Home > One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(12)

One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(12)
Author: Ilona Andrews

All the blood drained from Maud’s face. She looked at me as if she didn’t understand, then her lip quivered and my sister cried.

* * *

It’s amazing how much dirt could come off one little girl. When we finally extracted Helen from the bath, the water had turned a muddy brown. We toweled her dry and put her into one of my T-shirts. She yawned, curled up on the soft covers, and held out her hands. “Fangs.”

Maud handed her two daggers in dark sheaths. Helen hugged the daggers and fell asleep. Maud gently covered her with a blanket.

I pulled a T-shirt and a pair of jeans from my backpack. Maud was taller than me by two inches and shaped differently. We both had Mom’s butt and her hips, but Maud’s legs were always more muscular and her shoulders broader. I offered the clothes to her.

“I had to guestimate the size. Go clean up.” I told her. “I’ll watch her.”

Maud touched the place where a crest would’ve sat on her armor and grimaced. “Old habits.”

They had stripped the crest from her when they threw her and her husband out of House Ervan.

She bent her left arm, slid aside a bulky looking chunk of armor at least two shades lighter than the rest of the charcoal-colored armor plates, and typed in the code. If Arland ever saw that, he would have a heart attack from the sheer inefficiency of it. It was like trying to type commands into a computer except instead of the keyboard, you had an old, rickety typewriter with half the letters missing.

A few seconds passed. Maud bared her teeth. “Work, damn you.” She slammed her arm into the bulkhead. With a faint whisper, the syn-armor came apart, separating into individual pieces. Maud shed the breastplate, the wrist guards, the shoulder pads, the sleeves, one by one adding them to a pile against the wall, until she stood in a dark blue jumpsuit. The jumpsuit had seen better days - the elbows were threadbare. The smell of sweat, blood, and human body that hadn’t been washed for far too long spread through the room. I wrinkled my nose.

“Do I stink?” she asked.

“No. You smell like a fresh lily in the middle of a crystal-clear pond.”

She stuck her tongue out at me, took the clothes, and disappeared into the bathroom.

Someone knocked on the door, gently, almost apologetic.

“Open,” I said. The cabin’s door slid upward, revealing a vampire man carrying a black round case about two feet tall and three feet wide.

“With compliments from the Lord Marshal,” he said and departed.

It seemed like forever before Maud finally emerged from the bathroom. The clothes fit her well enough, and if I ignored the look in her eyes that said she’d seen too many ugly things, I could almost pretend that she was the old Maud, before my parents disappeared and Klaus vanished into the starry vastness of the Cosmos. Except for her hair. The last time we met, she’d had a long waterfall of hair all the way down to her waist, like most vampire women. She loved her hair.

Maud saw the container.

“Arland sent you an armor repair kit,” I told her.

“How considerate.” Her voice had a touch of ice to it. She peered at it and smiled.

“What?”

“I just realized I don’t have to wear the armor ever again.” She paused. “I should probably repair it anyhow. You never know.”

She sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the kit and touched its polished surface. The container split into petals curving from the center, lit from within by a soft peach glow. The kit opened like a flower, its center slid upward, turning and opening into a tower of shelves containing small intricate tools and several crystal vials filled with colored liquids: red, black, pearlescent, and peach.

Maud pulled her breastplate close, took a cloth from one of the shelves, sprayed some pearlescent solution on it, and rubbed the armor. Dirt and dust dissolved almost instantly, revealing the black material of the armor underneath. There was a kind of hypnotic rhythm to it. Swipe, wait a moment as the solution evaporated, swipe again.

“What happened to your hair?”

“I chopped it the day they dropped us off on Karhari. It was too hard to keep clean. Water is precious on Karhari. There is almost none on the surface. It rains a decent amount during the rainy season, but the upper crust of the planet is porous rock. All the rain water seeps through and accumulates in underground rivers. They drill for it, the way we drill for oil. As the water passes through the rock, it picks up some nasty salts and must be purified… Long story short, water was expensive.”

That explained it.

“We always made enough money to keep us hydrated,” she said. “And the meat was easy to come by. The bur are violent once riled up, but pretty stupid.”

“How did you live?”

“We hired out.”

She finished wiping the armor down, took a scanner from the shelf, and passed it over the breastplate. It made a soft musical chime. She put it back, selected a thin, needle-like instrument from the shelf, and carefully touched it to the largest dent. Thin filaments glowing with peach color peeled from the needle’s tip and danced across the dent, pulling the substance of the armor apart.

“Exile or no exile, Melizard was still a Marshal’s son. All that training and experience were worth something, and they didn’t take our armor, our weapons, or our skills. So we traveled from House to House, Lodge to Lodge, and picked up whatever work was available. Usually convoy guard jobs or private security force openings. We were with a mercenary company for a while and it was almost okay.” Maud glanced at me. “It was still horrible, but they had a walled-in base, we had our own room, and we could leave for a job knowing Helen would be safe. We were well liked and the money was decent by Karhari’s standards.”

   
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