Home > Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(9)

Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)(9)
Author: Ilona Andrews

I glimpsed Peterson as I shut the door. He stared at me, jaw bulging and face as pale as a corpse.

I shut the door. Five minutes. If only the Medamoth had shown up five minutes later.

I turned around, retrieved my robe and slipped it on.

The Medamoth stretched. His human body turned static, frozen, as if it were an image on pause, split into hexagons, which turned white, then rained down, as the projection collapsed, leaving a massive being in their wake. He stood eight feet tall, with broad shoulders and powerfully muscled limbs. His skin, deep green on his back, and bright orange on his front, looked thick and rough, like the hide of some prehistoric shark. His legs had more in common with a kangaroo than with a human, but his arms were fully humanoid, long, with large hands equipped with four dexterous digits, each tipped with a claw. His head belonged to a predator—long terrifying jaws, designed to pierce struggling prey with four inch fangs and hold it still as it thrashed, dying; large canine ears, standing straight; a sensitive nose at the end of a long muzzle; and large amber eyes, front set, like the eyes of Earth’s predators, to notice and track prey.

The Medamoths were born hunters. Tracking, hunting, and killing was instinctual to them, and their predatory drive kicked in as soon as they opened their eyes. A baby Medamoth released into a meadow would kill every rabbit and mouse in it, gorge themselves, and then cry because the rest of the meat rotted and now they were hungry. The Assembly classified them as high risk. There had been cases of them trying to hunt other guests, and some busier inns, like Casa Feliz, were reluctant to take them, because they had to be closely supervised.

I had an inn full of delicious plump koo-ko and a Drífan liege lord was coming.

The Medamoth wore a voluminous robe of undyed plant-based fabric, reminiscent of linen. Normally they wore an assortment of weapons and metal jewelry studded with gemstones. He wore a knotted rope around his neck, decorated with plain wooden beads. An identical rope hugged his waist. A red tattoo marked the back of his neck, standing out against the green and luminescing slightly, so the troops behind him could see his rank during a battle and know who to follow.

“That’s better,” he said.

I spun a hallway off the left side of the front room and motioned for him to enter. “Please join me, General Who Sinks His Fangs Into The Throat Of His Enemy.”

He shook his hand at me in a dismissive gesture. “No rank please. Today I’m just a pilgrim.”

We strolled through the hallway. I had built arched windows into it on the fly, and the sunshine flooded through, drawing golden patterns on the wood floor.

“What brings you to Earth?”

“I’m being groomed for a government position.”

“Congratulations.”

He grimaced, baring nightmarish fangs. “While many may view it as a prestigious position, it’s simply another way to serve. I have served, I will serve.”

“May I inquire as to the nature of the position?”

“Colonial governor. It’s a frontier position. Conflict is expected.”

“Why?”

“Because the colony is in a contested system. The other planet is occupied.”

“By whom?”

“The Hope-Crushing Horde.”

That explained volumes. “The Horde exists to acquire new territory. “

He showed his teeth again. “So my predecessor found out. Our settlement is well defended, we breed faster than the Otrokar, and the logistics are on our side. However, the Horde does not know the meaning of reason. We are hunters. We have learned to adapt to the limits of our biosphere. The Horde is a swarm that devours all and moves on.”

Strictly speaking, the Horde did not devour. By ancient custom, each Otrokar who joined the Horde was entitled to a homestead. The homestead, in Otrokar terms, meant a parcel of land about fifteen acres, large enough to grow some food and pasture their mounts. The higher your rank, the bigger the homestead. Despite the modern convenience of cities, almost all Horde veterans claimed the homestead at the end of their service. They had to expand.

“To become worthy of the office,” the Medamoth continued, “one must complete a pilgrimage with the purpose of learning a valuable understanding.”

“An interesting custom. I can think of several Earth politicians in need of such a pilgrimage.”

“It does change your perspective.”

“What understanding do you seek?”

The general’s eyes narrowed. “I’m visiting the sites of great last stands, where a small group of defenders fought against overwhelming odds.”

“Are you learning how to die well, general?”

He made a low coughing noise, the Medamoth version of a laugh. “I’m learning what went wrong. What led to that last desperate defense? Why didn’t they surrender? Why didn’t the larger force employ diplomacy to prevent the slaughter? I have visited Nexus, Urdukor, Daesyn, and now I come to Earth. It’s the final leg of my pilgrimage.”

Urdukor belonged to the Hope-Crushing Horde, Daesyn was the planet of House Krahr, and the Nexus was the battleground where the Otrokar and the vampires of the Holy Anocracy butchered each other for decades until they reached a peace treaty in Gertrude Hunt. He wasn’t on a pilgrimage of last stands. He was trying to figure out how to not die in one.

Coming to this inn was no coincidence. He wanted to know the secret to making peace with the Horde.

“I know that my kind isn’t always welcome at the inns of Earth.”

It was my turn to show teeth. “Your species tries to eat the other guests.”

The general looked abashed. “My pilgrimage is vital. I give you my word of honor that I will restrain my hunting impulses. I wish to request a room at your inn. I understand that Treaty Stay requires you to accept my presence, but I don’t wish to impose against your will. I will require some assistance in viewing my chosen last stand, so I humbly ask for your acceptance.”

“Which site are you here to view?”

“The Alamo.”

Of all the last stands on Earth, he picked the Alamo. It couldn’t be Masada, Stalingrad, Thermopylae, or Shiroyama. It had to be the Alamo. Technically we were the closest inn, but he could have gone to Casa Feliz as well. He was here because we had done the impossible and he wanted to know how we had done it.

“Gertrude Hunt is honored to welcome you as a guest. I have to warn you, we are expecting a Drífan.”

His ears flicked up. “I do not anticipate a conflict,” he said carefully.

“Then let me show you to your rooms. One last thing, your disguise needs a little work.”

“The humanizer? I thought I had done rather well calibrating it. I chose attractive male features, the popular hair color, and the jewel eyes the experts say humans prize.”

He thought he’d made himself pretty.

“Was I not successful?”

“Not entirely.”

“Was I too frightening?”

“More like disconcerting.”

The Medamoth coughed again. I twisted the hallway, turning it into a staircase, and opened an oversized door at its end. A round chamber of pale stone lay ahead, with curved couches supporting plush blue cushions along the walls. Weapons decorated the room, displayed on the walls between the jewel-colored replicas of Medamoth tapestries. A large screen offered a plethora of Earth channels, playing a preview of a National Geographic special on Alaska. A dipping pool waited to one side, sunken into the floor next to the balcony, which offered a view of the orchard and the evening sky above. It was almost dinner time.

“Have you eaten?”

“I have. I will spend the evening adjusting to the time change and resting in contemplation. Please call me Qoros. It’s the name I have chosen for this journey.”

“Please call me Dina. If you need anything, simply ask the inn or call me by name.”

I left and shut the door behind me. We had until midnight. In every known account of the Drífen visiting, they always arrived just a couple of minutes before the clock struck twelve. That left Orro with roughly seven hours to come up with the Grand Burger, and I hadn’t heard him yell “fire!” since the tea with Caldenia.

I had a feeling that something had gone terribly wrong.

5

I sat at the kitchen table, facing Caldenia. Two glasses of water and two plates waited between us. The first plate contained a freshly purchased Grand Burger. The second held its exact replica. It looked like the real thing—plump sesame-seed bun, thin patty, a stack of lettuce, pickles, and tomato, and melted yellow cheese. It smelled like the real thing.

We had now bought thirty Grand Burgers, which had caused no end of fun making by the Favor delivery driver. Red Deer wasn’t that large, so we had gotten the same delivery driver three times in a row for an identical order of ten burgers each. When she made the final delivery, she asked if the Hamburgler was renting a room or if we were just making a documentary about fast food.

To the right, Orro stood completely still in the kitchen, like a monument to culinary failure.

Caldenia and I regarded each other like two duelists. Both burgers had been cut in half with surgical precision.

“Shall we?” Caldenia inquired.

I picked up my half of the Grand Burger and took a bite. It tasted just like the other four Grand Burgers I had tasted in the last four hours. I swallowed, drank some water, and picked up Orro’s burger. The first burger he presented to us several hours earlier tasted like heaven. The second was too chewy, the third was too mushy, the fourth was too salty. Taking another bite was kind of scary.

I inhaled and bit into the burger.

Cardboard. Soaked in meat juice.

Caldenia picked up a napkin and delicately spat into it. “You know I live for your cooking, dear, but this wasn’t one of your better efforts.”

Orro moved. Claws fanned my face and the two plates vanished, their contents hurled into the garbage. Orro leaned against the island, his back to the countertop, his face raised to the heavens, his arms hanging limp by his sides.

“I cannot do it.”

   
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