Tuesday, 21 May 2019, Morning
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Rowen

While I was busy dancing in dreams in a haunted house, Rowen went to visit the Silphium Resort.

Aside: You’re used to hearing from me, Kerry, in first person, about my own experiences. I started with my story for a reason. But, to best share the stories of the Chosen Ones, there will be times I’m the omniscient narrator. Well, semi-omniscient.

I wasn’t there with Rowen to observe this happening. I interviewed her and fact-checked where possible. For the sake of narrative, I’ll include some embellishments. This is one of those times when the only way to convey the reality of a moment is through story. Where I share Rowen’s thoughts and emotions, sometimes it’s based on those interviews. Others, it’s about the overall narrative flow, keeping you in the stream of events.

So, I was dreaming and in mortal peril. We’ll get back to that.

Rowen took the winding mountain road to the Northern Cascades Silphium Resort and Spa.

It turned out to be more difficult to pin down than she’d expected. When she’d pulled the maps app open on her phone and put in Silphium, no results appeared. She switched the search to “Resort,” and while there were plenty of those, none were Silphium. It took an internet search and drilling through their business website to find the physical address.

That was another sign that something was off about Silphium. Most vacation or relaxation destinations would want to be found. Silphium clearly preferred word of mouth over search engines. With a vampire working as their legal representation, their clientele might be, well, concerned with privacy.

While the evergreen trees blurred by, Rowen fought her first impulse to call her former mentor, Chris Ellis. She was the one who had the network, knowledge, and answer to every question, or at least the strategies to find the answer. But, no, Chris wasn’t an option. Chris had a new Chosen One to guide, and she was loyal to the Hands of the Seers. Too risky.

Instead, she had to think over the list of people she might call for insights. Alex was the local, but they had a day job and they’d already given her what they knew about Silphium. Silphium had four other resorts scattered across the corners of the continental US, besides, and the Northern Cascades resort was the newest. Local intel wasn’t what she needed.

Vampire lawyer?

Ask vampire hunters.

The String Quartet might have some ideas. She pressed the microphone button on her steering wheel and gave the command.

“Call Viola.”

Viola answered in three rings. “You know I’m trying to sleep, Ro, with the hours I keep.”

“Sorry. Dealing with a vampire lawyer named Ryan Hugh who works for a company named Silphium Resorts. You heard of either?”

“A name like that is probably a pseudonym, so I’m not sure. Silphium, though, yeah. They are not good news. They’ve got humans aplenty working for them, and they put on a good front. Cooperate with human law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Pay their taxes. Everything is on the level. But they cater to necromancers, pact-makers, and sanguine. At least they’re too American to network with the European Primes. Or, at least, we haven’t spotted any agents of the Primes visiting Silphium Resorts where we have eyes. We can only do so much.”

Bad news all around. Necromancers dealt with death—ghosts, animated dead, scrying potential pasts and futures through blood sacrifice. Pact-makers traded human souls to demons for strength, prestige, and wealth. Sanguine were among the most powerful types of vampires, able to walk openly in daylight, although the sun weakened them to human strength. Word that the European Prime Vampires probably didn’t have ties to Silphium meant little. She wouldn’t encounter Dracula, but there was plenty of other potential bad going on.

(Kerry Sidenote: Rowen wasn’t using a pop culture pseudonym. Dracula is one of the Prime Vampires, and still active as of this writing.)

“If they’re operating within the legal systems, is there any chance they’d be under investigation in relation to missing persons or racketeering? FBI?”

“If there’s someone with a personal vendetta, a hunch that something’s off, or a friend who’s a hunter, but I’m not aware of anything active. Silphium must be using donors among the employees. They’re keeping them alive, well-paid, and protected. If they’re trafficking, too, they’re covering their tracks.”

Rowen clicked her tongue. Donors, people who voluntarily allowed monsters to consume their blood, emotions, or energy, were unlikely to betray the predators that feasted upon them. Like addicts, they kept coming back for more. There were plenty of horrific, mundane reasons for human trafficking, but monsters like vampires often needed more than willing victims could provide.

“I’m headed to one of their locations to look around,” she said, getting to the point. Viola needed her sleep. “Any advice?”

“Tread lightly and don’t give them a reason to want to vanish you. Use your real identity as a shield. Slayer of Veroriax and all.”

Rowen chuckled. “You don’t think they’ll have any desire to avenge a demon prince?”

“I mean, there’s a nonzero chance that happens, but… my gut’s telling me they don’t want scenes. You’re more likely to face mundane trespassing charges than the wrath of an angsty Veroriax groupie. Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Thanks, Vi. Send my best to the rest of the Quartet.”

“You know I will.”

Throughout the call, Rowen had been monitoring her mileage. The GPS chimed in with her next turn just as she hung up. With only five minutes left on the drive, she didn’t have enough time to make a followup call to her newest contact. She wasn’t even sure how that newest contact would respond.

Sure, she’d just saved General Joshua MacPhearson’s granddaughter from werewolf hunters.

And, sure, the old werewolf was the newly appointed head of the top-secret clandestine military operation known by those involved as the Supernatural Activities Intelligence Unit, or SAINT for short.

But no amount of gratitude would get that man to walk anywhere near the line of betraying military secrets. It wasn’t time to tap that connection. Not for information on a rival bidder for a real estate transaction.

The Silphium Resort and Spa burst forth into sight in front of her, a sprawling building that blended wood and glass. From the Pacific Northwest stereotypes, Rowen would have expected foggy gloom turning everything a dull gray, but late spring sunlight struck the sparkling clear glass and cast rainbows. The parking lot was about half occupied, so she wouldn’t be alone in there. Immaculately maintained flower beds, with a mix of local ferns and flowers, created barriers between the rows of parking spaces and lined the protected pedestrian pathways. Everything about the resort exuded the air of a welcoming escape from the outside world.

The only contradiction to the visual invitation was how Rowen’s gut twisted inside of her as she got out of the car. She wasn’t the only prophesied Chosen One who got a physical reaction when danger was near. She just wished sometimes that it hit something other than her stomach. Some people saw auras, heard music, got goosebumps, felt static electricity. She got to train herself to breathe through the nausea that accompanied the sense of nearby wrongness. How was that fair?

The lobby was immaculate, sparkling white. Two receptionists in crisp uniform stood at a polished wood front desk. There was a large cooler of fruit-infused water and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. The receptionists glanced at one another, then down at something on their desk. Probably a guest log.

“Hello there.” Rowen moved right up to the desk. “I’m not registered for any overnight stay or day treatment, but I was hoping to ask a few questions about your offerings, possibly make a booking. My name is Rowen Hayward.”

A little typing, an exchanged glance, a raised eyebrow. Oh, she was definitely in their system. And, if she was in their system, that meant they had connections on the dark side, tracking Chosen Ones and other troublemaking do-gooders.

The Hands of the Seers didn’t officially recognize any of the broader conspiracies, that there was an organized system of demons, devils, and practitioners of the diabolical equivalent to the network that they’d put together. They only acknowledged provable gangs, mafias, secret societies, and smaller-scale players who sometimes made deals with one another. Especially now that she was on her own, though, Rowen often suspected there was something more to it.

“Ah, Ms. Anholts left a note that you might come by. You’re also interested in purchasing Paxwood House?” the receptionist half-asked.

“That’s right,” Rowen confirmed. Knowing her name wasn’t a full-fledged demon conspiracy—this time around.

“She was hoping to be here when you did, but she’s unfortunately out on other business today. She should be available tomorrow to meet with you. If you leave a number where she can reach you?”

“Sure, sure.” Rowen pulled her wallet out and fetched out a business card to leave behind. It only had her name and number, black ink on about the cheapest white cardstock, but Chris had once told her that business cards were more presentable than jotting her name and number on a receipt when she needed to leave her contact information with a person in need or a potential ally.

Or, in this case, a potential adversary.

“If you would be interested in a massage, we have a licensed therapist with an opening in his schedule in about an hour. Ms. Anholts notes it would be her treat. You’d be welcome to wait here in the lobby seating area, or in our Zen garden.”

“That sounds lovely,” Rowen said, faking a smile. “I’ll go explore the garden, then.”

And so, Rowen couldn’t come to my rescue because of a complimentary spa day. If you ask me, narrator-me, sitting in the future, I’d say Anholts wanted Rowen out of the way while she and the vampire lawyer got a good look around Paxwood House. My predicament? Just a little bonus.

21: Meanwhile, Phoning a Friend

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