Erin saw Kota sneak out of the kitchen and up to his room without saying a word, but did not think anything of it. It was almost typical behavior for him, and it wasn’t like he would have been much help when it came to loading the bags back onto the Judge’s carriage. As she passed the last of the dark suitcases to Madame Elzwig’s servant, she wondered why they bothered to drag the things inside if they were just going to put them back the next morning.
“Thank you,” the servant, Neil, said. He heaved the suitcase into the rack built into the back of the carriage and shut the door on it, careful to lock it with a key that he slipped into his chest pocket. “I know that some of Madame’s workings can get heavy.”
Erin stopped rubbing her arm. “Workings?”
“Yes. Some of those cases are filled to the brim with files,” he remarked. “She insists on keeping them nearby at all times.”
She sensed from his tone that lugging those cases around could get old very fast. She looked at the door and found herself saying, “If they’re that important, you’ll probably want to get a better lock then.”
Neil smiled and said, “I assure you, that lock was created by a master craftsman. There is only one key for it.”
“Well, yeah, but you wouldn’t need a key to open it, would you?” Spurred on by the servant’s condescending smile, Erin looked around and picked up a stick around the right size off the ground. “Watch.”
She slid the slim stick into the crack just below the lock and, after a little maneuvering, the door slowly swung open with a gaping hole where the lock had popped out of place. Neil’s hand went to his mouth and it slid down his face while Erin held the piece of metal up for inspection.
“Oh,” was all he could manage to say.
“My dad showed me that trick,” Erin explained as she passed the lock to the servant. She sighed, thinking about the keys the wayfarers had walked off with. She really couldn’t put off changing the locks, not while she still had the money.
She left Neil showing the popped lock to the carriage driver and went inside, where the hikers had maps strewn out over one of the tables and were arguing over the best paths to take to get to the city. Miles and Madame Elzwig were sitting as far away from each other as possible, Miles in the darkest corner and the Judge in the middle of a pool of sunlight coming in through an open window.
“Is everything ready?” Madame Elzwig asked.
“Er, I think something’s come up,” Erin said, a little guiltily. “The lock on the luggage compartment, it’s, uh, a little faulty.”
Madame Elzwig frowned and stood up in a massive movement that startled Erin. “If you will excuse me for a moment.”
She swept out of the room, causing a moment of silence as the hikers looked up and then went back to their maps.
Erin winced and thought that it might be a good idea to go to town now. She looked around and walked over to Miles, who was pouting.
“Kota still upstairs?” she asked.
“He’s probably asleep,” Miles said. “When is she leaving?”
“Who, the Judge?” Erin paused and realized that was a stupid question. “Well, I think they were about to, but there’s something wrong with the lock on their carriage.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“It’s not there anymore.” Erin shook her head. “Look, I’ll tell you about it later. I just need to get Kota to watch the inn so I can run into town. Promise you won’t bite Elzwig while I’m gone?”
Miles grimaced. “Like I would want to.”
Erin went up the stairs and knocked on Kota’s door. When there was no reply, she knocked again and called, “Kota?”
“I told you, he’s probably asleep,” Miles said behind her, causing Erin to jump. “You know, I could watch the place for you.”
The vampire shrugged. “If you’ll do something for me.”
He saw the expression on Erin’s face and quickly said, “No, I mean, no, I just want to‒” Miles had to stop and start again. “Look, the stores in town, they stay open after dark, right?”
“Yeah, since it started getting darker earlier,” Erin said. “They don’t really change their hours for the season.”
“Then let me take Kota to town tonight, as soon as the sun sets,” Miles said.
“People are more likely to let me in if I’m not alone,” Miles said. He tapped one of his fangs and said, “I guess they feel safer when there are others around. Besides, Kota needs to get out more.”
“Well, I guess as long as you can talk him into it,” Erin said. Secretly, she thought there was no way Kota would go anywhere alone with the vampire, but she didn’t want to say that if he was willing to keep an eye on the inn for her. “I shouldn’t be gone long, okay?”
They walked down the stairs together, Erin giving Miles a string of instructions while he nodded along without any sign that he was even listening. She looked and saw Madame Elzwig outside, examining the carriage while her servant and driver stood by looking like boys caught at doing something wrong, and decided to leave through the kitchen instead, which now had a definite smell of pig. Erin looked at Miles.
“Yeah, I’ll move her somewhere else,” he said without being asked.
Erin stopped at the back door with her hand on the doorknob. “Hey, Miles? Do you really think there’s some kind of cure for Kota here?”
The vampire stiffened, and took a moment to answer. “He seems to think there is one.”
Erin turned around. “But what do you think?”
They both turned their head at the sound of raised voices coming from the common room. It sounded like the hikers were having another argument, and with visible relief Miles said, “I’ll go and take care of that then? We can talk about this later.”
He left before Erin could say anything and she gave up, for the moment. Outside she looked around for her bike, but there was no sign of it. She groaned as the memory of Kota riding up on it in the middle of town resurfaced, fuzzy like most of her memories of her time with the wayfarers. She’d completely forgotten about it with everything else, and she knew Kota had other things on his mind at the time.
She would have had plenty of time to grumble on the walk into town if Madame Elzwig’s carriage had not pulled up alongside her a few minutes later. The servant, Neil, opened the door and looked out.
“Ah, Miss Erin. Going into town?” he asked.
“Y-yeah, I’m going to see my dad,” she said.
“The blacksmith?” he smiled and said, “How fortuitous. We have some business for him, it seems.”
“Oh. Right, sorry about that,” Erin said. She glanced at the dark interior of the carriage. “Is Madame Elzwig with you?”
“No, she decided to remain at the inn while we made the commision,” he said, and Erin bit her lip. She wondered how Miles felt about that, and just had to hope there wouldn’t be any bloodshed. Maybe leaving him in charge hadn’t been the greatest idea after all. “She wishes to send her gratitude, for pointing out the lock’s flaw. We’ll have to have a word with our man when we return to the city.”
Erin just nodded.
Neil gestured to the other seat in the carriage and said, “Since we’re going the same way, you can ride with us.”
Erin hesitated, but when she couldn’t think of a good excuse not to she climbed into the Judge’s carriage.