Avenari - Chapter 38
After showering, I changed into yet another colorful ensemble to combat my demon’s monochromatic affliction—purple cargo shorts, a red T-shirt with some green kanji on the front and back, and my usual sneakers. Fortunately, someone had again switched the wardrobe, and it was now filled with things I would happily wear. There wasn’t a dress in sight, much to Andris’ disappointment, and once dressed we headed over to Nick’s room and rapped on the door.
“Come in!” the kid called from inside. “It’s not locked!”
I stepped in with Andris close behind, and was surprised to see that his room was just like mine, but green and blue, rather than crimson and gold.
“Weird. What colors are yours?” I asked Andris.
“Black.” He grinned when I squinted at him in disbelief.
“They’re watching us,” I said under my breath, imagining shadowy organizations with black helicopters and conspicuous white vans monitoring our every move. It was hard to think that they would change the décor to match our color preferences, but the facts were startling.
At that moment, Nick came in from his own private bath with a towel around his waist and said, “I know. Green and blue are my favorite colors.” He headed for the armoire, dug out some appropriate clothing, and carried it back into the bath. “I’ll be out in a few.”
I looked at Andris, then at the closed shoji door. “He’s so skinny,” I commented to the chromatically-disinclined member of our trio.
“I was sick before, remember?” Nick said from the other room. “It would have been nice to bulk up a little, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Even if I look lanky, I can still punch a hole through a car.”
“He has a point,” my demon said.
“I suppose.” Still, I regretted that I hadn’t given the kid more time to recover.
“Don’t worry about it.” Nick came back out, dressed in a green hoodie, Levis, and white sneakers. “There are upsides to being so unassuming. Nobody would ever suspect the twiggy nerd kid. Plus, it kinda suits me.” He grinned, and I sighed.
“Ah, such a cheeky brat.” I looked to Andris for his verdict.
“In all honesty, my only annoyance is that his hair doesn’t explode when put in contact with water. Also that he can sleep, and I can’t.”
Nick laughed. “I’ll make sure to lord it over you for as long as I possibly can.”
“Whatever you say, runt. Sleep with one eye open, because I don’t sleep at all.”
“Ooh, I think that was a threat just now. So intense.”
“Anyway,” I said before they started fighting seriously, “how was your test?”
The kid shrugged and stuck his hands in the front pocket of his sweater. “I’m a lot better at stopping, now. Mizumi’s advice finally started making sense, and she showed me how to focus the water into streams to shoot from my hands. I can hit the bull’s-eye at a hundred yards.”
“Did Quelos approve?” asked Andris.
“He says it should come in useful, but I need to get the shut-off down pat unless I want to get blasted by a billion volts of electricity.” He gave us a weak smile. “Honestly, he and Akuro would be better off if Mizumi came along, but nobody seems all that worried, and the lightning bugs are positive that you can handle the hunters.”
Andris sighed at that. “They’re expecting me to do all the dirty work for them.”
That worried me to no end. “Which brings us to our biggest problem,” I said. “One of the hunters neutralized Andris’ ability to heal. He can’t even heal a bite mark at the moment.”
Nick blinked. “Hold up, when the hell did this happen?”
My demon touched my shoulder. “I should probably explain.”
Knowing that he could tell it better than I could, I nodded, and he motioned for us to sit in the chairs around the glowing fireplace. Like my room, there was no firewood set aside, and I wondered if the half-breeds took care of the fires when we weren’t around to see them. The hearths seemed like the only heat sources in the entire Brood Manor.
“So? What’s the deal?” Nick asked once we sat down. He leaned forward with his hands clasped in apprehension.
Andris sighed, frowning deeply. “The night we first went to the feeding house, Lynn and I ran into a hunter that I know. We would have brought it up, but Lynn’s accident made it somewhat difficult to discuss.
“His name is Corik, the hunter I spoke of in the limo. He’s the one who betrayed me to his clan. I survived, but because I killed several of his family members in the process of flushing out the poison, the Toreliaqne hunter clan has a permanent bounty on my head.
“He hit me with a spell that took away my ability to heal. I didn’t know what it was until I spoke to Quelos, but I didn’t mention it because there was a chance that it wouldn’t work. I’m not a Shimare, and their tricks don’t always work on me.” He shrugged a little.
“Anyway, he reappeared again earlier while Lynn and I were walking on base, and shot me through the heart with a different spell. It went right through my barrier. I couldn’t heal it. Lynn had to donate blood so that I could use its healing properties as a replacement for mine.”
Nick turned to me for confirmation, his expression truly disturbed.
“It’s all true. He got carried away and nearly drained me, too.”
The ancient stiffened visibly. “I stopped eventually,” he said, sounding injured.
“I had to pry you off, you gourmand.”
“Enough!” Nick said, forcing us silent. “This is serious stuff, right? I mean, even if Andris is more powerful than anyone else, one lucky shot could still kill him, couldn’t it?”
Andris was silent for a moment, embarrassed and annoyed, then said reluctantly, “Well, if I’m going to bring harsh reality into this, then yes, there is a possibility. However, the chances are so small that there’s no reason why we can’t go about the mission as though I were just fine.”
I couldn’t blame him for not wanting us to make a fuss. Andris was so used to being invincible that breaking the habit of reckless behavior was pretty much a futile effort.
I reached over to hold his hand. “If you want to come, nobody here can stop you, but I don’t want to even think about what would happen if you were killed because of stubborn pride.”
He gave me an exasperated look, though his grip was gentle. “Princess, all I’m missing is my healing ability, as well as my ability to replenish my blood. Everything else is the same as it always was: ridiculously powerful.”
“Look,” Nick said, “I know this is gonna sound weird coming from me, but as much as you bug me sometimes, I don’t want you to die. Lynn is so damn happy with you, and to tell the truth, I’m glad you’re my Maker. I’ve got an enormous head start, but it’s useless unless you’re around to teach me. If you get done in, I’m not gonna have anyone else to take your place.”
Andris was shocked, to put it lightly. Actually, it was as though he expected to see four equestrian demons and one winged swine leap from an icy inferno and set off to destroy the world at any moment.
“Well...that’s a surprise,” he managed at length, turning his eyes to the floor and keeping them there for a long moment. “Be that as it may, I still can’t let you two go alone. Even with Quelos there. He’s doing this for the hell of it, just because he’s bored, and that worries me.”
“Then what can we do to make sure that nothing happens?” I said, drawing nothing but blanks. “If you want me to leave the hunters to you, I understand why, but still...”
He let go of my hand and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “I’m happy that you care so much about my safety, but the ones you should really worry for are yourself and Nick. I have power and experience on my side, but you two might not be ready for this.
“You’re not the only ones who would be upset if one of us were hurt. You’re my blood partner and only love, and Nick is my first, last, and only fledgling. I won’t have another as long as I live, of either. Heed the advice of someone who knows the cruelties of a long life, and take care of yourselves before you worry about me.”
Nick stared hard at him. “Well, this must be one of those moments. We’re at a stalemate; Andris doesn’t want us going into this without him, and we don’t want him going into it without his most important defense.”
“Damned if we do; damned if we don’t,” I said, pouting at Andris.
“If push comes to shove, I’ll pull rank and force you to suffer my presence.” The ancient frowned at us both. “This is not negotiable. Either I come along or nobody goes. Even Tatsune can’t argue. I’m only allowing you to go because I’ll be there in case things get out of hand. I’m the only one with any experience—you’d be going in blind without me.”
“I guess it’s settled, then,” I said, unable to hold back my worry, but even less able to deny his logic. “You’re coming with us.”
Nick blinked at me in surprise. “Lynn, that’s crazy—”
“Andris is right. He’s integral to the plan—he’s been integral to everything from the start. Besides, he’s just as stubborn as I am, and two people being stubborn against each other will end badly no matter how you look at it.” I managed a weary smile for my demon. “I hope you’re as capable as you say you are. I don’t want any more nightmares added to my sleep regimen.”
“You have my word that I won’t do anything reckless to make you worry any more than you already do,” Andris said. He looked to Nick. “You, too. I suppose it would be unwise to shirk my responsibilities as your Maker, considering how much power I’ve given you.”
“Damn straight, old man.”
Andris laughed a little and took his arm back. “Then I suppose we should move onto the next order of business, shouldn’t we?”
Nick frowned, looking from me to Andris in curiosity. “And that would be...?”
Andris stood. “I’ve decided to exercise a bit of the authority that those idiots on the Hanarisar have been reserving for me. Think of it as revenge for the hell they put me through.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
Mischief gleamed in his dark eyes. “A tour of some of the most restricted areas in Ivanarke—Sakura!” Nick and I flinched at the sudden call, and before we could get our bearings, there sounded three rapid knocks at the door, which Andris immediately went to answer.
While we looked on in confusion, the tiny half-breed stepped in, standing straight with her hands clasped neatly in front of her. “How may I be of service, Elder?”
“Sakura, take us to the Council’s resting chambers.”
“What?” I interrupted before she could reply to the absurd suggestion. “Andris, what the hell is wrong with your head?”
Andris shrugged. “I prepared a little present for them, and I want to give it before we leave. You two might enjoy the tour, and there are other interesting sights along the way.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, but Nick beat me to it.
“What kind of present?” he asked. “It’s not a bomb or something, is it?”
The demon grinned darkly and reached into his pocket, withdrawing what looked like a stack of business cards. “It’s a little unusual for me to put in so much effort, but I figured I should have some fun while I’m here.” He held them out to us.
We stood at the same time to see what he meant, and he handed us half a stack, each.
As I flipped through and read his strangely neat, yet mysterious handwriting—a bit like foreign characters turned into an English alphabet—I felt the panic begin to rise.
“Andris, are you out of your mind?” I asked, gawking at the cards, then at him. I checked Nick, and he wore the same expression of horror and disbelief.
“You’re kidding, right?” the kid said. “Seriously, I knew you were a little off, but come on, man. Cut a guy some slack.”
“It’s been a while. I figured I should greet them each as personally as possible.”
“You call this ‘greeting’ a person?!” I hissed, utterly mystified by his logic.
“Pardon? May I ask what this is about?” Sakura had watched in silence up until that point, but it seemed that even she couldn’t restrain her curiosity over what was going on.
I glanced at her and balked, uncertain as to whether or not this was something a servant of the Council should see. However, Andris plucked the stack right out of Nick’s shaking hands and read a few of the so-called ‘greetings’ to the half-breed:
“‘Dear Atreus, If I take my place on the Hanarisar, you’ll be the first to go.’ ‘Asenath, you irritate me. Die immediately.’ ‘Aias, let’s play chess sometime. From Andris.’”
He looked up and smiled. “I’ve got one for every member of the Council who knew me. Aias is kind of an old friend, but everyone else’s is, well, abusive.”
I palmed my face, marveling at the fact that his absurd whim hadn’t given me a migraine. There was something hopelessly wrong with the love of my life. “Andris, you can’t possibly be serious.” I dropped my hand and he gave me an indignant look.
“Of course I’m serious! I have things that I want to say, but don’t have the time to express at the moment. Like hell I’m returning to the Judgment Hall. At the very least, I want to leave these cards in their resting chambers.” He smirked suddenly, the indignation giving way immediately to conniving glee. “Besides, I want to know how they’ll react. If I’m lucky, they’ll remove me from the list.”
“You’re not going to let us stop this, are you?” Nick said, though his tone made it apparent that he already knew which answer to expect.
Sakura frowned a little, mostly at Andris, but seemed to come to some sort of decision with her feelings on the matter. “Very well. If an Elder has a request, then it is my duty to carry it out, regardless of how childish. Please follow me.”
Andris watched her retreating back with a wary eye. “I think she just called me childish.”
“You can’t be angry with her for telling it like it is,” I said, taking his hand and shoving the cards into it. “Let’s go, you madman. If we can’t stop you, then I’ll at least make sure your little prank goes no further than this.”
Nick massaged his temples, and Andris gave me a curious look as we followed after Sakura. “Are you angry with me for wanting to do this?” my demon asked.
His innocent expression was as endearing as a fuzzy black kitten with a white face and paws, and my heart shivered in its cage as I restrained my unhealthy desire to squeeze him tight and pet his head. “Look, you,” I said firmly, “I understand how you feel about the Council, and I’m not going to deny your need to scratch this itch you seem to have over the whole affair, but sometimes I am at a loss as to what is going on in your head.”
“Only a few things, actually,” he said, counting them off on one hand. “You, sex with you, your blood, revenge, and regret—in order of importance, from greatest to least. One through three are covered, and five is like background noise, so four is my current goal.”
Nick’s face transformed into the most severe expression of dumbfounded horror I had ever seen on a person. “Holy shit, you really said that—like it was completely okay.”
“Is it wrong to have goals and priorities?” Andris asked in all sincerity.
“Lynn, there’s something not right with this guy!” Nick announced. “You should have made sure he was right in the head before bonding for eternity with him.”
I shook my head. “I think it’s because he’s old. Old people need hobbies, too, you know.”
“Those aren’t hobbies! Those are symptoms!”
Andris’ eye twitched at Nick’s assertion, but he spoke to me instead, probably hoping I would shut the kid up. “Princess?”
“Forget it, demon. Come on. Sakura’s just as exasperated with you as we are, and she’s leaving us behind...not that it would disappoint me if she did.”
He frowned, stacking his cards together and fanning them out in one hand to look them over. “It’s such a brilliant idea, though. I don’t understand why you two are so against it.”
“So says the only one of us who can prank the leaders of the Shimari Empire and survive unscathed,” I said, taking his free hand and pulling him close beside me. “Please don’t drag Nick or me into your bitter feud. I like being alive, after all.”
“Hear, hear,” Nick piped up.
I cocked a brow at Andris. “Catch my drift?”
He gave me an amused half-hug. “If that’s your problem, then don’t worry about it. Mizumi wants Nick as an apprentice, and you are the last of the Ploráverim. None of this will affect you two. Plus, they can’t touch me. We’re all safe in our mischief.”
“Your mischief,” I corrected.
He just laughed.
For the most part, our journey through Ivanarke’s long, gently curved, concentric corridors was much the same as it had been so far during our visit. The outer ring had some rooms like ours, but mostly just empty walls or shrouded windows. Fantastic and antique works of art broke up the space in between, and miles of intricate oriental carpeting lined our path. There were new things to stare at the whole way, but the general feel was that of filler—something to entertain the eyes while one walked and walked along the endless halls.
There were many doors and stairways which led up and down like a twisted apartment complex on the higher floors. However, when Sakura began leading us below ground, where there were no windows at all, the atmosphere gradually transformed.
Art gave way to archaeology, like the bowels of a massive natural science museum—stuffed fish and animals I had never seen before, with a few that I knew only from Simone’s books and TV documentaries. There was a dodo, a moa, and a coelacanth; there were tropical birds frozen in glass displays beside their own bleached skeletons. I even spotted a monstrous crocodile and an equally massive shark, both in cases reflecting their natural habitats.
“That’s called a megalodon,” Andris informed me while I stared in awe at the rows and rows of six-inch serrated teeth, anchored in a jaw big enough to swallow me whole. “It’s just a model, but the fossil skeleton is real. It’s an extinct species of shark.”
Nick shook his head in wonder. “And I thought Jaws was creepy.”
“You said it.” My own fangs suddenly felt rather dull and uninteresting.
After the animal exhibit, which included many fossilized remains and even a few dinosaur skeletons, there was a human exhibit.
It reminded me of that picture of Darwin’s evolution of man. There were strange, apelike creatures, followed by more humanoid creatures, with names like Australopithecus and Homo Habilus and other Latin fragments. As we got further and further along, deeper into a gradually sloping spiral some hundred or so feet below ground, modern Homo Sapiens appeared.
From there it went into an elaborate breakdown of the human body; from the nervous and lymphatic systems, to the reproductive, cardiovascular, and skeletal systems. There were thousands of specimens, some with identification cards to show who had given up that body part. Most were anonymous, though, which I found disturbing. Were they stolen from graves, as was common practice in the days when autopsies were considered taboo? Or were they criminals or vagrants, whose absence would do nothing to shake the balance of the world?
Sensing my worries, Andris prodded Sakura onward to the next exhibit. This turned out to be everything I didn’t want to know about disease and medicine. It wasn’t pleasant.
Plants were fun, though, and so were the advancements of the industrial age—Andris was like the possessed when we came upon a long timeline of pretty much every car ever created. I had to keep Nick from kicking him as I tried to reason with my distracted demon.
And then, rather abruptly, the condensed Smithsonian ended, and we descended a nearly invisible stairway to a completely different floor. According to Sakura, the stairs were only visible to Elders and those who accompanied them.
The luxuries and curiosities of the floors above vanished, simply replaced by stone corridors lined with gas lanterns set just far enough apart for only a Shimare to see by. Our faint steps echoed off the walls, bouncing around and coming back to us in delayed time. Once in a while, they caught in the tiny depressions of steel doors to alert us of their presence before we came upon them, like echolocation, but within the range of human hearing.
We walked for some time while Andris studied the Shimari inscriptions on the doors we passed. They were numbers and representative symbols—though, without context, I didn’t understand what they meant—and it seemed that he was searching for a particular one.
“Wait,” he said suddenly, pausing before a door like all the others. The word for “blood” and the number forty-eight had been inscribed on this one’s little bronze plaque.
Sakura halted and gave him a piercing frown, as though uncomfortable with his decision, but he smiled as inoffensively as he could.
“I just want to show them something. As you can see, we’re a unique enough group that they deserve to know. If they were normal, I wouldn’t even consider it. Besides, I once frequented this place.”
Her stare only intensified before she gave the slightest of nods. “I am forbidden to enter this room. I shall await you here. Take care not to damage anything, if you would.”
“You have my word,” Andris replied before turning to Nick and me. “What you two are about to see is an absolute secret. Only the researchers involved, the Emperor, and the Hanarisar have knowledge of this room, so it is of utmost importance that this stays between the three of us, understood? Granted, Yoko and the Elementals probably know about it, too, but I wouldn’t broadcast the information unless they speak first.”
His tone set Nick and me on edge, but he brushed it away with an easy laugh. “Don’t worry—it’s nothing too disagreeable. It’s just a bit of history that nobody knows anymore.” He took my hand as he pulled the thick, enormously heavy iron door open. No human could ever have hoped to open that thing. It was like a bank vault, yet the ancient could have done it with his pinky finger.
The first sensation to hit me was scent, and I blinked to clear my head of the confusion.
Yes, it was blood, but there was so much of it, in such variety. All of the bloodlines were represented—even those which had gone extinct. I even caught Andris’ scent, as well as a dozen more that I couldn’t have placed if my life had depended on it.
“What is that?” Nick asked, sniffing the dry, cool air that wafted out of the dark room.
“It’s better if I show you,” my demon replied, leading us in without further ado.
Once we crossed the threshold, fluorescent track lighting flickered on, accompanied by the familiar whine of running electricity. There was a motion sensor somewhere.
However, all motion stopped when I actually saw what was inside.
It felt like a macabre clinic; about the size of a basketball court, with sterile white walls and white linoleum floors. Instead of patient beds, however, there were steel tables and rows upon rows of glass cases holding samples—a clinic turned museum and test facility.
“This is where the research is done,” Andris explained, motioning towards three stainless steel tables in the middle of the room, as well as a dozen machines and devices which lined the left wall. The rest of the room was nothing but samples under glass. “It’s not drug research or anything like that—it’s vampire research. For a long time now, the Emperors of Ivanarke have implemented a system of examination whenever a new type of blood is found, in order to learn how and why the blood gives various powers to particular individuals.”
I caught his scent again, automatically moving forward and tracing the source.
I found it in the back of the room: a fifty-milliliter round-bottom flask—that’s what it said on the glass vial—filled with the darkest blood in the entire facility. It was capped tightly, but my senses were too acute not to catch the few free-floating traces of my love’s wonderful scent. He was special—his sample had its own, bulletproof glass case, as well as a gold plaque on the base listing his name, status, line, and class: Andris, Nariuvne—Unique Line (Incipient?)—Ancient Crimson.
“Andris, you’re here, too?”
He appeared behind me and kissed my temple. “I may be a social outcast, but these kinds of things have always fascinated me. The blood and its properties fascinate me—the very nature of what we are, regardless of differences, piques my interest.”
I frowned and looked up at him, but his eyes were on the flask, a strange, gleam hiding behind the darkness. “Why? I thought you hated being studied like a lab rat.” I was neither condemning his interest, nor throwing in my support. It just surprised me that he found any one thing other than vehicles so captivating.
My demon pondered for a moment while Nick meandered over to listen in, then said carefully, “I am unique. There may be legends of my kind in long-forgotten history, but there were apparently so few that no evidence but hearsay remains. I want to know how I am related to you, Princess. I want to know why those who shared my qualities vanished.
“I know I am powerful, and I know that my thirst is one which focuses on survival, but that only deepens the mystery. If I am so permanent, then why did my kind vanish? My face and health don’t show it, but I have a method by which to calculate my age. Maybe I do age. Maybe that’s why I am the only one left—the others long dead of old age while I myself, born later and separate, arose from a genetic version of the chaos theory.”
I peered quietly into his head, like tugging on a thread of our bond and listening to the vibrations it carried from his mind, and realized at once why he wanted so badly to know.
Andris was alone. He was not like me, nor was he like anyone else he or I had ever known. Even though I was with him, that little fragment of his heart was alone, searching for the answer—any answer—to end the mystery.
Somehow, I knew that Nick could hear Andris’ thoughts through my own, and I looked over at him, beginning to worry.
Nick gave me a wry smirk. “The rest of it seems happy enough.”
I was like a conduit between them, Maker and fledgling. Nick heard Andris and vice versa, but it was all through my mind. My bonds to Andris let me into his impenetrable head, and my quiet understanding of Nick let me into his. The two couldn’t understand each other very well yet—only fragments and shadows of emotions and thoughts—so they used me as a shortcut.
The revelation took half a second, and I was suddenly unhappy with the both of them.
“I’m not an AC/DC adapter, you two. Hurry up and get to know each other before my own thoughts get lost in your traffic.”
“My apologies, cara mea,” said the Maker, grinning slightly at my expense.
“I actually like the filter, thanks,” the fledgling added after a thought. “But it does get irritating when you two get all cozy. I can’t figure out how to turn it off yet...”
“Too much information,” I groaned, leaning into Andris and fighting the urge to hit him.
“Tell me about it,” Nick said in irritation. “My ego is a shattered mess of its former self.”
“Privacy is dead,” Andris mock-lamented.
“I thought that was chivalry,” I said.
“No, chivalry still has a pulse. It’s faint, but there’s life in it yet. I’ll find a way.”
“You’re a strange, strange man, Andris.”
“I am aware of this.”
In the back of my head, I knew that the boys were just trying to distract me from that lonely fragment in my blood partner’s heart, so I played along, but still...I couldn’t help my immediate need to fix it. Andris wanted so badly to know the reasons behind his existence, and it hurt to know that I couldn’t find those answers for him. I loved him so much, and he felt the same for me, yet that couldn’t erase his ancient uncertainties.
He didn’t hear my thoughts just behind the veil of our bonds, so he was a little startled when I took his face in my hands and kissed him suddenly.
“What was that for?” he said, staring at me.
“I don’t think I could possibly love you any more than I do, so don’t get so hung up on the dark side of things. At least we have each other now.”
His mind buzzed softly inside of mine, and though it didn’t shrink or go away, the little fragment became less important to him, bit by bit. “I feel the same way.” He smiled tenderly at me. It made me feel much better.
Nick cleared his throat loudly, and we gave each other the same amused smirk and moved on as though we hadn’t just gone off into our own little world.
“So, are we done here?” I asked, businesslike.
Andris shook his head and pulled open a nearby file drawer, crouching down to rifle through. “Not quite. Nick, I want the researchers to get a sample of your blood; Lynn, the same for you. And while I’m testing Nick, I want you to read...hmm...ah, this.” He pulled a red folder out and held it up with a laugh. “I can’t believe it’s still here, but this is interesting.”
I took it and kind of just stared at the blank cover for a moment. “What’s in it?”
He closed the drawer and stood, giving me a mysterious smile. “Just read it.”
Nick was remarkably cooperative. Andris went through multiple drawers and cabinets to gather sterile needles, tubes, and flasks while the kid sat on one of the steel tables and removed his sweater. While they got down to business, I gave into curiosity and opened the file.
It took several seconds before I realized what I was reading. The folder contained dozens of fact sheets. However, they weren’t like any ever seen by mortal eyes.
Each page covered the key characteristics of a type of blood. There were some for normal Shimaren with varying trigger combinations, for Elementals, for Crimsons, for ancients and fledglings, for half-breeds...collected in this seemingly insignificant folder were some of the most extraordinary descriptions:
One of the Crimsons was an earth Elemental who had enough power to move the tectonic plates at will. She’d been classified as the only Elemental Crimson on record so far, and was of the fourth line, like myself.
There was one Shimare from the second line whose entire body was made of blood—if his hair were cut, then it would melt into a liquid. His limbs were the same way. If he lost a hand or a foot, it didn’t need to be reattached, because he had blood to spare and could reform limbs into their original shape, while the severed appendages melted and crystallized in open air.
I even found Andris in there, the one and only Nariuvne—Ancient Crimson class—and easily the most fascinating case study. They’d run his blood through a gauntlet of tests and found that, though his DNA looked normal, on a molecular level it made no sense at all.
When it came to base pairs, he had extra types, designated unknowns one through four. It also appeared that he had no junk DNA at all. Every code had a purpose. They had isolated the genes which gave him his responses to sunlight, changed his appearance over time, and grew his fangs. Unlike the Shimaren, whose human bodies were altered by blood, Andris had always been a Nariuvne. His blood wasn’t a parasite or symbiote or virus—it was actually his own.
Sure, my kind weren’t totally human, but at a genetic level the only differences were in the extra genes the parasitic blood tagged onto our DNA, like a super-advanced retrovirus. Andris, however, was something else entirely.
“This is...insane,” I whispered, looking up from the page. “You’re not even remotely human. You really were born like this.”
“I used to have a nice tan,” he said, removing the needle from Nick’s arm and pulling the tube out of the flask’s airtight plug. “Also, if you look at the normal cell structure of my blood, it’s not a disk—it’s a sphere. I have only one kind of cell in my blood stream, along with plasma. You should have some mutated white blood cells and normal disk-shaped blood like a mortal’s.”
“If your blood is so abnormal, then why is it that I have no problem drinking from you?”
He shrugged and stuck the flask in a rack. “It’s extremely versatile, so whenever it’s placed in a new environment, it changes shape to best serve a purpose in that environment. For example, it becomes amoebic in open air, which allows it to return to my wounds—yours just turns into a crystal matrix. Also, my plasma is about as flammable as those tiles they use to cover the space shuttles, which means I don’t burn. Yours is more like…nitroglycerin.
“Obviously, science can’t explain everything about our blood, but the research here has unearthed some interesting findings, at least. There are still other oddities like triggers and blood reactions and such that have no basis in rational argument, but I suppose that just makes it fun. Besides, I sort of like the idea that there’s magic involved, somehow.” He smiled a little.
What the hell had his tribe done to create him? He probably hadn’t shared any genes at all with his parents—and if he did, not very many.
My demon chuckled at that thought, and when I frowned he said easily, “I inherited my parents’ details, if not their frame. I can assure you that at least some resemblance is there.”
I gave him a once-over. “I commend your parents’ genetics.”
He smirked while the kid put his sweater back on. “Why don’t you give that to Nick to read so I can get your sample as well? Who knows? We might find something out about your strange triggers.”
I liked that thought. “Sure.”
Nick and I switched places, and I sat on the cold, stainless steel table as Andris held a fingertip to the inside of my elbow, finding the largest vein. I watched in interest when he pierced the needle through my thin, but tough skin.
“Normal needles don’t work on Shimaren,” he explained while held the flask and let my bright crimson blood drip in. “The ones used in your average doctor’s exam room are too weak to pierce the skin without making a mess of things, so what they use here has a tungsten carbide point and a flexible shaft.”
“I can cut myself with a normal kitchen knife, though.”
“Knives are thick enough to stand it, but they would need constant sharpening—unless the blade was forged specifically for killing Shimaren.” Gracefully, he hopped up next to me and balanced the flask perfectly on his fingertip while he watched it fill. “However, in our world, blades are much different from human weapons. Atreus’ blade is strengthened by an ancient charm, and the metal is similar to this needle here. Hunter weapons are different from them all. Those are designed specifically for their quarry, and the forging technique is a closely-guarded secret. They’re strong enough to slice a bank vault’s door clean in half.”
I nodded to the glass bulb. “What about that thing? There’s air inside, so wouldn’t my blood crystallize?”
“The gas inside is helium. It’s one of very few which have no effect on special blood, and if you fill the flask just right, you can prevent normal air from entering.”
“Hey, Andris, so is my blood going to be a feature in this folder here?” Nick called from the next table over, holding up a sheet.
“I would think so. You’re the only half-breed who ever became a Nariuvne. You’re also the only Nariuvne who has ever been turned, not born, as well as a potential Elemental.” He smirked. “Tatsune and Quelos probably aren’t the only ones who are pleased with the three of us paying a visit to the Brood Manor. I know of a few scientists who would sacrifice their first-born sons without hesitation for a chance to study us.”
“Shimaren can’t have kids,” I reminded him.
“I meant it metaphorically, cara mea,” he replied. “Anyway, I want to get these samples to them and leave a note asking that they tell us the results if they ever want a chance to meet us in person.”
I frowned dubiously. “In other words, you’re bribing them.”
“I doubt they will see it that way, but yes. They’re a bit like Yoko and her magic—obsessed to the point of masochism. Their obsession is paramount.”
“Like you and me?”
Nick faked a cough, leering at us over the pages.
I laughed and watched the last few drops bring the flask to its fill line.
With skill on par with any licensed physician, Andris pulled the needle from my arm, removed the tube from the stopper, and added my blood to the rack beside Nick’s. The tubes and needles were discarded in a nearby sharps container.
“Now it’s my turn,” he said with a grin. “Because I have no healing power at the moment, I’d like to know what the difference is between my blood now and the sample from before. The researchers may be able to come up with some sort of countermeasure if the hunters try something like this again.”
“I get that hunters are different from both humans and Shimaren, but it still worries me that they can do things like this to someone like you,” I mused aloud as Andris picked out more supplies for his sample. “I mean, humans are just normal, and Shimaren are supernatural, but the hunters seem like some weird combination of both. Simone made it seem like they might have been an early branch of the Shimari tree that decided to cut itself off.” I could vaguely remember one of his history lessons, where he might have mentioned something to that effect while we discussed potential inceptions for the Shimaren.
“I think only the hunters themselves would know the answer.” Andris shrugged a little. “Anyway, if humans are normal, and if races like ours are supernatural, then I would probably categorize hunters as magical…though the three types tend to bleed into each other at the edges. It’s just that hunters put so much more emphasis on things like spells and poisons and potions. Shimaren prefer their own innate abilities; humans prefer science.”
“What about sorcerers?”
He paused and frowned slightly at the little bulb of glass in his hand. “Sorcerers gain power from other realms because of pacts that they’ve made with beings from those realms. Other than that, however, they’re still human—I wouldn’t even consider those powers to be magic, either. Magic, at least the kind that hunters and people like Yoko tend to use, is really just the manipulation of what already exists in this realm.” Andris glanced at me. “The source matters. You could easily lose your sorcerous powers if Rubeo decided to cut you off. A hunter or magus, however, would be much more difficult to declaw.”
“Huh.” I propped a hand under my chin in thought. “I guess I’m lucky that Rubeo’s so nice, then. He even let me keep you in my life.”
“So it would seem.”
While Nick perused the fact sheets for more trivia and idly glanced at us every so often, Andris handed me a flask and stuck the needle at the end of the tube into his arm.
“Hold it here,” he said, guiding my hand to rest on the table. “It should fill quickly.”
I watched his blood stream into the glass bulb and wondered at its color. “Your blood is so much darker than any of the other samples here.” I leaned my head against his shoulder, enjoying his warmth. “Did they tell you why that is?”
“It’s highly concentrated, but thanks to the low viscosity of the medium carrying it and the unusually small cell size, my blood flows almost as well as yours.” He nuzzled my hair fondly. “That’s why you never have to take much from me to sate your thirst. A pint of my blood is worth ten pints of yours.”
The dark, dark liquid in the flask swilled around despite my motionless hand, seeming to gravitate towards him. It was strange to watch.
“So...what about that other blood of yours?” I asked slowly, turning to whisper so softly in his ear that not even a wolf could have picked it up. He frowned in confusion, and I rephrased, causing him to blink several times in rapid succession.
“I don’t know,” he said at length. “I don’t think I would be comfortable with anybody handling it—let alone explaining what it is and why I want them to test it.”
“You’re remarkably shy for someone so arrogant.”
“Oh, it’s full.” Before I could get in another shot, he had already removed the flask from my care and stood, pulling the tube out of the stopper. He set the flask with mine and Nick’s in the rack, and took the needle out of his arm to throw it away.
“Look, it’s still bleeding,” I said, grabbing hold of his hand. A thin stream of blood trickled down to his wrist.
“Wow, you weren’t kidding.” Nick closed the folder and frowned at Andris.
“Tell me about it,” I grumbled. I pricked my finger with a fang and pressed my blood to the minuscule wound.
Once it had healed, Andris wiped off the excess with a paper towel and gave us both an unhappy leer. “I’m still coming along. Don’t think you can stop me.”
Nick held his hands up in surrender. “Wouldn’t dream of it, big guy, but it’s still gonna make me nervous when things get hairy.”
“As long as we’re on the same page, I don’t care if you start crying every time you think about it...actually, no, that’s a lie. If you started crying every time you thought about me getting hurt, I’d probably have to hurt you. Severely.” His gaze became distant, as though watching some gruesome horror scene in the privacy of his own head.
“If that ever happens, you have my full support in beating sense into me.”
“I’m allowed to cry, though, right?” I asked. “I probably won’t, but I’m not going to let my blood partner hit me if I do.”
Andris was pretty much scandalized by the thought. “Don’t even say it!” he snapped, pulling me into his warm, loving arms and kissing my forehead more quickly than I could react. “I would never hit you. I’ll hit Nick whenever the urge crops up, but you are far too precious.”
“Nice to see that I’m so valuable,” the fledgling said in a monotone.
I patted Andris’ cheek with a smile. “Anyway, you don’t need to use force. A mere kiss would have me at your beck and call, if you had a mind to use it.”
“I don’t. We’re a partnership—on equal footing.” He chuckled and kissed me again. “And you have that same power over me, Princess.”
Laughing, we stopped before Nick rebelled against us and tidied up the supplies we had used. Andris left the rack of samples in the middle of a table and scribbled a quick note for the researchers. As I watched, I couldn’t help but ask about his strange handwriting.
He cocked his head in confusion and looked at his note. “Well, I’ve known so many different languages and alphabets that they’ve all sort of run into each other. My hand gets used to one, and when it comes time to switch, some remnant of it remains. After enough time passed, anything I wrote started looking like several alphabets rolled into one. English is only the latest victim of my butchering. I’m also ambidextrous, so each hand writes differently.”
“Fascinating,” I said, intrigued.
“It’s really not worth the fuss,” he muttered.
“I like it, though,” said Nick. “It’s unique. You have no idea how annoyed I am with stereotypical bubbly handwriting or pointlessly hideous chicken scratch. Pisses me off.”
He noticed that Andris and I were giving him surprised stares and explained quickly, “I had a lot of trouble learning to write as a kid, so I get upset when people don’t take it seriously.”
“It’s odd, but I agree with your opinion,” Andris said, shaking his head. “Let’s get out of here before I develop any more strange urges.” He put the note next to the labeled samples and capped his pen, then caught me around the waist and led us right out.
“Now we can visit the resting chambers,” he said with a grin, shutting the door tightly and signaling for Sakura to go on. “We’ll get this done, and then get some more training in.”
“Sounds good to me,” Nick sighed.
“Let’s hurry, then,” I said. “I’d prefer to finish before sunset, so Quelos won’t have a chance to corrupt either of you with his insane habits.”
Even Sakura nodded at that.