Home > One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(8)

One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3)(8)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Lady Dina would be safe in her own presence. I checked the glove on my left hand. It was more of a gauntlet than a glove and it looked like several layers of latex gloves were fused together with superglue and then dipped in wax. It was made to the mold of my hand from the hardened spit of a rare alien animal. Despite its thickness, it was surprisingly flexible, but I wanted it off all the same. It wasn’t the glove. It was the memories of what I did when I wore the glove and the anticipation of what I might have to do that made my skin crawl.

Hopefully, we would just get there, pick up Maud and whoever was with her, and get out, quick and quiet. Quick and quiet.

I swallowed. My heart was speeding up and I needed to calm down fast. Vampires were like cats; if it moved, they swatted it and if I walked into that place agitated, they would zero in on me. I didn’t want to attract attention.

“What could the locals gain by setting you up?” I asked Arland.

“A war with House Krahr on this planet. Since they’re a local House they likely have no idea of our capabilities. They probably want my uncle’s cousin’s land. Or perhaps they want to claim that I attacked them, so that they can demand financial compensation.” He grinned at me. “Either way, it will be exciting.”

The Road Lodge grew as we neared it. Sean pulled on a dark gray windbreaker and pulled the hood over his face.

Arland circled the Lodge and landed on a landing strip, next to a couple dozen different vehicles. The shuttle’s door swung open and I climbed out into the dirt.

Hold on, Maud. I’m almost there.

Sean landed next to me. Arland was last. He’d put on a dark cloak with a deep hood. The draped fabric hid most of him, but did nothing to obscure the fact that he was wearing armor. He tossed something into the air. With a quiet whir, a small gray sphere the size of a pecan hovered above us.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Insurance,” Arland said. “It projects a feed to the shuttle. Whatever happens, I require a record of it. Follow me.”

He headed for the entrance. We followed.

The door slid open at our approach and we stepped inside. A purple light slid over us - a weapon scan. Arland’s camera passed through it without setting off any alarms and rose toward the ceiling.

A cavernous room spread before us with a long bar counter on the right side and a mass of tables and booths on the left. A big metal cage on the left, just by the door, held an assortment of firearms secured by a metal lock. Judging by the ring of dead insects near it, it was electrified. Right. A leave your gun at the door kind of place.

A staircase in the middle of the dining area led upstairs, probably to the guest rooms. Big shaggy heads of bur bulls, horned and tusked, decorated the walls. Vampires of every age and size occupied the booths and the chairs, most cloaked and all armored. Here and there an odd alien nursed some weird drink, watching the other patrons with wary eyes. The scent of mint and the deep, nutty odor of caffeine-laden vampire liquor hung in the air.

Not a single banner. Dust on the floor, grime on the tables. The contrast between the pristine beauty of Arland’s vessel and this place was startling. The Holy Anocracy, with its laws and rules, was very far away.

Nobody turned and looked at us as we came in, but they watched us, the weight of their gazes cold and pressing down right between my shoulders blades. None of the people looked like Maud.

I sat at the bar. A vampire woman, her armor dented and having seen much better days, stopped by me. “What will it be?”

“Mint tea.” I dropped credit chips on the counter. My mother always told me to keep common currency on hand, even if only a small amount, and I had raided my stash for this trip.

She swiped the chips off the bar and looked at the two men next to me.

“I’ll have what she is having,” Sean said.

“None for me.”

The cloak’s hood hid most of Arland’s face, but judging by the curve of his mouth, he could barely contain his disgust.

The tea arrived in semi-clean cups. I sipped the tea and took my hood down. Here I am.

Nothing. If Maud was here, she was waiting. I kept drinking my tea.

“Big guy on the left,” Sean said quietly into his cup.

“I see him,” Arland said.

A huge vampire, his face cleaved by a ragged scar, rose from one of the tables on the left and started toward us. He was older than Arland by at least a couple of decades. A mane of dark hair hung loose down his back, and judging by the greasy look of it, if his hair had ever known what shampoo was, it had surely forgotten by now. Scuffs, dents, and gouges marked his armor, its original black luster lost beyond repair. A sword hung from his waist, not the typical blood weapon of the Anocracy’s warriors, but a savage-looking hacking blade.

He stopped a few feet from Arland. “You’re not from around here.”

“Such keen powers of observation,” Arland said.

“Your armor is clean. Pretty. Do you know what we do to pretty boys like you here?”

“Is there a script?” Arland asked him. “Do you give the speech to all who enter here, because if so, I suggest we skip the talking.”

The vampire roared, baring his fangs.

“A challenge.” Arland smiled. “I love challenges.”

The bigger vampire went for his sword. Arland punched him in the jaw. The other vampire flew a few feet and crashed into a booth that conveniently broke his fall.

He jumped to his feet and charged, sword in hand. Arland ducked under his swing and hammered a short brutal punch to the vampire’s ribs. A loud crack sounded, like a dozen firecrackers going off at once, as the armor split along some invisible seam. Arland grasped the protruding edge of the breastplate and jerked it up. The armor crunched on itself, collapsing. The older vampire tumbled to the ground, his right arm immobilized, his left bare.

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