The revelation that their latest guest was a vampire did not get the reaction from Erin that Kota expected. There was some surprise, and a brief expression of unease, but the young woman recovered quickly.
“You’re registered, right?” she said.
“Of course,” the vampire said and pulled a set of documents out of the side pocket of his bag, which he handed over for Erin’s inspection.
“Oh, so your name’s Miles?” Erin said as she skimmed over the legalese.
Kota looked from Erin to Miles and back again, but when no explanation came he said, “Registered?”
“All vampires were required to register with the government a decade ago,” Miles answered, not even trying to hide his smile at Kota’s discomfort. “Rather than trying to hunt us down, the emperor decided to put us to some use. I’m actually here on government business right now.”
“This says here that you’re a bounty hunter,” Erin said, the sound of the pages turning loud in the following quiet.
“That’s one way of putting it, yes,” Miles said. “More like I go and retrieve people for the government, take them to the capital for one thing or another.”
“Even if they don’t want to come?” Kota asked.
Miles shrugged. “When does anyone want to deal with the government? But at the moment I’m just here to inspect the inn, look around, and wait until my next assignment.”
Erin nearly dropped the papers. “Inspect the inn? Why?”
“Well, originally I was supposed to come here and look it over before a replacement for Daniel Sollis could be found to take over the place, but then your mayor sent word that someone finally reopened the inn.” The vampire noticed their confusion. “Didn’t you know? The capital’s been putting pressure on your mayor to find a replacement for months. It’s a hindrance to travelers and to business. A town this close to the capital trying to shut itself off from the rest of the empire? I don’t think so.”
He scuffed his leather shoe on the floor and walked around the common room, looking up at the walls while this sank in.
Erin spoke first. “Well, you can see for yourself that the Last Inn is open. We have several guests here at the moment, actually—”
“And one more,” Miles interrupted. “Did you know there’s something living in this chimney? You may want to deal with that before winter.”
“What?” Erin shot a terrified look at the dark space under the mantel, now populated by a horde of creatures thanks to her imagination.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll pay upfront,” Miles said. “This should cover a week, right?”
Erin squeaked at the sight of the money and Miles nodded.
“That’s it?” Kota asked. “You just show some papers and money, and we’re supposed to ignore the whole vampire thing?”
“Well, it is a lot of money,” Erin said. She pulled Kota to the side when that failed to sway him and whispered, “Look, that’s just the way it is. Didn’t you hear him? He’s here to inspect us, and one of those papers says he has the authority to turn the ownership of the inn over to someone else ‘with enough reason.’ I swear, if you lose this place for me…”
Kota nodded, his eyes still locked on the vampire casually examining the available room keys.
“Good,” Erin replied. “And you’re on night shift, so you take him to his room and make him comfortable, got it? Tomorrow we’ll talk about whatever is in that chimney.”
Kota swallowed back a growl and they walked over to Miles, who held up a key.
“I think I shall take this room, if that’s okay with Miss Smith,” he said.
“Sure, sure,” Erin said quickly. “I hope you enjoy your stay here. If you need anything tonight, just ask Kota.”
Miles bowed and wished Erin a good night while Kota mimed gagging behind him. When the vampire turned around, Kota stopped and Erin returned the gesture with one of her own that warned him to watch it.
“Please follow me,” Kota said. He waited until they were halfway up the stairs and Erin was in her own room before asking, “How did you know Erin’s last name?”
“It was in the report the mayor sent,” Miles replied. “Tell me, why is it that you did not know about registered vampires?”
Kota’s reply did not come as fast, and it failed to come before they reached the room, 1F. By this point it did not surprise him to find the room was next to his own.
Miles spoke then, taking his time about unlocking the door. “Of course, someone who didn’t grow up in the empire wouldn’t necessarily know about that sort of thing. Where are you from, Kota…?”
The door clicked open and Kota bowed. “Is the room to your liking, sir?”
“Now that’s just rude,” Miles said, and chuckled. “Fine, I won’t push. Will you at least let me show you something?”
He gestured and then placed a hand on Kota’s shoulder and steered him into the room when he failed to go. The vampire carefully placed his bag on the bed and pulled out the case that filled most of the space inside, which he reverentially laid on the desk.
“In the capital more than a few blood banks are willing to sell to registered vampires, and donors can always be found for the right price,” he explained. “Since I work for the government, I receive an allowance.”
He opened the case to reveal three packed and sealed vials, the contents of which Kota did not have to guess at.
“One of these can sustain me for a month,” Miles said. “And if there’s an emergency, my status means that I can go to any farm or butcher for my needs.”
Kota struggled to look away from the case. “Why tell me this?”
“So you’ll understand that I am not here to harm you or the girl. Believe me, you’re not worth the paperwork.”
Miles shut the case and turned on Kota. His hand moved up and out, and before Kota could react the vampire pushed back the hair covering the left side of his face and examined the mark emblazoned there like a sunburst.
“Besides, it seems to me you have so much more to be worried about, wolf.”