"Doctor Marten! I'm Horace Telmer. We spoke on the phone earlier. Can you tell me what happened to my cousin?"
"I... I'm not sure," the doctor replied. "It was so confusing. I sent one of the orderlies to make sure she was awake and tell her she was going to have visitors. A few minutes later some sort of freak windstorm hit the place. Or maybe something exploded..."
Teleomier thanked him, then led the others away, back to his conjured car.
"It appears our assumption was incorrect," said Teleomier. "Our target is causing the disturbance. Perhaps out of fear that her promised visitors are the same ones who attacked the mansion."
"So let's go in and set her straight," said How. "She should recognize Tina and me."
"Risky, but I see no alternative," sighed the Pooka.
A quick glance around to make sure no-one was watching, and he induced the myob effect on each of them. Now, anyone who looked in the direction of the trio would be subtly but thoroughly encouraged to mind their own business, and pay no attention to what Tina, Teleomier and How were doing.
"Okay, straighten me out on something," said Tina, in a whisper, as they entered the damaged building. "It's been almost two weeks since Janos was killed, and days since the fire. Why was she still drugged when they found her?"
The lobby looked nearly normal, with only minor damage. As they proceeded further in, however, the facilities took on a chaotic air. Ceiling tiles had crashed to the floor, the occasional fire sprinkler was spraying water, and half the lights were flickering or out altogether.
"She might simply be mad," Teleomier answered absently, also in a low voice. "Or the narcotic used might have lingering effects. Or she could be addicted and taking it on her own. At any rate, they told me they thought she might be experiencing withdrawal, because she became increasingly disturbed with time. They finally had to sedate her."
"This way," said How, as they came to a branching of the corridor.
As they proceeded in the direction he indicated the damage became both more extensive and more bizarre. Here the wall had changed from painted concrete to painted brick and - a little further along - to wattle-and-daub. There what had been a potted plant had burst free of its container, taken root in the floor and shoved through the false ceiling. Strange, animal noises could be heard, though their source was indeterminate. Tina looked at Teleomier to ask him what he thought was happening, then started at the look of pure fear on his face.
"What?" she hissed.
"I... think we may have made a mistake," he whispered. "I don't think we're dealing with a dekkalfar. I think she's a ljosalfar."
"A which?" asked How and Tina together.
"Extremely powerful high elves," said Teleomier. "On a par with gods, in fact. Like most classical pantheons, they're from a stable region of Arcadia. They don't need to be born into human bodies to enter the mundane world; they can travel here in their essential form!"
How said a word which Tina hadn't even realized he knew.
"In Norse legend, they were said to be forces of light and creation," Teleomier continued. "But like the Aesir and Vanir and even the Olympians, they were prone to chaotic behavior. Oh, and since they don't live here, they don't worry about exposure!"
"Is that what all this is?" asked How. "Chaos she's creating to defend herself, or just because she's crazy?"
"Not exactly," said Teleomier, looking sick. "I think she's trying to open a portal back home. Only her aim is off. Probably as a result of being drugged."
They finally reached the door of a room which seemed to be the center of the activity. On the floor in front of the open door was a prone figure, which seemed to have been felled on the way out. Presumably, this was the intern sent to notify Luna she was about to have company, but that was currently impossible to verify, because the figure was in a state of continuous flux, shifting from one form to another. As they watched it went from male satyr to female centaur to dolphin to apparently normal human child.
Tina quickly glanced at herself, then her companions. Aside from How and Teleomier having switched to their trueforms after entering the building, nothing looked different about them.
"Why aren't we changing?"
"Because I'm blocking it," said Teleomier, sounding strained. "That is possible only because it is an effect, and not an attack."
They continued forward, stepping over the mail demon as it shifted into a grid bug. Inside the room things seemed, paradoxically, calmer. Something weird was obviously going on, but this was at the eye of the storm, and relatively stable. There stood Luna, arms spread, singing in a strange language that made Tina's hair want to stand on end. She was facing a glowing, misty circle on the wall.
A circle which obviously led elsewhere.
"Please stop," said Teleomier.
Luna spun around, fear, anger and madness mixed in her eyes. She looked startled as she saw How and Tina.
"We mean you know harm," said Teleomier. "You must stop. You are disrupting the mortal world."
"Please," added Tina, emphatically, "you're hurting people."
"Hurting...?" she said, wavering, looking uncertain.
"We're not gonna hurt you," said How. "We're here to take you someplace safe. You can rest for a while, then we'll take you to some people who can help you go home."
"Home," she said, more firmly.
"Yes, home," said Tina. "But not this way. You'll only get lost. Come with us and we'll help you."
She still seemed uncertain, but the madness was gone from her eyes now. Though obviously not fully returned to her senses there was a focus in her manner. She sighed, and made a complex gesture, quickly fading light trails following her fingers. The weirdly glowing circle on the wall behind her faded, and the chaos with it.
"If you are deceiving me I will have no mercy," she said, tiredly but firmly. "I have learned a bitter lesson recently, as will you if you attempt to harm me."
"My lady," said Teleomier, less strained now that he wasn't fighting a flood of pure chaos, "I am Lord Teleomier, of the Tristate Fey Council. This worthy is Howaya Metu, a kitsune and ally. And this lovely lass is his fiancé, Tina Moore, also an ally. You have my oath, as a gentleman and Council member, that we will do whatever we can to aid you in returning home."
That seemed to impress her.
"Very well," she stated, starting slowly towards them.
Only she stumbled, and would have fallen if How and Tina hadn't caught her.
* * *
"So after How returned the guard to normal we snuck out and took her to a safe house the local fey have," said Tina. "A few weeks later they were able to get her deep enough into the right part of Arcadia that she could go home from there on her own."
Tina lifted her glass and took a long swallow of RC.
"Wow," laughed Mariah, impressed. "Your Summer was a lot more interesting than mine. You'll have to take me to look at that vault some time. You said there was still some treasure left...?"
"Yes," laughed Tina. "How and I went back later and picked up a few things, including a pair of matched rings we're going to use for our wedding. They look really nice."
"I'm surprised you didn't go in with a shop vac," snickered Mariah. "Though, come to think of it, How could just make any sort of treasure you want."
"So, when does Lisa get back?" Tina asked, deliberately changing the subject.
"Who knows? All I know is that she headed for Mexico with 3 guys she said were wizards."
"Wizards!?" said Tina, startled.
"Yeah. And what's really weird is that she made all these arrangements before she left. Like she wasn't expecting to come back."
"Yeah," Mariah repeated. "That's why she was in such a hurry to get the cubs to New Mexico. She spent some time there with them to get them settled in and used to her mother. Then came back here for a few days to take care of some things, and headed south."
"Wow," said Tina. "What... what if she doesn't come back?"
"I... don't know," said Mariah. "I just don't know."
* * *
Tina was cutting the "Welcome Home" cake as Lisa walked into the dining room.
"And here comes our guest of honor!" exclaimed How, grinning. "Be sure to serve her first."
"I know, How, I know," muttered Tina, putting her tongue back out the corner of her mouth as she gingerly maneuvered a large slice onto a paper plate.
"This really isn't necessary," muttered the werecougar.
Still, she smiled a bit as she said this, so Tina figured that while it wasn't necessary, it was appreciated.
Lisa took a large piece of cake and some milk and returned to the den. The others followed in short order. For a while they simply ate their cake with only an occasional comment on how good it was. Mariah, who had baked it, beamed. Finally, though, How could no longer refrain from talking shop.
"So, anyway, Dorn has apparently given up on finding the Knife or Luna. He seems to have written the whole thing off as a learning experience."
"For a while, though, he was tearing up the area," said Tina. "He obviously thought Janos had double-crossed Il Capo and gone after the knife himself, and died trying, and that Luna either had the knife or knew where Janos thought it was. Luna, of course, couldn't tell him where the knife was since she'd never heard of it. Even if she'd wanted to meet with him. So we were left running damage control, along with a couple of vampires. Something none of us liked, but we had to live with it."
"So we just kept her hidden until Dorn gave up," How finished. "Have you ever tried to keep a godlike being entertained? Fortunately, Lord Teleomier has cable. That, plus us giving her carefully guided tours of the city kept her from getting too bored before she was stable enough to open a gateway back home."
He gave Lisa an evaluating look.
"Okay, we've shown you ours; now show us yours."
"I beg your pardon?" said Lisa, mildly.
"C'mon; tell us where you were and what you did on your Summer vacation," How chided.
"Yeah, Lisa," Tina piped in, "we were worried about you."
"All right," said Lisa. She forked another piece of chocolate cake into her mouth, and made them wait while she thoughtfully chewed, swallowed and rinsed it down with some milk. "I went to central Mexico and killed the last surviving Atlantean wizard."
She ate another bite of cake.
"You what?!" exclaimed Mariah.
"Whoa!" said How, eyes wide. "Talk about experience points!"
"That's why you took the knife," said Tina.
"I used it for the coup de grace," said Lisa. "He was, after all, an immortal."
"So where is it now?" Tina wanted to know.
"Where is what?"
"You're not going to tell us," said Tina, sighing.
Lisa just smiled and scooped another piece of cake onto her fork.
There was a short silence, then a long period of small talk, How excitedly babbling about his art projects.
"Morrie and I think we have a way of making practical 3D displays," he explained at one point. "We use a dye which fluoresces under UV, suspend it in fine oil droplets in a mist and paint it with UV lasers. Only we're having some problems getting UV lasers. It's gonna be a long-term project."
"And my long-term project is getting ready for the 2000 Olympics," sighed Tina. "Hopefully, we won't have as much of this weird stuff the next three years, so I can spend more time training and competing."
"What's wrong, Lisa?" Mariah asked, leaning towards her employer and friend. "You look... kinda depressed."
"It's just that you are all talking about your long-term projects, and I just completed mine." She sighed, put her plate down on the coffee table and stretched a bit. "For over 3 years I've been building up to completing two goals: having cubs, then going after the creator of the Master of Cuts. Now, I've done both."
"So go back to writing," said How, with a shrug.
"I have. But there's more to life than writing."
There was another long silence, a gloomier one this time.
"You like healing," said How, finally. "That's why you do all that volunteer work to keep your nurse's certification current. So become a doctor."
"No, thank you," said Lisa, with a rueful laugh. "I don't deal well with people."
"What about non-humans?" said Mariah, slowly. "You know how Dr. Robertson complains about having to deal with werewolf patients. Have him send them to you."
"And you could always have more kids yourself," said Tina.
"No, I couldn't," snapped Lisa, startling them. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Sorry. That's... something I'm still getting used to. I was... injured in the fight."
"Well, that's all the more reason to study fertility and reproduction!" said How. "You could figure out how to fix yourself!"
"This isn't something... physical," said Lisa. She frowned. "Though, come to think of it...
The three young people exchanged glances. When they looked back at Lisa, her expression was one of deep thought.
"You know... you just might have something. The fertility problems of werewolves and their human kin often are non-physical. By working with them, learning from them, I might just help myself. I've still got time, if I can restore my fertility..."
Lisa shook her head.
"Okay, that's something to think about later. Now, let's celebrate. Because we've all got good reasons to do so."
And they partied well into the night.
This document is Copyright July 2000 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reprint this or post it on a Web page must get permission from the author, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org