Avenari - Chapter 30
When I first saw Nick, I couldn’t help but smile. The fresh wardrobe made a vast difference. Both Akuro and he were dressed Goth-chic, but it suited them nicely.
They had done something to make the kid’s hair soft and tame, and his black jeans had rows of little chains, which jingled with every step he took. The scarlet, long-sleeved silk shirt he wore sported black wing designs on the back, fit tightly to show off his long frame.
Akuro, in white and red, looked almost dangerous. His white hair was back in a tight ponytail, with wispy strands to curve around high cheekbones and frame his eyes, and the slim white jeans he wore had red Chinese dragons spiraling halfway up his legs. Like Andris, his silk shirt was bound around his arms, though the red ribbons also wound up either side of his chest. The finishing touch, however, was a white dog collar with silver spikes. It surprised me, to say the least. He always seemed so reserved.
And Quelos...well, he looked like a 1930’s gangster, complete with a black pinstripe suit, a lavender shirt with a black tie, and a black silk fedora cocked to one side.
A fedora. I felt like I had stepped back in time to the romanticized outlaw images of my youth. I half-expected him to sneer and say “see?” at the end of every sentence.
“You know, with Quelos driving, we should really be taking one of those black gangster-mobiles,” Nick mused aloud, leaning his head against the cherry-red RX-7’s window. “This car is nice, but the image doesn’t really fit.”
“Like Al Capone?” I asked from my seat in Andris’ lap. The ancient hadn’t given me any choice in the matter—the dress clearly had powers of its own. As a result, I was stuck reading Simone’s email in an awkward, tilted position to keep from bumping me head against the roof.
I’d figured that it would distract me from yelling at Quelos to drive faster. At least the literature wasn’t terrible. The spell actually sounded like a lot of fun.
“Didn’t Capone go mad?” Andris glanced ahead at Quelos, and the lightning bug frowned back through the rear-view mirror.
“If you’re trying to imply that I’m going the same way, I can easily turn this car around.”
“It wouldn’t matter to me. I don’t feed on humans.”
I rolled my eyes, flipping to the next page of the document. “Quit provoking him. Thanks to you, my thirst is nagging.” As wonderful as his blood was, it didn’t sate my Shimari thirst. Unfortunately, I needed human meals, and we had traded enough since my last feeding to thin the human blood out of my veins.
You have my apologies, but I really did enjoy that. At least he seemed a little abashed.
It’s because of the dress, isn’t it? I muttered, frowning at the list of ingredients.
You still don’t understand how utterly captivating you are? Wasn’t my reaction enough?
You love me. That’s a biased opinion, as you said. Ooh, I could pick and choose powers?
Now you’re just splitting hairs.
Well, if I had to choose, how about all of the powers? The spell didn’t seem to put a limit on this—totally worth a shot. Don’t argue. You have a bizarre affection for me, and that makes your opinion biased. I enjoy the attention, but it’s still kind of strange.
How many times do I have to get naked for you to see how much power you have? You’re beautiful. Any male with a functioning libido would trip over his own feet for your attention.
At last, I reached the end of the document and set the papers aside as I turned to glare at him. Clothes don’t make the woman, Andy.
No, but they enhance the woman—and stop calling me that.
I CAN HEAR EVERYTHING YOU’RE SAYING.
We flinched and stared at Nick, who stared right back with a sour look. “Really, I can. I wish I couldn’t. I’m gonna throw up all over Akuro’s nice borrowed outfit.”
“Please do not,” requested the aforementioned lightning bug.
“If you vomit in my car, I’ll blast you into next week so hard that they’ll have to surgically remove the space-time continuum from your ass,” warned Quelos.
“Can’t you hear their little conversation?” the kid demanded.
“Nope. Besides, we’re here.”
The argument dropped abruptly as the three of us in the back seats vied for what little window space there was. The place was on Nick’s side, so Andris and I had to settle for peeking past his shoulder.
“I don’t see it,” I informed our driver.
He chuckled to himself and turned left into a narrow one-way street just past a shopping center with a large white and red seahorse emblem on top. “Up there, on the right.”
I peered ahead and frowned a little. “What, you mean that big house behind the wall?”
“That’s the place.” He pulled up to a wooden gate and rolled down his window, and a figure stepped out of a guard box hidden behind several gnarled pines. He and the guard had a brief exchange, completely in Japanese, and the gate swung open moments later.
The entire front yard of the pagoda-style home was a gravel parking lot, and after finding a lucky spot near the entrance, we all got out. The lightning bugs didn’t even bother to knock—they just slid the front door open and waltzed right in. We found ourselves in a small, ambient-lit foyer with a long hall leading straight down the middle.
The hardwood floor of the barren main hall bounced the sound of my heels across every solid surface. It was a maze of wood and paper, and the Elementals led us through twists and turns until I could at last catch the unmistakable scent of something other than incense.
“I smell blood,” I said, following the alluring aroma.
Nick and Andris nodded their agreement, and a bit further on I could hear music playing somewhere up ahead. The confusing setup of the place made certain that the sound had dissipated by the time it reached the outside world, but also made it difficult to find the destination without a guide.
At last, we came to another wooden sliding door, this time with red frosted windows. On the other side, I could hear beats from an excellent stereo system.
“This sounds an awful lot like a club,” Andris said slowly.
Quelos shrugged. “Not really. Shimaren run it, so the mortals in here are very obedient. We treat them well, but we also make sure that nobody is doing anything they don’t want to do. Plus, it’s not as crowded as your average club. We’re picky about our familiars, so we cycle through only a few dozen at a time, adding more whenever necessary—most of whom are average working-class, not club-hoppers.”
My blood partner sighed in defeat. “So you say, but you haven’t seen how strangely the people in places like these start to act around me.”
“I imagine they swamp you with their collective, undivided attention.”
“That is an understatement. That is a horrifying understatement. I’ve seen the most violent fights break out.” He shuddered, indicating that he wasn’t stretching the truth one bit.
“Well, then I should find this endlessly entertaining.” Quelos grinned.
Andris couldn’t even think to retort; the lightning bug pulled the door aside and motioned for us to stick with him. I tugged the Crimson along before he could balk, and followed an openly curious Nick into the room.
It was a drastic change from the lifeless hall maze. The room beyond pulsated with hypnotic trance music, more of an underlying bass than anything else. It sounded like a heartbeat, resonating in my lungs as I breathed the thick, cloying scent of fresh blood and incense. Only Andris’ firm hold on my wrist kept me from losing track of my thoughts and thirst.
There were perhaps two dozen people lining the outer perimeter, lounging on cushy, black velvet couches and even a few futons on the tatami floor. At the center of the room was a deeper level, bordered by a continuous sofa with a short table in the middle. Half a dozen more lazed in these seats, split into pairs and intently focused on their partners.
The red lamps were scattered across the ceiling, little LED bulbs hanging from thin wires and hooded by ornate black and red paper shades as they blinked in a rippling pattern from the outside inwards. Under the light, it was easy to tell the difference between the Shimaren and the mortals. The bite marks were like black tattoos on throats, thighs, breasts—badges of honor amongst the people of a secret society, badges which would disappear after the rendezvous. There were as many men as there were women, and all seemed happy to be there.
As we passed, I could feel eyes on us, and sensed Andris tense when a flurry of whispers chased around the room. It was easy to tell the topic of discussion. Every human wanted him to pick them, and every Shimare was wondering what he really was.
No wonder Andris hated public places. I cuddled against his side and glanced up to give him a confident smile. He sighed.
At the back of the room, an alluring Shima tended the bar while dressed in a loose, flowing red kimono printed with chrysanthemum silhouettes. She poured a daiquiri for a mortal woman who had several fading marks all along the neckline of her vivid blue cocktail dress. The latter smiled blissfully at nothing in particular.
Well, at least she was happy? Honestly, I didn’t know what to think. This was one massive first.
“Konban wa,” Quelos greeted with a smirk, catching the bartender’s notice and earning a pleasantly surprised smile.
“Eigo no kotoba, kudasai,” Akuro said with a short bow.
Her bright amber eyes slipped past them to the three of us in back. “Ah, you have brought newcomers.” She hesitated, frowning slightly at Andris. “But he is not Shimare...or mortal.” She must have been around for a long time to pick that up so easily.
“That’s just Andris. He’s not like anything else out there. Everyone, this is Reiko.”
“Quelos, do you have a death wish?” my demon asked, his eyes flickering like embers.
“Such eyes!” the Shima gasped, staring at him. “I have never seen anything like it.”
He cast a sideways glance to me, clearly pleading for assistance.
You have my permission if you really want to repel the swarms, I sighed into his mind. Just don’t go overboard.
That’s like asking light to slow down, Princess. He gave the Shima a cold smile and said flatly, “I’m a Nariuvne. I feed on Shimaren, not mortals. This is my blood partner, Lydian Plorávero, a sorceress. That one is our fledgling.” He jerked a thumb at Nick.
“Nariuvne?” In an instant she was gaping in awe. “Massaka. You are the Old One of the myths! Shinjirarenai. What brings you here?”
“My Princess.” He set his hand on my hip and cocked a brow.
She blinked in rapid succession—I couldn’t tell if he had frightened or embarrassed her. “I see. Well, we offer plenty to sate the thirsts of our brood. Tono-sama has created an excellent system for both our brood and flock. All of the mortals here were selected specifically for their blood, and are required to take a week of rest for every night spent here. There are assistants to prevent accidental deaths, and there are plenty of refreshments for everybody, as you can see.”
Andris nodded and turned to give me a heartbreaking smile. “Have fun. I’ll just stay here and drink myself happy.”
“It’s food, not adultery!” I hissed.
“Ah, but you prefer male victims, and it pains me terribly that I cannot sustain you.” His hand squeezed my waist gently. Take your time. I’d hate to be the cause if you lost control.
Yeah, it’d be a pity if you couldn’t work off your sexual frustrations bis in die, I teased.
His delectable lips quirked up on one side. Hurry up and feed yourself, Princess.
“So how do we go about this?” I asked the bartending Shima, putting on a placid face to hide the internal discussion from the outside world—though by Nick’s gagging pantomime it was obvious that the discussion hadn’t gone completely unnoticed. This was going to make things difficult. His telepathic powers were absurdly powerful for a fledgling. I could only assume that Andris was to blame.
Reiko raised a bone-pale hand from the depths of her kimono, and with one long, sharp red nail indicated the ring of guests around the edge of the room. “The inner circle is for pairs; the outer circle is for mortals awaiting the thirst. There is enough variety to suit your tastes.”
“It’s not hard,” Quelos said as he accepted a freshly prepared martini. “The people who frequent this place are good-natured—they won’t raise any arguments over whom you pick.”
“We do not get many newcomers—normally the same vampires every month or so.” At the voice, we looked down the bar and found the mortal woman watching us.
“You come here often?” Andris asked.
She nodded, and I could see a flush crawl up her throat at his voice, and her thoughts wandered towards places that bothered me. Andris was a threat to all of womankind, and it wasn’t even intentional. “Atashi—iya—my name is Yuiko. I have been coming to this place for almost a year now. I work on base as a civilian.”
“Well, Yuiko, would you mind helping Lynn feel more comfortable? I’m afraid my kind aren’t suited for the Shimari world.”
She pouted maroon lips in interest. “Lynn is your koibito?”
Quelos snorted into his martini, startling us and earning himself a cold glare from his fledgling. To make amends, he wiped the spilled alcohol from his face and made an ambiguous gesture. “Literally, she’s asking if you’re lovers, but among Japanese Shimaren the term is also applied to blood partners. Ironically, you’re both.”
“You’ve already spread it around Ivanarke, haven’t you?” I muttered, knowing the truth.
He grinned, flashing fangs at me. “Not all Shimaren are happy to lose their human urges, so you’ve given them hope, in a way. Though, I couldn’t possibly care less.”
Andris’ cocoon of latent power flickered. “And in the process, you completely disregarded the fact that our circumstances are as aberrant as you could possibly imagine—personal, too.”
“The damage is done. If you were so worried about it, then you shouldn’t have risked discovery after nightfall.”
Nick cut in before the conversation could move any deeper into forbidden waters. “Look, could we just not discuss it? Please? My eyes are bleeding. Really, they’re going to kill themselves. My veins are itchy and I’d really appreciate it if I could get this over with.”
Sensing the volatile subject matter, Yuiko leapt at the opportunity, standing with daiquiri in hand and taking hold of Nick’s arm. “I will introduce you. I have friends who will like you.”
He didn’t stand a chance. She led him along like an eager puppy, sending the message loud and clear that Quelos was absolutely right, and that the kid still had a functioning libido.
I hoped against hope that he wouldn’t do something stupid—a notion which sparked another worrying thought. “Andris, do you think I can have kids?”
His stillness betrayed his opinion on the matter, and I stared him down until he buckled. “Honestly, I don’t know. I hope not—I’m not exactly father material—but I can’t give you a definitive answer. Before deciding to go celibate, I never stayed in one place long enough, and I don’t know how your amulet changed you.” He paused, and then added silently, Also, I doubt that blood seed can get a child...but we’d need tests to find out for certain. We can use protection, if you’d like.
I shook my head.
And if you can have children?
It was a while before I answered. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded children. It opened up possibilities—old doors I had once believed were closed to me for the rest of eternity. My one worry was that Andris wouldn’t be happy.
It depends on what you want, I said at last.
I’ll do anything to make you happy. That’s what makes me happy. Keep that in mind.
I smiled, drawing him down to kiss his cheek. “Thank you, demon. Just knowing that is good enough for me.”
“I love you. That’s the driving force behind my current existence.”
“I know. It’s mutual.” Still smiling, I left his cheek and turned to check out my meal options. He sighed and slipped his coat off, hanging it on the back of a stool and taking a seat.
It felt awkward to walk the ring of mortals in search of a donor. It was like wandering down aisles in a supermarket looking for my favorite soda. For some reason it seemed a little more impersonal than hunting down my own meals.
“Oy, new girl!”
I flinched despite myself and glanced further down the row. A young man with wild, shock-blond hair was leaning forward and smiling brightly at me. He inclined his head to invite me over, and after a moment of consideration, I gave into the thirst’s preference.
Lucky him—he fit the bill.
“Uh, hi,” I said when I sat down on the other end of the short couch. “Is it just me, or does every Japanese person I meet speak English?”
He shrugged. “It’s a requirement in schools these days. I’m a language major, and English is my main focus.”
“How convenient.” I couldn’t help my frown. Maybe there were more requirements than just increased blood production in the selection process for this place.
“I’m Kai, by the way. And you are?”
“Lynn. Er…much obliged.” Ugh, I felt so awkward.
My formality made him smile. “You’re not used to this, are you? Were you recently turned?” There was a shining curiosity in his eyes—not the kind to make him want to become one of us, but just enough to make him want to learn more. Ivanarke did a good job choosing familiars. It would have been problematic if every one of them wanted to become a vampire.
I shook my head. “No, but I’ve never been to a place like this. I’ve led a sheltered existence for the past sixty years or so. Usually, my prey doesn’t know what I am.”
“That dress is beautiful on you.”
The sudden change of topic made me glance at Andris, who had turned to frown at the mortal. I caught his eye, and he grudgingly returned to the chat he’d been having with Quelos.
“Thanks,” I said to Kai. “I hate dresses, though.”
“My dad bred horses and ran a small supply store in town when I was little, so dresses weren’t exactly functional. I’ve worn them twice, both to funerals, so there’s that. Once I turned, I preferred suits as my formalwear. I’m in a long-term relationship with pants, you see.”
He laughed—a pleasant, gentle laugh—then got up and held out his hand, smiling a little. “If you’re okay with me, we should move to the inner circle.”
I could feel Andris’ eyes on me again, and with stubborn determination I took the proffered hand and followed. Nick was already there, talking animatedly with Akuro and the mortal women they had chosen. Akuro acted as translator for the kid because one of the women didn’t know much English. Maybe the English thing really was a coincidence?
But it still felt too much like a supermarket...where the artichoke talked back.
“Hey, does this ever seem shallow to you?” I asked Kai. “Sitting around waiting for a random vampire to pick you out—it’s like you’re part of the produce aisle.”
He drew me down beside him on the soft velvet seat and smiled. “Not really. It’s a comfortable place to be, and most of us have regulars. I’ve been coming here every week for the past three years, so I’m on friendly terms with almost all of the local vampires.”
“Huh. Why did you call me over?” I gave him a suspicious look.
“Well, you’re beautiful, and I have a good sense of which donor a client will prefer.”
“So you thought I would pick you?”
“I had an idea. Maybe just a hope.”
That made me smile. “You’re a little on the strange side, aren’t you?”
“I’m often told that,” he chuckled. “So do you like to lead in with conversation or move straight to a bite?”
That threw me for a loop. “Uh...I’ve never done it like this before. Honestly, I’m not sure.” My thirst wanted him, though. The rich scent of blood made my veins ache, and it was worse than normal with so little human blood left in me.
His dark eyes narrowed in thought, watching my face, and without warning took my shoulder and drew my lips down to his throat. “You’re at your limit, aren’t you? Go ahead.”
I hesitated in surprise, but then the scent caught me in its trap and my eyelids fluttered. I really was hungry. The urge rose up like a creature from the sea, gripping my body and pushing me forward. My lips touched warm, soft skin drenched in the alluring, impossibly powerful scent of life. A sigh, but I didn’t know whose it was, and as the thirst tightened its hold on me, my tongue slid out and sought the hot river’s pulse through that thin layer of skin.
I could feel him shivering at my touch, and I wrapped my arms around his narrow waist when I found the throbbing artery. It beat in rapid, excited bursts against my tongue, vibrating in tune with his heart. Further down, I sensed the rush of blood to more sensitive places.
My fangs sliced through, tingling with warmth as precious life spilled out and collected on my parched tongue. Groaning, I bit harder, cutting through the vessel and altering the angle of the bite to allow more blood to pass through.
With quiet fervor, I drank, gripping his soft cotton shirt tightly and reveling in the warmth. Like a shot of strong whiskey, the blood hit my throat and worked its way down, filling my stomach and immediately forcing through into my veins.
The heat stole my breath and calmed my triggers, resonating with the thoughts and emotions of its source. Flashes of another life flickered in my head, using my own blood as a conduit. It seemed in bad taste to peek, though. After all, he knew who I was…and what I was.
I pulled away once I’d taken enough to slake my thirst, and carefully withdrew my fangs to run my tongue across the wounds. As soon as they had healed over, I pushed him back gently.
“You okay?” I asked, slightly nervous about letting him walk out of here with the knowledge that I wasn’t human. Quelos and Akuro trusted the mortals here, so I had no choice but to trust them, too.
He blinked the trance away, and after a moment he met my eyes and smiled. “I have strong blood, apparently. I can lose twice as much as a normal person can and still feel fine.”
“But you should drink something. It’ll make you feel better. Orange juice, maybe?”
“I’m okay. Really.” Without warning, his arm wrapped around my waist and pulled me closer. “Besides, you bite so well that I don’t even feel dizzy. I enjoyed that.”
I frowned up at him, but froze in surprise when he dipped his head down and kissed my neck. I didn’t know how to react, but a shiver chased through my spine nevertheless.
I looked up at the bar, but Andris wasn’t there...
Suddenly another set of lips touched the other side of my throat, followed by the delicious scratch of long, slender fangs as a fever-hot hand found my thigh and slipped through the slit to my bare skin.
“Andris...” his name escaped my lips and I leaned into the wonderful feeling.
Kai heard and looked up, then jerked away when he noticed the demon sitting on my other side like a phantom of Death. “Dare da?!”
“Hello,” my demon said in a friendly tone. “I’m Andris, and Lynn is mine.”
A sudden flush of embarrassment spiked Kai’s scent, and he bowed deeply. “I’m sorry!”
“Andy, play nice,” I said, shaking my head and getting my bearings.
Fangs grazed the back of my neck, and I shuddered. “I’m being an absolute prince about this, cara mea. Feeding is fine, but I draw the line at groping.”
“I had no idea, truly,” the mortal said.
“I know…which is why I didn’t kill you.” Andris smiled, but it was hard to tell if he was being noble or cold. Kai had never seen such a pointy grin before, I was sure. “For future reference, Lynn is my blood partner. Also, I’m not a Shimare. I feed on other vampires, not humans. That should give you an idea of how powerful I am.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
Andris sat back and played his fingers across the slit in my dress. “The Shimari Empire has done its best to render me a myth, and up until now I’ve been perfectly okay with that. However, now that I’m with Lynn, I have no choice but to step out a little more.”
Kai stared at him. “If you only feed on vampires, then is Lynn your familiar?” I could hear his thoughts running in circles, trying to figure out whether the demon was lying or not.
Andris put on a cocky smirk and tightened both arms around me. “She’s my Princess.”
“Don’t talk about me as if I’m not here,” I grouched, tilting my head back to leer at him.
“Cara mea, you let another man touch you. Don’t think I’ll let it go so easily.” Judging by the smile, it was obvious that he would get me back for it later—probably involving nudity and heavy petting.
“Punishment isn’t supposed to be fun, you deviant.”
“As long as I’m having fun, I couldn’t possibly care less.”
Sighing in exasperation, I pulled away and pointed to the bar. “Go back. Leave me be while I talk to Kai.”
He frowned. “Princess?” He actually sounded a little bit hurt. Good.
“You heard the lady. Let’s go, Kurenai-sama.” This came from Quelos, who had materialized in the seat beside Andris and placed a firm hand on my blood partner’s shoulder. Kai winced in surprise, but I just nodded in agreement.
“Go with Quelos and talk shop. I’m not done here, and I want to keep a close watch on Nick.” I glanced at the kid from the corner of my eye, my insides cringing at the sight of him playing Don Juan between Yuiko and one of her friends. Both were Asian beauties, and Nick was so happy that he didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.
“Those women know what they’re doing. I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Andris replied curtly.
“Dokke, or I’ll zap you,” Quelos said.
“I’m perfectly safe right here—only a few feet away. Or are you really that insecure?”
He glared at me, his indignation successfully piqued, and abruptly vanished. At the end of the room, I saw him reappear and order a pint of their strongest rum.
A pint of their strongest rum.
“Mattaku, aitsu no baka.” Quelos shook his head and turned to Kai. “Warukattayo.”
Kai gave him a winded smile and shook his head. “Iya, iin desu. Sumanakatta.”
The lightning bug shrugged. “Betsunii. Koitsu wa tanomuyo.”
At that, the Elemental nodded and stood, stepping out of the pit with a pop of his collar and returning to the bar to make sure Andris didn’t go overboard. Vampires could get wasted just like any human—Mitch was proof of that—though it didn’t last as long, and there were no ill effects once we sobered up. The real issue was Andris’ power. I absolutely did not want to see what kind of drunk he would become, least of all how much control he would lose.
I shook off my worry to frown at Kai. “Man, I’d like it if I could understand Japanese.”
“Structurally, it’s a bit different from English, but to be honest, English is much more complicated,” he replied, before putting on an abashed smile. “I apologize. I should have noticed him. It was rude of me.”
“Nah, Andris is just a possessive old coot. He’s spent a lot of time by himself, so he tends to freak out over stupid things.” Sighing, I settled in and patted his shoulder. “Really, don’t worry about it. That guy’s reaction to this damn outfit was a billion times worse.” I jerked a thumb at Andris, who shot me an irritated leer and downed half a pint of rum in one go.
He could do that? Jealousy rose like an ugly beast, and in a fit of spite I leaned over and kissed Kai’s cheek. “Thanks for the blood. I really was in pain.”
He blushed—blushed!—and waved it away. “Because of this arrangement, life is easy. It’s the least I can do for the vampires who saved me from the debt collectors.”
There was a loud thud, and I glanced up to see that my blood partner had dropped his head to the counter, resisting the urge to tear me away, and in the process wringing the hell out of an unfortunate spoon. I would revive his pride later, but for the moment it was nice to see him suffering for his inexcusable behavior. Someone had to condition him, and I seemed to be the only one willing to do it properly.
“Will he be okay?” Kai asked, looking over his shoulder at Andris, the rum, and the spoon—which wasn’t really a spoon anymore.
“He’ll live,” I corrected. “I very much doubt that he’ll ever really be okay.”
“And what about him?” He nodded towards Nick, who seemed younger than ever between two mature women. Vampire or not, they were a little old for him...but whatever. As long as he kept his pants on, I didn’t care whom he bit.
“That’s Nick. I accidentally made him a half-breed, and Andris turned him the rest of the way, so he’s a little on the special side, too.” When Kai gave me a confused frown, I clarified, “He’s a cross between a normal vampire and what Andris is. Nick can sleep, but Andris can’t. Nick is immune to sunlight’s effects, but I’m not, unless I have this on.” I indicated the ruby amulet nestled halfway into my cleavage.
He looked, then flushed again and looked away. “So you’re special, too?”
“Yep. All three of us are different from the vampires you’re familiar with. Sort of like Quelos, but weirder.”
“In that case, it’s an honor to meet you all. It’s an honor to know any vampire, but I don’t think there are others like you around Misawa. I don’t travel far. I’ve never even been to Tokyo.”
“I know the feeling,” I murmured, eyeing Nick as Yuiko’s friend tugged him against her and gasped a little when he bit into her long, slender throat. She was paler than I was, I noticed, and wore a black, lacy number which only accentuated this. “Are they regulars, too?”
Kai followed my gaze and nodded, smirking down at me. “Don’t worry about him. He’s in adept hands. Yuiko and Minami have been doing this for a long time, so they know their boundaries.” He noticed Akuro sitting quietly. “Ne, Akuro-sama haraheten ja nai no ka?”
Akuro glanced over and nodded. “Daijoubu desu. Matteimasu.” He then looked at me directly, “Have you fed enough, ojou-chan?”
“I’m good, but don’t wait for Nick’s sake. Feel free to kick him aside any time.”
He smiled. “No, that is all right. I have no problems with awaiting my turn, and I can watch over him in your stead. Please take your time and relax.”
“Hmm, he rarely smiles,” Kai observed once Akuro’s attention shifted to another Shima he apparently knew.
“Really? He’s been friendly with me so far.”
“Maybe he’s in a good mood?” He folded his arms and turned back to me. “So you want to learn Japanese, do you?”
“A little bit would be nice. Quelos has a bad habit of tossing it into almost everything he says, so I’d like to at least know enough to decipher the important things.”
He grinned. “Well, then this is your lucky night. I’ll teach you as much as I can before you go. Usually, I teach English to Japanese, but reversing it isn’t hard.”
I lit up. “Really? I’m good with words, so it shouldn’t be too difficult, right?”
“No harm in trying.”
The rest of my time with Kai was spent learning basic words and dialogue. None of it went very far into grammar or structure, but he’d known Quelos and Akuro for a while and taught me enough to get a basic idea of what they were saying. He even included curses, because Quelos’ style of speech was apparently less upper-crust than Akuro’s.
It was fun—much more casual than I had initially expected. He also didn’t try anything like he had after I’d bitten him, clearly respecting the blood bond Andris and I shared. I was actually a little sad when it was time to go. It had been a wonderful night, despite Andris’ near-constant frowning, and before we left I gave Kai a warm hug to thank him for the lessons.
“I enjoyed teaching you,” he said with a laugh. “If you get a chance to come back, I’ll teach you some more. I’m usually here on Tuesdays.”
I rose up to kiss his throat. “You have excellent blood, and I’d like to learn more, so it’s a date.” I grinned when he blushed, and waved as Andris tugged me out the door behind Nick and the lightning bugs.
Despite my blood partner’s chagrin, I couldn’t help but feel happy. Finally, I was doing the things that I had always imagined Simone doing. I had wanted to be a part of my Maker’s extended universe for so long, yet he had restricted my contact with his world so thoroughly that I hadn’t known anything about it when I finally stepped out of his protective shadow. It wasn’t nearly as frightening as he’d tried to make me think, and little by little I could see my fantasies coming to life.
Silently, I thanked my mom for granting me the power to escape. I thanked Andris for leading me to Ivanarke and giving me his precious love, for saving Nick from my stupidity and ignorance. I thanked Simone for letting me live long enough to see the sun rise again…
At last, the claustrophobic borders of my tiny, sheltered world were exploding outwards, encompassing a vast universe of possibility. At last, I was free.
I hugged Andris’ arm and laughed. Life was good.