Harry handled the car like he did everything, with certainty and confidence. He wasn't concerned by the black smoke billowing up into the night behind us from the acres rapidly burning at Archer's compound. Marcus and Carlos certainly hadn't wasted any time in removing the evidence of the slaughter we'd left behind. The glow was hypnotic and deadly.
"Natasha, turn around. You'd think you'd never seen a fire before." He was laughing at me.
"Harry, I've seen plenty of fires." I had.
Fires took on a life of their own. Watching the funnel of gray-black smoke and ash leap for the moon was oddly captivating. I knew first hand the damage caused and vampires weren't exactly fireproof despite the tales. I'd survived more than one fire attack in my long life and had absolutely no desire to see if it was still as horrific as I remembered. We healed but it wasn't instantaneous.
Something of what I was thinking must have shown on my face. Harry said, "Natasha, you were in Chicago? Weren't you?"
"Yep." I didn't bother to mention San Francisco because Simon had made good on his promise back then and slaughtered the crazy human who'd trapped me in the wood building intentionally trying to kill me. I always figured Harry had helped tracking down that sociopath but never asked. I was busy healing in a vat of blood with fresh donors hourly. Yeah, it was a lovely memory.
Harry mumbled something about ignorant humans and pushed the car to fly faster down the road. Once we hit a major freeway, it seemed we were heading back towards the city, as we were going west; he pulled out his cell phone and began making calls.
His conversations were brief and concise. My mind drifted while he began to negotiate arrangements for somebody from the vampire council to pick up Solomon's Fang. He wanted it back in the vault as quickly as possible and out of his hands. I didn't blame him. There was something unsettling about the relic. It was part legend and mostly nightmare. I didn't want to know what it did. Such ancient treasures tended to carry their death karma with them nearly as entwined as their power. Not worth the burn.
Looking back I could barely make out the glow in the east where the compound was still burning. I shuddered at the idea of that fire spreading west. Fires weren't choosy about their paths. Flames would eat up anything and everything running up and down trees and houses pretty much whichever way the winds blew. And there was a definite breeze running through the night.
Harry confirmed the handoff to be done at a diner where we were meeting up with Renee and the werewolves the following evening. I wondered how the hell they'd get Desiree out in public. She was acting more than a bit crazy. I didn't see humans finding her subservient behavior towards Carlos acceptable. At Dark Whispers it wouldn't even merit a pause but in the coffee shop I think a skeleton thin, crazy eyed gal licking a man's heels might be remarked upon in polite society. But that was Carlos' problem, not mine. Werewolves weren't mistaken for dogs so it wasn't like he could bring her in on a leash.
"So where are we going?" I knew Harry always kept a few bolt holes in any city where he stayed.
"A nice place down on the beach." That covered a lot of real estate in Southern California. I just sat back and let Harry drive. It wouldn't do to ask him any more questions and it wasn't like I didn't trust him. He handed me over his cell and suggested I call Simon and report in before the news beat me to it.
I took the suggestion. Simon answered on the first ring.
"She okay, Harry?" Oops I forgot I was using Harry's cell.
"I'm fine." I answered with a flutter in my throat. It was nice to know my Master still worried about me after all these decades.
"Ah, Child. It's good to hear your voice. I saw there were some nasty fires down there." He obviously had already heard something about the flambé of werewolves at Archer's compound.
Slowly I filled him in on the past few hours. He kept silent until I was done then said, "Put Harry on, please."
A chill ran down my spine. The "please" wasn't unheard of, but not exactly commonly used by Simon. He was furious. Nothing I could do but hand over the phone. I resisted tuning in on the conversation and instead watched the billboards along the highway give way to office buildings and high rises. Simon was doing most of the talking, and it was in sibilant hisses. Not good.
Finally Harry clicked off the cell and said, "Well that went better than I'd expected."
I spun towards his profile and saw he was smiling slightly.
"He was bitching and snarling. He wasn't congratulating us for our quick thinking." I was serious and he was still finding the whole thing amusing.
"Actually in Simon's own way he was. He had been worried. He knew in his blood you hadn't been harmed, but he must have also felt the concerns you had." Nicely understated. But Harry was right. I had been anxious a few times in the past few hours. I knew that Simon's blood tie would have picked it up but hadn't focused on the Master-Fledgling bond much.
That reminded me of my own fledgling. I rarely searched for his essence. DB was a sick sociopath running a double life. Not just as a vampire but in between the worlds of vampires. He had been far too close to Kenyon and tried to kill me back at the club when the meet between the vampires and werewolves went south. That hadn't been fun. I knew that Damson Barlow wanted to be free from me and my brand of morality. He had none and wanted to run wild. My little monster wasn't easily tractable or particularly kind. But he did serve a purpose at times.
"Natasha, we'll deal with DB later. I have a few friends who've been keeping an eye on him for you and Simon," Harry was reading me again. I didn't mind because I would need help putting that vampire down.
"Thanks, Harry. He went too far this time." I said the obvious.
"Sure, but then it's hard to keep a fledgling when they want free." We both brooded on that as we neared the beach. I was glad to see we were heading north not towards the south. Pacific Beach was a bit too hot for us with the werewolves prowling to kill some vampires. The whole vampire/werewolf wedding was causing enough trouble but the fighting at Dark Whispers and slaying of Jessie and Buddy was pushing at everybody's nerves. The werewolves traveled in packs and were out for blood nearly as much as the vampires. Vampires tended to run alone or with another vampire -- not much more than that.
We got off the freeway and wound through the side streets and ended up at a house perched over a beach north of La Jolla. The driveway had been gated and Harry coded us inside. I appreciated the distance between the road and the door. There were two other cars parked in the drive, neither familiar to me.
"Company?" I asked casually while steeling myself for bad news.
"Not yet. The Chinese won't arrive for another few minutes. Those are spare cars. I don't like to be caught unawares." I had to hand it to Harry, he did things with class. The palm trees lining the driveway swayed, reminding me of the fires burning in the East County. The house was alarmed and Harry made short work of the security. He gave me a code in case I felt the need to go out and catch a few morning rays. Dawn was an hour or so away and I doubted I'd be dashing out to see what was shaking. I just wanted to eat and sleep.
The Chinese food arrived and we both had our own donors. I loved city life. We could dial up any time of night and the restaurant would send over human donors. My young man was smiling and talking about going to college at the university. He was pre-med and excited about studying with some of the notable professors. I sipped from the boy slowly and enjoyed his thoughts of school and how he wanted to ask the girl out that Harry was feeding from in the kitchen. Harry had politely taken his gal to the kitchen when they arrived along with the bag of food they brought. Soon I was sealing off the punctures on his neck with my saliva. I pushed thoughts of studying and being a good son into his mind while erasing any thoughts of my drinking from him. He was malleable and Harry came back with the girl looking slightly disheveled and somewhat aroused. He brought with him two energy drinks that he gave to them along with a few twenties. They left ignorant and dehydrated.
Harry showed me to the guest room and I was happy to see a large bed and thick comforter on top.
"Harry, thanks it looks great."
"And there are some spare clothes in the dresser you are welcome to use. I'll see you tomorrow." With that he said goodnight and let me explore.
I peeked into the dresser and was happy to see clothes that weren't pink. I stripped out of the nasty clothes I'd been wearing forever and quickly fell to sleep. I didn't wake until late afternoon. I'd slept well on the large bed. I cleaned up and picked out an outfit from the drawers. The choices were more to my taste. I found some black jeans that fit okay and a nice dark purple silk shirt. The bikini top still acted as a bra, not as though I needed one, but because the silk was a bit clingy and I didn't need to attract any more notice. We had about an hour before we were to meet up with Renee and her werewolves. My boots weren't too bad for all the abuse I'd put them through and I pulled them on with a sigh. I hated borrowed footwear nearly as much as pink clothing.
Reluctantly I found myself drawn to the flat screen TV I'd ignored until then. I picked up the remote and switched on the local station. Sure enough, the afternoon news was covering the East County Fire Storm. That's what it'd become overnight. The compound had been determined as the center but they'd yet to assign it a name. But the red rolling news feed on the bottom of the screen proved to be more informative than the two television personalities trying to work their botoxed faces into semblance of concern. Ignoring them, I read that the fire had broken out late the night before and burned out a few houses in a remote area. Then when dawn broke it turned up the heat and wind causing the flames to spread. The relief centers were listed along with neighborhoods that must be evacuated at once. Sighing, I shut off the TV and went to find Harry.
He was in the living room watching a large plasma TV with a stunned look on his face.
"Natasha, have you seen this?" He gestured to the huge flames licking up the side of a dry hillside. The shot had been taken a distance away but still showed the blaze. There weren't any firemen with hoses trying to quench the fire but helicopters dropping buckets of flame retardant material that plumed down in shocking pink waves. I didn't see that there was a real handle on the fires and from an inset map it appeared that the initial fire had spread out in three directions. A backfire lit went awry and started a fire to the north that was shooting up the canyons making horse breeders nervous and wildlife run through the streets trying to escape the inferno.
"Yes, I saw some of it in the bedroom while I got dressed." I didn't feel the need to add anything more. The news wasn't welcome but not unexpected. "This can't be good for the werewolves."
Harry shook his head. He cut to the chase.
"Actually, it'll work out even better. In the weeks it'll take to get the fires under control they can spin what they need and clean up the evidence where they can." Silently I watched as the fires as they danced upon the big screen and the scrolling news feed started reporting the number of suspected dead and how much of the fires were under control. Zero was pretty much the percentage of containment but the body count was clocking in around thirty but nobody was certain because there were too many hot spots on Archer's acres. It was an ominous start to the day.
To be continued ...