Avenari - Chapter 3
I opened my eyes in time to hear the woods fall asleep through the walls of my temporary stone cell—the squirrels and songbirds already resting as the owls awakened to hunt—just like the cycle of humans and vampires. Each night, I rose soon enough to see the last ardent rays fade and ignite the clouds with indigo and magenta. I missed the sun a little, but that was okay. We all remembered sunlight, or else none of us would really have believed that had once been human.
Simone was already up, waiting for me.
“Good evening,” I said, blinking through darkness so total that even my keen eyes could find no light to see by.
“Ah, good, you are awake.”
I felt him move to press the internal switch on the lid of the sarcophagus, and waited patiently while the huge stone object slid out of the wall and opened, slowly letting the light in. My eyes adjusted instantly. “So what was it that you wanted from me tonight?” I asked, glancing at him while he sat up and slipped through the gap. I followed shortly thereafter.
“Go change. I will be waiting here.”
I rolled my eyes a little and chuckled. “Ooh, the suspense. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Less, actually. With inhuman speed, I searched my wardrobe for anything comfortable, settling quickly upon a long-sleeved, red cotton V-neck and a pair of khaki cargo pants. My thick hair fell loose past my elbows, more obedient now than it had ever been while I was mortal. I noticed that my reflection looked less gaunt tonight, and smiled a bit. It was going to be a good night. I had plans, I would feed, and at last I felt as though I had some purpose.
“It’s not something unreasonable, is it?” I said as soon as I returned to Simone’s room. Everyone else had about an hour before the sun was far enough below the horizon to release its spell on them. I planned to use this time to go back to The Cone of Uncertainty and track down Nick. There was no way to know how long I had.
He looked up from one of his history volumes—something about the fall of Rome—and smiled warmly. He had changed clothes as well, to a hand-knit aran sweater and pale gray slacks. The light colors made his eyes, normally the color of Lake Superior on a cloudy day, take on a darker, more ocean-like quality. “Oh, nothing too difficult. I merely wish to accompany you on your hunt tonight.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What? But you stopped hunting with me years ago. Why the sudden interest?”
“Is there a problem?”
“Well...no, but it’s weird. Couldn’t we do this some other night?”
I frowned, grasping at straws for an excuse and finding none good enough to fool him. He had the wisdom of three thousand years at his beck and call. I just wasn’t that clever.
I admitted defeat. “No reason. I’m just used to going with the twins.”
“I would like to make certain that you feed tonight. Your habits of late worry me, and I simply cannot have my only fledgling starving herself before my very eyes.”
I cursed myself silently for being stupid enough to skip so many meals. “Well, then let’s go. Are you driving?”
“Of course.” He marked his place with a slip of paper and closed the book.
* o * o *
Simone was the only one of us who obeyed the speed limit, so it took a little longer to reach the city. He parked near the city center, in an abandoned lot near the shell of what had once been a fairly classy bar. Being with him in places like this always gave me a sense of nostalgia. I could recall times as a newborn when he would take me to see the fine establishments and check up on the local Shimaren who ran them. The only one we had in our territory now was Dorian, and we never really had to check on him, except to comment on his wacky sense of style.
It wasn’t until moving here that Simone’s hold on our territory tightened to the point where not even rogues were allowed within. It made me sad. There was so much fun to be had in meeting our people. However, as he had explained when we settled, we were living in precarious times, when the two Brood Manors were at odds, and his status as diplomatic advisor to the Emperor made us a potential target. This was for our protection.
But still, I missed the old days.
“Are you going to stay with me the whole time or are you going to watch from a distance like before?” I asked as we strolled toward the bustle of human life. Once more, that scent accosted my senses, piercing my mind and demanding my attention. It took a minute of begging and promising to calm my thirst enough to talk.
“A distance,” he said, staring up at the clear sky and the waxing orb of a silver moon. “It will be a full moon on your birthday.”
I nodded. “Noticed that last night on the way home.”
“Where do you plan to find your meal?”
I hesitated a moment, then figured that the truth would be better—a version of it, at least. “I’ll start at The Cone and go from there. We have all night, and my self-control is endless.”
“Then I will leave you to your own devices. I should find a meal as well—it has been two months already.” No wonder he seemed a bit more preoccupied than usual. His donation last night probably hadn’t helped, either.
“In that case, I’ll see you in a bit.”
He smiled slightly. “I shall come in search of you once I have sated the thirst.” And then he vanished, like an illusion. Man, I couldn’t wait until I could do stuff like that…
I took a quick sweep with my spatial sense to make absolutely sure that he had completely gone, and once satisfied took off at a swift pace to reach The Cone as early as possible. It was only about eight-thirty, so there was still plenty of time to catch my main target by my calculations. The thirst could wait a little longer while I completed this task.
Within moments, my sprint took me to the Cone’s doors, and once inside the bustling joint I scanned again, seeking out that unique, latent signature, a trail of breadcrumbs leading to Nick. It was a little more difficult because human signatures were easier to lose in a crowd—humans outnumbered us a million to one—but it took next to no time to isolate his.
Luck was on my side—he was there. His negative vibes were impossible to miss; my spatial sense buzzed under the force of his depression.
I figured that, having already confirmed his presence, a Cinnamocha was in order. I tagged onto the tail end of the shortest line, waited ten minutes, and walked away with a take-out Styrofoam cup, keeping tabs on the kid throughout.
Once placated a bit by the sweet drink, I pinpointed his exact location, off in a dark corner and cloistered within a two-person booth by himself with a Hazelnut Spiced Latte—another favorite of mine. He was sort of staring off into the ether, perhaps contemplating his fate or mulling over his past, or even just sitting because he was bored. My emotion-discerning powers were ten times weaker than Ivan’s when it came to the spatial sense.
“Well, here goes,” I muttered, walking directly over to his booth and pausing next to the empty seat across from him.
It took him several moments to notice me standing there, and when he did he just looked up with a blank expression. “Yes?” His gray eyes were ringed in darker blue—pretty and sort of strange for a brunet.
I smiled a little. “I’ve seen you here a few times, so I figured since you were alone I’d come and greet you. You look kind of down, though. What’s up?”
He grimaced—I supposed he thought it was a smile. “Nah, I’m fine.”
“Then you won’t mind me taking this seat. My friends just ditched me and all the other booths are taken.” I sat down before he said a word, hidden from the crowd by the partition.
“Uh, I didn’t actually say you could sit,” he said, frowning.
Now...how could I do this without coming off as a crazed, fortune-telling lunatic?
“Yeah, but you were going to say no, and I couldn’t have that now, could I?”
“Huh?” He glanced up, baffled. “How would you know what I’m going to say?”
“Oh, spare me, Nick. Anyone as depressed as you are would say no.” I raised a brow.
He frowned even harder. “How do you know my name?”
Oops...but maybe I could work it to my advantage.
I shrugged and gave him a sly smile, sipping on my straw just enough to let the taste coat my tongue—any more than that and my modified digestive tract would give me hell. “Finding a person’s name is like picking a cranberry up off the top of a bog,” I said. “Names are important. Back in the day, a person’s name was thought to hold magical properties. Any half-wit sorcerer could use it to control you.” There. Toss in enough nonsense and he’d remain both confused and curious. In this case, curiosity might actually save a life for once.
His eyes narrowed slightly. “So what, you’re some kind of sorcerer?”
I shook my head and chuckled, “Nah, I’m just another person with a name. Though, if I were, I believe the correct term is ‘sorceress.’”
“I think you’ve been watching too much Sci-Fi.” He picked up his latte and took a sip. It was cold and only half-gone. How long had he been sitting here by himself? Then he set it down and stood. “I’ve got something to do. And just a little F.Y.I., most parents teach their kids not to talk to strangers.”
I couldn’t allow this. “Oh, no you don’t!” I grabbed his wrist as he scooted out and pulled him back into his seat before he could utter a peep. “You’re gonna sit there and talk to me, kid.”
He stared in surprise for several seconds before glaring at me and snapping, “Excuse me, but what gives you the right to force me to talk to a crazy person?!”
Crazy person seemed a little harsh, but I couldn’t blame him for being angry. “My apologies, but I can’t allow you to leave this place in your current state. My conscience would never let me live it down, and with the long life ahead of me, I’d rather not have to deal with it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded, gripping the edge of the table until his knuckles turned white.
“You should know what’s going on in your own head,” I said, serious. “You’re in no condition to be alone right now, and seeing as how I’m the only person who noticed, I’m taking it upon myself to save your life.”
“My...my life?” He gawked at me as though he’d seen a ghost. “How did you...?”
“For one thing, it’s obvious. You’re so depressed that it hurts to even look at you.”
Slowly, he slid down and rubbed the dark pockets under his eyes. “Obvious, huh?”
I wondered, though. The cogs in my head were spinning, looking at this situation from all the angles. If I kept going at this rate, I might end up telling him something irreversible; but on the other hand, maybe I didn’t care anymore about that.
My kind mostly kept to the shadows, detached from the mortal world to minimize suspicion and maintain the order decreed by the Shimari Council. I had my family, but it was still such a tiny world. I had no acquaintances outside of the strict circles of our society, and no one to trust beyond our tight-knit family. This latest depression had left me with the realization that I wanted my world to grow, and that I wasn’t in any mood for another depression.
“Hey,” I said cautiously, studying his face and making constant scans of his thoughts. “I know that it may seem a bit forward of me to ask this, but do you really want to die? Isn’t any life better than none at all?”
He looked scandalized, but his mind was far more composed, mulling over his possible responses and reasoning. There was still hope for him, if only he’d realize it. It took some earnest looks and a couple of demanding frowns, but at length he muttered reluctantly, “I have no one.”
“That seems rather presumptuous of you. Don’t you have parents?” After losing my own, I had never been able to reconcile the fact that I had needed them more than I’d understood at the time. Simone was my adopted father, but a piece of me had died with my biological parents, and I’d never really found anything important enough to fill the hole they left behind.
Nick clearly had opposing views. “Yeah, you can call them that if you want, but parents are supposed to raise their kids, not leave them at home alone while one leaves on month-long business trips twelve times a year and the other goes out every night to God-knows-where and comes home hammered at five in the morning.”
“They really do that to you?”
“Yeah, but who gives a shit, right? I’m just some pathetic kid who never got enough attention from mommy and daddy...I’m surrounded by assholes.” His outrage betrayed his underlying regret—I didn’t need the spatial sense to tell me that. In some part of his mind, he doubted himself. He doubted whether what he wanted was something he truly deserved.
I sighed and sipped my drink again. “Well, if you don’t like what you have, find something that you do like. Isn’t that the sensible thing to do?”
“Like what?” He picked his drink back up and chugged a few aggravated swallows. “My only skill is math, and who the hell wants to be a mathematician? Where’s the excitement in that?” His rise in emotion strengthened the scent of his blood—it really was thin—and made it more difficult to tear my attention away from the fact that I was half-starved.
Time for a little bit of recklessness.
“Excitement, eh?” I said thoughtfully. “Would that be enough to keep you alive?”
“I mean is that what you need? Would a dash of excitement help take your mind off your misery and make you realize that there’s more to life than the tiny world you live in?” In a way, I was talking to myself as well, and once I realized this I slid out of the booth and grabbed the collar of his sweater. “That’s it. C’mon, kid. Where do you live?”
He balked and jerked back, hissing frantically, “Are you insane? I don’t even know you! And why do you keep calling me ‘kid?!’ You can’t be much older than I am!”
I waved his protests aside. “Yeah, it’ll make sense when we get to your place. Lead the way, maestro. This is your only chance to turn your life around, and if you prove to be as smart as I think you are, I just might toss in a bonus.”
“You can’t make me!”
“Oh, for sanity’s sake, quit acting like a kindergartner. Get your butt out of that seat and prove to yourself at least that you’re not an utter loser. Most guys your age would leap at the chance to have a girl come over.” I dragged him up and grabbed my drink, linking my arm with his and leading him out. Only his aversion to attention kept him from making a scene.
“What the hell are you doing?” he whispered, trying desperately to keep his volume as low as possible.
I shot him a grin. “Saving you. The strong protecting the weak and all that jazz, right?”
“Weak? I’m not weak!”
“Oh, sure you are.” I sensed Candice at the counter look up and glare at the back of my head. I glanced over my shoulder and winked, leaving her confused as we stepped out the door.
Ah, it felt good to be back.
Once we were out of the crowd, I let Nick go and stopped in my tracks on the emptying sidewalk, while he rounded on me and demanded to know what exactly I wanted from him.
I held up a hand and he ceased ranting. “Good,” I sighed, scratching my head absently. “Look, kid, let’s put this in layman’s terms: you are human, correct?”
His expression was torn between irritation and utter disbelief. “No, I’m a wombat,” he said. “What the hell kind of question is that, ‘am I human?’”
“Uh-huh. Conversely you are not inhuman, correct?”
He sneered and whipped around, shoving his hands into his pockets and storming down the street. “I’m going home.”
“Not without me, you’re not.” In a blink—to him, at least—I stood blocking his path.
He gaped. “How...?”
I patted his head—he was a few inches taller—and smirked. “I’ve got a proposition for you, Nick Benson. Take it or leave it, but you will not kill yourself. Either you accept my proposition, or I’ll be forced to take your life for you. I’ve shown you too much already to let you go.” I was absolutely bluffing, but he didn’t need to know that.
“Again! A name you can’t know!” He totally missed the death threat and obvious hints.
I took his arm once more and tugged him along. “First, we’re going to your place, and then I’ll tell you what’s what. No sooner than that, so if you’ve got questions, you’d better pick the quickest route home.”
He made incoherent noises of protest, but to no avail. I had my heart set on expanding my world, and Nick needed his world to expand whether he liked it or not. There would be no discussion; if he wouldn’t come willingly, then I’d have to resort to coercion.
Considering how things were going, coercion was becoming an attractive solution. It didn’t matter, though, because for the first time in fifteen years I was beginning to feel like my old self again. I was ready to challenge my world, to force it to change if it wouldn’t change on its own, and Nick would be my starting point.