*FIRST AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, THIS IS NOT CANON. THIS IS COMPLETELY UNSANCTIONED (okay, not completely. Larry said I could do this for you guys without his ripping my head off) MHI FANFIC.
Good, now that we got that out of the way, why am I doing this? Both Grant and Fado Negro (Portuguese Monster Hunters) have minuscule parts in Guardian, the MHI book I’m collaborating with Larry Correia on. However, obviously the Portugal of Monster Hunter is not the real Portugal (Really, no arcane creatures come stumbling out of the undergrowth there. If there were arcane creatures, the country would be chock-a-block in them, when you take in account the continuous human occupation since… well, forever.) And this story gives me more of an opportunity to firm the worldbuilding. (Yes, it would be MUCH easier to do this with a notebook and noting things down, but that’s not how my mind works, d*mn it.)
Okay, that’s the rational excuse. The real reason is that d*mn Grant Jefferson won’t leave me alone. (Always had a thing for men from Patrician New England families. Ask my husband.) So I’m torturing him. Also Guardian won’t come out until I do this more or less at same time (I’ll be sending first chapter of that to Larry soon.)
Will this ever be a book? Don’t know. First Guardian will get delivered. Then, this being finished, I throw it at Larry. And then it’s his SOLE DECISION. (Which means, don’t you monkeys hassle him.) It’s his world and his character. I’m just grateful he lets me play in it in Guardian and here for your amusement.*
Third Chapter is here (edited because I was out of it last Monday.)
I normally try to keep military discipline, or as close as I can get in my interactions with my superiors, particularly agent Franks. My granny always said if you’re going to do something it’s worth doing it well, and I always wanted to be the best at everything.
Look, I’m no starry eyed hero. I’ve seen them come into MHI training, back when I was with them, and you know what starry eyed heroes do? They either lose heart or they die in horrible ways and often both. Monster Hunter, while worth doing, should be done rationally, with careful assessment of resources and of the problems one doesn’t need to tackle. And always looking out for number one. The last thing my mother told me when I was seven or eight, and she married that Italian Count and stopped doing visitations was “Darling, obligations are all very well, but you have to look out for number one.” Which I tried to do.
Okay, so that’s why I’m not with MHI. And that’s why I use really formal manners in my interactions with supervisors and others with power over me.
But this time, Franks’ voice on the other side shocked me so much that all I said was “Uh.”
He didn’t yell. Look, I’ve heard him yell, and I wasn’t sure the international cell network could take it. It would probably fry on contact. Instead, he said, in the most disconcerting way, as though he were in the middle of a conversation, and I’d just arrived late to it, “So I covered up your folly and saved your ass, but don’t go off half-cocked like this again.”
“Uh? Agent Franks?”
“I mean this little unscheduled trip of yours. At any other time it would have got you fired, but the minute I realized where you were and got ready to go retrieve you,” the microsecond before the next work, I had time to think of what Franks retrieving me meant. It probably did not mean “in one piece.” “I got this fax asking us to send a task force to Portugal, ASAP to help their organization, oh, yeah, Dark Fate. Stupid name. But at any rate, I told them I’d sent you.”
This was the longest speech I’d ever even imagined Franks making, and I stared at the phone a while before saying “I see.” I didn’t see at all. “I’m a task force now?”
“And why did they ask for help, precisely? And why us?”
“They helped us out in Maryland ten years ago. And anyway, all the other organizations in Europe are busy with Julie Schakleford’s matter. Also, because of Dark Fate’s peculiar organizational principles, they have… ah… territorial issues with a lot of other organizations.”
Again, Franks was talking far too much, and if it all didn’t have the flat, weirdly inhuman tone he normally spoke in, unless he was telling you how he’d kill you, I was starting to wonder if I’d got a Fake Franks.
But more importantly, he wasn’t saying much that I really needed to know.
“Peculiar organizational principles?”
“Never mind. You’ll find out.”
And then he gave me directions to get to the headquarters of this Dark Fate thing.
I walked out of the room, past freshly shampooed carpet where there was not a hint of the lamia’s blood. Apparently the carpets were made to be really good at not absorbing blood. I filed it under “little known facts about Europe a tourist might never find out.” and took the stairs down. Look, if you’ve ever been stuck in an elevator with a blood fiend, like it happened to me back at Harvard, you kind of don’t like elevators. You might take them, sure, but after an encounter with yet another monster in this building, I felt my acquired elevator phobia come back. From this day forward, I’d take no elevators again. Not if I could help it.
The elevator phobia was only one way that the blood fiend had changed my life. It had also changed my career from law to monster hunting. Oh, yeah, and caused me to wear a health-tag on a chain around your neck that says “In case of death, chop off my head. No, I really mean it, damn it. Look, let’s say it’s my religion.” The print is kind of small, but it was important. I’d been bit in that elevator and when I died, no matter when, I’d come back as a vampire.
It occurred to me I was in a foreign country, where their monster hunting system was utterly opaque to me, and I might not have someone ready to do what needed to be done when the time came. I shuddered. Well. I’d find this Dark Fate.
I more or less ran down the stairs, past the lobby. The clerk I’d seen earlier was helping someone with their bags. He looked pale, and his eyes slid away from me, but he said nothing. I wondered what they used to keep casual witnesses in line in Portugal.
I was down on the street, before I realized I should have called a taxi. But you know what, I wasn’t in the mood to brave the clerks and what they might or might not know again. The directions Franks had given me — he said not to trust the GPS as it was notoriously inaccurate — looked like two or three miles. I could walk that.
It was true I could walk that, but not easily, not in a town that was all ups and downs. It started reminding me of San Francisco. They even have trolley cars. I considered a trolley car briefly, then realized it was part of an organized tour. And while the city had buses, it seemed they labeled them according to some arcane system. I didn’t recognize any of the street names on the front of the bus.
On the way, I read and deleted Franks’ texts. A couple asked where the hell I was, but most of them just said “Grrrrr.” I am not even joking.
I walked down into what looked like the center of town: a beautiful, huge plaza surrounded entirely by granite buildings with a certain art deco flavor. On the bottom floor of one of those buildings was a MacDonald’s with marble tables, marble floor, marble counters, gilded everything and a golden eagle up front. It took me a moment of staring to a) realize it really was a MacDonald’s, and b) hear my stomach grumble.
Yeah, it was a tourist trap, and yeah, I normally don’t dine on fast food, but I hadn’t eaten since the admittedly pretty good food on the plane — they try harder for first class — and I was starving. I walked off, with a burger and a coke, past the fountain with the statue of the girl sitting on it, and turned sharply right into what looked like a little alleyway. Okay, revise that. Most of their old streets looked like alleyways to us. This one was larger, and might have taken two cars, side by side or passing each other, but though there were some cars seemingly parked at random on it, the pavement was white and black stone mosaic, in a pattern that looked vaguely Roman, so I guessed it was SUPPOSED to be a pedestrian street.
Immediately after I turned, there was the doorway of something that looked like maybe a little deli. Except that it also said it sold lottery tickets, and there were souvenirs for sale all over its shop window: things engraved with Porto and Portugal, and little dolls in costumes I doubted anyone had worn since the eighteenth century.
I walked in. There was a deli counter to my left, a refrigerated foods case to my right. After the counter there were three men shining client’s shoes. I walked past all that to the door at the back, marked Private.
A waiter showed up in front of me. “Sir?”
He spoke English. Something I’d noticed while walking was that the touts for various touristy shops along the way were skilled at judging someone’s nationality and called out in many languages. Mind you, that didn’t mean they understood English. Which was all very well, since I didn’t understand Portuguese, but I’d memorized the phrase Franks gave me. “Maia e o lidador.” I said, in what was probably an atrocious accent.
The man’s eyes widened. He was very small, only came to about my shoulder, and had only a few hairs on his head, and that kind of tanned, dry skin people get who spend a lot of time outside. He stared up at me, crossed himself, then nodded.
Opening the door marked private, he got in there, and held it so I got in. On the wall, as Franks had said, facing a non-descript desk covered in bills and paperwork, was an ornate floor to ceiling mirror. The man locked the door behind us, then went over to the desk, opened the top drawer and reached way in. Franks had said you’d feel the button on the top.
Then he went to a bookshelf on the corner, and carefully removed the third book from the left on the bottom shelf. Then he flicked the light switch on and off four times, very fast.
The mirror slid aside. He jabbered something at me, crossed himself again, and waited while I walked through before sliding the mirror shut behind me. I had to fight an impulse not to try to open it on this side following Franks’ directions, just to make sure they worked. Of course they worked. I was here at their request. I was the task force.
I found myself in a tight, wood-floored hallway. It smelled of age, decay and floor wax.
An elevator was right in front of me. There were no stairs and no doors besides the elevator’s.