When you think of a bunch of uber supernatural beings getting together for a summit on how to handle a potential catastrophe, you picture something like a great stone table, torches, meeting at midnight, and so on. What you don’t expect is a hotel restaurant being paid handsomely to close early and shoo off the other diners for an impromptu gathering, because meeting at any of the beings’ locations would give them some kind of unfair advantage. Not to mention, dusk was barely scraping the sky when we arrived. Talk about a letdown on a stereotype.
We were the first to arrive, or at least the first of anyone who would be allowed to speak; there were plenty of bodyguard types scoping the place out to make sure it was safe. They wandered about, not trying to be inconspicuous, though I was sure there were some we couldn’t detect. Bodyguards could be like cops–for every one you see, there is probably one you don’t.
It was a nice hotel, meaning I would have never seen the inside of it, short of being hired here–if I was even able to do that. The creole marble of the pillars and floor glimmered with a variety of spells, and made me somewhat ill with something close to seasickness as we walked across the foyer to reach the restaurant. Even an establishment that catered to primarily humans would have spells laid throughout the foundation and various points; it was always nice to have that extra oomph to reassure guests.
The restaurant appeared as though it might have doubled as a ballroom, once upon a time, when such things were more in fashion. Beautiful golden chandeliers with at least a hundred lights each and glittering teardrop crystals hung from the ceiling, which had a gorgeous, golden star-burst pattern overlaid on the white, textured ceiling. Most of the tables had been pushed aside for one, long one capable of seating roughly twenty or so people. The French doors along the right side of the ballroom were all closed, and curtains were drawn so that all the light came from the chandeliers, and I was sure the doors likely led to a breathtaking garden of some kind.
Oliver motioned for me to sit in the seat next to him while we waited, and I did my best not to fiddle with the crisp, white tablecloth, or the place setting in front of me which seemed to be lined in real gold paint. I would have felt out of place no matter what, but throw in the fact that we’d come here straight from the storm drain, I was worried we might offend someone with our smell, or my dirty cloths. Somehow, Oliver had maintained his nice suit just fine, and none of the day’s terrifyingly exciting activities had an adverse effect on his appearance.
I tried to smooth my hair down, and considered pulling the beanie from the pocket in my coat, but years of being told, ‘no hats at the table!’, meant it would likely stay tucked away.
“Don’t worry–you look fine, Sophie, but you need to stop fidgeting because you’re making me nervous,” he said, cool as a cucumber, his voice and accent a low rumble right near my ear. I scoffed to hide my involuntary shiver at his warm breath on my neck, but folded my hands over my stomach and leaned back into the comfortably upholstered chair.
“Easy for you to say. I bet you could be wearing the garbage from the storm drain, and all you’d have to do is flash a smile and people would fawn over you,” I grumbled, and kept my eyes firmly fixed on the edge of the table.
He laughed, but didn’t deny the accusation wrapped compliment.
“Too right, child. Our Oliver is certainly a lovely creature, is he not?” The voice was soft, feminine, French, and expensive. I don’t know how a voice could be expensive, as though diamonds could drip from her words on the air, but somehow she managed.
I turned to my left to see a woman flanked by three, a-typical, black-suited bodyguards. She was all soft curves, russet curls artfully swept up in a French twist, full, red lips that probably came with a name called Devil Red, and a wicked, dazzling white smile to match. She wore a white evening gown, whose bodice dipped dangerously low, displaying a lovely V of cinnamon brushed skin and ample bosom.
If I wasn’t intimidated enough, when she turned to look from Oliver to me, an overlaid image of her sea-green eyes turning a dull red, her face elongating into something monstrous and thin, and her upper and lower canines and lateral incisors extending to fangs, helped push me over the edge. When she stopped the small movement the image faded, but I still sucked in a sharp breath.
Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. I, the scared rabbit, could scarcely breathe let alone move. She opened her mouth to say something, but Oliver deftly stepped between the two of us. I hadn’t even seen him move.
“Mignonette, what a lovely surprise. I was expecting Renate to come for the vampires.” Oliver took one of her hands and brushed a light kiss across her knuckles.
“No need to stoop to such formalities, Oliver; we are here under a decree of neutrality in light of the circumstances, and I will not blacken that for your pet,” she said, amusement playing across her face. All except in her eyes, where it was obvious she was far from dissuaded where her interest in me was concerned.
Vampires. Ugh. I was already regretting coming here before this joyful revelation, but Vampires actively hunted Mids. Most other species would simply eat us if they happened upon us, but Vampires especially loved Mids, because no matter how much they bit us we couldn’t turn into one of them.
“I’m nobody’s pet,” I said evenly, before Oliver could reply. I could almost hear his exasperation from the slight slump in his shoulders, as the Vampire’s eyes narrowed.
“What a mouthy little snack,” she hissed, all pretense of humor gone.
I harrumphed and raised an eyebrow. “You supernaturals need to get better insults–I’ve heard something like that already today.” Some might applaud my bravery, or mourn my stupidity, but false bravado was better than cowering fright. One might make her more cautious about trying to take me later, whereas if she thought I was an easy meal she’d take me without batting an eyelash.
“Mignonette, behave, or I shall have to tell Renate you are being a less than gracious representative,” a gruff, Russian-accented voice said from behind them all. It was the longest sentence I had ever heard my landlord say. A Faery fart could have knocked me over, as my brain scrambled to process what was going on.
“Viktor,” Mignonette spat and turned to face the newcomer, “if there are any here who have no grace, it would be you, Vucari vermin.”
Viktor’s laugh rumbled like rocks tumbling down a hill. “The insults of an ant means little to the bottom of a boot,” he retorted, moving to the side for more space, and meeting my eyes to give me a quick wink.
He cleaned up nicely for a landlord/building super, though he wasn’t in formal attire like Mignonette and her entourage. Just a nice pair of jeans, black work boots, grey t-shirt to match his eyes, and a black, lightweight jacket that almost looked like a canvas material. With his hair slicked back and away from his face, the triangle of silver at his temples was more apparent, and made his square jaw look stronger. His posture was better, and his body looked stronger, in a lean way, than the one he’d projected each time I saw him. It was amazing how a little stooping can make someone appear so harmless.
Mignonette’s hands, whose fingers were longer and seemingly sporting an extra joint than they had a minute ago, curved into claws, ready to strike out at Viktor.
“Enough! All of you!” A voice thundered down, and I swore the crystals in the chandeliers rattled. Viktor dropped his smirk, but amusement still danced in his nearly black eyes, and Mignonette’s shoulders tightened and her spine straightened at the reprimand.
“Find a place to sit while we wait for the others,” the man, who I couldn’t see through all the bodies, continued, and thunder rolled like a grumble through the restaurant. While the intensity toned down, the level of command was clear as a bell.
Viktor stepped around Mignonette, and took a place on my left, while Oliver sat back down on my right. A still scowling Mignonette shook out her hands, sniffed disdainfully, and sat down as far down the right side, and across, the table from us as she could. The three bodyguards took up posts near her.
I got my first look at the man who talked down an angry Vampire, and commanded obedience from a Werewolf–or Vucari, the Slavic equivalent. While Viktor was roughly around 40 in human years, this man was older, perhaps in his 60s. His beard was dark, and neatly trimmed close to his face, while his uniform, steel grey hair was cut shorter than was usually depicted in the sculptures. He was well-muscled beneath the tailored suit of dark grey, though he was admittedly shorter than I had imagined.
Zeus leveled a stormy look with his strikingly blue eyes to everyone at the table, including me. I was appropriately awed, and put in my place, which I showed by ducking my head. I didn’t know what his true form looked like, but I imagined I didn’t want to See that while he was so close and could potentially blind me. Gods, even ones who had few worshipers these days, were shiny and difficult to look at. The more people who still kept their belief in them, the brighter they were. Given that Zeus wasn’t exactly some difficultly named Mayan god that had a handful of believers, I’d bet the paycheck I wasn’t earning at the moment that I wouldn’t want to see him with his proverbial mask off.
“Do not worry, kotyonok, I will keep the little Vampires and grumbling gods from gobbling you up,” Viktor said under his breath, the merriment in his words eliciting a small huff of laughter from me.
“Yes, but who will keep me safe from the big bad wolf?” I half asked, and half joked. No supernatural offers their protection for free–not even someone who might be as nice to me as my landlord.
He laughed, but didn’t deny the title or the undertone of the question, and when I looked his teeth were bared in a friendly, if not a little fierce, grin.
“I will,” said Oliver.
Though the mirth didn’t leave his expression completely, Viktor tilted his head in consideration, then dipped it in acknowledgement to Oliver’s words.
Two big, bad protectors on either side of me, but as Zeus looked on from where he hadn’t moved, Mignonette seethed and shot me murderous looks, and more people were entering the dining room, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be enough.