Avenari - Chapter 5
It took a lot to surprise Simone. Age had taught him well how to expect the unexpected and take everything in stride. However, he had apparently never anticipated my actions tonight. And why should he have? He knew better than anyone that I understood the rules—hell, I had helped him on numerous occasions to enforce them.
But now he looked as though I had betrayed him, and it hurt. He was my blood father, my Maker. I owed him my life, and now I had done something utterly irreversible behind his back.
“Lynn, what have you done?” he repeated, a bit more firmly this time.
I forced my legs to carry me down the drive, and stopped before him with a determined expression plastered onto my face. “I saved his life…and told him what I am.”
“Why? Why would you do something so dangerous?”
“I’m not going to let a young man like that die without trying to help him, and I know I can trust him to keep our secret. I’m tired of being trapped in our tiny family—I want to expand the borders a little.”
He sighed audibly, shaking his head. “You branded him without my knowledge, Lynn. You realize that if things do not go as planned, it will be your responsibility to kill him, correct?”
I flinched. “What?”
“You truly did not consider this?” he whispered in disbelief.
“I mean, I know what the rules are, but why would anyone see him as a threat? There’s nothing wrong with having a familiar, right?” Fear was beginning to set in. I didn’t want to kill anyone. I couldn’t! I was easily capable of killing a human, but the thought of actually doing it made me rather nauseous. I would never willingly take a mortal life.
Simone saw my reaction and frowned, then sighed again and gently nudged me toward the park at the end of the suburb. “I apologize for frightening you, but you have to understand that fledglings are not permitted their own familiars—at least, not without their Makers’ permission. As an ambassador for the Eastern Council, it is my responsibility to make certain that these kinds of things do not happen, and if they do, to mend the situation immediately.”
“So you’re telling me that you won’t let me have him?”
He shook his head. “No, but it would have been nice if you had asked me for permission ahead of time. It isn’t something which should be done on a whim. I understand that you are an excellent judge of character, but procedure is procedure. At the very least, I could have monitored you from a distance to make certain that things went smoothly.”
I hung my head a little, somewhat ashamed of myself for not asking him to help me. Chances were, he might have agreed to it. Then again, what would I have done if he’d turned me down? I looked up at the stars and wondered about it.
“I’m sorry I disobeyed,” I muttered, frowning up at him, “but I don’t regret what I did.”
A tiny smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Such a handful you are, but I know your heart is in the right place. I should run the details by the Emperor, regardless. I have business with Ivanarke, so I will speak to him soon.”
Business? I frowned at him through my peripheral. Something was up. Whenever he referred to his meetings with the Emperor as mere “business” it usually meant there was some sort of trouble. “What happened?” I asked.
He shook his head with a placid smile. “It’s nothing too important—minutiae, really.”
I didn’t press the issue. It would have been useless, anyway. Simone never told straight lies, but when he didn’t want me knowing something, it was impossible to force it out of him.
I’d thought it was odd that he had wanted to hunt with me, now that I considered it. He never broke routine unless something was worrying him. But getting information straight from the source was pointless. I’d have to ask Ivan.
“So, where to next?” I asked.
He smiled again and nodded toward the park. “Everybody is here, waiting for us. I believe Mitch, Jenn, and Veronica have fed already, but the twins have yet to find a meal. They want you to come along.”
“Well, then let’s hurry,” I chuckled, setting curiosity aside for a chance to prove to everyone that I was all better now.
* o * o *
“You did what?!” Sam cried. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
The whole family had been waiting for Simone and me to arrive, but the sudden news of what I’d done had shocked them into almost forgetting about meals altogether.
“Now, now,” Simone chided lightly. “I have scolded her already. There is no reason to drag the argument out any longer than that.”
“Are you kidding? This is crazy. Lynn, you’re crazy.” Veronica stared at me in disbelief as she helped Jenn support a drunken Mitch. He’d taken the blood of an inebriated individual—that was his preference, much to everyone else’s chagrin—and was a little on the incoherent side. I thought of him as an incentive for underage students to not drink.
“What will happen to that boy if the Council disapproves of what Lynn has done?” Jenn asked, and I pouted at her a little. She had been born to a noble family fallen on hard times during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Of course, after several hundred years as a Shima, most of the noble blood had washed out of her system. These days, the only indication of her history was a distinct interest in following rules and making sure we behaved.
“I have to speak with my superiors, but I am certain that I can convince them that this is a harmless incident,” Simone said firmly.
“I’m sure Lynn has her reasons,”—the wind whipped Ver’s ebony locks into her eyes, and she shoved them away—“but I’m not sure if letting the kid go unsupervised is a good idea.”
Veronica was pure Chinese, and only took female victims—I wasn’t sure why, though she did say once that she thought men smelled funny. Mitch, her blood brother, fit the bill perfectly as your average, nineteen-twenties American farm boy: blond and grinning. The same Maker had turned them both, and after decades of abuse, Simone had saved them during what amounted to a Shimari-style sting operation. They were basically my brother and sister.
“Oh, ‘s ‘kay ‘cause he’s unconscious,” Mitch drawled, giggling a little.
Jenn sighed in exasperation, and Veronica slapped the back of his head rather hard. “Make some sense, would you! Why can’t you be normal and stay off the sauce?”
“‘Cause it’s tasty,” he mumbled before slumping against Ver. “Y’know, I really love ya.”
The two vampiresses exchanged perturbed looks and turned to Simone in apology. “I’d like to continue this, but we really should take him back,” Jenn said.
“Be careful, then,” my Maker replied. “We will meet you at home.”
With a final wave, they went off to where the Camry was parked some distance away beside the Audi. The definition for “family” stretched pretty thin when one took our little posse into consideration. And naturally, as a family, they were worried that I had done something stupid. Over seventy and still a child in their eyes—this irritated me for some reason.
Once they had gone, Simone turned to the twins with a smile. “Well, my boys, your commanding officer is here, so let us find you suitable meals.”
Leaving the car in the safer neighborhood, we headed further away from the suburbs. Ivan and I lagged behind, walking at a relaxed pace.
“Lynn, why didn’t you wait for me?” asked Ivan, quietly so that the others didn’t hear.
I sighed. “I saw an opportunity to make my little world a little bigger. There wasn’t much time to begin with, and Simone was watching.”
“I still wish you would have waited for me.” Odd. Ivan rarely ever acted this weird about me going off and doing things on my own.
Then it hit me. “Are you jealous?” I grinned despite his melancholy attitude.
After a pause, he smiled. “I guess I am.” He seemed as surprised as I was. “And I shouldn’t be, considering how I’d suspected that you would go through with it regardless of what anyone told you. Though, I’m shocked that you went so far as to brand him.”
I pulled him closer and linked his arm with mine. “Ivan, I’ll always be here. We’re immortal, remember? Quit worrying so much.”
“I still want to meet Nick in person,” he said. “He seems like an adventure waiting to happen. Or an accident.” That last thought brought a small laugh out of him. He wasn’t cynical in the least, so even his tiniest cynical notion made him laugh.
“Done and done—now let’s go find you a meal. I like you better when you’ve fed.”
“Be honest; you’ll cling to anything that breathes. You’re more fickle than fame.”
“That’s not true! You don’t breathe out of necessity! You used to, but not anymore.”
“Touché. Pity, though. If we still breathed out of necessity, then perhaps we’d still be together. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a family.”
“We are together,” I said. “It’s just...it feels different now. The past can’t be resurrected.”
He chuckled softly and patted my head, ignoring my annoyed pout. “Don’t feel bad. I understand. Fortunately, I enjoy your company for multiple reasons.”
I smiled. Ivan wasn’t my best friend for no reason. “Dork. You’re too easygoing.”
“You like that about me, so I don’t feel it necessary to change who I am.” Ivan didn’t require explanations—a fact that I appreciated immensely.
We eventually came to a decrepit little neighborhood lined with houses long past their expiration date. Cracked pavement still spider-webbed throughout the subdivision, but it appeared that nobody had lived there for years. The dry, moldy scent of decaying floorboards and overgrown lawns in desperate need of a weed-whacker floated on the breeze. A sign near the main road informed passing cars that a large corporation had bought out the land and was planning to build its new headquarters here. These were the outskirts of the city, where old homes waited patiently for the wrecking ball.
“Simone, why are we here?” Sam frowned upon the seeming ghost town.
“It is secluded enough,” my Maker replied, “and there is a man in that house who recently robbed a convenience store clerk. No blood was spilled, thankfully, but I believe a warning is in order.”
My acute hearing picked out a scuffling noise coming from the house on the right. It sounded like someone walking on hard wood through fallen leaves. The building sat forlorn, apart from the other houses—yet enormous and ghastly in the moon’s dim blue light.
“Let’s go say hello,” Ivan said, his fangs glinting silver. “Come with me, Lynn.”
I shook my head. “This is yours. You need it more than I do; I’ve already fed.”
“I will take this one, but I want you to come, too.”
“Go on,” Simone permitted. “We will wait here.”
With Simone’s blessing, I accepted, and Ivan led us to the front door. A chain and a shiny steel padlock held it shut to common mortals, but not to us. The door was mere pine and the hinges rusty, so getting in was easy. Ivan broke the lock in a downward jerk, and the door gave reluctantly with a squealing groan. The frame had warped after years of neglect, and the door hung awkwardly on its hinges, shedding a layer of dust that hovered in the air like silt in water.
The entrance was filthy, and Ivan brushed off of his dark blue coat when the dirt settled onto him, looking around intently through eyes made for dim light. Soil and dead leaves littered the floor, and a musty odor hung in the still air. I saw the stairway the same time as Ivan did.
I followed him up, finding it difficult to climb following a pattern. The steps had acquired different sizes in their age. Torn strips of peeling, faded wallpaper hung from the walls, showing the plaster and strapping beneath. I could see why nobody lived there anymore, as well as why the windows were boarded up on the bottom floor. The house was a hazard. Though northerners prided themselves on the character of their old buildings, some inevitably fell into disrepair.
At the top, I heard movement again—much closer—and this time it had a voice.
“Who’s there?!” it shouted, tremulous and shrill.
We entered the room nearest the top of the stairs and found a man with dirty hair and dark, scared eyes. He tried to say something, but Ivan silenced him with a smile. It wasn’t a happy smile—it was wolfish.
“How did you get in?” Ivan asked, just the tiniest edge of threat lacing his tone.
“I climbed the tree out back,” replied the skittish man. “Please don’t call the cops! I have nowhere else to go, and there’s nobody living here, so...”
“Shut up,” Ivan commanded, and he went silent, disturbed by the sense of danger hovering about my friend. Strange, really, seeing as how Ivan was harmless most of the time.
The man’s eyes darted to the window. A tall tree with low branches grew right outside.
“Now, that wouldn’t be a smart idea, would it?” I blocked his path to the window so quickly that it probably looked to him as if I had teleported. He backed against the wall in shock.
“Who—who are you?” he demanded, trying for a dominant tone. “What do you want?”
Ivan caught his gaze and held it, but didn’t answer. In an instant, he was at the man’s side, clamping a hand down to stifle the surprised screams. He jerked the man’s head back and sank his fangs deeply, and the victim fought for a moment until the trance pulled him in, falling limp while Ivan fed.
After a minute, however, the unison heartbeats desynchronized. Ivan had taken enough. He released the artery and let the man slowly to the floor, before grinning at me and holding out a hand. The guy wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning.
I took Ivan’s hand, following my thirst’s innate link to its kin. I sensed the blood working, sharpening his mind and senses as it had done to me earlier. Fresh blood added spice to his personality while taking away his inhibitions. Feeding always made him bolder, and we had enough of a history together for it to rouse his confidence.
He pulled me against him and slid his arm around my waist, tilting my chin up and kissing me sweetly. The nectar lingering on his tongue was rich, not as young as Nick’s had been, but still fresh. He bit my lip and licked the blood from the cut, and I sighed and gripped his shirt, feeling a shadow of what had once been.
But I couldn’t do this again…gently, I pushed him away. I hated it, but it wasn’t worth hurting him more than I already had. We were finished as a couple—the blood had made sure of it. My love was there, but it had evolved into something else. None of the passion that had kept us together as a mortal couple remained. His kisses were sweet, but they no longer sent shivers through me. His embrace was comforting, but that was all.
Sensing my feelings on the matter, he backed down, leaving my lips and kissing my cheek as he hugged me tightly. “We certainly have changed,” he muttered.
“We’re still the same. It’s just that the circumstances have changed. The past is the past, though, and you know I can’t handle living in the past.” I drew away and he reluctantly let go, standing with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slightly hunched. I watched him for a moment, then went on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “At least I still love you.”
He frowned. “Not the way I want you to. You’ve known what I want since the moment Sam and I joined you and Simone.”
“And you’ve known since you joined us that the blood and our former human selves are different things. If we were meant to bond, it would have happened already.” I didn’t like being blunt when he was so vulnerable, but I wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t already said a hundred times. He knew, deep down, that I was right. He knew that we would never again be anything more than this.
“I know,” he snapped, then cringed as he immediately regretted his harsh tone. “I’m sorry. I just…I just wish…”
He trailed off, thinking for a long time, then said finally, “I miss it. I miss being in love.”
That was the crux. We loved each other, but were no longer in love. I had understood this early on, but even now he still hoped. If anything, he was in love with the idea of being in love.
“Great, now you sound like a sappy fifties tune,” I teased, trying my best to lighten the situation. He was not meant to be brooding. Thoughtful, yes, but never brooding.
That forced a smile out of him, despite his attempts not to let it. He shook his head and hooked his arm around my neck, turning us back toward the stairs and leaving the man to wake up in the morning with little more than a headache and a dry mouth. For one night he was safe from catching cold, thanks to Ivan.
Seeing Ivan’s depressed fog beginning to clear, I poked his cheek teasingly. “If it’s any consolation, you’re still a good kisser. But you shouldn’t keep using that power on me. It doesn’t work anymore, and I’m sure your future blood partner will be very cross if she or he finds out.”
“He?” Ivan gave me a smirk, but shrugged when he realized that the blood didn’t care. “I swear, you are the only person I know who lives on the line dividing sanity and madness.”
“That means I’m a genius, right?”
He laughed and hugged me, then took my hand and led me back downstairs. “And another thing: I love you, but dammit, I think I may like you even more.”
I smiled. Ivan was a good person in the truest sense of the word. He understood people’s feelings better than they did, and felt no resentment when he didn’t get what he wanted. I had never known anyone so self-sacrificing and patient. Our relationship was peculiar, but regardless, he meant more to me than even Simone. “You’re so sweet,” I murmured.
Of course, his personality was also the reason why we weren’t blood partners—the Shimari equivalent to human marriage, but far more permanent and powerful. I was a controlling person, and for something like that, I needed someone who could match me. He was in no way capable of that. In the end, Ivan was just my friend. Perhaps when the blood hardened him it could change, but at the moment I couldn’t see him as anything more.
I hugged Ivan’s arm, enjoying the moment. “I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid. I missed this more than I’d thought.”
“We missed you, too. It’s nice to have you back.”
“Ugh, you two are so sappy!” Sam cried, leaping in front of the doorway and yanking us though. “C’mon, I already ate—some cop thought we were suspicious characters.” He grinned mischievously at his brother and chuckled, then grabbed my hand and pulled me into the circle of his arms. “What now, Ivan? Got your girl!”
Ivan’s eye twitched perceptibly, and neither seemed to be listening when I repeatedly stated that I was no one’s girl, and would they please stop being idiots?
“Samuel, you have until the count of three,” Ivan said slowly, narrowing his eyes and standing remarkably still.
“Huh, I’m not intimidated in the least. Weird.”
I glared at Sam. “You’re an ass-hat. You realize this, I hope.”
“Oh, pish-posh. How often to I get to rile him up like this? He’s the worst stick in the mud I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and feeding fixes all those malfunctions.”
“Well, yeah, I’ll grant you that, but isn’t there a better way? I mean, why do I have to get involved in your little ego trip?”
“Look who’s talking!” He rolled his eyes and moved his arms so that he was leaning casually on my shoulders. “You got the biggest ego of all of us, which is just creepy for a girl.”
“...two and a half...”
“Girls can have egos, you little chauvinist pig!”
“Gah! The insult! It burns!” He clutched at his heart dramatically.
Sam disappeared rather suddenly, and I had to follow Simone’s half-amused, half-exasperated gaze in order to see the—presumably—older brother chasing the younger around the subdivision. Sam taunted and ran as hard as he could. Ivan retorted and gained ground. They even started weaving through the trees and climbing up porches and decrepit sheds in their chase.
“They look like a pair of squirrels,” I commented to Simone.
He smiled slightly. “Indeed.”
“Should we stop them?”
He shook his head. “No. First, we should arrange for the police officer to meet the man upstairs. Then let us go back to the car. Like abandoned children, they will follow.”
Well, that worked for me. With well-practiced skill, Simone and I transferred the poor cop’s unconscious body back into the house, then returned to the outside only to find that the twins were still chasing wildly around.
I sidled up to Simone and stretched my hands up we walked back towards the car. “You know, I can sort of see why the Council still doesn’t think of us as full-fledged Shimaren.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
I shrugged and glanced back at the twins, who still hadn’t noticed that Simone and I were leaving them behind—and had no qualms about making them walk home. “We’re all still young at heart, I think. I’m still moody and wacky, and the twins still act like rowdy brothers when they have too much energy. To tell you the truth, I’m not looking forward to the day when I realize that life can’t be fun all the time. My inner child would kill me.”
“That is how reality is. Some things must be taken seriously, regardless of how one feels about it.” His smile softened to something a bit closer to resignation.
“Not until I’m prepared to lose this. Those two have been part of my world since I was human. I can’t imagine ever giving them up.” We were almost to the car, and the twins only then realized what was going on. Exactly like abandoned children, they chased after us.
Simone saw them and unlocked the car with the little remote. “Lynn, this world is built upon the uncertainty factor. There is no real way to predict how things will turn out. If you want so badly to keep your innocent distinctions between right and wrong or important and unimportant, then who is to say that you will not?
“Reality is what you perceive, and the uncertainty in that is what separates all sentient beings. Your reality is not necessarily another’s. Your priorities are therefore going to vary when compared to those of others. The key to all of it is an understanding that you have the right to believe what you want to believe and to be whoever you want to be, and that this same right applies to everyone else. So long as you stay true to that, you will find that you can be happy.”
My hand paused at the handle to the passenger-side door, and I frowned at him over the car’s roof. The twins had almost reached us, but Simone was staring off into the surrounding darkness, lost in thought. “Simone? Are you okay?”
He seemed to awaken, and with a small sigh he turned to me and smiled tightly. “I want you to become strong—not for the sake of my bloodline, but for your sake, and for the sakes of your loved ones. We live in relative safety for the time being, but there is always a tomorrow, and I am not clairvoyant in the least. I’m here for you now, but one day you will have to take the lead on your own and find your purpose in this new life.
“You are young in the blood, but you carry almost a century of experience on your shoulders. I hope that your wisdom, coupled with your innocent beliefs, will make you a formidable player in the world into which I have brought you.”
For a moment, I was worried—there was something odd about the way he spoke—but then he smiled just a little bit and added, “However, that is not for at least a little while longer. I still have much to teach you, about yourself and about this world of ours, and I would certainly miss your philosophies if you left.”
That made me grin, relieved. “Yeah. Don’t think you’ll ever become obsolete. You’re my Shimari father, so you’re still responsible for raising me.”
He smiled a little more. “Understood.”
“You bastard, that’s my seat!” Sam growled, thereby announcing that the twins had finally made it.
“I think not. I’m always at Lynn’s back,” Ivan said shortly.
“Still clinging to your old love life, eh?” the younger teased.
His brother glared at him, awestruck. “You filthy-minded little imp!”
Sam leaned in, wearing an appropriately impish grin, “I still remember walking in—accidentally, of course. Wanna see?”
Ivan evaded the bait and leaned closer with a cold smirk. “Oh, my memory serves me just fine. I don’t need a third-party account of my own love life. For the record, at least I had one.”
“Like I cared! Who needs the drama?”
I massaged my temples, embarrassed and annoyed. “Boys, please, I’m right here.”
Simone cleared his throat, and all argument halted in an instant. “If you do not mind, could we get going? Sam, Ivan always sits behind Lynn. You know this. Please stop inciting arguments. And whenever you do find it absolutely necessary to incite them anyway, at least select less volatile subject matter, understood?”
Sam scowled at the pavement, foiled again. “Roger that, sir.”
“Good, now we can go home,” my Maker sighed.