“So?” Jo demanded abruptly. “What did Jean say, anyway? We’re not trying to intervene with your relationship with your daughter or anything, but whatever she knows could affect us. It’s only fair we should know.”
Cynthia made a sour face but went ahead and answered. “Jean…was deliberately vague. You have to understand, I might be her mother, but techno vampires have loyalty to other techno vampires – even if they’ve never met. If there is one working for these Hunters, she won’t tell me, and it might explain why she’s being so cryptic about it.”
Jo snorted. “So she might actually know there’s one, yet she’s willing to send us up against them knowing full well they could blow our entire operation and distribute our identity to Hunters, and she’s fine with that? Sounds like she’s either trying to play at playmaster pulling all the strings behind the scenes or she wants to get us killed.”
“Not the later,” Cynthia answered instantly, a frown coming across her face. “She doesn’t want to see us dead, I know that for sure. In fact,” she paused for a long moment, pondering, “she was the one who found the phoenix for me. Maybe she’s thinking the same thing we are – that the phoenix might be the answer to our problems.”
Jo threw her hands in the air, a mixture of exasperation and annoyance seeping from her. “And that doesn’t read manipulative to you? She knows a lot more than she’s saying! She knows if there’s a techno vampire involved, for crying out loud! But instead of just being straightforward about it, she’s over here sending you clients and contacts in some sort of cryptic attempt to get done what needs to happen. Why not just say it outright?”
“Jo, relax,” George interjected. “Yeah, she probably knows more than she’s saying, but we don’t know why she’s not willing to tell us – maybe just because of loyalties to techno vampires or maybe some other reason. Whatever the reason is, though, she is trying to help us. She’s alerted us to the clan and potentially provided us the means to deal with it. Yeah, we may have questions for her, but I don’t think we’re going to get answers now. Let’s focus on figuring out how to deal with the clan, then we’ll see if she’s willing to talk.”
Jo grumbled but Cynthia looked relieved, and I decided to try to take George’s diversion and run with it. Sure, we were all aware that Jean probably knew more than she was telling us and it was frustrating that she wouldn’t tell us, but George was right. Jean might have very good reasons she couldn’t talk and she was at least trying to provide us with the information we needed.
“So, we get the traps set out for the rats,” I began, “and maybe that’ll provide us some information. Actually, can we potentially put a tracker on one of them and release it to go back? Or would that even help anything?”
George rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe, yes, I could definitely come up with something to attach to a rat that would track it, but realistically, they’re probably going to be right outside the building, or at least nearby. Chances are they’d notice a tracker pretty quickly and dump it.”
“If they’re right outside, couldn’t you deal with them then?” Lynn asked curiously. “Part of the problem is knowing who they are and how many there are, right? But if they hang out at his place, then can’t we identify them that way?”
“Ian has cameras up at his place,” Cynthia’s tone was calmer now, back to business as normal, “but they haven’t shown anything, which freaks him out. There is a possibility we’re looking at invisibility potions, but I think there’s a simpler answer – if they have a techno vampire, it’d be pretty easy for the vampire to hack the cameras and loop them so they wouldn’t show anything. So while we were there, we set up some old analog cameras. The vampire would have to directly access them to hack them because they’re not hooked up to the internet, and they’re inside where the vampire won’t go. We also hid them so hopefully they won’t even realize there are additional cameras set up. The clan doesn’t seem to visit every night, but if and when they do drop by next, hopefully we’ll get some info as far as numbers and identities.”
“And the rest of Ian’s info?” I asked curiously. “The times he thought he was being followed? Have you been able to find any information from that?”
Cynthia sighed. “I’m not as good a hacker as a techno vampire, but I can get into some things. I’ve managed to get access to a couple of shops’ cameras that would have recorded the street on days Ian thought he was being followed and he would have passed by the shop. But he never appears on the film. So either he’s misremembering the days he went places – which seems unlikely, he gave us receipts and things that confirm his story – or more likely the video was already hacked and overwritten with another day’s activity. Point is, no. I can’t find proof of whoever is following him.”
Jo grunted. “This clan is thorough, I’ll give them that.”
“It’s probably not just to cover their tracks,” Cynthia mused. “It’s also part of their scare tactic. Look at Ian – if he goes to the police or to anyone else for help, they’re not going to believe him because there seems to be no proof. Even he himself is getting freaked out with the invasions into his house without any signs of someone on camera. It’s part of the game they play, and it serves the double purpose of protecting them.”
Honestly, hacking into every camera on a street that might show them sounded like a lot of work – unless someone was a techno vampire and could hack cameras easily. The more I heard, the more I was convinced a techno vampire was involved.
Although that begged two big questions. First, did the Hunters know the vampire was such, and if they were indeed aware that they were a supernatural, why were they okay with that? And second, why was the vampire helping them but not destroying all supernaturals in the process? Obviously a techno vampire working for Hunters could have the potential to destroy a lot of people, and Hunters wanted to destroy supernaturals, but somehow that hadn’t happened. So if this was a techno vampire, what was going on here?
We had no answers to those questions – or really to almost any of our questions – by the time our guests arrived.
The phoenix was not exactly what I expected. She was tall, at least as tall as I was, had half her head shaved, and had piercings running up and down her visible ear. Her eyes felt almost like they were burning deep down, but maybe that was just me reading into it because I knew what she was.
The ghost, on the other hand…I couldn’t see. Cynthia helpfully found me a picture of the ghost from when she was still alive – apparently she’d been on TV some decades ago – but had told me that the ghost dressed more like a “rocker chick” now, whatever that translated into. I kind of wished I could see her, because I was curious, but unfortunately, humans couldn’t see or hear ghosts so I was kind of stuck.
Cynthia took up introductions after they arrived. “So I’m Cynthia. I’m a witch, I generally handle the technical side of things, locating clans, that sort of thing.” She glanced at us. “I explained to them what we did before inviting them,” she clarified briefly. “So they know the basics. The rest of the team is George, a rhino shifter; Jo, a demon; and August, our human who’s been in charge of infiltrating the Hunter clans. Once he figures out who is guilty and who isn’t, I prepare some potions that he uses on them and then George and Jo show up to handle things.” She paused for just a moment. “Then we take the people we think deserve a second chance to our friend Gil, another human, but a doctor. After giving them memory potions so they won’t remember August or any of their Hunter clan. It’s worked pretty well, but it’s not something we can maintain. Which is not a discussion for now.” She shook herself lightly. “The other one is Lynn, she’s a…guest, I guess? A friend. She was being held by one of the last Hunter clans we dealt with because she’s an alchie and can turn things to gold, so they wanted unlimited wealth.”
The phoenix crossed her arms and raised one eyebrow as she looked at Lynn. “Pretty poor excuse to limit someone’s life like that. Money is a convenience, but hardly worth imprisoning someone over.” She glanced at the empty space next to her and paused for a second, then shrugged slightly. “Fine, I suppose I don’t see things the same way most people do. I’ve been around for a very long time and money is simply…not important.”
Lynn seemed to appreciate that thought, maybe just because some people in her past had only cared about her ability to make endless wealth for them, and I was glad she was happy, but I was still curious about the phoenix and the ghost I couldn’t see.
“This is Cyra, or at least that’s what she goes by,” Cynthia told us. “Phoenix don’t give their real names out, so don’t ask,” she added. I presumed that was more directed at me than anyone else since I wasn’t as familiar with supernatural rules, but I was also not a particularly curious person and probably never would have thought to ask her her real name, so maybe it was more directed at George, who would be curious about that. Or even Jo, who probably would feel offended that someone wouldn’t even share their real name, suggesting they might not trust us fully, yet we were supposed to be working with them. Maybe. Depending on how things went.
“And the ghost is Cassie. Um,” she glanced at me, then back at the empty space, “I realize we have a bit of a communication barrier between Cassie and August, unfortunately, but I haven’t come up with a way to counter that.”
She paused for a moment, presumably listening to something the ghost said, and then looked almost embarrassed. “Oh. Right, I forgot – I don’t deal much with ghosts, to be honest. I didn’t realize you could interact with things that much.”
I was about to ask her what she meant when a pen on the table started moving and before long a piece of paper was shoved in my direction.
Hi, I’m Cassie, it read. Nice to meet you.
I looked back up with a smile at the invisible ghost. “Thank you, it’s nice to meet you, too. Even if I can’t see you. Um, you can hear me just fine, right?” I suddenly wondered if the communication difficulties were unidirectional.
Yes, the ghost wrote on the paper. I can see and hear you just fine.
“Good.” Cynthia seemed pleased with that. “Then we can all communicate, although if Cassie says something and doesn’t write it down, one of us should relay it to August.”
The phoenix tapped her fingertips against the table. “Which I presume brings us to the point of this visit? Not that it’s not nice to meet new people and all, but I don’t even deal much with online so I’m kind of impressed you could even find me, and then it turns out you hunt Hunters and while I’m intrigued, I’m not sure what that has to do with us.”
Cynthia took a deep breath. “Actually, my daughter, a techno vampire, found you. And I think she found you because she knew…we need your help.”
As briefly as possible, Cynthia explained the situation with Ian and the Hunter clan we couldn’t deal with our normal way. To my surprise, she also went ahead and explained about our planned shift in focus and complications that came with it, and then was blunt about how she – we – thought that they could potentially help when clans were located and do what we had been doing, only with a lot less risk. Well, a lot less risk to everyone but the phoenix.
The phoenix raised one eyebrow during this part. “You want us to help you,” she stated slowly.
“We want you to consider it,” Cynthia amended.
I interjected before she could continue. “We don’t actually know if this is even a long-term solution, which kind of depends on you. I don’t know how painful it is for you to die and regardless, what we’re asking isn’t easy, so it’s not exactly something we’re suggesting lightly. Mostly, though, we’re hoping for your help with the clan hunting Ian. We don’t have a good way to fight a clan head on and if we brought a bunch of supernaturals with us, if we could even recruit some, it’s possible they’d just back off and wait until we think they’ve given up. We need a solution that looks like something they can handle, even if it isn’t actually.”
“Like a single person.” She leaned back in her chair, her arms folded across her chest. “Dying does hurt, by the way, every time, but I’m also somewhat desensitized to it. Since I know I won’t die permanently, it means less to me. I’ve never thought of using my death as a deliberate weapon, but against Hunters…maybe. Cassie and I will have to talk about that. As far as this current clan, tell me more of what you have in mind.”