“Ah, Cerdic. Just the clerk I was looking for.”
Cerdic looked up from the drawer he was putting folders in. “Mr. O Cuidighthigh?” Before there was a response he added, “did I pronounce that right this time?”
“Close enough.” He handed Cerdic a piece of paper. “When did you put in for a vacation?”
“Just a week ago, why?” Cerdic skimmed the note. He had a month-long vacation.
Mr. O Cuidighthigh sat in Cerdic’s desk chair. “A vacation time that long I would’ve expected you to mention earlier. Or maybe hear talk about it. We don’t talk much.”
“I don’t talk much in general.”
“Well, tell Mr. Clark that I don’t mind agents getting time off. I’d just prefer if I got more notice than this.” Mr. O Cuidighthigh sighed as Cerdic looked at him in surprise. “Oh, I’m sure he told you to say a week, but this leave came across my desk this morning. If you finish early take your time. Half of this is paid vacation, the other half will be compensated by the council.”
“That’s not the only reason I’m surprised.” Cerdic set the remaining folders on his desk. “I didn’t know of any other agents working here.”
“Oh, right. Uh, well since I mentioned it I’m sure you’re curious.”
“Curious of what?” Cerdic picked up another stack of folders and went to another file cabinet. “How you’re part of the circle of agents?”
Mr. O Cuidighthigh smiled wide. “Oh, no. What I am. You don’t want to be nearby on a full moon. I get cranky.”
The files almost fell from Cerdic’s hands. “I’ll try to avoid that, sir.”
“You do that. Now I’ll leave you be. Gotta make sure the others know they’re gonna cover you while you’re on vacation.”
– – –
Cerdic sat in a mostly empty train car. It wasn’t a peak travel time and it wasn’t traveling season, either. Sitting next to him was Amalia, in her human form. In the seat facing them was a travel crate with Grimm in it. Grimm was curled up and sleeping.
“So, this person we’ve been sent to find. He’s trying to prevent people from going somewhere?”
Amalia yawned and cleared her throat. “Yeah. He’s leading people away from the area. He’s probably harmless, but we need to check it out.”
“Right.” Cerdic stretched in his seat then stood up. “I’m going to the meal car. Do you want something to eat?”
“No, I’ll sit here and keep an eye on Grimm.”
“Suit yourself.” Cerdic stood and walked towards the back of the train. “If there are tuna sandwiches I’ll bring one back.”
“Oh, shove off.”
“Does that mean you don’t want it?”
“If there is any, sure, but not if you’re going to be a jerk about it.”
The door between the cars opened and closed easily, making almost no sound. Cerdic stepped through and found himself in an old-style dining car, complete with tables. He glanced at the menu and two items stood out to him. One was borsch, and the other was an aloe blend drink. Cerdic shrugged and approached the counter. “So, what’s the aloe drink taste like?”
“Death.” The man behind the counter stood up and faced Cerdic. “Well, maybe not to you. I really don’t like it, but it’s just a milkshake with aloe added. Supposed to be healthy or something like that.”
“Hmm…I’ll take one, and I’d like a full-moon biscuit and a tuna sandwich if you have any.”
“Ah, yes. I have one special for your friend. Also, here’s a dog treat.” The man handed Cerdic a bone-shaped biscuit.
“Thanks. I’ll be sure to give it to him when he wakes up.”
The man started preparing the aloe drink. He put on two pairs of gloves. “Yeah, don’t want your doggy friend to feed off your life force. Gotta keep him fed.”
“Oh, nothing.” The man put the finished drink on the counter and pulled out a full-moon biscuit and a tuna sandwich with Amalia’s name on it. “Tell her Johyn says hi.”
Cerdic raised an eyebrow. “You from the council?”
A frown appeared on the man’s face. “No, I just know her from the other times she’s ridden this train. She travels a lot for them, though.” He waved Cerdic away when he saw him reaching for his wallet. “This one’s on me. Next time you pay.”
“Ok.” Cerdic took the food and walked back towards his seat. The confused look was still on his face when he sat down.
The tuna sandwich was almost instantly in Amalia’s mouth. She spoke around it. “So, what’d you get?”
“Johyn said ‘hi’.”
“Oh, that explains why this had my name on it but doesn’t answer what I asked.”
“A full-moon biscuit, an aloe milkshake, and a dog treat for Grimm.”
Hearing both the word treat and his name Grimm woke from his light slumber and stared at Cerdic through the travel crate.
“Here.” Cerdic slipped the treat into the crate. “You better behave for the rest of the train ride.”
Grimm gave a small bark in response and started chewing on the treat.
Cerdic looked at the full-moon biscuit and took a sip of the aloe milkshake. It tasted like a plain milkshake with a hint of something minty. “Mmm. Not bad.”
“I hope you weren’t planning on kissing a vampire anytime soon.”
“What?” Cerdic took a bite of the biscuit and could tell the sweetness was there to cover up some other taste.
“Or a werewolf for that matter. The aloe wards off vampires and the full-moon biscuits have an enchantment on them to do the same. Though the biscuits can be circumvented by a strong will the aloe can physically injure a vampire.”
“Oh, is that why Johyn was wearing gloves when he made the milkshake?”
Amalia almost dropped her sandwich. “He did what?” The alarm on her face was visible.
“Is there something wrong?”
“He wasn’t a vampire when I last met him. He was just a warlocke.”
“Well, maybe he just wants to be careful? Maybe he knows a vampire?”
“Maybe. I’ll be right back.”
Cerdic watched her go then turned to look at Grimm. “And here I was expecting a quiet train ride. I better go see what’s going on.” He stood up. “We shouldn’t be long.”
Looking up from his biscuit Grimm seemed to nod.
– – –
Aloe leaves were spread across the entire meal car. Johyn was sitting in the only space that the leaves had been cleared away. He had a few burns on his skin that were visibly healing. An old book was sitting on the table in front of him.
“You were in here for maybe ten seconds! What did you do!?” Cerdic said, surveying the scene before him.
“She attacked me!” Johyn yelled from his seat. “She thinks I’m a vampire or something!”
Cerdic looked at the wounds that were disappearing from Johyn’s arms. “Well, looks like she was right to me.”
“Ok, but that doesn’t mean she should attack me.”
“I’m new to this. As far as I know, she has some reason to attack you.” Cerdic approached Amalia. “You have a reason, right?”
Sighing Amalia nodded at Cerdic. “He made a vow to kill himself if he became a vampire. I have to report this to the council.” She turned her head back to Johyn. “Not because of the vow, but because of what he is now. A hybrid.”
“Look. I’ll deal with him. You go call Mr. Clark on your cell. Tell him what I told you. He’ll send someone else to accompany you the rest of the way.” Amalia pulled her cell phone out and started dialing. “Go.”
Crunches echoed through the dining car as Cerdic made his way back to the passenger car, not caring about the aloe on the floor. He pulled his cell phone from his travel bag shrugged at Grimm, and dialed Eric’s number. As he did so he noticed his hand was shaking. He put the trembling hand in his pocket as the phone made a connection.
“This is Eric, what’s up?”
“So, Amalia ran into an old friend of hers. She said he was a warlocke and now he’s a vampire and then something about him being a hybrid. I’m not sure what’s going on, but she said she needed to report to the council and that I’d need someone else to go with me.” Cerdic paused for a moment. “Oh, yeah. The guy’s name was Johyn.”
There was silence from the other end of the phone call for a few moments and Cerdic was unsure if the call had dropped. He was about to hang up when Eric started speaking.
“Shast! Ok, if you get off at the next stop I’ll have someone pick you up in a car. That train will probably be quarantined. You’re on council business so you won’t be stopped.” There was a short pause and Cerdic wasn’t sure if he should respond or not. “I’ll have to send another usual to go with you. I’ll have to pull him off another, less important task.”
“If it’s a problem I can probably get a rental car or get on another train.”
“No, this mission requires two people. If Amalia hadn’t broken protocol I would’ve had to pull him off the task he’s on anyway.”
“Ok. I’ll get off at the next stop.”
“Oh, and while Veron Aelfson is technically a usual he is from a line of warlockes. He has some firsthand knowledge of magical creatures.”