Avenari - Chapter 8
“Atari? Holy shit, old school!” Nick practically squealed like a little girl when I opened the system cabinet under the television.
“Yep. It’s one of the first ones to come out,” I murmured absently, already sucked into the texts and taking a seat on the sofa where Ivan and I had talked the previous night.
While Nick exulted over the assortment of gaming history exhibits, I perused the little book for all the information I could find concerning the amulets and the powers they held. Annoyingly, the information was scattered throughout like a shuffled deck of cards.
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to use this stuff?” the kid asked, pausing to give me a worried look. “Won’t your...er, family get upset with you?”
I just laughed. “Half of that stuff is riddled with dust at this point, so if anything they’ll just be happy that someone is putting it to good use. There’s also an old Commodore in the basement that needs some much-needed attention if you want to fiddle with it later.”
“I don’t think I would trust myself with something like that,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, you’re cool, but if I broke it and someone got mad, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble.”
“You shouldn’t worry about it, but if you’re intimidated by that you can just play with the stuff in there,” I said, amused at his apparent fear of my family. I would have to show him that we weren’t all that terrible. “Anyway, hook something up and have some fun while I’m reading. All the games are in those tubs over in the corner, and they’re pretty well organized.”
“So I can play anything?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, Nick, you can play anything you want. Have at it.”
He was trying to hide his excitement, but I could sense it just fine without his awkward mannerisms as he dug through the tangled mess of cables beneath the TV. Smiling, I returned to the little book, flipping through while the kid cursed and muttered under his breath. To his credit, the games were probably the only organized things in the room. The cables and controllers were kind of a mess, and the twins and I weren’t bored enough yet to try and tackle that particular monster. Maybe now that Nick was around, the systems would get some usage. Then I would feel less guilty about abandoning what had once been my biggest obsession.
Finally, Nick figured the setup out and decided to play Pong, out of an entire morass of nearly every game—good and bad—invented since the birth of the art. What an odd kid. He took the other end of the couch just as I, at last, came upon something of value.
“Hey, this is all the same stuff my mom told me—further proof that I’m not a loony.” I shot him a look, which was immediately lost on him.
“Uh-huh.” He was too absorbed in what he was doing to really pay attention, but that was okay. I just wanted someone to talk at.
Something was a little off, though. It said that the Plorávero clan consisted of sorcerers and sorceresses, but neither my mother nor I had ever exhibited any sort of affinity for that sort of thing. As a child, my only outstanding attribute had been an uncanny ability to grasp and comprehend information of all kinds—except math, which my mind could grasp about as easily as it could an electric eel on a bad day.
That wasn’t magic or sorcery, and I had tapered off enough in my studies since then that I had pretty much hit a plateau. Without a Newtonian brilliance, I was just above average.
Mildly frustrated, I skipped a few hundred pages and scanned the more recent entries.
“Eureka!” I exclaimed.
Nick gave a start and dropped the controller, cursing when the little white square zipped right on past his motionless bar. “Damn, lost again!”
“Forget that.” I poked at the text in earnest. “I’m in here! And so is my mom!”
“You don’t get it? This book is ancient, and all the handwriting is the same. Why would I be in here? I’m old, but not this old. Same goes for my mom.”
He frowned. “Huh. Maybe it’s magic?” He probably meant it as a joke, but in a way his comment made sense.
“I guess I really am the last one. It says that after my mom ran away with the family treasure, the only remaining women of clan blood were either too old or simply incapable of having children. Apparently, the person with the amulet was the one who held everything together, but somehow they all died. It looks like only women born into the clan were allowed to bear the line, so there was a lot of intermarriage between distant cousins.”
Nick had already started a different game, but this time paid enough attention to make the occasional noncommittal grunt, thereby ensuring that I wouldn’t be able to scare him again.
I flipped a few more pages and found a collection of ink drawings of the most important heads of the family. Some men, some women, but only in the beginning. The latest had all been children—sixteen to eighteen. Well, “children” according to my standards.
I had a lot of tolerance for strange things, but this was just too strange to wrap my head around. Children leading a family of sorcerers? Sure, I had been a precocious kid, but just the concept of taking on such a massive responsibility was more than daunting. I would have outright refused. Deep down, I hoped that no one would hold me liable at this point.
“Okay, time for a break,” I sighed, figuring that if things were going to be this strange, it would be a good idea to have some comfort drinks to go around. Besides, most of my answers were probably with Simone. “Nick, you want a soda?”
“Got any Dew?” His ears were on the sustenance but his eyes would not leave Pac Man unattended. Pong had taught him exactly how treacherous the classics could be.
“Coming right up. I’ll be back in a few.”
I got up and stretched my legs a bit, then went downstairs to the kitchen fridge where our immense collection of drinks merely began. There was even a former bunker out back where Simone kept his half-a-million or so bottles of international wines at constant temperature and humidity. The twins and I were caffeine connoisseurs, whereas Simone and the others stuck to the alcoholic and decaf drinks.
I shoved Jenn’s Fresca aside and grabbed a pair of Mountain Dews, then shut the fridge and headed back up.
“Ice cold with moderate fizz, as Pepsi intended,” I said as I reentered the game room.
When I looked around, however, the TV was off, and the games had been neatly put away. The room felt colder than usual, and was it just me or had the sun settled a few more degrees toward the horizon?
“Nick?” The kid was nowhere to be found, almost as if he had never been there to begin with. Even his scent was gone.
Something flickered against my spatial sense like a chill winter breeze, but when I focused in on the sensation, it grew almost hot. I tried to take a step further in, but a sudden surge of power had me glued to the floor; heavy and thick like custard, but with a mind of its own. It sent creeping sensations scratching up my spine and through my veins—my blood focused on this power, whispering of danger.
It was Shimari...almost. But what was a Shimare doing out during the daytime?
“Who’s there?” This was Simone’s territory. My territory! This creep had some gall...
“What?” And now I was hearing things. Okay, it was time to reevaluate all of Nick’s insanity accusations. Quite likely, this was all just a manifestation of my dissatisfaction with spending so much time in one dinky locale. Or maybe I was subconsciously feeling guilty for exposing Nick to my semi-dangerous world. Yeah, that last one had to be it. Freud was heckling me from the grave. Or was it Jung? Psychology was filled with crazy people studying crazy people—one of them had to apply.
...or a counterfeit, perhaps? The voice—or whatever the hell it was—sounded almost confused, and just this side of patronizing. It spoke to me the way my blood did, not like the others in my family who used normal telepathy. This was a cold echo in my mind, as much a physical sensation as it was a thought.
“Make some sense and maybe you’ll get an answer!” I snapped, figuring that maybe yelling at the thing would make it go away, like kicking a malfunctioning computer into submission.
Instead, it seemed to get angry...much like my computer.
Counterfeit! growled the voice, and the power around my ankles constricted like thousands of liquid serpents.
“I still have no clue as to what you’re talking about, but I’m sure that being rational will help us both!” I cried, trying not to panic as the power squeezed around my calves and slowly slid up my legs. My mind raced through all kinds of ideas to try and talk my way out of this, but I could sense that whatever had me in its grasp was probably beyond reasoning.
To hell with it, I would not let my own delusions take me down without a fight. “Bring it on, figment! I’ll take you any day! You just try and see what happens!” I even shook my fist for good measure. Sure, it was bravado and nothing more, but bravado made me feel better.
Astonishingly, the power eased at my declaration, as though considering my offer.
And then, too quickly, it was gone.
...I was still in the kitchen?!
“You could have at least left me at the game room,” I said, exchanging the now-warm sodas for another couple of cold ones and trudging my disgruntled self back upstairs.
This time Nick was there, and the sun had resumed its appropriate angle in the sky, but I had lost all appetite for research, and curled up on the couch instead to sip my soda and ruminate.
The kid was too distracted by Rush 2 to see that anything was amiss, but that was probably for the better. As the sun sank lower and lower on the horizon I could feel my blood begin to stir, sensing that Simone’s rising was near. I knew that before then I would have to concoct a plan to convince him that I wasn’t insane, that Mom had really given me these stones, and that Nick was completely trustworthy.
The voice, however...well, I’d have to omit that if I wanted them to take me seriously.
* o * o *
Hours of reading and gameplay later, I realized that sunset had occurred only after I felt a presence behind me. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see Simone walk into the doorway. Already, his expression was a little bit annoyed, but I pretended that I hadn’t noticed.
“Oh my god,” moaned Nick, shaking the N64’s controller. “Please, Lynn, just tell me where it is! I need to find that last marble or I’m gonna go crazy!”
“Hi, Simone,” I said as cheerfully as I could, elbowing the kid. He flinched and spun around, then stood suddenly and backed up against the TV.
“Oh, crap. I swear I never asked for this,” he stammered, his eyes wide. “I was just drinking coffee, and then she kidnapped me, and now she’s crazy.”
My smile faltered, and I couldn’t help but frown at him in disbelief. “What the hell are you on about?” I demanded.
Nick just stood there, unable to look away from Simone, and said hoarsely, “Please don’t kill me. I swear I won’t tell anyone.”
Simone stared blankly at him for a few moments, long enough to make the kid fidget nervously. Finally, he sighed and turned to me. “I think we need to have a family meeting.”
I winced a little and tried to plaster the smile back on my face, but to no avail. In the end I gave up, and held the little book up. “Yeah, we’ve got a lot to cover.”
He squinted at the book for a several seconds, apparently surprised, and only seemed to return to the present when I cleared my throat.
“Agreed,” he said slowly, turning to the nervous kid before I could ask him what was wrong. “Nick, is it?”
Nick nodded, unable to speak, though I could hear his heart pounding at his name.
“I suppose introductions are in order,” my Maker said thoughtfully. “I am Simone, the patron of this house and the one who turned Lynn. Please forgive my adopted daughter’s unorthodox methods. Despite your obvious fears, I am grateful that you have allowed her to gain your friendship. You are welcome to stay.” He glanced at me and sighed again. “This is bound to be an interesting night. Lynn, we will meet you in the living room once everyone has risen.”
“See you there,” I said, frowning hard as he walked away. I’d never seen Simone act like that before, and it made me just a little bit nervous.
Behind me, Nick let out a long breath and returned to the couch with a slump. “If I have a nervous breakdown, you get to pay for my therapy,” he muttered darkly.
“I guess the fun is over,” I said, nodding at the TV. “Shut it off. The twins will be up in a few minutes.”
* o * o *
My explanation of everything that had happened during the day, edited for easier consumption, of course, had lasted only about an hour. It took a little bit longer, but I also managed to gain almost everyone’s blessing on the matter concerning Nick. Jenn, Veronica, and Mitch were quick to follow after hearing that Simone didn’t mind, and Ivan had been on my side the whole time. If anything, they were just relieved that I had finally returned to normal.
Sam, however, remained the eternal skeptic. I couldn’t completely convince him that it was okay to show the mortal where we lived, though I suspected that the kid had been too busy covering his eyes during the drive to really have known the Manor’s location. Luckily, Sam’s opinion was probably the least important of them all. It was simply in his nature to disagree, and we all knew it. He would come around eventually.
The matter of the amulets, however, was a different story. The only ones who halfway believed me were Nick and Ivan, though they clearly still had doubts. I couldn’t really fault them for that, but it annoyed me that even Simone seemed reluctant to give me a straight answer about the information I’d gotten from my mom and the little genealogy book. He acted as though he was waiting for some other puzzle piece to click into place—a missing element that would tie everything up into one neat little package—and my patience was quickly wearing thin.
“Then explain to me how I could wake up in the middle of the day and not get torched!” I said, repeating myself for perhaps the twentieth time.
Sam gave a derisive snort. “So what? That doesn’t mean the rocks made you immune. Why do you always pick the most outlandish reasons for things you can’t otherwise explain? Why can’t you just say that it happened and you don’t know how, like any normal person?” He was following the same vein as Nick, and that had gotten old long before sundown.
“Told you your reasoning was screwed up,” the mortal said, giving me that look again.
This was more than just frustrating.
“Shut up, kid—because I’m not lying to myself! Look! I even have the book to prove it!” I pointed at the book on the coffee table. “Have Simone flip through. He can read Shimari.”
My Maker frowned slightly, leaning forward in his chair and picking the volume up with a curious glance to me. “Perhaps, but you cannot. How would you know that these words truly pertain to your family?”
“Because I can read it,” I sighed, massaging my temples in an attempt to renew my patience. It wasn’t working. “The ruby granted my wish when I wanted to be able to read Shimari. Plus, there are lithographs near the end that depict all the others in the family who had amulets. Hell, some of those strangers even look like me.”
Sam barked a laugh. “And now they grant wishes? Then wish for something. Prove it.”
I glared at him, considering a well-deserved punch to the nose, but lucky for him, Ivan sat between us and gave me a pleading look which made me rethink my options. “Fine, I wish I had a bat to beat you with!” I said.
A moment passed.
Followed by several more.
I frowned down at the amulet, but it remained dim. “What the hell? I wished for something, dammit!” Even after some poking, it did absolutely squat.
Sam’s grin was nigh on intolerable. “Oh? Nothing? What a shocking development.”
“Enough,” Simone said, silencing the cretin. “And Lynn, please don’t concoct stories.”
“It’s not a story!” I said, frustrated to no end. “It really does these things. I don’t know why it’s not working now, but it worked while you all were at rest.”
“Yeah, it was,” Nick admitted.
Sam glared past his brother and me, at the kid lounging against the sofa arm. “As if you have any say in Shimari matters.”
“As if I know what the hell a ‘Shimari’ matter is,” Nick shot back. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself. Like me, he was expanding his little sphere and embracing the absolute weirdness of my world. Unlike me, he wasn’t trying to convince his family that he was sane.
“Anyway,” Simone interrupted before Sam decided to take it upon himself to attack my new friend, “I think the mere existence of the stones should be considered a form of proof. However, if the ruby does what you say it does, then what power does the moonstone possess?”
I shrugged. “It never reacted to anything I did, so I’m not sure.”
“Then should I suppose that we will not get all the answers tonight?”
His tone roused my suspicion, and I squinted at him in interest. “Why? What’s up?”
“Tivor,” Veronica muttered with an ambiguous gesture. “He’s at it again.”
Simone nodded and laced his fingers across his knee. “The Emperor has finalized the arrangements, and I am to leave for the Brood Manor tomorrow night.”
“But what about Lynn’s birthday?” Ivan asked. “You’ll be here, won’t you?”
“I will do my best to return quickly, but it seems as though action is finally being taken against…him.” Simone’s expression hardened slightly. He never actually said Tivor’s name anymore. We could say it all we wanted, but he never did. “There is no way to be certain how long I will be gone, or where I will end up being needed. The Emperor and the Council have yet to brief me on the full details. I just know that I must go.”
“But why you?” I asked, more than a little upset at the thought that Simone might end up spending my birthday dealing with his Maker. Of all the people in the world, Tivor was quite possibly the only person that Simone truly hated.
He gave me a tiny, apologetic smile. “Vrisalte is apparently sending envoys of their own to help Ivanarke deal with the problem. I am the only person on the roster who is in good standing with both Brood Manors. Thanks to the debacle with Dorian, I’ve had to keep up correspondence with many of the Vrisalri Council members, and the Emperor feels that I might be better able to gather information than someone who has no relationship with the West.”
I hid a smirk. Dorian was the only other vampire allowed in our territory, and he owned a high-end restaurant and bar in the downtown area. I didn’t get to see him nearly as often as I would have liked. He was…a character. Long story short, he had screwed up in England and had to be moved out of Vrisalte’s jurisdiction, or else they would have executed him. Simone was given the job of babysitter simply because they had met one time for Brood business.
“Well, if the Emperor ordered it then we can’t argue,” Mitch sighed as he helped Jenn reset the onyx and crystal chessboard on the coffee table. She and Veronica liked to play during family meetings, and the loser always had to reset.
“That’s so bull,” Sam said. “The Emperor has a leash on all of us, doesn’t he? I haven’t even seen the guy, and he’s still got more control over my life than I’d like to think.”
“Pretty much,” Ivan said. “What exactly is Tivor doing anyway that requires an intervention by the Shimari Council itself? I’ve heard that he’s fledging a veritable army of new blood, but something on such a wide scale would require a lot more cover-up than what his tiny band of minions can provide. It sounds too outlandish to be true, and even if it were, there are plenty of ancients out there who would love to get a crack at him.”
“Those were my thoughts exactly,” Veronica said, sitting on a floor pillow across from Jenn and moving her frosted crystal pawn forward two spaces. “Tivor just isn’t that coordinated, and even though he has Agnes, I know for a fact that only the most horrendous scare tactics would be potent enough to keep a hundred newborns in line. Just these three were hellions until their twentieth year.”
“A handful, indeed,” Simone said, glancing at the three of us with the shadow of a smile flickering across his face.
“That aside,” I said, trying to change the topic, “what are we supposed to do while you’re gone doing dangerous things for the Shimari Council’s sake? This isn’t nearly as scary-sounding as that Crimson who turned the twins—Tivor’s one of the least remarkable Shimaren I know of—but if someone is helping him, then they might be powerful enough to worry about.”
Something dropped onto my head, and I frowned up at Ivan. It was his hand.
His smile twitched nervously. “Please don’t remind me of that madwoman.”
“Yeah, I’ve never been accosted by mere power like that,” Sam added, giving me an unhappy look. “In fact, just leave Crimsons alone altogether unless absolutely necessary.”
A grin slowly crept onto my face. “You’re scared, aren’t you?”
His expression didn’t even flicker. “Fucking petrified.”
“Samuel!” Simone snapped, a sudden rush of irritation whipping through the room. “You no longer have permission to speak.” Simone’s ire was a rare event, brought out by very few things—one of which was the utterance of “big guns” in his presence.
“I’m just expressing my opinion,” Sam defended stubbornly.
“Opine in a less offensive manner,” my Maker curtly replied, his aura of energy curling around the room like an annoyed mist. “Now silence unless you are spoken to.”
“He has a point, though. That creature was terrifying,” Ivan said.
“Acknowledged, but even I have limits.” As Simone calmed, the atmosphere dissipated, making it easier to think.
The discussion dropped off at Nick’s shout, and we all looked to him in curiosity.
“What is the matter?” Simone asked.
The kid glanced about, clearly nervous. “Am I the only one who hears that?”
My Maker’s eyes narrowed the tiniest bit. “What does it sound like?”
“Er, well...more of a feeling, actually—like someone’s whispering in my head.”
Whispering? I closed my eyes and felt into his mind, connecting with his thoughts.
And then I looked nervously to the entrance. “Someone’s coming.” I could feel it now, that same thick energy sliding across the floor like a slowly expanding pool of warm blood.
“Who?” Jenn whispered, feeling it too. “The barrier would have alerted us if another Shimare had gotten in.”
Ivan and Sam went rigid as statues, clearly afraid. “It’s her!” Sam choked out.
“No, different,” Ivan said under his breath. “I think it’s someone else.”
And then the visitor knocked. The sudden, jarring noise echoed through the Manor three times, leaving a ringing silence in its wake.
I swallowed hard and forced a half-anxious laugh, “Uh, it might be a little late to say, but there was one thing I left out of the recount.”
“What?” Sam stared, totally floored that I had omitted anything at all.
“Please. You didn’t believe anything I said, regardless.”
“Save it for later,” Mitch said. “We should tend to this, first.”
“Tend to it how?” Veronica looked around at each of us. “Should we even answer?”
Nobody seemed to want to do it. Even Simone seemed cautious, though he was prepared to go over there anyway. It was his territory, after all. He had to be sensing something bad if it was enough to make him hesitate.
However, I got up off the couch before he could stand, resolved in what I had to do. “I’ll answer it.” If it was the same person as before, then they were probably here for me. That was what I got for egging on the voices in my head. I’d have to remember that for next time—if I survived round one, of course.
“Lynn, wait!” Ivan tried to hold me back, but I moved out of his reach before he could catch my hand and walked decisively towards the door. I wanted to know who this person was that felt so powerful, and the only way was to throw away fear and face him. Sometimes I took a less-intelligent road, but somebody had to be the idiot. Idiocy was better than cowardice.
Nobody followed. I didn’t know whether to feel thankful or irritated.
My fingers hovered before the knob, still hesitant, but I shoved the worry away and turned it before I could stop myself.