I recognized one of the girls after a moment.  The last time I’d seen her had been in Boulder, where she had invited in a -cubus.  Sylvia was dressed up for the occasion, hair bundled up in some kind of esoteric knot that only women know the name of, short black dress, and some black straps that could laughingly be called heels that criss-crossed all the way up to the knee.  Why, yes, I was looking at her legs.  It was kind of hard to look at her face and remember that she was the last girl who had kissed me.

So I was ready to round on Maggie instead, expecting something in the way of explanations when Doloise went all bristly.  I saw it out of the corner of my eye and trusted my instincts, moving quickly off the bench.

I looked at the third girl.  Straightened black hair, darker skin than Mags, oh, and VAMPIRE.  Doloise towered over her and looked disapproving.  I noticed that when Doloise was angry, she made little fists with her hands.  Never in a kind of “punch” way, unless it was a short, sharp jab.  I wonder if that was something that was hers, or something that was just one of the people inside its head.

Vampires.  Oh, Maggie.

See, the fey and vampires don’t, as a rule, get along.  If you’d asked me, I would say it’s because the niche couldn’t support two predators.  (And leannansidhe are a whole different basket of flowers.  Kettle of fish.  Bucket of blood.  Whatever.)  Part of me just writes them all off as parasites, but the evil of vampires rates a little higher on the chart because they’re more subtle.  Fey come in and have the universe bend over for them.  The universe eventually shakes them off, and they head back to Fairyland or wherever.  Vampires come in, take some servant on, and become a hybrid of their universe and their servant’s.  It comes with a price, of course, as the more otherworldly they are the less this world tolerates them (until things like water and sunlight become classic problems) but they’re still holes in the fabric of my reality, and I am King of the Mothballs.

Or something.

“Whoa, hold on, these are friends,” Magda said.  “E, Sylvia, you’ve met, this is Matana.  And you are… Doloise?”

The Realm stared at her.  “I do not give my name to beasts.”  Wait, there was a capital “B” on that one, according to the tone.  “Beasts.”

Matana smiled.  You couldn’t see its fangs, of course, because they’re only necessary at certain points.  She had a nice smile.  I took a moment to look at her as a person, and not as a creature.  Her hair had been straightened and then curled at the ends.  She wore long painted fingernails with little hints of a curve in them.  Her dress was black with a scarf of reddish orange, the colour of the moon as it drips blood onto the horizon.  Not that I obsess about that whole blood thing (not as opposed to skim blood… no, wait.)  I am a gallon donor locally.   She had long shiny black boots with heels too thin to be used as effective stakes.

Repeating, “Do not obsess,” under your breath does not improve the point.

The Magster was looking like the end of her patience was coming on quickly, so I stepped in for a second.  “Doloise, Magda is not a beast.  Sylvia is not a beast.  Hi, Sylvia.  Matana is what Matana is, and I would reference that she was a lovely woman.”

“Not human, but not a beast,” Matana said.  She offered her hand and I took it gently, kissing above her fingernails.  She showed her teeth again.  “I see.  Magdalena, you were not entirely wrong in speaking about your former gentleman.”

“She is one of the cold ones,” Doloise said, hissing.

“Look on the bright side,” I said to her.  “At least she’s not a Dragon.”

“Well,” Matana’s smile widened, “it is one of the aspects.”  She winked.

Doloise didn’t frown, but that unhappy moue once again adorned her face.  I felt like I had disappointed her somehow, especially as Matana had just gotten me to grin again.  I sighed.

“This isn’t a black thing, is it?” Sylvia asked.

I raised an eyebrow at Magda.  Still corrupting the innocent, were we, old friend?

She shook her head.  “I told you, Sylvie, not everything is as it seems.”

“Ah,” I said.  “Know what they call a group of witches?” I asked Sylvia.

“A…coven?” she asked.  Her eyes were a very pretty blue.

“A conspiracy.  But that may be any group of women,” I allowed.

Maggie hit me in the arm.  “Come on.  Since you’re not going to stake a fellow guest, and Doloise is going to be on her best behaviour, let’s go to dinner.”

“Best behaviour?” I asked Doloise.

“It is a matter of Hospitality,” Mags said, giving me a Look.

The capital letters were out and in full force, I could tell.

“I don’t understand everything you’re saying,” Sylvia acknowledged, “but if I listen I’ll learn.”

I think it was a warning.