Kane sat in the back of the sparsely populated meeting room. His dark clothes, which often aided in stealth, drew the eye to him due to the white walls and harsh lighting of the room. A handful of people showed up to listen to August speak, and most of them had all ready moved on to the convention’s next event. August, shaking hands with a youngster in a parka and newsboy cap, seemed like he was in his element. Kane was astonished that August was such a good public speaker and wondered if there wasn’t some magic involved.
Kane knew when August spotted him because he seemed to shrink.
“Mr. Kane. I didn’t expect to see you here of all places. I’d have expected you to be visiting the temporary exhibit of martial arms at the Louvre.” said August. His sarcastic tone failed to cut Kane. Kane had seen too much in life to be hurt by such pesky remarks.
“It isn’t that impressive. Trouble with weapons is that mine’s always better. They might be old, but they are comfortable. For me, at least.”
“So then, why the visit? It isn’t like you to talk much.”
“Not when I don’t have anything to say,” responded Kane, “But I will chew your ear off if I have a reason to. Just happens that I have something to say. I came to hear what you had to say, and I was moved by your sense of morality. There are grey areas, too many of them, and we all but live in them. It’s true what you said, ‘We can only do the best we can at the moment.’ Unfortunately, some of us are not as witty as others.”
“Did I convince you to come to our side?” asked August. He was smiling, wide and friendly. Kane couldn’t believe that he was talking to him as an equal. He had considered August weak, but since talking to Violet Rose and finding out about Charles’ death, he had started to reevaluate his opinions. Charles had been a dear friend, probably the best that Kane was ever likely to have. They fought in wars together, both secret and known, and since finding out how Charles died, Kane decided it was time to take stock.
“I’ve been on your side all along, kid. We just had different ways. Listen. I was a soldier in Korea and I fought in the Moscow Initiative. I’m not trained to react peacefully to a threat. My first instinct isn’t to weigh my choices, and it should be. I’ve let my justification of snap decisions become my moral compass. I haven’t let myself be human in so long. Thinking of myself, I know that my wife would have thought me a bigger monster than anything I’ve killed.”
“Recognizing that is the first step,” offered August. “Knowing that about yourself is the best weapon for fighting what you feel that you’ve become.”
“True enough,” said Kane. He was quiet for a moment, taking time to choose his words carefully. “I’ve stumbled onto something this afternoon. A few powerful vampires are here, and they are fuming. They want some very specific blood, and they are bent on getting it.”
“Who are they looking for?” asked August.
“The person with The Vampire Folio.” said Kane as grimly as a headsman.
“I don’t have it,” said August.
“But they don’t know that. Seems that you found yourself on a select list, right alongside Tabitha Hearn and Sigrid Koenig. Someone implicated you into this conspiracy. I know you aren’t the kind to blackmail, and you certainly wouldn’t blackmail an elder vampire. You aren’t that cocky.”
August appeared dumbfounded. He was clearly trying to understand what had occurred, but it seemed to elude him. Kane clapped him on the shoulder and stood.
“Regardless of how it happened, someone’s after you. My thought is to get you safe and find out who these women are,” said Kane.
“I know one of them. She’s a bibliomancer, and we’ve been in contact. Do you think she’s the one that stole the folio?”
“If she isn’t, she must know something. Her name didn’t come up for no reason.”
“How did you find out about all of this?” asked August.
“Well, like I mentioned, a friend of mine died. I didn’t want to leave his life’s debt unpaid, so I went underground. Well, suffice it to say that when you are applying pain in order to pay debts, information flows as rapidly as blood.”
“Here I was thinking you changed your ways,” commented August wryly.
“I have. This time, I’m sure that I’m doing the right thing.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’m protecting you, and you’re a good person, August. Now get your stuff together. We need to leave soon.”
“What about Minerva?”
“I’ve all ready covered that. Besides. Worse comes to worst, she can take care of herself.”
Minerva’s eyes followed a gaunt man that walked into the dining area. He moved stiffly across her field of vision, taking a seat on the far side of the room. He unfurled a newspaper and cleared his voice. Persephone seemed to notice Minerva’s wandering attention. Before she turned, Minerva warned her.
“Don’t look,” she warned.
“Who is it?” asked Persephone. “Is it someone come here for me because of this morning?”
“No. I think it is something worse. Do you know how to defend yourself?” Minerva asked as she tried to study the man without drawing too much attention. His skin seemed slick and pasty, his eyes sunken and dark. An orange and white track suit hung loosely on his frame. Minerva could see that his aura was very weak, giving an indication that he was barely alive.
“I don’t know much. I try to avoid a fight,” responded Persephone. Minerva could see her agitation and stroked Persephone’s hand soothingly.
“I’m going to see what he wants. If there’s trouble, get somewhere heavily populated. The more public, the better.”
“Don’t go,” said Persephone, her eyes filled with fright.
“If I don’t go, he will come,” said Minerva as she walked. The man looked up from his paper and folded it neatly in front of himself. He looked feverish, and the rigid smile on his cadaverous face made Minerva shudder.
“Mrs. Krieg, I presume?” he asked. She noticed that a small vestige of a Russian accent colored his pronunciation and she started to wonder who had sent such a grisly messenger.
“I am, but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“As we had hoped. My employers have sent me ahead to inquire as to why you and Tabitha Hearn are working together,” he said, wrapping the gold chain that hung from his neck around his finger. Minerva had no idea who the man was talking about. She had never heard the name Tabitha Hearn.
“I’m not working with anyone by that name,” answered Minerva. “I’m afraid you got a hold of some bad information.”
“No,” he said. “No-no-no-not-at all,” he said, his words oozing like blood. “I’m afraid your little conspiracy has been uncovered. You, Elijah Kane, August Carlisle, Tabitha Hearn, and Sigrid Koenig. The five of you have conspired to blackmail my employers, and as such, we, you and me, have arrived at this impasse. You can deny the charges, but your word is worthless. A respected elder in our community has made the charge, and I’m disinclined to doubt her testimony.”
Minerva felt disgusted. She knew that August was innocent, and that this was not Kane’s way. She wondered about Sigrid. She had contacted August quite accidentally, but the serendipity of the events that led him into a meeting with her was questionable. Hearn was a name unknown to her. The only fact concerned with the name that she could recall was that it was a common Gypsy name.
“I assume that I have a right to know my accuser,” said Minerva, sure that the answer would be ‘No.’
“She goes by the name of Charlotte Masson, and she is quite sure of your guilt. She has provided me with much information. Some of it is circumstance, but when there is enough circumstance, guilt is sure to follow.” The man’s smug bearing was infuriating, but Minerva managed to tolerate it.
“This Charlotte Masson is as unknown to me as Tabitha Hearn. I assure you that there must be an error.” Scrutinizing the man so closely, Minerva was finally able to discern what made her so uncomfortable. His eyes were different colors, and they had no lids to close over them. A series of metal staples ran up his wrist, and she deduced that they likely went up his entire misshapen arm. Though he was likely a man once, he wasn’t one any longer.
“All the same, I have been paid to do a service, and I will complete the contract,” said the man-like creature. “You can sort out your problems after my work is done.”
“And if I don’t come quietly?” asked Minerva.
“Then you will be brought in silence.”