We gathered in the Inn that night. The fire crackled and sputtered and Gwen, the Innkeeper’s wife, went from table to table to make sure that drinks were full and telling everyone in the room that the food would be ready soon.
There was an auspicious air that night. There was no music and no players. The laughter from the night before was replaced by whispers and hushed murmurs. The Bard & Quill was not nearly as full, as most were home tending their own businesses and homesteads. There were rumors that the soldiers burned at least one farm on their way out of town.
We sat with the Innkeeper Bardo, leaving our room to the family that lost their shop. They had been through enough. Luckily, though it feels harsh to call anything lucky at this point. A slow, steady rain came on shortly after Morgan and I came back to town, so none of the other buildings caught fire.
“Do you think they’re really gone?” Ben asked.
“Well, they’ve left Avondale. I’d guess they fell back to Caba or Queen’s Hold.” Bardo said.
“It seems odd to just leave doesn’t it?” Morgan asked.
Bardo rubbed his chin, “That’s the first time any of the soldiers had been attacked. With the Fain with them, no one’s dared stand against them.”
“Blasted creatures. Hopefully, off to Father Night where they belong,” the Innkeeper said.
The Innkeeper had no love of the Fain and wasn’t afraid to make it known, but Eric and Ben remained calm, though I noticed Morgan’s hand on Eric’s shoulder.
“There weren’t that many creatures with them,” the Innkeeper continued, “didn’t need many to keep the town afraid. The wolf is gone, you saw to that…”
“More Morgan that I.” I interrupted.
“And the demonspawn and a goblin here or there. But it looks like they left with the King’s men.”
“Just seems strange,” Ben said.
“Or the soldier’s had a reason to leave,” I said.
“You think they’ll attack the town?” Morgan asked.
“It would make sense, and the Fain are stronger at night. They could be outside right now,” Ben said.
“Did you carve the warding on the door?” I asked Eric.
“Not yet. I was about when that girl and her parents showed up screaming.”
“Do it right now. Ben, watch the Inn. Morgan and I will check outside.”
“What should I tell people to do?” Bardo asked.
“Tell everyone you can keep iron close and place lines of salt at the door.”
“Will the salt stop the werewolf,” the Innkeeper asked.
“No, but it will stop other things…”
Morgan and I left the tavern with Eric at the door. The rain pattered on my cloak and I walked out into the night.
Morgan and I would have split to cover ground but it wasn’t smart at night.
“What do you think is out there?” Morgan asked.
“Could be anything.”
“Suddenly guiding a caravan doesn’t seem so boring.”
“Yes. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about the King’s own men.”
“Why? He’s having his own citizens attacked why would he stop at a caravan?”
We walked more, each of us gliding through the night, in a practiced silence.
“If they come in force, I want you to take Ben and Eric and run.”
“I attacked the King’s soldiers. It’s my head on the line. You, Eric, and Ben can still get out.”
“We’re not going anywhere.”
“Eric and Ben might disagree.”
“No they won’t and you should know better.”
“They’re going to come for us. If not tonight, then at some point they will hunt us down.”
“Let them come.”
“It’ll be the four of us against an army.”
“I like the odds.”
“You’re crazy,” I said.
“The best people are.”
“I just feel like I got us into something far bigger than I meant.”
She stopped walking. I couldn’t see her face but I could feel her eyes on me.
“Do you think any of us would have done anything different?”
“And had one of us attacked the soldier’s would you leave them?”
“Then stop worrying about it.”
“Call me that again and the King’s men will be the least of your worries.”
I still couldn’t see her face but I could tell she was smiling. At least, I hope she was.
“I’m with you to the end.”
“Just make sure that’s not tonight.”
“I wouldn’t have it.”
And because when there is a perfect moment it is the will of the universe to mess with it. I was standing with Morgan in the rain and then we heard a scream.
The screams came from the direction of the Inn.
We ran there, finding a man with hist shirt slashed open, four bloody streaks scratched across his chest.
Eric and Ben met us.
The man was nearly unintelligible.
“I was leaving the Inn…and it just attacked…I didn’t have a chance.”
“Where’d it go?” Morgan asked.
He pointed to the southern corner of the Inn. I sped around the corner but there was nothing there.
Nothing was making sense. It couldn’t just disappear.
I was walking back to the group to report my findings, but I noticed that everyone was paying attention to Bardo’s doorway.
“What happened?” I asked.
“It’s the runes,” Eric said.
“What about them?”
“Someone scratched them off,” Ben said.
I realized what happened. While we were tending the man, whatever attacked him was now in the bar.
We lifted the man and dragged him through the door.
“Close the door. Close the door,” I yelled.
“What’s wrong?” Bardo asked, slamming the oak door shut, the wind started to howl outside, and commotion caused the room to go silent.
“It’s in here,” I said.
“What is?” the Innkeeper asked.
“Whatever did that,” I said pointing to the man with the scratched chest. Gwen and Eric were putting rags on his chest to stop the bleeding, his face continuing to grow ever pale.
“No one move,” I said, “Bardo any new people tonight?”
“It’s an Inn Owen,” he said, “there’s new people every night.”
I surveyed the room. There were at least a dozen people in the room excluding myself, Morgan, Ben, Eric. I was reasonably sure that Bardo and Gwen hadn’t been compromised.
“What’s going on?” a large man asked, “is whatever did that in here?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then I’m leaving,” he said, finishing his wine and slamming the cup down, “you all can figure this out.”
“Sit down,” Morgan said, “no one can leave. Not until we figure out what it is and who did it.”
“Try and stop me, girl,” the large man said and tried to push past her. But Morgan drew her knife so quick the man couldn’t even comprehend the movement, striking him in the chin with the pommel, sending him backward.
“You…” he started but Bardo interrupted him.
“Just stop Frederick. You can leave as soon as they figure out what to do,” the Innkeeper said.
“He’s right. No one can leave until we figure out who is compromised,” I said.
“You think it’s one of us?” some asked from the crowd.
“It could anyone of you. Dark things are working in this town, most have you have dealt with the things the King’s men brought. It could be any number of things. The soldiers left, and now this is just the beginning. They want to break the town,” I said.
“I thought the Fain were monsters? How can one be here right now? We’d see it,” a young woman asked.
“Many of the Fain can pass as human,” Morgan said, “it could be a demon, a vampire, a skindancer all of which we wouldn’t be able to tell right away.”
“What do we do?” another asked.
“The Fain can’t touch iron. It’ll burn. I have an iron coin in my pocket. We’ll go from person to person until someone reacts.”
“Who’s going first?” the large man I now knew was named Frederic asked.
“How about you?” I asked.
The large man didn’t hesitate and held out his hand, and I pressed the iron coin into his hand. I didn’t want to alarm him but Morgan had her knife drawn and hid it under her cloak., But the metal touched his hand and…
I had him sit on the other side of the room and we continued going from person to person. We checked two more and it was the same. Bardo and his wife volunteered and we checked them as well. To be honest, they were fine the whole time. I had inconspicuously touched them both with my staff. I made a show of still checking them, as I didn’t want to reveal that the staff was made of rowan wood. The tree’s relationship with the Fain is not well known and often some things are best kept secret.
We narrowed it down to the last three, a tall, dark-haired man, a short potbellied trader, and a slight blond woman, all of whom seemed to be new in town and just happened to be drinking at the Bard & Quill. Morgan went to touch the short man with the iron when the young woman started yelling.
“It was him. It was him,” she screamed pointing to the dark-haired man. “I saw him wiping the blood on his coat. Check him. He said he’d kill me if I said anything.”
“You…” the man started but stopped when Morgan raised her knife. “What are you doing? It’s not me? It’s…”
“Look at his coat,” the woman said.
Eric and Ben held the man. “Let go of me. What are you doing?” he yelled while Morgan lifted his coat, and there were indeed the dark red stains of fresh blood.
“Get him!” Frederick and some of the others shouted.
But Morgan quickly pressed the iron coin against and again nothing happened.
“I told you it wasn’t me it was-” but he couldn’t answer as a bloody hand protruded from his sternum.
“It…It…It…” he kept saying as blood gurgled from his chest and the hand slid back. The dark-haired man fell down revealing the small women that accused him.
“Well,” she said, “that didn’t go as planned.” She flicked her hand to shed some of the loose blood. “He talked far too much.”
And far quicker than any human she dashed across the room, leaping and landing on the man she scratched originally biting deep into his neck. It wasn’t long before the man fell over, dead.
“Oh gods I’ve been aching to do that,” she said as when wiped the crimson blood from her mouth.
This was maybe the worst scenario. We were dealing with a vampire.
Of all the Fain, I tended to like vampires the least. Many of the Fain attacked people because it was their nature and their natural prey was humans, but vampires took a perverse pleasure in it.
“Well, I heard there were wardens here? How many people are you going to watch me kill before one of you stops me?
Ben and Eric rushed her. Eric slashed at her with a dagger from his belt, but the young woman elegantly avoided the young man’s attack and quickly disarmed him, kneeing him in the stomach, and sending him flying into Ben, both boys went down to the floor.
“Dear me,” she said, “you lot used to be such a fearsome order. Whatever happened?”
Gwen approached the vampire with a bucket of salt we used for the door, and her husband held an iron pot. There were good choices given the circumstances, but neither of them was ready to deal with a vampire. The rest of the small crowd stood paralyzed with fear.
“Here bloodsucker,” I said. Vampires were noble creatures and thought themselves above everyone, Fain and humans alike. To insult one was to ensure a quick death.
“Cretin,” the vampire said, “I will paint this room with your blood.” She rushed forward her hand outstretched, unusually long nails aimed for my throat.
She was fast. Faster than anything I’ve seen in a long time. I held the staff in front of me and braced for impact. The woman smiled and I could see the hint of her fangs but just before she reached me I dropped to the ground, letting her go over the top of me, then using my legs to push her and send her into the wall behind me.
Or, I would have had she not had the reflexes of and she deftly spun and pushed off against the wall while I scrambled to my feet. She was nearly on me when Morgan tackled her. The two women struggled while I reached for a knife on my belt.
“I don’t think so,” she said rising to her feet having restrained Morgan, “one move and this pretty little thing become my next mate.”
It wasn’t an idle threat. If a woman vampire bit another woman she’d become a vampire too. If she bit a man, as he did earlier then the victim died.
The vampire’s fang grew at the sight of Morgan’s exposed neck, “drop the weapons, boys.”
“Do it,” I said and let the knife fall. I heard whatever Ben and Eric had in their hands hit the ground as well. I didn’t dare look away. All I could think about was Morgan.
“I can’t believe you actually did it,” she said, “do you really think I’d let a specimen like this go? Look at her she’d make an excellent addition to my race.”
“Do it. It won’t change anything,” I said trying to keep my cool.
“Oh honey,” the vampire said, “isn’t that adorable. I assure you that things will change. Especially when the bloodlust hits her and you’re her first meal.”
It happened quicker than I would have thought. The vampire sunk her fangs into Morgan’s neck.
“No!” the three of us shouted.
Then it happened.
The vampire’s eyes widened.
She stopped drinking and started coughing uncontrollably.
“What? What’s happening?” the creature asked.
Morgan smiled and pulled her shirt down over her shoulder. The vampire gasped when she saw the sun tattoo.
Morgan’s biggest secret. Not even Ben or Eric knew. She bore the mark of Mother Morning, a morning priestess, and her blood blessed by the order she left. Holy blood. Toxic to the Fain, especially vampires.
“You…You…” and the vampire fell to the ground unconscious.
“I told you,” I said standing above the vampire, “it won’t change anything.”