Ah, San Myshuno. If one thing may be said in its favor, ’tis always changing. Those small surprises may even alleviate my chronic boredom, for a time.
I envy young Byron, that everything the city has to offer will be fresh in his eyes. And nose, without a doubt. I’d love to see his eyes water the very first time a human convinces him to sample a plate of curry. Sadly, I’ve built up a tolerance myself, the centuries dulling my palate.
The city is teeming with life—some of it quite strange, though the novelty has long worn off for me. My alabaster dove, however, would look on in horror…I really ought to invite her sometime.
‘Tis surprisingly easy to be alone in the overstuffed city, with the swarms of mortals so wrapped up in their own tragically short lives. Always rushing to and fro, with everything a matter of utmost urgency and importance. Perhaps I envy them as well, but I prefer to take my time and drink in my surroundings.
What is it like, to struggle to exist? To compete for resources at the expense of so many other weak, desperate beings? I can’t recall, if I’d ever known. Pitiful creatures, humans. But I enjoy watching their futile struggles, brief as they may be.
Ah, there was yet another human in a hurry now. What could possibly be the rush?
An urgent quest for coffee, of all things. I enjoy bitterness in all its forms, but I believe the substance must have some sort of addictive quality for humans to respond to the foul blackness with such devotion.
He didn’t look especially pleased at my approach.
“’Tis dangerous to walk the streets at night, my friend,” I said.
“Only in certain company,” said the human.
“If you intended that as an insult, consider me gravely wounded.” I dramatically held a hand to my stomach, trying to recall a particularly painful assassination attempt involving a serrated, poisoned knife. After such an unforgettable introduction, I knew I had to wed the woman who had hired the assassin. My queen had been as beautiful as she was merciless—I’d even considered turning her the third time she tried to kill me in my sleep.
He took a bored swig of his coffee. “Noted.”
“How fares your charge?”
A grunt. “I really don’t think it should take three people to babysit one vampire. And definitely not three people crammed into the same one-bedroom apartment.”
“I would’ve been happy to provide more generous accommodations, my friend, but alas: my lovely butler said he was quite insistent on a particular apartment, and yours was the only one available next door.”
“Why not send your robot maid to watch him instead?”
“Daya would be incredibly insulted to be referred to as a mere maid, though I must admit the ‘robot’ aspect is almost appropriate. But may I not call in a favor from an old friend who knows the city so very well?”
“You’d think my family would get out of serving a mad king the first time he died.”
“Your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was one of my favorite spymasters,” I said fondly. “If only his dedication were hereditary, and my shadows would serve me out of love…”
“I’ll take cold, hard simoleons, thanks—and a new couch. But what’s with that list you gave me? I don’t think that vampire kid has any real chance of…” Saul lifted his coffee toward the sky as he thought. “’Falling down the apartment building’s garbage chute and getting incinerated’? Or ‘mistaking the subway for his coffin and not waking up until it literally crashes and burns.’ A lot of things involving burning. And electrocution. And decapitation. And wild animals, despite the urban setting.”
“And here I thought you were properly acquainted with young Byron,” I said. “He’s prone to various feats of truly astounding ineptitude. But you may be right; his sister always expects everything to end in disaster. One endearing trait of many…”
“Stop making that face,” he said, his frown growing more pronounced. He’d likely be a wrinkled old husk before his time. “If you feel like wasting my time and your money for a girl, fine, but I don’t want to hear about it. Already get enough of that from Reed.” He shook his head in disgust. “Wish you’d told me those two had a thing before dumping them on me.”
“An unpredictable life is an enjoyable life, my friend.”
“Wish they’d enjoy my couch a little less.”
I waved away his pointless concerns. “Show me this place I’m paying for, won’t you? My arctic rose will be so very relieved to discover that her dear brother isn’t living in squalor—though naturally I shall neglect to inform her in a timely manner.”
“Naturally,” Saul muttered, tossing his empty coffee cup into a nearby receptacle.
He proceeded to lead me through the Spice District, favoring the most direct route along with a brisk pace. He’s fortunate that I employ him, as he’d make a very poor tour guide. Of course, I already knew every inch of the city—likely even better than one who had lived here all his life. A blink of an eye compared to the years I’d spent watching it grow from vast stretches of undeveloped land to the bustling metropolis that stood here at present.
He stopped in front of an unremarkable brownstone that hadn’t burned to the ground in over half a century.
How many bones would young Byron break after tumbling out of a window several stories up while trying to catch a butterfly?
It shouldn’t be an issue, as long as he did so under the cover of night. And butterflies were unlikely to flit about after dark—moths, perhaps. I’d have to amend Bee’s list. We vampires heal quite readily as long as sunlight isn’t involved; Byron might suffer excruciating pain for a while, but without any real lasting damage.
“I’ve wasted money on worse,” I said, unimpressed but otherwise satisfied. “Now…onto more pressing matters. Have you discovered any promising leads since last we spoke?”
“Sure, I got a million of ’em,” Saul said, in a tone his spymaster ancestor would never have dared in my presence. Modern humans’ manners had deteriorated so rapidly in recent years. (I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the internet.) “Never knew I’d be babysitting vampires and hunting fairies on top of my day job. Ignorance is bliss.” He shook his head. “Look, I’m not saying your intel’s no good, but I don’t have time to question every single moron in a dinosaur suit who swears he can control the weather. If there are little winged people anywhere in San Myshuno, they don’t want to be found.”
“Winged, yes, but as tall as full-grown humans,” I said idly. “Perhaps a bit shorter and more slender. They have quite a way with disguises and deception—resourceful, cunning creatures that they are.” Such a fierce, defiant look that female fairy had given me…I would’ve crushed her throat in an instant had I immediately recognized her for what she was. Ah, well—there was always next time.
“Don’t see why you can’t just let things be. Only one or two found their way into Forgotten Hollow, you said? No need to track them down, if you ask me.”
“If I wanted your opinion,” I said, displaying a ratio of fangs-to-lips that created the perfect menacing smile, “I would ask for it, my friend. These glittery pests are like ants—where one travels, others are sure to follow. My alabaster dove’s dwelling has been rank with fey magic ever since young Byron’s party; I had to hire two exterminators masquerading as cultists to resolve the issue. Even then, I’m uncertain that every trace will be eliminated.”
“I thought you reveled in chaos,” Saul said with a frown. He’d really need to be careful about those frequent frowns. “And last time I checked, Straud Manor isn’t even your primary residence.”
“Chaos, I must admit I’m quite fond of. I prefer to avoid reckless property damage, however—though I did have to burn down my third-favorite summer chateau in order to avoid a particularly nasty divorce a number of years ago, you see.”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“I’m powerful enough to handle a troublesome fairy or five—but weaker vampires may not fare so well. And those weaker vampires appear to be averse to leaving Forgotten Hollow, no matter how tempting an offer they receive.” What better offer than a destination wedding for a spinster vampiress nearing her fourth century? A wedding had struck me as exactly the sort of thing that Bianca Blackwell would enjoy planning down to the color and pattern of the napkins at the wedding feast, or whatever it was called these days.
“Never thought you were the type to play knight in shining armor, boss.”
“I’m partial to the role of the mad king,” I admitted, “and having everything precisely the way I want it. Until it all inevitably burns to the ground…but that’s always satisfying in its own right.”
He barked a laugh. “I’m beginning to think the whole burning thing is a vampire-specific fixation. But I’ll look for your damn fairies—when I have the time and energy. I’m already running on fumes.”
I supposed that explained the appeal of his coffee: essential liquid energy. I could almost relate. “You need only keep an eye out for reports of…especially unusual incidents. Balcony herb gardens growing to grotesque proportions; babies being switched for large, lumpy potatoes or ugly dolls; fish spawning in fountains and changing color…”
“Right,” he muttered. “The usual.”
“I leave your two missions in your very capable hands, Detective Strider,” I said, doffing my hat in farewell. “Send my regards to my shadows.”
“Will do. But it’d be easier if you took them back with you and gave them your regards every day. In person. While they sit on your couch.”
“Another time, perhaps.” I did so enjoy making this particular human frown. Whistling a jaunty tune as I casually strode down the nearest alley, I briefly savored the unique feel of city nightlife. Perhaps San Myshuno would prove more interesting the next time I decided to visit.