Avenari - Chapter 9
I yanked the door open. “Who is it?!”
I glared into the thick darkness, cast even deeper by clouds blocking the moon. The fountain’s lights were off, and the only sound was the rush of water splashing through the stones.
Only darkness, and the soft energy accompanying it, awaited me on the other side…nothing more. The power still flowed around my ankles just within the threshold, but I couldn’t find the owner.
I turned back to the others. “There’s nobody th—augh!”
Before I could finish, a massive force struck me like a wall and slammed me to the floor, and unbearable pain exploded through my head as the back of my skull caved in. Whoever had hit me kept me pinned in the vise-like grip of their mind as blood pooled around the wound. It wouldn’t be permanent, but I had to lift my head to heal the damage, and I couldn’t. I barely had enough room to breathe.
I bit back a scream when the force pressed down on me, shooting pain through my neck and down my spine. Cool blood trickled into my hair.
“Lynn!” Ivan shouted.
I opened my eyes and tried to turn my head, but the power held me tight. The most I could do was look out the corner of my eye and see that the others had frozen on their feet, sensing something so powerful that moving forward might have been the worst idea imaginable.
We all felt the low rumble at the same time. It vibrated through the marble floor and into my backbone, a power display beyond anything I had ever experienced. My spine liquefied and I almost cried out, but I refused to give my attacker the benefit of my pain. I gritted my teeth and suffered the tremor as it sank into my brittle skull.
When I resisted, the power became less passive, began to move as though it had a mind of its own. The heavy energy shifted and grew lighter, giving off heat like liquid fire from deep within the earth’s mantle. However, it maintained an aura akin to the chill of an icy grave, harsh as the dead of winter, when even the sun was too afraid to show its face.
My spatial sense reached out with to examine this power, and concluded that it was Shimari in fundamental nature, but drastically altered to the point where it had ascended to a higher level. In essence, the power was a separate entity—just like how the blood and thirst were separate entities within each and every Shimare.
The power could almost think for itself.
“It is never a good idea to disappoint me.” The soft voice sounded calm, controlled—infuriated—as multifaceted as the power behind it.
Struggling was pointless. The power held me still, as though gravity had increased a thousand-fold. Only with immense effort did I manage to turn my battered head enough to peer through the door’s blurry edges. As the voice spoke, his mind whispered in echoes, as though his power was so immense that it vibrated to his will.
Even through damaged vision and the spinning sparkles of light caused by my nerves reconnecting, I saw him clearly, and gasped involuntarily.
He looked like he was in his early twenties, tall and lean of build—but he was old.
He entered in silence, slinking in like some feline hunter tracking injured prey. There was nothing special about his attire, except that it was all black. A supple, lamb-leather coat ended at his narrow hips, worn over a black silk shirt open at the collar. His long legs were clad in slim black jeans stretching down to cover serpent-embroidered steel-toe boots. He was a flexible statue, carved from pearls and given death’s garb.
The intruder stood in the doorway for several moments with his tapered, obsidian eyes locked onto my gaze, sending an unfamiliar shudder through my veins. There was so much power behind those eyes, power beyond anything I had ever thought possible. It made my blood tremble, but I wasn’t sure if it was fear or awe.
How old was he?
And the beautiful, pearl-white face accompanying that dark gaze left me cold. His windows looked into an empty wasteland of fire and ice, draped in silky raven hair which trailed into them and brushed lightly against his neck in choppy layers.
What was he? Where on earth—when on earth—could such hostile, inhospitable beauty have originated from? He was like a demon fit for heaven.
I was so stunned that my voice had given up on me and gone off to play elsewhere, but when I finally dragged it back and shoved the fear aside to make room for anger, the moonstone began to glow like a frozen star. In an instant, icy energy began flowing through my limbs, touching my cold trigger, and letting loose enough power to wash away the terror.
“What do you want?” I demanded in a rush, ignoring his disarming presence and figuring that first things would have to come first. Discovering pretty-boy’s identity was all well and good, but that wouldn’t do jack squat to help my family and Nick.
He blinked in mild surprise, then seemed darkly amused. His pale lips barely fluttered. “You should know. You were the one bending the laws to escape your bane...and that was the disappointment.” In a blink, the amusement was gone, and his eyes—much to my utter astonishment—flashed crimson before he seemed to regain his composure. As though it had all been an illusion, they became jet black once again.
I knew that I hadn’t been hallucinating.
“Look,” I said in an attempt to negotiate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How am I disappointing you? How am I bending the laws or whatever? If you saw me during the day, then aren’t you doing the same thing as I am?”
“No,” he whispered. “You are a counterfeit, and I am authentic.” While his eyes were black, he seemed to be suppressing all emotion, leaving them vacant and doll-like.
“Oh, like that makes sense!” I retorted, getting annoyed with the roundabout answers. “Look, creep, I’m just doing what my mom told me to do. If you have a problem with the amulets, then take it up with my mom’s ghost. Otherwise, get the hell off my property.”
Lynn, please don’t antagonize the freakishly powerful being, Sam said in my mind.
“Silence, you!” With an invisible burst of power, Sam flew to the other end of the room and slammed against the stone above the fireplace. Blood leaked from his ears.
“Leave Sam out of this!” I screamed. A rush of cold energy whipped through my trigger, and to my surprise—as well as his and everyone else’s—the intruder staggered back as though an invisible cinder block had struck him in the chest. His power retracted instinctively to protect him, freeing me from the intangible shackles. Not one to waste freedom, I forced myself up and brushed the tangled hair from my face, making the dry blood fall away like sugar crystals. I struggled to my feet, fighting the throbbing pain of my healing skull the whole way there.
“Don’t you dare touch them,” I growled, grimacing and cradling my head. I didn’t have the luxury of succumbing to pain. I needed to take control of the situation.
Catlike and effortlessly, he recovered and paced at the edge of my line of sight, wary of being attacked again, glancing around like a cornered animal. Apparently, the idea of a fledgling winning a fight against an ancient didn’t sit well with him. And he most certainly was an ancient—a Crimson of some kind—but I was confused about some important things.
It wasn’t just his strange eyes that baffled me. Even limited, his power pooled around my legs like quicksand sucking me into the abyss. No Crimson I had ever heard of was capable of something like this. Shimari power was a breeze, an aura. It had no mass, and it ignored gravity.
And the guy was at least six-two. I felt tiny compared to him—unforgivable! Humans from as long ago as he felt were supposed to have been small!
Petty irritation helped my confidence.
“Like I said, if you have issues with the Plorávero clan, take it up with them, ‘cause I don’t know what the hell you’re babbling about,” I said through my teeth, lowering my hand as the pain gradually faded to a simple ache.
“Plor...ávero?” He wasn’t wary anymore. He’d actually gone past wary and tripped right into surprise. His head jerked toward the others, and without forewarning lost all composure. “Simone!?” The echo had vanished. He sounded almost normal, except his natural voice was smooth and entrancing, like water flowing through the earth.
“Eh?” I looked to Simone, whose expression was utterly unreadable, then back to the intruder. “Hey, how do you know Simone?”
Slowly, he turned to gawk at me, and without answering my question murmured in apparent awe, “Lydian Plorávero...you’re still alive?”
Baffled that he knew my real name, yet equally irritated at the fact that he had called me Lydian, I shrugged. “In a manner of speaking. Why? Shouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know.” His gaze became distant, as if he were trying to recall something important, but couldn’t quite find the thought.
Time to hit reset. “Neat, so you know me. Now, who the hell are you and why do you suddenly find it necessary to come here and smash my head in? Your first impression was atrocious at best. However, I’m a strong advocate for second chances. Start talking.” He would get a chance to redeem himself. I was patient.
He spoke in a monotone, like a computerized voice. “I am Andris. I thought you were a counterfeit Nariuvne, so I came to investigate.”
“Next time, do some actual investigating before you go around assaulting people, you whack-job!” I snapped, before calming myself back down. “Andris, eh? That’s different.”
My head was almost healed—externally, it had only been a net of fractures and a few cuts—and while I combed the rest of the blood out of my hair I added, “Andris, would you mind telling me what the hell a Nari-whatsit is? Is that just another fancy word for Shimare?”
Finally, he seemed to be paying attention. He frowned at me, wary again—but with lavender eyes this time. That light show was beginning to rattle my nerves.
“I’m not a Shimare.”
I did a double-take, instantly forgetting about his eyes. “Come again?”
“I am Shimari, as in I possess some of the same qualities, but I am not a Shimare.”
“How so?” Why hadn’t I ever heard of something like this?
Simone spoke first, his voice carrying the weight of an absolute command. “Lynn, please back away from him.”
I frowned at the obvious worry on my Maker’s face, then at the empty Crimson, who simply watched in muted interest as things happened around him. “Why?” I asked. What was going on here? The two knew each other, apparently, but this was the first time I had seen Simone look so worried since the day I’d met him.
“He is not like us Shimaren. He is of a higher order than even that. Now, please, come here.”
Higher than us? Uncertain, I looked to Andris. “What’s Simone talking about? Other than the fact that you’re probably a Crimson, you seem safe enough once you’re calmed down.”
He frowned slightly, and his irises slipped towards a darker violet. “I’m used to this kind of treatment. My feeding habits scare the Shimaren, so they have an eternal bounty on my head.”
“Feeding habits...elaborate, please.” Did it have to be like squeezing water from a rock?
His expression melted away into the blackness of absolute void. “If you panic or run or do anything ridiculous, I’ll just restrain you again.” He sounded almost bored.
“Answer the damn question, ass-hat!”
His eyes flickered, but again settled resolutely on flat black. “I don’t drink the blood of humans,” he replied simply.
I glanced back and forth between my Maker and the intruder. “That’s it? Why’s that so scary? I can hold the urge better than anyone, and lots of us stick to animals.” They were our version of Hippies. They were less powerful, but whatever—to each his own.
Andris shook his head and sighed, and it seemed to carry though the room, like a breeze. “It’s not what I don’t feed upon—it’s what I do feed upon. I’m a Nariuvne, the sun’s blood—sunlight—immune to the sun and the flames, the very things which kill your kind.” He gave me a look, and it was borderline frightening.
“The name is appropriate. I feed on Shimaren, not mortals, though a mortal or two isn’t completely disagreeable in a pinch.”
Jenn stifled a gasp with her hand and took a step back. “Simone, is this true?”
I looked to my Maker and he nodded solemnly. “Nariuvnen are a special class of Shimaren, one, possibly two levels higher on the food chain. They can be born or made by another of their kind, through a process which requires true death, rather than mere blood trading. They can turn half-breeds as well, which is another unique power.
“However, Andris may very well be the last of his kind. What knowledge we’ve gathered is based upon legends older than recorded history, from a time when language was limited.”
“Yes, well, it’s nice to be your featured endangered species tonight, but I really just came to see this one here,” the Nariuvne muttered dryly.
Wait, that was me, right? “What do you want with me?” I said, confused all over again.
His expression turned cryptic. “You were out during the day. That is reason enough to track your signature.” But then his eyes darkened again, and I could almost see him putting some serious mental distance between us. “However, to think that, of all the Shimaren I might have come across, the one I did find was the final Plorávero herself.”
Bizarre didn’t even begin to cover the situation, but I saw no harm in digging deeper into the realm of madness and turning to sit down. “Fine, have a seat and let’s chitchat a bit,” I offered, scratching the itching wounds. “Damn, my head hurts. That was plain unnecessary. How do you expect to make friends if you’re always beating them down at first encounter? No wonder everyone’s scared of you. A normal ‘hi, my name’s Andris’ would do just fine.”
By the time I had seated myself between Nick and Ivan once more and checked to see his progress, he had made none. He merely stood, staring at me as though I were sporting antlers. At last, an emotion other than vacuum! I would have clapped, but the gesture might have made me appear even crazier than usual, so I refrained.
I looked to Simone for help, but he was busy tending to Sam’s wounds, so I turned back to Andris and said evenly, “If you want to kill me so badly, then at least give me the satisfaction of a simple conversation. ‘If you’re going to kill a man, it costs you nothing to be polite.’”
The fact that I had offered seemed to leave him even more uncomfortable than the idea of talking itself. “I have no intention of killing you. I’ll just leave now.” He turned to go.
“Wait one damn minute!” I said, earning myself a stunned look from Ivan and Nick. Andris paused to frown at me, and I added, “I want to talk to you. I’m kind of angry at you for busting in here all of a sudden, so you at least owe me a few answers. Please?”
A variety of emotions flitted across his expression before he shut down again. “Why aren’t you afraid? After what I just did...there are many other tortures I could put you through.”
“Spilt milk. Hate to break it to you, but not much scares me.” I smirked a little. “What’s the matter? Chicken?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Nick hissed, but when I winked at him, he closed his mouth and reverted to watching in nervous silence. Brave kid.
Andris looked out the open door and went to it, but before I could tell him that I wasn’t taking no for an answer, he merely drew it shut and finally came over, picking the empty armchair nearest to Nick’s seat. He removed his coat and sat almost awkwardly, in a graceful sort of way—like a nervous panther.
From this close I caught his scent, and it was sweet like nectar, with a hint of old books and something else that I could only describe as arboreal, like an old forest. It made my head go fuzzy. Was it because he was a Nariuvne? I just smelled like lavender shampoo.
By that time, Simone had already healed Sam’s wounds with some of his blood, and the younger twin sat at the far end of the couch, putting as much distance between himself and his assailant as possible. Simone chose to stand behind where Mitch, Jenn, and Veronica sat, like a chaperone on a dangerous field trip.
“Well, this is uncomfortable,” I said, giving everyone unhappy looks. “We’re alive. I’m pissed, but my temper is appallingly short so that’s nothing new. It’s okay.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sam muttered ominously, hiding behind his brother and casting shifty frowns at the intruder.
After a couple of false starts, Jenn finally managed to break her silence and inquire politely, “May I ask how you know Lynn and Simone?”
She flinched slightly when he looked to her, and that reaction seemed to irritate him a little. “I knew Simone first. Lydian—no, Lynn has never met me in person until tonight...I think.”
“You think?” I repeated.
He just shrugged and avoided my eyes.
“Then why does Simone know you?” Mitch asked, more bravely than Jenn.
“We were once companions.”
I gawked at the two, but focused on Andris while trying not to explode with curiosity. “How old are you?”
He gave me a dark leer. “Older than Simone, as if that makes a difference.”
“Specifically!” I said, actually leaning in to hear the answer. Simone was three thousand, give or take, but how much older was Andris? What was my spatial sense telling me?
“The yelling is unnecessary,” he muttered with a weary half-pout that would have sent any human woman into a swoon. He leaned an elbow on the chair’s arm and propped his chin in one hand, staring around in mild curiosity. Looks that good should have been illegal, chained to a wall...why did that image make my blood warm?
“So was bashing my head onto the marble floor,” I snapped, shaking loose the unnerving thoughts. It was the scent. It had to have been the scent.
That sobered him up, and he sighed, turning black eyes on me and replying at last, “Seventy-four hundred, plus or minus a decade or so. It took a while for the humans to figure out the damn calendar.”
“That has to be a lie,” Ivan blurted.
Andris glared at him. “Simone, am I lying?” he asked my Maker while holding Ivan’s gaze, as though a mere glance was capable of destroying us more totally than the sun ever could.
I didn’t doubt the possibility.
There was a brief pause before Simone answered, “No, he really is as old as he says.”
“Wait, but then he’s older than any other recorded Shimare. No way he’s the first!” I sat forward in earnest. Living Shimaren over the age of six thousand...I could count them on one hand. Finding one over seven thousand...it just did not happen.
“I’m not the first. I can’t possibly be. I have no spawn—no progeny whatsoever, neither immortal nor mortal—and your people do have a few accounts of my kind dating back to before my time.” The Nariuvne returned to staring around, having lost interest.
“Okay...but seven and a half millennia...sweet sanity, you’re old!” I simply wasn’t capable of restraining my fascination. He didn’t appear to enjoy the scrutiny, but bore it anyway with a stoic resignation. It surprised me, actually. To our kind, old age was considered a sign of status, not senility or incompetence, but Andris clearly saw nothing glorious about being old.
Nick stirred uncomfortably, and Andris’ dead eyes turned on him. “What’s your problem, mortal?” His tone suggested that maybe he didn’t hold mortals in very high esteem.
“Uh, well, that was before any major civilization existed,” he managed to say despite the weight of that cold gaze.
“I was born in a small tribe. Hunter-gatherers, you call them today. We didn’t have writing, and our language was infantile,” the ancient replied flatly. “My name in my language loosely translates as ‘winter’ in English, though there are other connotations. There were gestures to go with it, but...” he slipped away again, like someone trying to hold a door shut while billions of gallons of water tried to escape all at once “...I forgot the rest of my name a long time ago, and it never seemed important enough to recall.”
“Wow,” was all Nick managed to reply.
“Were you born a Nariuvne?” I asked. “Was your mother mortal?”
A thin line creased his brow. “Yes, she was, but no, I wasn’t turned,” he said thoughtfully. “Near the end of mortal puberty, a Nariuvne comes of age and obtains his final state. The skin of a boy and the body of a man. I never even grew a beard—lucky me, I suppose.” The way he said it, however, made clear that he saw absolutely nothing lucky about it.
“What’s wrong with that?” I muttered. “You’re gorgeous!”
Ivan flinched, and in an instant his arm was around my neck, and his hand was clamped over my mouth. “Please forgive her stupidity. It’s her personal disease,” he apologized for me, though I couldn’t see anything wrong with being honest. Andris was damn sexy by anyone’s standards.
I frowned up at Ivan and he glared right back. Breaking first, I looked away, and saw Andris staring at me with those eerie green eyes again in what I could only describe as surprise. When he caught me looking, however, they slid away and landed on Ivan, where they flickered scarlet before shutting down yet again.
Dammit, I had to ask! I shoved Ivan’s hand away and—before he could stop me—blurted, “Hey, what’s with your eyes? They keep changing colors.”
Once again, Ivan’s hand stifled my interrogation. I settled down, disgruntled.
At first, it didn’t look like the Nariuvne would acknowledge the question. But before I decided to smack down Ivan and demand some answers, Andris replied, “It’s like a neon sign announcing that I am neither human nor Shimare. In a nutshell, it cuts me off from the rest of the world. They remain black during the day, but that just seems to frighten most people.”
“A fear well-founded,” Nick said under his breath.
My hand flew out and gagged him before he said anything further, and the ancient cast an odd look at the three of us trying to shut each other up. For someone so incredibly old, he was remarkably animated. Simone was drywall compared to him.
“If that’s all, I’d like to leave now,” he said at length, slowly rising from his seat.
Immediately, I shoved my two friends away in determination and shouted, “Wait! You’re not going until you tell me how you know my real name.”
For some reason, he froze in mid-step and looked at Simone, almost glaring at him.
My Maker didn’t even flinch. “Go on. You have brought this on yourself, Andris.”
“Is that really the wisest course of action?” he asked slowly.
“The wisest course of action is always the honest course,” Simone said, folding his arms.
A feeling of unease snaked into my veins, a message from the blood that something wasn’t quite right. “Simone? What are you talking about?”
Andris replied in his stead, an edge of anger lacing his silken voice. “He merely wants you to hate me, just like the rest of the Emperor’s dogs.”
“What? I mean, sure, you beat me down pretty bad, but that was sort of my fault for not letting my Maker run the show. That aside, you seem like a pretty decent—”
“Lydian,” Andris interrupted, turning to me with a deep frown which only made the unease grow. “His feelings on the matter are completely rational.”
He paused in uncertainty.
“Tell her!” Simone snapped, startling all of us.
With a weary sigh, Andris ran a hand through his thick hair, pulling it away from a forehead as pearly white as the rest of his visible skin. His eyes met mine, and they wore a lavender color so pale that they could almost have been white.
He hesitated for a long, long moment, staring at me, then looked away and whispered at last, “I...I killed your entire family on your mother’s side...as well as your mother herself.”