“Are you sure you don’t want help?” asked Minerva, concern coloring her voice so she sounded like a mother.
“No, I have it,” replied August breathlessly as he led the way down the hall, staggering forward. Laden with luggage like a burro, his face was slowly turning from pink to red. Minerva followed slowly behind, carrying her bag of clothing. Not normally a manly sort of guy, she was surprised and annoyed that August wouldn’t let her carry any of the luggage. It was a small battle in order for him to concede one, small carry-on.
Minerva found herself wishing that the International Gathering of Paranormal Specialists had also invited Tobias, but since his run in with the police, he had fallen out of favor with the IGPS. That sort of ban was one of the difficulties a werewolf would need to deal with sooner or later, and it hurt Tobias badly when he did not get a letter from the IGPS inviting him to join in on the bi-annual convention, particularly on the year that it was to be held in Paris.
August paused in front of a door bearing the number 619 and nodded his head towards it.
“This is us.” he said, lowering the luggage to the dull, red carpet. Minerva used the card she was given at check-in to open the door. The room was done-up in inoffensive beige tones. There was one window, one television, one bathroom, one water closet, and one bed. Frustration grew inside of Minerva like a thorny rose. August let out an aggravated sigh and slumped against the wall.
“Not again. Not again!” he said, catching his breath and regaining his pale coloration. This was their third attempt at getting a room with two beds, and Minerva didn’t want to try for a fourth, half fearing that August would collapse from exhaustion.
“We’ll just have to make do.” Minerva said with resignation.
“The bath tubs are large enough to sleep in, right?” asked August. “It won’t be comfortable, but it’s only a week.”
“We can take turns. That would make the most sense.” suggested Minerva with egalitarian zeal.
“Nonsense. I won’t have you sleep in the tub. It just wouldn’t be right. Just let me rest a bit and we can try one more time.” said August, sweat still glistening on his face. Minerva was near her limit; she couldn’t take much more of August’s gallantry.
“No, we’ll just accept it! It’s useless; just as Odysseus couldn’t get home, so are we fated to wander the hotel, longing for a room with two beds. Sure, if they send us to every one of their three-hundred rooms, eventually we’re likely to find the one with two beds, but we’ll probably have to endure many-a-trial-and-tribulation before then!” Minerva became acutely aware of how aggressive she was sounding. She could see August starting to shrink in the face of her tirade. “A seventy percent chance of harpies, I’d guess.” She added facetiously, hoping to soften the mood.
“Well, you know how I hate harpies.” remarked August dryly. He walked across the room with all the impetus of a zombie, slumping into a chair by the window. Seeing the view of a hotel under construction, he sighed heavily.
“At least the last room had a better view.” complained August.
“What does it matter? There’s a whole city to explore; not to mention all the convention activities. Stop being such a grump. At least try to see it as an adventure.” Minerva dreaded spending the week with August in such low spirits. She had tried to hide how disappointed she was when she discovered that Tobias would not be coming along; with August acting so childishly, her disappointment threatened to overcome her cheery facade. It seemed like the further he got from home, the crabbier August became. Minerva knew that he never traveled much, but had a hard time accepting that he could be so disconsolate in such a wonderful city.
August drabbed himself from the chair and popped open the window. His dark hair quivered in the breeze. Minerva couldn’t stand another moment of his moping.
“I’m going to have a look around. If you want to pine away for home until the panel on Tuesday, you can. But August, this is a beautiful city. I won’t tell you how to spend your time, but you should enjoy it before it is all gone.” Minerva rummaged through her luggage, searching for the guidebook she packed. It was short, but exceedingly thick. Neon strips of paper peeked out from the pages like fringe, marking everything she wanted to see.
“I’ll leave this with you. I’ve read it so much that I have most of it committed to memory.” It wasn’t an exaggeration; she knew her whole plan of attack by heart, right down to which streets she wanted to avoid. If everything else failed, she spoke French fluently. Half-heartedly, August picked up the book and began thumbing through it. Content that she had done all she could to get August motivated, Minerva left the room, leaving August alone with the city of Paris.
August unzipped his luggage, carefully removing the tender scrolls and instruments from his carry-on. He frowned deeply when he saw that his Key of Solomon was broken. He tossed the cracked disc into the trash and hoped that he wouldn’t come across any demons before he found another one. His books survived the trip intact, which provoked a sigh of relief. He deposited his copy of The Vampire Folio into the room’s safe. He had brought is so that he could get it analyzed by Sigrid Koenig, Europe’s leading Bibliomancer.
The folio was tall and wide, and barely fit into the safe. It contained a history of vampirism in Germany, and also hid a list of powerful vampires from the Middle Ages and before. It had been feverishly sought by mad vampires and righteous vampire hunters, but August was determined to keep it in his possession until he uncovered all of its secrets. Closing the safe door, August drew a symbol in the air before it, warding away any unwanted attention.
Satisfied, he stepped out of the room with Minerva’s guide book in hand. He would give Paris a chance. Walking out into the pleasant Springtime heat, he walked the short distance towards the Seine under the watchful Eiffel tower. He had no intention of going near it, but it called him with a siren song whose main verse was “You may never come this way again.”
He couldn’t help but stare at the hulking brown monstrosity. He immediately felt a kindred spirit with the Parisians of 1889. It was a brooding, giant thing with little grace or purpose. Walking closer, it grew larger, standing like a tchotchke sized for King Kong’s big brother. The clusters of tourists wandered under the landmark like ants on a sugar cube lost under a picnic table.
The air was filled with the sound of men carrying dozens of more reasonably sized versions of the tower on large rings. As they shook the rings, the tiny replicas clattered noisily.
“Five for one Euro!” one of the men shouted, spotting August as he skirted the crowd, wondering what anyone would do with five tiny Eiffel towers. As he walked faster, the man pursued him, vigorously hawking his wares. August said he wasn’t interested, but as he was looking at the man, he didn’t notice the young woman in front of him which he sent toppling to the ground, her chocolate coated crepe an unfortunate and unsalvageable victim of the collision.
As she foundered on the ground, tangled in her scarf, she admonished him in French, mixed with halting English. August lent her a hand and attempted an apology in English, mixed with stilted French. When August took her hand, he was stunned by how cold her skin seemed. Her hair was short and blonde, and in need of a washing; she had a pixie’s face and wide, hypnotic eyes. Dusting herself off, her ears seemed to perk up when August offered to pay for her spilled snack.
“You pay?” she asked, sudden sweetness in her voice.
“Oui. Yes.” said August, producing a handful of Euros. Before he could ask how much, her fingers were all ready grubbing about his palm. He closed his hand and jerked it back, and she affected an innocent look that could melt the hardest of hearts. August plucked a few coins from his hand and offered them to her.
“You pay?” she asked again, pointing to her palm. “More?”
“No, no more. Enough. J’ai rein.” replied August uncomfortably.
“Yes.” she said insistently.
“No.” said August, noticing several eyes falling on him. Abruptly, he walked away. The woman made no move to follow, she just stood glaring at him until August turned his back.
“I knew I should have stayed inside.” complained August to himself as he walked back to the hotel, which was not very far away. It was when he stood before room 619 that he realized that Minerva never gave him his copy of the pass card for the room.