Avenari - Chapter 25
“I am going to kill Atreus the next time I see him,” Andris growled as he dried himself off and rummaged through the armoire for something to wear later.
“Why?” I set the comb down and brushed the damp hair behind my shoulders, looking over at my angry demon. It was well past noon, and we had been in the water for so long that I actually felt my weight for once.
Andris finally found more black silks and jeans and set them on the violet chair beside the bed. “Isn’t it obvious? I wouldn’t have had to wait so long for this! It’s ridiculous.”
I smiled a little and stood, still wrapped in a towel that came to my ankles as I went over to lock my arms around his now-perfect waist. He had no decency, walking around stark naked with just a towel draped over his head to tame his uncooperative hair. If I had made the wish already, there was no telling what devious thoughts my mind would have been cooking up. “Ah, but if he hadn’t hurt you so badly then I might still be hesitant. You should thank him.”
“Like hell!” he said, throwing his towel down and suddenly sweeping me up off my feet. “Let’s go, Princess. I’m about to lose my mind.”
“We just spent hours in the bath together,” I sighed, rolling my eyes and hooking an arm around his neck. “Wasn’t that enough to stave you off a bit?”
“Wrong. That was a comfort gesture to you, like hugging a pillow or petting a cat—and I didn’t even stop bleeding until after sunrise! What I want is for you to shed all those damned Shimari restraints and feel what I feel.” Not one to waste a moment, he set me on the bed and leaned over me, caging me in his arms, his face less than a millimeter away. “I can barely think. I want you so badly. You have no idea at all how painful it is that you can’t reciprocate.”
“Please, just wish for me,” he begged, dropping his forehead to my shoulder in despair.
I had to fight a smile. Part of me found this endlessly amusing, and wouldn’t have minded waiting a bit longer to see how desperate he became—whereas the rest of me wanted to fulfill his every desire.
It was obvious which side would win that battle.
Gently, I slipped a hand into his hair and whispered against his temple, “I wish that I—“
I paused, and Andris’ whole body suddenly went rigid.
“I’ll kill him!” The sudden instability in his aura more than hinted that he wasn’t lying. Murder actually seemed a likely possibility in his current mental state.
“Calm down,” I said, kissing his cheek and turning to the door. “Who is it?”
Nick’s voice filtered through the wood, “Lynn, Yoko wants you to go see her. She said she found out how you can make your amulet, or something. I didn’t really get it ‘cause the bird told me and he swears so much that you need a translator.” He spoke in a hesitant rush, as though he could sense the hurricane of anger inside, which the ancient was not doing his best to restrain.
Andris lifted his head, begging me with black, crystalline eyes.
“Tell Homer I’ll be there in a minute!” I so did not need this kind of pressure. I snapped at Andris, “I’m sure you’ll survive half an hour!”
Violently, he shook his head. I refuse to wait any longer!
I’m sorry, but I need that information. I began to sit up, but he wouldn’t let me go. Move!
Please, please, please don’t leave me like this! He gathered me into his arms and straddled me across his lap, effectively trapped in his embrace.
Dammit, Andris, my amulet is important! This behavior was more befitting a child than a proud ancient, but I bit back the observation and stuck to hard facts.
“More important than I am? I’m your blood partner, for crying out loud!” he hissed in a rush. “Lynn, this is just cruel! How can you do this to me now, of all times?”
“You’re not calling me Princess—I must have displeased you,” I said, my own tone edged with displeasure. I decided that observations might be more fruitful. “Stop acting like a child. You’re an ancient, so have some dignity.”
“I abandoned all dignity when I decided that I wanted you! You have no idea how unbearable it is!”
Keep your voice down! I covered his mouth with both hands. I am not budging on this, Andris. Mom gave me this task, and I can’t get distracted. After I get the info I need, you can have what you want, but until then you will have to accept my conditions. Besides, Nick is right there, and if he gets nosy then we’ll never find any peace.
He glared at me for a long time, his eyes flickering between glorious emerald and the flames of retribution just beneath the layer of darkness, before muttering dispassionately, I’ll wait here. Please come back quickly, or I really will die.
Drama queen, I chuckled, removing my hands to pull his lips to mine and give him a deep, hungry kiss to show my gratitude. If you die, I’ll never forgive you, I whispered as I cut my tongue along his fangs and gave him a few drops of blood.
Five minutes later, I was dressed, and I pecked his cheek as I hurried out the door, slipping away before he could drag me back onto the bed and waste even more precious daylight.
Nick was waiting outside with the parrot on his shoulder, arguing animatedly over which kind of pie was the best.
...Now how the hell had that argument gotten started?
Whatever. I brushed the confusion away when he looked up at me, ending the conversation with an abrupt “Blueberry is the best and I don’t give a damn what you think!”
Homer grunted, seeing that his fun was over.
“That was...different,” I said, eying the both of them worriedly. “Come on, let’s go.”
Homer took off to lead the way, alighting on random statues and other protruding works of art to wait for our less advanced transportation methods to catch up. All the while he yelled that we were slower than dead cows and drying paint—often peppered with curses to make a sailor cringe. It went on so regularly that after only a few minutes we were able to tune him out.
“So what were you and Andris arguing about?” Nick asked, giving me a piercing look. “He sounded kind of...not normal.”
“Well, he did get stabbed by an Elder with a grudge,” I replied, shrugging and pretending that the ancient wasn’t throwing a fit over the fact that he had to wait for sex.
Men...why? Just why?
“Right...uh, this might sound kind of weird, ‘cause I don’t really know all the terminology yet, but why is it that all of a sudden you guys have the same...thingy?”
“Thingy?” I raised an eyebrow and frowned. “What thingy?”
He made an ambiguous gesture, searching for a fitting description. “Well, it’s that thing you use to tell the difference between vampires, like psychic DNA. I can’t remember what you called it, but yours used to be kind of normal, and his used to be like a lighthouse flashing point-blank in my face, but now you both have the same one—the lighthouse, that is.”
“Oh, you mean signature?” I said, wracking my brain for an explanation that wouldn’t piss him off. He hated Andris. That was as true as the fact that water was wet.
“Yeah, your signature. Well, so what’s the deal? What happened with you two?”
I hesitated. There was no way I could lie about this, was there? He would have to find out eventually, but still, it would have better to tell him after he had settled into this new life—ideally, after he and his Maker had finally reached an understanding.
He probably saw the worry on my face, because he suddenly gave me a hard, searching look. “Don’t tell me...you did the blood partner thing, didn’t you? Your blood picked him?”
Argh! I had no poker face!
“Well, um...yes,” I mumbled, looking at the floor in embarrassment.
“Damn, well that’s creepy. I guess it’s not a matter of choice, then.”
Not the reaction I had expected.
“Huh?” I asked, unable to elaborate any further than that.
Nick shrugged. “I just figured it was the kind of thing that would happen later, like when you were really, really old. What’s it like? Is it obvious?”
I cut in before he got carried away, “Just a moment—you’re not yelling at me or telling me that he’s a monster. Are you feeling okay?”
“Why would I argue? It’s up to you guys, right? Besides, I was thinking about it, and I figure that if I’m going to live with the fact that he made me like this, I should at least help you make him into something more...not evil. I don’t have to like him, but helping you is okay.”
I stared at him in awe. “My, you are growing up quickly. Only a few hours ago you were an inch away from stabbing him yourself.”
“It’s hard enough as it is. I don’t need things to get any more difficult just because he annoys me. Honestly, if there’s one person I can trust in all of this, it’s probably you, and if you’re cool with him then I might as well make an effort. It’s smart, too. That guy’s freakishly powerful—I don’t need anyone telling me that. I’d rather be on his good list.”
“It’s not just because he’s powerful,” I sighed, feeling a bit worn out in the face of all his sudden maturity.
“Don’t tell me that it was love at first sight or some crap like that,” he said with a suspicious frown. “I don’t believe that. Also, he totally kicked your ass when he first showed up, so I’m actually surprised that you didn’t just kick him out.”
I frowned. Was he reading my mind? The thought disturbed me for some reason. “No, that wasn’t how I felt in the beginning. It was more like murderous intent at first sight. I really wanted to kill him, but Ivan stopped me, and either way I’m too logical to get that carried away for very long. In the end I was curious, which built up the more I talked to him. He’s really a good guy. Arrogant, selfish, and incorrigible—but he’s still good.”
“Who made the first move?”
“Who do you think?” I laughed, surprised at the kid’s sudden interest in our relationship. “He’s a pushy bastard, that one, but he’s good at getting what he wants.”
Nick was silent for a long moment, and then he asked slowly, “Do you think he’ll get mad if I want to talk to him?”
“Uh...nothing important. Just stuff.”
Would it be in bad taste to pry a little? “What kind of stuff? Don’t tell me you’re already looking into bonding with someone,” I teased.
“What? No!” He shook his head a little too quickly. “I just...well, there’s an Elemental...”
I was grinning. I knew I was grinning, but I couldn’t stop myself. “You have your eye on an Elemental? Wow, you’ve got some high aspirations. You’re still so human.”
“You bonded with the most powerful vampire in the world!” he defended, a deep blush rushing up his pale neck and cheeks. “That’s like dating a god or something!”
Carefully, I patted his shoulder. “Easy there. I’m not criticizing you. I just think it’s cute—fast, but cute. If Andris will talk to you, then go right on ahead. There shouldn’t be any problem. Just save it for tonight, though. He’s in a sour mood at the moment.”
“I couldn’t tell,” he said in annoyance. “Yeah, I’ll try talking to him later, as long as he doesn’t try to kill me.”
That made me laugh. Nick was too cute. “Smart decision.”
* o * o *
Yoko was eating lunch at her desk when we came in, but thanks to yet another argument between Nick and the bird—this time about video games—we startled her so badly that she nearly spilled fried noodles all over her lap. Thankfully, she had better reflexes than a human, and caught the tray in time.
“Sorry,” mumbled the kid, smiling sheepishly before glaring daggers at the parrot.
Yoko waved away the apology and motioned us over. “That’s okay. I’m just excitable, is all...hmm? Where’s Andris? I was hoping to get his opinion on this.”
“He got in a fight with Atreus, and is currently in no mood to leave the bed,” I replied. Everything about that response was true. Everything else was on a need-to-know basis.
“I see.” Her dark, tapered eyes studied me for a moment, as though she could see between the lines and determine the real reason behind the ancient’s convalescence, but reverted instantly back to an energetic smile before I could say anything. “Well, I suppose you could just tell him yourself when you go back.”
“You can eat food?” Nick asked, staring at the tray and realizing the meaning behind it.
“Oh, this?” she motioned to the noodles. “Well, yes, half-breeds are fortunate in that respect. I suppose you wouldn’t know, being so young. Half-breeds need blood a lot less than fledged Shimaren do, and we supplement with regular food.”
Faster than sound, Nick rounded on me. “How come you didn’t tell me?! I’m gonna miss chicken and pizza and ice cream and cake…God, this sucks.”
“I’m sure you’ll get over it,” I said, startled at the outburst, yet sympathetic to his feelings on the matter. I myself wouldn’t have minded one last taste of a multitude of desserts. “At least you can go out in the sun.”
“I guess.” His pout said plainly that it would take a while to reconcile this loss.
Honestly, I was just glad that he wasn’t spending his time brooding over his family. It made me a little sad to think that he really hadn’t cared enough to worry more than a few minutes, but I also knew that he was better off accepting the reality of things instead of moping.
“So what did you find?” I asked Yoko, ducking as Homer swooped over my head and perched gracefully on his stand. He, too, eyed me as though he knew too much—though it was worse in his case because he was a bird. It was beginning to feel like a subliminal interrogation.
Ever ready for information requests, Yoko brought her computer out of standby with a flick of the mouse and opened an e-mail. “Simone sent me a message,” she explained, scrolling down to the attached document. “He says that there were some papers left behind when your mother passed away, which he has been keeping safe. He felt it wise not to bring the matter up until you received your powers.”
“Yeah, I’ve been noticing a lot lately that Simone has been keeping secrets from me,” I said, trying not to let the irritation bleed into my voice. “I understand that he didn’t want to worry me over the stuff with Andris, but being under house-arrest for nearly sixty years has pretty much killed my tolerance.”
“Well, he did let you out into the territory, at least. It wasn’t complete house-arrest.”
“Uh-huh. Why don’t you try it and tell me how happy it makes you.”
Yoko sighed a little. “Sorry. If it’s any consolation, I know that Simone felt terrible for having to keep you hidden. He always brought it up when he came to the library. He said that he asked for permission to bring you here once, but Emperor Tatsune felt that it wouldn’t really be safe until everyone knew what Andris was up to.
“It’s dangerous to poke at tigers with sticks, and if Andris was still keeping tabs on you, he might have reacted badly to you coming here. Nobody knew that he had blocked the memory, and we needed you to survive at least long enough to close the power chain.”
“I really hope that you guys weren’t banking on me getting killed,” I muttered.
She laughed a little. “Oh, absolutely not. Everyone was thrilled at the idea of another sorcerer clan joining the Shimari ranks, and I know for a fact that Simone cares deeply about you, but even the Council had to admit that there were other possible outcomes.”
I folded my arms, glaring at nothing in particular. “After what happened last night, I don’t think I trust the Council to keep anyone’s best interests in mind.”
Yoko’s smile faltered, and she looked away. “I’m sorry that happened. Quelos has already informed the Emperor, so I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
“Damn straight it won’t.”
She frowned deeply, and I relaxed a little, realizing that Yoko was probably the one person in Ivanarke who really didn’t have any control over what the Council did.
“I’m sorry, too,” I sighed. “It’s not your fault. I’m just mad at the half-assed power structure of this place. Lots of illusions are being shattered now that I’m actually here.”
“Then at least let this make you feel better,” she offered, opening the attachment and motioning me over. “With your own amulet, you might actually gain enough power to tip the scales, and with Andris on your side I can’t see anyone being crazy enough to argue. Congratulations, by the way. It’s a bit of a surprise, but you and Andris make a cute couple.” When I gawked at her, she smirked and added, “Sorry, but news travels fast in Ivanarke, and you did kind of announce it to the entire Council.”
After a few moments to remind myself that these people were way beyond my ability to comprehend, I said finally, “He hates the word ‘cute.’ You probably shouldn’t say it to his face.”
“Duly noted. Anyway, what do you think of this?” Yoko motioned to the attachment.
I leaned across the desk and stared at the screen. They were scans of documents, yellowed with age and handwritten on parchment or vellum. “What are these for?”
“These were penned by the initial Plorávero himself,” she explained, scrolling through about ten more pages and stopping at the desired location. “He actually wrote out the instructions for creating the Avenari amulet.”
“Really?” I hadn’t realized how nervous I’d been about this until the relief hit me. “Then what do I have to do?”
Not surprisingly, she reached once more into her file drawer and pulled out another stack of printouts, this time of the same thing we were looking at on the screen. “It’s all in here. He wrote it in Shimari, but Andris should be able to translate it for you.”
“That’s okay. I can read Shimari.”
“Really? That’s excellent!” She clapped, and Nick and I stared until she stopped and awkwardly turned back to the computer. “Ahem…anyway, the instructions are rather simple. I’ve been reading through it, but you should have a look before jumping in.”
Something about her tone tipped me off. “Why? What else did he talk about?”
She paused, thinking, then went to the stack and ran her finger along the edge of the pages, sliding her nail in at the right place on her first try. “For example, it says that in order to preserve the chain, the Avenari amulet will have to assume all the powers of previous links—that is, in addition to whatever powers you yourself put into the amulet.”
I frowned a little, not really understanding. “That sounds good, though. Why wouldn’t I want a ton of awesome powers?” Obviously, I loved the thought of all that extra ammunition—someone had to beat Andris at his own game.
Nick nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I’d want everything I could get my hands on.”
“Ah, but there are dangerous aspects to the contract.” She indicated a paragraph of text in a completely different pile of papers. “In one case, the power obtained almost immediately killed the link who had requested it—in other cases, the result was misfortune on the whole family or unforeseen power requirements that the sorcerer simply couldn’t meet.
“In fact, there is at least one amulet that is said to be cursed, and I have cross-referenced certain incidents which coincide with the amulet’s creation, thus determining that the possibility of a curse is in the ballpark of eighty percent.”
“A curse,” Nick and I repeated levelly, in tandem.
“Who in their right mind would purposefully curse their whole family?” I asked.
“Someone who wasn’t happy with what the family was doing, obviously.” A dangerous gleam sparked in her eyes. “Actually, Andris began decimating the Ploráverim within months of this amulet’s creation. Between the start of Andris’ attacks and your mother’s death, seventeen sorcerers lost their lives. In that final stretch, generations weren’t passing quickly enough to keep things going—they started giving amulets to second and third children. Curses are very real, and should not be taken lightly.”
“Then why didn’t I get caught in it?” I pressed, disturbed.
She shrugged. “Any number of things could have happened. For one, Andris’ blood was attracted to you, sparing your immediate death. Then after Simone turned you, you had the added protection of Shimari power and resilience. Toss in the fact that Simone has kept you in hiding for over fifty years, and it’s no wonder that the curse couldn’t find you.
“However, there is a caveat. Because your amulet will have all the powers of the previous amulets, the curse can return even if it has already run its course. It may take some time, but the possibility is real. You’ll need to watch your steps carefully.”
“Well, it did kind of get to you,” Nick said. “Your mom and dad both died. If it stopped, though, and if being a vampire protects you, then maybe you’re safe?”
I was at a loss. “What am I supposed to do, then?”
“Hmmm...” Yoko chewed her lip and flicked through a dozen pages of the second stack before pausing. “Well, I suppose if you changed into a different person...”
I just stared, not sure whether I should laugh or fear for her sanity. Nick coughed.
After realizing the ambiguity of her statement, however, she chuckled and clarified. “One of the amulets gave its link the ability to transform into any living animal, and she lived the longest of them all after the curse was placed. The author of this here—your great-great uncle, I believe—speculated that her habit of transforming to slip out of the main house played a key role. If the power thinks you’re a rabbit, I see no reason why it would attack you...unless you were a particularly malevolent rabbit, but even then, you’re still a rabbit. Needless to say, rabbits are not avid sorcerers, and thus would not be targeted by a power looking specifically for a sorcerer of your bloodline.”
After sorting out the pertinent information, I said, “So...would it be best to make the amulet right away? It’ll be easier to protect myself if I’m familiar with these powers.”
“True enough. I’ll get the materials ready for you—the only thing you need on your own is the crest feather.”
I froze. “Crest feather? Where do I get that?”
She cocked her head to one side, motioning towards my amulets. “Well, those tiny feathers didn’t exactly grow inside of the stones. Your family’s guardian spirit should have contacted you by now and given you the last piece. Your uncle’s text states this explicitly.”
“I never got a visit,” I murmured, starting to worry.
“Oh, don’t let it bother you,” she laughed. “Your guardian spirit has quite the attitude, I hear. He’s probably just playing games with you.” I gave her a thoroughly disturbed look and she nodded towards the text again. “Uncle said so, and you never question Uncle.
“The name your family uses for him is Rubeo Corvus—the red raven.” She pulled the papers over and sought out a description. “Let’s see...‘Rubeo is one of the known family guardians, and his specialty is transformation.’ He can be anything he wants to be, but when he visits you, he’ll likely be in his animal form—humans don’t have feathers, you understand.”
“Really not following you here,” Nick said, clearly skeptical. “Is he just going to knock on the door? Maybe he’ll come in through the window?”
She frowned at him, then hmph-ed and turned back to the computer. “Very well, I shall allow Lynn to elaborate once Rubeo has visited her, then.”
The kid glanced at me in uncertainty and whispered, “Did I say something wrong?”
I shrugged, not quite sure myself. “So is that all, Yoko?”
“That’s everything I’ve gathered so far. Take these printouts and show them to Andris—I’m certain he’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on.” Absently, she slid the documents over to me. It seemed that she was finished.
“Um, I was just wondering...” Nick began, hesitating when the librarian threw a scrutinizing look his way. However, he pushed on, “Why is it that I can sleep, and Andris can’t? He made me, so shouldn’t I be limited by the same things as he is?”
“Not necessarily. You were a half-breed already, and therefore your blood is mixed, not pure. Your immunity to sunlight is Andris’ doing, but your ability to tire and fall asleep is all Lynn. You are a Nariuvne, but Andris is a pureblood—born, not turned—and you’re a fledgling. Now, if you had been born, you would probably abide by all of his rules.”
She gave Nick a thoughtful stare. “Since that was not the case, you should count yourself lucky. There is no rest for the weary, but in his case, it’s literal. Andris’ inability to sleep is one curse I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
“Because he has to live with what he has done—constantly, without even a moment of respite. Even criminals are allowed to dream, but Andris is not. He lives in one world, and that one world has been his enemy for almost his entire life, teaching him nothing but bitterness, fear, and hate. It’s no surprise that he didn’t trust Lynn’s acceptance in the beginning, and even less surprising is that he became so irrevocably attached the moment he realized that she wasn’t his enemy. In a way, Lynn is his savior.”
“That’s a little much,” I muttered, squeezing the papers awkwardly. “I’m nobody’s savior. I just don’t like seeing him in pain.”
She chuckled a little. “That’s all he needs from you.”
Yoko was right, in a way. As hard as I had tried to resist, it seemed that Andris and I were meant to be together. I needed him as much as he needed me, and in that instant all I wanted was to go back to him.
“Thanks, Yoko,” I said, waving the papers at her. “I’ll show these to Andris and get his take on everything.”
“Much obliged. Tell me when you’ve decided what to do, and I’ll make all the necessary preparations.” She grinned as though fully aware of what was going on in my head, but turned back to the computer before I could call her on it.
“Uh…yeah.” I nodded to the door and eventually Nick followed, though not before making a rude gesture to Homer, whose farewell consisted of a long string of insults pertaining to the kid’s immediate family having unsavory relations with each other.
I still wasn’t sure which was stranger—the pet or the master.