Fingering the piece of paper I'd been given at the hotel front desk, I was grinning at the news. Uncle Harry had received my urgent message and booked me a flight sooner than my scheduled one a week later. I didn't like the way things kept happening around me. I was trying to be the typical American tourist, and stumbled upon an ancient death cult sort of temple that seemed to be aimed at supernatural creatures with the odd human thrown in for 'fun.' And that medicine woman who knew the tour guide had some idea that I wasn't in the least the typical tourist. Add in Charlie -- the younger brother of the tour guide Johnny -- the whole play was written with me dead by the final act. I would pass on that. And now I had proof that Uncle Harry had heard my plea. I grinned stupidly at the note detailing my flight out of Indonesia.
Unsaid was how much it all cost. Knowing Uncle Harry, I'd be flying business class at the least, and it was far less painful than coach and more comfortable than popping in and out of phase. I knew it would take a full day to get back to the States. I didn't even care where I'd be landing, because once I cleared customs and got a cab to whatever urban hub Uncle Harry'd picked as my destination, I'd phase to wherever I wanted. It wouldn't necessarily be proper but it would work in my world as I traveled and didn't use my 'gifts' to make it home. It would be nice to have real passport stamps on record instead of paying a tidy sum to fake them.
The phone stopped ringing finally, and I looked at the cream-colored wax-sealed envelope with caution. The desk clerk had all but thrown it at me when I was busy hanging up on the oddity trying to talk me into something slimy. The tainted feeling hadn't disappeared since I'd hung up the phone in the lobby. I knew it was an ancient creature that didn't much care for me. I wasn't fish or fowl -- neither a true human nor a pure supernatural creature. I fell somewhere else, hence the major bounty on my dead ass. The envelope didn't smell like magic, so whoever had sent it to me was human, or at least it was crafted and sent by a human's hands. No brimstone scent either, so it hadn't been sent over from the Dark Side. But still my heart was beating a bit faster than I cared for -- a heavy thumping sound mirrored my racing pulse and causing me to jump. A fist was pounding on the door. Reluctantly I went to see who it was. The rapid staccato beating on the solid door was annoying.
The hotel didn't have peepholes like most typical hotels. I guess they figured anyone going to the rooms had to pass through the lobby and the constantly-manned front desk. There was someone always on duty acting as clerk and pseudo-guards slash security for the high paying guests. I was slightly surprised to find another member of the staff standing on the other side of the thick door. I had half expected to find my annoying tablemate from breakfast. Not that I'd ever mentioned my name much less room number to the woman, but those sort of people could be bloodhounds once they got on a trail. And I didn't think that 'old lady Babcock' had persistence coupled with a litany of illness that I felt could possibly be psychosomatic if not self-induced -- despite her soft lilting voice and slight size.
"Missy, you don't answer. Phone call for you. Long distance." The man wasn't the kid who'd found me at breakfast, or the desk clerk who'd given me the mysterious envelope. He was in his early twenties like most of the hotel staff. He had straight black, shiny hair, dark brown eyes and a dark complexion, like he spent his non-working hours outside. But from what I'd seen during the various tours of the Indonesian islands, most of the people spent much of their free time outside. Air conditioning was a luxury, and I'd found out from the tour group I'd been with that not all the hotels even had air conditioning. Guests paid extra to be able to chill the tropical climate down below the mid-eighties. I'd paid the premium prices, but only set the thermostats around seventy-eight. Anything below that felt like I was going into a meat locker after being outside in the heat and humidity.
"Yes, thank you. Please take a message," I physically barred the guy at the door as the phone began to jangle again behind me in the room. The bell sound was driving him crazy, I could tell. Not everyone could resist answering calls. I, on the other hand, had no trouble. I tried not to let someone else's emergency become mine whenever possible.
His eyes were huge, but from what I could see still quite human -- he wasn't a meat-puppet for some unseen deity or oddity, deity or oddity either way beyond creepy. I still wasn't sure which type of creature had been controlling Charlie. Nothing I wanted to meet in a dark alley, that was for sure.
"Could you also relay to the front desk that I'll be checking out in about an hour and need a ride to the airport, please?" With that I firmly shut the door and grinned. I knew that the front desk was already likely quite aware of my changed plans because of Uncle Harry's message that had been left simply folded in the lobby cubbyholes where anyone could snoop. The phone continued to jangle and I went to see if there was a ringer I could turn down. Instead I ended up unplugging the phone line from the back of the base of the phone. The line looked to me like a thin snake waiting to strike who or whatever was on the other end, which meant to me nothing but harm. Add in that my ears were still ringing slightly. I grabbed my other piece of luggage and tossed my few possessions in the bag.
The envelope didn't disappear or move, much less do anything but rest on the top of the hardwood desk in the corner of the room. I didn't know why it bothered me, but I still was pondering the bright blue chalk 'Good Morning' message with the smiley face, coupled with the empty temple, the crazy driver and bizarre phone call -- all incidents could be easily blown off. Together they seemed far more foreboding.
In my thoughts I could hear Uncle Harry cautioning me, "Emma, my dear Magpie, you are in over your head. Go slow -- risk nothing -- make it home safe." He wasn't mentally popping into my mind, but his views and thoughts had long chased me around the world. Much to my dismay and his great amusement. In the past I'd often mistaken his imagined cautions to be real, and made the mistake of answering -- after a few laughs and chides from him I learned to keep my own council and wait for more than just stray thoughts. Uncle Harry gave me lots of room to screw up even while popping in and out of my mind, but I didn't want to push it. He was the closest thing to family I knew. A vampire and me, unbelievable but true. I wasn't vamp or anything really known but he accepted me as if I was one of his clan. I never took it for granted. It wasn't like there were many creatures or humans who cared about me or even knew about me. I pushed those negative thoughts aside and pondered my options. Packing took all of ten minutes. It wasn't like I'd brought a ton of clothes with me, and I wasn't big on shopping for trinkets. The pretties I liked weren't usually for sale as a rule, and often well off the beaten track of the typical tourist train of guided tours. That I hadn't even been tempted to look for a treasure room in that creepy abattoir was rare. I'd decided the temple had been used more as a slaughterhouse for supernatural creatures than a place of worship. A shudder ran down my spine as the entire set up still danced in my mind. Coupled with Charlie's strange maniacal driving, the lightning, the chalked greeting and the call, I was on someone's radar. Finally I took a finger and pulled the flap of the back of the packet popping off the thick wax seal with a decisive snap.
The impression in the wax had a vague design with a single stylized chop. Seeing that, some ancient Chinese symbols quickly flew through my mind. The wax was orangish-red and the symbols cryptic to me. I picked up the button-sized seal and looked at it carefully. The markings were deliberate not a random cross-hatching of swirls and lines.
Once I'd broken the seal on the envelope something snapped inside me, and it was suddenly imperative that I find out what was so important that the desk clerk was sent to personally deliver the missive while I was on the phone in the lobby with that creepy creature. Giving a glance at the unplugged phone, I ruefully concluded that possibly I wasn't exactly the easiest person to get a hold of at times.
I sat in a hard-backed chair at the secretary desk in the room and cautiously pulled out the page. It was the same type of paper as was used to construct the envelope -- pricey and eye-catching, I thought. The stationary was part of a set as far as my fingers and eyes could tell. The ink was again the black neatly-sketched writing, the same hand that had written the hotel name and my room number wrote the contents of the letter.
From the first line I was captivated:
If you are reading this letter it means that you are still alive and in Indonesia. You are being watched. Do not try to talk to the creature. It will turn your thoughts inside out and make you do forbidden things. We will watch over you as best we can. Your future is tied to ours -- if you die we all follow. Trust only those who greet the night. Hide carefully.
That was the end of the cryptic message. Then I noticed that there was a slight bump in the envelope. I shook out a small piece of jade. There was a slight etching on it of some nature. It wasn't an ancient piece but I still found it pretty. It was about the size of a nickel maybe a bit larger and flat. I was pretty sure it was some sort of token, protection magic from the human class. There was no scent of wild real magic on the piece.
Turning it over in my hands, I nodded to myself and slid it back into the envelope. I folded the warning letter and stuffed it inside the envelope and put the missive deep inside my backpack. Knowing somewhat how Indonesia worked after traveling the country for the better part of a month, I figured that I better get to the desk and start the checkout process. A bribe for transportation to the airport would more than likely be needed. Since my reputation seemed to be preceding me everywhere, I decided to head to the lobby instead of killing a half hour in the sterile room. It wasn't past midmorning, but I could feel the pressure of too much interest pushing in on me. I really wanted to avoid any more unwanted attention, but I seemed to be failing at that, too.
I plugged the phone line back into the base just in time to listen to it cut off mid-ring. I assumed that it had been ringing on and off since the porter had left. Grabbing the key and locking the door, I put my backpack over my shoulders and hefted my duffle bag, and schlepped my way back to the front desk. It was with mild disbelief I watched the older woman, who'd been called 'old lady Babcock' by the staff earlier, filling up her cup halfway and grabbing a plate and a single piece of toast from the still-brimming brunch buffet tables.