My newest quest kept me busy for the next several days. That, and Alaun had started a new book about humans being captured by Dardaptoans and becoming mated. Gee, wonder where she got her inspiration for that!
Coty and her sisters—the ones who remained in this world, anyway—had told me all about what was going on in the dining room.
Come to find out, it was the same evil Jareth who had caused me so much trouble.
Well, she was fired, and actually arrested! For theft from the Sebastos House, apparently. She’ll spend six months in jail.
I can’t say that I mind. She was a real prune of a female.
Her Rajni isn’t very happy, right now.
He made actual threats against Coty and her family. Said they would get what they were due before too long.
It scared them all.
Coty especially. She was standing close enough to the male that she could sense that he meant it.
This place…it isn’t safe for them. We both know that.
“So… what’s with this Evalanedea?” she asked after we set the room service cart and our empty dishes out in the hallway, where a server would retrieve it and any others used by the sixth floor ‘guests’.
I closed and locked the door, ensuring the latch was secured.
Something just told me it was needed.
“My mother told me that my great-grandmother was one of the original Dardaptoans to come to this world. She served the two goddesses, and when… war… came to the goddesses world. They killed all in their families and they were alone. The druid goddess… she lost eleven sisters. But the Dardaptoan goddess… no one knows how many she lost that day.”
We looked at each other for a long moment. We each had six sisters. Six sisters we would die for in an instant.
To lose Kellis or the rest to a war…
“Go on, Jume. We need to figure out why the dudes said Evalanedea needs to fall. So… does it really exist?”
“My mother said it did. Said she had some… family heirlooms… that were from Evalanedea. But others… the learned of our Kind. Scholars… they say that it doesn’t. I asked Theo once… and he told me there were some things I am not to know… until it will be time for me to know.”
“Well, that’s helpful. What did your mother say?”
“She said… well, they were mostly stories…”
“The goddess, she took the souls of some of her lost sisters—the ones she could gather as they fled, the Woald right at her side to witness it all—and hid them. Within the different worlds, where they could be safe. And… she sent a Woald sister with each soul. To hide it. Until the s-s-souls could be retrieved, and set free once and for all.”
“So, how could they be retrieved?”
“No one knows. That was a secret that died with the Woald sisters tasked with each soul. No one will know… until it happens. But since so many of our Kind discount the Woald… the legends are held within the Woald now.”
“Why do the vampires not like the Woald?”
“Not that we are unliked. We are just… some myths say the monster who brought the war cursed us. We are hard-workers, and many appreciate that, though. But we are one of the smallest Houses in the city. We are definitely one of the poorest. Each House, each family within that House… we pay five percent of our income in tribute to our Equan and Equa, who use four percent of that to govern our House appropriately. Or to provide for those who need it occasionally. Another two percent of our income goes to the Dhar and his family.”
“This is on top of regular taxes? I mean, y’all hide among the humans, right?”
I shook my head. “Somehow… we are masked, as long as we stay in this city. We aren’t issued social security numbers in our hospitals. Our births are never recorded. We are isolated and protected here.”
“I’m surprised you don’t have concrete walls surrounding this city. A big ‘Keep Out, Vampires Within!’ posted every five feet or something.”
“We used to. Back when it was first built, and the humans came closer, but now… We have guards out, at all times.”
“Welcome to Dardanos, the gilded land of the vampires.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”
“So… if most of the vampires don’t even believe in this place, who is this guy who wants to see this entire world fall? Why would he want that?”
I just shook my head. “I don’t know. But Theo says… most of those with dark souls want a handful of things: power, money, sex, recognition, or vengeance.”
“And all of those things can make a man—vampire, whatever—willing to kill to get them,” Coty said. “Let’s hit the books. See if we can even find written proof this place even exists. We can start there.”
I grabbed the first brown leather book and a notebook.
Dinner finally arrived—cold, but it was food. After we microwaved our service plates—we didn’t get the fancy plates they use in the restaurants—we settled into my little ‘home away from home’.
“So tell me about this place.”
“Woalds were said to be the keepers of the world. The… realm. Th-th-there are at least a dozen different realms layered around each other. We c-c-can travel to them, well, some of us can, through realm bending keys. I’ve seen some before. Theo has them. They look like… paint balls. You squash one and it will open a hole in a particular realm barrier, long enough for you to step through.”
“Sounds cool.” Coty leaned forward conspiratorially. “Where can I get one? I can chuck dear old dad through one and then all will be peachy. And we can go home.”
I didn’t tell her that if Theo said she and her sisters weren’t going home, she most likely never was.
We had enough negative things to focus on, after all.
And it would just upset her.
“They are… n-n-not without problems,” I warned instead. “They can open anywhere in the realm. And…they are only temporary. If you don’t have a way back through or lose your l-l-location, you will be lost forever. And some realms have slavers—who will take any Dardaptoan female as a pet. We have lost… far too many…of our females this way. Theo’s mother’s twin, my own mother’s younger sister—we don’t know if Lupoiux killed her, or if slavers took her to another realm.”
“I’m sorry. That… sucks.”
“It does. So… many of the other Kinds hunt us. Know our weaknesses. Since our goddess had been held captive for so many thousands of years—she could not act to save us. They hunted us…still hunt our females…for sport. But they fear our males. We have some of the strongest warriors of all the Kinds, Coty. We just…number so few now that it doesn’t really matter.”
“So all this paranormal immortality baloney is just… baloney? Vampires aren’t the strongest creatures out there? Then who is, and where can I hire one to act as a bodyguard?”
“D-d-demons are supposed to be strong. Some of the more ancient ones are more powerful, stronger than our own warriors. And… and… there are the Laquazzeana.”
“Laquazzeana. They are beings that are like the Titans in human mythology. They are rumored to have created the worlds—the realms. And all the Kinds in them. Although, our Kind was created by the goddess Kennera. I’m not sure how that worked. Laquazzeana are powerful, but if you get too many together in one place for too long, they are rumored to go mad.”
“And they created these worlds? So where are they now? Just walking among us wearing Goth clothes? Or are they going around in Armani? I mean, if I lived that long, I’d have found tons of ways to make money.”
“Father Time. Mother Nature. They are rumored to be Laquazzeana.”
“So, where did they come from? I mean, if everything has a genesis, what is theirs?”
That was an answer I didn’t have. I told her that. Then something occurred to me. A memory. From when I was a young girl, just starting with Theo. “Although, once… Theo told me… some are born. Like the Fates, who the Nellana Druids follow so closely. Others… are formed through suffering and sorrow so strong it destroys their souls, but… their souls just keep going on.”
“So who controls these things when they get out of… control? Or go mad?”
“I d-d-don’t know that, either. But Theo… Theo often says… there must always be checks and balances. Lightness to dark. An answer to every question. Especially when it pertains to the Laquazzeana.”
Coty shivered. There was a look of fear in her eyes that matched what I felt, too. “Then I hope I never meet one of them. Especially alone.”
I covered her hand with both of mine. “I don’t think we need to worry about that. They are so rare… most that even know of the myth of them don’t even believe they ex-ex-exist at all. And we… most likely will never encounter one in our entire lifetime.”
“I probably won’t—considering my rather short lifetime, compared to yours—but… what would you even do if you did?”
I just shook my head.
I could barely handle meeting a Lupoiux occasionally.
There was no way I’d ever be equipped to deal with a Laquazzeana.
I remember my mother sitting me on her lap and telling me the stories of the lost daughters of Evalanedea. It was a bittersweet story, but weren’t most myths of any Kind?
The Romans and the Greeks had their tragedies, after all.
Well, so do we.
But… the myths of Evalanedea are never to be shared, my mother had said.
But no one is reading this now, but me. (I still have it set to private).
I feel guilty writing anything about those myths at all.
Anyway, I told Coty the first myth—there are a handful, but they all tie together, really, as one larger story—as we organized our finds and waited for the private room service that was allowed on the sixth floor to bring us dinner.
We had to wait for our turn. Every ‘guest’ on the sixth floor had to use the same service if we didn’t eat downstairs somewhere. And it wasn’t exactly fully staffed down there, preparing the sixth floor’s limited menu.
Still, Coty and I needed absolute privacy for what we were about to do.
“I really would like to know the history of the Dardaptoans,” Coty said, spreading a bunch of leather-bound books out in front of her. Riv had found them in an old discard box in the back of the library that morning. She had given them to me, saying she didn’t know what they contained. But they were non-fiction.
Our Kind doesn’t have many non-fiction books outside of the restricted portion of the library—or at Dardanos University.
No. Our science, history, and literature—even our very language—was not often written down.
It was just safer that way.
This was what we had become, our Kind. We hide ourselves away from the greater world, the rest of the Kinds. We build little cities to house ourselves. We defend those cities, and our families.
But we keep our own history so in shadow that even the most learned of our peoples often don’t even know it.
That saddens me.
That was not what the goddess of our Kind would have ever wanted for us.
Perhaps someday, someone should ask this of her?
Why do we hide like little mice? Is it because the Lupoiux have so destroyed us?
Or is it something more? Is something far more sinister to come for us someday?
We had photocopies of everything we wanted to take back with us. Riv had placed them in a Friends of the Library plastic bag for us, and cautioned me to be careful. I wanted to say that it was just one hundred yards, but I knew better than to jinx us now. Maybe I’m not exactly superstitious, but… why risk it?
I have had enough of risk lately.
We hadn’t taken the time to read what we’d found. We’d just photocopied everything we could find on Evalanedea and the girl goddess and shoved it into that bag. Riv came out of the backroom when we were just about finished. “I found this in the discard pile. It was supposed to go to the fundraiser. I put the money in the jar for it. I don’t know if it’ll have what you are looking for, but…”
“T-thanks, Riv. It’s just a side project Coty and I are w-w-working on. We appreciate this.” I hated lying to my sisters. Hated it. But…sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
We finished at the library, grabbed our books and papers, and shoved them into the bag. I hugged my sister. She is so clever, my Riv. I could feel a bit of her worry, though. It seemed like Riv was constantly worried lately.
“Do you all have enough food?” I asked, quietly. I knew Coty is listening. But she would not judge. How could she? She and her sisters depend on charity now, as well. For those of us with a bit of pride, this…charity…was insulting.
“We will manage,” Riv said. “The Jareths…they convinced the suppliers to be a bit more fair, after all.”
“It shouldn’t have been because of warriors,” Riv said. “It shouldn’t have been that way. I am so tired of overbearing, chauvinistic warriors thinking they may decide for us simply because we are female.”
I hugged my sister again, trying to do what I could to soothe her a bit more. Something ate at her soul, too. I could just feel it.
I mentioned my concerns to Coty as we hurried across the road to the resort. “A-a-and I fear what the future holds for her.”
Coty just looked at me, her own fears in her green eyes. She had sisters she loved, too.
“We…we will all be ok. We’re kick-ass women… well, vampires, for you. We will be ok. We’ll make sure of it.”
As the black hawk flew from the trees and circled overhead, I hoped she was right. I didn’t want to contemplate the opposite. I could not lose my sisters, I just couldn’t.
Coty squealed, and I jumped back when the black hawk dove at the two of us, practically running us behind the largest of the trees. Coty grabbed my arm and pulled me against the trunk as the bird continued to circle overhead. “Sshhh.”
We huddled there as a bunch of males I did not recognize rushed out of the back entrance. There was urgency in their movements.
One turned toward me. As if he sensed us, but Coty masked our presence somehow. I am almost sure of it. I did not recognize him, but I knew…
He was pale and fierce looking and strong.
We stayed right where we were until the males were gone.
And we snuck back into the hotel just the way we had left two hours earlier.
I did it! I made it to post 100! I find myself celebrating the small things now…
Anyway, back to what happened…
It took us two days to make it work. Mostly because Riv took some convincing. She had worked at the library for years, and had almost unfettered access to everything. But there were things in the library she wasn’t supposed to share.
If someone found out what we were doing, it could mean trouble for my sister. I did not want that. Not even for a moment.
Nor did I want to bring her into something dangerous.
Coty had pointed out where what we were doing might just be that.
But if someone was threatening the goddess of our people, I needed something more than just half a conversation to convince Theo to actually do something.
I hadn’t realized how dismissive he could be until recently.
Or maybe he has always been like this, so sure that what he “sees” or decides is the only way the world can be?
That is not fair to the rest of us non-prognosticators, I don’t think.
We were going to have to shake my guard. They did not guard Coty at all.
Which completely surprised me. I mean, there are guards on our floor at night, but other than my guards, they aren’t specific. Just to guard the sixth floor.
But Coty and her sisters were related to the Dhan and several other high-level equa. They should have been guarded better than they were.
I feel guilty about deceiving my guard, but he is not Tol. That matters.
That was another reason my plan had to be executed today. I would not hurt Tol or betray him.
Now here we are, ready to defy the king and go a mere hundred yards from the hotel.
I have lived for sixty-eight years. Have taken care of myself for most of that time. Yet, one hundred yards terrify me.
And someone else controls the permission I have. The right to make my own choices.
Coty stood next to me.
We have slipped away from my guard by simply taking the servant exit at the rear of Theo’s library. It was a simple setup.
A few hallways and a hidden door, and we were here.
I have known the servants’ path through the hotel and every governmental office housed within it for decades. Today… today was so simple.
Almost too simple.
“You ready to face the big, bad… backyard?” Coty asked next to me.
“N-n-no time like the present.”
I led the way.
Absolutely nothing happened. No one was out there to harass us, either.
We got lucky.
I knew that.
We kept going. To the back entrance of the library.
Riv slipped open the door just as we approached. “Hurry!”
I risked one more glance over my shoulder toward the hotel we had just left.
There was a black hawk sitting on a tree branch far too close to where we were.
I almost swore… he was watching us.
Which was just ridiculous.
I think I may have been reading far too many of Alaun’s demon adventure romance novels lately.
“R-r-research. We need to find out all we can… about that… p-place.” I didn’t want to say Evalanedea aloud. That would be stupid.
I did not trust those around me any longer.
And Coty… I don’t think she trusts people in general.
“So, how do we do that? I’m fantastic at researching. Especially with a computer.”
I grinned. “Me, too. Not with a computer, though. I’ll tell you about me researching k-k-kissing a werewolf once.”
“Oh, do tell. I’ve always thought vampires were hotter than werewolves, but…” Coty deadpanned. “We beggars can’t be choosers, here. Now if the hot guy all in black would like to spend a few hours with me…”
She looked over at Equan Black’s table and sent him a sultry look.
I knew she was teasing. Just like I knew she wasn’t nearly as experienced with males as she was acting.
Everything about her was an act. Inside… Coty was just as scared of the world as I was. We’d recognized each other on a soul-deep level, me and this girl young enough to be my daughter.
“He was super-hot. I-I-I will tell you sometime.”
“Personally, I would never want to be with a werewolf. Drew told me some things. Is it true that if you are their mate, you get stuck with twins four months after you meet? That’s totally barbaric. Not for me. Of course, I’m probably going to die here in this hotel someday. Eaten by vampires—present company excluded, of course—simply because of who my father is.”
I could feel her hurt down to my soul, even though we rarely could read each other. I covered her hand with mine. “I-I-I won’t let that happen to you.”
She smiled at me. “You give me hope, Jume. That not all vampires are that bad. Or out to kill me.”
“That’s good. Most of us aren’t out to kill you. But a select few…” Why sugar-coat it? I had spent years seeing the darkness of my Kind, after all. I knew what some Dardaptoans would do to innocent young females such as this. Sometimes in the name of vengeance. “S-s-some of us… just aren’t good. You have to always remember that.”
I am old enough to be this girl’s mother. Sometimes I forget that. At other times, she seems so achingly young.
I have accepted… I will never have children of my body. I will have no mate.
But as I sat there eating pizza and talking to Coty, I made a realization—I can still be there for the young and defenseless. The females who have no real family or a mother to love them.
I would protect Coty just as much as I would with my Alleah and Julea. As a mother would. Something I know Coty had not had enough of.
“So… where are we going to start this research?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. I had permission to use the Dhar’s library, as well as Theo’s—they were connected, and I had used them both for years in my position as Theo’s clerk. But Riv… Riv had access to restricted books I could never hope to be allowed to see. The Dardaptoan library was right next door to the hotel.
If we took the back path behind the rear exist… we would only be exposed for about one hundred feet.
I looked behind me. My guard was right there. Watching. He was new. Not Wiac or Tol.
“I-I-It might take some… planning. I want to go to the library. Not the ones here. The one where my sister works. But… it means leaving the hotel. Defying Theo and Cormac Jareth’s o-o-orders.”
“Oh, a real plan. I love the idea of sticking it to those assholes. Do tell,” Coty leaned in closer. I mimicked the movement, but I looked up first.
Right into the eyes of Equan Black. He smirked at me. Wagged a finger in my direction. Chidingly.
I had met him before. Knew him long before he was injured. He had been arrogant and frightening even then. Intimidating.
I raised my chin, almost daring him to come say something.
He was not a seer. Of that, I am certain. A part of me thought… Nalik Black had actually heard what we were saying.
And that was just beyond impossible.
No Dardaptoan could hear across the room like that.
Even him, the most ancient Dardaptoan I have ever met…
Pizza first. Coty and I decided to be brave and hit the main pizza parlor for guests on the first level. Neither of us were dressed in Dardaptoan wear, though we both wore hashas. Coty despised the hashas. Said the labeling of her sisters as part of the Jareth family–Cormac had been the one to discover her sister Blaire, and assume control of them–was ridiculous.
She wanted a dark gray hasha that she could put a skull and cross bones on.
Since Boltiers were supposed to be poison to the Dardaptoans, after all. Coty has a bit of a morbid sense of humor, I have discovered.
There were warriors from the Black House in there. They were darker, scarier, bigger, far more dangerous even than the Adrastos. I shivered when my gaze landed on the Equan. He was a scary looking beast, with the scar on his face from his time…in Coty’s grandfather’s evil lab.
Not many Dardaptoans knew that, though. They didn’t know who or what had happened to Nalik Black. I made sure to keep myself between him and Coty. Just in case.
He was very, very, very angry right now.
My former position with Theo had exposed to a lot of details about our world I sometimes I wish I could forget.
He stopped by our table. Looked at Coty, a mocking expression on his face. He was probably the most beautiful male I have ever seen. Even the scar across his face could not disguise that. “Feeling bold, aren’t you, little Boltier?”
Coty was around five-one. She was quite small. As she smirked up at the male next to our table fearlessly, I wondered just how she did it. How she hid the fear.
Then again, she had told me before that her father would beat her and her sisters at the first sign of any weakness. Especially fear.
“Why not? Got to die someday, right? Can I help you with something, pal? If not…they put onions on our veggie pizza. I love onions. You are welcome to join us. If you promise not to bite.” Coty looked him up and down, a suggestive expression on her face. “Although…I can say…I would almost let you bite me. If you wanted.”
She sent him a killer smile.
Jume was close enough to see his lips twitch. “You…you are going to be trouble for the world someday, female. Best keep that in mind. Both of you.”
Then he went on his way.
Ordering his warriors around like the arrogant Equan he was.
The male was terrifying. In every way imaginable.
“That…is one of the most gorgeous creatures I have seen in this place yet,” Coty whispered. “But wow. Is he danger on two legs.”
“Yes. He is.” Our pizza finally arrived. We focused on that for a moment.
“So…stage two in our plan…”
As I looked into her green eyes I knew the truth.
My little friend was a born trouble maker. And I…am going along for the ride.
Theo just looked at us. Theo had an exasperated expression on his handsome face. “Why is it that whenever anything happens, it always seems to be you, Jumena?”
“Believe me, I am asking m-m-myself the same question.”
“Tell me again what you heard.”
“Two males. One was much older. I sensed youth from one. He is of the Black House. They were discussing a plot and Evalanedea. I do not know what they meant, but…I know the old myths. And with the goddess now here…I c-c-considered it my duty to inform you of what we overheard.”
“But you did not see their faces or hear their names?”
“No. We already told you that. Did the right thing, and all,” Coty wasn’t exactly cowed by Theo, either. No surprise. My new friend could be quite fierce. “Whatever you people do with the information is totally up to you.”
She looked at me. “Ready for lunch? I’m starving. I have six dollars left in the bank account this wonderful place has provided for me this month. Have to go cheap.”
Theo frowned at her. “That’s it? There are two weeks left.”
“What? You think the vampires care about us and–our ability to provide for ourselves? Not likely. Drew gets paid a little, Faith gets paid a little. Blaire, who knows what’s happening in the demon world with Blaire. The rest of us…we’re reduced to digging for pennies in the lobby couch. Had to split a granola bar between the twins this morning–thought they were going to resort to eating Grayce they were so hungry.”
“You were each issued an account for enough for three meals a day in the hotel employee dining room. With extra for incidentals.”
“Please…that just isn’t happening. Not at ten bucks a meal.”
“Ten? It should be a third that debited from your accounts.”
“Well, well. Looks like someone in your dining room is helping themselves. No surprise. I haven’t found many Dardaptoans that I respect. Jume and a handful of others. You know…her sisters. That’s about it.” She turned toward me. “Ready to roll?”
“In a heartbeat.” We’d told him what we’d heard. The rest was up to him and Aodhan. “A-A-Alaun paid me. Lunch is on me. We’ll celebrate her sales of hot werewolf novels this month over pizza?”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll pay next time. I’ll just go check the lost and found. Maybe some kid lost a tooth or something and I can put it under my pillow. Earn a few dollars that way. Or I’ll make a sign…will work for food and all that…”
We headed toward the door, ignoring the male behind us.
“Coty, Jume–best keep this to yourselves. And Coty, I will find out what’s going on in the dining hall.”
“Sure you will.” Coty shot a look over her shoulder at him as she reached the door. “Why don’t you spend some time figuring out a plan for us to go home, instead? Find out who wants to kill us? So that we can leave this hell behind us forever? That would be a better use of your time, you know.”
Theo gave a sad smile at his female’s cousin. They had the same eyes, Theo’s Mickey and Coty. Similar features. Theo had to see that, feel the connection. “I am sorry, Coty. But…you and your sisters…you won’t be leaving this hotel to return to your lives as they once were. The…Fates…have far more in store for the seven of you than you can ever know.”
“Great. Just what I needed to hear.” She turned back to me. “Let’s get out of here. I want to go to the library. Starting to get a bit bored in my cell. You?”
“Same. I-i-if I didn’t have the internet I’d be bored out of my mind.”
First, I should probably tell you that my mother warned us that the story wasn’t to be shared so freely. That many of our own Kind are so convinced that Evalanedea and the land of Edni were so mythical that to repeat these myths did more harm than good. That to speculate about the goddess just invited trouble one’s way.
Well, I think that is hogwash, as the humans would say.
I rushed Coty back upstairs–not that she dawdled!–and we almost ran to my suite. She sank into the tiny armchair in the seating area and stared at me. “Well?”
“Ok, f-f-first, not many Dardaptoans know of Evalanedea. Mostly the Woald. It’s been passed down in our family for generations.” I locked the door. Not that I thought the simple luan wood would ever keep out the monsters. But it made me feel better. “My mother told me to keep it a secret.”
“Well, I won’t say a word.”
One thing I knew for certain–I trusted this young female. A great deal. I nodded.
“First, we…do not know where exactly our Goddess was created. At least not yet, anyway. I think some of the seers do, of course. Some, like Mickey’s male, can see in the past as well as the future. I’m sure some of them have this information. Theo’s sister did a beautiful mural–the one above the pool in the family pool–and it greatly resembles the goddess. I saw the goddess last week when she was walking around with the wolf god. But as for where she came from…no one truly knows. There has been speculation within the Woald that she came from Evalanedea. My great-great-I don’t know how many greats grandmother was said to be one of the first to come to this world. She passed down some history orally. But none of us have ever felt compelled to write it down. Yet.” Maybe I should? It would give me something to focus on eventually.
You know, stuck here in Hotel Dread-anos like I am…
“You think this goddess came from there?”
“I do. Yes. But it is shrouded in secrecy. My mother told me once that Evalanadean females used to have these curls, too. I was a little girl and being teased. But the goddess does not. Mama was always…pensive…when she spoke of Evalanedea. My mother was a Sebastos. She had a strong gift of sight.”
“So this goddess reappears, and these two guys are messing around the hotel. Talking about a two hundred year old plan? Strange coincidence, that.”
We just looked at each other. Neither of us were stupid.
“Someone is plotting to do something to the goddess, aren’t they?” I asked. I needed to talk to Theo. If my cousin would even listen to me at all. He had been rather dismissive the last time our paths had crossed. I didn’t exactly want to see my cousin anytime soon, either.
But… “We should go to Theo. D-d-do you think Drew can get us in?”