Avenari - Chapter 10
“...when you discover my killer, forgive him...Help him and forgive him...”
Everyone but Simone went deathly still, gawking at the Nariuvne. My heart had stopped beating, and silence fell in my ears like a shroud.
I shook my head. I couldn’t do anything else. I felt those old wounds ripping open—red, raw, and gaping like the maw of some horrible beast that wanted to eat me alive. At last, I understood what my mother had been talking about. Andris didn’t even try to explain. He merely dropped his hand to his side and turned away, walking purposefully toward the exit.
“Stop right there,” I growled, finding myself on my feet and marching toward him. All I could see inside my head was the darkness, the all-encompassing darkness living in my blood that nurtured the icy chill of my powers and stirred them into action. The moonstone began to glow as though the obsidian feather within were giving off a dark, cold light.
I could still remember so clearly, clutching my father’s hand in a death-grip and staring in horror as Mom’s casket slowly slid into that desolate black hole—the same black hole I would watch him glide into seven years later. She would never hug me again, never kiss me goodnight again, never scold me again for playing in the mud, never bake another pie to cheer me up after being teased at school...
My vision cleared slightly, and I saw that the ancient had paused, frowning blankly at me with eyes as dark as the frozen depths of my heart.
I wanted him to hurt. I wanted him to hurt so badly that I thought my brain would burst.
A sharp, sudden cry cleared my vision a little more.
Andris was on the floor, on his hands and knees and breathing hard. I could hear his slow metronome of a heart beating in staggered bursts, as though something was crushing it, forcing it to falter. Like a distant echo, I could feel my powers wrapping around him, binding him.
“Not good enough.” Something was different about my voice, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he bled, suffered, screamed until I was sick of hearing his lovely voice. I wanted to force my years of pain upon him, condensed into mere moments. I wanted my internal wounds to become his physical wounds.
He had to be punished.
Like ink on a page, a deep puddle grew around his hands, dripping from his slender throat and wrists. More blood spread across his chest. It was thick like gravy, a red so dark that it was almost black, and when exposed to the air it didn’t dry instantly. It sat and rippled as though alive. It tried to move against the flow, but so much was pouring out that it couldn’t.
And the scent—it accosted me like a wave of clover honey laced with cognac and something similar to dry leaves in fall. Something shivered in my own blood.
Never! Never...my mother...why Mom, of all the people in this world? Why my best friend and sole protector whenever I was ostracized by the other children around me.
“Why did you do it?” I whispered, my voice cracking like sheets of ice.
Suddenly, he flipped over and slammed onto his back with devastating force. A spurt of blood shot into the air from his lips and landed with the rest of it onto the floor. He grimaced, but remained silent. More…more blood…I needed more from him. The scent was intoxicating.
I could hear a voice, but I ignored it. I had spent so long burying my pain, tried so hard to fill the hole my mother had left behind...and it was his fault. I would have lived my days peacefully if it hadn’t been for this murderer, this monster.
Anger filled me to the brim, sending crackling energy through me and drawing power from the moonstone. Slowly, I stepped forward and glared down at him in my rage.
I wanted him dead. That was it. I craved it, needed it to fill that hole.
“Just die!” I shrieked, shoving all my energy into that one desire.
At last, he screamed and his back bowed with pain. His heart shuddered in my ears, and the cloying scent of that sweet blood clouded my sense of smell like an olfactory smoke screen.
Such beautiful screams…
My power flickered as Ivan’s voice smashed through the bloodlust and distracted me for a moment. I glared at him, standing behind me in fear, his hand hovering just above my shoulder.
“Please don’t do this!” he begged. “I know you’re angry, but this isn’t how to fix it. Wouldn’t your mom tell you not to do this?”
I blinked and looked back down at the gasping ancient. “He killed Mom.”
“Yes, but would she want you to kill him?”
A frown crossed my face. “She...told me to forgive him,” I said at length, my voice as hollow as I felt.
The Nariuvne had ceased struggling and simply lay there panting, as though he had no inclination to fight me. He could have killed me so easily, yet he never even argued. The blood soaked his shirt completely through, and it clung to his fine frame like a second skin, fed by the deep cut across his jugular and the wound over his heart, both of which had already begun to heal at a remarkable pace. All the while, his blood shivered in the puddle, sliding across the marble like a living thing.
It was almost as if...he wanted to die.
“Help him...and forgive him...” I said, hearing her words echo through my head.
I felt my heart break again. To my dismay, I found myself unable to deliver another blow. I couldn’t kill another person. To execute Andris, even if he was a monster, went against all of my beliefs. It flew in the face of every shred of self-control that I had ever forced onto my thirst. I had worked so hard after that first death to understand my blood and to learn how to communicate with it. Killing Andris now would negate all of that.
Killing him would make me just like him—worse, even. I wasn’t protecting anybody, not even myself. I was just trying to satisfy my own rage with more of the same.
Help him…forgive him…
I felt my body relax, trembling with exhaustion. The moonstone effectively switched off, and the power it had lent me vanished without a trace, leaving only the ancient at my feet and an all-consuming weariness as evidence that I had done something so awful.
I was at a loss. Before I could even think to hold them back, tears began streaming from my eyes in crimson rivulets, pulling me with them to the floor. I fell to my knees and just cried. I hadn’t cried like this since Mom’s death. It hurt more than any physical wound.
“Why? Why did you do it?” I sobbed, too devastated to even be angry anymore. I wrung my hands in my lap and stared at him, my mother’s killer, through red-tinged vision. I felt so pathetic, as though all those years of making myself stronger had been a delusion. It had all been a lie. I wasn’t strong at all—I had merely buried everything and pretended that it wasn’t there.
I’d had no idea that it could crawl out of its own grave.
His heart had already stabilized, and his breathing had leveled off by the time Andris propped himself up on his hands, wincing in pain and resting his forehead on one knee while the shattered fragments of his cranium knitted back together like a macabre jigsaw puzzle. Once healed, however, he raised his head slowly and stared at me like a lost soul. His face wasn’t blank anymore. If anything, it was torn.
“I’m...so sorry,” he said weakly, leaning forward to hesitantly place his slender hand over my little ones in my lap. “I truly am. I have no right to beg forgiveness, so I won’t, but please know that...that...damn it, I have no right to even apologize.”
Everything hurt, and I wanted him to feel my pain, but over and over again all I could hear was Mom’s request that I forgive him. I didn’t want to, but that was what Mom wanted. Nothing made sense. The only person in the world whose every request I would unconditionally grant had asked me to do the one thing I didn’t think I could do. My brain was such a mess of thoughts that, through the haze, all I could sense was the alluring fragrance of blood.
Andris turned to Simone, who still stood behind the couch, watching us. “Is this what you wanted? To hurt her all over again? Well, Simone, now she can hate me as she pleases.” He took his hand back and got to his feet, seemingly unaware of the blood soaking back into his skin. “I’ll go now and let you heal in peace,” he muttered, going to fetch his coat.
I sat and stared at my hands in a daze. His skin was softer than baby powder...and so warm. Why? Shimaren were colder than death, yet his flesh retained inhuman heat. I glanced at the blood on the floor, entranced by that rich, sweet scent, and without even considering it, dabbed my finger in and brought it to my lips...
“No!” In a flash, he was there, holding my wrist tightly and preventing me from tasting it.
“Why?” I frowned at the shivering drop. It danced in the light, calling to my blood, and my blood screamed at me to taste it. The urge was more powerful than my thirst had ever been.
“It’s vulun-ris,” he said shortly. “And it’s my blood. You don’t just take another’s blood without permission.” He licked the droplet from my fingertip before I could stop him, but I was too dizzy to get mad. His tongue was warm.
Stupid. Vulun-ris was just a myth. “But that smell...I like that smell,” I said. I felt disconnected, and when I found the connection again, I was being carried to the sofa and placed between Nick and Ivan. I frowned in consternation. “Why...why’s it spinning so fast?”
“Vulun-ris is like Shimari catnip.” Simone’s voice filtered through to my ears, but I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or not. “A drug, basically, in the form of our sustenance.”
“What does it do?” That was definitely Jenn.
And then Andris’ voice: “The scent alone is enough to disorient some. One swallow of the blood itself is equivalent to a hundred cups of coffee and a bottle of vodka. It’s addictive.”
“How?” Nick asked.
Andris hesitated before replying, “It tastes so good that you always want more.”
“Sure smells like it,” Mitch said. “Lynn, are you okay?”
The air was thinner here, and gradually the world slowed to its usual rotational velocity. My blood’s incessant cries seemed farther away now. I could think a bit more clearly.
“I take back all that stuff about your necklaces,” Sam muttered under his breath.
“Ugh...that was...weird,” I said, trying to wrap my head around what had just happened.
“It was partly your fault for bleeding me,” Andris sighed.
My head snapped up automatically, more than alert, and I seethed despite myself, “Excuse me?! Oh, you have my deepest apologies. It’s just that you killed my mother, but please pardon my rage.”
He shut his mouth to a thin line and turned away before he could antagonize me further.
“Anyway,” Veronica said, “what should we do, Simone? Should we let him go?”
“Do you really think you could stop me if I decided to leave?” demanded Andris.
“Hell no!” I cried vengefully from my seat, at last shrugging off the rest of his blood’s incomprehensible side effects. “Mom told me to ‘help him and forgive him,’ but I’m not doing either of those until that bastard earns it! You hear me, sunshine?!”
He flinched at the nickname and very slowly turned to glare at me. “Don’t.”
“How about Andy, then,” I said, just daring him to take a potshot. I felt like breaking something, anyway, and he was fair game now.
“Don’t you dare call me that!” he growled, sounding an awful lot like an angry tiger.
Nick snickered softly despite himself, drawing the ancient’s attention.
He rounded on the kid. “What now!”
Nick winced and backed away slightly. “Er, it’s just really hard to be afraid of an ‘Andy’ or a ‘sunshine,’” he explained.
“Oh? And what if I decide that I’m hungry?” He leaned forward with a cruel smirk.
“No dice,” I said through my teeth, distracting Andris from his threats. “I branded him. Nick’s mine, and if you try to hurt him in any way, it’ll backlash onto you ten times over.”
His eyes widened perceptibly and flashed violet, before falling dark again behind an expression of total mystification. “You branded him?”
“What I do is no business of yours,” I replied, shaking my head and clearing the rest of the fog from my thoughts. “I don’t want to hear it from you.”
Andris gave me a dead-eyed stare, as though my reasoning were so flawed that he would never understand. “Fine, then I’m leaving.” He made to get up, but paused when I glared at him.
“No. You are staying right here. I don’t know what to do with you, but you will remain in this house until I’ve made my decision.” Just the thought of him being nearby made my insides twist in knots, but there was no way I would allow him to just leave. I had to do something, but I had no idea what that something should be. I just needed to think it out.
He frowned hard at me. “I see that my advice is worthless to you, but you should have killed me when you had the chance. Hell, kill me right now. I won’t even fight back.”
I watched him for a long moment, noted the darkness in his gaze and his apparent inability to understand anything about me. He wanted to die—that was obvious—but I wasn’t going to be the one to do it. As much as I wanted to hurt him for hurting me, I knew that true punishment would require more subtlety. In the heat of the moment, I was willing to end his life…but now that I had regained control, I couldn’t justify that kind of response.
Revenge didn’t make things better. His death wouldn’t bring Mom back from the grave. If anything, it would push me to a place that I had fought for years to avoid.
I couldn’t kill Andris…but I couldn’t forgive him like this, either.
“Mom gave me a task,” I said, “to help you or some absurdity like it, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do, whether you want it or not. However, you’re not allowed to question the actions I take in order to protect the people around me. Don’t even think about hurting them.”
“Thank goodness you’re on our side,” Sam said, falling back against the couch with a relieved sigh.
“Damn straight, I’m on your side.” I folded my arms and glared at the ancient.
Andris stared for a brief moment, watching me think, and a moment later he grabbed his coat and headed toward the door. “I’m going now.”
I jumped to my feet. “Hell no, I’m not letting you run away that easily! I demand retribution!” Quickly, I ran after him to beat him into submission...and forgot about the puddle of blood. My foot skidded through the slick liquid, and suddenly I was on by back once more. Stars exploded in my head as my tender skull smacked onto the marble.
Well, that was clumsy. “Oww...I’m a disgrace to all vampires...”
And then the scent returned, converging in one dense cloud around me, inundating my senses and seeping through to my blood. This time, the Nariuvne didn’t have a chance to stop me. My arm went out under the blood’s urging, taking a drop onto my finger and bringing it to my lips before Andris could even turn to see what had happened.
A spark of energy leapt through my tongue, and I gasped, letting my arm fall as my body went limp and boneless. Power crackled down my throat and into my core, snapping through my limbs like a bolt of electricity.
Sweet...so very sweet, like biting into rich fruit meant only for the gods.
There was shouting, someone calling me in muted tones as if I had sunk to the depths of an immense lake. Pressure held my body in a tight embrace as I slipped further into the abyss.
It was beautiful and warm down there—dark, but not the kind of darkness that left me restless and anxious. This darkness didn’t activate my triggers, but softened their effects. My blood sighed happily, glorying in the taste. I had never seen it react like this to anything, and the effect was enough to steal my will to resist.
Just a drop, and everything was better…perfect…
The only annoyance was that shouting.
“Shut up,” I said, letting the warmth seep into my cold body and aching heart.
My eyes opened, and I frowned up at twin points of pale lavender. “I wish people would stop calling me that,” I groused, irritated that anybody could be so cruel as to pull me out of a place that felt so warm and healing.
But then I realized that Andris was that warmth, because he was the one holding me away from the pool of nectar. “That was a very bad idea,” he said tightly.
Gradually, my senses cleared, but the taste remained on my tongue like a drop of electric honey, and the scent drowned out all others. “It was just a little,” I argued vaguely, disappointed that he was what had made me feel better. “And let me go. I’m still right pissed at you.” My words lost most of their effect when I spotted the cooling puddle just inches away.
“That may be, but I’m not letting you out of my sight until that blood is gone. If even the scent remains you’ll never be able to stop thinking about it.”
That caught my attention. “You arrogant ass. Don’t underestimate my willpower.”
“And don’t you misjudge my character or the power of the vulun-ris!” he shot back, his eyes darkening to indigo. “I don’t understand why you haven’t ordered me out already. You do not want me around, you silly fledgling. I should leave immediately or simply die.”
“Who decided that? That’s just stupid. Now put me down or I’ll kill you.”
“No, you won’t—but you could if you really wanted to, and I would appreciate the favor very much if you did.” He set me down on the cold floor beside the sofa, where I couldn’t make a mess of the pristine white leather. “Simone, I refuse to stay, but clean that up first.”
“You clean it. It is your mess.” My Maker’s expression was as stern as I’d ever seen it. I got the feeling that he was referring to more than just the blood.
“Oh, come on, Simone,” Mitch said politely. “Now you’re just being difficult.”
Simone frowned in Mitch’s direction. “I am not. I’m simply tired of keeping things from my fledgling, and now that the source of all the secrecy has finally shown himself, I’m forcing him to face his punishment. I thank you, Andris, for not killing her when you had the opportunity, but what you did was still unforgivable—at least by me. You will neither run away again nor refuse forgiveness when it is finally given.”
“I’m older than you,” Andris said. “By comparison, you are a fledgling. I will not take orders from someone who hid his blood daughter’s entire family history from her.”
“I hid it because of what you did,” was Simone’s equally clipped reply.
“Wait, what?” I sat up to frown at Simone, slowly gaining enough coordination to manage a posture more rigid than an uneasy wobble. “You knew about the Plorávero clan?”
“That was why I came to be your tutor. According to pattern, you were next on Andris’ black list, and the Shimari Council assigned me to guard the last remaining heir to the line. Turning you had never been part of the plan, but I grew fond enough to give you the choice.” He smiled faintly. “Keeping the secret made protecting you much easier.”
I shot Andris a glare. “You, now. You never told me exactly why you decided to murder my entire family. The others, I never knew, so it never really hit me, but Mom was my universe.” Just mentioning her sent a pang of guilt through me. To think of how suddenly she had been ripped from my life…to think that the one who had taken her from me stood only feet away...
I shook my head. No, I had to stick to my guns.
Andris let out a weary sigh and decided to sit his blood-soaked self on the floor, near enough to grab me if I tried to get at the vulun-ris, while still maintaining a comfortable distance. He folded his arms atop his knees and rested his chin on an elbow, averting his now-obsidian gaze. “All I can say is that they were doing things which were detrimental to my personal well-being, and I made a preemptive strike. The details are inconsequential.”
Ivan stirred a little uncomfortably. “That’s a cold way of looking at it. You killed off an entire family. Didn’t that seem at all...wrong to you?”
“I...wasn’t myself,” the Nariuvne replied distantly. “It’s not an excuse—just simple fact. There are many things about me over which I have only the tiniest bit of control, but that’s none of your business, I don’t think.”
“Why didn’t you kill me, then?” I asked.
He winced. “How can you ask that so easily? Did you want me to kill you?”
“Maybe. After all, the most important person in my world was dead. Now quit changing the subject. You clearly had an opportunity, and I was next, so why didn’t you kill me?”
Not surprisingly, he shut down again and diverted his gaze. “I changed my mind, so let’s leave it at that.”
Exasperating son of a...
“You need a therapist!” I declared, tired of him. I stood and grabbed Nick. “C’mon. I need a shower. You hang out in the game room away from that jerk sociopath. Ivan and Sam, you too. Let the elders discuss things without our interference.” It had to be his blood messing with my mind and making me so touchy, but a little time away would fix that right up.
The twins sought Simone’s approval, and when he gave a short nod they followed the kid and me upstairs.
The whole way up, I could feel Andris’ scrutinizing gaze on the back of my head, but I ignored it. I didn’t owe him any explanations, and I certainly wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of taking his thoughts into account. I needed space to think, and he wasn’t letting me have it; therefore, I would let Simone deal with him for a little bit while I gathered my wits and decided what to do about him.
I just wished desperately that I could talk to Mom.
* o * o *
“That ass!” I slammed the door to my room shut and stomped into the bathroom opposite the foot of my bed. The bath was a warm, spacious room with a large tub beneath a wall-mounted shower head, and a wide sink. Everything had been carved of rich marble, predominantly ochre-colored, but with streaks of red or white to give it depth.
I had no toilet. There was no need, seeing as how my renovated body didn’t perform any of those functions anymore.
I needed to clean off the ancient’s sticky blood before any more of my good judgment vanished, though it was horribly difficult to resist the urge to lick it from my skin. My blood whispered at me, trying to convince me that it would be perfectly acceptable to do so, but I shook my head. No, I wouldn’t back down just because his blood was special, and I absolutely wasn’t going to stoop so low as to lick it off like some stray cat.
My shower went by in a blur, a mere blip on the radar of my preoccupied mind. There had to be something I could do to beat some sense into that guy! Never before had I encountered such a socially inept being. In some ways, he acted more like an abused puppy than an all-powerful ancient. However, he was still an all-powerful ancient, regardless of how pitiful he seemed. I had never even dreamed that a Shimare—or whatever the hell he was—could amass such strength. Not even the twins’ Maker had been so impossibly powerful.
But I had to admit that he worried me. His blood was beyond anything I had ever tasted, and I couldn’t deny that I wanted more. The sheer power behind it had been equally shocking. If a single droplet could have that massive of an impact on me, what would it be like to sink fang?
And why was I even thinking about it?! He was a murderer! Sure, he was new in every sense of the word—barring the fact that he’d been around since the dawn of agriculture—but that didn’t mean I enjoyed having my life flipped upside-down.
Or did I? Wasn’t this exactly what I had been looking for?
It was a disconcerting thought, to say the least. Were my subconscious wishes coming true as well? After all, Mom had known that this was going to happen...
Once clean, I toweled off my hair and checked my head in the mirror to make sure I had healed, muttering curses under my breath when I accidentally poked a soft spot too hard. Well, at least the bleeding had stopped.
Despite the evidence, it was hard to believe that he was capable of killing so many people. What could drive a man like him to do something so horrible? What exactly had my family done to warrant such retaliation? Or maybe he was just another guy stuck between two worlds, who didn’t know how to join either one?
That reasoning worked pretty well when I ignored his blatant history of violence.
I frowned at my reflection. Okay, with that in mind, perhaps I could help him by letting him join my side? It would take an iron hand, but I knew Mom expected something of me. It may have been half-insane to cling so tightly to a mere dream, but the necklaces hanging around my throat were evidence enough...
Then I realized the perfect answer to all my problems.
I ran out of the bath, throwing on some random apparel in ten seconds, flat. Twenty seconds after that, I burst into the game room and veritably accosted Ivan.
“What’s wrong?” he cried when I threw my arms around his neck in excitement.
“Nothing at all,” I said, perching on the sofa arm beside him. Sam and Nick shot me brief, uneasy frowns before returning to the game.
“Okay, then why are you so happy?” Ivan drew my attention with his calm tone, and I relaxed gradually.
“I know how to fix our problems, and Andy’s the key.”
“That seems a tad presumptuous,” Sam said, cocking an eyebrow at me. “The guy wants nothing to do with us, and he doesn’t really seem the manservant type.”
“I’ll guilt him into it. Girls are good at that kind of thing.”
Nick rolled his eyes, but never really took them off the screen. “No, you’ll coerce him into it, like you did to me. You’ll attack him verbally and wear him down to the point where he’ll do anything just to shut you up.”
“Y’know, they can’t bite you, but I still can,” I said.
He reached up and pulled the neck of his sweater down to bare his jugular. “Be my guest. I told you I was willing.”
Sam dropped his controller in astonishment, gawking at the kid. “What?!”
Even Ivan was shocked, but looked to me instead. “You have a willing donor?”
“No!” his brother cut in abruptly. “Nick! Bad!” Monosyllabic responses seemed to be all that he could manage.
“Better food than dead.” The kid frowned as if Sam were being an idiot, and Sam was so flabbergasted that his jaw moved up and down several times before managing any form of reply.
“But—but she’s a vampire!” he said at last, throwing his hands in the air. It was actually kind of funny.
“Yes, she is...and?”
Sam shook his head in disbelief. “I give up. Lynn, you win; and Nick, you have shattered my faith in the human race.” In a huff, he picked up the controller, input all the cheats he’d avoided using, and proceeded to destroy Nick via video game warfare.
“Your brother’s an odd one,” I commented. “He fights with his thumbs.”
Ivan just shook his head. “Nope. I don’t know him. My brother wouldn’t be so childish.”
Sam let go with one hand to flip Ivan the bird and shot back impetuously, “You’re next, bro, right after I eradicate this little punk.”
“Anyway,” said the elder twin, resting his arm in my lap and turning to me, “what was this half-baked plan you were announcing before Nick and Sam became arch nemeses?”
“Oh, yeah.” I patted Ivan’s shoulder and offered a dark smirk. “I’m going to the Brood Manor, and Andy’s taking me! But you can’t tell Simone. Only you two are allowed to know.”
“Wait, that’s just crazy,” he said. “How are we going to explain why you’re missing?”
“I’ll leave during the day, and you can feign innocence. I’ll leave a note or something on Simone’s desk.”
“You do realize that Sam is an idiot, right? He’ll snitch first chance he—ow!”
“Shut your face, Ivan!” Sam yanked the controller back by its wire. He seemed unreasonably angry, and I discovered why when I looked to the screen and saw that Nick had killed him, even without cheats.
Ivan rubbed the back of his head and glared at his lesser half. “I rise before you, little brother. If you provoke me, I’ll do something heinous while you sleep.”
“Like what?” Sam demanded.
“Like rats. Hundreds of rats.”
I stifled a snicker, but Nick just stared at as though they had caught whatever mental derailment he thought I had.
Sam’s eyes went wide with fear, and suddenly he threw an arm around Nick. “Hey, old boy! Let’s have another round of fun, whaddaya say?”
“Sam, stop scaring the mortal,” I chided.
Ivan smirked and glanced at the clock. “Is it four-thirty already? Huh. Lynn, why don’t we go back down and see how the ‘adults’ are handling our trespasser?”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll chat it up until everyone has no choice but to rest. That’s when I’ll make my daring escape.” I struck a dramatic pose for effect.
Ivan didn’t even notice. “You’re leaving this morning? So soon?”
“Well, the longer Andy hangs around, the harder it’ll be to keep him here. He seems like a lone wolf, that one.”
“Ya think?” Sam said in disdain.
“All those who fear small mammals are barred from speaking,” I snapped.
“I just don’t like rodents,” he said, then shut up abruptly when I gave him an evil look.
“Why the Brood Manor?” the other twin asked me.
“That’s the beauty of it. He’s stronger than Simone by millennia, and he’s pretty much isolated from the Shimari society—I can kill two birds with one stone. Simone stays home, and Andris will learn to play well with others. I hear the Eastern Brood Manor is chock full of Shimaren with bizarre powers.” Just the thought of having a real-life adventure was enough to make me want to set aside my payback schemes and enjoy the possibility of a little freedom.
“I also heard that the Eastern Manor is so big that it feels deserted,” Ivan pointed out.
I smacked his arm lightly. “Don’t spoil my fun! This is my chance, Ivan. Please?”
He sighed and grumbled a bit. “Fine, enjoy. Just don’t forget about your friends. You’re fickle, remember?”
“Compare me to that bastard Romeo again and I’ll beat you,” I said levelly.
“Yeah, yeah. Sam, put the games away. Meet us downstairs.” He stood, and I hopped to the floor while Nick made a hasty apology before joining us.
“You’re ditching me?!” demanded Sam, glaring at us all.
“Punishment for hitting me with the controller,” Ivan replied, casting a no-nonsense squint at his brother.
Sam gritted his teeth and his fangs caught the light like pearls. “Sissy!”
Ivan’s eyes became slits. “Ignoramus!”
I tapped Nick’s shoulder as he watched the twins’ argument in fascination, and nodded to the door. I couldn’t fault him for it—together, they looked like one guy arguing with himself in a mirror, and his reflection was arguing right back. The kid had to tear his eyes away to follow me.
On the way, I stopped by one of the spare rooms for a plastic bag of necessities, and only after we reached the staircase did Ivan return in an uncommonly sour mood.
“What’s wrong?” asked Nick.
Ivan frowned at the steps and muttered, “He called me a nerd. I’m not a nerd, am I?”
The giggle burst out before I could stop it, and he froze in his tracks, clearly doubting himself. As consolation, I grabbed his hand and hugged his arm.
“I am a nerd...”
“You moron.” I patted his shoulder. “Sam’s just jealous because you’re so normal and intelligent, while he’s a freak of nature.”
“We share the same DNA,” he reminded me with a bitter frown.
“Then you’re the better-adjusted of the two of you. And you’re still not a nerd.” I goaded him into continuing down the stairs, holding his arm along the way.
He was so cute. “Really, Ivan. Besides, you can’t be a nerd and a Shimare. The two are pretty much incompatible—unless you’re me, of course.” After all, I was the one who had started the whole technology boom in our family. I had even gone through a brief AD&D phase.
“That idiot brother of mine…I should punish him.”
I nodded sagely. “Indeed. Time for the rodents. Maybe even a capybara.”
“You’re all as crazy as she is,” Nick complained.
Ivan smirked. “But of course. She’s our leader.” He gave me a warm half-hug before pushing me ahead. “Now, go do what you do best and snap that ancient into shape.”
I smirked, ready for some serious personality reconstruction.
I didn’t care what Andris would think. I wasn’t sure exactly where we would end up, what we would do, or how we were going to get there, but he was coming whether he wanted to or not. Of all the crazy plans that I could have hatched, this was probably the best way to both appease my mom and exact enough revenge to satisfy my anger.By the end of it, he might even thank me.