Avenari - Chapter 21
“May I touch your hair?”
Andris looked up from his seat on the floor next to my fireside chair and obligingly leaned his head against the arm. “I don’t mind if it’s you.”
His answer seemed odd, but I tentatively reached out to stroke the silken black strands, marveling at the way they cast off shimmers of violet, green, and blue in the firelight. I had resisted for about ten minutes, but ultimately couldn’t help wanting to feel its softness one more time. Besides, it was the best way to make my blood shut up for five seconds and let me think.
Andris sighed, turning to set his chin on the armrest, and looked up at me, as endearing as a faithful canine with tapered, ochre eyes. I had offered him a proper chair, but he had insisted on sitting on the floor, claiming that it was more comfortable. He was such a weirdo. I suspected that he just liked having his hair stroked.
“It’s my fault that you’re being placed in danger’s path, isn’t it?” he said, tilting his head to the side and favoring my wrist. “I’m sorry.”
I shivered when his fangs grazed the delicate skin, and replied firmly, “Don’t apologize. In fact, thank you for bringing me here. I want to help Simone, and by taking this Tivor job from him I can be sure that he won’t have to go through any more stress. I hate it when he’s gloomy.”
“Like me?” There was a wry lilt to his voice, and his eyes peered askance at me, curious and attentive, as though he weren’t distracted at all by my wrist.
I shook my head and chuckled. “No, he actually gets much worse. He’ll sit at his desk for weeks and stare into space. It’s like we’re not even there. I feel bad for him, but it’s also kind of scary. Simone is our leader. Without him, we’re lost.”
“Ah. I just get snippy under stress.”
“I don’t think ‘snippy’ quite covers breaking into my home and crushing my head in.”
The look he gave me was both apologetic and annoyed. “Look, I already said I was sorry. What more do you want?”
He knew I was just kidding, but I still worried about hurting him. It was a delicate balance. “Andris...I don’t—”
“Never mind, I’m sorry,” he cut in, taking a breath to let it out slowly. “I’m just so used to being defensive. Some habits are harder to break than others.”
“If it’s any consolation, I’ve forgiven you for everything,” I said, patting his hair with a gentle smile. “I sort of get why you are the way you are now.”
“Still, I wish I could make it up to you. I don’t even know where I would start.” He pouted slightly. “A time machine might be nice…but then I would never have met you.” That thought seemed to make him especially uncomfortable, and I couldn’t help a laugh.
“As long as you’ve changed your ways, I think that should be enough for now. Besides, I’m more interested in getting to know more about you than changing the past.”
“What do you want to know?” he asked, frowning a little.
I offered a shrug. “Well, for starters, it would be nice if you explained what you meant back in the bath about how you’re different from the Shimaren. You can’t just throw something like that out there and expect me to pretend I didn’t hear it. It’s not fair.”
Andris’ frown deepened significantly, as though the mere thought of clarifying his statement required some unimaginable leap of faith. “I’m not sure that you would really want to know,” he said slowly. “I could show you, but you might hate me even more afterwards.”
“Andris, I don’t hate you at all, and believe me when I say that your prospects will be brighter if you let me in more. If you really are serious about all this blood partner business, then I’ll need more than just my impatient blood and your reassurances to make a final decision.”
His eyes flickered green, but quickly melted to sapphire. “Do I really have a chance, or are you just trying to make me feel better?”
I smirked and let my hand idly trace his smooth cheek. “Both, I guess.”
He watched me for a long moment, then finally sighed, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Why? Will it hurt?”
“It’s nothing you wouldn’t enjoy,” he said, kissing my palm sweetly.
“You’re pretty affectionate for a sociopath,” I muttered.
“I want you to be my blood partner. I can be as affectionate as I want toward you. Anyone else can go to hell.”
I rolled my eyes, giving up altogether. He seemed fine with respecting my wishes, yet still acted as though I already belonged to him…and thanks to my blood’s obvious interest in bonding with him, I couldn’t seem to find it in me to rebut him every time.
“Then what is it?” I would lose my mind, anyway. Why postpone the inevitable?
“It’s a secret that even the Emperor has never discovered, but I’d rather show than tell.”
“And how are you going to show me?”
“Just let me drink from you,” he said simply, a crafty smirk playing on his lips.
Suspicious, I held out my hand, wrist up, but for some reason he laughed at that. Before I could stop him or even shout a protest, he grabbed hold of my arm and spun me off the chair, drawing me into his lap with my back pressed tight against his warm chest.
“No, Princess. The throat is the only place that works for what I want to do.”
“Why?” I finally managed, though it sounded shrill and overwhelmed. His scent clouded my mind, and my blood’s harsh command only became more difficult to repress. I felt like I was trying to hold back an erupting volcano with once of those little paper umbrellas.
“Are you saying you don’t want to know?” he whispered, holding my wrists and enfolding me in his embrace. The tip of his nose brushed up the back of my neck, through my hair, followed by his lips and fangs. He didn’t bite, but it still made me shiver.
Dammit, how did he do that? “Okay…okay,” I breathed, finally deferring to my blood.
“I promise you’ll enjoy it,” he said, and before I could change my mind, I felt a sweet pinch. His long fangs slid into my throat with delicate precision. I’d never felt fangs as long as his. I couldn’t handle it with grace.
My heart sped, straining against the exhilaration, and a soft groan slipped past my guard. It felt so good. Being bitten usually did for me, but this was just phenomenal. He sighed when the first drops settled on his tongue…and then he bit down.
I cried out, and my body went rigid. But before panic could set in, soothing warmth began to spread from the bite, quickly washing the pain away. I should have been seeing flashes of my own life, but those didn’t have time to get through. With some trick I’d never known, his consciousness forced my memories back and linked straight into my mind.
Nothing on earth could have prepared me for this thing he wanted me to see...and feel.
It was pure need.
Contrary to everything I had ever been taught, his need had two sides, both of them immensely powerful…but this made no sense. Shimaren only had one. He felt bloodlust, the same hunger that every vampiric creature endured—but there was a flip side to his thirst. It was impossible. This was his secret, the reason why he’d asked those strange questions earlier.
“Andris!” I gasped, trying to apologize and escape all at once.
But he wasn’t done. His fangs drove even deeper, sending a wave of pleasure through every cell in my body, and I moaned high and shrill, clamping my teeth together to force myself silent. For a few brief moments, blood was the last thing on my mind, and in its place I wanted him. I wanted him in the most human way.
When it found itself suddenly free, my hand reached up and slipped into his downy hair, gripping tightly. Every time he moved, my body shivered with his need. Control slipped away like so much water in my palm. Blood dribbled when I bit my lip, tickling as it slid down my throat. I felt like I would faint…
When Andris withdrew his fangs, he withdrew the link he’d made. My head cleared, but aftershocks still prickled through me. I was panting. I didn’t need the air, but it made me feel better than just sitting there while my heart tried not to explode. I hadn’t felt like this since my mortal years, and even then it hadn’t been so raw and powerful. Andris’ desire occupied a whole other dimension compared to what I had once known. There was just...something more to it.
“You see, Princess,” he said, stroking his tongue across the wound, “I want more than your blood.” His hands slid around my waist and down to my hips as he leaned over and slowly licked up the line of blood from my lip. “A part of me just wants you,” he whispered secretly against my mouth. “That’s why it irritates me that Simone changed you before I had a chance. As a mortal, you could have had me, but as you are now....”
He trailed off, sighing ruefully and resting his cheek against my temple. “You were right there, all grown up. I suddenly wanted you in every way…but I couldn’t have you.”
“Oh, crap,” I said, my voice painfully meek.
I felt him shrug against my back. “I suppose that’s an appropriate reaction.”
“I shouldn’t have let you in the bath!” I moaned, the realization hitting me. I suddenly felt as though I’d been taunting him. He probably thought I was doing it on purpose…but it wasn’t my fault that I was neuter…but I still felt awful…oh crap!
“What?” His head popped back over my shoulder, and he frowned at me with saffron eyes. “I didn’t mind. I’ve always wanted to see you naked. That’s one small victory…well, almost. I didn’t get to see much, really. The water was too cloudy.”
Part of me wanted to hit him for that—the rest was just relieved that he wasn’t upset with me. Why did my brain have to constantly split itself in half like this? Why couldn’t I just chuck one half out the window and keep the half that made sense?
“Well, I’m glad you’re happy,” I said, compromising with sarcasm.
“Don’t be so negative about it. You said it yourself that you want me to be happy. You naked would make me happy.”
I pursed my lips and turned away. “Shut up.”
“Now you’re just being silly,” he said, moving to the other side and smirking at me. “You enjoyed that. Admit it.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t give me all the details before violating my personal—mmf!”
His mouth caught mine in a flash, and his tongue slipped past my guard too quickly to pull away, catching on my fangs and letting his blood trickle down my throat. The bastard knew exactly what would drop my defenses.
I would have been annoyed, but I was too busy trying to eat him alive.
My thirst broke free without a second thought, and I bit his lip, drinking him down as though nothing could satisfy more. Gently, he cupped my face in both hands and kissed me deep and long, brushing his thumbs down my throat and tilting my head back.
I bit his tongue again and groaned. In small quantities, his blood was simply amazing, making it impossible to want to stop. As if my hands had taken on a mind of their own, they reached back to grip his shoulders, letting me devour him from a more comfortable position.
“My Lydian,” he sighed against my lips. “Please say yes. Be my blood partner. Wish for your mortal lust to return, and let me show you pleasure. I want you. You’re the only one…”
I opened my eyes and felt a strong jolt grip my heart, sweet and painful all at once.
His eyes had found that dazzling emerald color again, but I still didn’t know what it meant. It seemed sad and happy all at the same time, desperate yet relenting. “Tell me what that color means,” I said. “Why is it special?”
He blinked, brushing his long, coal lashes against my cheek, and let his hands drop to the floor as he looked away. “It just means...that you’re the one my blood will bond with willingly.”
Age certainly didn’t do much to cure one of pigheadedness. I could attest to that.
“Fine, keep hiding it from me. I’ll find out eventually, but until then I’m not going to give you any more—and what you have already is way more than you seem to think you have.”
“You probably will find out. It’s a volatile secret—more so than the one I’ve just told you.” He seemed torn, as though he wanted to tell me, but was too afraid of the consequences.
I rolled my eyes and slipped out of his arms without interference. Andris’ personality was, at best, a tangled mess. He was sweet, but I couldn’t deal with him until he finally gave in.
“I’m sorry,” Andris said quietly.
I resumed my seat in the chair. “I don’t even know what I would be forgiving.”
With a frustrated sigh, I decided to just let him work it out alone. After all, it wouldn’t help either of us to force it out of him. Ghosts seemed to flicker in the shadows at the edge of the hearth, and I frowned at the writhing flames. Even with the radiant heat of the fire to warm me, the room still felt cold, and I shivered a little now that I wasn’t wrapped in Andris’ warmth.
It always made me laugh to think that I’d become the monster in the dark. I didn’t feel like a monster, especially here in Ivanarke where there were so many others with powers beyond anything I had ever been able to muster. Sitting on the floor beside my chair was irrefutable proof of that. Looking at Andris as he leaned against the armrest and gazed thoughtfully into the fire, he didn’t seem much different from me, but just beneath the surface slept enough power to shatter worlds. The essence of chaos came in surprising packages, indeed.
But...Andris’ triggers, though unusual in combination, were just as common as earth, water, and air. At least he wasn’t alone. Even electricity wasn’t all that rare when compared to my triggers. Simone himself had told me once that he had never dealt with triggers like mine. He had no idea how they worked, or what conditions had to be met for the power to flow out.
“Are there Elementals of cold or darkness?” I quietly asked the fire. Andris was fire and ice, while I was darkness and cold. It made me feel like his echo—firelight casting a shade, and ice giving off a chill. Was I an echo, too? Did that mean I didn’t exist?
The thought scared me, and I ushered it away.
There was movement at my peripheral, and I glanced over to catch Andris staring up at me in interest. “Cold and darkness. To be honest, you’re the first I’ve seen. I’ve heard of darkness, but the cold just doesn’t make sense. Maybe you have a weak variation on air or ice?”
“Helpful.” I gave him a wry smile and sighed. “It really doesn’t matter. I’m just curious.”
His eyes shifted to cobalt blue. He could tell that this bothered me. “What is it like? My triggers are in constant opposition, which makes controlling my powers somewhat precarious.”
As I’d suspected, fire and ice didn’t get along well together in one body. Power-wise, he was a handsome nuclear bomb with a timer hovering at the one second mark.
“It must be hard to deal with,” was my lame response.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand,” he said with a laugh. “After this long, controlling my powers is as simple as blinking—it’s a constant thing. I was just telling you what my triggers are like. But what about yours?”
There was real fascination in his eyes, which caught me somewhat off guard. I’d never had someone fascinated with me before. I couldn’t figure out whether the cause was his hermit-like nature slowly being cast off, or whether I was actually that interesting.
I scoffed inwardly. It had to be option A.
“Er...they’re not like yours. Darkness and the cold are natural companions, so as triggers they’re easy to handle together. It’s just that I never know when they’ll start to act up. Sometimes they react strongly to the night, and other times there’s almost no reaction at all. Winter is the worst—it’s impossible to predict when the world is covered in snow and darkness.”
“How do they feel?”
I returned to the fire and sat back in thought. “It’s prickly like static—when the reaction isn’t very strong, at least. If the reaction is powerful, though, it can be overwhelming. My cold trigger is the reason why I’m so sensitive to temperature. I love warm things because cold throws me off balance.”
“Does your blood keep the overall balance for you?”
I nodded, setting my hand on Andris’ hair and combing my fingers through it like a worry stone. He seemed to enjoy the attention; his eyes shuttered closed and he sighed quietly.
“I’m glad I have such obedient blood,” I said, smiling a little at him. “I would never take it for granted, and it understands. We have a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“I envy you. My blood doesn’t do anything for me—just lets the thirst run wild. Though, now that you’re around, it’s been keeping things a bit quieter.”
“Would having me as your blood partner make it easier on you? A bonding basically means we’ll share our blood.”
His eyes flicked up, but looked quickly away, embarrassed. “Well...yes. If you were to become mine, then your blood—well, its essential nature—would always be a part of me, even if I never fed from you again, for as long as we both lived. With blood as rational yet dominant as yours, my thirst and powers would stabilize, and my blood would be forced to obey yours.”
I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed about it. I understood that this was something he had been suffering for far longer than I could truly comprehend. Even if no one else gave a damn about him, I still cared. It wasn’t because my mother told me to help, and it wasn’t because of guilt. He was my friend now, if nothing more than that.
Besides, I knew he wasn’t pursuing me just because he wanted me to fix his blood’s issues. His eyes told me that much, and the way he acted around me was too genuine for me to think that he was only trying to use me. However, that didn’t mean I wanted to be left in the dark. I still didn’t know his core motivation.
“What would happen to me, then?” I asked, touching his face to let his eyes meet mine. “You probably don’t remember what happened in the Original Blood’s chamber, but I do. Your thirst is overprotective and terrifying. If bonding would help you gain some control, then what about me? Would I suffer for it, or would we balance each other out?”
He grew subdued. “I can’t be entirely sure. It might hurt you more than it might help me. You’re accustomed to having control over everything, and some of that control might be lost.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that’s…wait, doesn’t that bother you?”
I smiled, tousling his hair a little and laughing gently. “You should know by now that I force problems into submission, no matter how hard they fight. I did that to Nick, you, Sam, my thirst...I’ve been that way my whole life. I won’t give in just because you have ornery blood.”
“I take it that you’re not necessarily implying that you’ll be my blood partner, but you’re willing to help me anyway?”
“I would have to feel something deeper than what I think I feel right now to seriously accept your proposal, true,” I said slowly, “and I would want you to feel the same way, too. I’m not shallow enough to become your blood partner just because I like your blood. However, it bothers me to know that you’re suffering, that you’ve been going through this for so long. I care about you in spite of it all. I guess I’m a little dim in that respect...”
“Princess, don’t be silly,” he said, turning his frown on the smoldering embers in the hearth. “You’re the first to accept the monster in me as something other than a monster, something as natural as any other creature, and as a result you’ve gained the favor of what may be the most powerful active ancient alive today. Yet, you didn’t do it for that purpose. You just care. People like you are a rare breed.”
“It’s my weakness. I can’t resist a pretty face.” I chuckled, hooking my arm around his neck and pressing my cheek to the top of his head. “You’re fun; I like fun. You’re funny; I love funny. Even if there are parts of you that don’t fit the bill, those two factors are enough for me. Also, you’re not a thing defined by age and genetics—you’re a person, just as I am. I let you into my circle because of it. Besides, it’s easier to avoid potential trouble if I keep an eye on you.”
“A strategist, are you?” he laughed, reaching around my waist and holding me close. He tilted his head back and pressed his lips to my throat. “You don’t seem like the manipulative type, Princess.”
His kiss made my blood rise, and my hand slid up his smooth neck to grip his hair. “Really, this whole Princess thing is a little much. I’m not royalty.”
“You’re my Princess,” he whispered. “You’re merciful and kind, yet stubborn and imperious, but I’m so greedy and possessive that I want you all for myself. I apologize for being such a nuisance.”
“I don’t deserve that kind of praise...and it’s really hard to think with you doing that.” I shuddered as he found my ear and stroked his tongue behind the shell. “Please...”
“It’s your fault for coming too close. I like your taste.” His fangs scratched down my neck to my collar, then back up the middle of my throat. “From here, I could bite hard enough to tear your throat out...”
Instead, he laid a gentle kiss on my skin and drew away to meet my gaze.
“Your will is strong, but your body is still fragile,” he said, stroking my cheek with his fingertip and frowning in apparent worry. “I won’t hurt you ever again—not intentionally, at least—but there are others who would happily use you then toss you to the wolves. Tatsune is one of them, no matter how kind he may seem.”
“But he’s the Emperor. Isn’t there a rule that says that Emperors have to be kind to their people, or something?”
“Not in the least. The Western Manor is a prime example of that. Over there, their so-called Lord has effectively lost his mind. He’s in the process of dismantling every last shred of order that his predecessors spent millennia establishing.”
“Quelos said something to that effect earlier. Maybe the Western Manor is using Tivor?”
“It’s possible, though I would have to see the reports to make an educated guess.”
If Tivor and the Western Manor’s leader were in cahoots, then that would explain how so many fledglings could have been made in such a short time. That could also have accounted for the Emperor’s involvement when lesser manors could have taken care of it for him.
“I feel kind of pathetic for not knowing about all of this sooner,” I muttered.
“These are the movements of stars, Princess. You’re just a planet trying to weave your way around them...of course, if you stay near me, the brightest star, no one could possibly be stupid enough to intervene.”
“That’s some seriously impressive ego you’ve got there, Andy.”
He had a reply—most likely to dispute the nickname I kept using for him—but I clamped my hand over his mouth when a soft knock sounded from the door. “Shh!—Yes?”
No one responded, so after throwing an uncompromising leer at the Nariuvne, I escaped his reluctant hands and padded over, cracking the door open enough to see who it was.
There was no one in my immediate range. “Hello?” I opened the door wider and finally looked down to see a small boy who could easily have been Sakura’s twin brother, with the same platinum blond hair and sky blue eyes. He, too, was clearly a half-breed.
He bowed shortly at the waist. “I am Kaze. I have come to escort you and the Nariuvnen to the Master Library. Yoko would like to speak with you.”
“Yoko?” I asked. “Who’s that?”
His too-bright gaze fixed on me. “Yoko is the librarian. She keeps the records of all noteworthy Shimaren who exist or have existed in this world. She wishes for you to check the records of your lives.”
I frowned warily. “This Yoko person has records of us?”
“Indeed. If you would come with me.” Without awaiting an answer, he left to fetch Nick as well. I turned to call Andris over, but was half-startled to find him there already, leaning against the wall and keeping out of the doorway’s line of sight.
“More half-breed children,” he growled like a curse, narrowing scarlet eyes at the door.
“Should we go?”
He shrugged away from the wall. “May as well. I’ve been wondering what kinds of records they’ve been keeping on me. I’m kind of notorious.”
“That’s an understatement.” I glanced at the child’s retreating back. “Come on, then.”
* o * o *
Despite being less than two days old, Nick had been invited along as well, and the three of us followed Kaze in silence. I wasn’t sure what to think of the fact that the Brood Manor had records of me. My history was nearly spotless, so it seemed a bit much to observe someone as insignificant as I was in the grand scheme of things. Of course, the amulets likely played a role. They were the reason why I was here in the first place, as well as the reason why both Andris and Nick had joined me. Nariuvnen didn’t exactly sprout up like mushrooms, so having two in my company had probably scared a whole lot of people.
A teeny-tiny, twisted little part of me enjoyed this thought.
Nick’s invitation confused me to no end, though. Until our arrival, I’d been certain that the Brood Manor hadn’t known about his turning. Even if he had potential to become an Elemental, he hadn’t had the blood long enough to do anything noteworthy. Aside from being Andris’ one and only fledgling, there wasn’t really anything special about him that I could see.
Andris, though, I could understand. Seven thousand and some-odd years was a long time to accumulate stories about a person. Part of me wanted to accept him as my blood partner, and the other parts were running out of reasons to prevent that from happening. I believed that he was good now, but I wanted to know more. That way, I could prepare for any difficulties in case my willpower faltered...or my blood suddenly decided that it was sick of my resistance.
“I want to see your records,” Nick said out of the blue, surprising me when he jerked a finger at Andris. “You’re hiding a ton of skeletons in that closet, I’ll bet.”
Andris didn’t even blink. “I’m not hiding anything I can remember,” he replied coolly. “Ask whatever you want—maybe then you’ll realize that antagonizing me is a stupid idea.”
That didn’t deter the kid in the least, instead inciting an interrogation which attracted even the impassive half-breed’s curiosity. “How many people have you killed?”
“Shimaren or humans?” the ancient queried, his eyes as black as the eternal void.
“Shimaren, I’ve lost count entirely. Humans, less than ten thousand. Humans rarely confront me with hostile intentions, but Shimaren never know when to quit.”
This cold response seemed to make Nick’s conviction waver, but he pressed on anyway, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“It’s a tie between decimating Lydian’s family and obliterating an entire Lithuanian village—well, it wasn’t called Lithuania back then, but that’s what you would call it today. I’d put the body count at around four hundred.”
“How the hell did you do that?!”
The ancient’s eyes narrowed at his fledgling. “It wasn’t difficult. They were doing things that annoyed me, so I removed them. The Western Manor tried to intervene, but I killed them, too.” He paused, then amended, “Well, I didn’t kill all of them. I left one fledgling alive to tell his masters about the incident. I had assumed that maybe they wouldn’t make the same idiot mistake twice, but I was wrong. They just started sending more ancients after me. I should have killed him. It wasn’t until then that the Shimari Council knew for certain that I existed.”
“You’re a sick bastard, you know that?”
I could almost see Nick’s invisible hackles rising. It made me even more uncomfortable to know that I had forced them to become Maker and fledgling. Their animosity towards each other was thick enough to trip over.
“A sick bastard...you’re half right,” Andris mused, letting his apathy bait the kid. “My parents were the leaders of my tribe, so I’m actually legitimate, thank you.”
A soft growl slipped between Nick’s fangs. “What would be the best way to kill you?”
That was the last straw. I had to step in when things got this vicious. “Nick!” I snapped, blocking the path and stopping them in their tracks. “I think it’s about time you shut up.”
“No! How can you defend him like that? He’s a monster!”
“I am a monster.” Andris’ silky voice cut me off before I could reply. “So if you really want to kill me, then take every last drop of blood from my body, until my heart stops. I was born this way. I’m not like Shimaren, where adding blood will bring me back from the brink. Without blood, I would die.
“However, that would be impossible for any Shimare to do. I don’t just drink it—I make it. I don’t run out so easily…and even then, my thirst would take over before I could die...I would have tried it already if I thought the idea had any merit.”
I frowned, looking away from a blatantly plotting Nick to watch Andris’ eyes. The darkness had faded to pale, pale lavender.
I felt guilty all over again, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. “Andris…”
“My thirst won’t let me die, Princess,” he whispered. “It would be so much easier to end this if it weren’t for my thirst.”
“I won’t let you die, either! And Nick, you’re going to shut up right now. I don’t care how pissed-off you are at him; you have no right to say things like that.”
“The fact that he exists is reason enough. I can’t believe I have his blood,” Nick growled, casting a final glare at the Nariuvne before striding ahead to walk beside Kaze.
I stared after him, shocked to see such hatred in the easygoing kid, and turned to Andris in equal disbelief. “How can you just take that kind of heckling? Defend yourself!”
“He’s right to feel the way he does,” he said, his voice flat. “I’m an abomination, even among those who are abominations in and of themselves. There’s no fixing intrinsic nature. I was meant to be hated, so why resist?”
“Fine!” I grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly. “I’ll fix you, even if it kills me. Everyone deserves the opportunity to start over. I was Nick’s, and I’ll be yours, too.”
He smiled sadly, his gaze shifting to teal. “You’re sweet, Princess, but nothing can change what I am to the Shimari world. It’s only a matter of time before they decide to hedge their bets and get rid of me, and the chaos will repeat itself.” He started forward again with a sigh, and I followed close behind.
“Then I’ll protect you!”
“That’s absurd,” he laughed. “A fledgling can’t do a thing in the face of the Shimari Council. There are more powerful ancients concentrated in that one group than anywhere in the world. They would kill you, and I’ll die before I allow that to happen.”
How could he be so nonchalant about death? Nothing had ever hurt me more. Life was the essence of all things, of happiness and peace and good. Death was the opposite of existence, and I lived every moment for the sole purpose of leaving my mark on this world. I wanted people to remember me, even after I died.
But that didn’t mean I wanted to die. At last, after all those years of being trapped within Simone’s barrier, I was free. At last, I could do all the things I had always wanted to do…why couldn’t Andris see how free he was? He’d always had it, yet he tried so hard to push it away.
“I don’t want you to die, Andris. I don’t give a damn about what you’ve done—I know your cruelty better than anyone, but I could never stand by and let you go like that. In spite of it all, I still want you to stay with me. I’ve lost too many important people already.”
“I’m not important,” he sighed.
My grip tightened. “Everybody is important to someone. You’re important to me, even if you don’t feel like you are. After all, my blood hasn’t shut up for a single moment since you appeared. There must be something more to you than all this monster nonsense.”
For a while, we walked in silence. He seemed to be thinking while I stubbornly clung to his arm. I hated the thought of him suddenly leaving. I wanted him to smile, and mean it, before I would ever let him go. I wanted Nick and him to come to terms with each other. Maker and fledgling were supposed to be like teacher and pupil, father and son. They were family now, and it was my fault. I couldn’t possibly let things continue like this, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
“You look scared, Princess,” Andris said gently. “Why?”
“I’ve screwed up Nick’s life, and I’ve put you in a position to be hurt,” I said, voicing my thoughts. “I keep making mistakes, but I don’t know how to make it better, and every time I think I’m doing something to help, I just make it worse. It’s a wonder you don’t hate me.”
Andris watched me with obvious concern as I spoke, a series of emotions flickering through the spectrum of his gaze. He seemed to be having some kind if internal argument. After I finished, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. I didn’t fight when he slid his arm from my grasp and wrapped it around my shoulders.
“It’s just the opposite, Princess. I don’t hate you in the least,” he whispered, leaning down to bring his lips beside my ear. “You are the only person who has ever mattered in this long, meaningless life. Please don’t feel guilty on my account. I just want you to be happy. The one I love needs to be happy.”
I blanched and turned to look at him, but he slipped away when I stopped dead, giving me a halfhearted smirk as he walked on to allow me a moment to process his words.
My blood didn’t seem surprised at all. Its one comment to me on the matter was terse and slightly jaded.
Silly girl. It’s mutual.