Avenari - Chapter 36
“Andris, you have excellent taste. They accent each other perfectly!” Shina seemed torn between gushing over my clothing or my new appendages. She stalked around me like a rabid cosmetologist, touching a feather here or a fold of silk there. The laces in the back of the dress were low enough to let the wings out. “This is so marvelous!”
“It’s damn bizarre, that’s what it is. Kimi warui,” muttered Quelos, standing at a distance and giving me the hairy eyeball like nobody’s business. He was the only one who saw the side effect of gaining my amulet as something slightly creepy—other than me. Everyone else found it either neat or fascinating. Even Akuro was intrigued, and had politely requested permission to touch the downy side of one of the wings.
I think they’re beautiful, Andris offered in retaliation to Quelos’ comment.
“Can you fly with them?” Nick asked. He was seated in one of the armchairs, frowning and cupping his chin as though he were a detective trying to figure out a convoluted mystery.
I shrugged, and they shifted around with the movement of my shoulders while Quelos’ eye twitched in my general direction. “Proportionately, no, the math would never check out. But because I’m not as heavy as a normal human, and because my muscles are stronger, they might be good for self-powered flight.”
Andris stared hard at the rustling, scarlet tips of the black primary feathers and gave me a wily smirk. Forgive my permanent residence in “the ditch,” as you call it, but I’d like to make love to you with your wings visible. Sex with an angel...just the thought of it gives me shivers...
You’re a real kinky bastard, Andy, I sighed, shaking my head at his relentless lust.
He just grinned, and Shina paused in her stalking to give us a perceptive stare. However, before she could prod for the subject of our inner dialogue, my demon turned to Quelos and motioned to one of the side rooms. “I need to ask you something. Do you have a moment?”
The lighting bug frowned slightly, still watching my latest developments with a hint of disturbance, then nodded and followed wordlessly behind.
“I’ll only be a minute, Lynn,” Andris said.
“Have fun.” I phased the wings out of sight and chuckled at Shina’s disappointment. “I really don’t need them at the moment, sorry.” Maybe having the stupid things wasn’t a total pain in the ass, after all. At least they served as a conversation piece.
Pursing her lips, she looked from me to Nick and asked after a moment of thought, “Are you two thirsting? I’m heading over to the feeding hall with Sirek, and since you’ve lost a lot of blood, and Nick’s still new, I thought you might want to come along.”
Nick looked so eager that I had to work to keep my expression under control. “Yeah, we’ll join you. I need to go talk to Tatsune first, though. It won’t take long.” I looked over to the kid. “Nick, you come with me.”
He gave me puzzled frown, but apologized to Shina and Sirek for making them wait and followed me back out into the hall.
“What’s up?” he asked once we were well away from prying ears.
I shrugged. “Well, we haven’t had much chance to talk lately, and...well, what was it like when you were turned?”
He frowned at the abrupt question, but made a so-so gesture. “It was kind of trippy. Andris’ blood is way stronger than yours, and I changed really suddenly, like I didn’t know what was happening until it was already done. I kind of felt sick for a few minutes after, but that went away pretty quick. Why? What was it like for you?” His eyes shifted to mint green in curiosity, and I felt a pang of regret that I would never see his pretty human eyes again.
“I guess Nariuvnen got the lucky straw,” I sighed, shaking my head. “Normally, being turned feels nice at first, then hurts like hell once your guard is down. The end result is great, but the process is kind of scary and very painful. After a few minutes of pain like you’ve never known, your body shuts down completely. For a whole day, until the night after taking Simone’s blood, I was dead…well, I was kind of sleeping…maybe a coma?”
“Really?” This seemed to bother him, and I gave him a reassuring smile.
“Don’t worry—I’m here now, aren’t I? Simone told me all about it once I woke up. He had spent the night and the following day with me while the changes took place.”
“Were you conscious when you were...uh, dead?” He made a face, realizing how oxymoronic that sounded.
“No, I don’t remember anything that happened once I blacked out. I didn’t even dream. It was as though time had jumped ahead, and once the jump was over, it stopped forever...”
Curiosity trickled from his aura like sprung leaks. “How come it didn’t hurt me?”
“Maybe Andris’ blood is special. It’s powerful, and it has intoxicating qualities. He has vulun-ris, so maybe that’s the key factor. Plus, his bite is...different from what I’m used to.”
He gave a derisive snort. “Look, you’re into the guy, and from a totally neutral guy-perspective, I can see that he’s a league all his own, but honestly, I’d rather not let him bite me again—or bite him, for that matter.”
That made me laugh…then sigh in defeat. I had to know—no matter how embarrassing the answer might be. “Nick, your turning was different from mine, but your feeding habits and sleep patterns differ from Andris. You seem to have a bit of both of us, so…do you still feel human urges or are you as neuter as the Shimaren?”
He stopped walking. “You mean like what you and Andris have going on?” he said evasively, keeping his eyes trained on something behind me.
“Yep. The birds and the bees and all that jazz.” I folded my arms across my stomach, frowning at him in interest. “I ask for a couple of reasons. One, to congratulate you on dodging that particular bullet; and two, to make sure you realize that I’m a special case with Andy. I made a wish so that I could be with him. You probably won’t be so lucky.”
For a while he was quiet, but then he abruptly started walking again, clearly restless. “You’re telling me this because of Shina, aren’t you?” he muttered.
“Actually, my main concern is whether you’ll want to get involved with mortal girls. If you do, then all I want you to know is that you have to make a distinction between friend and food. You can’t tell people what you are, so it’ll be on your shoulders to honor that rule. Feed only on strangers, people whom you probably won’t ever see again, okay? Otherwise, you could get into all kinds of trouble. Mortals are much more fragile than we are, though you might not even notice until it’s too late.”
He nodded after a thought. “Understood. I’ll remember that for future reference.”
“So you still have a functioning libido?”
He just shrugged. “Could we talk about something else?”
I chuckled. “Oh, no, you don’t. Answer the question, kid. I want a clear-cut response—none of that wishy-washy crap.”
“Fine, yes,” he said under his breath, walking faster.
Intrigued by his reaction, I chased after him and grabbed his arm to make him stop again. “Hey, what’s wrong with getting our facts straight?” I demanded. “You’re something completely new, a combination of my thirst and Andris’ immunities. It only makes sense to ask.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He sighed in exasperation, then turned and gave me a good, hard look. “You know, I can see why Andris wants you to play dress-up, but did it have to be on the night you decided to give me the vampire version of The Talk?”
I blinked. “Huh?”
He made an exaggerated gesture towards my overall appearance. “The dress, Lynn. You want the truth? Well, my human ‘urges’ were nothing compared to what I feel now. You look great in that dress, and though I don’t think of you that way, right now it’s distracting as hell.”
I glanced at my clothes. “Huh.”
He raked a hand through his hair hard enough to scalp a mortal and said tightly, “Please don’t be pissed. I’m still getting used to it, and, being a virgin,”—he winced at the word—“my imagination isn’t my best friend right now.”
“I see.” Frowning, I picked at the silk dress in thought. “You know, I hope you find someone you can be with, because it’s like a wild roller coaster ride.”
“Too much information!” he cried, clamping his hands over his ears and marching ahead. “I’ve already seen too much! I don’t need to hear the details!”
Smiling at his adamant refusal to let me embarrass him further, I caught up and patted his back gently. “You’re doing fine, kid. Don’t rush your new life. You’ll have millennia to find what you need most, okay?”
Gradually, he lowered his hands, then dropped them completely and shoved them in his jeans’ pockets. “Yeah, I know. I just don’t want to have to wait thousands of years the way Andris did. All that alone time really screwed him up.”
“He’s a work in progress,” I agreed, “but you won’t be alone. I’m not letting you out of my sight until I know you can be happy on your own.”
He frowned at me as though he didn’t believe my words, but when I flashed my fangs in challenge he managed a chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief. “Okay, then, but go easy on the wardrobe. I’m an impressionable young vampire. Save that stuff for hubby.”
Grinning, I reached up and tousled his hair, gripping the shaggy locks and tugging him down to let me plant a small kiss on his cheek. “There—for good luck. May the maidens of the world flock to you.”
He blushed, but laughed and batted my hand away so he could straighten up. “That’ll only work if Andris isn’t around. I don’t stand a chance against guys like him.”
“Oh, you have your charms,” I argued. “You’re sweet and funny, and you’re nice. Andy’s way too high-strung to tolerate that much attention for very long, so the spoils would be all yours. Besides, he’s mine. I’m not letting some stranger horn in on my territory.”
“Great, I get to play second fiddle to a sex god. Awesome.” Despite the words, his tone wasn’t at all bitter. He’d clearly gotten over his hatred for my blood partner, and that knowledge set my mind more at ease than I had thought possible.
“You’re a good person, Nick,” I sighed, smiling at the kid. “Promise me that you won’t turn into a misanthropic wreck like Andy. I can fix him, but fixing two train wrecks in one ridiculously long lifetime is a little much.”
“Can I at least be really sarcastic?”
“Be as sarcastic as you like. Sarcasm means you’re still sane. It’s an important part of being human. Never forget where you came from—otherwise, you’ll get lost in the dark and never find your way back.”
He nodded sagely. “Well, then I should be fine.”
I laughed, “I thought as much. Now, tell me about Shina, and spare no details...”
* o * o *
Nick and I reached the throne room in good spirits, after having analyzed all strategies on how to go about assisting the kid in his endeavor with the little Elemental. Eventually, we decided that he should take it easy and not rush into anything. This wasn’t a blood reaction, as it had been with Andris and me. The kid was still very much human, and she was so much older.
No locking them in a closet together, unfortunately.
It was an interesting situation, though. I knew that it was possible to form close relationships as vampires—Ivan and I were an excellent example—but I wasn’t quite sure how things went for most others of my kind. As far as I could tell, we didn’t really feel attraction in a way that humans could understand. It would be interesting to see how things played out for Nick.
At the door to the throne room, we forced ourselves to put on a more reverent attitude. Unlike Andris, we weren’t nearly powerful enough to handle a tiff with the Emperor, and once the attending half-breed opened the portal, we stepped inside, perfectly normal.
Stopping several yards from the resplendently robed Shimare, we bowed deeply until he motioned for us to stand straight.
Lord Tatsune gave us a beatific smile. “Thank you for accepting a summons after such an ordeal, Lydian,” he said kindly to me. “And Nick, I must commend you on your progress with Mizumi. She has been looking for an apprentice for some time.”
The kid smiled sheepishly. “No, she’s a good teacher.”
“Nevertheless, you are doing very well for a fledgling. Of course, your Maker is remarkably powerful, so I can see where your talents come from.” He turned to me, then. “And Lydian, Quelos tells me that Shinryu has accepted you as its master. That blade has rejected nearly five hundred others. You should be proud.”
“I still think it’s strange that the sword can think for itself,” I admitted, “but I like the feel of it. I think it’ll be an ally. Actually, I have plenty of allies already, but one more can’t hurt.”
“Indeed.” After a pause, he gave us a contemplative stare, and once again the pressure in the room seemed to shift into something more solid. “I hope you will be able to handle this. The Toreliaqne is one of the most powerful hunter clans in existence, and we’ve good reason to believe that Andris is their primary target. You’ll not have the luxury of dropping your guard, though I am confident that the others may lighten your load considerably.”
I sensed Nick’s immediate rush of worry. “Wait, hunters? I thought it was just Tivor.”
Tatsune gave a solemn nod. “Yes, there will be hunters. Part of the reason why we would like you four to go is so that we may ascertain whether or not the Western Council has been making deals with our enemies. There are agents from the Nesciti, our elite espionage division, who have infiltrated the West’s records, and there are strange accounts of high Council officials meeting with the leaders of hunter clans. At worst, they have allied with the hunters against Ivanarke. At best, they have only joined forces with Tivor, and the hunters are a coincidence.”
“What’s going on over there?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of my good judgment. “What exactly do they hope to gain from confronting you?”
“The leader in charge of Vrisalte has reached a breaking point in his old age, and as a result believes that he should take my place as Emperor. I hope it does not come down to a siege, but at the moment the future is unclear.”
I cursed under my breath. The most dangerous thing in the world was a madman for a leader. No scruples, no self-control, no one to stop them from doing terrible things. Even scarier was their passion for whatever it was they had set their mind to. War was a game to them, and even their own people were nothing but expendable extras.
“I take it that Andris already has the lowdown on all of this?” Nick asked soberly.
Tatsune gave a nod. “I have informed him of the apparent situation, yes. He has the most experience with hunters amongst us—the only Shimari creature ever to escape from captivity.”
I frowned. “That’s the real reason behind making him go, isn’t it? And the only way to get him on the good guys’ side was to let me tag along.”
He sighed, the sound carrying through the room like a tangible force, and nodded once more. “Do not mistake my intentions—I believe in your strength as the Avenari. However, it is necessary to make these tactical decisions. Normally, I would have been loath to even consider bringing you into this, but I trust that Andris shall protect you from serious harm.”
“I see.” Huh...Andris had been right. I made a mental note to apologize later, but at the moment I was just a little upset. “You don’t really expect me to be of much assistance, do you?”
“Sadly, you have absolutely no experience. You have been kept hidden for so long, and your triggers remain unrefined. However, considering what may be on the horizon, I feel that it would be prudent to give you a taste of the darkness.” A shrewd smile crossed his face. “Simone spoke of your distress when last we met. He was concerned that you were fading away. It is pure coincidence that Andris appeared at your home that night, but I think it was for the best.”
“Right. It’s the perfect opportunity to ensnare the Nariuvne and the last Plorávero.” I chuckled darkly. “I have to go talk to Andris. If you’ll excuse me, Lord Tatsune.”
I turned on my spiked heel and strode away, and Nick panicked, muttering a hasty apology before chasing me out the door. Tatsune didn’t even respond, though I could feel him watching me closely. His power clung to my skin until I had exited the throne room.
“Lynn, wait!” Nick called, running to catch up and quick-stepping beside me. “What just happened? Why are you so pissed?”
A soft growl escaped my lips, and I turned to glare at him. “I am not a pawn, Nick. I am not a tool. I am not a bargaining chip or a trump card. Andris, too, is none of those things. I’m pissed because I forgot how generals think. All those history lessons, and still I forgot…”
“Didn’t you know that from the beginning?” he demanded.
“It’s a little bit different to have it thrown in my face,” I spat.
We approached the Elementals’ chambers in mere minutes at our pace, and once I could see the door, I shouted, “Andris! Get out here!”
“Yes?!” He appeared like a ghost, looking startled. “What happened?” Then he saw my face and immediately narrowed his eyes. “What did Tatsune say to you?”
“The Emperor sort of admitted that she was only coming along on the Tivor thing so that you would be on his side of the fight,” Nick filled in for me, glancing in apprehension between us. “You were right.”
Andris cocked an eyebrow at the kid then gave me an exasperated look. “Really, you storm in shouting indignation as though he tried to touch you, get me all worked up, and then reiterate my own prior observations? Princess, I told you how it works. This is Ivanarke, not Simone’s territory. All who reside here are tools of the Emperor and the Shimari Council. This isn’t a vacation home—it’s a gaudy boot camp.”
I remained silent, simmering quietly inside my own head. I wanted to stretch my boundaries, expand my universe and all the rest, but not like this—not by selling myself short so that the Emperor could get his hands on Andris’ power.
“I’m hungry,” I snapped, pushing past him.
He grabbed my arm and caught me around my waist, pinning me to his side. “Princess, this is the world as I know it. I know how powerful people think, and I hate it. However, I’m now at the point where I couldn’t possibly care less. You should see how this works, and understand why I am the way I am. This is not betrayal. This is pure, unadulterated logic.”
“That doesn’t help the fact that I’m pissed-off!”
“That kind of thinking is naïve and will help nothing. You have access to power, to which he does not, but if he has access to you, then he can use your power to his own ends. That is how Tatsune thinks. That’s how all the emperors of Ivanarke and all the Shimari leaders have ever thought.” Gently, he turned me to meet violet eyes. “It’s cruel, but power is the only language they know, and I alone am an arsenal. I am every nuclear warhead in every weapons silo.”
“You are not theirs, Andris!” I seethed. “This is just inexcusable. He thinks you’re the only one who can handle this properly, that I’m nothing but a sidekick.”
“Partner, lover, friend—never sidekick,” he retorted. “If anyone’s a sidekick, it’s Nick.”
The kid’s eye twitched. “I realize that she’s in a bad mood, so I’ll let that slide, but it would be nice if I weren’t the butt of the joke every damn time.”
“Sorry,” Andris said. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter what the Emperor is plotting, or how he thinks he can use us. If you want, we can leave and never have to deal with him again.”
“Like hell! I’m gonna prove to that old geezer that I’m more than some pathetic, infatuated fledgling!”
He blinked, caught off guard by my declaration. “Oh. In that case, I’ll just follow the swath of destruction.”
I eyed him in suspicion. “Are you making fun of me? Because it sounds like you’re making fun of me.”
“Nothing of the sort, cara mea,” he said, smiling sincerely. “I’m simply trusting that you’ll be sufficiently dangerous once you’re all wound up like this.”
“That’s right!” I nodded to myself. “C’mon, Nick. Let’s go take Shina up on that offer.”
“I’m coming, too,” Andris said, not wanting to feel left out. “Last time taught me to be cautious with the mortals.”
“As long as you don’t butt in while I’m trying to feed, I don’t care if you start table dancing, Andy. I’m hungry, so let’s get a move on.” My mind made up, I headed into the chamber to meet with Shina and Sirek, followed closely by Nick, who was still acting like a nervous boy with a crush.
“Andris!” my own love reiterated snappishly, bringing up the rear.
* o * o *
Sirek’s Mercedes didn’t have enough room for all of us to fit comfortably, so Shina gave Andris the keys to her little black Honda s2000—or “Betty,” as she called it. I would have been excited if it hadn’t been for the fact that Andris was the one who got the keys.
“Wait, can I…?”
“I’m driving,” my demon said immediately. It was a little bit irritating that he kept getting to drive instead of me, but I let it go. Shina’s car was a cute little thing that made driving through the tiny roads even more exciting than normal. Betty wasn’t as powerful as my baby, but for its size it was still a lot of fun.
I hoped that Shina wouldn’t be terribly upset about her transmission when she got it back. Andris had been mostly gentle—mostly—but there were moments when I thought he was going to break the stick.
We got to the feeding hall after everyone else had already gone in, and the guards laughed when we pulled up, as though they had known that we would end up playing for some time. They let us through, and we parked next to Sirek’s car.
“Gravel and stilettos are a terrible combination,” I grumbled, clinging to my demon while he helped me to the entrance.
“You’ll be perfectly safe in my care.”
Inside, Andris was able to track Nick’s signature along the appropriate path until we reached the room at the center of the house. Again, the scent of blood and incense filled the air, and the thrumming bass of trance music greeted us at the door.
Shina, Nick, and Sirek had already partnered up, the two older Elementals easily translating Japanese into English for the kid. He seemed happier with Shina present, and I gave Andris a nudge.
“I think he’s trying to outdo you,” I teased, smirking at my demon.
“Impossible. I’ve already captured my target.” He tugged me closer and kissed my temple. “I’ll go wait with Reiko while you replenish. Afterwards, I’d like to go for a walk, if you don’t mind. There are things I’d like to discuss before we leave, and I’d rather not have all the walls of Ivanarke listening in on us.”
“Sounds like fun. Promise me that you won’t drink anything too crazy, though,” I said. “It’s impressive that you can chug a pint without getting sick the way I do, but it’s not so impressive that you can’t handle me talking to a human male.”
He grinned and took my hand, leading me past all the staring humans. “You have my word. Besides, I can prevent problems from arising, I’ve realized.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He paused in the middle of the row, then without warning he slid his hand beneath my hair and tilted my face upwards, meeting my lips and kissing me so thoroughly that I thought I would faint.
A long moment later, he let me go and smiled. “Now they all know that you’re mine,” he chuckled, letting go and waving backwards as he headed over to the bar. “Have fun, Princess.”
Surprised, I glanced at the mortals, and all of them were gawking at the both of us.
“Well played, demon,” I muttered under my breath.