Avenari - Chapter 22
In the Master Library, the walls and floor gleamed in swirling black marble. Corinthian capitals topped the thick, white columns that supported a vaulted ceiling and contrasted beautifully with the dark surroundings. Black shelves lined up in even rows across the massive space, and a pair of long walnut tables with matching chairs stood in the center. The scent of cedar smoke hovered throughout, probably to protect the thousands of books from infestation.
A large, empty area of floor showed off a stunning mosaic of the same dragon as before, but this time it was in full color: red and black eyes and tail, and claws gripping a black orb with a drop of blood at its center. The chest gleamed with white plates edged in red, giving them the appearance of bloodstained teeth.
Yoko, the Master Librarian, was nothing like the other half-breeds we had met, whose personalities had been fairly lacking so far. She had a round, genial face—about as Japanese as a person could get, with shiny black hair to her shoulders and a slender, geisha-like beauty hidden beneath casual khakis and a violet polo shirt.
Far more interesting, however, was Yoko’s pet scarlet macaw, Homer.
I had always wanted a talking parrot, but after meeting Homer, I was having second thoughts. Rarely did one come across a feathered animal with invective wit to rival that of Juvenal, but Homer seemed to throw all common sense out the window by his very existence.
“We’ve been expecting you for some time, Lynn,” Yoko said with a genuine smile, setting the bird on his perch and getting up to meet us at the doorway. “And Andris, we’ve been eager to meet you, as well.”
“If by eager, you mean apathetic,” quipped the mouthy bird.
Kaze left without a word, and Yoko led us to her wraparound desk near the adjacent wall after we returned her greetings.
“I am Yoko Murasaki, the Master Librarian.” She smiled at Andris and Nick. “You two look so alike it’s hard to tell who’s who, but I can pretty much guess. I just updated your file, Andris. Tut-tut, you bad boy.” She had a nice ringing laugh, like wineglasses toasting.
“Yes, well, I doubt it will take me long to read,” he said, sticking his hands into his pockets and avoiding everyone’s eyes. “I expect it’s rather redundant, knowing how badly the Council wants me dead.” He seemed to find the counter extremely interesting. Since his last words to me in the hallway, he had refused to even look at me, and I knew better than to confront him openly with Yoko and Nick present.
“Oh, come now, Andris,” said the librarian. “Surely you’re not still like that. I thought you had turned over a new leaf, so to speak.”
“I’m in the process of turning over said leaf.”
“As bitter as ever, I see. I heard there was an incident in the fourth blood’s chamber?”
“The fourth blood has a few tricks,” he muttered, his tone indicating that there would be no more questions on the matter.
Yoko took it in stride, picking up a sheet of paper and bringing it along as she led us to the shelves. “I suppose pushing you would be rude this early in the game,” she mused without a hint of ill intent. She was the first person so far who hadn’t treated Andris like a rabid dog or a challenge, and I liked her a lot more for it.
“So you really have been keeping tabs on us?” I asked, gazing around the cavernous room and half-wondering where all this space came from inside the tree.
“Your entire family, in fact, has been under Ivanarke’s close watch since the first Plorávero found his powers in the fifteen-hundreds. At the time, the Philippine islands had been mostly indigenous, so there was still a lot of superstition and magic being passed on through the generations. Your little clan of sorcerers was one of the earliest of the so-called modern crested families—yours is a raven, as you probably already know. Even here in Ivanarke, most of our emperors have been of the dragon crest, the first crested family. Lord Tatsune is among them.”
“He’s a sorcerer?” Andris said somewhat absently. “So that’s how he took the throne so easily when his predecessor finally decided that he wanted to die.”
“Indeed. Since the Lythera clan’s inception, every Ivanarki Emperor has been Lytheri. Even today, they are training the royal family on the off-chance that the current Emperor will step down.” A furtive look slipped into her gaze as she watched Andris. “Of course, you could throw everything out of balance if you wanted.”
He sighed, turning away. “Again, I really could not possibly care less.”
“Good to know that you’re settling down.” She chuckled and took us to a smaller shelf set against the back wall. “I’ve already collected your files, so I’ll let you read at your leisure. I have to go get the Plorávero file from the restricted room, and if you have any questions, Homer and I can answer—though, as an aside, I wouldn’t ask the bird. He’s a tad leery of strangers.”
There was a loud screech from the desk area, and Homer protested loudly, “I heard that! People will be leery of me by the time I’m through with you!”
“Shut up, bird! Mommy’s working!” She smiled as she spoke, but the feeling she gave off held the potential for some serious punishment. “Anyway,” Yoko continued once Homer quieted, “Andris, yours is the most daunting, but you should still look it over.” She pulled two thick books and one thin manila folder from the shelf, then handed the largest over to Andris. It looked like one of those massive dictionaries that libraries kept on a podium.
He frowned in resignation and sighed, leaving to sit at the table and begin rifling through.
“And here’s yours, Nick,” Yoko said, passing the thin folder to the kid. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have as much information as you might like. You’re new, after all.”
“No problem,” he said, joining Andris at the table, but taking care to sit far away, on the opposite side. Andy was glaring again, though at the pages this time.
At last, Yoko turned to me. “By the amulets around your neck, I know that you’ll be making your own soon. It would be best if you gained your powers before leaving to find Tivor, so I’ll bring over the Plorávero file in a moment, but read this carefully, as well. We learn more about ourselves by looking through other people’s eyes, after all.” Yoko placed the heavy, leather-bound book in my hands.
She bowed and left briskly, her comfy loafers padding softly across the floor, and I sat at the table across from Andris.
“Let’s see how much they really know about me,” I said, turning past the title page, which sported my birth date, October 13th, 1928. “Well, at least they got the essentials.”
I went to November 4th, 1948, the date of my turning, and recapped my life from there.
“This is creepy,” I said, eyeing the binder suspiciously. “How the hell do they know about the incident with that farmer? Not even Simone knows about that one.”
“What?” Andris asked, looking at my book but avoiding my eyes.
“When we were newborns, the twins and I were sort of the local hooligans. After all, we suddenly had all this power, and it was hard not to take advantage of fun opportunities. Let’s just say that we played some interesting pranks.”
“Oh.” He turned away and concentrated on his file.
I didn’t believe him, but didn’t press for more. He had enough on his mind, considering how many times I watched him avoid a page or skip hundreds at a time. An unhappy life, indeed.
I returned to my file, skimming over a few things that I vaguely remembered doing years ago, before Yoko returned with the thickest binder of them all. It wasn’t really even a binder, but soft black leather binding a stack of vellum pages thicker than even Andris’ file. I could only assume that there was just more information available on my family than there was on Andris.
“How old is that thing?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“Five hundred years, give or take,” she replied, dropping it onto the table with a loud, reverberating smack. “This is your whole family history, multiple lives, but it also contains powerful spells that we don’t allow just anybody to learn. However, since you are a Plorávero, I am obligated to allow you to read whatever you want. Not that I mind. I just have a thing for keeping my inventory straight.”
I slid the book towards me and opened it to the first page:
July 8th, 1504 (Julian), July 18, 1504 (Gregorian Proleptic)
“How come it’s all in English?”
“I would have expected it to be in Latin or Shimari,” Andris said, frowning across his own tome. “Mine is Shimari.”
“I have a nice translation spell, courtesy of an Elemental I knew a few years back. He moved to the Western Manor because they really needed a translator, what with all those European languages. Anyway, tell me when you’re done. I have to put the book away again before someone without clearance tries to read it.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Yoko, how old are you?” Andris asked before she left.
“Oh, I’m fifty-ish,” she said lightly. “Miko, the air Elemental, turned me into a half-breed when I was twenty-nine. That’s what I get for playing with magic near a Brood Manor. Vampires are everywhere if you know where to look, and I happened to find a few.”
“You were unwilling?”
“I wouldn’t say unwilling. It was more like unconscious—took a bad fall and would have died. When I woke up I was here, but I like this place much better. I guess you could call me a sucker for history, magic, and anything to do with words. I talked to Simone a few times, which is why I don’t use Lynn’s formal name. He’s like me, but a little more subdued.” She smiled warmly at me. “He has turned you into quite the promising pupil, hasn’t he?”
I grinned, pleased to see that my Maker was well-respected in Ivanarke. “Yeah, Simone’s one of the best people I’ve ever known. I’m only here because of him.”
“I’m glad that he found you,” she said leaving with a quick wave to all of us. “Anyway, get on with your studies. You can drop everything off at my desk when you’re done.”
“She talks a lot,” Nick commented after Yoko took a seat at her desk and switched on the computer. “But it doesn’t annoy me. What’s up with that?”
“She’s probably just one of those amicable types,” I answered, flipping through and speed-reading what there was on my powers’ history. “Man, talk about a twisted family tree.”
“What does it say?” Andris shut his file with a vengeance and shoved it aside in distaste.
“Why? What about yours?”
He folded his arms on the table and rested his head, staring at the wood grain. “I don’t like the context or the wording. I’m going to have to yell at a few people later. Right now, however, I want to know what yours says. Am I allowed to hear?”
I shrugged, perturbed by his bizarre avoidance but willing to forgive him for it. “If you aren’t, I don’t care. I doubt they can do anything to stop me. It’s my family, after all.”
“Then what does it say?”
“It says there’s so much inbreeding that our tree has no branches, except for the one my mom and dad made. Nobody closer than third cousins, but still, by all accounts I’m a bona fide inbred. I wonder why I’m not screwed up. I was smart when I was little, too.”
“It is traditional for sorcerous families to inbreed, the way royalty does,” he said simply. “Unlike normal humans, it compounds the strength of the family magic and intelligence, but tends to leave out the unwanted traits. Anyway, I can assure you that your whole family was exceptionally intelligent, and that you are the most powerful of your line. A hefty title, if I may say so. The Ploráverim outmatch even the Lytherim in some areas.”
“And you’re the oldest and naturally the most powerful vampire,” I replied. “I’m impressed as well, Andy.”
“No. I was paying you a compliment. And keep the change, just in case you leave your bubble long enough to get a therapist. Those are expensive.”
“You worry me,” he sighed, closing his eyes behind the fall of hair.
I returned to my reading, pouting a little at his weird behavior. “Hey, it tells about how to make the amulet. It also lists all the amulets in order of the owner’s date and time of death. Now why the hell...?”
“That’s how dangerous they are,” he said in a bored tone, muffled somewhat by his sleeve. “It’s not exactly safe to be a link. Because all links make their amulets at the age of sixteen, you just subtract sixteen to find out how long it took the amulet to kill them. Though, some of the later links were much younger…mostly because of me.”
“Andris, that’s morbid.”
“Look, and tell me that it’s not morbid anyway.” He waved a dismissive hand.
Reluctantly, I read through the ages, growing more nervous the further down I got. “Half of these people had their amulets for only a couple years, and most of the rest barely as long. The shortest time here is three minutes! And the longest is twenty years. Most of the quick deaths were recent—all kids.” I traced my finger down and stopped over the name Lena Palawang Plorávero, thirty-four. “My mom’s here, too...listed as next of kin to the link before me.”
He winced visibly, but buried it in the crook of his elbow. “I forgot she might be there,” he muttered. “I’m sorry.”
“Shut up. It’s not your fault she’s in here,” I said, ignoring the painful twinge and moving onto the next page, which contained the spell for making an amulet.
I read it over a few times and decided to ask for Yoko’s help so that I didn’t get the ingredients or steps mixed up. It looked simple and depended mostly on what the user wanted, but there were a few pieces that seemed left out. I worried that there might be a different procedure for the last amulet, but couldn’t really find anything to explain beyond the basic spell.
However, there wasn’t much else but descriptions of minor spells and tales of my ancestors. I closed the book, better for knowing the gist of what my amulets were about, but unsure of how to close the chain. I still needed a firmer grasp on what the hell I was doing.
I knew my mom had faith in my abilities, but seriously, of all the things she could have asked me to do, this was probably one of the weirdest.
“I’m done,” I said at last, standing with the heavy book. “Nick, you all set?”
Nick nodded, having completed his assignment half an hour ago. “Mine was short and sweet, but I hope I’ll be able to add some more interesting stuff soon.” He’d spent the past thirty minutes doodling with some scrap paper and a pencil from one of the many stationery holders along the table. I decided not to bring it to Andris’ attention that the kid had done a pretty good rendition of the Crimson as some evil supervillain terrorizing a mob of peasants.
“Then let’s give these back to Yoko and see if I can’t get a copy of the amulet spell.”
We met her at the desk while she ran checks on what looked like stock options. “You’re finished already?” she said, surprised.
“Like I can read the whole thing,” I laughed. “I’ll come back for more, later. For now, do you think you could give me a copy of this one page here? Oh, and these. I’d like to go over it some more, if that’s not a problem.” I flipped the book open and indicated what I needed. “This is the procedure for creating my amulet, but I’ll need to see about whether the steps change for the closing link. By the way, if you can dig anything up regarding that, I’d be really grateful. The rest is just a family tree, but it has stuff on the amulets, too.”
She gave me a sly grin and pulled a stapled set of papers out of a file drawer by her feet, slapping it on the desk in apparent triumph. “I took the liberty of perusing it beforehand, and made copies of what I thought you would need. There isn’t much on the final amulet, but I’ll dig around some more and keep you apprised of my findings.”
“Whoa. You’re good at this,” I said, taking the copies and squinting at her in surprise.
“I’ve been wondering,” Nick said. “Why is it such a big deal that she’s the last?”
This question seemed to make the librarian utterly ecstatic, and she leaned across the desk, folding her hands together on the blotter. “You see, Nick, there are thirteen sorcerous families—or were, that is. Today, only five remain.
“Each family has a crest or sigil, the family’s power animal and protector. That guardian spirit allows a certain degree of power to pass between the realms and into the bloodline of that family, in the form of some essential power. In Lynn’s case, her guardian is the raven from the Incipients’ zodiac, the guardian of darkness. Therefore, her inherent powers will focus on that—though there are side-perks she could add into it if she so chose.
“However, when a family dies out, that power cannot simply remain in this realm. Its destructive capacity is too great, and if someone were to find an item of power, they could easily shatter the balance of things.”
She reached over and grabbed a handful of paper clips from a magnetic block, linking them together in a chain. “Let’s assume that one link can only be connected to the chain and whatever subsequent link follows it, and that the power of a link can be used by anyone who wields that link’s amulet. The chain of power grows longer and longer, accumulating in strength. The problem with this is that once no more links are being produced, the end of the chain remains open, searching for a master.” The paper clips swung side to side from her fingertips.
“And then…” she swung it over to the magnetic block, and it stuck in place “...it finds that new master. This individual has no knowledge at all of the power he or she wields, and could potentially disrupt the other realms as a result.
“Thus, in order to solve this problem, the chain must connect back into itself.” The last paper clip snapped free with a flick of her wrist, and she caught the end in her other hand, linking it with the first to form a loop. She swung it around her finger with a grin. “It’s like the snake eating its own tail. Looping the power in this manner makes it impossible for anyone outside of the circle to get involved.
“Basically, what Lynn must do is use the first to complete the last. That ruby was the first amulet, and the moonstone is the latest. Normally, old amulets are returned to the guardian when the next is made, but because there’s no chance of reviving the bloodline, these two have been left behind for Lynn to use. Once she creates her amulet, she will become the Avenari—the raven of blood—rather, the bloodline. She’ll be herself, but her fate will be bound to the amulet. This will also allow her guardian to begin anew with another mortal bloodline.”
“What about if Lynn dies?” Nick asked, earning a withering glare from Andris. “Uh, I mean, hypothetically, of course.”
“Good question,” I said, nodding. “What happens, then?”
“Ah, that’s the ingenious part,” Yoko laughed. “If you kill the last link, then the door between the realms shuts up tight, withdrawing all the power it had allowed through to begin with. That way, no one can throw off this realm’s balance. In other words, by creating the final amulet, all others are absorbed, regardless of where they have ended up. Also, the final amulet will essentially become a part of Lynn, so when she dies, the amulet will be obliterated as well—stricken from the record, if you will.”
I frowned. I didn’t believe in fate, but her words sent a sudden jab of fear through me. “‘As well?’ You mean all traces of my existence will disappear?”
“Essentially. That is the safest way to remove the power from this realm, to make it as though it had never existed. We believe that there were thirteen Incipients and thirteen families, so it’s logical to assume that for each Shimari bloodline there is a mortal counterpart that somehow manages to draw power from similar sources.” She shrugged helplessly.
“I have a lot of theories. However, with so few bloodlines remaining and no Incipients left to question, I assume that they will remain theories. We only know that there were originally thirteen families because each one corresponds to an animal in the Incipients’ zodiac, but we have no records of who they were.”
My heart rate sped slightly. The thought of being obliterated scared the hell out of me. I had never believed in true immortality—living forever and all that nonsense—but I had always felt that some part of me would be left behind to affect the world after I died. If I made my amulet, then no matter what I did it wouldn’t make a difference…
“I see,” I said softly, putting on a false smile. “Well, that’s good to know.”
You’re lying, Princess.
Andris’ voice whispered the truth in my head and I winced. Nothing terrified me more than the thought of being forgotten. It wasn’t arrogance or selfishness—it was simple phobia. I wanted to see everything, know everything. As a human, I had always wanted my own family, even children. Because Shimari life couldn’t offer me that, I had at least wanted to see this world to its end. Someone had to see that final death—even if it couldn’t be me, I had always thought that some part of me would remain to witness it, a memory of me at the very least. My concept of immortality was Romantic, not literal.
But if I simply vanished, taken by the very power I was meant to protect...
Nothing mattered, then. Nothing at all. It would be as though I had never existed.
“Yoko, may I see all the records concerning Tivor and his latest activities?” Andris requested, perhaps to distract me from my inner turmoil, or perhaps just because he was more focused on our purpose here than I could ever be.
The librarian let out a sly chuckle, tossing the paper clips back onto the magnetic cube. Again, she reached into the filing cabinet to produce yet another stack of papers. “Here you go. I’ve organized it in chronological order, along with newspaper articles and reports to substantiate claims of his activities. Though, if I may say so, humans are prone to clinging to their status quo, so those might be a little harder to decipher.”
“You are such a neat-freak,” disdained the bird, leering at her through one golden eye. “You’re like a walking, talking filing cabinet. I’m gonna rearrange all your shit, and then what are you gonna to do?”
“Have fried chicken.” Her glare held the destructive capacity of a thousand suns, forcing the parrot to shuffle his wings and stubbornly relent.
“I kid, I kid,” he grumbled.
“Anyway,” she added, her cheerful tone returning full-force in a way that was almost as bizarre as Homer’s quips. “You may keep these. They’re just copies. Oh, and Nick, would you mind staying here? Quelos said that he was going to come by in about fifteen minutes to bring you to Mizumi. She’s our local water Elemental, and is apparently very curious about you.”
Nick looked to me with pleading eyes, silently asking for my permission, and I smiled despite myself. “Go ahead. It’s not like Andris and I will be doing anything more interesting, anyway. We’ve got research, and that’s about it.”
“Sweet!” he cheered, hugging me suddenly, before letting go just as quickly and stepping back in embarrassment. He cast a wary glance at Andris. “My bad...”
Andris massaged his temple and sighed.
Nick’s happiness made me feel better, and I patted his shoulder. “Have fun. Learning about yourself is always fun.” I looked to Andris, whose gaze immediately slipped away. “Come on, Andy. I have to figure out this amulet thing, and you have to explain the Tivor issue to me.”
He stared at nothing for a moment longer then turned towards the exit. “Very well. Nick, don’t get killed, and Yoko, thank you for your assistance. I would like to flesh out some of those stories, sometime.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful!”
Andris sighed again heavily and headed for the door. I waved briefly to Nick and Yoko before catching up to walk behind him.
“Tch! Asshole. Like I could die,” Nick groused under his breath as we left.
Indeed. Immortals didn’t die...right?
* o * o *
I didn’t feel like talking as Andris and I followed Kaze back to our rooms. The fact that the half-breed had been standing outside the library to lead us back made me wonder exactly how closely we were being watched, and the things I wanted to ask the ancient about were not for anyone else’s ears. He had a lot of explaining to do—and I had a lot of thoughts to sort.
If I were being totally honest with myself, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised with what Andris had said. Thinking back, it seemed obvious…but the thought had never even occurred to me at the time. Had I really changed this much throughout my years as a Shima? Enough to disconnect from certain emotions?
What was love, anyway? If he loved me, then why? And why did my blood seem to think that I felt the same? I could only assume that it hadn’t been referring to the fraternal love I felt for the twins and Nick, but if that were true, then what other kind could it be?
It wasn’t until we reached my room and I practically dragged Andris in—while bidding Kaze a rushed goodbye and slamming the door shut—that I could finally demand an answer.
“Andris, what the hell—?” I fell short when he turned around and glared at me, his eyes darker than black holes. “What’s with that evil look?” I asked instead, fighting my instinctive fears. What had him so angry?
“Why didn’t you argue?” he demanded abruptly, studying me with those piercing eyes.
In an instant, I was lost. “Argue? About what?” After being ignored for so long, it was startling to have his undivided attention again so suddenly.
“Your amulet. If you die then it will erase you completely. That doesn’t seem like something you might accept, so why didn’t you argue? Why didn’t you ask for a solution?”
I stared at him, unable to respond, but when I tried to brush it off he grabbed my shoulders and forced me to face him. His hands were careful, but one quick motion could rend me in half. “Answer me, Lynn. You talk as if you’ll never accept fate, yet when Yoko told you that, your attitude changed completely.”
“I don’t want to die,” I whispered. “If I do, it can’t be helped, and I’m not afraid of it...but I don’t want to be erased. I don’t want to be forgotten. Nothing scares me more.”
He frowned, his colors shifting to indigo. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m alive, Andris,” I tried to explain while battling the rising panic. “I’ve lived. I’ve affected people, somehow, at some point. I want to be remembered, not obliterated.”
“Obliter—what? Princess, that’s just absurd.”
“Maybe to you!” I snapped, trying to keep the impending tears at bay. “But I’m not like you. You’re used to wanting to die, to be forgotten. Do you have any idea how scary that is? How do you know that you’ve lived if no one will remember you after you’re dead? It’s the absolute non-existence. I could never handle that.”
“If you were dead, would it really matter at that point?”
“You’re not listening to me!” I shouted, shoving his hands off and backing towards the fireplace. “My human life was pointless! Nothing good came of it! I used to dream about making a family and giving my children the kind of life I had always wanted, to always be there for them the way my mother couldn’t have been there for me. I could pass on my life and ensure that I would find immortality through their happiness.
“But all of that vanished when I became a vampire. I can’t have a family, other than the one Simone gave me. Still, I was sure that I could make a mark, a dent, anything to make people years from now remember who I had been...but if I’m obliterated, none of it matters. There’s no point. I haven’t done anything yet to warrant a memory, and once I make my amulet, it wouldn’t matter even if I had.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it quite so literally,” Andris argued.
“She flat-out said it! One day, everybody I love is going to forget that I was once a part of their lives.” Sullen, I turned away and shuffled to the bed, kicking my shoes off and collapsing onto the downy covers before rolling over to stare up through the sheer, crimson canopy. “I want to make a difference, Andris. I don’t want to be a faucet for some otherworldly power I’ve never even known about until now. What if this had happened with Mom? What if I’d forgotten her after she died? I feel empty now—what if she had never existed to me? I can’t even imagine that kind of gaping hole in my life.”
While I lay in silence and battled to keep from breaking down, Andris brought the mismatched, purple velvet chair from the desk and set it at my bedside. He took a seat as though prepared to wait out my internal storm.
“I can,” he sighed, sitting back and folding his arms across his chest. “After shutting away the memories I had of you, I could still feel that something was missing. Even if you never affect anyone else, you’ve certainly affected me. Doesn’t that count at all?”
I rolled my head listlessly to face him, again recalling his words on our way to the library. “Why did you say it?”
“Earlier, in the hall—why did you say those things?”
“I wasn’t lying, if that’s what you aim to imply,” he muttered, once more avoiding my gaze. “It’s true. That’s what that emerald color means. That’s what I’ve left out.”
His smile seemed sad, and after a pause he finally looked at me, his eyes pale violet. “That’s not something I—or anyone else, for that matter—should need a reason for. It helps that you returned my sanity, but even that shouldn’t be enough to override my thirst. In fact, that should make you more threatening, yet the thought of taking your life kills me. You calmed the monster in my blood, you gave me my life back...and I love you for it. It’s very simple.”
“It’s not simple.” I began to turn away, but he reached out and took my hand, pulling me into his arms too quickly for me to escape.
“I want you with me,” he said softly against my hair. “If you fear death, then I will make sure you don’t die. If you want to make a difference, know that you have changed my life.”
“Andris...” I blinked hard, trying to fight the burning in my eyes. “I can’t—”
“I admit that it would have been better if you had feared me from the beginning. You are, in essence, my prey.” He drew away to meet my eyes. There was real fear there, that maybe, at any moment, he could lose control and drain me until I was dust. “There’s no telling whether your blood will lose its effect.”
“If I die, it won’t matter,” I said, looking away. “Maybe you should end it now, while I still matter.” He could kill me now, and that would be okay, because then he could remember who I had been. I would have to die eventually, and I would have rather it happened before I lost my reason for living. Screw the power chain.
His hand slipped up my cheek, turning me back to him. “Princess, I would rather die myself before ever allowing that to happen,” he whispered sadly. “I can push the thirst back. Your presence gives me that control.”
You are being silly. If you have him, it does not matter if you are the Avenari or not. He has the power to protect you. Ever the doting advisor, my blood found it necessary to butt in.
“I couldn’t keep Mom. I couldn’t keep Dad. I couldn’t even protect Nick from my own ignorance, and now I’ve found someone else who could just as easily hurt me. Hell, I might even hurt you.” I laughed, though it cracked into a muffled sob. “I’m gathering weaknesses at an astounding rate. I can’t control any of this, can I?”
No, was my blood’s succinct response.
“Of course you can.”
The understanding in his voice made me focus back on him, confused by his contrary reply, as well as the sudden pain in my chest. “But...”
“I can’t do anything to help it, but I do believe that you may be able to change both our fates, Princess,” he said gently, catching my tears on his fingertips. “After all, they changed when I found myself unwilling to take your life. I was supposed to kill you. My thirst demanded it, and it always got its wish. Instead, you calmed me, and when you grew up I fell in love with you, and the need changed into something more satisfying than blood and paranoia.
“I tried so hard to stay away from you, but I kept coming back and it only made things worse. I even tried to lock your memory away, but then I found you by accident. You bit me, and I remembered. I never expected anything to come of it, but I had given you the key to those memories, just in case I had a second chance to win you over…”
“Which is what you’re doing right now,” I whispered, trying to ignore the ache inside.
“Am I? I thought I was just trying to get your mind off all this Avenari business.”
I glared at him. “It’s not a joke, Andris.”
That didn’t stop him from chuckling. “Lynn, even if you died after becoming the Avenari, I would always remember you. Nothing could stop me from loving you. I’ve never felt anything so powerful before, and I’m positive that nothing could possibly take it from me. If I ever lost it, I would still be left wondering where my heart had gone. I know the feeling, because that was what I felt every moment between forgetting and remembering.
“My heart belonged to you for half a century, but I hadn’t known. All I knew was that I felt emptier than usual, and that I was searching for something I didn’t know how to find. Now I’ve found you again, by utter coincidence, and I don’t ever want to feel empty again. I don’t ever want to forget you again. Please don’t make me.”
“I’m not worth all that.” It hurt to hear those words, but in a strange sort of way.
“Then you won’t mind being mine. By your logic, you would receive far more than you would give up. It’s a good bargain.” He gave me that familiar smirk, tilting my face up to his lips. “You’ll have me. You’re the only one I’ll give myself to. It’s not every day that the most powerful being on earth decides to consign all of his strength and devotion to someone, least of all a fledgling so young that she still feels the cold.”
I shook my head, our lips so close that they brushed together when I spoke. “I’ll just disappoint you. I’m not worth the trouble.” Dammit, again with the crying! Stupid eyeballs!
“I’ll be the one who decides whether something is worth my trouble,” he whispered, caressing my cheek to wipe away my tears again. “Of course, if you can’t love me, I will humbly back down...though you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me of that, judging by your reaction.”
“I don’t love you!” I said quickly. “Not even a little!”
“Oh, now that was an utter lie. I can sense it. You feel something in here.” He lowered one hand and pressed it over my heart. “It hurts, but you like it. Right?”
I wasn’t ready. There was too much going on; I didn’t need this, too! “Andris, please,” I said, hating my traitorous tears more than anything in the world right then.
He is right, commented my blood. I shall have no one else but him, and neither shall you. This is not just for power—this is for your happiness. This is closure, a new beginning. Do not make the mistake of losing what might be your only chance to defy ill fate.
“Will I really be happy?” I whispered to the blood, though it didn’t answer.
Andris did instead. “I will do everything within my power to make you happy, regardless of your decision. It’s the least I can do in return for all that you have given me, and for all I have done to hurt you.”
I stared up into his lovely eyes as their emerald darkness shifted, like mottled sunlight shining through a bottomless pond, reflecting ancient forests that no longer existed. Those eyes made my heart ache. They were intense and vulnerable, wise and naïve, and filled with more knowledge and emotion than I could comprehend without having lived his life.
Without thinking, I cupped his face against my palm and brought his mouth to mine.
Ah…this was what I wanted. Once my heart managed to shut my brain up, it didn’t bother me anymore. He was gentle and warm, delving deep enough to taste my essence while giving me everything in return. I couldn’t fight this ache, this need to let him into my wounds.
I loved him. I wasn’t sure how or why, but I did. Through some insane twist of fate, he had wormed his way into my life so thoroughly that I couldn’t imagine his absence. I’d never felt this kind of sweet pain before, but there was no way I could fight it any longer. Had he pushed me into this bottomless warmth? Had I jumped willingly?
Either way, it didn’t matter anymore.
Andris drew away, frowning slightly, and I lifted my head to trail my lips along his throat, wishing he wouldn’t look so worried. “What’s wrong?” I asked gently, finding peace at last. All I’d had to do was let go, and now everything felt okay. It was such a relief.
“I just have one concern,” he said, leaning down to meet my eyes. “You said that Ivan isn’t your blood partner. If that is true, then what is he to you? What was he to you?”
I blinked in surprise. “He’s been my best friend since we were kids, and at one point we were...lovers, I guess. Then, after we were turned, we just never became blood partners. He asked once or twice, but I said no. Our blood doesn’t match and we both know it.”
“Then what makes you think I’m any different?” Andris asked, simply curious.
I made a helpless gesture. “You fought for it, and my blood approves of you. Plus, you’re...different, like no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop you from getting what you want.”
“Ah. Lucky me.” Suddenly, he was kissing me again, and I had no hope of escape—not that I wanted to anymore.
He picked me up like a feather and laid me back on the bed without leaving my lips even once, pressing me into the mattress. He was exquisite and warm, and so gentle that it made my heart ache. I dug my fingers into his hair, pressing his lips harder to mine. I didn’t want him to stop, but eventually he pulled back and sat up, tugging me to do the same.
“What is it?” I asked, tucking my legs underneath me and staring in uncertainty at my hands in his.
He drew closer and bent down to my height. “Lydian, will you be my blood partner?” he asked softly, searching my face with emerald eyes. “This isn’t a whim. This is for eternity. I love you, and I have lived long enough to know that you are the only one I will ever want. You, on the other hand, haven’t even lived past your mortal years. If you want to wait and let yourself process this, spend a little more time getting to know me, I understand completely.”
I frowned, considering his words and trying to organize my feelings. My blood believed that no one else would do, but what did I think about the idea of being his partner for the rest of my long life? It seemed like such a huge leap, and explanations to my family would be awkward at best, considering his first impression. Sam alone would be intolerable.
But still...no one had ever stolen my will to resist the way he had.
I wanted those eyes to watch me forever, and I wanted his blood to be a part of me…I wanted him, both for my sake and for his. I wanted to ease the burden of his thirst, even if it hurt me, and I wanted him to fix what he had broken inside of me all those years ago.
It was selfish...but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to say no.
I didn’t say anything, just pulled myself up to his throat and kissed the spot from which all of his power would pour out. I couldn’t bring myself to leave his delicate skin untouched.
He sighed, turning to nose under my hair and press his lips to my own throat. “You’ll never be rid of me,” he warned, his voice taking on a lighter tone.
“I don’t want to be rid of you,” I said, scratching my fangs across his skin. “I need you, you conniving demon. You drive a hard bargain.”
“Ah, but do you love me?” His tone was both teasing and worried. “I know your blood wants me, but what about you?”
“I do now,” I said, my tone gentle but firm. It wasn’t even difficult to say. I had already taken the plunge, and there was no turning back. “I love you, sweet demon.”
He hesitated, and then whispered almost desperately, “Please, Princess. I think I’m too afraid that none of this is real…”
Without a word, my fangs drove through him, and he gasped, before sinking his own into me with unbridled eagerness.
This was nothing like sharing blood the normal way. Stars burst inside of my head as I drank down his sweet nectar. I could feel my life flowing into him, through him, back to me. It was a cycle, an exchange in its purest form—it transcended mere donation and became something exponentially more, like two rings locking together in an infinite loop.
I couldn’t pull away this time. Despite the unbearable energy in his blood, the fact that he took mine simultaneously drove my thirst to demand more and more to replace what was lost. Eventually, I could taste my own blood in his, feel his essence soak into every fiber of my being. I could feel his thirst’s brutality, its animalistic hunger for death, as well as his blood’s strange attraction to mine.
I could hold him, I realized, control the beast in his blood and give him peace. My own blood had known this from the beginning, had seen that he was the only one capable of changing everything I knew. I needed him as much as he needed me. He burned hot and cold, a flame trapped in ice. I was the darkness, born of his light—he was the ice, born of my cold blood.
I knew at last that this was the right choice.
It took some time to notice that I wasn’t drinking anymore, finding myself lying back on the bed with him cradling me tightly. My body felt warm, and my triggers had fallen completely silent, but my blood itself was singing. It was so happy—never before had it shown this kind of emotional reaction to anyone, but it had clearly found its perfect match in Andris.
I wasn’t so different, I discovered with a painful twinge. I’d wanted him, and now he was mine. It felt so...good.
Sighing, I rolled over in his arms and found him watching me with his emeralds. I’d never seen anyone so beautiful, but it was as though I had only just pulled the veil from my eyes. He could break my heart in half with a mere smile, it seemed.
“I can feel your heart beating in me,” he said tenderly, pulling me closer for a gentle kiss. “And my head is quiet. I haven’t been this calm since I was mortal. Ye gods...peace at last.”
I pressed my hand to his chest, feeling the slow, powerful throbbing just beneath his skin. He was cold, the way I had been, but I knew he would grow warm again. I could only borrow it. “Don’t ever let it stop. Even if I die, it’ll live in you.”
He chuckled and slid his arm under me, turning my body so that my back was flush against his front and hugging me with near-zealous affection. “I’m not letting you die. Ever. I’ll keep you with me no matter what it takes.”
I laughed a little, tilting my head back to look up at him. “You’re right: you are remarkably possessive.”
“Of course I am. Now, let me hold you a bit longer. I’ve waited an eternity for this, so don’t think you can steal my moment from me just yet.”
I laced my fingers with his as a blissful smile played on my lips. “Don’t let go.”
“I could never be so foolish.”