Avenari - Chapter 33
“It feels weird to stay in the water that long and not turn into a prune,” I commented, letting my rootless eyes stare as Andris climbed out of the bath to fetch us a couple of towels.
“If you watch too long without blinking, your eyes certainly will,” he teased, swaggering shamelessly up to the racks and offering me an excellent view of his tight backside. I had never given much thought to men’s rears, but in my opinion Andris had the best of them all. The smooth cheeks almost begged a pinch to see if they were really that firm, like testing a dream.
He brought the towels over to me, but before I could lift myself out of the water, he crouched and offered a hand. I gave him a quizzical look then took hold of his wrist, and in one liquid motion he pulled me out of the water and onto my feet.
An abrupt laugh escaped me at how fun it was. “I have to admit that having you around is a blast,” I said, stepping into the circle of his arms when he opened a towel for me and wrapped it around my shoulders.
“I never had any fun until you came into my life,” he said, kissing my forehead and tucking the terrycloth into itself. “Now, you’ll probably think I’m being an insufferable bother, but I think you should sleep awhile. It’s been an exhausting night and day.”
I thought about it, asking my blood silently if it would allow me the luxury of rest, and in response it gave me the soundless equivalent to a yawn.
“Good idea,” I said, shaking my head in amusement.
“Do you want me to stay?” he asked.
I glanced over my shoulder as I made my way out of the steamy room. “You’re not obligated, no. Nick probably needs your help by now, anyway. Just make sure to wake me up after a few hours. I still need to talk to Yoko about my amulet.”
He nodded and threw the towel over his head, scrubbing the water off as he followed me out and slid the door shut. “I’ll find her if I get a chance and see where she is with procuring the ingredients you need, then.”
I laughed a little. “Good thing she’s here. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. All of this sorcerer business is completely foreign.”
Unlike Andris, drying off was quick and easy for me. He, however, became almost comically frustrated with the incorrigible cotton ball his hair had become. It had gone all feathery and fluffy, like a chicken caught in a dryer.
“Honestly!” He sat on the bed and gave me a tired frown. “Why does it do this? Why?”
I couldn’t contain my laughter, and by way of apology I grabbed a hairbrush from the vanity and knelt behind him on the bed. “Hold still. I’ll see what I can do, Andy.”
“I show you my weakest moment and you laugh at me? That’s just cruelty upon cruelty. And Lynn, how many times do I have to repeat myself before you stop calling me that?”
“A billion. After that, it’s open for discussion—hold still, I said!”
He had been trying to leer at me, but I grabbed his head and made him face front, before working on the uncooperative mess at hand. “Goodness, your hair is so soft,” I marveled, smoothing the locks into place with my palm as I brushed. “No wonder it gets like this.”
“That feels very nice.” His shoulders relaxed, and I couldn’t help but watch the muscles in his back slide beneath satiny skin. Naked or clothed, he was lovely.
But I had a job to do, and after fifteen minutes of struggling his hair had finally dried completely, allowing me to return it to its former glory. “There,” I said, frowning at one bit in the back as it stuck out in seeming defiance of my efforts. “I can’t get it any better than this. I’m about ready to chop off this little guy back here and rectify the situation.”
He glanced across the room at our reflections in the vanity and smiled at me. “Don’t worry about that one—it’s been that way since I was mortal. You do excellent work, cara mea. You have a magical touch.”
“No, I’m just more stubborn than your hair is, that’s all.” I set the brush down and slid my arms around his chest. “Who cuts it? Not that it’s bad—I like it, and it looks good on you.”
He paused for a long moment, and when I peeked over his shoulder at his reflection, he was staring at the floor in thought.
“You don’t have to answer—” I began, only to have him shake his head.
“It’s okay.” He reached back and cradled my face against his cheek, watching me through the mirror for a long moment before replying, “My mother cut it, before I changed. She used a stone knife, scolding me the whole time that I was too careless, that strange insects would start making nests on my head if I let it get too long.” He sighed. “It grows when I cut it, but it never grows longer than this.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the sweet memory, and I squeezed his chest fondly. “You have nice memories of your childhood, don’t you?”
“They are pleasant, yes. That is why I’ve kept them intact. It’s the bad memories that I lock away.” He gave me a quizzical look. “You’re not angry with me?”
“Why would that make me angry?”
“My mother...she’d been there for me until I left after the change...and I took yours away before you could share your coming of age with her...”
There was tension in his eyes, as though he expected me to rise up in a fit of jealousy.
It bothered me to see such worry on his lovely face, and I kissed his cheek. “Though you took away the physical presence, my mother has been with me for my entire life. Stop hurting yourself. I’m happy for you, silly—I’m glad that you have those memories. Besides, Mom forgave you; she understands.”
“Sorry. I should know better, but...I was wondering...”
He grew sober again, more worried expressions flickering across his face.
The problem evidently stemmed from something far more troubling than a memory of his mother, and I sighed in exasperation. “Yes? What is it?”
Andris frowned at the sheepskin rug beneath his bare feet and said tentatively, “What was death like? I spent so long...until you came into my life, death was the only thing I ever...”
His trepidation made me smile a little bit, and I stroked my hands across his skin, tracing the scar on his chest and kissing his neck. “It’s all right to ask,” I whispered gently. “Being dead was kind of boring at first. I was still there with you, and some part of me couldn’t help but follow you back to Ivanarke, but it still felt bland.
“When I was watching you guys, I realized that I was dead, and knew that it was hurting you, but I didn’t really feel it. It was like watching a tape from a surveillance camera. I could see and observe and find things interesting, but actual emotion was distant. The only emotions I could really feel were the ones I sensed in you.
“Time kept skipping, and everything went fuzzy. I thought I would never come back…I said good bye.” I glanced at my demon, and the sadness in his gaze made me look away.
“Then it was dark. It was so quiet.” I closed my eyes, remembering that blessed Silence. “You know how no matter how hard you try to shut it out, there’s always sound, like your heartbeat and breathing, or the blood moving inside of you? There was none of that. I couldn’t feel or see or hear…it was perfectly silent. Dying was terrible, but death is peaceful.”
Andris was quiet for a long time, and I stared at the back of his head, suddenly feeling cold and uncertain. How would he react to knowledge that I hadn’t felt any concern for his pain?
Then he turned around and pulled me into his arms, forcing me to look him in the eye. “It’s okay. You don’t have to feel bad about it—the dead shouldn’t have regrets.” He had read my thoughts, and he didn’t look hurt. If anything, he seemed relieved.
“Why aren’t you freaked out?” I asked, perplexed.
“Why should I be? You just told me that there wasn’t a worry in the world for you, and that even in death you followed me.” He smiled sadly. “I’m just happy that you’re back.”
“Gone for all of ten minutes and you break into the throne room,” I said, shaking my head. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Anything you want...though I’d prefer it if you just loved me. I really don’t want that to change.” His smile was gentle, truly content, and I couldn’t help returning it.
“I’ll love you until the end of time.”
He laughed and tumbled us onto the bed, and we simply rested there, holding each other a bit longer. His warmth seeped into the sheets, and I knew I would sleep peacefully with his scent permeating every thread. This was how we were meant to be: together—just together.
* o * o *
There had always been a standing bet between sleep and myself, each side waiting for the other to lose its nerve. If I could make it through to the end of the maze unscathed, then I was given a pleasant dream from which to awaken. If not, then I would rise from nightmares, clawing at the thin film of thought dividing my conscious and subconscious.
The latter possibility was easily one of the worst aspects of Shimari life. My dreams were more vivid than they had ever been as a human, and nightmares were even worse. Every aspect shone in stark detail, and escape was as excruciating as the nightmare itself—if not worse.
I was fortunate this time. It was not a nightmare which gripped my mind, but it wasn’t a dream, either.
The haze of transition between dreams filtered away slowly, but eventually cleared enough for me to see the familiar chamber which housed my blood’s power core. The mosaic was still there, the blood red marble around it shimmering like fresh meat.
Only one thing was missing: my power core. There was neither smoke nor tendril of my blood’s writhing consciousness.
Curious, I wandered the perimeter of the cavernous space, noting in passing that there were no entrances or exits other than the wide oculus above. It took up half the dome, but had no visible access. It was so quiet—not even the icy wind was present to break the silence.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but as I was about to take a second trip around the chamber, I jerked to a halt.
Someone stood in my path, but a column beside the form blocked the lamplight and cast a heavy shadow upon the figure.
Tentatively, I started walking again towards the newcomer, and paused only a few feet away. This encounter felt so similar to the one I’d had with my mother.
Hello? I asked, somewhat uneasy about the stranger. How did you get in here?
The figure didn’t answer right away, but before I could ask again, a silent, velveteen voice carried through my thoughts: You have been awaiting my arrival for quite some time, Avenari. I felt that this would be a fitting place to meet you.
Step into the light, I said, wary. Nothing could make me move forward until I was certain that this being bore no ill will.
The dark shape inclined its head, and then sauntered out of the shadows.
I frowned at the unfamiliar face. He leaned casually against the column, his hands buried in the pockets of loose white slacks as black, crimson-streaked hair lightly graced his forehead and cheeks. Everything he wore was white, like a negative of Andris.
And his eyes...they were just as unique as those of my demon, as though red lightning were trapped in a night sky just beyond his gaze. The bright, scarlet color flickered and crackled through his irises. Andris was far more stunning, but this guy made a good run of it. It was just that his lips were a little too thin for my tastes, and his features were sharper...
I’ve never seen you before, I said, realizing with a twinge of unease that he clearly knew me well enough to invade my power core.
He smiled, but there was something wrong with it—a cruelty in the turn of his lips, or a wicked gleam in his eyes—something. No, you haven’t.
He didn’t seem concerned with elaboration, and I pressed carefully, Who are you, then?
You know who I am. The name is in your mind. You just have to find it.
I shook my head. No games. This is my sanctuary, and you will play by my rules.
The smile melted into a relenting frown, and he sighed, folding his arms. You need my assistance to help complete your amulet, Avenari...unless, of course, you don’t want to forge it?
It took me a moment, but then the realization finally hit me, and I stared in surprise. Rubeo Corvus? You’re my family’s guardian? Yoko said you would look like a bird.
In the flesh—in a manner of speaking. He smirked at my reaction and continued, However, since you seem to have no interest in my assistance, I should really be on my way.
Wait, no! I hurried over to stop him, but hesitated a couple feet off, unsure as to how I should approach. I was willing to bet that most books on etiquette didn’t really cover how to interact with extra-dimensional beings.
Fear not, little one. I don’t bite, unlike your lover. He seemed to laugh a little, but there was no sound to go with the action, so it felt somewhat incomplete.
Sorry...I only just found out about my bloodline, I said, feeling rather embarrassed. I looked away and focused intently on the raven mosaic at my feet.
I understand. There was movement, and I glanced back up to find him right in front of me. Are you certain that this is what you want?
I almost flinched at his sudden proximity, but restrained the urge. It’s next on my list of important things to do, so yeah.
What about the Nariuvne? Are you certain that he is the one for you? His expression grew ambiguous, waiting for my response.
Of course, I said honestly. I’m sure you’re probably angry about what he did, but I can’t imagine life without him. He did a god job of wheedling his way into my heart.
He nodded after a thought, apparently convinced. If he is so important to you, then I shall allow it. However, if I ever find out that he has hurt you, I will come to you personally and make certain that you are safe. I shall allow his presence, but that does not change my ire over what he did to my children. Agreed?
There was no way I could picture Andris hurting me, so I nodded my consent. Agreed, but only as long as you leave any major decisions up to me if he does slip.
All right. His serious expression shifted to something much more relaxed. You’ve been enjoying the amulets, he almost teased. You’ve altered your very physiology for the sake of your love. Be cautious, however. You have only five wishes left.
Five? Why not three?
He arched a brow in a blend of amusement and confusion. Do I look like a genie? Anyway, eight is a special number. It’s the compass rose, the shape of your core, the balance of nature itself. The ruby grants eight to each person who wields it, as well as protects that person from their greatest weakness. The wishes can only be made during the day, however, as the stone uses the sun’s power to work its magic.
So those were the ruby’s limits. In my case, my greatest weakness had been sunlight. I folded my arms, intrigued by the knowledge. I guess that’s okay...can’t argue with having more wishes, I suppose.
You suppose correctly. He leaned closer, and I stood frozen as he reached out and lifted my chin with his forefinger, staring down into my eyes and offering me a good view of his own. The lightning within his gaze sent flickers of light dancing across his nose and cheeks.
What are you doing?
He cocked his head, still smiling. Admiring my work. Slowly, his soft, cool hand opened to my cheek, turning my head as he studied me. Your blood is so quiet. Most Shimaren would react violently to a guardian, but I suppose that’s because you are one of my own to begin with.
I wouldn’t know. I haven’t met anyone else who has dealt with your kind before. Actually, I know very little about my own species, thanks to Simone.
Simone hid you for good reasons. Your safety was paramount to the survival of my power chain. You were one of the rare cases where the work of destiny could come undone at the slightest hint of danger.
I rolled my eyes. It still sucked.
Again, silent laughter, and in a movement quicker than I would have thought possible, he lowered his mouth to mine, kissed my lips softly, and vanished.
Use it well, Avenari. Everyone else saw me as a bird, but because you see me as a man, you win the prize.
I covered my mouth in surprise and stared at the emptiness. What was that about?
However, I received my answer when I removed my hand…and had to blink several times to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating.
Right at the center of my lifeline, jutting suspiciously from my pale skin, was a single tiny feather. It glittered like crystallized blood in the torchlight, no more than an inch tall—exactly the right size for the core of an amulet.
* o * o *
I lost the battle this time around, but I couldn’t remember the nightmare as well as I had the others. All I could recall was a crushing wave of despair, shadowed hills of something I didn’t want to see. There had been a person with me, and his words slipped away in the flow of thoughts before I could cement the conversation in my memory. The only thing that stuck was that the figure had been trying to tell me something important, but I rose from the dream before it had a chance to make any kind of sense.
Someone called me, an audible voice that made my ears tingle. I knew who it was. No one else had the power to make my skin shiver like this, to spread contentment through my muddled, sleep-clouded mind when any other would have otherwise irritated me. I quickly shoved the nightmare into my box and shut the lid tight, unwilling to allow such horrible thoughts taint the waking world. Something warm pressed against my side, and when I turned to see what it was, a smile broke across my face.
“Good morning,” I said, tracing my fingertips along his smooth cheek. “I missed you.”
Andris had his arms around my waist, and they tightened gently. “I missed you, too, but it’s late in the afternoon, not morning.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I got back about an hour ago. You were tossing a little bit, but when I held you, you calmed down.” He smiled and, unlike Rubeo, it reached his eyes and made me melt inside.
Andris made everything okay again. “You’re a sweetheart, you know that?”
He laughed, and I couldn’t stop staring at him, comparing him to Rubeo. The guardian had certainly been beautiful, but Andris had the kind of heart-stopping perfection only gods and angels could boast. My demon was far more irresistible.
“I had another vision-thing,” I said, figuring that I’d have to tell him eventually.
“You saw your mother again?” He gave me a curious look, clearly still confused as to why a woman he had murdered would be so willing to hand her only daughter over to him.
I shook my head. “Someone else. I’d never met him before.”
“Him?” The fact that the visitor had been male made his eyes narrow. “Who?”
“Rubeo Corvus, the guardian of my mother’s bloodline,” I said. “He gave me the feather I need to make my amulet.”
Suspicion immediately gave way to curiosity. “Really? How?”
Goodness, his mood shifts were fascinating. “He kissed me.”
Click. “Explain everything or I’ll lose my mind, cara mea,” he muttered.
I could almost see the switch between dark and light flipping on and off, and I smiled and kissed him lightly. “Don’t worry. He disappeared right afterwards, and I covered my mouth in surprise, but when I looked at my hand a couple of seconds later, the feather was growing there.”
Click. This time, he was just confused.
“I don’t understand. A feather?”
I nodded, and sure enough, there was a tiny feather jutting from my lifeline when I held up my right hand. “See?”
His eyes widened. “Goodness, there really is a feather,”—click—“but I still don’t like the idea of another man kissing you.” He gave me an adorable pout for good measure.
“I’m sorry. I was caught off guard. At least I didn’t kiss him back.”
He frowned darkly. “If you had, I’d never let you sleep again.”
“I’m not sure how you would manage it, but good luck with that.” I smirked a little.
“Time to get dressed,” he said, rolling his eyes and pulling me up with him. “Nick is with Yoko, waiting for you. Now that you’ve received what you need, we should get going.”
“Odd. Normally, you would have seduced me by now.” I passed him and cast a coy glance over my shoulder before opening the armoire to find some clothes.
His eyes followed like iron filings to a magnetic field, and he muttered distractedly, “I can do that whenever I want—why waste precious time now if all I have to do is ask later?” Despite his words, his expression suggested that being good was taking a lot of effort.
“Huh, point taken,” I admitted, pulling out a navy shirt and camouflage cargo pants.
He frowned as I set the clothes on the bed. “If I may be so bold, I would love it if you got into the habit of wearing something sexier from time to time.”
“I wore sexy last night,” I said. “It was fun in an experimental sort of way, but I’m more into comfort than appearance. Besides, how would you ever pay attention if you’re constantly distracted? How will I get anything done if most of my time is spent satisfying your impulses?”
“You speak as though I’m an annoying insect,” he grumbled, picking at the plain shirt. “I just think you should show off your beauty more often—for me.”
“I think you shouldn’t be allowed to even request that.” I pursed my lips in irritation when he eyed me in disdain. “If I start dressing like that, every guy who sees me is going to make you feel threatened, and frankly I’d rather not deal with damage control.”
“Damage control? Do you mean to imply that it’s my fault you have no fashion...” he hesitated when I glowered, already knowing what he was going to say. Quickly, he amended, “It’s entirely up to you, but that dress last night was...exquisite.”
I raised an eyebrow at his wistful expression. “I could tell. I don’t think a ten-foot-thick lead wall could have stopped you from attacking me.”
He averted his gaze. Had it been nighttime, his eyes would have turned soft pink. “Well, pardon me for finding you irresistible.”
“You don’t act like that when I’m naked.” I started getting
“Naked is natural in my mind. You’re still beautiful, but in an artistic sort of way, like a flower. It makes me want to treasure you. A dress is like an aphrodisiac, or like getting attacked by an electric fence. I can’t help myself...”
I had to ask. “You’ve been attacked by an electric fence?”
He smiled. “It was an analogy, Princess.”
At first encounter, I never would have thought that he could smile like that, but things had clearly gone well for him since. Nothing could change how much I cared about him, but his newfound beatitude very nearly made me question whether or not this was the same man who had destroyed my mother’s entire family. Second chances worked miracles, I could see.
As we left my room, the little feather felt like a stone in my hand, reminding me of Rubeo’s vow to intervene if Andris ever became a threat. The guardian was willing to side with me, willing to give me his powers and allow my precious demon to play a role in my life. I had bitten into the cake before he even had a chance to give it, and for that I owed him a heavy debt.
I could only hope that I lived up to his expectations.
* o * o *
Nick was sitting on Yoko’s desk as we entered the library, tapping his foot and trying to wheedle information on Shina while ignoring the bird’s utter lack of confidence in the kid.
“Shimare and Nariuvne?” the bird scoffed, giving the kid a condescending look with one beady eye. “That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. You’re better off finding a human.”
“I’m not so certain,” Yoko said distractedly, clicking her way through a spreadsheet on the computer. “Lynn and Andris are the same, but they’ve worked out spectacularly. I never would have expected that from Andris, really...such a violent history...”
“Oh, thanks a lot,” the Nariuvne in question muttered, drawing everyone’s attention. “What? I’m not allowed to be a nice person?”
“You’re a perfect gentleman when you feel like being one,” I said.
“Well, hello, there,” Nick said with a grin, silently conveying his knowledge of everything Andris and I had done since hurrying off to my room.
I refused to feel embarrassed. “It’s good to be back. Being dead was kind of really dull.”
“Andris said you mentioned something about being around even after you burned!” Yoko interrupted, giving me a fixed stare. “Do tell me everything! I must record it for posterity!”
I shrugged. “I was still around, only I couldn’t touch anything, feel any emotion, hear, or make any noise. I did see these strange glowing things inside everyone. It seemed like the source of the light was some kind of life force.”
“Amazing!” she cried with glee, whipping a legal pad out of a drawer and furiously scribbling shorthand notes as I spoke. “Colors? Were there any colors or degrees of brightness associated with these lights you saw?”
I laughed a little at her enthusiasm. “Humans were pretty much yellow—with variations depending on health and what have you. But Andris was red, and Nick was blue—and their lights moved around. Nick’s was like water, and Andris’ had a mind of its own, it seemed. They were pretty bright, like a hundred-watt light bulb. Humans were dimmer.”
She looked about ready to cry with happiness. “Oh, this is simply marvelous! At last, firsthand account of Shimari death! Maybe this will be enough to convince those silly Romanians that they still have souls. Now we just need something to make them stop carrying their dirt around—it’s a drain on our cleaning staff.”
“You really saw all of this?” Andris asked me.
“Yeah. Wait—I did feel one thing,” I added to Yoko, whose attention immediately fell rapt upon me. “I could still feel a little bit of the blood bond between Andris and me, but it was really faint, like an echo. His emotions were probably the only things that came through, and my only reaction was curiosity, like I was wondering why he felt so terrible. Then when they brought me back to Ivanarke, there was something tying me to my ashes, and I was pulled along for the ride. I think it might have been my fangs.
“It also went black at one point, and it was the quietest, darkest thing I’ve ever experienced. It was actually very nice…well, I couldn’t feel happy about it, but I understood that it was a peaceful place.” I shrugged. “I honestly can’t really describe it any better than that.”
Yoko let out a squeal and jotted down my every word. “I’ll write up a report immediately and have Emperor Tatsune give it a look before adding it to the archives. Oh, and I need to put a copy in your file, as well. Andris and Nick should have one, too—I’ll get their accounts later...”
More scratching pen noises as she scribbled her own words.
“How did the cleanup go?” I asked Nick while we waited for her to finish.
The kid shrugged and smiled. “It’s clean, but I couldn’t even lift the bowl, so I sat in the Emperor’s throne until Andris came back and helped out. It’s amazing what a chair can do for a person’s ego.”
I gave them a critical eye. “And did you two play nice?”
“I’ve told you already, Princess,” sighed my demon, “that he’s the reason why you came back. I have no right to abuse him, even if I’m still annoyed at being forced to turn him.”
“Just checking.” I laughed and patted his shoulder. “I’m so proud of you!”
The corners of his mouth twitched. “I’m going to ignore your derision. No matter what you say, it can’t compare to the pain of watching you die.”
That took the wind out of my sails, and I slumped a little. “I’m a jerk—just say it. I can take it.” I screwed my eyes up tight, mock-waiting for the emotional blows.
“No, you’re logical,” Nick said, earning himself a baffled stare from Andris and myself. At our reactions, he explained, “Well, you’re looking at your death from the view of someone who is alive. Even if you did die, and even if it hurt those around you, what matters is that you’re alive now. You see no reason to make the pain last any longer than the duration of your death.”
We gaped at him, and Andris muttered after a moment, “What happened to your brain? Who made it better?”
Nick gave him a grumpy look. “I’m young, not stupid. It doesn’t take a genius to realize why she’s acting like it’s no big deal. Lynn’s the kind of person who hates to harp on the past, as she’s stated repeatedly. Besides, how else is she supposed to cope with knowing that she died?”
“Yoko, we’ve just found your new assistant,” I informed the librarian.
She shot me a grin as she set the notepad—now covered entirely with illegible inscriptions—and pen back on the table. “He’s smart, isn’t he? I could make easy use of him.”
“I didn’t get turned into a vampire just so I could spend my days and nights filing paperwork and dusting books,” the kid said in distaste.
“No, but I think we should send you for schooling. You should get a few degrees—you have plenty of time for it, after all.”
He frowned, automatically doubtful. “I can do that?”
Yoko organized her papers and put the computer into hibernation. “That’s what many Shimaren choose to do. We set up fake identities for most of them, though some have good connections with certain government agencies. There are plenty who work in the background of the human world and push scientific endeavors.”
“Huh.” Nick looked at me for some reason.
I blinked. “What?”
“Well, do you have a bunch of degrees? Does Andris?”
Andris shook his head. “I’m self-taught in whatever I may know. After coming into my powers, everything was easier to grasp, so I went through occasional phases where I learned new languages or math or science—whatever I could get my hands on. Boredom does that.”
I gave Andris a jealous pout and said to Nick, “Simone was my tutor for most of my life, and he was always so overprotective that I never had the opportunity to take classes outside of the family. I still can’t figure out math or chemistry, though.”
“That’s sad. You should do it—get a few degrees, I mean. You don’t even know what regular school is like. Hell, you look young enough to be in high school or college.”
“From what you’ve told me, school is some sort of dungeon in which the inmates are tortured daily by pedantic keepers and their own misguided peers.”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s from my point of view. I’ve been dealing with it for years—college was always on the horizon, but then I got sick and held back and all that shit.” Something about his tone made me think that he pitied me for my lack of experience in the normal world, but I couldn’t argue because he was absolutely right.
I glanced at Andris for his thoughts, and he shrugged. “I’m not university material. Fortunately, modern humans are so strange that you would fit in just fine, better than most, in fact—but not me.” His gaze went far away as he shuddered at the thought of what would happen to him in a restless sea of co-eds. The “Girls Gone Wild” crew would have sacrificed their friends and family on the adult video gods’ altar to obtain this guy’s natural gifts.
Then again, Andris was the only person I had ever seen who hated positive attention. It made me feel special, but weird, as though I had been required to attain some higher gender form in order to attract him...
“Oh, well. Maybe I’ll just get a library card,” I said with a laugh.
“Yes, yes,” Yoko said, pulling yet another file drawer open and gathering up a leather pouch filled with something heavy. “Make all the plans you want, but at the moment we should really get to making Lynn’s amulet. Do you have the crest?”
Smirking, I held up my hand and she squinted for several moments at the tiny crimson feather. “You said he was a bird, but Rubeo looked suspiciously like a cologne model to me.”
“Perhaps your Shimari state alters how you perceive him,” she mused aloud. “Shimaren are more likely to see spirits and ghosts than the majority of humans.”
“Huh. Andy had a fit. Glad to see some semblance of reason in this place.”
“Princess!” he immediately protested. “Bedroom talk should remain in the bedroom!”
“I was the only naked person there,” I snapped. “Besides, I want to know more about this...this Rubeo person who keeps an eye on my bloodline.”
“Great, now they’re talking like that out loud.” Nick sighed, bringing an ankle up on the desk and propping his chin on his knuckles. “Could we just get this over with?”
“I’m inclined to agree with the idiot,” Homer said.
Nick gave Yoko a pleasant smile. “Yoko, I’d like to try fried parrot. Can you help?”
“I would love to help.”
Homer resettled his feathers awkwardly and fell silent.
I couldn’t help smiling at them, and I caught Andris’ smirk as well before he could try and hide it. See? The kid’s good to have around. Keeps us on our toes.
I suppose he’s not a complete waste of space, he returned with an inward sigh.
Nick looked at us suddenly, but rather than commenting he just shook his head and hopped to the floor. “All right, enough wasting time—or space. Let’s get Lynn’s amulet made and then we can go our separate ways. It’s actually kind of freaky when Andris is being nice.”
We shared another smile—though Andris’ had an irritated little twitch that only he seemed capable of—and tagged along as Nick and Yoko made their way to the center of the dragon mosaic. Only the ancient seemed to have some misgivings about this whole thing.
“This should be fun,” I insisted.
“Of course, Princess.” The twitch stopped, replaced by a rigidness to keep the smile plastered on for my benefit.
“Hey, what could be worse than what happened this morning?”
He paused, the false smile fading to a pensive frown. “Good point.”
“Excellent. Now let’s go fulfill this destiny thing I’ve been hearing so much about.”