Kota took one look at Miles and jumped up, taking the trembling vampire’s other arm. “Please excuse us for a moment, Erin.”
Erin stared as they went back to the inn as fast as Miles’s legs would allow. Behind her the pig made a squealing snort and she said, “Oh, shut up.”
Kota managed to get Miles as far as the common room before he had to drop him in a chair. “Blood, right?” he asked.
Miles nodded. “You know where it is.”
The young man ran upstairs and returned less than a minute later with the case Miles had shown him the first night he stayed at the inn. He slowed at the table and set it down carefully before opening it.
“Oh,” Kota said, looking at the three vials inside. Two of them were empty, and the third had less than half of its original contents left.
“It’s enough,” Miles said, grabbing the vial. He wrenched the top off and gripped the table, forcing himself to drink the rest slowly instead of gulping it all down. It did not last nearly long enough, but Miles finished it with a satisfied sigh. Catching sight of Kota’s face, he said, “Don’t give me that look. Better this than—”
He broke off when they heard the kitchen door open and put the last vial back in the case, shutting it before Erin entered the room.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” Kota said, at the same time Miles answered, “Better.”
They glanced at each other uneasily and Kota said, “I take it you’re still planning on going to the capital?”
“If I can,” Miles said. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face, which did have a healthier tone to it now. “Bad enough that I have to get that pig in, now I have Elzwig waiting for me too.”
Kota nodded and started to walk toward the door but he was stopped in his tracks when both Erin and Miles called out, the vampire half-rising out of his chair.
“What?” he said. “I’m just going to see if anyone around here has a horse you can borrow. You can’t walk there with the pig, not if you want to make it before daylight tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Miles said, sinking back into the chair.
“Maybe I should—” Erin started, but Kota just gave a her a half-hearted smile and walked out.
“Sorry about that,” Miles said when the door shut behind him.
“Sorry about what?” Erin asked. She glanced at the fireplace and saw that the fire had died out. “I’m going to get some more wood. It’s supposed to get cold tonight.”
She went through the kitchen to get to the back door and Miles shook his head. He looked at the combox on his wrist and for the first time read the urgent message that had arrived while he had been chasing after Kota.
Erin came back with an armful of wood in time to see the vampire rip the strap off his wrist and toss the small box across the table.
“Figures!” he snarled. “‘Oh, by the way, the sun’s coming out. Hope you’re not outside.’”
Erin wondered who he was trying to mimic with that smarmy tone, but said, “Thank you, for bringing Kota back.”
“More like he brought me back.” Miles scratched at the table with one of his nails and then rubbed at the spot. “Who knew he had it in him?”
“What did you think he would do, leave you in the sun to die?” Erin asked. She set the wood down next to the fireplace in time to turn around and see the expression on his face. “You did, didn’t you!”
“He’s not fond of vampires, and I haven’t exactly given him much reason to love me.” Miles shrugged and added, “To be honest, it probably would have saved him a lot of trouble in the long run if he just left me there.”
Erin shook her head. “He’s not like that.”
“And how would you know?” Miles made a “tsk” sound out of the side of his mouth and wished he had saved more of that ration. Between dealing with Elzwig and the sun, he needed a drink. “Who knows what he was like before he came here?”
Erin shifted uneasily and quickly thought of an excuse to leave the room again. Fortunately, one presented itself quickly and she said, “I’ll be…I just need to run back to the stables, I left something there.”
“Don’t let the pig out!” Miles yelled after her.
Erin took her time walking over to the stables and found the red journal lying on the group under a heap of hay. She flipped through it as she walked back across the yard with the thought of hanging out in the kitchen until Kota returned.
To her dismay, Miles had moved into there and was digging through the fridge. He opened a packet and sniffed the meat inside before Erin turned away and sat down at the table with her back to him.
She opened the journal to a random page and tried to read while ignoring the sounds behind her.
Martin, second night. Need to warn him about the cards.
Cyra sang, had to wear earplugs.
More refugees from Heron.
Saw Erin at the river again.
Erin stared at the page, at her name. She started to blink rapidly and had to put the book facedown on the table and breathe.
“You shouldn’t do that, it’s bad for the spine,” Miles said behind her. He reached out for the book and she snatched it up and flipped to another of the unstuck section so he could not see what she was looking at.
“And it’s bad to read over someone’s shoulder,” she snapped. She started to turn the page, but Miles shot out a hand and stopped her.
“Wait, what is that?” he asked. He looked down and saw Erin sitting frozen, glaring at his hand, and released her. “Yeah, yeah, sorry. Look, right there, he’s drawn something.”
Erin looked at the drawing and shrugged. “That? It’s some kind of town emblem, I think. There’s one on the clock tower, and on the bridge in town. The old inn sign had one too, but it was so faded you couldn’t see it unless you knew to look for it.”
Miles frowned at the emblem, which showed a sun and moon crossed with each other. He scanned the rest of the page and said, “Then why did he write, ‘He’s getting depressed again. Where is it? Searched forest, Walkers would not help. Even the little ones refuse to get involved now. Mer checked river, no luck.'”
He skimmed down the page, but it was clear that Sollis had been writing out his thoughts with no thought to reading them, as the rest was nearly incomprehensible.
“Town, wastes, burrows of the plains…” Miles murmured. “What was he searching for that he would go to Walkers and the fair folk for help? And a mer, they don’t do anything for humans since the Wichel fiasco.”
“The what?” Erin shifted in her seat to get a little more space between her and Miles and said, “No, look, this can’t be right. Mr. Sollis never did anything like this, he barely left the inn. Why would he be trying to get all of these…all of these people to try and find something?”
She could see Miles thinking, possibly in loops, and suspected that the smile that spread across his face was not entirely about what he said next.
“I’m not sure, but it might be worth you and Kota looking into.”