Avenari - Chapter 11
“Hey, you, take it.”
Andris frowned up at me from his seat on the floor as if I were some apparition come to test his mettle. “What is it?” he asked as his black, fathomless eyes flicked between me and the plastic bag in my hand.
“You’re soaked in your own blood,” I replied, dropping the bag beside him and resuming my seat between Ivan and Nick. “The puddle may be gone, but you yourself are equally fragrant. My advice: take that and get changed. There’s a bathroom down the hall beside the staircase.” I indicated which direction. “Third door on the left. Make it quick.”
Doubtfully, he picked the bag up and emptied its contents on the floor: one of Simone’s old black turtlenecks and a pair of black jeans whose owner I had lost track of long ago. “You don’t need to do this,” he said, his eyes refusing to leave the clothes.
“Maybe not, but it’s the least I can do to make up for my random acts of violence earlier.” I folded my arms and sat back, trying to avoid looking at him. I didn’t want him to think I would forgive him so easily. “You’re a lot taller than any of us, so I’m not sure about the pants, but the sweater material stretches and will probably fit. It should make a decent temporary fix.”
“How did you know that I only wear black?” Finally, he looked up, still frowning.
I shrugged. “Black’s your color. Who am I to disagree with aesthetics? Besides, it’s kind of obvious.” I motioned toward his overall appearance.
For a while, he was silent, thinking beyond the scope of my senses. After a long pause, he finally stood, his movements as natural and graceful as the flicker of a flame. It was strange and intriguing to witness the refinement that age brought to our clumsy human bodies.
“I see.” Leaving it at that, he headed over to the ground-floor bathroom.
Andris was out of sight, but he was certainly far from out of mind.
“So what’s the plan, Simone?” Veronica asked, having already reentered the chess match against Jenn. “If he’s here, then is it really safe to go on your trip?”
Jenn nodded to indicate her agreement while she pondered her next move.
Simone had seated himself in his chair, with one ankle on the other knee and his chin in hand. “I do not believe it wise to send him away. Compared to how he was so many years ago...something has changed, and I cannot grasp exactly what that is. At the very least, I am almost certain that he would not harm any of you.”
“Is that enough reason to keep him around?” Jenn moved her rook forward to take Ver’s last remaining bishop.
“I am curious, I admit,” he said. “Besides, I believe that Lynn would have a good influence on him if he did remain with us. However, he is still dangerous.”
Sam returned at that moment and said darkly, “He’s a Crimson, no doubt about it.”
“And scary,” Nick piped in.
“And scary,” Ivan concurred, lost in thought. “He really did a number on Sam and Lynn.”
Mitch nodded soberly. “Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps. He’s so powerful, even for someone his age. The blood hibernates during our sleep, but it’s almost like his blood hasn’t hibernated at all throughout his entire lifetime. Is his species really that powerful?”
“It’s because I can’t sleep.”
We gave a start and followed the voice to find that Andris had returned, as clean and neat as he had been upon arrival. The pants were a little short, but the sweater fit him like his own skin, showing off all the contours of his fine frame. He still looked to me like some dark god come to wage war with the unworthy souls.
As if in keeping with that tacit observation, his mood had become even more acerbic—his eyes sparked like angry rubies.
“Thank you for the clothes,” he said, grabbing his coat off the chair. “And good bye.” He slung the coat over his shoulder and gripped the bag of bloody apparel in the other hand, then abruptly headed for the exit.
“What? Wait!” I was up in an instant to block his way.
He frowned dispassionately at me. “I don’t want to hurt you again. Move. I’m tired.”
I shook my head hard and glared at him. “I am not letting you leave on bad terms, Andy. You’re clearly starved for social contact, and your skills have atrophied to the point where you don’t want to even bother honing them again, but you have to stay.”
“No, I don’t, and stop using that name. You’re just doing this to appease your mother. I apologized already, so let me go.” He was shutting down completely, setting himself on autopilot to escape the situation.
“I’m not doing this just because of my mom,” I growled. “You killed her; I’m mad—these are all givens. However, I’m not so cold-hearted that I can let someone as miserable as you are continue to be miserable. Believe it or not, I used to be just as asocial as you.”
A flicker of humanity lit his eyes for a moment…then vanished. “Really, now? What do you want from me? I’m a murderer—an habitual murderer. Even you weren’t that. Humans, Shimaren—they’re all prey to me.”
I lifted a brow. “You don’t say? If that’s how you really feel, then kill me.”
“What?!” Nick blurted despite himself. Ivan grabbed his arm and shook his head.
“Lynn, don’t do stupid things,” Ver sighed, still absorbed in her game. She and Jenn were remarkably calm during chess. At least, Ver was. Jenn tended to gradually become more and more irritable as defeat approached, but only towards the game.
“It’s not a stupid thing,” Andris said, giving me an inscrutable look.
“No, I’d say it’s pretty stupid,” Mitch sighed.
Andris frowned at him, then at me, and said at last, “What if I agree to stay?”
I pursed my lips thoughtfully, searching the ether for the proper way to word my reply. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to say it without sounding ridiculous, so I gave a helpless shrug and answered frankly, “Well...I’ll be your friend. You seem like an interesting person, and I’m so bored out of my mind with endless routine that I’m pretty much desperate for new people to talk to. Like Nick. I pretty much kidnapped him.”
He actually looked shocked. No...more like flabbergasted. After several seconds of staring incredulously at me, a small, ironic smile cracked his mask, and he chuckled softly. “This is just ridiculous…”
I felt a little insulted that he would consider my earnest response so lightly, but also a little happy that he had smiled. There was hope for him yet. “So? I’m dead serious. Sit down. Talk. Have some coffee. Make yourself at home.”
His smile faded to a pondering frown. “You realize that you are trying to give a vagabond everything he has ever been denied, don’t you?” There was softness in his voice, like wind rustling long grasses. Almost all of the previous hostility had gone.
“With a big red bow. Seriously. At this point, I’m prepared to befriend a gerbil.”
He seemed torn between accepting and rejecting the offer. Colors flickered in his eyes like lights on a Christmas tree. In the end, he sighed in defeat and brushed his silky hair back as a nervous gesture, turning to sit in the recliner. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll stay for a little bit, but if it becomes too much to bear then I’m leaving.”
“Why would it be too much to bear?” I asked, plopping down between Nick and Ivan.
The ancient blinked pale eyes and looked away, black again. “I don’t know…”
“Liar,” I grumbled, folding my arms. “I’ll let it go, though, since I guess you old people can’t help being all mysterious.” I was happy, regardless. He fascinated me. And speaking of fascination, I asked after a considerate pause, “Hey, a minute ago you said that you can’t sleep. What’s that supposed to mean?”
He set the tied bag of bloody clothing on the floor and set his coat beside him. “I don’t sleep. I can’t. It’s difficult to even sit in one place for too long. I have painfully restless blood.”
“But don’t you ever get tired?” Sam asked.
A bitter frown crossed Andris’ expression. “I’ve been tired since the day I became this...thing. Sleep won’t take me, and not even death wants me now.” His eyes closed and he sank into the thick cushions, resting his head. “Death would be a wonderful, eternal vacation…”
Despite my earnest efforts, my hands clenched to fists before I could stop them. “How can you say that? Life is worth living for the mere sake of living. I’ve had every reason thrown at me to give up, but I stuck around out of pure pigheadedness and got so much in return.”
He didn’t bother looking at me. “You wouldn’t understand. Try to comprehend seven millennia, alone and sleepless. You end up going over every wrong you’ve committed. The blood becomes the only thing to talk to as it slowly takes over your mind, even if it doesn’t talk back. You begin to hate everything. I can’t even watch the stars now without feeling ill.”
“Then I’ll watch them with you, stupid! I mean, all you need is company, right? Maybe I’m not the most reasonable person, but surely I’m better than the monster in your blood. Hell, I’ve gotten so good at overcoming the pain that the blood is my ally now, rather than my enemy. It controls the thirst when I ask it to.” I jerked a thumb at Nick. “And this kid over here: he was suicidal until last night, when I beat it out of him.”
Nick flushed and hissed frantically, “Is it really necessary to recount my sad little story for the sake of your personal goals?!”
“Shut up. You’re setting the benchmark, kid.” I shot him a warning glare and he backed down, folding his arms and avoiding everyone’s eyes.
“It’s still embarrassing,” he said in annoyance.
“That’s what you get for being stupid.” I turned back to Andris. “Anyway, the point is that nothing is written in stone. You have no business at all with giving up your own free will.”
His crystalline eyes narrowed. “No one escapes fate, Lydian. Life comes and goes as it pleases. Tragedy does as it wishes. Pain plays with all of us like puppets. And Death...Death is the endless dream given to those who are worthy of release. This is what life is. The meaning of life is Death, and for those who cannot die, no matter how they beg, life has no meaning.”
“Wrong!” I shot back. “I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in anything that takes away my ability to decide what I want for myself. You have that same ability—you’re just too scared to admit its existence. The meaning of life is everything but death!”
“Lynn, please calm down,” Ivan said with a heavy sigh. “You’re being irrational.”
I glowered at him. “You shut up. I’m right and he’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”
He matched my gaze without flinching and replied evenly, “Perhaps, but if that is indeed the case, then he has the right to make the ultimate decision. If he chooses to ignore you, then you have no right to force your views upon him. Forcing free will upon him is the ultimate perversion of the very free will you advocate so strongly.”
I stared in surprise. Damn it all, he was right. “Curse you for being so reasonable.”
He smiled slightly. “That’s what I’m here for, I suppose.”
I returned to frowning at Andris. “Fine, you may choose as you wish. However, I will not tolerate you making my life miserable all over again. You got that, Andy?”
“Stop using that name!” he shouted, and a rush of power crashed through the room, chasing his voice before retracting suddenly and disappearing like the claw of a tiger.
“Whoa.” Nick sat frozen. As a human, it was likely a hundred times more intense to him than to us—which was saying a whole hell of a lot.
Andris paled and looked away, panting slightly from the effort of withdrawing such a vast amount of energy. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it just happens...”
“No kidding,” I said, willing my heart to stop pounding so hard.
At last, Jenn tore herself away from the chessboard to watch Andris. “I’ve been meaning to ask, but I wasn’t sure how...”
“What?” he said shortly, refusing to look up.
“Well,”—she visibly steeled herself before proceeding—“when you release your powers, they don’t form an aura like ours do. Instead, it feels more like a substance. They also don’t dissipate when you’re done using them. On the contrary, it seems almost as though you reabsorb them into the blood.”
“I do. Your point?” Finally, he met her eyes with a ruby leer, as if daring her to make a cruel remark.
“Well...could that possibly be another reason why you’re so powerful, overall?” she asked gently. “If none of the energy escapes you, then it just builds and builds.”
“What is this, an inquisition?” Andris demanded. “Yes? No? How the hell am I supposed to know the mechanics of it without knowing all of the facts about what I even am? I just use the powers. I don’t decide how or why they build up. I was just damn lucky that they built up gradually. Otherwise, I would never have been able to master them so completely.”
I snorted despite my damnedest efforts not to. “Sure didn’t seem like you had mastered them all that well a moment ago.”
He averted his gaze again and glared at nothing in particular. “I just don’t like that name. Please don’t call me by that name.”
“Okay, Andy,” I said with a grin.
He twitched and glowered at me, his eyes narrowed to glittering crimson slits. “Watch your mouth, Lynnie, or I might pick up your bad habit.”
Ivan gasped and Sam stifled a snicker with his fist while I tried not to kill the Nariuvne. Of all the names I had ever been called...Lynnie had once earned Sam a broken leg and several fractured vertebrae. Hell, even that long-worn pseudonym Raven, just because of the last name I used on my credit cards, hadn’t been nearly so irritating. The birds were cool, but naming a person after a bird was...excessive.
Fortunately, Simone interrupted before I could do something regrettable. “Please stop fighting. Ivan and Sam have to go, and not just they, but all of us would like to entertain even a false notion that our home will still be here when we rise this evening.”
“A true notion would be nice, though,” Mitch supplied with a grin.
Andris muttered something under his breath like a curse, but I couldn’t understand the spoken words, then he added almost as an afterthought, “Why am I welcome here? I killed her whole family. You should be ecstatic to get rid of me.”
“Quit your whining,” I said. “The only one I knew was my mom, and she forgives you. You were probably crazy at the time, ‘cause you seem normal enough now—aside from your lamentable social skills. The most fitting punishment at the moment is to keep you around. Besides, what on earth made you want to kill an entire family? That’s just this side of insane.”
“Their existence was detrimental to my peace of mind, therefore they had to be exterminated,” he said plainly. “I’ve already answered that question, I believe.”
Jenn shook her head, disturbed. “How can you speak so easily about killing someone’s family? I lost my daughter to the one who turned me, and I’ve never known such sadness. Do you ever think of the people you’ve hurt? Doesn’t any part of you regret it? Do you feel guilt?”
“I stopped killing for entertainment. That is a step in the right direction, yes?” The look he gave her was colder than the vast emptiness of space.
She stared at him for a time, a pitying expression on her kind face, before returning to the game with a sigh. “You must be an incredibly sad person, Andris.”
He looked away. “Perhaps,” he said quietly.
“Well, at least you get to play all you want in the daylight,” I said, propping my head on a fist as I watched him and tried to imagine the kind of power he possessed. “I can’t believe I’ve never heard of something like you.”
“I am not a thing,” Andris growled, “and daytime isn’t nearly as exciting as you think. It’s bright and noisy and bothersome. I spend most of my daylight hours indoors when possible.”
There was something to be said for someone who was so adamant about being miserable. “Yeah, well, I’m glad I don’t have to go to rest now when the sun rises,” I said firmly. “I like having the power to choose when I want to sleep.”
“Do as you like.”
“So I will!”
“Lynn, please,” Simone intervened again. “Sunrise is near, and—once more—I would like you to please humor us. I would rather not go to rest worrying about you fighting with him. You would lose. Instantly.”
Way to hold faith in my strengths.
“That being said, I’m about to pass out,” said Sam as he nudged his brother with an elbow. “We’d better go before we get toasted.” He stood and stretched a bit, waiting for Ivan.
Ivan didn’t look at all happy about having to obey the approaching sun. Like Simone, he worried more then he needed to about my safety, but nodded anyway and slipped an arm around my waist. Gently, he kissed my temple. “Please take care. I know you’ll probably overdo it, but at least promise me that you’ll come back to us.”
“Sworn in blood,” I said with a smile, patting his hand lightly.
He rolled his eyes and got up. “Come on, then, Sam.”
“Wait, let me say something, too! You’re not the only one with advice.”
“Somehow, I doubt your ability to offer sound advice.”
Sam ignored his brother and put his hands on his hips, addressing Nick, first and foremost. “You, kid; watch your back. This might seem like a picnic ‘cause we like you, but Lynn’s insane, so you never really know.”
The mortal smirked. “I figured that out the moment she declared that she was telepathic.” I leered at him and he shrugged.
“Yes, well, I suppose it’s not difficult to figure out. The only one I know who can handle her is bro.” Sam stroked his chin thoughtfully. “However, be especially careful of strange vampires—like that guy. He’s probably a ticking time bomb and we just don’t know it.”
I glanced at the ancient, but despite being the subject of conversation, Andris didn’t seem to be paying attention to Sam. Instead, his gaze leveled on Ivan, as though sizing him up for a fight. It was...odd.
“Samuel,” Simone warned quietly.
“Hey, we’re all thinking it.” Sam folded his arms in defense. “And Lynn, like bro said, you sure as hell better not get yourself killed out there in the daylight. Don’t take the amulets off for anything, got that?”
“Yes, Master,” I said. “Look, I’m eccentric, not stupid.”
“Like I say, you walk a very fine line,” Ivan sighed, grabbing his brother’s arm and dragging him toward the second basement. “See you in the evening, everyone. And Andris—please take care of her. We don’t want her getting lost.”
“I’m not a puppy!” I shouted as he disappeared through the door beside the hearth, with Sam right behind muttering about how no one ever took him seriously. Those two...I loved them so much, yet every so often...
“Actually, we’re just about at the limit as well,” Ver said, setting a piece beside Jenn’s last remaining knight. “Oh, and checkmate.” She cast an evil grin at her opponent.
“Impossible!” Jenn glared at the board, retracing every move to see where exactly she had gone wrong. “I could have sworn I had you backed into a corner!” It was her hundred and thirty-fifth loss in a row—a tally sheet on the table said so. Since the moment she had decided to start playing against Veronica, she had won a total of three games, in between devastating losses.
“Keep practicing. Perhaps the computer will treat you more kindly?”
Jenn shook her head. “No, that monstrosity shows even less mercy. I survived five hundred years without computers—taking up the habit is not my idea of entertainment.”
Mitch chuckled and stood to pat his blood sister on the head. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Shut up, or I’ll beat you, too, you wino.”
He grimaced, though some of the effect was lost when he laughed. “Ah, the truth hurts, but I’m not giving up my favorite things in life just because you’re a prude.”
He paid her no heed and smirked at me instead. “Well now, I suppose this is where I tell you not to do anything too dangerous and to watch your back and blah-blah-blah, correct?”
“I believe so,” I said.
He nodded wisely. “Then please don’t do anything stupid or dangerous, watch your back, and blah-blah-blah. Big brother will be very displeased if he finds that you have started a riot in some unsuspecting neighborhood.”
I pursed my lips. “For the last time, I was, am, and shall forever be a Prole. There will be no discussion on this matter. I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “Really, though. Watch your back. Can’t have you go missing and let Sam take your place. That one’s only cool ‘cause you and Ivan are around to keep him in line.”
“Understood. Rest well, Mitch,” I laughed at last.
He wiggled his eyebrows. “Of course.” Halfway up the stairs, he paused to wait for Ver.
She’d finally recovered from Mitch’s insult and frowned deeply at me for a few moments, before breaking into a grin. “Ditto the wino.”
I nodded. “Excellent. I promise to be a good girl, and to not die suddenly for no apparent reason. Though, I don’t ever recall there being a Big Sister.”
“In that case, I’m your girl—and you, my girl, had better keep that promise. Have fun.”
“Sure thing, Ver.”
She smiled and followed Mitch, flashing a thumbs-up as they left.
“What about you?” I asked Jenn.
She blinked up from the board. After a long consideration, she stood with a defeated sigh. “I suppose. But before I go...”
“‘Be good,’ right?”
She laughed and shook her head. “Actually, no. I realized a long time ago that it’s no use arguing with the sunrise or the tide. I just wanted to request that you leave this board alone. I have to analyze every move the demoness made before I reset the pieces.”
Oh. Well, at least someone had learned. “In that case, I’ll make sure no one touches it.”
“Wonderful. However,”—she turned a curious eye on Nick—“young man, I want you to know that I enjoy having you here, but please don’t make your parents worry.”
Nick shrugged a little and gave her an easy smile. “It’s okay. Mom thinks I’m at a friend’s house—which I am, so it’s not entirely a lie. It’ll take a while for her to notice that I’m not back, so I want to make the best of this while I can. She hasn’t even called to check on me yet. Actually, she probably isn’t even home right now.”
“Well, if that’s truly the case then please enjoy yourself. It’s nice to see a new face around the Manor.” She glanced at Andris, hesitating only a moment before saying firmly, “Andris, I understand that this is rather sudden for you, and that you’re probably against the whole idea of having Lynn impose like this, but please try. It would benefit you both.”
He turned away. “I’ll stay as long as I feel like.”
“Do you think you could also try to stop seeing us as food? If anyone can teach you about enjoying life, Lynn can, but she can’t help you if you think of her as a sheep.”
For some reason he grew more subdued, and frowned slightly at the rug beneath the chairs. “I don’t think of Lynn as...food,” he said quietly, his frown deepening even more in apparent confusion. Again, he looked like someone trying hard to remember something.
“I see.” Jenn watched him in interest. In the end, though, she nodded with a convinced smile. “Well, then, I’ll trust you to keep your word on that.”
“You have it. I will.” He didn’t look at her again, even when she said good day and headed up the stairs.
“That was weird,” I said. “She got that same look Ivan gets.”
Simone smiled a little. “Oh, she has her moments,” he replied fondly. “However, I shall be going to my rest soon. Before I leave you and Nick here with Andris, I would like to reinforce all the good advice everyone has already given. I know you are probably tired of hearing us say this, but I cannot stress it enough how much I want you to be careful. To you, it may seem like a game, but please think of us while you are having your fun. In all honesty, you are the heart of the family, and without you we would be quite at a loss.”
“I know...though the whole ‘heart of the family’ thing seems a little excessive.” I made a face. “But, I swear that I will do my best to stay safe. Besides, he’s an insanely powerful ancient. If he’s there I won’t have anything to worry about, right?”
“Yes, well...” He frowned at Andris, who by now was so obviously sick of being frowned at and studied like a lab specimen that he’d gone back to resting his head and closing his eyes.
He seemed to feel the weight of Simone’s questioning gaze, however, and said blandly, “You don’t have to repeat it, Simone. I’m dangerous—I know that better than anyone—but I’ve already told you that I have no intention of hurting her, and if she needs protecting that badly then I’ll do what I can. Just don’t be shocked if I get fed up and disappear.”
“That is what I’m afraid of,” my Maker sighed. “My one request is that, if you plan on leaving, you at least bring her back to us. If anything happens to Lynn, I will not hesitate to send all the Brood Manors after you yet again.”
“An empty threat is better than no threat at all, I guess,” was the ancient’s dry response.
Simone seemed a little irritated at his insolence, but left it alone and returned to me. “It may seem like an arduous task, but this one has an excess of unrealized potential. I hope you can get through to him.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not about to give up on a challenge. Mom would be disappointed.”
“I trust you.” He looked to the kid. “Nick, you are welcome in our home whenever you like. Thank you for not running away from my troublesome fledgling. She gets lonely, and loneliness makes her do unusual things, like befriend humans and adopt stray ancients.” He smiled a little bit, and I chuckled.
Andris sighed audibly.
“No big deal,” Nick said. “It’s kind of cool now that I’ve had time to get over the shock.”
“That is good to hear.” Simone got up and I followed suit, giving him a warm hug. “Please stay safe, Lynn. I want you to live longer than I will.”
“That’ll be kind of hard, what with you being immortal and all,” I laughed.
He smiled and pulled my neck forward so that he could plant a light kiss on the top of my head. “Good day.”
“Rest well, Simone.” I smiled crookedly as he let go and went to his room. He seemed weary with the sun so close. The twins were definitely out of commission, and the other three were probably falling under at that very moment.
It was rare for my Maker to show so much affection, and as I watched him go I felt warm and happy inside, as if anything were possible now that I had his blessing.
Once Simone was gone for sure, I slowly turned to Nick and Andris with a wicked grin. “Time to set the plan in motion,” I announced with a scheming laugh.
Andris turned his head and opened one eye to leer at me. “Why do I get the feeling that I won’t like your plan?”
“You’ll love it once I beat some sense into you,” I replied coolly.
“Somehow, I doubt that very much.”
“Tch. You say that now, but you’ll thank me in the end.”
“I’m not a broken toy, you know. You can’t fix me.”
At that, I gave him an ominous chuckle. “Oh, but I can try, Andris. I can certainly try.”