Updated: Jun 16, 2020
The phone stopped ringing, only to resume moments later. The song, River, her favorite, echoed in the hall, but instead of inspiring her to dance like it normally did, it made her mouth dry out. She knew the unknown caller was the same who’d just called Noemi’s phone. There was no question about it.
"Are you going to answer it?" Moon looked at Renee as the elevator doors slid open.
Renee nodded, pressed the green answer button on the screen and lifted the phone to her ear, "Hello?"
"It seems we have a new player. Welcome to the games." The bass heavy voice vibrated into her ear, followed by a sickening laugh before the call ended.
"What the fuck was that?" Moon asked, she heard what was said.
"I have no idea.” Renee stuffed the phone back into her pocket. The call left her with a sour taste in her mouth and a knot in the pit of her stomach. “We need to get Noemi to her room."
Everyone watched them as they helped the depressed vampire down to the lower levels and to her room. Noemi sobbed and trembled. She repeated the name of her lost friend and whispered apologies to the fallen. Moon opted to stay with the mourning woman and Renee left them alone. Moon knew Noemi, they were close, a lot closer than she could have hoped to have gotten to her new partner in such a short time. She would be no use to them. Besides, she needed to get her head together and figure out what the hell that call was about.
“Renee,” Xavia caught her in the hall as she headed from Noemi's room to her own.
“Ma’am,” Renee paused and addressed her new boss.
“I know that this is an alarming first day for you, but can you explain to me why you weren’t in attendance for your debriefing?” she looked at a form in her hand. Tiffany reports that when she arrived she did not find you in the room though Calista confirms that she left you there.”
“I'm sorry, I'm confused,” Renee frowned. “Noemi said that the debriefing was to be rescheduled. She gave me my room key and requested that I meet her for a day out.”
“A key? How is that possible?” she pulled a small packed from her pocket. “I have your key, I am the only one who assigns the rooms. After your debriefing you would have met with me and I would have taken you on a proper tour of the space.”
Renee pulled out the key marked 307 and handed it to Xavia, “This is the key.”
“Shit,” Xavia flipped the metal piece in her hand and sucked her teeth.
“What is it?”
“This is Juniper’s room.” Xavia took off in a flash to the elevator and Renee was right on her heal. “I don’t know how she got this damn key. It should have been locked away with the rest of her belongings.” The elevator slid open and the two stepped inside.
“You’re telling me that she has me bunking in her dead partner’s bed?” Renee shuddered as she began to question the sanity of her newly assigned partner, “Nothing wrong with that at all.”
As soon as the elevator doors opened, Xavia’s form disappeared beside her and Renee had to run to keep up. Even with vamp speed she was left in the woman’s dust. By the time she made it to the room, Xavia had it opened and was examining the space.
“Why would she give this key to you?” her eyes swept over every inch of the bedroom.
“A joke? A really sick one,” Renee watched Xavia. “I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary when I was here earlier.
“You were here?”
“Yeah,” Renee nodded at the doors to her left, “I dropped my bags in the closet and headed back upstairs to meet Noemi and Moon.”
Xavia crossed the room and grabbed the hands to the double doors. When they swung open she gasped, “How is this possible?”
“What is it?” Renee joined Xavia at the closet door and her eyes bucked at the image before her. Written on the wall of the closet in fresh blood, was a message.
Welcome to the Games…
What Bites with No Teeth?
Three Hours to answer…
“He’s back.” Xavia shook her head.
“What the hell is this? Who’s back?” Renee stepped into the closet, nothing else was out of place. “This wasn’t here before. Who did this?”
Xavia pulled the phone from her pocket and started dialing. She lifted it to her ear.
“Calista here,” the cheerful voice echoed through the receiver.
“Get Brigytah on the phone, now. Tell her she is needed here.” Xavia’s voice was strong, controlled.
“Is everything alright?” a worried tone replaced the joyful one that rang out just moments before.
“No, it isn’t,” she paused and looked at Renee with pity in her eyes. “Donovan is back and it appears he has a new target.” Xavia took a deep breath as she slid the phone back into her pocket.
“Okay, you’re going to have to explain what the hell is going on here.” Renee wanted answers. She deserved them. She hadn’t been in Chicago for 24 hours yet and already hell was breaking loose and she was in the eye of the storm.
“Well,” Xavia left the room with Renee following again closely behind her, “Donovan as you know is the vampire who has been terrorizing the area. He takes pleasure in killing other vampires. He feeds from them and well, it's made him a bit insane. He doesn’t just kill them, he makes a game of it. Once he marks his target, he is relentless.”
“A game?” The voice of the unknown caller and his message echoed in her head. We have a new player. She was the new player.
“Yes, we haven’t been able to figure out how he is doing any of it. Messages like the one in the closet, they just appear and whoever they are intended for, they must solve the puzzle, or complete the task before the consequence.”
“There are consequences?”
“Yes,” Xavia paused in front of the elevator doors. “Noemi thought she had found a way around them. She thought she beat the game but, she didn’t and she lost everything because of it.”
Inside the elevator, Xavia inserted a pin into a small hole and a hidden button appeared. She pressed the button and the elevator began to move.
“Am I supposed to play this game now?” Renee asked.
“Yes, either that or-,”
“Consequences.” She sighed and leaned against the wall. “Some hell of a first day. When can I be debriefed? I need to catch up on everything Donovan.”
“Actually,” the doors slid open again to reveal the chambers for the Head of House, “I think it would be good if you didn’t get a full debriefing. That will only download data and conclusions that we’ve already made into your head. This needs a pair of fresh eyes. Perhaps you will be able to catch something we didn’t.”
Xavia lead Renee down a hall that was lined with pictures of former Heads of House. The establishment had been in place for thousands of years. Vampires were the peacekeepers for the paranormal world. Guns for hire when anyone stepped out of place. Renee looked at all of the faces that hung before her, all women. Caged House, like many of the other houses was a women-only establishment. There was something about keeping out testosterone that just helped things run smoother. They stopped with the came to a large black door with an “L” on the front.
“Here is where you will start,” Xavia pushed the door open to reveal a massive library on the inside. “First things first, solve that riddle. The clock started ticking the moment you read those words. Don’t try to cheat and use google. Believe it or not, he will know.”
“A new visitor?” A tall slender woman with large round glasses and dreadlocks that fell to her feet, swayed out from between to stacks. “Is this the transfer? I was expecting your tour much earlier.”
“Tamerra, this is Renee,” Xavia made the introduction as Tamerra moved over to them holding books in her hands. She wore a long purple summer dress that swept the floor as she moved.
“Nice to meet you,” Renee held her hand out to shake but quickly dropped it when she noticed the woman wouldn’t be able to return the gesture.
“It’s nice to meet you as well.” Tamerra shifted the books in her arms.
“Renee is here to do some research,”
“Already? Well you are something else. The reports from Texas were astonishing. After a debriefing you’re already ready to soak up some knowledge. I know the feeling, I love books! I have the largest collection here of any other house. Anything you need I have it, if I don’t have it, I’ll find it!” She beamed. “Sorry, I get a little chattery sometimes. I’m usually here by myself.”
“Renee has a riddle to solve,” Xavia spoke the words and Tamerra’s mocha skin turned pale. She knew what the words meant.
“Donovan,” she whispered and clutched her books tighter.
“Yes, he is back and he has a new player,”
“Oh, no,” Tamerra carefully placed the books down on a nearby table as she dropped her head and clutched the corners of the table top. The sound of the metal as it was crushed by her hands screeched before Tamerra released it and instead left the shape of her fist on the surface. “That bastard! She just got here! After what he did to Juniper, and Noemi!” She pounded the table over and over until Xavia called to her.
“Tamerra, calm down,” Xavia spoke in an even tone and the librarian took deep steady breaths to bring her temper in check.
“Sorry about that,” She fixed the dreads that she had shaken into her face. “What a terrible first impression.”
“You going to be alright?” Renee asked and gave Xavia a side eye. Here she was supposed to solve some riddle so a madman didn’t kill her and her guide was someone who clearly had a tough time holding on to her own sanity.
“Yes, sorry, I’m fine. What was the riddle?”
“What bites with no teeth?” Renee spoke the words that were written in blood on the closet wall.
“Oh,” Tamerra’s eyes bucked.
“You cannot tell her, you know the rules,” Xavia warned.
“Yes I know. I can’t tell but I can … nudge her in the right direction.” Tamerra paused. “Three hours, right?”
“Yes,” Xavia nodded. “I’ll leave you two to it, there is much to be done and Brigytah is on her way back here.” she paused before leaving, “Tamerra, nudge… there is a fine line and he will know if you cross it.”
“Alright,” Tamerra clapped her hands and smiled, “ let's get to it we don't have much time.”
“Where do we start?” Renee frowned as she took in the sight of the thousands of books on display in front of her.
“How good are you with riddles?” Tamerra asked as she retrieved the collection of books she’d just sat down. She headed off down one of the aisles and Renee followed watching closely as she sorted the books and shelved them without even looking as their locations. This was her place, she knew it by heart.
“I wouldn't say that I’m the best with them by any means.”
“Okay, well if you had to guess at the answer, just the first thing that came to mind, what would you say is the answer to the riddle?”
“I don't know,” she paused again thinking of the riddle. “Bites with no teeth…a new born baby?”
“You are so far off target its not even funny. What if I told you that it's not something that actually bites you.” Tamerra leaned into Renee and when she didn’t answered she huffed and stumped her feet into the reinforced floors hard enough to shake the shelves around them. “Oh, this is so frustrating I know exactly what it is and yet I can't tell you. Ooh, maybe I can find a record around a way to help lead you there. It wouldn’t be giving you the answer, not technically.”
“What did you have in mind?” Renee would take anything she could get, she wanted to get it over with.
“How about you make another guess and I'll tell you how hot or cold you are.” Tamerra winked as she stretched the world cold.
“Um, okay, something that bites with no teeth.” Renee thought on it longer but the more Tamerra stared at her, the more impossible it was to come up with something that didn’t sound insane. “I have no idea.”
“Just say anything, anything at all!” Tamerra looked like she would pull her hair out if Renee didn’t giver he an answer.
“A bird?” the Texas vampire spit the guess out.
“You're so cold,” Tamerra flashed from her side of the room to Renee’s. She leaned into her and put the tip of her nose up against Renee’s. Her wide eyes peered into Renee’s claiming all of her attention before she continued, “You’re blank cold!”
“Blank?” Renee got the message Tamerra was trying to give her.
“Yes… blank!” the woman squealed.
“Do you mean ice cold?”
“I don’t know, do I?” Tamerra’s brows lifted so far that Renee thought they might fly off her face.
“Ice.. ice cold. Cold,” Renee repeated the words as she rolled an idea around in her head. Then it hit her, “Frost!”
“Yes! As in frostbite, it really is quite clever,” Tamerra shrieked and begin to dance around the room. Renee felt a sense of relief that climbed down her throat and died when seconds later an alarm sounded.
“What the hell is that?” Renee asked and her eyes shot to the flashing lights at the corners of the room.
“Oh no, I shouldn’t have helped you. I'm so sorry.” The librarian backed away from Renee shaking her head. “I messed up, oh no!”
“What do you mean?” Tamerra begin to mumble to herself and gather books. She quickly vanished in the back of the library leaving Renee’s question unanswered.
Renee left the library and followed the path back to the elevator which opened before she could press the call button. Reluctantly, she stepped inside the doors. They slid shut and without any direction from her, it sprung into action, rising to the main level of the underground layer. The metal doors opened to reveal a scene of chaos.
On the floor in front of her was Xavia, her body laid out as blood spilled from her torso. Her eyes fluttered as she struggled to hold on to life, she wasn’t recovering. The wound should have healed, but instead it remained open. A few feet away, agents surrounded a mortified looking girl. On the floor by her feet was an odd dagger, the blade – covered in the blood of its victim – had a weirdly serrated shape. Blood dripped onto her white Converse shoes from the tips of her fingers.
“I didn’t do it,” she whispered and found the shocked face of Renee. Calista reached out towards her but quickly retracted her hand as the others sneered at her. “It wasn’t me. I was at my desk and then, and then…” she trailed off.
“Take her away!” a voice of strength and authority called out from the main door and as the others moved into action, Renee gained view of her.
She strutted forward in a pair of heeled shoes that smacked the floor sending a sharp tapping noise that bounced around them. Calista was cuffed and dragged away while a flurry of white coats retrieved the Head of House who was barely holding on to her life. Blood soaked the floor where Brigytah’s foot fell.
“You must be Renee,” she held her hand out and Renee reciprocated.
“I’m assuming your Brigytah, the one Xavia called.”
“You assume correctly, though I wouldn’t make a habit of doing that,” she winked at her. “Well, isn’t this a wonderful first day for you here. I’m told that you haven’t been debriefed yet. We will get that going, I’ll let Tiffany know that her services are required.” She pulled out her phone and begin to type on the screen.
“Actually, Xavia decided that we would forego that process for now.”
“Did she now?” The perfectly sculpted brow rose in question.
“Yes,” Renee stepped back from the newcomer, suddenly feeling uneasy about her. “She wants me to bring a fresh perspective to the case.”
“Well, that makes no sense! You need to be informed. We will move ahead with the debriefing.”
“Not to sound rude, but that really isn’t your decision to make here.” Renee knew who her boss was and it wasn’t the leather wearing bombshell that stood before her.
“Not to sound like a bitch, but as second in command here, that makes me the interim Head of the Caged House while our mighty leader is down for the count.” Brigytah stepped forward closing the space between them. “And therefore, it is my decision to make.”
The two squared off as Renee refused to back down. Brigytah was challenging her and if she wavered for even a moment, the woman who walk all over her. She wasn’t the first bully Renee had come in contact with and she wouldn’t be the last. There were protocols to follow. Even as second in command, Brigytah had to follow the appropriate steps before issuing commands. Xavia wasn’t even stable yet and her second was already trying to overrule her decisions. Brigytah’s jaw tightened and Renee’s fangs descended just enough to show that she was up for a fight if need be.
“Um, Brigytah?” The nervous voice interrupted their stare down and Tiffany, a short girl with a pixie cut and fading tattoos that covered her body stood at the end of the hall. “You called for a debriefing, do you still require my services?”
“I don’t know,” Brigytah sneered and cocked her head to the side. Her eyes remained trained on Renee, “Do I?”
Now it’s time to VOTE!
Get the debriefing to placate Brigytah OR Refuse and take whatever heat comes her way?