James’s Note: Here it is, the next adventure of Daniel McAllestor, Witcherman. It’s another supernatural detective tale, full of snarky dialogue and high action. If you haven’t read the first story, don’t worry, this one stands on its own. It has vampires, deadly gardens, and murder most foul. What else could you want?
The vampire watched me make a rather obscene gesture at my bees. In my defence, they were being assholes. He was looking over my shoulder as I dealt with the hive, apparently not worried about getting stung.
This would have been a dangerous move on his part, as this was one of my problem hives, except that the bees would have better luck stinging a pork chop than a vampire. My bees couldn’t hurt him even if they wanted to. Well, not these bees anyway.
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but what precisely are you trying to do?” Anton’s voice was fussy and precise. The same could be said about pretty much every element of Anton’s appearance, from his hair to his immaculate bow tie. I never could decide if his appearance was more heavily weighted to the nerdy, or the stylish.
All of this style was unfortunately concealed by the anti sun gear he had to wear. The sun had mostly set, but there was still more than enough light to turn anything but the most powerful vampire into a crispy critter.
Anton was wearing what was undoubtedly a designer overcoat that went down to his knees, gloves that probably went to his elbows under the coat sleeves, a sleek balaclava with close fitting dark shades, and a broad-brimmed hat that was probably the height of style in World War II. Somehow, he managed to make it look classy.
I sighed. I love talking about my agricultural endeavors, but people kept asking me questions they didn’t really want the answer to and for some reason, I kept giving them.
“I’m currently trying to incite a revolution. Most of my hives are very docile. You could almost pet some of the bees as long as you’re not actually jacking with the hive. I breed them that way because I don’t like having to use a bee suit. That’s because after you take off a bee suit, it smells like it’s been worn by an overweight rhinoceros who ran a marathon while eating garlic sandwiches.”
Anton looked politely perplexed. “What do you mean revolution? I thought bees were controlled by their queen?”
Against all likelihood, the vampiric underling seemed genuinely interested in my bees. I found myself warming to Anton in spite of myself.
“Well, the queen controls the hive but not in the way everybody thinks. It’s mostly her genetics that do the work. As the mother of the hive, the bees share her temperament. The problem with this hive is that they just got a new Queen and she has an attitude problem.” I pointed to the three red ribbons hanging from the hive box.
“Every time the bees boil up and attack me, they get a red ribbon. Three strikes, and the queen is out. That’s why I’m here inciting regicide.”
Anton nodded like this was the most reasonable explanation he ever heard. “I can understand that, but why not just kill the queen yourself? Can the bees even actually kill their Queen?”
“Oh, I could definitely kill her for them. In fact, that’s what normal beekeepers do. But I prefer to keep things as natural as possible. Besides, if I don’t teach them to rely on themselves, they’ll never learn to stand on their own six legs.”
Anton was actually following along.
“I do remember reading that bees die when they sting. So doesn’t that mean that toppling their queen costs them their lives?” he asked. I was really starting to think there might be more to Anton than met the eye.
I smiled at Anton, despite my general rule against smiling in the presence of vampires. It just encourages them. “That’s absolutely correct. It would kill them to use their sting on her, so that’s why they don’t. They burn her to death instead.”
I detected actual interest in Anton’s raised eyebrow. “How precisely do they manage that?”
“They do something called fireballing. All the homicidal workers who decide to kill the queen, usually when she can’t lay anymore, get together and swarm her. They then begin to vibrate raising their temperature until the center of the ball is hot enough to cook the queen alive. It’s one of the reasons why bees are mystically associated with fire. Then, the nurse bees make a new Queen.”
Anton looked like the idea of bees being able to burn someone to death disturbed him in a way he had trouble articulating. If he only knew.
“So the bees can make a new Queen whenever they like?”
“Basically, yeah. What the nurse bees feed the larvae determines what they become. They can turn them into drones, workers, or even queens. They feed them something called royal jelly for that. You see, everyone always thinks the power resides with the queens. The real power is in the hive.”
“And you’re just politely asking them to kill their Queen?”
“There’s nothing polite about it. These little bastards are being stubborn. Not out of any loyalty to her mind you, but just because they’re as cantankerous as she is.”
I straightened up, brushed off my pants, and turned to Anton. “But I can finish this another time. You’ve actually been ridiculously understanding and unfailingly polite, so lay it on me. What brings you so far from your natural habitat?”
Anton straightened his improbably charming bow tie. He was finally back on familiar footing. “ You see Witcherman, my employer’s brother was just murdered.”