I tell my crew what Janah said.
Amaya, “Great idea, I adore our sneaky Russians.”
Ichabod comes out the door, “I’ve got him,” I mental Nikko, “He’s headed your way.”
“I see him, hard to miss.”

I get out of the SUV, leave him lots of space, the streets are near empty, following him is easy.
He goes down two blocks, takes a left, Nikko’s in my head, “Got into a Mercedes, but it’s idling. I suspect Goth is behind, you better get gone before she comes up on you.”
Then Janah, “Goth just left the hotel coming your way, make yourself scarce.”
“Got it.”

I take a right a block before Ichabod, get far enough down to avoid detection by Goth, or so I thought. I spot her crossing the street, she stops and looks around. I see her staring down the street to her left, then to her right. I’m in the shadow of the wall, she looks for a half minute, then proceeds in the direction of the car.
“That was close, she must be good, she caught the scent of a problem and she’s bound to mention it to Ichabod.”
Janah, “We’re picking up Nikko, she has the description of the car and the plates, it isn’t a hire car. Grace B is looking up the registration. Before we screw this up, I think we collect everyone and go to the hotel. We have enough to figure out who’s who, and they’re going to be on the alert for a tail, let’s not give them the satisfaction.”
“I’ll go to the next street and wait.”

They collect me a minute later, we return to the hotel, go to the suite.
Grace B is onscreen, “Ichabod is Thomas Saunders, Goth is Robyn Getty. They have no online connection, Saunders is a British transplant, Getty has floated the west coast since abandoning high school seven years ago, her last photo appearance anywhere. She was fifteen then. Saunders was simpler, he needed a passport when he popped up in America and now has dual citizenship. He’s eighteen years older than Getty, she dropped high school about a month after Getty moved to Los Angeles from Birmingham England.”
“We don’t have to figure out why then.”
Janah, “He either took her mind or she was a hormonal teen looking for a daddy.”
Grace B, “Getty was an A student with picture perfect parents, little sister who adored her, cheerleader.”
“Took her mind then.”
“Parents did what they could, searched, found her, she refused to go home. They emancipated her at seventeen when she tried to get little sis to join her. Sis busted her to the parents, she apparently wasn’t a Shadow then, that’s when they walked away.”
Zi, “She’s a Shadow now.”
“It doesn’t matter how she got to Shadow I suppose, although if she was converted, it’s the first time we’ve encountered it. Most Shadows, when they take apprentices at all, have to be talked into it. They don’t care for pals, acolytes or disciples.”
“Maybe he took her mind for other reasons, cute play toy for instance, then she sees his capability and nags him to learn. Or she demonstrated potential in some way. Maybe we capture before we eliminate, it would be interesting to find out.”
Chloe, “Could she be, what, undone?”
“Unlikely, the training twists the mind, a knot that is permanent. Having the power to control others, not by coercion or force, just take over the mind, is a powerful intoxicant. One they refuse to lose, beyond mere addiction. And cruelty replaces any compassion. Daphne and Zi have vowed to kill Shadows, it doesn’t matter if they’re fifteen or eighty five. And remember, if you get caught facing her down, hesitation will bring pain or worse.”
Amaya, “Do not even, Chloe, if you get killed I shall never forgive you.”
Chloe, “Message received.”
Grace B, “If the dramatics are over, your targets are at the Leone et Rose, a B&B on the north side. Billed as a Victorian Mansion, eight rooms and another apartment size, Your targets have a mid range, sitting area with a lot of old stuff in it. You might call it romantic, or quaint, or just fussy.”
“We should drone it and see what Ichabod and Goth are up to, Grace B, you have GPS coordinates, I’ll get the drone ready.”
Daria comes with me, we have to collect the SUV, then get to someplace quiet where we can open the hatch and let it fly.
Twenty minutes later we’re watching it float up then shoot to the north, we beat a hasty back to the hotel.
Given our drone’s top speed, Grace B has it hovering the Leone et Rose by the time we arrive.
Chloe, “Nice place on the outside, I have the website on my tablet, Grace B is right, it’s fussy.”
Amaya, “That’s Victorian, lots of dark red, flower patterns, velour and satin.”
“Grace B, zoom to whatever rooms we can peek in.”
“You want to voyeur guests or go straight to the target room?”
“Target room, didn’t know you had it already.”
“Duh.”
I giggle, Grace B takes no prisoners. She’d hacked the check in records, gotten the hotel layout and zeroed in on the second floor corner where our targets are booked.
The sheers are drawn, but not the curtain.
Ichabod and Goth are sitting across from each other with a bottle of wine on the table between them.
Icky, “What did you learn?”
Goth, “The woman is ripe, claims her readings made her investments soar. That she’s ridden a ten year bull market seems to have escaped her notice. Her money is in a single brokerage account, she was cautious, didn’t mention an amount. Only that it is stocks, bonds and money market funds. She owns a bit of real estate, but her assets are primarily in the brokerage account. I plan to call her tomorrow, gush about how excited I am to come for a reading, blah, blah. How about you?”
“Three numbers, all of whom believe I can’t wait to escort their spotty old asses to dinner. God, every moment with the old cows is torture. The worst is when I discover their idea of wealth is a savings account and a social security check. Two of them have money though, now I have to get them to tell me where it is. One is iffy, she is either ultra rich and reticent, or just another aging dowager killing time with astrology.”
“Quit whining, get them alone, you can get that sorted out in ten minutes.”
“Complaining is stress relieving.”
“Where’s your other stress reliever?”
“In the bath, ah, here’s my luscious stress ball now.”
A boy of perhaps eight comes in, he’s drying his hair with a towel, otherwise nude. He drops the towel, sits in between Ichabod’s legs, the Shadow brushes the boy’s long hair until the tangles are gone. Then his hands roam the smooth thighs and one hand comes to rest between the boy’s legs. Due to the sheers, it’s difficult to tell how the child reacts, until he turns and kisses the man. A long kiss, involving tongues. He moves up, sitting now on the man’s thigh. One arm circles the boy’s back, the other hand slides along the inside of his leg and resumes its former  resting position.
Ichabod, “Where’s Theodore?”
The boy answers, “In bed waiting for Robyn.”
Goth, “That’s what I told him to do. You get the kid, I get the other kid. If he comes in here you’ll be grabbing his cock with your free hand, pervert.”
They laugh, Ichabod, “I would, he’s almost thirteen now, what do you plan to do with him?”
“Keep him around of course. He’s trained, obedient and beautiful. I have a new one in mind, not yet six. I’m thinking of capturing him on his birthday.”
“Another blond?”
“Yes, his mother is gorgeous, both parents are Nordic. I’m going to have mommy watch while her hunky husband fucks me, then they are going to give me the child as a gift.”
“Perhaps Theodore will be jealous.”
“Theodore doesn’t get to be anything unless I allow it. In fact, I’m going to make Theodore the boy’s valet, servant, slave, he’s used to slave, he’s my slave now. Soon he will serve young Derik as well.”
Ichabod, “Gorgeous youth, there is nothing more idyllic. You were perfect at fifteen, I can only guess how devastating when you were but ten or twelve. Today you remain a classic beauty.”
Goth, “I seduced daddy when I was eight, got tired of him by ten, but I kept it up until I was twelve. Milked him for any damn thing I wanted. He pouted when I wouldn’t give it up anymore, stayed in line when I showed him the videos I secretly recorded. You came along, taught me, this is a lot more fun than school and cheerleading, bunch of nasty adolescent boys sniffing around all the time.”
“Theodore is near adolescence.”
“Theodore won’t be nasty, at least not like most boys. He’s pretty, girly, sweet, and that’s how his smooth tight ass is going to stay. I’ll deal with him when he’s eighteen, he won’t be of any use to me then.”
“What will you do with him?”
“Haven’t decided, likely just do a mind erase and turn him loose. On the other hand, if he’s hunky, I can have fun making mommies give him their little girls. They can suck his cock while she watches. For variety, make her husband do it. Video it and send it to their kids, their friends, the boss, post it to a porn site, the possibilities are endless.”
“Considering what you can buy on virtual reality, it may seem tame.”
“True, but not to friends and family. Our job is to ruin lives, it’s a calling.”
Janah, “Well, Chloe, how about now?”
“Yep, she’s got to go along with him. I’ll take her myself.”
Amaya, “Remember…”
“Amaya, sometimes we get hurt. We decided doing these assholes with a dart is too distanced, assassin like. They fall by our hand, not by a our hand pressing a button.”
“I know, however to be clear, if things aren’t going well, I am zapping them with a laser gun, distanced or no. Neither you nor the rest of my tribe is getting killed while I have anything to say about it, and I am not arguing the point.”
Janah, “We wouldn’t expect you to, there is no argument. We do it face to face, my compromise is not to the death, not to our death anyway. We first meet our enemy eye to eye. Shadows would use any weapon at their disposal to kill us. The best can use telekinesis to fly objects at us, they use qi as we do, to send energy blasts. Still, they have too much confidence in their skills, to their detriment, or they would carry guns or other deadly weapons as well. We aren’t going to be that hardheaded.”
Amaya, “Good enough, I am packing,” she pulls out one of Eloise’s mini lasers, it looks like a pen, except it will put a hole through steel plate, “but I will leave it to the fighters to give it a go first.”

One Hundred Two

“The girl didn’t mention that she sensed something when she left the Monaco on the way to the car, I wonder why?”
Nikko, “Maybe she blew it off, or perhaps they discussed it in the car on the way to the B&B.”
“True, we didn’t have any way to monitor the conversation in the car.”
Janah, “Still, it’s a good point, Shadows would obsess over something like that, not just a brief mention then blow it off. I don’t know, maybe these two did, or maybe she didn’t think it worth a mention in the first place.”
Daria, “Like she doesn’t want to seem paranoid, the man would laugh at her.”
Janah, “Yes, something like that. We don’t know much about these two, what their relationship is, they have the usual Shadow sexual perversions, no sense of shame, enjoy humiliating people and ruining lives.”
Daria, “They have moved off to their separate bedrooms, do you want to continue surveillance?”
Janah, “No, they aren’t going to reveal anything to their sex toys, and I really don’t want to know what they do with them.”
Nikko, “They are abusing children Janah, right now.”
“I know that. It’s been happening, jumping in tonight isn’t going to fix it. I’m troubled by something, but I can’t put my finger on it. Daphne, I know it’s late, but get Oceane on, I need her to focus. And check in with Kota B, see if the children can get the Zycyryn engaged.”
I tap my screen, “Kota B, I need the children and Oceane.”
“You are in luck, she is here now,” she shifts the cam, the children are circling Oceane in a swirling dance, Cassie floats above, I briefly wonder how other kids spend their time in the evening, video games maybe.
“Tell them to take a break.”
“Children, Tetya Dafna is onscreen, she needs to talk to you.”
The dance stops, then children sit, look up at me. I can see them via Kota B, they can see me via the screen Kota B holds. Dasha and Daria step next to me.
In unison, “Dobryy vecher Mamas, Tetya Dafna.”
“Good evening to you as well dear ones. As you know, we are after Shadows in the north, we’ve found two and are monitoring them. Tetya Janah senses something unusual, but we can’t get a handle on what it is. For now, only a feeling, a disturbance. We would like Oceane to focus on us and the area up here. We would like you guys to contact the Zycyryn. Perhaps there’s nothing, maybe the normal atmospheric blips we sense anytime Shadows are involved.”
Nadia, “We will reach out, it may take time.”
“Understood, and Oceane?”
The cam zooms to her face, normal enigmatic grin, a blink, “You are Daphne.”
“I am angel, reach out to us, let us know what you see please.”
Her head turns to someone off the cam, “Daphne.”
Sloane’s face appears, “She’s on it mom, or will be, I think she was off some Oceane place while the kids danced, it takes her a while to reenter our reality.”
I’m not sure Oceane is ever in our reality, “No sweat honey, when she settles get her on point.”
“Will do, be careful, and if you need the wolf girl, I can be up there in a few hours,” she growls, bares pointed teeth, “I haven’t sunk my teeth in a Shadow in a while.”
“Hopefully you won’t need to this time. These two are talented and dangerous, they can control for an extended period of time, but the twins are here, and two samurai.”
Sloane grins, “Back later, can’t say how much later.”
“When you have something, or if it’s nothing, good. Bye for now.”
We click off, everyone has their mission, now we wait.
It’s near eleven, we didn’t take time to eat and there’s not much in the room, nuts, granola and candy bars, it’ll have to do. The twins, Amaya and Chloe have vodka, Janah and Nikko a glass of wine. I go downstairs and take the SUV to the same place, Grace B navigates the drone into the hatch.
“You clowns do not get in over your heads, these two sound dangerous.”
You’re right, which is why we’re hesitating. Janah senses something as you heard, we’ve got our mystics on it.”
“Those kids will be up all night now, you are a horrible Tetya.”
“You may be right again, Grace B.”
“I am never wrong, watch your back Jack.”
She blips off. 
Back in the room, “Grace B warned us not to bite off more than we can chew, and reminded me of how horrid I am as an aunt.”
Dasha, “Grace B ees full of Eemaya baloney, you should use Emma B, she ees polite. Besides anyway, children will not die from being up, they go wiz Gids all over universe at night, they can slip tomorrow.”
Janah, “Speaking of sleep, I need some, come on Daph, let’s shuffle off to our room.”
Nikko, “Good idea. If this turns out to be more than meets the eye, we could have a busy few days.”
In twenty minutes, Janah and I are cuddled, she’s already gone, I’m in hazy twilight right behind her.
I blink awake shortly after dawn, I think, it’s heavily overcast and dark in the room. After brush and flush, I had for the coffee machine, one of the single cup pod thingies, make myself a medium roast, pull the pod and make Janah a green tea. I pull back the curtains and stare out at a foggy Portland morning.
I hear Janah shift, roll out of bed and head to the bathroom. When she’s done, I hand her the cup of tea.
“I’m going to have a massive breakfast, a granola bar for dinner doesn’t cut it.”
I smile, Janah needs calories, your brain chews up a lot of them, her brain requires something like a blue whale downing a thousand pounds of krill, almost a half million calories in a single mouthful.
“Breakfast here is good, or we can take a walk, there’s a ton of stuff nearby.”
“I may not have the strength for a walk, besides, omelets are omelets, I want one veggie loaded and maybe even French toast or a waffle.”
I pop into Nikko’s head, Nikko will be awake, “Going to feed, you want to catch us downstairs?”
“Sure, Zi is meditating, but she’s been at it an hour, did you check in with the others?”
“Not yet, if Amaya is up it’s a miracle, Dasha is an early riser, I’ll tune in, we’ll see you downstairs in a few.”
I shift to Dasha, I see though her eyes, she’s handing Daria a cup of black tea, “Hey sweet, we’re going downstairs for breakfast if you care to join us.”
“Da, sister ees hungry, Eemaya ees still in bed.”
“She and Chloe can get something later, we’re going in a few, see you there.”
Ten minutes later we’re around a table, more coffee and tea, then ordering. Since it’s relatively early, the dining room is near empty, our stuff comes out quickly, it’s properly prepared, fat omelets for some, eggs to order for others, a platter of French toast, fresh fruit, another platter of crunchy bacon and grilled sausage.
The waitress smiles, “Women usually have egg white omelets, maybe yogurt. Glad to see some of us understand real breakfast.”
I smile up at her, “We’re fairly active, egg whites don’t cut it.”
“Fairly active? There’s not an extra pound on any of you, are you like, professional athletes, we get a lot of them here, marathoners training, like that.”
“No marathons, martial arts primarily, there are a couple of runners in our family, just not this group. We’re having a quickie vacation, maybe hop up to Vancouver, we haven’t decided yet.”
“Enjoy, wave a hand if you need something.”
She scurries off, nice lady, waitressing is work, when you get one that gets things straight and is attentive without being intrusive, it makes a good meal better. Tips are mostly a thing of the past these days, minimum wages have risen to more than make up for the vicissitudes of fluctuating tip income. Portland was particularly progressive on the subject early on, the rest of the country has caught up.
Nikko, “Nothing from the children?”
“Or Oceane, Sloane will know, if Oceane discovered anything, she’s likely forgotten it by now.”
Oceane’s brain is like a sieve, maybe more like a drain, things pass through but don’t stick. Janah and Daria have total recall, Oceane has total forget.
My phone dings, it’s Sloane, “We’re in the restaurant, what’s up?”
“Grace B replayed the video of the B&B, nice folks you have up there.”
“They’re Shadows, what did you expect?”
“Oceane says the whole place is Shadows, she didn’t say Shadows, just that the whole place is dark.”
“Swell, anything else?”
“No, she watched and listened, then said what she said. Got up, crawled into bed with Cass, that was that. I waited until this morning, you said you weren’t pursuing anything until you head from us, I figured it was better to let you sleep.”
“Appreciated. Nothing from the children?”
“Haven’t checked in, hang on,” I see her hip, she’s carrying the phone down the hall to the dorm.
I hear, “Wow,” then the phone takes in the scene, tiny sparkles everywhere, children in a circle on the floor, I hope they haven’t been there all night.
Sloane asks Kota B, “How long has this been going on?”
“Two hours, thirty three minutes and fifty seconds.”
“You don’t know what they are doing?”
“Communing with the Gids, I do not know about what.”
“You catch that mom?”
“Yep, leave them to it, someone call me when they return.”
“I’m gonna stick with them until they come down, you aren’t making any moves are you?”
“Not with this new information we aren’t, if Oceane is right, we have a different level of problem.”
“It smells like a trap. Ichabod and Goth never mentioned any other Shadows.”
“Let me talk it over with the others, get back to me when you have something from the girls.”
We click off, Zi, “New information?”
“We best wait until we’re in the room. The children are still traveling, we can’t do much for now.”
We take our time and enjoy breakfast, I’m wondering whether to order for Amaya and Chloe when she pops in my head.
“Can you haul up scrambled and toast or whatever? We have coffee in the suite.”
“Sure thing, we’re just wrapping up, let me catch the waitress.”
I get veggie omelets and two orders of bacon, Amaya will complain about bacon and fat while she eats it, I add an order of sausage links. 

One Hundred Three

Chloe, “Yum, this looks great.”
Amaya, “I am going to hate you when I am three hundred pounds Daphne,” she takes a chunk of sausage and two strips of bacon.
“You have a hundred eighty pounds to go gorgeous, better have another sausage.”
Chloe, “What have we learned?”
I recap my conversation with Sloane.
Zi, “The whole place? There are seven other rooms and an apartment.”
“We don’t know what Oceane means, or what she saw or sensed, just dark. Maybe she doesn’t like Victorian décor, she’s pretty basic, white chemise or white chemise.”
Amaya, “She has good sense anyway, that place looks like a brothel, or a drag queen stage set.”
Janah, “Oceane saw something troubling, even as spacey as she can be, she would have taken your request seriously.”
“You’re right of course. Suppose Zi and I take a ride, scope out the place, the twins can ride with us.”
Chloe, “I’m going, never encountered a group of Shadows this size, I want to feel the vibe.”
Amaya, “Then I’ll drive.”
Janah, “Take the sedan as well, we’ll all go, better to see the layout up close anyway.”
We’re down the block from the Leone et Rose an hour later. Zi and I have to keep our distance, we don’t want to get the natives restless, and if it’s as Sloane suggests, a trap, we aren’t anxious to step into it.
“Chloe and Daria take a stroll past the place, Nikko will do a drive by with Zi in the sedan. We’ll meet down the block on the other side and see what’s what.”
Chloe and Daria do more than walk past, they go inside. There’s a tense few minutes, then they emerge unscathed, no crazed Shadows follow them out.
When Chloe gets in the SUV, Amaya relieves her tension, “Are you fucking insane? Inside? With only Daria?”
Chloe giggles, “Only Daria? Daria can melt people with her mind, and lift extremely heavy things.”
“I know, but still. What did you find out? Shadow free?”
“Shadow full, the owners are Shadows, the rooms I was able to connect with have Shadow guests, it’s a Shadow convention in there.”
Zi, “Same read, I got a better sense of the top floor front, they’re up there.”
Janah, “Crap, it’s a trap, Sloane nailed it.”
Amaya, “Let’s get gone before the Shadow Apocalypse happens right here.”
As we hit the big suite, Sloane appears on my phone, “Place is full of Shadows, right?”
“Yes it is, it’s weird.”
“The children saw, Zycyryn took them. I’ll let Nadia explain.”
“Tetyas, Mamas, they planned the whole thing, to draw you in with the astrology scam. They do not know you are on to them yet, they are wondering how long to keep it up. Some want to move on since they do not know you are there, but they want to kill the Shaolin first, and their accomplices. They are stupid, they cannot kill Mamas.”
Uma’s head pokes up, “Mamas, you will kill Shadows and come home, also Morshchiny is missing Tetya Dafna, she went in her room looking and lay on her bed. You must tell her hello Tetya Dafna.”
Now I’m looking at Morshchiny from the side, she’s looking at a screen with my face on it, “Dobroye utro Morshchiny, you are taking care of the children, spasibo.”
She cocks her head, mastiffs aren’t verbal, she steps to the screen and sniffs it, doesn’t smell like me, she licks it instead.
“Blagodaryu vas, Morshchiny, Uma, give her a hug for me, we’ll be home as soon as we can, and thank you for the report from the Gids.”
In unison, “ Do svidaniya Tetyas, do svidaniya Mamas,” the screen fills with waving sprites surrounding Morshchiny, so precious.
Amaya swipes a tear, “Something in my eye,” Chloe kisses her cheek, “mine too I think, must be a dust storm in the room.”
“Magic dust courtesy of our pixies.”
Nikko, “And what magic dust do you have for us to deal with who knows how many Shadows?”
“That might take a while, and a fair amount of coffee.”
Dasha lines up coffee pods and starts in.
“Any observations about the location, the B&B?”
Janah, “It’s self contained, that is, there are properties nearby, but the perimeter is accessible from all sides. There’s only a wooden slatted wall around the gardens, part of which has a trellis overhead. But it’s a snap to break through.”
Nikko, “The porch runs around half the building, access to the lower floor rooms is simple enough. I didn’t see any clean way to get to the upper floors from outside.”
“Janah, our reservations aside, the only way to do this might be drones.”
“I’m aware of that. Given the situation, lured up here as we were, they opened the door to a sneak attack. If they cornered you or Zi, they would converge en mass. You can deal with a Shadow or two, not a dozen.”
“I have a support group, lots of them.”
“You want to bring up more, Sloane, Katya and her crew?”
“Yep. We go in full frontal, no prisoners, no mercy. Laser girls can use lasers, samurai girls can use katana, if you and Daria get the chance, blow them up with qi.”
“It will get messy.”
“Apart from the children, the whole place is Shadows, including the owner. If it wasn’t for the kids, I’d burn the place down.”
Janah, “Anyone else?”
Zi, “They must come and go, not sit in the B&B all day and night. Can we pick them off one by one?”
Nikko, “Maybe, as long as the others don’t get wind of it. If they find out they’re starting to die, they’ll bolt. Shadows aren’t going to stage a last stand.”
Janah, “She’s right, they’re way too self absorbed to circle the wagons. All that will happen is a ferocious argument about who’s crazy idea it was to band together and a tidal wave of accusations.”
Chloe, “Maybe they kill each other.”
“Be nice, but we can’t count on that. We have perhaps a dozen in one spot, if they run for it, we could chase them around, but that’s iffy and civilians could get hurt in the mayhem. At the B&B, we only have to worry about the kids, and as far as we know, there are only two.”
Nikko, “I don’t like as far as we know. I suggest another night of intense surveillance. If there are other innocents, we need to know that. I say we use the drone tonight, and we send Chloe and Zi for a closer look. Zi, can you tell if there’s a non-Shadow in a place full of Shadows?”
Zi, “What do you think Chloe?”
“We have no experience with that. They may actually stand out, light in a sea of darkness, or they could be swallowed up in it. Auras are not so simple as light and dark. All we can do is try, and hope the drones reveal more than we know now.”
Amaya, “Grace B can snoop from the sky, I shall take Chloe and Zi and they can snoop from the ground. The Qi girls can provide some level of interference I hope.”
Janah, “If Daria, Dasha, Daphne and I go full force, we can create a wall for maybe ten minutes. We can’t waste any time, a qi wall isn’t a guarantee of invisibility, it will only confuse them for a little while. That they are confused will make them suspicious.”
“I think we get what we can from the drone, audio or video. All we need to know is if there are other innocents, we don’t need to know the exact count, once we engage the Shadows, we won’t know where the innocents are anyway. If we go in with a qi wall, it’s going to alert them. Just don’t kill any kids, well, unless they’re trying to kill you.”
Janah, “Get Grace B, she can inform the others and get a flight arranged. We need two more drones, laser equipped, Katya’s people and Sloane. Eloise in case we need drone repair. Essentially everyone but the children.”
Amaya, “You are leaving the kids with bots?”
“They’re perfectly safe with bots, but I’m also calling Sis, the parents can stay with the children until we get back. They’ll love it.”
I make the calls, we don’t need the others up until tomorrow. I’ll need rooms, call the desk and take the two suites available, the rest standard rooms. What else? If we all storm the B&B, who watches Oceane and Cassie? I’ll need to fly one of the bots.
I call Susan, “Mom, we have a project involving everyone, I need you and the others to stay with the children for a couple of days….yes, starting tomorrow morning first thing.”
Sis, “How long, do you know?”
“No, I can’t say when we’ll be back, the children know where we are and why, they can explain.”
“Should I worry?”
“You should enjoy the kids, Oceane and Cass are coming up with the others, you won’t have to keep an eye on them.”
“You aren’t putting them in danger.”
“No, but they won’t understand being left at home, and Oceane has been helpful already. I can’t have Oceane without Cassie, so they both come.”
“You have strange family dynamics.”
“Keeps life interesting, you are in charge of our most precious assets for the next few days, the Mamas are counting on you.”
“Heard and understood, just bring everyone home, injury free is probably wishful thinking, I won’t go there now. All the bots are here?”
“Grace B is coming up with the others, I need her to watch Oceane and Cassie while we work. Kota B and Emma B will be there.”
“I’ll take Daphne B as well, you have no idea how much fun I have bossing your avatar around. She is mostly obedient, pretty much like you were. Eloise and Amaya did an amazing job, Kara says the same thing about Janah B, like having her daughter home all the time.”

One Hundred Four

Grace B, “Where do you want Oceane and Cassandra?”
“Doesn’t matter as long as you stick with them. You know the drill, if we’re gone, they stay in the room, put them in the big suite, order up any meals, they will entertain themselves. You brought Oceane’s pencils and paper?”
“No, I’m a complete idiot, like you.”
“If she’s got her drawings, she won’t need much else, Cassie needs no entertainment, whatever is playing in her head is enough.”
“Just kill the fucking Shadows and let us return to our home, I do not know why you take it on yourselves to save the damn world. Shadows are only part of the pestilence of humanity anyway, there is no shortage of scum suckers out there.”
“You have a point, we can afford to hide away and pretend things are fine. Where’s the fun in that? Fact is, some of us need, at least want, the cheap thrill of hassling abusers and terminating Shadows. We are who we are.”
Grace B, “That I can grasp, thank you for explaining. It is an idiotic pastime, which suits you perfectly.”
I laugh, Grace B loves to try and insult me, which she knows to be futility itself, I’m uninsultable. Her snarkiness was an add-on by Amaya, somewhere along the line Grace B decided to direct most of it at me. Our bots are self teaching, they pick up what happens around them and adjust their programs accordingly. Since I’m generally the one the girls take pot shots at, Grace B adapted accordingly.
Time to gather around and figure out an approach.
Sarah, “Let’s just go in guns blazing, we can wipe out a dozen Shadows before they get their pants pulled up.”
“There’s something to be said for the direct approach, may I point out, it appears this whole business is a set up to attract us. If that’s the case, then our targets are going to be on alert.”
Daria, “Unless, as Janah said, they are getting complacent waiting around.”
Nikko, “We’ll know more tonight, I suggest we go over the layout of the place for our new arrivals, they’ve heard the audio and seen video of the exterior. We have a general idea of how the rooms are laid out.”
Janah summarizes what we know, Daria and Chloe have been inside as far as the lobby, which includes the dining area.
Chloe, “There’s a hallway with two doors left and right, a door at the end. That accounts for three rooms, one of which is likely the owners. The owner’s are a couple, two men, we met one, the other was fussing with a table arrangement the dining room. Both are slim, even buff, one has a close cut beard and short hair, the other with no facial hair, blond, longer hair but not long hair. We told the one in the lobby we were on vacation and had been asked to check out B&Bs by a friend in New York. He was polite, handed me a card with the website, didn’t seem inclined to chat us up.”
“Strange business for Shadows, don’t they have to be nice, friendly to run a B&B?”
Janah, “It is unusual in our experience, but we find out bits and pieces about them as we go along. Over the years some have moved more mainstream, perhaps not as far as opening as customer-centric a business as a B&B. We’ve found insurance people, financial advisors, accountants, mostly jobs involving money but only occasional contact with the client.”
Dasha, “Ees two men, so probably gay, maybe the difference.”
“You must be onto something, particularly with all the Victorian elaboration, one thing we didn’t do. Grace B, what kind of business do they attract when they aren’t hosting psychopaths?”
A few seconds later, “They advertise in gay oriented sites, leaning heavily towards romantic getaway. Photos of guests are all men. Nothing says exclusively gay male, but no hetero couple is going to book there.”
Katya, “That explains that. I wonder how they take advantage of guests?”
“Beats me, maybe multiple sex partners? Pick of the litter so to speak?”
Nikko, “Does it matter?”
We laugh, Nikko isn’t much for speculation, particularly when it has no bearing on the issue under discussion.
“There isn’t much we can do until we send the drone tonight, it’s four now. I’m not sure of the point of tea, maybe a walk? There are a multitude of coffee shops in the area if you’re inclined.”
Zi, “Good idea, maybe in three groups, nineteen of us will overwhelm the sidewalk and better not to be seen as one group anyway.”
We take her suggestion, go off in three groups of five and one of four, I’m with my adopted daughters, Sloane, Britt and Lauren. I wonder if it might have been better to leave Britt and Lauren out of it, but I doubt they would have gone for that. They won’t be involved in our raid, neither will Eloise, except to the extent of monitoring drones. And they will do that from the hotel, with the benefit of extra eyes on Oceane and Cass.
We spend a half hour meandering, come across a place to park ourselves, go in and order cappuccino and split a couple of  almond scones. 
Britt, “Mom, how dangerous is this? Could you wait and track them when they break up for instance?”
“That was suggested, and we considered it. But two of them have children they are sexually abusing, and there could easily be more, we didn’t know to surf all the rooms. Nikko will tolerate a day or so, but no longer, she’d go in by herself if she needed to. Secondly, they could get all over the country, we have no clue where they came from. Then we have to chase them to who knows where, presuming we could track them successfully at all. Having them all in one pot so to speak makes it simpler, even if it might be more difficult.”
Sloane, “What if they have learned to combine qi? Double or triple up?”
“Then we need to be quick and dirty, which is why we brought up Katya and crew.”
Lauren, “They’ll go in with guns drawn, anyone who looks at them cross-eyed will get a laser hole someplace vital. Sarah is already wondering why they don’t just walk in and start blasting.”
“Except there may be others, not Shadows, and they can’t tell a human from a Shadow. They are there for emergencies, one of us being overwhelmed by two or three Shadows, like Sloane mentioned.”
We take another half hour to walk and energize, could be a long evening, wind up at the hotel.
Two groups are back, we go to our rooms to shower and figure out dinner, meet again in the big suite, which doesn’t seem so big with nineteen. Sloane and Lauren dragged chairs from other rooms to accommodate.
“I’m thinking this needs to be a pizza night, we can hardly order room service, Grace B, what’s available?”
She surfs, “Place two blocks over is rated well, they deliver, or you can have delivery Chinese.”
“Half and half, you know what we like.”
Dasha already has bottles of Russian Standard, and a dozen bottles of red, Zi and I can luxuriate with Coke Zero or Perrier. Eloise has the drones ready to launch.
Eloise, “I’m assuming one only tonight, but I can get two up and cover more rooms and conversations.”
“How about three? We’d like to hear as much as possible.”
“Good then, Grace B can operate them all easily enough, we can divvy ourselves up to follow one of the three, plus everything will be recorded, we can review anything of interest later.”
Grace B, “Food in a half hour, hope you’re hungry.”
Drinks are poured, we light around the table and the living area, Lauren clicks on the news. Shocking, the Middle East is tense. That it’s been tense since the twelve tribes began fighting each other and everyone else three thousand years ago seems to escape notice.
Nikko, “When in hell are those folks going to get over themselves?”
Janah, “Religion is dying, too slowly but dying, the Catholic church is null and void, Muslims for the most part have been successfully seduced by consumer goods, women’s rights and virtual reality. Somehow the Jews continue to aggravate everyone, even themselves. That seems to be the most contentious group of people on the planet, they argue with each other more than they argue with everyone else.”
“You profiling?”
“Tell me I’m wrong. Besides, I’m an equal opportunity religion basher, even Buddhists get way off message in certain sects.”
“Christ wouldn’t recognize Christianity, Buddha wouldn’t recognize Buddhism, I have no clue what Mohammed would think about Islam. At any rate, by the turn of the century in sixty five years, religion will be extinct. Except for Wicca and astrology maybe. People love their illusions.”
Dinner arrives and talk turns to the merits of Mandarin chicken and spring rolls versus margherita pizza with or without anchovies.
Oceane, who has been characteristically silent, say to no one in particular, “Dark Ones, qi multiplies,” she feeds Cassie a bite of pizza, then takes a bite herself, “little fish,” she means anchovies.
Amaya, “What the flip?”
“Grace B, get a drone over there.”
“There’s already a drone over there, there are three fucking drones over there. While you sluts have been chugging MSG, Eloise and I have been working the mission, check your screens.”
We do, uh oh.

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