“The devil?” Dutchess asked. She smiled with the same light condescension that one might have with a child complaining about monsters under the bed. The pale young woman shook her head; the tight red bun atop her head did not so much as wobble. She sat in a Chinese restaurant across from Lucas. He shook his head.
“I’m not the devil anymore than you’re a crown,” he said and patted his chest. “Unique #02, El Diablito,” he shrugged. “Apparently I have a talent for magic and if I got the tattoo I can control minds.” He looked at Dutchess. “What about you? What’s special about #47, La Corona?”
“He said conquerors can take over an Earth pretty easily,” she said. “If I get a 47, I’ll have strangers thrust themselves into my service like I was their monarch or something. Mostly regular people,” she giggled lightly. “I was a regular person this morning.” Lucas shook his head.
“Not looking like that you weren’t,” he smiled. She returned the smile but after he said it, Lucas felt the compliment was clumsy. He moved on. “Mostly Zeros, so some Uniques too?” he asked.
“That’s what Regal said.” She nodded, then she met Lucas’ eyes. “What do you think about him?”
“Regal?” Lucas laughed. “I think he looks like a freakin’ lion walking around in a nice suit.” Dutchess shared a short laugh with him. When it petered out Lucas nodded his head. “We saw him come out of an empty janitor’s closet. Then we followed him into the empty janitor’s closet…,” he spread his arms at the red and gold decor around them. “…now we’re here. I don’t know him well enough to say whether we can trust him. As far as magical ability I think that case is already made.” Dutchess nodded pensively.
“I plan to join him,” she said, then quickly amended her statement. “If Haste wants to.”
“Package deal?” Lucas asked. Haste was Dutchess’ twin brother. At the moment he was in a private room talking with Regal. Lucas hoped they were almost done; it was annoying to sit in a restaurant unable to order until the rest of the group arrived. Dutchess nodded.
“Kind of. He’s my kid brother, but… I’m kind of the only one that looks out for him.” Her eyes went wide. “And now I know why!” she almost shouted. “He would complain to me sometimes that he felt our parents didn’t seem to notice him. I’d talk to my parents about it and everything would be fine for a while, but it wore off.” She shook her head as if she was still processing some of the details of her past under a new light.
“Kid brother, huh?” Lucas asked. “How long after you?”
“Three minutes,” Haste said from beside their table. The pasty, chubby young man in loose jean shorts scooted into the booth next to Dutchess. The baldness on either side of his coppery red mohawk caught a shiny glare as he shuffled in. Neither of them noticed him walk up.
“Where’s regal?” Dutchess asked him. He shrugged.
” ‘Said we should eat. He’ll either be back in a bit or he’ll make sure we have a ride home. Food is on the house too.”
“What number are you?” Lucas asked.
“42, La Calavera,” he smiled. “I’m super strong.” Lucas grinned and shook his head in disbelief.
“It’s kind of amazing…,” he said. “…the things you don’t know about, I mean. This morning I was looking forward to Arcanum 101, but I still thought it was a joke. Now I’m having lunch in what I’m pretty sure is another universe,” he chuckled. “I can’t wait to see what else is out there.” Haste laughed, but it sounded like his humor wasn’t into it. It felt more like a nervous, fearful laugh. The tone caught Lucas’ attention. As he looked up he saw the twins have an intense conversation with their eyes and curt head tilts at Lucas. Haste gritted his teeth but Dutchess gave a firm, decisive nod that proved to be the last word. Haste’s posture slumped as he deflated and he nodded in agreement.
“What’s up?” Lucas asked.
“Uhhh…,” Haste started.
“What Haste is trying-” Dutchess tried to speak up but Haste held his hand up to interrupt her interruption.
“I got it,” he said. “So, um. Dutchess and I are… er..” he made stalling sounds as his eyes wandered around the mostly empty restaurant. Only one other table was occupied by diners. Hosts and wait-staff were nowhere to be seen. “… not human,” he said. Lucas nodded.
“Yeah, apparently we’re all Uniques,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re kind of slow for a guy named Haste,” he said in a tone that he hoped was interpreted playfully. Haste smiled at the joke but shook his head.
“Not that. We’re kind … of … like..,”
“Werewolves,” an ancient, short woman stood beside their table with a notepad in one hand and a pen at the ready. All three heads whipped around to her and she smiled at Lucas.
“Your friends trying to say they’re werewolves. Now you know. Ready to order?” she asked.