Avenari - Chapter 14
When I sat back down, Andris stared at me as though I had just asked James to take us to a pillow factory. I could tell that he saw absolutely no reason to go to the coroner.
“Why the hell are we changing the plan?” he demanded.
I shot him a disgruntled look. “I’m going to see the Emperor, so I want as much info as I can get. If we can get to the body, then we can find out whether the killer is Shimari or human.”
“And?” He and the kid were not convinced, let alone enthusiastic about the whole idea—though likely for very different reasons. That didn’t matter. I had to know for sure.
“And I’m not taking no for an answer, Andy.”
His eye twitched. “I told you to stop calling me that.”
“Then stop being a prick,” Nick said, siding with me for the simple purpose of antagonizing the ancient. “It’s really very easy.”
“I don’t need input from a teenage boy!” Andris growled, his powers shimmering around him like a mirage trapped within a bubble, but avoiding the usual all-out tidal wave. At least he was learning.
“Children, children,” I sighed, earning myself a poisonous glare from the old guy. “Please stop fighting. After what we may see at the coroner’s, you might be more receptive.”
Andris replied coldly, “This is a waste of time. We won’t find anything surprising.”
I pursed my lips in irritation. “I’m sure we’ll find plenty.”
“I doubt that very much,” he said in that arrogant, omniscient way of his.
With the mood gone sour, I decided that I didn’t want to talk to either of them anymore, and turned to the television for distraction. Nick had changed the channel during my chat with the driver, and was now watching a stand-up comedy show hosted by some guy I didn’t know.
This insane plan aside, do you know what can happen if you brand a human incorrectly? Andris said out of the blue, his mental voice startling me. I looked at him in confusion.
What was he babbling about?
Despite my silence, he continued. He can turn into a half-breed…and that is what’s happening. He sat back like it was nothing unusual, while I edged towards panic at his words.
What are you talking about? He seems the same to me. I looked over at Nick. He was a little pale, but this was normal. He hadn’t slept at all last night and had been my donor twice in a row—all perfectly natural.
Take a closer look. His teeth are sharper, and the sun bothers him. Try sensing his signature. It’s changing.
I focused my senses while the kid fiddled with various compartments and gizmos all around his seat, and was disturbed to find that Andris was telling the truth. I had branded Nick, but now his signature was jumbled, as though trying to decide whether he wanted to be a vampire or a human. When he smiled at one of the comedian’s jokes, I could see that his eyeteeth were longer and sharper than before—not by much, but just enough—and he squinted a little bit, as though the muted light from the sun hurt his eyes.
What’s going to happen to him? What exactly is a half-breed? Simone talked about them sometimes, but I wasn’t certain as to what it meant to be one. I had always figured they were like familiars with perks, but Andris’ tone suggested that my assumption was once again wrong.
He’s going to start craving blood soon, and may already be, but I doubt he will realize it immediately. He won’t be able to go out in direct sunlight like he can now, though he won’t be affected by rigor mortis. He’ll be immortal, but he won’t get any stronger, and if he gets hurt he will heal at a human speed instead of at an accelerated rate like a Shimare.
Wait, you mean he’ll be a vampire with no powers? I asked in disbelief. But he’d never survive on his own! He’d be stuck with me for the rest of eternity…
Well, it’s not exactly that terrible. Regardless, you can’t do anything about it right now. You can still hope that the transformation ends here. He remained as emotionless as ever, but he had never cared about Nick to begin with, so I couldn’t really blame him.
Hope floats, but so do dead bodies, I said tersely. What can I do?
If it gets any worse, you’ll have to tell him the truth. Nick isn’t my pet—he’s yours. I’m just an observer. However, I do know that you’re better off telling him right away rather than letting him figure it out himself.
You’re the only one who knows what’s going to happen. If I need help, you’re going to help me, got it? I wasn’t joking. If Nick really was in trouble, then I needed someone with experience. Otherwise, I could screw it up, and that would be catastrophic. Simone would never forgive me for this. Why hadn’t Simone known in the first place?
Because he doesn’t know how the half-breeds are made, Andris answered for me. Most don’t, though I’ve heard that accidents like this happen every so often. Some Shimaren brand their familiars incorrectly then drain them too far. Ivanarke or one of the others usually steps in quickly to clean things up, however. They always seem to know what’s going on…
And how do you know all this? I demanded, too panicked to worry about his invasion of my thoughts. You can do something about this, right?
He cocked an eyebrow at me. How old do you think I am? Anyway, I don’t know how to help, I already told you. Don’t pin this on me. You’re the one who branded him backwards.
I blinked. The bastard had a point.
It would be useless to tell Nick now if he might not even change all the way, but I made a mental note to complain to Simone when we got back. Despite all that he had taught me, I was beginning to see that he hadn’t given me nearly enough information over the years. A lot of this could have been avoided if he had provided the bare facts, rather than dressing everything up like Mother Goose and Grimm. As much as I loved Simone, his careful attitude about our kind seemed more like a detriment than a help now that he wasn’t around to fix things for me.
The time I spent worrying about and regretting the various actions I had taken over the past two days made the drive go by much more quickly. It didn’t take long to reach the coroner.
The building itself didn’t look all that menacing. It stood squat and alone, far from the main hospital and painted an appealing spring green, as though its original purpose had been completely different from its current one. However, the surrounding landscape suited it perfectly. The grass had already dried up in the cold, and the dead, wind-gnarled pine trees sported only a few brown needles, leaving them barren and dry like old corpses. It was just our luck to come at a time when the land looked like an ode to Death. If I had been a superstitious person, I might have gone straight home.
However, I wasn’t—and neither were Nick or Andris, who didn’t even seem to notice the fitting surroundings.
James parked far enough away from any windows to limit the attention we would get. I was the first one out, waiting impatiently for my reluctant comrade and the indifferent Crimson.
“How did the driver know where to park?” Nick asked, giving me a suspicious frown.
I just shrugged. “He was born from a wish—he probably arrived with all the driving and parking knowledge he would ever need. That or we were just lucky. Besides, this is the biggest trauma center this side of the Mackinac, and the bodies have been fairly high-profile. It’s the most likely place for the autopsy.”
“Oh, I know this place,” Nick said quietly, squinting at the hospital beyond as though sizing up an old rival. “I just thought it was weird that James managed to find this particular building. It’s not part of the main hospital.”
“Maybe he has super chauffer powers?”
“I still see no reason to come here,” Andris interrupted, picking at his bangs and frowning at them as he walked around the long car to where I stood. He didn’t seem too keen on the idea of explaining his hair to anybody, much less a mortal. “It would be easier to just ask the Emperor about it when we get to Ivanarke.”
“Have you ever even been to the Eastern Brood Manor?” I asked in annoyance. “What if they don’t know?”
“‘No’ and ‘who gives a damn?’ are the respective answers to your queries. Anything else to bother me with before we continue on your inane mission?”
One of these days, I was going to kick his ass.
I made a shooing motion. “Get moving, Andy.”
He scowled then bared his fangs in a cold smile. “As you wish, Princess.”
I was in the middle of turning to go, but whirled back around in a flash. “Excuse me?”
He shrugged, smirking now that he had found a weak point. “Is there a problem? You act like a princess with a new pet tiger, only you think it’s a kitten. Don’t underestimate me.”
“And don’t you piss me off, jackass!”
“I would never presume, Princess.”
“No.” He folded his arms and leaned forward, egging me on with that damn smirk.
I clenched my fists, intent on giving him what for, but before I could, Nick cleared his throat loudly to distract me. “What?!” I cried, rounding on him next.
He didn’t even flinch. “Uh, before you two try to, you know, duke it out all Battle Royal or whatever, could we at least get this over with? I’m tired. I haven’t slept in almost a day, and that donation back there took a lot out of me.”
I relaxed my fists.
“Fine,” I muttered. “Act devastated. We’re pretending to be family.”
Nick nodded, Andris just sighed out of boredom, and we entered the frigid, air-conditioned building.
Inside, we met with a stark white, utilitarian reception area. A small row of seats stood before a blank TV, but other than that, there was no indication that anybody used the space as a waiting room. There wasn’t even a receptionist, just a small sign with a fake clock indicating that the person who should have been there had gone to lunch either four hours ago or sometime yesterday afternoon. Just inside the window, a sad pot of African violets slowly wilted away.
“Gotta love that fresh hospital smell,” said Nick as he shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Goddammit, I hate hospitals. Which way do we go?”
I moved towards the window, where a small directory plaque gleamed on the wall off to one side. “Well, we need the medical examiner. They’re the ones who do the actual autopsies, right?” I ignored the irritated glare that Andris shot at me in response.
“Then this is the office we need to get to,” the kid said, pointing to one of the names.
“That’s down the left hall, right?”
“Right. No…I mean, yes.”
I gave the kid a deadpan stare. “So…which is it?”
“This way!” Andris snapped, having had enough of our confusion and turning left. “Just follow the smell.” He didn’t even look back to see if we were following.
Nick and I glanced at each other, then rolled our eyes in tandem as we fell in step behind.
The medical examiner was a thin, aquiline lady who seemed like the kind of person who might sit in her living room behind closed blinds, with a pair of binoculars to spy on the neighbors. A nameplate on the desk read: Karen Jamisen, Ph.D., MD. She eyed us in obvious distaste. I figured it was because we looked more like chronic truants than productive citizens. Andris’ hair and apathetic attitude didn’t help much, either.
After a brief staring contest, we broke eye contact, and she asked us what we were doing in her office. Honestly, I hadn’t thought this far ahead. The woman’s reaction seemed less than receptive, and I didn’t trust that I would be able to fake my way through her ironclad will.
I glanced at Nick, who glanced back at me with an identical look of “what the hell do we do now?”
“We’re here to see our uncle, Robert Wilkins. I’m his nephew, Andrew Wilkins, and these are my cousins, who insisted on coming.” Surprisingly, Andris was the one who took matters into his own hands, fetching the deceased’s name from her thoughts and using some seriously impressive powers of suggestion.
“So you’re Robert’s family?” she said without a hint of emotion. She disapproved of our appearance. I saw it more in her behavior than her mind. Even Andris, the most attractive man I had ever seen—sociopathic disposition notwithstanding—joined the dregs of humanity in her condescending eyes. She wouldn’t have minded his attentions, but she was well aware of his league and stuck to disdain as the second-best option. Humans were practical creatures.
“We have to see our uncle,” I said, trying to seem pathetic and worried.
She narrowed her eyes. “I thought his children were coming.”
“They are. We all got the news and came as soon as we could. We just live closer. Is it really him?” I faked a trembling lip to add to the effect.
Her expression did soften a little.
“I’m sorry. It must be very hard for you”.
“Yeah, he used to take us boating on Superior,” I mumbled sadly, recalling my parents’ deaths for inspiration. Nick caught on and rubbed my back in comforting circles. We both should have gone into acting. Andris wasn’t even trying, except for a blank, distracted expression which could have passed for anything. Well, at least he could pull off the numb look.
It worked like a dream.
“This way, then,” she said, getting up from her desk. She briskly took us back out into the hall and down a short side corridor. I tried to catch Andris’ gaze, but he walked past before I could, and I followed in silence with a defeated sigh.
The doctor led us through a set of cold steel swinging doors then down yet another refrigerated corridor to a wide room, where drawers lined the walls in neat rows and columns like a creepy spreadsheet. The place dripped with the heavy, sickening stench of death—not of rotting and decay, but of death itself: thickness of the air, a dense sensation settling at the bottom of my lungs. It was not a happy smell, and when mixed with the sweetness of blood, disinfectant, and insecticide, it was enough to make any vampiress lose her appetite.
On the center table, like an eerie scene from a horror movie, there rested a body covered in a pure white linen sheet. Dr. Jamisen switched on a bright light directly above so that we could see it better.
The room’s refrigerated chill made me nervous and antsy. Andris didn’t notice the cold, but Nick shivered like me, and the doctor was too used to the cold to care.
She motioned for Nick and me to stand back near the door—me, because she thought I was a normal young girl with a fragile disposition; and Nick, for all the right reasons. However, she took Andris to the table and pulled the sheet down to the body’s shoulders so that he could only view the face and neck. He frowned deeply while Nick and I, in our curiosity, stood on tiptoe to see what there was to see.
I blanched, and Nick spun away to shut his eyes tightly, leaning against a steel washtub as though letting go would bring him to his knees.
“They found him like this,” the doctor said. “I haven’t had a chance to do the autopsy. I’m sorry, but we need a positive identification.”
Through the nausea, I saw Andris nod soberly, saying that it was indeed the right man.
The image had burned into my skull. Bite marks stitched across the throat like evil necklaces, but that wasn’t what made me queasy. A large chunk of skull had been ripped away, and a dry, congealed mass of grayish-pink tissue was all that remained of his brain. These were wounds inflicted by fledglings without a teacher—fledglings who had let the thirst take them too far. Although young Shimaren were considered weak by Shimari standards, they remained vastly powerful creatures compared to mortals.
I knew, because I had once killed like this—only once, but it still haunted me.
“That’s it,” I whispered to Nick. “It is a pack of fledglings.”
Luckily the woman hadn’t heard me. “Okay, that’s enough for now,” she said grimly, replacing the sheet. “I’m going to have to ask you to come with me to fill out some paperwork—ack!” She broke off with a strangled cry.
I jerked around in time to see Andris come up behind the old lady, yank her head back, and bite into her neck. He drew her blood so quickly that her old heart couldn’t stand it. It killed her in an instant.
“Andris, no!” I shouted, but it was too late. With a dull thump he dropped her body to the floor like an unstrung puppet.
He stared emptily at me as the blood went through its paces. Pale pink flushed his cheeks, which quickly faded back to pearl white, and his eyes flickered in their darkness. He made a face, as though he’d drunk a bad medicine.
“Bastard!” I hissed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
“Buying time,” Andris said quietly. Yet again, his emotions had vanished. He ran his delicate, reddened tongue over multiple slender fangs and flicked a spare sheet over the woman’s body. After a brief, thoughtful pause, he picked it up and placed it in an open body drawer, before sliding the slab back into the darkness and sealing her tomb.
“You didn’t have to kill her!” I argued, horribly disturbed by his practical approach to the whole mess.
“If I hadn’t, then there would have been a witness. So far, I haven’t found any cameras, but if there are any, we don’t need to compound the situation any more than that.”
“A witness to what?!”
A shred of anger leaked out, chased by a hint of his powers. “We aren’t the real family, we look unique enough to be recognized from a composite sketch, and she was about to kick us out,” he replied shortly. “What would you have done?”
“At least leave her disabled. Not kill her.” The corpse on the table was bad enough, but to add her to the list…this was the kind of thing I was trying to put an end to, dammit!
“Then she would have told people that she was attacked by vampires, and the Shimari Council would have killed her anyway. I haven’t fed in a while, either, and even that wasn’t enough. I need Shimari blood, Princess, and you’re the only one here. If you’re not willing, then I have no choice but to make due.”
“I can’t believe you! Here I am trying to make you better, and you just go off on your own and do whatever the hell you want.”
His glare only intensified. “Exactly, Princess. You are trying to change what I am. You’re putting me in situations that I can only handle in one way. Either you feed me or someone else does. I am here because you brought me here, and it’s because you brought me here that this woman is dead.” Having said all that he was willing to say, Andris left the wall of drawers for the steel table, where Nick already stood mesmerized by the carnage.
For once, I didn’t have a response prepared. Though he was wrong in the actions he had chosen, I couldn’t really argue. I had been the one to drag him along, and even though I wanted him to see that there was a beautiful life beyond all his talk of death, it had been stupid of me to assume that he would automatically change his way of thinking to accommodate my own.
I stared at the cold steel of the body drawer and said a silent apology to the woman. If anything, her death only solidified my resolve to make Andris see sense. I felt terrible, but that was all. Andris was right about one thing: death was intrinsic to our world. It had taken decades, but I was aware of it by now—even if I didn’t agree with it. Everyone in my family was a murderer, but we had forgiven each other…
…I could forgive Andris.
Feeling tired all of a sudden, I turned back to Nick and the demonic ancient, more than happy to get this over with.
Andris glanced away when I faced the table, but I knew that he’d been watching me. I couldn’t decipher his expression, but for once I ignored him. I needed a moment before I could speak to him with any level of civility.
Instead, I went to Nick. He was leaning over the body, staring at the hole in the man’s skull. The kid’s frown sat a little crookedly, as though there were some sort of internal conflict going on, one to which we outsiders were not privy.
“Nick?” I asked gently, hoping I hadn’t scarred him for life.
He looked up and blinked, rising from his zone.
“Are you okay?”
“Something’s different.” He picked up a scalpel from a tray of instruments and held it to the light, as if it were the most amazing thing in the world, as if he could see it differently—each flash of mirrored steel as fascinating as the workings of a delicate, complex machine.
My heart faltered…I knew that feeling all too well.
“What’s happening to me?” he asked, shaking off his daze. I could smell the rush of worry on his skin.
I looked to Andris, who for once held a spark of emotion similar to pity in his eyes.
What should I do? I asked, setting aside my anger over the medical examiner’s death. That could wait. Nick was more important—the living were more important—than the dead.
“Tell him the truth,” Andris said, turning away to hide his expression. This was my problem, not his, and he wanted to make that clear. Unfortunately, he was right.
I took a deep breath, for once acknowledging my mistake, and returned to Nick. “You’re turning into a half-breed,” I informed him as calmly as I could. This was bad. This was very, very bad…but panicking in front of him would be even worse.
He squinted an eye at me. “Like…like you?”
“No. You’ll never be strong, and if you get hurt you’ll take as long as it takes a human to heal. The sun can still hurt you, but you won’t have to sleep.” I tried to be as gentle as possible.
He inspected his hands. His nails were harder and sharper, tingeing faint blue, and some of the creases on his palms faded as we watched. The change was coming faster.
“What am I supposed to do?” His eyes widened from the combination of sharper vision and fear. “I can’t go outside. I’m not like Andris.”
I had an idea for that, but I doubted that Andris would go along with it.
“You can still be turned all the way,” I said slowly. “But I can’t do it. Even if I could turn you, you’d burn because you don’t have the amulet. You’ll probably also pass out the moment it takes. The sun is the master of my world. Andris, however…”
I glanced at Andris, whose expression instantly switched from distant concern to wariness. He went remarkably still, as though readying himself for a physical blow. Simone had mentioned that a Nariuvne could turn a half-breed, and I desperately hoped that it wasn’t a lie.
Nick took a step back, clearly horrified at the thought. “No! I didn’t ask for this!” Too late. He was already panicking, searching frantically for an escape route as everything familiar turned on him. I needed to act quickly.
Andris don’t let him run, I whispered. If he tries, turn him.
The ancient flinched and glared at me in disbelief. Why do you want me to turn him?
You’re a Nariuvne. If you turn him, he will be, too. Don’t argue—just do it.
“Lynn, come on! There’s no way you could let him do that to me, right?” Even as he spoke, Nick winced in pain when the changes reached deeper into this flesh.
I don’t want to! That’s ridiculous! Andris argued.
I lost it. Dammit! I’m not letting this happen to Nick! Help me for once, you useless, murdering bastard! Do something to redeem your own damned self! I was scared and angry, not sure myself if it would turn out okay. Still, I was determined enough to try.
After a long moment, Andris frowned hard at me. Fine, but you owe me, Princess.
Whatever you want! Kill me or take my blood—just help Nick. When he runs, I’ll block the door and you take him.
He paused only briefly. Very well.
I met Nick’s agonized gaze. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
There was no time to think. I jumped between him and the door, catching his arms.
“Let—me—go!” he yelled, struggling to get away. Even a head shorter than him, he was so weak compared to my vampiric strength. I felt lower than dirt for having to do this, but it was the only way to protect him. At least this way he could live as normally as possible in my world.
Andris walked up behind him and looked at me. I nodded, and as he had done with the woman, he held Nick’s head still between strong, slender hands. He tilted it to the side and bit, drawing slowly on the blood this time. Had a mortal tried to hold Nick motionless, they would have spilled everywhere, but Andris made him look like a marionette. I shuddered involuntarily at the thought of what might happen if he ever caught me with those lovely, powerful hands. He was a real Crimson—he could literally rip me limb from limb if given the chance…
Nick let out one last, frustrated cry then fell silent, breathing hard. His eyes fluttered shut as I heard his heartbeat slow to a crawl. He was already a half-breed, so losing blood wouldn’t kill him, but Andris broke the link anyway once the kid began to drift under.
I let go, and Andris bowed his neck to Nick’s tiny new fangs, just long enough and sharp enough to pierce the ancient’s skin. His newborn instincts quickly took over, and he clamped down hard for his first true taste of Andris’ powers. He would be a powerful fledgling from the ancient’s blood alone, but I didn’t know what to really expect. This wasn’t how Simone had turned me—mine had taken three nights plus a few more in a coma. It had also hurt beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Was this enough to change Nick? Did it work the same way?
Nick drank for a long time, until both fell to their knees, though something told me that, no matter how much the kid took, he wouldn’t be able to take it all. The scent leaked from Andris’ veins like a sweet, enticing cloud. It was almost painful to hold in my lungs now that I knew how good his blood was. I realized with an uncomfortable start that I was jealous. I wanted to bite into the ancient and taste that vein, so much so that my blood wouldn’t shut up about it.
Not surprisingly, after he had taken as much as his body could handle, Nick pushed Andris away with a choked cry and skittered back against the nearest steel wall of body drawers, gasping for the breath he would never really need again.
The Crimson’s blood was amazingly potent, and Nick’s transformation was a thousand times faster than normal. It came to completion after only a few minutes.
His hair filled with onyx black, starting at the roots, and the hair at the front became a snowy white color identical to his Maker’s. His eyes darkened, making him blink rapidly at the sensation as that stormy color vanished into shadow. He clearly wasn’t feeling the pain I had gone through during my turning, but the changes were taking place all the same.
And then he stilled, gasping hard and frowning harder at the sensations in his new body.
I made a tentative approach once I was sure that it was over, and when his eyes rolled up to look at me I couldn’t tell whether he was angry or not. “How do you feel?” I asked.
“I feel fine,” he said coldly, sending a stab of guilt through my gut.
Andris sat against the table where the body rested, watching his newborn fledgling in silence and taking stock of the situation. He was leaving me to clean up, but I couldn’t blame him for that. I’d asked an enormous favor of him, after all. The last thing the old Nariuvne would do was help me more than he already had.
“I didn’t want this,” Nick said, staring me down. “Why did you make him change me?”
“I screwed up, and I’m sorry,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “If you had remained a half-breed…either way, you would never be human again. This is better than what it would have been.” I glanced at Andris, whose face I still couldn’t read. It gave me an uneasy sensation to know that Nick had joined his ranks. Andris had been cold towards me from the beginning, but now I had lost Nick, my only friend here.
He will forgive you quickly, though he will likely hate me for years to come, Andris said silently, worrying me somewhat with the sincerity in his voice. Don’t let this moment of anger bother you. I’ve lived with worse hatred for an eternity. At least this will end. I looked at him in surprise, but he was already getting up, avoiding my eyes again.
Thank you, I whispered, trying to convey how important it was to me that Nick was safe.
You’ve no reason to thank me, Princess. I’ve just cursed that boy to an eternity of ostracism and pain. Before I could argue, he said aloud, “Let’s examine the body now and worry about Nick later.”
“Uh…yeah,” I said slowly, holding a hand out to the kid and trying not to let Andris get to me. He had saved Nick; I could forgive his nihilistic attitude just this once. “Come on. I’m sorry, but I had to do something.”
Much to my relief, he reached up and allowed me to pull him to his feet. He wobbled a little, but he would get used to it after a few hours. Movement would be a bit too effortless for his mind to comprehend just yet, but feeding was all I worried about at this point. The rest seemed simple enough to deal with by comparison. He was a tough kid. Eventually, he would be able to make the best of things, and I would be there to help him for as long as he needed me.
We gathered around the corpse, but Nick didn’t seem bothered by the sight anymore. After all, he was now as dead to the world as this man. Andris pulled the sheet to the body’s waist, and we found out why Jamisen hadn’t allowed us to see below the shoulders.
His ribcage had split open down the middle, with a wet, gaping hole where his heart should have nestled neatly between the lungs. It was another obvious sign of a bloodthirsty fledgling. I could still remember…
I shook my head hard, earning another suspicious frown from Andris. I ignored him. Only once had I allowed myself to lose control. Soon after, I had learned to communicate with my blood, and because of the relationship we shared, I could now resist my urges. I thanked my luck that the blood in my veins was willing to relinquish control.
“No apparent signs of a struggle,” I thought aloud, trying to read the notes from a nearby clipboard, but finding it unusually difficult. My brain felt waterlogged. Was I just being squeamish? “Wait, but this is so gory…who wouldn’t struggle?”
“Well, I don’t see any signs,” Andris said.
“Do you not see the throat? The head? The chest? How could anybody think there were no signs of a struggle?” It disturbed me just a little that I could make these observations so calmly, as though I saw nothing wrong with the scene. A dull pain throbbed in my head just looking at the poor victim’s broken body.
No…my blood saw nothing wrong because, in essence, it was like any other animal. Lions felt no pity for the wildebeest they slaughtered. My human half hated it, but I had prepared myself. The blood didn’t mind, really. Besides…I had done similar things to my first victim…so what was this feeling of dread? It made my insides tighten with uncertainty, dragging my thoughts like heavy stones.
“Well, there aren’t any signs.” Andris pointed at the nails. “See? There’s no blood or skin underneath, and no bruises from someone or something trying to knock him unconscious or hold him still. Nobody but a Shimari victim could possibly let something like this happen without a fight. The trance is too powerful, even if fledglings are the ones doing the entrancing. If a human had tried, they would have caused damage unless they used drugs, but all I sense is the signature of something not human. The killer was probably Shimari, but it was long enough ago—and enough humans have handled the corpse—that I wouldn’t be able to tell you who killed him without actually tasting their blood.”
“Then my theory is confirmed,” I sighed. I felt dizzy, and the claustrophobia only worsened the longer I stared at the corpse. The whole morgue made me uncomfortable and put me on edge. I was sure that someone was watching us. “We’ve found out what we need to know,” I muttered, glancing around. “I think we should go.”
Andris looked up from the corpse as he slid the sheet back over it, wearing an odd expression. “Are you feeling well? You look like you’re about to collapse.”
Was he concerned or just curious?
“I don’t feel….”
It was like being forced into rigor mortis. It happened too quickly for me to even think to be afraid. I gripped the side of the table to steady myself, but it didn’t work, and I was falling before I even…