It took nearly a half hour to get Shiloh caught up.

Mateo and I couldn’t seem to stop interrupting with our own commentary on the situation, none of which was terribly helpful. Worth it, though, to see the twin glares of frustration from both Bastien and Shiloh. I’d never seen her like this. Halfway through Bastien’s explanation, she stood up, started pacing, and hadn’t yet stopped despite making six dizzying loops around the room.

The Queen of Chill was throwing a bitch fit.

“Why the fuck is this the first I’m hearing of this? We should’ve been the first to be informed about this,” Shiloh snarled. “Eight people have been picked clean, and not one of you thought to inform the ADAC.”

I suppressed the urge to cringe. There was a reason for that, I thought, glancing at my sire’s carefully neutral face. Mateo’s personal issues with members of the Committee made reaching out to them a non-starter. It wasn’t like Shiloh didn’t know that -- but she was also right.

We should’ve made that call.

“I informed Mateo, and when he failed to take action, I called you,” Bastien began.

He shouldn’t have said that.

Immediately, she appeared an inch away from his face, her hands gripping the chair’s arms tightly as she leaned over him. He didn’t pull away, but a light sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. He was so clearly trying to stand up to her, and failing miserably.

“With all of the respect he is due, and trust me when I tell you I have deep respect for my sire, Mateo is not on the Committee, now is he?” she asked quietly. There was no need to shout; we all had excellent hearing. She didn’t blink, her gaze burrowing into his as she waited for his response.

He licked his lips, nostrils flaring as he met her stare like a grudging teenager. His upper lip twitched in a suppressed snarl before he broke eye contact and looked away.

“No, he is not.”

“It is not his job to take action when our communities are in danger, now is it?” She pinched the square point of his chin, the pad of her thumb covering his dimple.

Gritting his teeth, he shook his head.

“I now have to make an incredibly unpleasant phone call to my employer and inform him of these developments,” she said, her thin eyes narrowing further. Her manicured thumbnail, pastel pink and sharpened to a blade-like point, pressed into his skin. Blood welled.

“I need you to understand how much I do not want to make that call.”

Sighing, she pulled back and licked the droplet away, her fangs peeking out briefly. The tiny prick on his chin healed quickly, leaving only a small smear of blood.

“This was not what I expected to deal with this evening, and I’m not terribly pleased about it,” she said, straightening the fit on her suit. “He will be even less so.”

She gave a heavy, unnecessary sigh as she pulled her cell phone from her blazer.

“Oh, he’s going to be insufferable,” she muttered, swiping across the screen. Without looking at any of us, she approached the door and continued, “Don’t leave this room; I’ll be back when I’m done.”

Leaning back in my seat, I groaned and kicked at the carpet of the conference room, sending my chair idly spinning.

“And, Mr. Thibault, I’d recommend that you spend these moments considering how you might do better the next time you think it would be acceptable for you to have an original thought.”

With that particularly harsh suggestion, she exited.

When the door opened next, Shiloh was ushering Sam and Mrs. Sato inside, a beleaguered scowl on her face.

Mrs. Sato was no longer in the rainbow onesie I could vaguely recall from the last time I had seen her, but had changed into a red t-shirt and blue jeans, sensible sneakers, and a gray cardigan. 

Sam was in a similar outfit, with her jacket tied around her hips. She wasn’t wearing any make-up or jewelry, a sign of how frazzled she truly was. She shot me a frown, pointing to Shiloh behind her with her thumb. I shook my head, and gestured to the seat next to me.

“Alright, alright, I have the relevant people here, sir,” Shiloh said into the phone held to her ear.

“Eh, sorry if she was pushy,” I muttered as Sam sat down. We leaned into each other, our heads dipping low out of courtesy for the phone call. I knew everyone but maybe Mrs. Sato could hear us -- and I wasn’t entirely sure she couldn’t -- but mamá didn’t raise an asshole.

“She was, but don’t worry about it. Not your fault,” she whispered back.

I grimaced, but conceded the point. Before I could say anything else, Shiloh’s hand appeared with snapping fingers in front of my face.

“Hey, pay attention, numbnuts,” she snarled at me. “This affects you.”

I hissed at her, fangs bared. “Snap in my face again, pendeja, I’ll pull your fucking teeth out.”

“Don’t start with me, Freckles,” she said, already walking away. “Okay, sir, they’re all paying attention now.”

She put her phone in the center of the table, pressing the speakerphone button for the benefit of Mrs. Sato, who had taken her place on the other side of Sam. I gave her a little finger-wave before I turned my focus to the phone.

“Wonderful!” came a chipper, briskly accented voice. “Shiloh, my dear, do trouble yourself with making introductions.”

Shiloh rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, but complied. “Everyone, this is Lord Dracula, my employer. He is the founder of the Arcane Defense and Advocacy Committee, the highest authority for all of vampire kind.”

“Ugh,” Lord Dracula groaned into the receiver. “You always make me sound so boring. I’m also a celebrity.”

Shiloh’s eyes fell closed and her shoulders slumped. “Yes, sir, you’re quite correct. Allow me to add that Lord Dracula is also verified with millions of followers on VidBite, the micro-vlogging app.”

“Vampire video blogging,” the oldest vampire alive crowed, his delighted laughter cutting the sound out briefly. “It’s all the rage. I love the future. So much more entertaining than the past. Actually, speaking of -- Shiloh, where is my priest outfit? I’m making a ridiculously heretical POV video.”

I would never be able to express the glee that Shiloh’s resigned and put-upon expression brought me. If I didn’t think she’d crush my phone in a second, I would’ve taken a picture for posterity.

“It’s in the hall closet, sir,” she answered. “Next to the red velvet cape.”

The sound of rustling came through the speaker, followed quickly by his response of, “Ah, so it is. We should find a better spot for that.”

“I believe I attempted to relocate it previously, sir.”

“You tried to throw it away, you wretched little monster,” he said.

“Glad to see fame hasn’t changed you a bit, Drac,” Mateo said, shooting a tiny grin at Shiloh.

“Mateo, old friend! I’m very pleased to know you’re there to handle this shitstorm. I know you’re not a fan of the Committee, but I appreciate your assistance on this regardless.”

“I’m more than happy to help, personal feelings aside,” Mateo demurred.

“Ah, well, I’m going to have to ask all of you to do quite a bit. Down to business, I suppose. First, Shiloh will be staying to keep the Committee apprised of the situation.” He paused, his tone shifting. Carefully controlled anger made itself present in his voice. “Monsieur Thibault, you will provide Shiloh with all of the pertinent information she needs to take over for you as liaison with the families of the deceased and ComRes. Once you have done that, you will return home and wait for the ADAC to contact you. We will be in touch.”

Bastien clenched his jaw, hands curling into fists, but he said nothing.

“I’ll assume by your silence that you understand your position, and I won’t have to hear your voice this evening. That’s good,” Dracula bit out. “Incompetence has a grating sound, in my experience.”

Mrs. Sato cleared her throat, drawing everyone’s attention.

“Miyako Sato, I presume?” Dracula asked, his voice cheerful once again. “Big fan! I’ve heard wonderful things about you. Do you have any idea what is killing our people? I’m given to understand you believe you’ve found it.”

“Yes, we believe the man that kidnapped young Frankie is the same creature that committed these murders,” Miyako replied. Succinctly, she described the snake-man, and his demand for Frankie. “Unfortunately, I don’t know what he is yet.”

“He called Frankie the scion, like she’s only important to him because of who she’s related to,” I interjected. “We need to know more about Frankie’s family. See if there are any connections between her and the rest of the victims.”

Miyako nodded, but Sam immediately started shaking her head. Miyako frowned.

“Why not?” I asked.

“She’s not talking to anyone right now. I tried and she hissed at me; Genie tried, and she burst into tears. Dr. Landry didn’t even get past the door before the kid threw a lamp across the room.”

I didn’t know much about Landry, but she worked as a therapist with the advocates regularly and had a good reputation around ComRes for being great with kids. The few times I had interacted with her, she struck me as a very patient, kind sort of person. I was a little shocked she hadn’t managed to even talk to the kid.

It didn’t surprise me, however, to learn that Frankie had been causing as much mayhem as possible.

Dracula hummed. “We need to know what the connection is, if there is one. Ms. Ramos, Shiloh has the clearance to act with the full authority of the Committee behind her. Please don’t hesitate to utilize her in this situation.”

I glanced at Shiloh, and knew exactly what that meant. Damned if I’d let her hypnotize the kid. I knew it wouldn’t harm her, but it would kill every ounce of trust in an instant.

“I had a decent rapport with her; I’ll give it a shot,” I said, hoping to divert the conversation.

Sam snorted a laugh. “Decent rapport, they say. The kid all but glued herself to your side when you brought her in. I’m pretty sure you’re the only one she’ll talk to.”

“They have always had a calming effect on small, vulnerable creatures,” Mateo said, puffing out his chest and grinning. “The animal shelter loves when they volunteer.”

“Oye, viejo! Moving on!” I said loudly, clapping my hands together to cut him off. “So, Bastien is on time-out, Shiloh’s supervising us, I’m gonna talk to Frankie, and we’ll go from there. Did I sum it all up?”

Shiloh nodded, “That’s about it.”

“Shiloh, I want to talk to you before I go,” Dracula said. “I have a few instructions for you specifically.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, grabbing the phone.

“Okay, then.” I turned to Sam. “Take us to the kid.”

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