Avenari - Chapter 31
Although the whole night had been a resounding success on my end, Andris had effectively drunk the establishment into bankruptcy. It turned out that he was a sad, bitter drunk—not an angry one, thank goodness—and he adamantly refused to get into the car no matter how much I pleaded with him.
In the end, I gave in and told the others to go ahead without us. Sunrise would soon put the Elementals under, and Nick had to see Mizumi about more tasks, so I decided to walk Andris back and try to work it out of his system by the time we reached Ivanarke. The dress was a bother, but Andris’ mental state made my wardrobe problems seem stupid.
After committing Quelos’ directions to memory, I watched the Mazda’s taillights retreat around the corner then looked to Andris with a sigh. He leaned morosely against the gate, frowning hard at the stars above.
“Princess, how much do you love me?” he whispered.
My heart gave a painful wince, and I wrapped an arm around his waist to urge him along with me. “More than I’ve ever loved anything, demon. What we have is something precious.”
His lavender eyes left the stars and settled on me. “You are the only thing in my world with any importance,” he said, setting his arm across my shoulders and squeezing gently. He leaned down to kiss the top of my head. “You are my first, last, and only love. Please don’t break my withered heart. I would never be able to piece it together again.”
“Your arrogance simply evaporates when you drink, doesn’t it?” I muttered, wishing that he would return to normal. The way this was going, I would end up feeling like a total ass…though I probably deserved it.
“It makes everything softer.” He stopped suddenly, and when I looked to see what the problem was, his other hand reached up to cup my chin and draw my lips to his.
The kiss was gentle and adoring, the kind that made my soul ache. Kisses like that had made me love him in the first place, and still did. I wanted to hold him in the darkness and simply melt into his warmth for hours, until our bodies were bound as tightly as our blood. I wanted to become a part of him. My affection for the ancient was limitless.
He was going to get a very sincere apology from me as soon as we got back, but for now he had to settle for the verbal kind.
“I’m sorry for earlier,” I whispered against his lips, digging my fingers into his hair and drawing back so he could see my eyes. His skin felt cool to the touch—was he really that upset? “No matter what, you’re my guardian demon. I love you, Andris. Don’t ever doubt that. Don’t ever entertain the thought that it might be otherwise.”
“You deserve a better man than I could ever be.” His gaze slipped to the ground.
“I’ll be the one to make that call,” I replied firmly, twining my arms around his neck and kissing him long and deep until he relented and returned it. His marvelous taste clouded my senses and thoughts. The strong flavor of rum was prominent on his lips, almost as intoxicating as his blood. I could taste him even after we parted.
We walked in silence, holding each other close and following my lead. He had warmed up after the kiss, and his heat soaked into my flesh and warded off the night’s chill when he wrapped one side of his coat around my bare shoulders. Winter was close enough to taste in the air, but with Andris by my side, my triggers remained dormant.
It was a peaceful, silent walk. He was still a little melancholy, but the bond whispered between us to ease his mind. I knew he would feel better once we got back to Ivanarke.
As we approached the last turn around a tall, lonely Christmas tree at the corner before the main gate to the base, a familiar sensation returned. I stopped walking and glanced around, shivering at the feeling. It was the paranoia, the twinge of recognition that someone was watching me, pulling on my thoughts…
Andris paused, and after asking what was wrong several times and receiving no answer, he, too, went stone still. “Don’t move,” he whispered, instantly sober.
“It’s like the thing from the morgue,” I said, clutching his arm in both hands and staring at a pinpoint of darkness down the road we had taken. I didn’t like this feeling, this vague nausea. My blood sensed danger, and Andris’ stance only confirmed my fears.
He watched me for a long moment before turning to glare into the darkness.
“I see.” Like flipping a switch, the gate to his powers flew open, spilling an ocean of overwhelming energy all around us. It boiled and slithered like an invisible caldera of icy serpents, crawling outwards in all directions to taste the surroundings and decide how great the threat really was. “Hiding in the shadows isn’t like you!” he called. “Why don’t you step out and say hello to your old friend?”
I gaped at him. “Friend?”
The darkness gathered into a humanoid shape, growing solid and three-dimensional in a matter of seconds, before fading to a pale figure dressed in a rich, wine velvet robe. He had hair the color of steel, long to his waist, and eyes as cold and blue as icy stars.
“It is not I who has stepped from the darkness, Andris,” the figure whispered. His voice carried like an echo against things which weren’t there, soft like the wind. As he spoke, I could see rows of white, pointed teeth lining his upper and lower jaw, more like a piranha than a vampire. “You have been hiding for millennia.”
“I’m not a fan of torture,” my blood partner said coldly. “What were you doing in the States? Why did you attack Lynn?”
“There is much you do not know. You thwarted our earlier attempts to crush you, but we have revised our tactics. We found it necessary to test whether you were still the only threat.”
“We?” Andris’ eyes narrowed to slits. “What are the Toreliaqne up to now, Corik?”
“Revealing such things to the enemy would not be prudent, you realize.”
Who is he? I asked Andris silently, to curious to keep quiet.
Remember when I told you about my hunter friend? The one who sold me out to his clan and tortured me with the poison that gave me my scar?
My blood stilled, and my eyes went wide as I stared back at the being. He’s a hunter? He’s the one? I thought you said he was dead.
Clearly, I was wrong.
I wasn’t sure why, but suddenly my throat went tight with restrained tears, and I brought my arms around my demon in fear. “Don’t do anything stupid. Please don’t get hurt,” I begged.
“Princess, he won’t attack us. Right, Corik?”
The hunter bowed his head. “This is, as you believe, reconnaissance.”
“Why? Just for Andris?” I couldn’t stop the words before they left my lips, and I almost reached out to catch them.
The hunter smiled, but though his pale violet lips curved up, nothing changed in his fierce, calculating gaze. “Under normal circumstances, that would indeed be the case. However, the Toreliaqne has lately entered into a lucrative deal. I have come to observe the enemy’s situation...though I must admit that the Nariuvne has lost his bite.”
His words sounded vague enough, but between the lines I could easily see their implications. “You’re...you’re helping Tivor, aren’t you?” I asked, startled. “Why?” Andris had said that hunters hated us. Would they work alongside my kind so willingly?
“To remove a certain plague upon this land. That is the only reason why we would stoop so low.” The smile disappeared, leaving a bitter aftertaste on his sharp, stern face. “An old mistake must be corrected.”
Faster than lightning, his arm flew forward and flung an indigo spark of energy at us. Automatically, Andris pushed me away to the side, and I managed to catch hold of a light post and turn to see him whip his powers around to shield himself from the blow.
But the light didn’t stop. It slipped straight through the barrier as if it weren’t even there, and struck my demon square in the chest.
However, rather than blasting him back or spearing him through, it splashed like water, bursting into a million particles and settling on his hair and skin and clothes.
Andris hesitated, staring at the strange, glimmering substance before leering at Corik. “What are you planning? What is this?”
The hunter returned the leer. “This time, you shall find yourself hard-pressed to hide away.” He slid a hand into his robe, producing a large gold coin with a wolf stamped on one side and a tiger on the other. “This is farewell for now, but we shall meet again soon. Prepare yourself, Ambri-Qis.”
“Come at me with all you’ve got, because magic alone won’t stand a chance!” the Crimson snapped back, baring much more impressive fangs than those of the hunter.
“I look forward to it. Enjoy what little time you have left.”
He didn’t give Andris a chance to rejoin, simply gripping the coin tightly and muttering a quick incantation under his breath, before shimmering out of sight. A wave of warmth spread from the spot where he had stood, followed by the natural chill of the air around us. That heavy, unsettling sensation disappeared along with him, and we quickly found ourselves alone on the dark street, under the empty gaze of shadowed storefronts.
For a long while, Andris stared at the abandoned spot where his former friend had stood. His powers drained back into his blood, heightening my sense that something was going terribly wrong. I didn’t know what seeing the hunter again might do to him, and it scared me.
Finally, I made my way over to his side, taking care to make no sudden movements.
“Are you okay?” I whispered, my brow furrowed in concern as I looked up into his black, empty eyes. “You’re shaking.” Slowly, he slid to his hands and knees, and I immediately crouched in front of him, reaching a cautious hand through his silken hair to touch his cheek. He was colder now than he had been leaving the feeding hall. “Andris, please look at me.”
It took some more coaxing and gentle words, but at last he lifted his face to me, and I brushed his thick fringe away to look into eyes like drops of fresh blood.
“That traitor!” he shouted suddenly, slamming a fist so hard into the pavement that a web of cracks formed all around him. The sound alone was akin to a gunshot, and a deep growl rose from his chest, more like a tiger than a human. Not for the first time, I was forced to remember that he was leagues above what I would ever be, and it still frightened the weaker animal inside of me.
However, he was still my Andris, my demon, and it broke my heart to see him in pain.
“Andris, please!” I drew him against me. “You have every right to be angry, but don’t think that you’re alone. Please don’t shut me out.”
He stilled, taking a few deep breaths and reaching out to slide his arms around my waist and pull me closer. His eyes locked onto mine, and slowly faded back to pale, pale lavender.
“Are you okay?” I whispered helplessly, unsure of how I could possibly help him.
He leaned his forehead against my own. “Lynn, maybe this little mission of yours isn’t a good idea.” he said, sounding almost desperate. “If the Toreliaqne is involved, I don’t want to risk you getting hurt. I should take you home right now. Why can’t we do that?”
“You know I can’t,” I said gently. “I still have to make my amulet, and Yoko is going to help me with that today. This is a new beginning for me, and I can’t back out now.” I hugged him closer. “Come with me, Andris. Help me make this happen—teach me what I need to know to face the hunters and stand by my side when I do.”
“You have no idea, Princess. I can’t lose the only person in seven thousand years who actually cares about me.” His grip tightened as he buried his face against my throat. “I love you so much it hurts. I’m so afraid of what might happen to you that I can’t think straight.”
A familiar ache rose in my chest, and I drew away to stand up. He stared up at me with a look of utter torment, and I quickly changed what I was going to say. “I’m happy now because of you, and I love you for it, but I have to do this. Please don’t take it away from me.”
He watched me for the longest time, thinking hard just beyond the veil of our bond, but he eventually nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Okay, I won’t get in your way...but if it ever comes down to a situation where it’s us versus the hunters, you have to swear to me that you will not fight them. They are not vampires, and they are just as good at killing your kind as I am.”
“Understood.” I forced a weak smile and held my hand out to help him up. “You’re pretty interesting when you’re drunk,” I said softly, trying to lighten his mood, even just a little.
“No, I’m helpless and pathetic,” he murmured, letting me pull him along. “I usually stay away from alcohol, but every once in awhile my good judgment has a blackout.”
“I think it’s sweet.” I raised his hand to my lips and laid a soft kiss across his knuckles. “You’re always trying to be so tough and arrogant that it’s a nice change of pace to see that you can break down like any normal person.”
“I don’t think I like being normal.” He let me slip into his warm coat and offered a meager attempt at a smile. “Let’s go watch the sunrise, cara mea. I need to get away from here.”
* o * o *
The park we found on base looked new, its colorful paint gleaming in the pale light of the pre-dawn hour. There were swings, a rotating jungle gym, some steel animals on bouncy springs, and what looked like the skeleton of a rocket ship. Everything glowed in reds and yellows and blues, and the ground was covered with impact rubber that disagreed with my heels.
Playgrounds in my day had never been so pretty. Then again, my childhood had been so long ago. It was natural that people would develop new and better novelties to keep the kids distracted, but this place was nostalgic nonetheless.
A pair of slides formed a double helix around the rocket ship, and at the top of the east-facing slide, Andris and I sat together. He had me in his lap again, with his arms tight around my waist to keep me from sliding down while we stared at the distant horizon over the tops of buildings and trees. I disappointed me a little that we didn’t have time to tell Tatsune about the hunter before the sun came up, but just sitting with my demon felt so peaceful. I wouldn’t have minded at all if we could sit like this forever.
“Are you still upset?” I asked, looking to my shoulder where his chin rested. “You can’t hide it when the bond is whispering to me constantly. It feels like your crying in my head.”
Sapphire eyes opened, and the corners tightened to give me a faint smile. “You’re learning my moods, Princess. That’s more than anybody has ever managed.”
“Don’t change the subject. What’s wrong? What can I do to make you happy again?”
He frowned, then sighed and leaned his head against mine. The silk-smooth strands of his hair brushed gently across my cheek, and I turned into it, taking in his sweet, entrancing scent. “Just thinking about you,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to keep you safe without stifling your fun.”
“I’m not that much of a handful, am I?”
“You’re stubborn, but sweet. You make me happy, and I just want to ensure that you won’t leave me anytime soon. It’s only difficult because I want you to be happy, too.”
“That’s all right. You’re worth every moment of mental anguish.” His choice of words made me pout a little, but I was too concerned to complain. I gave him a look, and he chuckled, touching his lips to my throat and smiling against my skin. “I’ll never let you go, cara mea.”
“Good.” I lifted a hand to his cheek and held him closer. “The sun’s rising.”
I glanced at him, and he wore a tiny frown. “I know. I can feel it.”
“What’s it like?” I turned back to the horizon, gazing at the buttery line of luminescence as it intensified to the point where I had to squint. I could already feel the heat, the envelope of light gliding across every inch of exposed landscape. There was no way that I could ever get used to this beauty.
Andris’ thoughts lingered on a description, and as he glared at the rising sun he said slowly, “It’s like sitting on a tiny island, in the eye of an eternal hurricane that moves back and forth over me twice a day.”
“It scares you?”
“I never know if the change will leave me in the darkness. The only sense that stays with me through the whole ordeal is touch. Of course it scares me, but if you’re with me it’s not so bad. If I can feel you in my arms, I’m happy no matter what else is going on.”
I kissed his cheek. “I’d make love to you during sunrise, but I doubt that would go over well with the locals.”
He gave an abrupt laugh. “Princess, really, you’ve done plenty for me already, though that first time was amazing...” His gaze went distant briefly as he recalled those intimate moments, but then he blinked and returned to the present. “Anyway, we can take it slow. It would be a shame to lose our spark so soon when we have millennia ahead of us.”
“Honestly, I can’t imagine getting tired of you.”
“Now you’re just baiting my ego.”
“Sure, but it’s also true.” I grinned, and he smiled sweetly.
“Watch the sunrise and hush or I’ll ravish you in that beautiful dress again.”
“Okay, okay.” With a joking pout, I snuggled back against him and stared at the ball of flame, at the wispy silver and gold clouds floating like a cotton candy blanket for the slumbering earth. The sun’s heat was pleasant and soothing, and with Andris at my back, I was wrapped in warmth, surrounded entirely by all the peace in the universe.
As the first direct rays pierced the sky, Andris tensed, holding me more tightly and turning his face to my throat as though hiding from the light. I looked over at him, watching the strands of hair against my skin while the iridescent darkness receded into his scalp.
“I don’t like it,” he whispered, his breath as soft as a moth’s fluttering wing.
For those few moments, he couldn’t hear me, so I kissed his temple, letting him know that I was still there with him. It almost hurt to see him like this. It made my blood cringe to imagine what it was really like.
However, it passed, and I knew it was over when he relaxed and raised his face to kiss along my jaw line, up to my ear.
“Thank you,” he breathed, as though the sun’s rays could easily steal his endless strength.
I smiled and met his lips, kissing him eagerly before replying in a hush, “I love you.”
We watched the rest of the sunrise, until the entire sphere hung suspended over the land like the biggest, brightest lamp ever devised. It warmed the chilly autumn air, quieted my triggers with fresh, buttery light.
“Well, shall we go now?” my demon suggested, his eyes never leaving my face. It seemed he didn’t want to even look in the sun’s direction, as though avoiding the gaze of someone far more powerful than he himself could ever become.
“Yeah. Nick’s alone, and I think the Elementals are trying to get him into a fraternity.”
Andris just laughed.
He hesitated, reluctant to move away, but eventually drew back and stood, lending me a hand to bring me to my teetering heels. As a mortal, I would have toppled over every ten feet, but thankfully my foot-eye coordination had improved geometrically since taking the blood. It was just difficult to find footing on the painted diamond-plate at the top of the jungle gym. I probably would have broken an ankle if I had still been human.
Andris and I stood for a long moment, just holding each other, until I realized that we were being ridiculous and gave him a sheepish grin. “Okay, time to go,” I said, patting his hand on my hip. “Nick might flood the manor while we’re gone.”
“Your lack of faith in me is disappointing at best.”
Andris and I twitched, turning to the kid who sat cross-legged at the top of the other slide. “What are you doing here?” my demon demanded.
Startled, I took a blind step back and found nothing but empty air behind me. I tried to bring my foot back to solid ground, but the heels left me overbalanced, and I tripped at the edge of the slide with an awkward yelp.
It was a twenty-foot drop, but I didn’t make it all the way down. The ruby amulet caught in a crack between the frame and the slide, and I hung by my neck, swaying slightly and clawing at the strong gold chain as it dug painfully into my flesh.
“Lynn!” I looked up and saw Andris and Nick fighting for space to see where I had fallen, but I was just beneath the slide, out of view. I tried to say something, but the only sound to escape was a garbled croak.
The chain was slipping up, forcing my head back…and then I realized that the sun was shining right on me. I couldn’t even scream. I thought my heart would explode out of my chest, I was so terrified. At last, a hand appeared over the edge, and I grabbed at it in a panic.
But the movement dislodged the chain completely, passing it over my head and casting me into a universe of pain.
Burning, searing sensation ripped through my skin, seeking the flammable blood within me, and I shrieked. It was a horrible sound, but it fell silent when the pain reached my throat. I could see the fire and the sun...and within moments I couldn’t see anything at all.
In my pitch-black world, I still screamed, but all sensation was soon gone. The pain vanished like a wisp of smoke, and after what felt like an eternity, the screaming finally stopped.
It took a moment to realize that my eyes were closed, and I slowly opened them. A gentle wind passed through my hair, through me, and though I could see the aftermath, it was as if my emotions had been numbed. No pain, no fear.
The sun still shone, and I was still wearing the dress, but the dress was also on the ground at my feet. There were no amulets around my neck. I felt neither warmth nor cold, no whispers of blood or triggers. It was simply nothing, oblivion. I could see, but it meant nothing.
I found Andris kneeling on the ground beside the dress and a pile of what appeared to be lava rock, gray and red, ash and rust. Nick stood beside him, gaping in horror.
I moved closer—curious, but little else. I couldn’t see his face beneath the hair, but his hands were balled into tight fists against the ground.
Twin drops of crimson fell to land on his pale skin.
The sight should have broken my heart, but all I felt was curiosity.
What happened? I asked, but no one replied—
Time skipped. Nick paced around, panicked and shouting. I couldn’t hear his words, but I could read his lips well enough.
“Don’t just...something...has to be a way...can’t be dead!”
…Dead? Was I dead?
Death was rather boring…but I couldn’t feel bored about it. It was merely a fact.
As I watched my demon, something buried inside of me twitched at last, a flicker of emotion trying to manifest itself.
Sadness...it was Andris’ sadness.
I tried to touch him, but my hand passed through him. I couldn’t touch him. My logical side knew that this fact should have frightened me, but I couldn’t make the emotion rise up.
I just couldn’t touch him.
Andris? Perhaps telepathy would work?
Nothing. I could feel the barest edge of his mind as it raced through all the possible ways to fix this, but I couldn’t say anything to him. I couldn’t feel empathy for his pain. I couldn’t even feel shame for being unable to feel anything at all. I knew I wanted to touch him, though, to make him smile again—because that was how things were meant to be.
That was important—
Again, time skipped, and suddenly Andris was standing with his hand raised above my remains. The glowing red power moved just beyond my realm of sensitivity, but I saw the effect when my ashes swirled together and lifted into the air, only to gather again in the middle of his coat where he had laid it out on the ground. All that remained intact were my fangs, untouched by the fire. The rest of me was gone. Even the dress was in terrible shape.
Andris picked up my fangs and put them in his pocket, and when he touched them I could almost sense his emotions more strongly. Fear. Pain. Determination—he apparently had a plan—
I was floating, following the insistent tug of something binding me to my remains. Nick and Andris ran like the possessed, racing across rooftops to take the path of least resistance. My demon held his coat with my ashes sealed inside, and I could see my amulets’ chains trailing from Nick’s clenched fists.
I looked around, feeling the presence of life around my dead form. Through the windows and walls of the houses shone faint glowing lights, amorphous in shape and ethereal in substance. I wondered if they were souls, spirits, whatever word a person might use for the energy which remained when a living thing died.
The humans had warm, golden lights, some pinker and some green or violet—varying levels of age and health, I sensed.
Nick and Andris were different, though. Nick’s had a warm blue glow, and it rippled softly around him as he ran. Andris’ glow pulsed deep red with a core of black, and moved seemingly at will, flying forward to pull him faster. Chances were, this was the intelligence behind his ridiculous power—
I blinked, and suddenly we were at the barrier between the real world and the realm which kept Ivanarke in seclusion. Though I hadn’t been able to see it before, it now loomed ahead like a molten silver membrane. The barrier refracted and reflected the sunlight like a wall of loose, mirrored silk, shifting around in shimmering patches until it was almost impossible to discern the line between it and the brightening sky.
The boys hit the ground at a run and sped across the park with the fiberglass airplane, reaching the barrier’s entrance within mere seconds. The invisible string urged me to follow, and I passed through the silver wall right behind them. It felt like sinking into water and coming out dry, only the slightest resistance before reaching the other side—
Again, my consciousness flickered, and I found myself in Lord Tatsune’s throne room, now empty. I couldn’t figure out where Andris was taking us until he reached the back of the room, behind the gleaming throne. Nick and he conferred momentarily, and Nick took careful hold of the coat after what looked like a brief argument.
Wondering what the Crimson was planning, I approached, floating silently behind and staring numbly as Andris raised a palm towards the black granite wall.
The ruby aura around him convulsed and swirled into a point before his hand, then erupted forth, sticking like putty to the granite surface. As though drawing a curtain aside, he swept his hand across, and the power followed, effortlessly pulling the heavy slab aside and opening the chamber within.
The power slipped back into his body, automatically seeking its master, and Andris motioned for Nick to follow—
They were at the pedestal. Nick said something, and my blood partner responded, indicating the basin and the ruby floating above as though suspended on invisible wire. The explanations apparently surprised Nick, but he didn’t question when Andris stepped up to the pedestal and reached across the wide bowl of shivering blood.
The blood of the fourth line reacted to him, sensing his presence and pushing little waves up to touch his hand as he clasped the ruby and easily pulled it from the invisible string.
He set the ruby gently on the floor then took hold of the basin itself.
I should have felt surprise as he lifted the heavy stone and set it aside, revealing what seemed to be a well filled with my line’s blood. It rippled with purpose barely two feet from the rim, sliding up the wall but falling back in when the little arms extended too far. Perhaps it could sense their presence.
Perhaps it could sense my own—
My consciousness began to flicker almost constantly. The movements of my companions seemed jerky and unfocused, and no matter how I concentrated, the distortion only intensified.
Andris took the coat back. He opened up the makeshift leather satchel on the floor, pulling my fangs from his pocket and taking the amulets from Nick. Moving like a stop-motion montage, he placed the items in with my ashes, and my remains were then rewrapped and carefully lowered into the pool.
The bundle floated for a few long seconds, the coat opening up a little and letting some of the blood in, but once the blood touched my ashes, it moved with a single mind, engulfing everything and swallowing every last trace of my existence.
Too soon, the surface stilled, and I was gone.
I looked at my demon, now little more than a monochrome blur. He gripped the edge of the well so tightly that normal stone would have crumbled to dust. Nick fidgeted.
The distortion became a sensation, a buzzing in my flesh as the world shifted and flickered like a bad television signal.
I understood, then, that I wasn’t going to make it…
The world shivered, sending vibrations through me as though I were a deaf person standing right beside a blaring, inaudible speaker. Again, that peculiar breeze was pushing through my incorporeal form, and I checked my hands only to find them fading out of sight. The disintegration traveled up my arms and shoulders. Below, my feet and legs also disappeared. I felt like sand in an hourglass, slowly sifting away.
I looked at Andris and Nick. I knew that I would never see them again.
Good bye, I whispered silently, knowing that they couldn’t hear me.
Then, like a light going out—