Entry 14: Ashes

Miles insisted on stopping to check the vacant guest rooms before going down to the common room, in spite of Kota’s persistent shouts and the sound of tables and chairs turning over amid the barking and screeching of the wild animals. By the time they reached the foot of the stairs, Kota slammed the front door shut and slid down to the floor with his back against the wood. Behind him the former residents of the nest that lay in tatters around the fireplace chattered through the wood before running away.

A trail of ash and soot showed the path the chaos had taken before Kota prevailed against the surprisingly vicious squirrels. It ran from the fireplace, across the once clean floors, over more than a few tables, one of which lay on its side, and finally out the door where the young man now sat, his clothes and skin covered in soot and several scratches to remind him of the battle.

“I’ll clean that up in a minute,” he said before he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “How was the attic?”

“The roof needs some work and there’s half a century’s worth of odds and ends to go through,” Miles answered and Kota groaned.

Erin looked down at Sollis’s journal, not sure why she bothered to bring it down. The idea of ever being bored enough to go through the thing appalled her, but she stopped by the reception desk and stuck it in all the same. By the time she righted the fallen table and started pushing the chairs back in place the journal was already forgotten.

Miles watched her progress across the room before saying to Kota, “And Erin and I have decided that the three of us will go into town this afternoon.”

“What?” Kota bounced back up on his feet so fast it looked he had springs attached to his shoes. “But the sun! I mean, you’re a vampire.”

His eyes shifted between Erin and Miles.

Miles pulled the device that Erin had noticed earlier off of his wrist and showed it to Kota as he said, “This is a combox, it allows me to receive messages from my dispatcher. That’s the person who tells me where I’m supposed to go next. She writes on her tablet and it shows up here, or something like that. Today I received a message that the weather will be cloudy enough that I should be able to walk around without too much of a problem, see? No sun, no ash, which is more than I can say for you.”

Kota looked down at his shirt and brushed off a cloud of black dust that swirled in the air before resettling in about the same spot.

“There were some old clothes up in the attic,” Miles said. “I’m sure Miss Erin here would not mind lending them to you, if they fit.”

“Oh, right,” Erin said. There were probably enough clothes up there to fit out a regiment and supply one of the traveling troupes with the costumes to put on a full play.

“Thank you, but I think I will just stay here,” Kota said, picking the broom up off the ground where he’d dropped it when one of the squirrels latched on to the back of his head. “We shouldn’t just leave the inn unattended, right?”

“I could get my little brother to watch it.” Erin shrugged when they looked at her and said, “Today’s his day off, and I bet he wouldn’t mind a chance to get away from home.”

“You have a brother?” Kota asked.

“Three, and one sister.”

“I think I see why he might want to get out,” Miles muttered and then said in his more usual, cheerful tone, “Then it’s settled. Miss Erin’s brother will watch the inn and we’ll go out for a little walk. Won’t that be nice? Where do you think we should go first, Kota?”

Kota returned the question with a baffled stare and Miles caught him looking at Erin for some kind of answer.

“What?” The vampire tilted his head. “You have been in town before, haven’t you?”

“Not really,” Kota admitted. Except for his one excursion out to the farm, he had not stepped beyond the walls of the Last Inn, and considering how that turned out he wasn’t in the mood to try again.

The muscles around Miles’s mouth tightened for a brief second and then he smiled again. “Then we really do need to go. But first things first.”

He tapped the broom and pointed to the floor emphatically. Kota didn’t even bother to argue; he just rubbed at one of his scratches and started to sweep.

Erin shook her head and said, “Well, I’ll go ahead and ask Art about coming by later. You two be good, okay?”

She opened the door and Miles and Kota both moved away from the patch of sunlight that came in before she shut it behind her.

“‘Be good?’ Did she just talk to us like we were children?” Miles asked.

“I think it’s a habit,” Kota said. He corralled the ash and soot up and sighed when he saw the streaks left behind. He went back into the kitchen to wet a rag and missed Miles’s snort.

“A habit she picked up around you, I’m sure.” The vampire checked his combox again and reread the latest message. It had been a pain to get the weather mages to make this allowance for him, and he had no intentions of wasting it.

Over the next couple of hours the clouds rolled in over town and Miles waited impatiently for Erin and Kota to get ready. The moment Arthur, Erin’s younger brother arrived, he ushered them out the door without waiting to get to know the boy beyond a brief introduction. There was so much to be done, and so little time.

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