“I get that this is a diss, but I’m going to need some background. The matriarch looks ready to break a few heads with her bare hands.” I say.
“Right, Lamias like kids are generally protective of them, and a disproportionate number of them become teachers. Known for ambition, and hating foxes. That kid was an orphan who a Lamia family was going to adopt, but the foxes got to him first.” Anna explained.
“So a double whammy then, that’s impressive.”
“Triple actually, about a week before you join the community a kid in one of the branch families died in a suspicious car accident. Like the boy down there the child was considered extremely promising, and a potential candidate for next matriarch. Drawing attention to him is drawing attention to their current track record of failing to protect kids.” Anna said. I wasn’t sure what emotions she was feeling; they were complex and shifting. The best description might be contempt, with everything that goes into making someone feel contempt.
“Do kids need protection from the foxes?” I ask.
“If you’re a Lamia they do, but I don’t know enough about the foxes internal structure to say for certain.”
Down on the stage, the four had finished with scripted greetings and a general welcome to all the attendees. Interestingly the boy representing the foxes extended his personal gratitude for Lacy’s attendance,
“The foxes like their M.O.” Anna explained.
Jacob also extended his thanks to Lacy and then continued to extend it to Garden View causing considerable speculative murmurs. Finally, after the pleasantries, and Anna commented on his uniform he got down to the important bits.
“As is traditional we Dullahan’s will provide an explanation for our actions once the danger to humanity has past. Seven months ago a pair of independents whent missing while camping, three weeks later the woman returned without her companion. She is now believed to have tried to save her companion and failed becoming fallen. Within three months there were two disappearances, she left town when we arrived. We traced her west where there were two more disappearances, and we formally declared her a Patchwork.”
“Since then we have confirmed eight more deaths that we attributed to the patchwork, last week we tracked her to Chester. Late last night we cornered the patchwork in a local mall and were able to kill it. Damage to the mall was covered up by a boiler explosion with any inconsistencies smoothed over by one of Lacy’s enchantresses.”
“We suffered one fatality and one critical injury. Fortunately, we contracted the healer Corvid in advance our injured man is expected to make a full recovery. This ends the Dullahan report to the local council, make of it what you will.”
I stifled a yawn as members of the crowd started looking at me. I didn’t know she a racked up such a body count it didn’t really matter much. I didn’t have to worry about the dead, just the living.
The meeting didn’t end there; the matriarch starts complaining about the foxes infringing on her financial interests. The kid clearly didn’t have any answers for her was stumbling over his words. The Promethean, who’s name I didn’t catch, was trying to play mediator.
I noticed people were starting to slip out the sides; the hushed crowd gains a few buzzing conversations. “No, nothing more will happen tonight,” Anna said, “let’s hit the open bar.”
“I’m an immortal who transcends life.”
“And is still fourteen, besides aren’t I immortal too? It’s not that special.”
“You’re not immortal; you just have a great health plan.”
Jacob intercepted us before we could make it to the bar, or just me really. Anna slipped past him in search of an expensive drink. Before she could find it, a shaggy-haired kid about her age with sunken eyes started talking to her.
“I’m surprised you made it Corvid; you must have some serious juice to be up after last night.” He said.
“Nah, I was tapped dry half way through. My familiar had just eaten, so she had the power to spare.”
“That’s,” he trailed off looking for a word, “not healthy.”
“I’m in the business of healthy, don’t worry about it.” In honesty, I had no idea if it was unhealthy or not, so I made a note the check into it.
“Well I’m not one to judge, but don’t go burning yourself out.”
“Been there done that, best healer in the world fixed me up to almost human.”
Jacob laughed, I noticed several eavesdroppers react. “That feeling never does go away, like an itch.”
To most of the people here burning out was the second worst thing that could happen to them, the first was falling. Explained to me as the opposite of falling. A fallen felt like they had lost something, in the case of a burnout you’re all there just injured.
Mine had been minor just a first degree; I only noticed with my eyes closed and alone. That itch a constant sensitivity it never got worse, or any better. It would heal with enough time; I suspected a human lifetime wasn’t enough.
It might be better dead than fallen, but to a Dullahan people recruited for their injuries emotional and physical a burnout was just the cost of doing business. It didn’t stop the eavesdroppers from looking at us like we were crazy.
“Jacob there you are, I wanted to catch you before you left.” A silky voice said I turned to face the kitsune as he walked up holding a steaming cup of something.
“I’m going to have to take care of some business, do you have a card?” Jacob asked.
I handed him one as he walked over the Kitsune saying something extremely diplomatic. I was left standing in a bubble; few people seemed interested in approaching me. That suited me just fine since I did have business tonight.
My phone searched through all the wireless enabled devices in the area; luck or just terrible security practices mean most of the phones were unsecured. Most of those named after their owner; it took less than a minute to find Alvia’s phone.
It didn’t take much longer to connect via Bluetooth and set my phone to harvest everything it could. For an app bought from the shadier parts of the internet it was user-friendly, a federal crime or two, but user-friendly.
“You can’t just hide in the corner on your phone all evening Corvid.” Matilda said walking up; she had a glass of sake.
“But I like hiding, it prevents attempts to be social.”
“This is why you’re single.”
“That was a choice I made of my free will. Besides, I have Anna.”
“No, she ran off to the bar.” I admit, “now that she has a drink I don’t have the heart to take it away from her. She’s also flirting with some boy.”
“He can see her?” Matilda asked.
“That is an excellent point,” I scan the room, but they’ve slipped out. Anna seems happy enough, so I decide to ignore it. “No one else noticed him so he might be like her.”
“Are there invisible people just walking around everywhere, and you can see them?”
I look at the angel of death standing at the back of the room, flaming sword, black wings, and a robe. “Yes, yes there are. It’s probably better not to ask.” I answer, “it’s a benefit from Anna her kind can see through most illusions, and veils.” It was one of the advantages I knew in advance. One of the points of a familiar was an affinity with their types of magic. Or that’s what I would say.
In truth, the living had trouble seeing the dead, with half a foot in the grave already I had no such issues. The illusion thing was all Anna, though.
“Well, that won’t help me sleep at night.”
“I thought you liked an audience.” Matilda punched me in the shoulder.
“Only when I know they’re there. Come on I need to force you to be social, and do some introductions.” She dragged me straight into the densest group of people; it was independents, Prometheans and mostly younger. The center of the group Lacy and Clarence flirting outrageously.
After what seemed like an eternity getting passed around and introduced to far to many people I fled to a side room of my own. One populated by an older crowd talking quietly in corners, very few of them even glanced in my direction as I entered.
Alvia Longram, who had been off to the side, walked right up to me. “It does get hectic out there doesn’t it, some of us prefer a quieter venue.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t the new interesting conversation. Kind of wish that Dullahan hadn’t mentioned me.” I answer as she led me over to some chairs.
“The price of fame I’m afraid, we don’t even let our children try to become healers. You’re quite brave, or possibly uninformed.” Alvia said.
“I’ve repeatedly been informed in great detail my chances of falling if I continue to be a healer; I have decided not to care.” Zero, the chances of me falling were zero. I was the only living person to know that if the Dullahan’s thought I had fallen they would not hesitate to hunt me down, it wasn’t like they had a test.
“What kind of man doesn’t care?”
“The kind who saw a job that needs doing. Besides the world has enough computer techs one less isn’t going to change anything, one more healer that’s a chance to make a difference. It also seemed like the best chance of living forever at the very least I should be able to arrange a lovely corpse. “
She laughed, her voice gorgeous like the rest of her. The photo I had received didn’t do her justice, or she had spent a lot of time getting ready for tonight. “So what was it like with the Dullahan’s did you see the patchwork?”
I leaned forward and gave my best fake whisper, “yeah, I even ruined a pair of pants.” In a normal voice, I added, “they didn’t want me anywhere near her. If I had gotten hurt, they might have lost two people last night.”
“Oh stop staring at the bimbo’s tits, the enchantresses are about to leave with your ride.” Anna said from behind me after I had been talking with Alvia for some time. I did my best not to jump giving my farewells and my number.
“That wasn’t very nice,” I said as we were leaving.
“You don’t know her like I do, you’ll have a call tomorrow morning asking if you want lunch, she’ll show up with an unmarried daughter. I guarantee it.” Anna said, “or one of her older grandchildren.”
“Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?”
“No bet.” I respond, “Hey Matilda.”
“Good timing, we’re gathering at the entrance to head out.” She said leading me to the door.
“I kind of figured you would be the type to leave last.” I say.
“Well yeah, but we have to prep the afterparty, we’ve already made sure to invite everyone.”
“That sounds like.”
“No Anna you’re not going to the party, you’ already smell like booze.” I say cutting her off.
Despite her protests, she passed out in the car making it easy to keep her home. I also turned down Matilda’s offer for a nightcap when we were dropped off. Carrying Anna in I put her to bed before heading to my computer with a glass of whiskey to see what I had gotten off Alvia’s phone.
Most everything as it turned out, social media, texts, call log, an email dump, most of her photos. I didn’t know how the piece of software did what it did it was scary. Not that anything was useful, it was all benign. I fell asleep searching it all, which is where Anna found me in the morning.