Since her discovery Kennina had gone out of her way to play the role of the perfect soldier to a t while all the while keeping her eyes open and her ear to the ground. By night she’d continued as she’d always had-heading out to where ever she was dispatched with her team to deal with any problems that arose from the Malformed, or else writing up the necessary reports on the results-and by day she had quietly continued her search for answers, though with little in the way of direction or success; in the three weeks that had passed since she had started she’d gotten nowhere.
Having stayed up the night before putting the finishing touches on three separate such reports she’d collapsed atop her bed only half an hour before and had gotten maybe half of that time’s worth of sleep before the shrill shriek of her cellphone woke her.
Without raising her face from where she’d buried it amidst the marshmallow hills of her pillow she fumbled blindly for a moment in search of the offending object before succeeding in grabbing a firm hold of the phone and answering it with a slurred “’ello?”
The response from the other end of the line had her upright and scrambling to change out of her pajamas faster than a 20,000 volt shock, all traces of exhaustion completely gone despite it being only just passed 5 in the morning. “Lord Kharon’s office? O-Oh, yes of course. Yes, I’m available. I can be there in around…30 minutes? Yes. Thank you, I will.” Amidst the chaos of everything that had been going on she’d completely forgotten about the matter of her potential promotion until taking the call from the Guild Leader’s secretary.
Kennina’s first instinct was to withdraw immediately from the matter, to back down from the promotion and keep herself as far from any watchful eyes as possible but within only a fraction of a second that base response was over-ridden by the realization that the higher her rank was the easier it would be to sink her teeth into the information that she’d been chasing after so desperately. Not only would she have more resources readily at her disposal, but she’d also potentially be able to keep an eye on their Leader’s shadier proceedings herself.
Rushing out of the door so quickly that she almost forgot to lock it behind her, she sprinted to the nearest subway terminal to catch a train across Manhattan and skirted swiftly around the sunken and sagging headstones littering the graveyard outside of the church; in the early hours the halls of the Slayers Guild’s headquarters, though not quite calm, were much less crowded and so the elevator’s arrival to her position was swift and unobstructed.
The leering secretary again instructed her to proceed to the Guild Leader’s office, and this time Kennina found that the door was already standing open. Kharon was sitting calmly behind his desk, checking over a stack of record books and making notations where necessary.
“Sit, Ms. Lane.” Said without looking up; when she did as she was told and lowered herself into the chair that he been placed opposite the desk he opened another drawer-three times, just like before-and tossed the small envelope that he pulled out into her lap.
“Plane…?” she repeated, opening the envelope and pulling out the small strip of glossy official looking paper. “London? I’m being sent to Europe? I was under the impression that the promotion-.”
“Was a position in New York?” he cut her off, finally raising his black eyes to glare at her. “It is. I’ve come to the decision that you’re not a good fit; it will be given to someone else. Instead, you’re being reassigned to a new team across the pond and depending on your performance may be considered for another position there.
“But Lord Kharon-.”
“Your plane leaves at 7; that’s two hours from now. The flight to your destination takes just over 7 hours, so you ought to touch down at sometime around 2 in the afternoon. Someone will take care of you from there. You’d best be quick about your packing.”
No negotiations would be had, that message was very clear. Returning the ticket to the envelope, Kennina got to her feet with a sigh.
“Of course Sir, I’ll get on the matter right away. Am I dismissed?” a wordless nod was given in confirmation; turning on her heel she quickly retreated back through the office and took shelter in the elevator.
She’d taken such pains to be discrete, had been beyond cautious with her appearance while in the public awareness of the Guild and, since taking up the matter with her former professor, has spoken a word of it to no one. But it was abundantly clear to her now that she hadn’t been quite careful enough, and she feared that her transfer to London would only be the beginning of the fallout.
Once the doors had securely closed and the elevator had begun making its way back down towards the lobby Kennina pulled out her cell and hit the speed dial button.
Please still be awake. Or at least wake up to answer your phone. She nearly collapsed from relief when the other end of the line was picked up after only the second ring. “Alaric!”
“Something the matter, Kennina? You sound…upset.” She could almost envision her friend’s brow knitting together in concern. “What happened?”
“A lot, but nothing good and nothing that I can talk about over the phone.” She told him, fighting to keep her voice level and calm against the tremor which sought to shatter her words. “Listen to me, I need you to head over to my apartment right now; drop whatever else you’re doing. Call Etain and tell her the same thing. I’m at headquarters now, but I should be back soon. I’ll meet you both there.” Hanging up without bothering to so much as give him the chance to consider asking any further questions, Kennina shoved her cellphone back into her pocket just as the doors opened again into the lobby.
The sensation of suffocating dread settling into her stomach was enough to make her think a firing squad was positioned at the top of the steps leading out of the crypt; the morning shadows of the graveyard seemed to cling to her ankles like the grasping hands of spirits attempting to pull themselves free of their graves, whispering in voices just soft enough for her to hear their words and be left unable to comprehend their meanings. For all that she knew, there was a bomb underneath the seat of the taxi that she took back to her apartment.
The hooded figure that came charging out at her from the doorway of her apartment building made her leap backwards with a shrill scream.
“Jesus, Lane! It’s us!” Etain drawled sharply, trailing a few steps behind Alaric who had frozen in place in surprise at her shriek blue eyes wide beneath the hood of the heavy sweat shirt he was wearing to defend against the cold. “The hell is wrong with you anyway? Bow-Boy here says that you said a bunch of crazy stuff before hanging up on him and that we needed to rush over to your apartment right away; half an hour of waiting around here later you come out of a taxi looking like the Hound of the Baskervilles is nipping at your heels. What’s going on?”
“Not here; upstairs, in my apartment.” Pushing passed the pair she plowed into the building’s lobby and headed towards the elevator; exchanging side-long glances her friends followed a moment later.
The ride up to the 7th floor was endured in tense silence.
Their feet pathed quiet hollow thunks down the carpeted hallway; her keys rattled in the lock; the door swung open with a sigh of hinges and then shut again with a clatter.
“Now will you tell us?” she demanded, only to look on in shock as the other woman lurched forwards to check the frames of the windows for hidden mircophones and twitch aside the curtains and view the streets below. “Oi! Which white room did you escape from and what have you done with Kennina?”
“Etain, now is hardly the time for that.” Alaric admonished, voice uncharacteristically stern as he cast a warning glance at the brunet before proceeding forwards towards the shaking woman. “Kennina, no one followed us. Aside from the three of us and your cat, no one else is in the apartment. We won’t be overheard. You know that you can trust us, don’t you?” A moment passed while she simply stared at him with glazed eyes before nodding. “Come and sit; breathe. Calm down.”
“You should have been a fucking therapist.” Etain muttered bitterly, trailing after as Alaric lead Kennina by the hand over to a nearby couch; once she’d sat down he took a seat beside her while their third member leaned her weight against the back of an armchair with her hands clasped in front of her.
“You need to tell us what’s going on.” Instead of answering, Kennina silently passed him the envelope which had been clenched in her hands. Opening it and examining the contents quickly, his eyebrows shot up. “London?”
“You’re being transferred?” she nodded, a few stray curls making a bid for freedom over one pointed shoulder and falling into her face. “Why?”
“Because I’ve been digging into something that I shouldn’t. When I went in for my meeting with Lord Kharon about the promotion I overheard…by God, what am I doing!” Kennina’s hands had begun to shake by the time that she leapt back to her feet, pacing the room twice back and forth before speaking again. “My plane leaves in just less than 2 hours; I need to pack.”
Alaric was on his feet as well a moment later, his large hands catching her shoulders as she tried to make an escape into another room as his level blue gaze bore into her panicked green one. “What did you overheard in Kharon’s office? Is the Guild Master involved in something? Hiding something?”
“Don’t you get it? I can’t tell you! If I tell you they’ll know and then the two of you will be in the same place that I am!” She snapped at him, leaping backwards and turning away. “I’m…still not sure I want to do this. I’m putting the two of you in so much danger just by telling you what I have already.”
“Someone is after you because you’ve gone and stuck your nose somewhere that it didn’t belong?” Etain demanded, watching the slighter woman hug her arm close to her body instead of answering. “Well, everybody loves a cover up right?”
“You think that they are going to use the transfer as an excuse to get you away from the people that would protect you? That someone is going to try and take you out?”
“Yes, I do, I…it’s crazy, but…I feel like I’m marked; I’ve felt that way since the moment that he gave me that ticket! The way that he looked at me…” she shuddered. “It won’t be right away I’m sure. They’ll wait. It’ll be an accident, or a job-related fatality. Something routine. Something everyone always sees coming. But I can’t just sit around and wait to be picked off without doing something to make sure that the information they want kept quiet doesn’t die with me.”
“So you’re counting on the two of us to keep the information, at the very least, alive?” a blunt statement made in grim tones. “Kennina, for God’s sake, just run!”
“Run? To where? This is the city where I was born and raised; it’s all I’ve ever known!” Kennina demanded of him, furiously flinging her hair way from her face. “It wouldn’t do any good; it would only open doors for them to use to people that I care about-few though those may be-to get to me. No! I am a warrior and I shall give them no quarter!”
“So are we! We all swore the same oaths to the Guild and, more importantly, to each other!” Etain growled back, crossing her arms over her chest to stare the other down. “There’s no point in trying to be noble, so just stop! Let us do our job as your team mates and, more importantly, as your friends and get the hell out of here!”
“There are a lot of things which are more important than my life; if I do as I am told, even knowing what fate it will lead me to, it will satisfy them that the breach in their defenses has been dealt with.”
Alaric didn’t look happy about the matter, but backed down. “Kennina is right; we need to think of the oath that we swore to Humanity as a whole in addition to the one we swore to each other. Whatever the finer details of this matter may be, it’s clearly something bigger than any one of us.”
“And how are we supposed to continue uncovering this ‘damning information’ when Lane won’t even spill on what the hell it is!”
“I’ll give you the book and my notes but you both need to swear to me that you won’t even so much as take them out of the bag of Sergio’s things until something happens to me; on the off chance that I’m not the subject of a scrub-job I don’t want the two of you involved.” Kennina’s eyes flickered almost threateningly between the two who, after a short moment, reluctantly nodded their agreement. “Follow me.”
Retrieving a duffle bag from the hall closet she quickly collected all of the cat toys grooming tools and treats needed to care for the kitten who had been watching proceedings play out curiously from atop a nearby cabinet before heading into her bedroom and excavating the book and notebook from where she’d hidden them beneath her mattress and burying them inside. Zipping the duffle closed with a sharp finality, she turned and held the strap out to Alaric.
“You need me to take Sergio for you?” he asked, carefully taking the bag. Kennina nodded.
“If that isn’t too much to ask. I’ll go and get his carrier.” Discovering the little plastic cat box in the forgotten corner of the front closet she pulled it out and, after struggling for a moment or two, managed to get the little door open. Carrying it with her into the sitting room she set to coaxing the smoky grey kitten down from the top of the cabinet and, once she’d finally gotten him to cooperate, pulled the tiny purring bundle close. “I have to go, Sergio; Alaric will be taking care of you from now on.” She told him quietly, stroking his fur and feeling him push his head up under her chin. “You’re the best little kitty anyone could hope for and I’m so lucky to have had you.” Her words hitched up at the end, and the hitch soon gave way to a sob which gave way to tears as her control crumbled beneath the weight of a cruel reality; this would be the last time she would be in her city, the last time she would see her two closest friends, the last time she would feel anything close to safe. Death was close behind her; she could all but feel its fetid breath raising goosebumps against the back of her neck.
Without warning a pair of arms wound around her shoulders, pulling her head to rest against the curve of the other’s neck as her brown hair fell across the light in a curtain.
“Listen to me Kennina, it’s going to be alright. I don’t know how it will be, but it will be.” Always the first to lacerate any opponent with blade-edged barbs Etain had never been much of one for words of comfort, and so she held her friend in silence and let her cry. Finally, when no more tears were left, Kennina pulled back and hid her face behind her bangs. “Better?”
Hardly; no matter how many tears she cried, they would never be enough to wash the mortal danger away. “Thank you, Etain.” She hiccupped.
The floorboards gave a quiet creak as Alaric made his way into the room with a rolling suitcase in his hands. “Here, I packed everything of yours that I could fit in here; clothing, laptop, weapons, everything.” Getting shakily to her feet, Kennina murmured a quiet word of thanks as she moved forwards to take it and then yelped in surprise when he pulled her into a crushing bear hug. “I don’t give a damn what they throw at you or how hopeless the situation might seem, do everything that you can to survive until the three of us can meet again! We’ll both do the same.”
“I’ll do my best, Alaric.” She sniffled, stepping back as he released her.
But Kennina knew that her best, even skilled as she was, wouldn’t be enough. Not this time.
“Come on, we’ll take you to the airport.”
“Oh, no. That isn’t necessary.” She replied, lowering a mewling Sergio into his carrier and shutting the door.
“We’ll. Take. You. To. The. Airport.” Etain repeated, dark eyes stern and unblinking and each word carefully and sharply enunciated. “Lane, let’s go.”
“Come on, Kennina. I drove us both here, so you won’t have to worry about taking the subway or hailing a cab.” Holding her luggage hostage Alaric gave her no opportunity to protest before he’d exited the apartment and headed towards the elevator.
Well, if I want my things it looks like I don’t have much choice in matters. Kennina thought with a sigh, reluctantly following after him a few moments later. Sometimes, I think they care a little TOO much about me.
Alaric had placed both the duffle full of cat-toy-concealed incriminating documents and her suitcase in the trunk of his 2014 Grand Cherokee and was waiting patiently for them beside the driver’s-side door. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah, we’re ready.” Etain told him as she opened the passenger side door and climbed inside, leaving Kennina to sit in the back with the cat carrier.
The drive was made in silence with nothing left to be said amongst the three of them, interrupted only by the occasional impatient mew from the caged kitten who was understandably none-too-happy with his situation.
By the time they arrived at the John F. Kennedy airport her flight was scheduled to leave in just over half an hour; bidding a quick farewell to the pair and grabbing her suitcase from the trunk Kennina rushed inside through the sliding glass doors. The pair in the car watched her go until their friend’s form disappeared from view.
Once she was gone, Etain turned to her companion. “So, just how screwed do you figure we are?”
Alaric turned the wheel sharply to the right, sighing as he pulled away from the curb. “The way that I see it? Extremely.”
Rushing through customs with ticket in hand and very little idea of where it was that she was supposed to be going, Kennina barely made it to the correct terminal in time to board the plane. If anything, no expense had been spared in regards to her transportation out of the country and she sat first class for the just over 7 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Flying anywhere wasn’t a process she was much familiar with, and so it took another 15 or so minutes of fumbling around once she’d finally gotten off of the plane to find her way through the revolving baggage claim then back through customs and into the main building leading towards the exit. Her eyes scanned the throngs of people coming and going with trundling suitcases bouncing behind with a growing sensation of panic; was she supposed to wait and meet up with someone or was she supposed to leave and find her own way to the English Guild outpost?
Her eyes finally alighted on a shrouded figure holding up a sign crudely marked with a misspelling of her surname, clad entirely in black and with the wide brim of a hat and a tightly wrapped scarf concealing his face from view. Cautiously, she approached him.
“Are you the one that I am here for?” though his voice lacked the hissing quality of the snake-eyed man from that night in Kharon’s office the chilling monotone was more than enough to send a shiver through her.
“Yes, I am.” Kennina replied with a small nod, noting without really meaning to the deathly pallor of his blue-veined wrists when the sleeve of his overcoat rucked up slightly as he lowered the sign. “I was informed that I would be taken to rendezvous with my new team?”
“Follow me; I’ll escort you to the meeting point.” All the warning that she had before her faceless company turned and began heading through the crowds at a pace which left her struggling to keep up, rolling suitcase bumping over the smooth tile floor at her heels.
The climate in London, at least, wasn’t all that different than in New York; winter left the city cold and grey, the slate sky and blowing winds-perfumed by the nearby river Thames-wet with the promise of rain.
A black car sat idling on the curb, its heavily tinted windows giving no indication of anything which might be inside and with the symbol of the Guild embossed on all four doors in glossy golden paint.
The black-clad man opened the back door for her, waiting until she’d slid into the well cared for leather seats before closing it again and stowing her luggage in the trunk. Once he’d taken up position in the driver’s seat the car glided away from the curb with the soft hiss of wheels over smoothed down asphalt and the powerful purr of the engine.
The ride was made in nervous silence, her shadowed company making no effort at conversation and Kennina herself not knowing what to say. She busied herself with staring out the heavily tinted window beside her instead, taking in the sight of the heavy traffic of cars and double decker busses, their teetering layers the color of lacquered cherries, that clogged the narrow winding streets.
She had expected to discover the location of the Headquarters of the Guild’s London Branch hidden in plain sight in an old abandoned church on a hill-side somewhere or else in a grand cathedral like back home in New York, so when they pulled up to a massive skyscraper instead Kennina found herself more than just a little bit confused.
“I will wait here for you; leave your luggage here. After you’ve met with your new team, I’ll show you to your prearranged housing.”
The idea of the nameless pale shade, features concealed entirely behind a black hat, leather over coat and gloves, sent a cold shiver crawling across her skin. Something told her that he’d be sticking around for quite a while as her tail, even if she wouldn’t be seeing all that much of him.
“Right.” The latch on the door released with a small pop as she pulled the handle towards her, swinging her legs out of the car and pulling herself to her full height on the uneven asphalt of the lot. “Thank you, Mr.…?”
“It’s not of consequence for you to know my name, Ms. Lane. Head inside, you’re expected.” He informed her sharply, fingers tightening around the wheel with the creak of leather gloves. “You’ll find the entrance in the alley.”
Kennina shut the door behind her and turned on her heel, eager to put some distance between the two of them even if it would only be for a short while.
The face of the building in which the Guild’s London operations were headed was assembled entirely from chrome and glass which gleamed brightly in the frigid, watery light that filtered down from the clouds reflecting back at her the distorted images of the surrounding buildings; a chain link fence cut an almost jagged path over from the left to separate the official vehicles from those of the public, meeting with the lowermost floor of the building just behind the flowering stem of a street lamp. Above the sunken-in glass doors hung a massive triangular sign of smooth black marble, sharp silver letters standing proud against it proclaiming the identity of the sky scraper as NEW SCOTLAND YARD.
The alleyway to which she had been directed was silent and deserted, a dumpster and accompanying blue bin proclaiming the benefits of being green and recycling the only onlookers on the little off road which likely lead around back to the sally port housing the service vehicles. Much like the front of the building, even on the lower floor there was little to no brick to be seen; the indent of the crest easily mistakable as a particularly deep gouge by the elements into the metal of a window frame.
Pressing the contours of the little charm into it, Kennina quickly repeated the familiar opening verse and then jumped back in alarm when the building emitted a piercing shriek of stressed metal and glass; that was certainly something that had never happened before in older buildings built of wood and stone softened by age of use and wear. Heart thudding against her throat, she watched in minor fascination as the area surrounding the crest shimmered brightly and then began to change.
The metal supports wavered and bent, the glass flowing like heated plastic as the side of the building was pushed inwards as if by an invisible hand. What was left behind was a staircase lined with shining glass and steel, the people working above it and to either side of her unaware of the bending of their reality even as she proceeded down the staircase to the little door at the bottom plainly marked FACULTY with letters penned in chipping black paint.
The inside of the London Division’s headquarters reminded her of something that one might see on the set of Law and Order, the enormous open room filled with multiple small cluttered desks some of which were occupied but most of which were not, the fraying carpet worn down to bald by countless feet and stained to a murky greyish-brown, the air warm and smelling of the cheap coffee brewed by the overworked coffee pot squatting atop a sagging table beside a ceramic spice holder overflowing with tiny multicolored packets of discount sweetener.
“Nae quite the same as the all might New York branch, is it Yankee Rose?” she turned with a start at the thick accent, coming almost face to chest with the young man who had crept up behind her. “I’d reckon nae. Seoirse MacanBairn; good ta meet ya.”
Recovering tactfully from her surprise, Kennina took a step back to peer up at him before taking the hand that had been thrust into her face. “’Lioness’ Kennina Lane, and no. It’s definitely very difficult from what I’m used to.”
“’Lioness’?” he repeated with a snort, his blue eyes flashing with amusement beneath a curtain of carrot colored hair, ferret-like features scrunched up into a mirthful grin as his whippet-thin form shook with suppressed mirth. “The others are waitin’ for ya in another room. Follow me.” There was a lively spring to his step as he bounced along ahead of her down the hallway that branched off of the main room. He burst through the door without bothering to use the knob, bounding into the little room occupied already by two other people; another, slightly older man who appeared as almost a well-muscled double to Seoirse and a tall, thin woman around the age of 20 with long black hair cascading down her back and eyes the color of mint crème. “These are oor teammates; Morrigan Fletcher an’ me brother Abban. Oi, Abban!” The other man looked up in silent response, powerful arms crossed over his massive chest. “You’ll never guess it what her name is; seems they do the cutesy thing over ‘cross the pond!”
Rolling her eyes as she got to her feet, Morrigan walked over to her. “Ignore those idiots; they’re nothing but a pair of Scottish Wankers. As he told you, I’m Morrigan.”
“Kennina Lane,” she replied, offering her hand. “So…you don’t bother coining names over here?”
Morrigan shrugged, her dark hair sliding over one shoulder and bangs shielding half of her face. “The endless pursuit of a distinctly defined individuality it a profoundly American concept. We are who we are over here, but we don’t usually bother with trying to find the time for coining titles.”
Kennina flashed a somewhat nervous half smile. “If I’d known that I’d never have bothered to bring it up.”
“Don’t feel foolish, it’s unique. I like it.” The ravenette’s gentle smile was impossible not to return.
The floor groaned beneath heavy footsteps as the older of the two MacanBairn brothers approached her. “Abban,” the hand that he offered her was warm and roughened by callouses. “Ma brother can be fairly daft, so I apologize for ‘im. Ya get used to it quickly.”
“He keeps things interesting I’m sure; with a job like ours, it’s good to have someone who’s putting forward a happy face.”
He nodded, brushing his bangs-a darker orange than Seiorse’s but not quite red like hers-away from his face. “Aye, well, there’s ‘bright’ an’ then there’s annoyin’ and more often than nae he’s this rather than tha’. A careless shrug of broad shoulders. “If ya don’t mind me askin’ lass, how do ya favor yer fightin’?”
“I use a type of bladed fist weapon called Pantera Claws and martial arts; part of the reason that I got the title that I have.” She told him. “To anyone who’s seen me it’s fairly obvious strength is far from my best attribute; I find myself much more reliant on agility and speed.”
“Got third in close quarters than?” Seoirse jumped in on the conversation with his grin still fixed firmly in place. “Abban here is all brawn; flings a hammer ‘round like it’s made o’ cardboard. Me, I’m more of an even mix see? I dual-wield a couple o’ swords, double-edged bitters, so like you I gotta be quick about it.”
“And I’m stuck providing cover fire for these two reckless fools,” Morrigan said with a sigh. “Hopefully, now that you’re here, you can help me watch out for them?”
“You sound a lot like Alaric, the ranged-support on my former team.” Kennina giggled, pushing away the pang of homesickness before it could contort her features. “Only, his problem was that I’d go one way and Etain would go the other and he’d be stuck running back and forth to watch our backs.”
“Sounds like you were close with your old team. Why did you transfer here?”
She shrugged and looked away. “It’s…complicated.”
“Well, ‘aving one ranged an’ three forwards will be a bit odd ta balance but we’ll manage.”
“It’ll take some gettin’ used ta though!” Seoirse piped up loudly, prompting his older brother to deliver a playful punch to his arm.
“Use yer inside voice ya dolt!”
“After the flight in from New York-what is that, something like 7 hours?-I’m sure that you’re exhausted.” Morrigan said, tearing her eyes away from the pair with a long suffering sigh. “It tends to be fairly quiet in this city and though we do occasionally get sent to Ireland Scotland or Wales it isn’t often; rest for the night, we’ll be able to manage on our own. Tomorrow we’ll give you a tour of the city and bring you up to speed on a long-running investigation of ours, sound good?”
She nodded. “Yes, that sounds perfect. I’ll meet you…here?”
“We’ll come and get you.”
“It was nice to meet all of you; I should probably head back outside. There’s someone waiting to escort me to where I’ll be staying so…”
“Wouldn’t wan’ to keep them waitin’. We understand.”
With one last nod over her shoulder at the three of them, Kennina hurried out of the room and back down the hall towards the exit; the alleyway appeared just as it was when she had left it, the building’s face seamlessly readjusting behind her as if the staircase had never been.
Neither the car nor her company had moved; as the door shut behind her he turned his head just slightly to observe his passenger. “You found them, Ms. Lane?”
She nodded. “Yes, I did; my new team and I are on our way to becoming acquainted now, if you don’t mind me being rude, can I ask that we head out? I’m tired and would like to rest.”
“Of course,” the gear shift clicked as it was drawn back. “It won’t take long, Ms. Lane. Your arranged housing isn’t far.” Another ten or so minutes in tense silence before the car glided to a stop on the curb of a residential neighborhood. “I’ll retrieve your suitcase and take it in for you.”
As her driver left the car, Kennina slid herself across the leath er seats to peer cautiously out the window at the street outside.
All things considered it was a rather nice area, she supposed, though it lacked the familiar looming shadow of the massive residential complexes which had dominated her home city. Unlike Manhattan the faded asphalt street and battered grey sidewalks were lined with numerous near identical row houses. Each standing shoulder to shoulder in rank and two stories tall, the homes were quaint in appearance with crannied red-brick faces, arched doorways and windows framed in white beneath slanting slate shingled roofs.
Low standing brick walls stood to separate the public sidewalk from the respective properties, but where there were the occasional scraggly gardens or ungroomed bushes left to grow wild upwards and outwards there were no yards; at least that much was the same.
At the very end of the row, perched proudly atop a metal pole like some strange bird, was a green sign proclaiming the name of the street as Titon Way.
The door was opened suddenly and Kennina nearly toppled out of the car onto the cold and unforgiving curb with a small cry. The blackness beneath the rim of his hat gazed down at her without compassion, the tails of his overcoat fluttering slightly as he turned to walk away.
Scrambling out of the car and shutting the door behind her, Kennina rushed up the curb and made it to the top of the small steps outside of the door just as her company succeeded in unlocking it with a set of keys.
“Here are your house keys, Ms. Lane.” He held them out to her between his forefinger and thumb, delicately, as if in fear of contracting some deadly disease. Inwardly rolling her eyes, she snatched them out of his gloved hand. “Would you like me to bring your things in for you?”
“That isn’t necessary; I can manage on my own.” It came out as a snap, punctuated by the sharp crack of the leather hand-strap of her suitcase as she hefted it off the ground. “Thank you for seeing me to my new home; you can leave!”
“Of course; Lord Kharon sends you his regards Ms. Lane.” He turned and retreated, floating across the ground with an unnatural grace more than walking, disappearing back into the car but making no move to part the vehicle from the curb and drive away. Sighing in exasperation, she turned her back and reached for the door.
The air inside of the house smelled stale and old, long standing and heavy with dust as her footsteps rang like bells against the awful black and white checkerboard pattern tiling the floor of the small front room. The thick wooden door, its generic white paint badly chipped and peeling with age, closed behind her with the rattle of a loose knob and the creak of sticking hinges; the wheels of her suitcase clicking against the floor as she set it down.
Despite it being no later than 5:00 in[O1] the afternoon the combination of overcast weather and an inch thick layer of dust clogging the panes of every window left the interior infused with only a dim fuzzy light. A number of halls branched off in different directions one clearly leading into a kitchen, another just beside her opening into a small sitting room and a third to her right meandering off to some other area of the house; a spiraling wooden staircase lead upwards onto the floor above, the bannister wobbly and protesting loudly with even the slightest touch.
What struck her most about the house was the profound sense of emptiness which permeated every breath she took with its toxic fumes as it dripped from the ceiling and slid down the walls like clotted blood.
Leaving the suitcase where she’d left it, Kennina proceeded into the sitting room and twitched aside the moth eaten sun faded drapes; the car was still there. Watching. Waiting. She’d give him nothing to see.
The house needed a thorough cleaning anyway.
Outside in the lurking vehicle the gloves had come off to reveal long pale fingers that impatiently jabbed at a few of the numerous buttons on the dash panel until finally succeeding in wrenching a ringing tone from the speakers; the ringing persisted for a few successive seconds before the other end was answered.
“Guild Master’s Office: New York Division. How can I help you?”
“Put me through to Kharon you witless harpy! I haven’t the time for your word games!” He hissed, dark eyes flashing in annoyance as he threw the hat that he’d been wearing down onto the seat beside him and wrestled the coils of the wool scarf that had been concealing the lower half of his face free before flinging it at random. The soft chime of the line being transferred, swiftly followed by another click.
“Have you done as I asked, Erebus?” Kharon’s voice filtered coolly through the stereo system of the car.
“Yes indeed, brother; she arrived at just passed 2 in the afternoon, promptly met with her new team and then I brought her straight to her new home.” He replied, reclining more comfortably in the driver’s seat and flinging one arm carelessly over the backrest. “It seems that she’s busied herself with cleaning out the place; won’t be doing much of anything until at least tomorrow morning.”
The rustled of paperwork and the shriek of a drawer being forced closed. “You’ll be returning here to your precious quarantine you call a laboratory, then? I’ll send Midir and Veles to-.”
“Tell our dear brothers the twins that they can unpack their bags,” he drawled, flicking raven bangs out of his eyes as he nestled his chin on his hand to peer out of the window at the house. “It’s not often that I find myself presented with an opportunity for field research. About how long do I have before we sick the Apelat on our problem children?”
“Not long; we can abide by the potential threat presented by them-Kennina Lane especially-for no longer than we must.” He ordered. “While you’re there be sure to keep a sharp eye out for any signs of his presence. We’ve searched the world over for that coward many times since he fled in fear of his own power; we’ve discovered traces but never anything concrete. He must be somewhere on that accursed island!”
“Mother wants her creation taken care of, then?”
“Even as a human Eros always was a problem for us. She doesn’t want to take the chance that his retreat from the field of battle is only temporary; invulnerable or no, he must be done away with and until he’s locked away for an eternity our empire will never be secure.”
“Understood. I’ll see what I can find once the situation with Lane has been resolved and will get back to you.” Exiting the call, he cast one final glance out of the window at the little row house before restarting the car and driving off. I really should get out more often; my stay in the United Kingdom looks as if it will shape up to be very interesting indeed.ns 184.108.40.206da2