Avenari - Chapter 19
The Brood Manor was every bit as opulent as I had expected it to be. After all, this was where our Emperor resided, so it made sense to have every molding and relief as ornate as a museum piece. Even the runners in the halls told little intricate stories as we walked along, and although they were shut tightly over the windows, the drapes sported insanely complex needlepoint designs. I felt bad for the poor souls who had cloned all these lovely handmade trappings, but I had to admit that it was positively gorgeous.
My only problem was our tour guide. Since admitting us, the strange Japanese vampire with the golden eyes hadn’t spoken a word. It worried me more than a little.
“Hey, what’s with this guy?” I whispered to Andris.
He shrugged. “No idea. Let’s ask.”
I cringed. “Wait, no...”
“Hey, who are you supposed to be?” he demanded before I could stop him.
The stranger halted, slowly turning to look over his shoulder with those piercing eyes. “Quelos, Anase of the hikari Elementals, and master of lightning. Yoroshiku.” Japanese, English, and Shimari were scattered throughout that whole response. I would have been impressed if it hadn’t been for my vague irritation and obvious confusion.
Andris frowned slightly. “Quelos, huh? Isn’t that a Shimari name?”
He nodded once. “Very good, Kurenai-sama. So you do speak Shimari.”
The ancient’s eyes narrowed. “Your name is Murderer?”
Quelos gave him a grim smirk. “The Western Manor saw fit to name me. I’m here because I’m banned from going over there ever again. What about you, Kurenai-sama, in all your dark glory? I’ve heard plenty of legends about the elusive Nariuvne, but to think that you would dare show your face here, of all places. Okashii, na?”
“Is it really that difficult to stick to one language?” Nick said under his breath.
That attracted the Elemental’s attention. “Naruhodo. So we have two, then. I thought your signature was a little off. Tatsune will probably send you to me after you talk to him. I recruit new Elementals.”
“Elementals? Me?” This was clearly the last thing Nick had expected to hear—that any of us had expected, actually. “Why? I don’t know jack crap about anything.”
“So? You’re a prospective Elemental. I can sense your trigger firing wildly.” He motioned for us to follow up yet another flight of stairs. “It’s not a certainty—more like a test of your potential. We could use another water Elemental. Mizumi wouldn’t mind an apprentice.”
“Water?” said Andris. “What makes you so certain that it’s water?”
“I told you. I’m the one in charge of recruiting new Elementals. I wouldn’t be of much use if I couldn’t at least sense triggers,” he replied with a conniving grin. “Hers are darkness and…cold?” He gave me an odd look, but shook his head and returned to Andris. “Yours are fire and ice, and the neo-blood only has water. Those with only one trigger are the most likely to become Elementals, and the younger we catch them the more power they can gain.”
“My name is Nick,” the kid corrected. “That’s Lynn, and I don’t really care what you call him, ‘cause he’s an asshole.”
I got to Andris before he attacked and gripped his arm tightly. “He’s just trying to provoke you.”
He sneered at the kid and growled to Quelos, “I am Andris. If you call me anything other than that, I’ll kill you.”
The Elemental arched a brow. “Andris...sounds familiar. I’ll have to check with Yoko.”
“If you know the name Ambri-Qis, that’s me, but if you even think of calling me that, I’ll kill you twice.”
Quelos’ expression changed slightly, as though he had caught the scent of something new and fun, and gave us a slow, creepy smile. “Ah, now I remember. There’s a standing order to kill you on sight.”
I hesitated, worried that he might try something.
Instead, he shrugged apathetically. “But honestly, I really don’t give a damn about orders like that. You could kill Tatsune and take over the Empire for all I care. Just don’t stick your nose in my affairs or those of the Elementals, Kurenai-sama.”
“I have no interest in what the Shimaren are doing to destroy themselves,” the ancient snapped. “And what the hell do you keep calling me? I told you ten seconds ago to call me Andris. Only Andris.”
“It’s nothing insulting. Crimsons here are called Kurenai. We’re in Japan, after all, and they mean the same thing. The sama part is like ‘my Lord’ or whatever English phrase you want to equate it to—a suffix. I’m paying you respect, Andris.” He smirked, and Andris just frowned.
“I don’t need titles from you. My name is enough. That way I won’t forget it.” He sighed, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. “I’m remembering some things, though.”
That made me smile.
The Elemental watched us for a curious moment. “The last pureblood Nariuvne, his neo-blood fledgling, and a fledgling Shima? Tatsune is getting old indeed, letting amateur outsiders run missions while his Elementals are reduced to menial busywork. Sappari wakaranee, ano kuso jiji.” He shook his head and sighed.
“Just take us to the Emperor and stop babbling in random Japanese,” Andris grumbled, squeezing my hand slightly as if it might help him keep his short temper in check.
“Shikatanee,” Quelos said, starting forward again.
It wasn’t long before we reached the top of yet another vast stairway. It came to a short, wide corridor, at the end of which stood a set of golden double-doors decorated with the strikingly realistic relief of an enormous dragon. It sat in the middle with its wings spread like webs, reaching out to the walls beyond and clutching a black orb with long, wicked claws. Its glittering onyx and ruby eyes glared at us in seeming challenge.
The creature had a fearsome, yet noble appearance, as though it might come to life at any moment and demand our allegiance.
“What’s with that thing?” Nick said in awe. “It’s like it’s alive.”
“That’s the doorway to the throne room,” explained Quelos. “The dragon is called Raslythe. He is Ivanarke’s guardian because our sigil is the dragon—each manor has its own. The West has the phoenix, the South has the quetzal, and the North has the white tiger.”
“There are four Brood Manors?” I asked, surprised.
He rolled his eyes. “Ivanarke is the capitol, but it isn’t as if we alone can watch everyone all at once. The other three are extensions of this one, and each has its own Manor Lord. At the moment, though, the West is suspect. Their Lord is doing all kinds of nonsensical things.
“Anyway, here we are. I’ll announce you, but after that you’re at his mercy.”
Nick and I looked to each other in unease as Quelos pushed the heavy doors open and slipped inside to announce our arrival. We didn’t want to be at anyone’s mercy.
“Don’t worry,” Andris assured us. “He wouldn’t dare try anything with me around. Even an Emperor of six millennia wouldn’t be stupid enough to provoke me.”
I pursed my lips. “That arrogance is going to get you in trouble someday. You had better not be the one doing any provoking.”
He chuckled and leaned down, tugging my arm so that our eyes were mere centimeters away. “I’ll sit at the sidelines and be good, if you’d like.”
“Ugh,” commented Nick, whom Andris ignored.
I watched the glittering citrine in his gaze and sighed a little. “Stop playing games. This is serious. You might not think so, since everyone else is like a bug on your windshield, but to me it’s important. Please don’t screw this up.”
The citrine melded to teal. “As you wish...and you are certainly not a bug on anyone’s windshield, Princess,” he replied, tugging me a little further and placing a gentle kiss on my forehead. He let me go and folded his arms in thought. “Still, I’m not all that excited to see the successor of that bastard who gave the order to have me killed on sight.”
Nick’s eye twitched. “Okay, it’s official! I’m completely lost!” he declared. “Seriously, what’s with the kissing? What the hell is going on?!”
“Shut up. It’s none of your business,” Andris said.
The kid wanted to protest—his will strained against the need to protest—but wisely decided against it. There was no fighting someone who could crush him with telekinesis alone. He would just have to wait until I had a moment to explain it all—if I was even capable of explaining it, of course. Some things were just blood things. There was no explaining the thought processes of a voice in your head.
Fortunately, Quelos returned then and held one door open for us. “Go ahead. I complained, so someone else will come to pick you up whenever you come out.”
Complained? Just like that? The Emperor simply gave in when complained to?
He saw my incredulous stare and chuckled. “Don’t look so surprised. He may be Emperor, but he’s still just one person. Besides, I threatened to blow all the circuits in Ivanarke if he didn’t give in.” That last was said with a devious smirk, as though he had been hoping the Emperor would say no, just so he could have a bit of fun.
“You must be really bored,” I said as I passed.
“You wouldn’t believe me even if I wrote it in blood,” he replied darkly. I frowned at the doorway as it silently sealed shut, wondering what he meant. It was blank on this side, just gold paint and fancy geometry. The dragon only guarded the outside.
“Welcome to Ivanarke,” called a clear, melodic voice. There was some serious substance to it, as though it could actually grab my shoulder and force me to look.
I turned to see the owner of the voice, already knowing the answer.
The throne room was much like the rest of this place, except there were many more Oriental motifs decorating the pillars and pedestals and shelves and walls. A bonsai tree sat in one illuminated alcove beside a set of trimming tools and a spray bottle of pinkish water. In another, a lovely katana set had been mounted on the wall behind.
And at the end of yet another long, elaborate runner rose a dais carrying a heavy, golden throne, upon which sat an older-looking Shimare wearing several layers of robes in a rainbow of colorful birds and flowers. He had a timeworn face, blessed with the youth of the blood, while retaining the dignity of someone who had lived a full life before becoming one of us. He even had a beard and a thin mustache, which grew to a sharp point at the middle of his chest, and his thin, gray hair was pulled back tightly.
“Emperor...Tatsune, right?” I asked hesitantly, reaching blindly for Andris. He took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Indeed, but you may call me Lord Tatsune, or even just Tatsune if you wish,” the Emperor replied amicably. “Please, do not be afraid.” He motioned for us to move forward, with a hand sporting long, sharp fingernails. He asked us not to fear, but who could possibly feel safe with a powerful vampire who had nails like that?
“Go on,” Andris said, his tone gentle. “I’ll be with you.”
It was daunting, but I went ahead anyway, with Andris to my left and Nick to my right. About six feet from the throne, I stopped and bowed deeply, figuring that it was probably the right thing to do. Nick followed suit, but Andris just sighed as though he saw no point.
“Please rise,” said the Emperor. We did so, and he continued, “I have been expecting Lydian’s visit for some time, but I had not foreseen the arrival of not only one, but two Nariuvnen. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Pleasant? Good, then nullify the standing order for my head,” Andris said. “It’s irritating to have to keep hidden like a rodent.”
“Andris!” I cried, stunned that he would just go and say something like that to the Emperor himself.
“What?” he asked, seeing nothing wrong with his demand. “I hold seniority. I deserve a little respect.”
The Emperor barely raised his hand, but I could feel the entire room take a breath, and I shut my mouth in surprise. He had such quiet power—so quiet that it only made itself known when it decided to move.
“Please, do not quarrel. I will remove the order now that I have seen that the Nariuvne has found a keeper.”
“My name’s Andris,” the Crimson growled through his fangs. “And what’s this nonsense about a keeper?”
“I know your name, and I was referring to Lydian. If she is with you, then I shall not worry.” Lord Tatsune smiled, and the pressure in the air dropped slightly.
Andris wasn’t the least bit pacified. “Sorry, but I don’t need a keeper.”
“Perhaps, but if you wish to involve yourself in Shimari matters, then it is common sense for me to place one or two conditions. I cannot allow you to ruin our peace with your chaotic nature now, can I?”
The Nariuvne folded his arms and scowled. “Chaotic nature, eh? I kind of like it. Maybe I should do a better job of living up to that.”
“Do it and I’ll cut your hands off,” I said without hesitation.
He frowned. “You’re ruining my fun, Princess.”
“I’ll ruin your face if you don’t shut up. Now play nice while I talk to the Emperor.”
When I turned away from Andris’ grudging silence, Lord Tatsune gave me a somewhat surprised look. His powers hummed in curiosity, but not to the point of discomfort. “For millennia, he has been the scourge of our species, yet in such a short time you have managed to tame him. I must say that I am impressed. Most of the Council have long been convinced that there would be no way to stop him, other than killing him.”
“He actually responds pretty well to kindness,” I said with a shrug, smiling at Andris and receiving a lamenting sigh in return. “But a little bit of violence never hurt anyone.”
“Apparently so,” the Emperor mused. “However, we should turn to the matter at hand while the night is still young. What exactly is the purpose of your visit?”
The way he asked made it pretty obvious that he knew the answer, but I decided to roll with it. “Well, this probably sounds crazy, but I’m immune to the sun’s effects because of this ruby, and I came to see if you would let me take Simone’s place in the Tivor investigation. I figure that Simone deserves a break, and if anyone can help me understand my powers, they’re probably here.” I tried to stay confident, but even I had to admit that my words sounded like the ramblings of a madman. I silently hoped that the Emperor had heard weirder things.
Tatsune stroked his beard in thought. “As a matter of fact, I am aware of your amulets, and had been planning since you were turned to test your abilities if you ever inherited them.”
I did a double-take. “Really? It sure would’ve been nice to have people tell me these things before I went through all the stress of actually getting to the Eastern Manor. You could have sent a private jet or something, like you do with Simone.”
“We thought it prudent to wait and see whether you truly were set to inherit. There was no need to interrupt your life and later discover that you would never obtain the power.” He smiled a little, and I could have sworn that the little flames in the oil sconces grew a bit brighter.
I frowned, somewhat thrown by how the entire room seemed to respond to the Emperor’s mood. “So...you have no objections to me taking Simone’s place?” I asked, doing my best not to sound as overwhelmed as I felt.
“Simone already knows that I want to test you. He gave his blessing years ago.”
“Again, a heads-up would have been much appreciated,” I muttered, irritated at the fact that everyone had been planning my life behind my back. Briefly, I considered taking a sporadic vacation to Vegas and gambling away half of Simone’s life savings as revenge.
Lord Tatsune went on, oblivious to my conspiring. “The task at hand is to go to Tivor’s lair and eliminate the problem at the source. Any other way would be meaningless, as he has followers located throughout Europe and the Americas. We would decimate the majority of the force he has already amassed.”
Nick flinched, frowning hard at him. “Wait, you mean we have to fight Tivor and his ‘force’ or whatever? Like, literally?”
“The fledglings must be dealt with, of course. Tivor himself, however, must be brought back to Ivanarke to stand trial before the Council. He is an ancient of three millennia after all. Despite his crimes, it is still a great blow to the people when ancients are lost.” The air thickened, perhaps out of sadness or frustration, though Tatsune’s voice gave very little away. “Of course, we will provide training while you are here. Depending on your proficiency, you will be allowed certain tasks. Andris, of course, already has plenty of experience, but we must see where you and Lydian stand in terms of skill.”
That made sense, though I certainly had no idea whether I would be any good at fighting someone more powerful than a fledgling. At least I knew I had the upper hand versus vampires my own age. Sam and I got into plenty of minor fights, and I always came out on top. I was also stronger than Ivan, despite the fact that their Maker had been a Crimson. My bloodline was powerful. Though he rarely showed it, Simone alone was a force to be reckoned with, and there had been times in my early fledgling days when he’d actually terrified me.
“I don’t think I can do that,” Nick muttered, his eyes shifting to midnight blue as he pocketed his hands. “All I’ve ever done was play fighting games at the arcade.”
Andris smirked, and a spark of red glinted in his gaze. “That’s like sending me to a buffet, Tatsune. Don’t you think the Council would find that at least a little worrisome? Letting me gain even more power isn’t exactly favorable to them.”
“If Lydian goes, then I have no objections,” Lord Tatsune said firmly. His eyes narrowed at Andris, and the heaviness in the air returned full-force. It became almost difficult to think. “In any case, you are the strongest power available to us, surpassing even the Elementals as a whole. It is common sense to use what you have to offer.”
“Who said I was offering anything? I don’t have any obligations to you, let alone any allegiance.” Suddenly, Andris’ powers entered the mix, the two auras stalking around each other like wary beasts. It was the only indication the Crimson had given so far that he could feel what I was feeling in the room.
I balked at the thought of doing something like this without him there to lend his experience and strength, and quickly took hold of his sleeve. “You’re not leaving me. I’m not going to leave you behind, and I doubt very much that you want me going without you.”
He blinked in surprise, his eyes softening to lavender. “Of course I don’t. I’m just pointing out that I’m not doing it for the sake of the Shimari Council. I’m doing it to help you.” His powers retracted, but not before sliding around me once and brushing ice and heat against my skin in an invisible caress.
My heart faltered, but I ignored it. “Good. At least we’re on the same page…”
He sighed, “Not the same page at all, but I’ll take what I can get.” Then, to the Emperor, “When do we leave, and how are we getting there?”
“Friday, you shall take a flight from Narita Airport in Tokyo to London,” he replied, again releasing us from the weight of his aura. “All arrangements have been made, and the delay should afford the three of you enough time to prepare yourselves—especially Nicholas, as he requires training in his powers beforehand.”
“Where are we staying in the meantime?” I asked.
Lord Tatsune gave me a genial smile, making his amber eyes shine like polished stone. “As soon as we are finished here, one of the servants shall take you to your rooms. I am certain that you will find the accommodations sufficient.
“For now, however, there is something I wish to give you as a precautionary measure for this mission. It may also help speed whatever training you require.” He stood, stepping smoothly down from the dais and seemingly floating within his robes. The power in the room moved with him. I could feel it shift and swirl around his form like a billowing cloak.
Curious, we watched him walk with purpose around the throne to face the black granite wall behind. He made an elegant, sweeping gesture, and a deep grinding noise rumbled through the walls like a tremor from the earth itself. To my fascination, the granite slab slid out of view into a slot in the wall, revealing a pitch-black room beyond. There wasn’t nearly enough light to see inside, but I could hear the faintest sound of water dripping onto something hard, creating a musical, plinking sound. The resulting echo indicated that the room was much larger than reason might dictate, but I couldn’t deny the possibility of an enormous cavity within the awesome tree.
“Hikari,” the Emperor called, and as his voice ricocheted off polished rock, several beams of white light came on to shine down from the ceiling. They struck four giant crystals placed around the perimeter, which scattered the light enough to cast a dim glow about the space. It wasn’t enough for mortal eyes, but it was certainly adequate for our own.
The room beyond formed a double amphitheater, with wide, shallow steps leading down to a waist-high pedestal at the bottom, upon which rested a basin at least three feet in diameter. The surrounding black granite walls curved upwards to an ornate grate, which covered the oculus of the dome. This oculus was the source of both the light and the dripping water, which fell through the center onto what appeared to be a teardrop ruby about the size of my fist, hovering motionlessly above the dark liquid in the basin. I saw no strings, so I could only assume that some other power held the impressive stone in place.
“I smell blood,” Nick said in a hush as he stepped back in surprise.
A slight wisp of air reached me as he spoke, and with it came a rich, painfully appetizing scent. It wasn’t like Andris’ blood, charged with volcanic power and saccharine allure. This was deeper, laced with earthly strength rather than explosive force.
“Is that what I think it is?” Andris asked.
Tatsune nodded. “Indeed. If the three of you will follow me, I would like to give you a bit of insurance for the upcoming mission.”
“What is it?” I asked, noting how his aura seemed to fall away as we entered. This new room held nothing of him—just the chill of stone and the scent of powerful blood.
“Andris, would you like to explain?”
Andris sighed, frowning in discontent at the vast stone room then muttering reluctantly, “This is the central chamber, at the exact midpoint of the tree from all directions. This is where the Council keeps the Original Blood. The ruby transforms the dripping water into Shimari blood, which also feeds the tree to keep it alive.
“Shimaren began with more than one bloodline, and the blood in that basin down there is what gave power to the fourth. You are also of the fourth line, as are Simone and Tivor and all the Makers before them. The fourth is actually very rare, and unfortunately prone to madness, as Tivor demonstrates. However, it’s also the most powerful bloodline, and though there are few fledglings made, ninety percent of those who are wind up with vast power and incredibly long lives. No other line produces as many ancients or Crimsons.”
I stared in surprise at the basin as we drew near. “Does Nick count? I made half of him.”
“Probably. We’ll see when you two drink.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The Original Blood will offer any Shimare an extra burst of power, but in most cases it will fade after a night or two. On the other hand, if someone of the fourth line drinks, the effects are permanent. I suppose you could think of it in the way of blood-types. If they match, the results are more desirable.” He glanced over at the Emperor. “Right?”
Tatsune inclined his head, but this chamber didn’t respond at all to his moods or actions. “Yes. Her blood and the Original Blood of the fourth line should react and cause a permanent increase in her powers. Nicholas, however, is an uncertain case. The same goes for you, Andris.”
Andris blinked, obviously surprised. “Me? Why me?”
“I wish to see the consequences. No Nariuvne has ever tasted this blood, as far as we know. In fact, you are the only verifiable Nariuvne in our records.”
Andris gazed at the basin and the ruby floating eerily above it. “There’s no telling how it will affect me. Are you sure you want to take that risk?”
“It is worth the knowledge, and I highly doubt that it can kill you.” He motioned for Nick and me to step up to the basin. “First, Lydian and Nicholas shall drink. Andris, you drink last.”
“It’s not me that I’m worried about,” Andris said almost inaudibly as he stepped aside to let me go. His eyes had darkened to obsidian once more, hiding his thoughts on the matter.
“Why is it called the Original Blood if it’s only one bloodline?” I asked the Emperor.
“This is the first source of that bloodline,” he replied. “The other stones were lost over time, so this is the only one remaining. There are also legends suggesting that this stone created the first Shimaren, but it was the fourth to be recorded in history, thus the nomenclature.”
Interesting. Even the Shimaren made the same mistakes that humans made when it came to historical accounts.
“I guess this is it, then,” I said, taking a breath and turning back to the blood. It rippled like red silk with every drop of transformed water. That scent...it didn’t even touch my thirst, but my blood reacted so strongly, as though it couldn’t possibly deny this opportunity to taste its source. I had no idea how it might respond.
“Take that cup there and drink as much as you can,” Emperor Tatsune said.
Under the lip of the basin, I found a matching bowl capable of holding about the same amount as a coffee mug. I took a calming breath and dipped it into the living, scarlet liquid. The blood behaved much like custard, in that it resisted flow, but as soon as it rose over the edge, it ran into the bowl like water. Once it had filled, I brought the bowl to my lips.
The nectar took on new life the moment it touched my tongue, acting like a quickened animal and rushing of its own accord down my throat. The sharp, tangy flavor hit me first, followed by a sweet, subtle aftertaste that lasted only for a few seconds before it hit my veins and blasted the senses out of my body.
The world went blank and silent, as tasteless as sand and empty as a vacuum. A pulsing current flowed past my spatial sense, growing stronger and stronger until it overwhelmed me and shrouded my mind in ice. I thought I could hear voices…
Slowly, my eyes opened, expecting something more to happen. When nothing did, I finally took a look around.
…sooner than I had expected. Not that it changes anything, of course.
I could hear voices, but there was no one around me. The room had been replaced with a smaller chamber, carved from marble the color of dirt and blood, with enormous pillars built into the eight corners of the space. I sat against one pillar, staring into the center of the chamber.
A huge mosaic filled the floor, each tile less than one square centimeter in size, which formed an intricate, convoluted design, like a compass rose intertwined with animals and vines. I counted twelve animals in all: dragon, wolf, phoenix, raven, dragonfly, snake, quetzal, fox, tiger, hyena, white elephant, and bear. It sort of reminded me of the Pantheon, but with animals instead of gods. They were mostly equidistant from their neighbors, but a broken gap between the raven and the dragon suggested that another animal was missing. There should have been thirteen, if this were the Shimari zodiac…at least, that was what I thought I remembered.
My brain felt fuzzy, as though I were watching through an old television in a language I didn’t understand. I couldn’t quite sort out the clouds of memories in my head.
What I could discern for sure were the faint voices. There were two of them, but neither seemed to have a body to go with it, instead echoing against the walls so many times that they took on a ghostly quality.
The Nariuvne is what interests me. The rest means little, one said. It was definitely female, but again, no body to speak of.
You will have what you desire, but first I need him to finish what he has started. Only afterwards may you take him, responded the other, distinctly masculine voice.
And the Manors? What of them? We may as well complete the job all at once, and as long as Ambri-Qis is in our possession, they will not have the power to stop us.
The Shimaren will fall in line. They do not require our intervention.
What was this place, and why were those people talking about Andris?
“You must go.” A third voice rose from the silence, clearly speaking to me. It sounded like shattered glass muffled by snow—broken and beautiful. After a thought, I realized that the others hadn’t been audible, just echoes in my mind. This new voice, however, had a sound to it.
Confused, I looked for the source, and as if drawn by some indefinable power, I turned my gaze upwards to a gaping expanse. High above churned a sky filled with black clouds.
I watched as the clouds condensed and began to slip down, like smoky, spirit-bound serpents and birds flowing along an air current and carrying the sound of leaves in the fall. It streamed in and settled at the center of the room as a wispy entity, constantly moving and shifting, with tendrils of mist and shadow reaching out and sliding back into the collective.
I tried to speak, to ask what the hell was going on, but my voice died immediately as if trapped in a vacuum. It seemed that only the smoky form before me had the ability to make sound in this place.
The entity responded to my unasked question anyway, and began to give off a low, steady pulse. “This is your power core. I am the manifestation of the power in your blood—the voice you hear when negotiating with your blood to restrain the thirst is my own.”
The expression on my face felt strange and new. I had never worn it before, apparently. I could only assume that it was some form of distrust and confusion. How did I get here? I asked silently. I’d never seen this place before, not even in my dreams.
“The blood you just took was from the original source. A reaction occurred, and your consciousness was unintentionally dragged down as the fourth line’s power tried to join mine.”
Yeah, that made no sense to me, but I didn’t argue. Best to go along with hallucinations—I saw them as a kind of rip tide; fighting it solved nothing.
Okay, so how do I go back?
“Simply imagine the sensation of waking from a dream.” It was a rational hallucination.
Won’t that make me think this is some sort of twisted dream when I leave?
“You already do. You have little capacity for belief when you cannot hold the evidence in your hand.” The entity’s tone suggested that it found this fact somewhat exasperating.
Huh. This thing sure knew me pretty well. Okay...just wake up, right?
Is there a way to get here without the fourth line’s blood? That was a sort of proof, right?
The smoke entity slowed its undulations, thinking on it, and answered at length, “Your mind is flexible enough to descend to this plane of thought. Concentration should be sufficient. I can also bring you here if I feel it is necessary. Now that the door is open, you may even find yourself here when you dream.”
Reasonable enough. All right, then. It’s been a nice visit, though those other voices earlier were a little odd...
“That was an intercepted message, though I am not certain as to whose—an accident.”
Right. I guess I’ll see you some other time, then?
One of the tendrils made a serpentine gesture rather like a shrug. “Eventually. Take care of this body...and please stop ignoring me on this matter with Andris. He is powerful—and he has done us great honor in asking to be our blood partner. In addition, you seem to have taken a liking to him. There is no point in postponing the inevitable.”
I frowned, kind of miffed that the blood would bring that particular subject up at a time like this. I was having some twisted sort of fever dream, and the blood was focused on gaining more power. Typical Shimari thought process.
I’ll think about it. I wouldn’t promise any more than that. I had enough on my plate without worrying over what it would be like to have that maniac stapled to my hip. Besides, he was doing fine without the blood’s input.
“Good bye, Lydian.” Was that annoyance in its voice?
There was no reason for me to prolong the encounter. I talked to my blood plenty, already. Physical—if this indeed counted as physical—meetings were superfluous at this point, so I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it was like to wake up from a crazy dream. Fortunately, I had done exactly that when Mom gave me the amulets.
The memory took over, dipping me into the vague, momentary confusion I always felt upon waking from any kind of sleep. It took a few seconds, but when I opened my eyes again, I found Andris’ pale lavender gaze staring down into mine, fraught with concern.
“Lynn, are you all right?” He was holding me in his lap.
I had apparently keeled over yet again. “Ugh, loud,” I said eloquently—well, as eloquent as I was capable of being at that moment. “This is getting really old.”
The lavender shifted to grass green as his lips quirked into a tiny smile. “Your signature has changed. It’s brighter. Why don’t you try testing your senses?”
I sighed, reaching out to grip his arm. “Help me up. I’m buzzing all over.”
With his assistance, I got to my shaky feet and leaned against his shoulder in case my body decided that it had had enough of all this standing business. As I looked around, it was more than obvious that something had indeed changed.
The black walls of the room now glittered from all angles, showing off the true splendor of the granite from which they had been carved. The oculus high above appeared sharp and clear, sporting an intricate pattern of long-tailed birds and dragonflies. The three-foot quartz crystals scattering the light had taken on new radiance, throwing off rainbow sparks like diamond fire.
“Oh...wow...Andris,” I said, finally looking at him and seeing his perfection as never before. Every strand of silky, raven hair threw off greens and blues of every hue, and the infinite variations in his eyes seemed to shift restlessly as tiny adjustments were made to their coloration. I realized then that the color wasn’t the result of pigment, but rather the reflections of unique spectra off the iridescent membranes in his irises. The blood had simply altered the composition of his eyes, and changes in his pulse or body temperature generated the link to his emotions.
Somehow, knowing the technical reason kind of put a damper on how neat it was.
“It looks like you’re fine,” he sighed, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.
“Just don’t talk too loudly. My ears are really sensitive right now,” I whispered, pressing my cheek to his arm and folding my hands over his. Man, was I glad I didn’t have to ever see a psychiatrist. Explaining my life for the last few days would have ended with me getting manhandled, sedated, and committed.
Even telling Andris about the thing with my blood felt like a daunting task. I chose to pretend that it hadn’t happened, at least for now.
“Lydian, there is one other thing I would advise you to do,” Tatsune said, still smiling when I glanced at him. “Take the amulets and dip them in the blood.”
“Because you are a Shima, your amulets combine their power with your own. Perhaps this blood will strengthen them, as well.”
I looked to Andris for verification, but he just shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt.”
“Uh, okay,” I said. He helped me forward to the basin and I slipped the amulets from my neck, shuddering as their power left and leaning against the ancient for support. “Wow, they really do have a kick to them.”
“Imagine what your own amulet will give you,” Andris chuckled, helping to steady my hand and dip the stones halfway into the blood. “You’ll have to make it eventually.”
The blood seemed to shiver at the stones’ touch, before converging and slipping up the gems to engulf them whole. Startled at this reaction, I pulled away, but the blood clung tight, rippling across the surfaces for several seconds until finding its way into the rocks themselves. As it vanished, it left behind two perfect crystals.
I could now see straight through the moonstone’s once-cloudy interior, the light bending into reds and greens as it passed. The ruby had grown darker, while the feather inside remained as sparkling and golden as ever.
“Nick, check this out,” I said in awe. I glanced at the kid, but he was too busy following the Emperor’s request to notice. I probably could have kicked him and he wouldn’t have felt it.
The blood behaved the same way for him as it had for me, but when he finally drank, that was where similarities ended.
He set the cup down slowly. His breathing had gone shallow and ragged, similar to how Andris behaved after feeding, except this was Nick’s first time drinking Shimari blood as a Nariuvne. The possibility still remained that he would be like Andris, needing vampire blood to maintain his sanity—but it also seemed that he could easily take human blood.
Actually, maybe this blood was a little strong for him...
He covered his mouth and cautiously backed away before sitting abruptly on the floor. Color danced in his eyes, starting pale then darkening until they were as black as obsidian.
“Is he okay?” I whispered to the Crimson. I wanted to go check on him, but my legs still felt a little jittery. Instead, I just put the amulets back on. At least I wasn’t exhausted anymore.
“I’m fine!” Nick said quickly, waving away the concern. “It’s just really, crazy strong. I’ll be good in a few.” At that, he flopped back and giggled.
It was like watching someone drown with a smile on their face, walking the line between life and death as though nothing could be more fun. I knew this wouldn’t kill him, but tasting true immortality, the blood of an Incipient, had its risks. There always existed the chance that drinking down so much power in an instant could break him, turning him into a mindless mass of immortal flesh. It could easily drive him to become a shadow.
In short, his thirst wouldn’t follow the natural, gradual increase of strength. It would snap, and the Nick I knew would vanish. The only reassurance I saw was the fact that Nick still seemed fine—giddy, but fine.
“Andris, it is your turn,” Lord Tatsune said with a nod.
Unconsciously, I tightened my hold on his arm, realizing that I had only after he placed a calming hand on mine. “Don’t worry about the runt. No self-respecting Nariuvne would break under the influence of that blood, especially not him. After all, my blood is far more powerful.” He smiled, and just like that, I felt better.
I wondered briefly how often he had smiled before coming to my home. Andris was nice to me—in a manner of speaking—but it was clear that few were privy to his kind side.
“Go on,” I said, gently brushing his hand off and looking away. “You’re next.”
“If you insist...though I claim no responsibility for what may happen.” After a brief pause, he let me go and went to take his turn, filling the bowl and casually bringing it to his lips.
In my head, I could only hope, that nothing bad would happen...because if something did go wrong, there was no way in hell I could help hold him back. I’d never seen such power in a single person before. I doubted that even our Emperor could fight him.
“Please don’t turn into a monster,” I whispered softly.
He hesitated with the bowl at his lips and gave me another one of those wry smirks. “Have some faith,” he chuckled. At that, he tilted his head back and drank deeply.