"You should get some sleep, Nikola," I say as I finish off my drink and press the cup flat again. I really should have gotten some cooking supplies yesterday.
"Thank you, but I have been unable to still my thoughts enough to do so," Nikola explains softly. He glances over at our weapons in the corner nearest the door. "Do you believe we will need them?"
I sit on the edge of the bed and let out a sigh. "Hopefully not, but it's better to be prepared just in case."
"When I was a boy, there was a war," he begins. "My family was frightened for me, as I was the only son. The military required service for all capable men."
I nod and let him continue.
"But I did not fight," Nikola says. He pauses and collects himself. "I am no fighter."
I try to think back on my research of Nikola Tesla. The war he's referring to was probably the one that lead to his family sending him on a 'hunting trip' in the mountains when he was about eighteen. He survived alone in the wilderness for at least a year before going to college. It had sounded like it was a lot for a teenager to handle.
"You may not be a fighter," I say. "But you are a survivor and that's what we need to focus on right now. Surviving."
He looks up at me, his eyes a bit brighter. "Thank you, Rhys. I believe I may be able to shut my eyes no-"
It feels like the air is sucked out of the middle of the room just before it's replaced by a figure wearing dark purple robes with silver embroidered floral designs on the sleeves and collar. I lock eyes with the person, it's the elf mage who warned me before kicking me out of the castle. She's still beautiful despite looking concerned and exhausted as hell as she looks around the room.
"What are you doing here?" She asks frantically. "This is Centrum. Why are you here? He's coming for you."
Nikola stares up at her then looks over at me as Merlin starts to stir from where she's been sleeping. I get up from where I've been sitting on the bed.
"What do you mean?" I ask. "Who's coming for us?"
"I told you to run," the elf mage says before collapsing. I barely manage to grab her before her head hits the wooden floor. She feels feverish, her brow hot and damp with sweat, but I have no way of knowing if that's normal for an elf.
"Holy crap," Merlin says.
"Help me get her on the bed," I say.
The three of us pick up the elf woman and move her. The light in the room is too dim for me to tell if her dark skin is paler than when I first met her or not.
"What are we going to do?" Merlin asks. "She's sick, right?"
I nod. "I think so. Did she tell you two to 'run' or just 'leave?' When she kicked me out of the castle she said to 'leave as quickly as possible' or something."
Nikola looks down and narrows his eyes. "I believe she said 'leave this place quickly' but I admit I thought she meant the castle itself."
"She said something like that to me too," Merlin says.
"I think she probably meant the city," I say. "Given that she was surprised to find us still in Centrum just now. And someone's coming for us? I didn't like the way she said that."
"Why, though?" Merlin asks crossing her arms. "Why did she show up in our hotel room? Why would someone even be after us?"
She was here to warn us, I think to myself.
"I don't know. We don't have enough information, but I think we should check out early. Grab your things and be ready to leave in ten minutes at most," I say.
"What about her?" Nikola asks.
"We're taking her with us. I'll carry her on my back, under my cloak. If she was running from someone or something that should help disguise her a bit. Merlin, you're gonna carry my backpack since you're more used to weight. Nikola, you will carry both of y'all's satchels, okay?"
No one objects and we get ready. Nikola keeps his eyes locked on the unconscious elf woman as Merlin and I dress. He even shields the sides of his eyes with cupped hands. When we're done we assure him neither of us will watch him dress. Despite him being hesitant to put on his suit while we're still in the room it still only takes us about fifteen minutes to be loaded up and ready to leave.
Merlin and Nikola follow me as I awkwardly carry the elf under my cloak. Thank goodness my boots give me super strength, she feels like she weighs a little less than my fully loaded backpack without the strength magic. I freeze when we get to the tavern area downstairs because it's packed with people in rather fancy clothing mingling with one another. Two very handsome men speak to New Look at the bar, until they notice me and glance over with crimson eyes.
"These must be your other guests," the tall man with short dark hair and warm dark colored skin says with a smile that reveals he does in fact have very pointed teeth. "It seems our schedules have had us missing one another during our stay."
"Um..." I mumble.
"Forgive my husband," a beefier looking man with wavy strawberry blond hair says as he pats the dark haired man on the shoulder. He bows. "The family Vandrigen is honored to meet you."
"It's an honor to meet you as well," I say as I force myself to draw closer. I notice Nikola and Merlin are still hanging back and I can not blame them. They had to have seen these guys' fangs. I release one of the elf's legs so I can set our room keys on the counter for New to take. "We're checking out today."
New smiles and is about to take the keys when a woman, who is suddenly at my right, places her hand on them instead. She looks down at me and tilts her head before smirking.
"Ingrid, Va'al, Annika, Deirso, you will be using this room from now on," the vampire woman with pale skin and long crimson hair says. She places a sack of coins on the counter closer to New. "Should anyone ask they've been using this room the entirety of our stay, no one else."
My heart skips a beat.
These vampires are covering for us?
New takes the sack of coins. "Of course, Lady Vandrigen."
I awkwardly bow as I grab the unconscious elf's leg under my cloak and hike her back up on my back. It's hard to give someone a piggy back ride when they're not awake.
I hope she's not dead.
The vampires watch me as I back up nervously. "Thank you for giving us a room here, New. I'm sorry we can't stay any longer."
"It's no problem, you've been fine tenants. Please do remember us should you ever be in town again," she replies with a smile. "There will always be a room for you at the Look Inn."
Wait! That's the name of this inn?
"My husbands and I wish you and your party safe travels," Lady Vandrigen says. "May the Blessed Shadow of Night cloak and protect you on your journey."
Nikola and Merlin follow me through the crowd of vampires. They appear to be different ages, skin tones, genders, all look like a wide assortment of humanity at first glance at least until you see their red eyes and teeth. Some have slightly more pointed ears than others and I wonder if that's because they're vampires or if they were once elves. Does a human become a vampire if they get bitten and does that make their ears get pointy? None of them make any threatening moves as we leave. I lean back in the door after we exit.
"Thank you again! For everything," I say just short of shouting.
New smiles and the vampires near her nod silently.
Nikola and Merlin stay quiet as we walk down the dark street for a few blocks before they both break the silence.
"That was nuts," Merlin says.
"Highly unusual. I couldn't help but feel intimidated by those people," Nikola replies. "I can't explain it. They seemed rather...unsettling."
I glance back at them. "I...kinda learned last night the rest of the inn was rented out by vampires, but..."
"Vampires?" Nikola raises an eyebrow.
"Like Dracula," Merlin explains. "You know, spooky Eastern European guy from the Bram Stoker book?"
"It wasn't published till 1897," I say as I start walking again. "At best Nikola might have heard of Varney."
"I am familiar with the name 'Varney' but I have not read it," Nikola says. "I have heard of vampires of folklore, however. They feed on vitality in most legends." He adds,"Blood."
"Yeah," I say. "Let's not focus on that and instead think about how they're totally covering for us."
"What?" Nikola and Merlin say at the same time.
"I'll explain when we get to the shoe shop."