Avenari - Chapter 16
“Lynn, we’re here.”
My eyes snapped open automatically. The nap had proven effective—I wasn’t groggy at all like last time.
Memories of earlier crashed in all at once, and I jerked upright to take a frantic look around. Andris knelt at my side, frowning as though worried for my health yet again and preparing himself for some obligatory fussing-over.
“It wasn’t a dream!” I despaired, scrambling out of his coat and back against the seat, ready to do anything to keep him at a distance. The blood gave an inaudible sigh, clearly of the opinion that I was absurd.
“Obviously not,” Andris said, rolling tangerine eyes. “By the way, we’ve arrived at the airport. If you’re done being irrational, please get out of the car.”
I shot him a glare. “Where’s Nick?”
As if in response to my question, the door on my side clicked open, and in popped Nick’s head. “Hey, we’re not allowed to park here for very long, so hurry up.” Then he noticed that I was awake, and blinked once, his eyes shifting from midnight blue to viridian like the shimmer of a mirage. “Good, you’re awake. Andris was gonna carry you if you didn’t get up.”
“I don’t need anyone carrying me,” I muttered, eyeing the ancient.
Andris shrugged, picking up his coat to sling it over his shoulder. He shot me a smirk as he ducked out of the vehicle. “Come on, Princess. Our fledgling is waiting.”
Instinctively, I leapt up and chased him out of the car, grabbing his arm and jerking him around to face me. “What was that supposed to mean?”
He just smiled. “You turned him halfway, and I turned him the rest of the way. Regardless of what you think, we both had a hand in making him what he is. It looks like, at the very least, you are bound to me through that boy.”
My world imploded. “Damn you!”
He chuckled softly. “Too late. You can’t do anything about it now. There’s no way to reverse the change.”
“You planned this, didn’t you?” I said, dropping my voice to a low hiss.
“How? It was your idea to begin with.”
I grimaced. The bastard had a point. “Out of my way.” Thoroughly antagonized, I released him and shoved past. “Wait up, kid!”
Nick paused patiently at the entrance and opened the door for me when I approached. “I think he likes you,” he said with a grin, which vanished when I glared at him. His eyes darkened.
“Shut up and move before I lay the permanent smackdown on your now-immortal ass.”
He got the message.
We entered the fluorescent-lit landscape of the departure terminal and waited near a sign yelling at us not to bring pointy things on the plane. Andris had a quick word with James, and we moved on after he rejoined us. This would be my second time on a plane, but Simone had taught me enough over the course of his tenure as one of the Emperor’s envoys that I already knew how to go about getting tickets without much fuss.
Ignoring the ancient’s eyes at my back, I made a beeline for the ticket counters.
The young woman at the counter seemed like a genuine career girl, as though she were downright ecstatic to be working in an airport. I asked her when the earliest flight to Japan was, ramping up the persuasive mojo for a good deal. With any luck, the same trick would work at the security checkpoints when they asked for Nick’s passport.
That, to Aomori—that’s the closest, Andris said after studying the departure board.
His continuous invasion of my head was irritating, but I did as he suggested. There were other ways to give him a hard time for dissolving my universe.
I pulled out my wallet from a leg pocket and handed over my drivers’ license and a credit card, and she typed something into the computer and handed my things back.
“Thank you, Miss Ravenfeather,” she said in that weird, cheery voice. “And the other passengers?”
If you use my alias, Andrew Lunari, you’ll get us all into first class easily, Andris said.
I didn’t bother arguing, just gave her the names, and she happily gave us first-class seats the whole way there. I couldn’t help but stare warily at the ancient while she was busy typing.
Ravenfeather? Andris asked, distracting me with an odd look.
It’s not my real name, stupid, I said flatly. I can’t use Plorávero. I’m supposedly dead.
It just seems a bit...blasé. Plorávero is much prettier. That’s all.
And your point would be?
“There you go,” the woman finally said, preventing me from hearing Andris’ reply. “Here are your boarding passes. The flight leaves at six in the morning. You will be required to show these, plus your passports, at the security checkpoints. Any baggage must be checked at least an hour before the flight—but I would give it an hour and a half, just to be safe.” She grinned at the three of us.
“Thank you so much,” I said, smiling and taking the slips of paper from her.
“Enjoy your flight!”
I nodded, and we left the counter in search of the gate’s waiting area.
“That was just too easy,” Nick muttered under his breath, suppressing a laugh. “Fake names and everything. I feel like a secret agent.”
Andris smirked a little and glanced at me. “Anyway, we seem to have a few hours to wait. Do we really want to sit around here for that long?”
“Do we have a choice?” The kid looked back at us, confused. “James is gone.”
Curiosity got the best of me, and I grudgingly turned to see what Andris was cooking up.
“Actually, he’s still in the parking lot, near enough to retrieve us if I page the limo,” he said. “Should we go find something to do?”
“Wait, you can page the limo?” I asked. “That means you usually have a chauffeur, right?” I vaguely remembered him mentioning that, but it still didn’t make any sense to me.
“Sort of. It helps when I don’t feel like driving one of the other cars. However, he’s thankfully on vacation. He asks so many questions. I would fire him, but he’s a jack of all trades, so he does have his purposes. His assistant, though…”
Andris gave me a look, silently asking if that was all I wanted, and when I sighed and turned away, he added, “James is good, too. He somehow outran the police.”
“You know, I don’t like liars,” I muttered. Did he honestly think me so gullible that I would believe that he, the most antisocial person I’d ever met, had people trustworthy enough to drive his car for him?
“Liar?” he repeated in surprise. “I’m not a liar! I do have a driver! I can’t live in this country without interacting at least a little with the mortals.”
I frowned at the indignant maroon in his eyes. Huh. So he really did have a chauffeur. “Okay, fine, I believe you. What do you want to do, then?”
“Well, it would probably be a good idea to show Nick how to get a meal, but I’m not really sure if he’ll need mortal or Shimari blood.”
Nick went completely white—including his eyes. Abject terror, I supposed. “A meal?” he asked shrilly. “Can’t that wait until sometime in the distant future?”
“Sure, if you want to lose control and go on a murderous rampage, that is,” Andris replied, deadpan. His expression made it apparent that he was extremely familiar with starvation.
The kid couldn’t find any sort of reply to that, other than a reluctant nod.
“What’s done is done,” I sighed, giving Nick an apologetic look. “It’s going to be a little bit of a struggle at first, but hopefully you’ll get the hang of it.”
“Says the random vampire chick who had me turned on a whim to begin with,” he muttered under his breath.
I felt a hard twinge of embarrassment, knowing full well that this was one argument that I couldn’t win. “Nick, I’m sorry,” I said lamely. “Maybe I could have thought it through a little better, but according to the admittedly sparse information that I’ve gathered from Simone, half-breeds are essentially slaves to the full-fledged vampires. We’re going to Ivanarke, where the Emperor lives. I couldn’t risk letting them treat you like some illegitimate accident. At least this way you have Andris’ clout to keep you safe—not to mention the power in his blood.”
Honestly, I was trying to convince myself as much as I was trying to convince the kid. Despite my assurances, the fact remained that I had no way of knowing how he would really handle his new life, or how well Andris would be able to act as a proper Maker. At best, I could hope they didn’t try to kill each other.
Nick shot me a disgruntled frown. “Fine, I get your logic, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it right away. I mean really, does everything have to smell so strong? Also, I hear a baby crying. It’s on the other side of the terminal and yet it sounds like it’s screaming right in my ear. That’s not cool. The rest seems okay enough, but the overload…it’s not great.”
“Ah.” I hesitated, surprised that he wasn’t trying to punch me for my failures, and made an awkward gesture that probably didn’t mean anything at all. “Well, you eventually learn to filter out all the excess information. It might take a few days, but your brain will adjust. The smell thing kind of comes and goes, though. It depends on how familiar a place is.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s get out of here before someone overhears this massively weird conversation and decides that we’re dangerous or crazy.” He rolled his eyes and gave Andris a nod. “Take us away, dark overlord.”
Fortunately, Andris didn’t rise to the bait. The ancient reached into his inner coat pocket and withdrew a small, pager-like device, then pressed a series of buttons before replacing it. “Let’s go. We have six hours until the plane starts boarding.”
I thought about a good hunting spot as we walked. “We’ll need a public place with lots of noise—preferably dark, in case we need to make a swift extraction on the off-chance that Nick screws up. It should also help him acclimate to his new senses a little more quickly. His brain will have no choice but to tune out that kind of overwhelming sensory input.”
Andris stopped dead in his tracks, turning slowly to give me what I could only read as a horrified expression. “You can’t possibly be referring to what I think you’re referring to.”
“What, a club? Is that a problem?”
He started backing up, then abruptly spun on his heel. “I’ve changed my mind. We wait.”
Nick and I exchanged confused looks. “Just a moment,” I said, chasing down the slippery bastard before he canceled the limo. “Andy, what’s your malfunction this time?”
“Stop calling me that!” he snapped back, doubling his pace.
I gritted my fangs, fed up with his mood shifts, and did a quick sprint get ahead, throwing my arms out to block him from going any further. “Stop right there! What the hell is wrong with a club? Sure, the music is usually indecipherable and deafening, but it’s the ideal place to take a newborn. That’s how I trained, and I’m sticking with it.”
He came to a halt and looked away, hiding his eyes behind the dark fall of hair. “I...hate those places. I never get any peace.”
“Oh, that’s rich, coming from the moodiest, most violent person I’ve ever known. If you want to hang around me, then you’re going, capice?” Some nerve he had, trying to throw yet another monkey wrench into my plans.
At last, he turned a glare on me. “I’m not going. I’ll wait here.”
“Why?” I asked, completely mystified. “What is it that you hate about clubs?”
Freakishly enough, he gave a sudden, startling laugh. “What do you think?” he said. “Look at me! Do you honestly believe I can go unnoticed in a place riddled with single women?”
I’d prepared a sarcastic, all-purpose response for him, but in the end I just stared dumbly. He couldn’t be serious...but not for the first time, his eyes said otherwise.
“I hate attention,” he added, less enthusiastically. “Places like that are worse than hell. I don’t even like mortals—the scent is wrong, like watered-down, unripe fruit. To be trapped in a small space with dozens of them trying to get my attention is nothing short of a nightmare.”
“This, from someone who doesn’t sleep,” I said levelly. “I can’t do anything about the smell, but if I shoo away the masses, will you at least give it a shot? I don’t want to take Nick to the other side of the world without first teaching him more about our existence.”
“It’s not our existence, Princess. It’s yours, and possibly his. Mine is worlds apart. Don’t forget that I’m not what you keep mistaking me for. You are my sustenance, not the masses.”
Again, I couldn’t reply. I was his sustenance? Was he referring only to me? Or was he just generalizing the entire Shimari race through me?
The blood sighed, its message rising like a bubble in the ocean. Make a deal. Offer blood and he will follow unconditionally.
“I don’t like your crazy ideas,” I muttered under my breath, before turning back to the ancient. It seemed there was no choice in the matter. I certainly didn’t want to train Nick by myself. “Did I give you enough blood, or is your thirst still nagging you like a whiny mosquito?”
Yeah, you heard me, blood. Bring it.
Andris’ expression grew wary. “Is that a genuine offer or a ploy?”
“Both.” Honesty was the best policy, after all, and we were wasting precious time arguing when we should have been training “our” fledgling.
He blinked. “How blunt of you.”
I shrugged and started back to where Nick was. “Yeah, blunt—me, in a nutshell. Come on or no dice, Andy.”
He hesitated, but reluctantly followed. “You know, I’m being completely serious when I say I don’t want you calling me that. I can’t stand it.”
“What a remarkable coincidence. I’m being utterly serious about you not screwing me over, Andris,” I said shortly. “Nick, let’s roll.”
“Finally,” the kid sighed. He stuck his hands in his borrowed coat pockets and ambled out with me while Andy trailed behind like an inexperienced puppy on his first leash ever. “And I thought things were going so well with you two.”
“Shut up,” we responded in tandem.
As Andris and I shot each other irritated frowns, Nick chuckled. “Oh, this is gonna be so much fun.”
* o * o *
“His technique is pathetic,” Andris said, watching in irritation as Nick stalked a meal. It wasn’t even stalking—he was completely under the short Latin girl’s spell. “This isn’t a race. He’s so inexperienced it hurts to watch.”
We had found a nice, noisy bar-slash-club to hide in, with the signature dim lighting and excessively loud music. It made me irritable, and Andris’ running commentary on how badly Nick was doing didn’t help. I wondered to myself why I had chosen to sit with the cranky ancient. He wasn’t good at making a person with a migraine feel better.
“Oh, please,” I said, massaging my head and shooting a dirty look at yet another woman eyeing my charge. “You’re such a wet blanket. Didn’t you act like that when you were new to all of this?” The woman frowned, giving me a once over. Granted, there weren’t many options in this region, but I kind of wished that we hadn’t picked one of the sleazier night spots.
Andris looked at me, all sideways and squinty, as if he couldn’t believe that I could possibly think such a thing.
“Well, didn’t you?” I pressed.
“No,” he answered shortly, returning to spying on Nick. “I hunt Shimaren, and that takes skill. If he can’t even handle mortals, then I want nothing more to do with that boy—and would you please stop staring at me?!” That last was growled nigh on maliciously at the girl with the attitude. She flinched and suddenly found the opposite end of the club positively magnetic.
“What’s your problem?” I said. “You went from cool to cranky pants in a record-shattering five nanoseconds. Are you PMS-ing or something?”
“No, and I believe that is physically impossible for a number of reasons,” he groused, propping his head on one hand while I gave him a hard stare.
Now I had nothing to do but sit there, irritated by the music all over again. It was the thirst which brought on the discomfort, but his infectious grumpiness didn’t do much to help.
“You’re boring,” I informed him, slumping forward and resting my chin on the table.
“Want to change that?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“No. You’re being boring,” I repeated, thoroughly annoyed. “I’ve changed my mind. Besides, the whole trading thing still makes me uncomfortable.” If blood bonds were marriage, then trading was like dating. The more I thought about it, the more it freaked me out.
“That’s ludicrous. Do you mean to say that Ivan and you never had a blood relationship?” That smirk was going to cost him dearly.
“I told you to stop!” I snapped. “That’s none of your damn business!” Letting my frustration get the best of me, I pounded harder on the table than intended, and it flipped up, sending an ashtray flying at his head.
With quick reflexes and fluid grace, Andris caught it one-handed and set it back down in its rightful place after fixing the unsteady tabletop.
He gave me a reproving look. “You should watch that temper. A short fuse is bound to attract all the worst enemies. Just look at my situation. I’ve got the Shimaren and hunters after my blood. Literally.” He frowned a little, miffed at the thought.
“I’m hungry,” I said, too stubborn to care.
Without another word, I got up and patrolled the perimeter of the dance floor. I could sense him watching me, and caught a hint of jealousy, but it served him right for trying to tell me what to do. The only people who could order me around were Simone and myself. End list.
Luckily, a quieter, less grating song started at that moment. It was more than a relief. While the pain in my head ebbed, I snatched up a suitable young man in his mid-twenties, led him to the edge of Andris’ view and commenced moving in for the bite.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” my victim said with a half-stupid smile on his face.
I just laughed and pulled him in closer so that my fangs were even with his throat. I used all my powers of suggestion so he wouldn’t even realize that I had bitten him. As I drew blood, I caught the gaze of the ever-watchful ancient, who narrowed his eyes in disapproval.
You don’t need to show off, his voice muttered in my head. Even Nick is watching you.
Pushy bastard. I took as much as I needed, savoring the human’s salty copper taste, along with the warmth and the fragile beat of his brittle heart. Images of a short life flashed before my eyes, and slowly, but inevitably, the over-sensitivity abated. It only took one song.
Sated at last, I licked the bite to heal the puncture wounds. Then, taking care not to let him fall, I led my disoriented victim to where his friends were sitting. They engulfed him like an amoeba for interrogation, and I slipped away before one of the pseudopods could grab me, too.
Sitting back down across from Andris, I wiped my lips with a sleeve, warm and content. Even the music had finally found its rhythm.
“So are you ready to talk to me, or do you still feel like being in a bad mood and sitting there all silent and mysterious?” I wiggled my fingers at him for dramatic effect, but he didn’t react, and I dropped my hands with a bored sigh.
“I’ll take the latter,” he said, watching Nick and avoiding my eyes. “That boy is going to get us kicked out.”
“You’ve been watching too much TV, haven’t you? Your attention span is really short.”
“Stop questioning me!” he snapped through gritted teeth. His fangs flashed visibly for a split-second before his bottom lip covered the elegant curves.
“I’ll ask whatever the hell I want to,” I said. “If you want to be a pansy, then I have questioning rights. You really need to lighten up.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Whatever, pansy boy.”
“And I’m certainly not a boy!” he said indignantly.
“Then are you a girl? You’re a guy then, okay? Or is your self-esteem going to take a blow if I call you that, too? Either way, gender really makes no difference. It’s not like sex means anything to Shimaren.”
“Well, it makes a difference to me.” He stared off at nothing in particular.
That caught my interest. “What’s up? You act like something is actually wrong.”
At last, he cracked and hissed impatiently, “I just wonder what could be strong enough to knock you unconscious so easily! Your amulets should have protected you, but that didn’t seem to be the case in the morgue.” He looked at me as if to say, There, I said it. Now are you happy, or should I sacrifice someone to appease you, O great and terrible goddess?
I doubted that he would ever really say something like that. It just wasn’t his style.
“Oh.” I went still, at a loss for words. He was worried about me?
Not for the first time, I felt like an ass.
The Crimson saw me gazing unhappily at the table and sighed, calming down. “What’s wrong now? If it’s my fault, please say so. I’m not exactly used to this ‘social interaction’ thing you advocate so strongly.”
“It’s not you,” I muttered. “At least, it’s not all you. I don’t like the idea of someone out there trying to hurt me, either. I can’t ignore it, but I still can’t fix it when I don’t know how. I don’t even know why someone would try to hurt me. It just seems kind of...pointless to attack me, when you’re worth more points.”
“Lynn—” he paused, finding the right words “—let me do the worrying. This is my way of life. Plus, you sleep and I don’t, so I can protect you. It gets tedious, not sleeping.” He stopped and frowned soberly at the ashtray. “I never thought I would ever say that to another person.”
I blanched. “You don’t have to go through all that. I’ll be fine. You’re assuming too much responsibility for me, and I don’t even treat you well. It makes no sense.”
He arched an eyebrow, giving me another of those damned smirks. “Princess, considering how I have been treated in life, the way you treat me—even if you think it’s uncivilized—is far better than anything I could ask for. You are the most decent person I have ever met, even when faced with the truth of what I did to you. You’re not even remotely afraid that I’ll hurt you?”
I snorted. “Hell no! You give me other things to worry about.”
“Like what?” This was clearly news to him. His mesmerizing gaze shimmered between violet and blue—sweet sanity, his eyes were almost dangerously beautiful.
I gave him a disgruntled look, but grudgingly made a motion with one hand to indicate his general person. “You’re trying to make a permanent place for yourself in my life. I’ve never dealt with something like this. I don’t know if I can trust you or myself. It’s just frustrating.”
“If I may say so, you are doing a very good job. I don’t mean to sound egotistic—honestly it irritates me to hell and back—but nearly every woman or vampiress who has seen me has tried to gain my favor or kill me.” He grew melancholy. “It’s always so superficial. I hate my appearance. Normal would be nice...”
“So you’ve had opportunities for companionship, but you didn’t accept them? Andris, shallow or not, anything is better than nothing, isn’t it? Even if they’re human?”
“Of course not!” he snapped, making me flinch. “I will not be used. I will not give myself over to harpies. I would rather spend my days in the company of my thirst. Perhaps it’s brutal, but compared to the alternative...I choose madness over subversion, Princess. I’m not a toy.”
He certainly had conviction. I had to respect that.
“I’m sorry I suggested,” I said, feeling abashed. “I don’t have the right to judge you.”
“No, no, I apologize for snapping at you.” He sat up and paused. I could see that he wanted to reach across to me, but thought better of it and returned to his relaxed slouch, tapping a long, musician’s finger against the tabletop. “I just want to erase all memory of those times. I’m tired of living like a shadow.” He chuckled softly and sadly to himself, but it was apparently an inside joke, because I didn’t get it. “I want more out of life than what I’ve gotten so far.”
At least we were on the same page now—sort of. In some convoluted dimension, this must have been the same page, and that was enough for me.
We sat watching Nick for a while in silence, off in our separate realms of thought. I tried so hard to see him as a threat, but every time I came close, my blood would brush it aside, quite obviously annoyed with my enduring pigheadedness. This was becoming far more difficult than it should have been. My blood never fought this hard for anything, and I couldn’t figure out why Andris had this kind of effect on it. Shimaren gravitated towards beauty, yes, but our blood had no part in that—our humanity was to blame—so there was no reason...unless...
I shook my head. No, that was dumb—insane, even. I wouldn’t even allow the thought to enter my head.
After a few minutes, Nick was finally ready to make the bite, and did so admirably, despite previous uncertainties. The girl was too overwhelmed to notice that he had bitten her, and he left her disoriented in the middle of the dance floor before she recovered from the trance. Having completed his task, Nick returned, and I moved over to let him sit beside me.
“I’m beginning to like this vampire thing,” he said, running his tongue over his new fangs. “Even if it’s weird, it’s still more fun than just being human. Humans don’t get to do that whole trance thing.”
“You don’t mind human blood?” I asked.
“It’s different, that’s for sure, but I still liked it more than I would have before. I think I’ll go with humans. I’m not ready to attack another vampire, I don’t think.
“Besides, I heard her friends talking to each other about me.” He grinned. “They called me hot! I’ve never been called that! I like the human attention better.”
“You’re pathetic,” Andris said under his breath. “You actually give a damn about those compliments? Listen for how many people talk behind my back first, and then you can boast.”
Nick’s smile faded. “Look, Killjoy, just because you have the older look going for you don’t mean that you gotta rub my ego in it.”
“That’s not what I mean,” he returned, exasperated. “If you focus too much on what complete strangers think, then you are just as shallow as they. It’s senseless to even acknowledge it. It has no meaning. The blood is what makes you attractive to your prey.”
Nick groaned a little. “If you want to be dark and brooding and all that crap, take it outside and stop killing my buzz. Aren’t you supposed to be supportive or something? You made me, so the least you could do is make it more fun, you jackass.”
“Watch it, runt,” growled the ancient.
“Whatever. This is still a hell of a lot more fun than homework.”
“I wouldn’t know about homework,” Andris said with a wry smirk. “I never went to school, so I can’t sympathize.”
Ah, it was happening again...
Nick stared at Andris with something like envy. “Lucky you. No homework, no school, no teachers...”
“No friends or family, either.”
“You’re being morbid,” I said, giving the depressing demon a tired frown.
“No, I’m not,” he said. “I’m just being honest. Every Shimare at some point realizes that forever really seems like forever, and I’ve had it the worst because I can’t sleep. He’s damn lucky that he didn’t inherit this.”
“Stop it,” I said finally. “This is Nick’s first night. You should be encouraging him, not beating his spirit into the dirt.”
You will have to teach him to be serious at some point, he said silently to me. Just because he has powers doesn’t mean that there are no rules.
“I don’t take anything seriously. You have to teach him that.” I put aside his solemnity with a wave of my hand. “So, moving onto a lighter subject: how was your first meal, Nick?”
“It was great,” he sighed. “Why didn’t girls like me as much when I as a human?”
“Who knows? I like you, and humans tend to gravitate towards the mysterious. We have a certain aura about us—you have to admit that much.”
“Okay, I understand the vampire mojo thing, but it’s still sad that the only girl who liked me as a human turned out to be a blood-sucking nightcrawler.”
Ungrateful little swine! “Don’t you give me that disappointed tone, mister. I never heard you complain once, even when you knew what I was. If you ask me, it’s a bigger compliment if a vampire likes you than if a human does—especially if it’s me. I’m picky.”
“Yeah, but I still can’t help thinking that I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
I laughed a little. “I seriously doubt that heaven has blood on the menu.”
He held a hand up to the light. “I’m so pale now, though. Do I look like Andris?”
“Don’t you dare compare yourself to me,” Andris cut in. “There is no contest.”
“All vampires are pale compared to how they were as humans, including those from African bloodlines, or so Simone has told me. The only reason why you look like Andris is because your hair and eyes do the same things. Otherwise, you look a lot different.”
“What’s wrong with how I look?” the demon demanded, instantly defensive.
“Nothing,” I said, surprised. “You’re perfect.”
“Eh?” He gave me an inscrutable look.
“I just mean that you’re both completely different people, and both of you are good-looking in your own ways. You’re individuals, not clones. Besides, Nick is twiggy compared to you. You have definition; Nick doesn’t really...”
“Cool, I’m good-looking.” Nick completely missed everything else in my statement.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Andris warned. “Your ego isn’t as important as you think.”
“Andris, you’re an egotist too,” I said. “I only hope the people at the Brood Manor don’t mind that Nick is so young when we get there.” They ceased their squabbling and looked at me. “I’ve heard that they only admit the older ones or those with a Council chaperone.”
“Well doesn’t Andris count as an old one?” asked Nick.
“Maybe, but he’s not even a Shimare. That might actually bar us from entering.”
“Don’t tell me you only just came to that realization,” the ancient marveled.
“I was kind of busy being comatose and trying not to get killed,” I said in irritation. “And it’s not as though you helped me remember. Just be thankful that I remembered at all.”
“Well, you never know until you try, right?” Nick jumped to his feet. “I want to see this Brood Manor that you guys are always talking about.” Ah, the zest of a fledgling. I still had some of that, thankfully. Andris didn’t seem nearly as lucky.
“It’s not as great as it sounds,” the ancient said. “All they do is enforce outdated rules and pass ridiculous judgments.”
I was unmoved by his lack of enthusiasm. “I still want to go. Simone works for them, and besides, they’ll know what to do about Tivor.”
After a look to convey his utmost unwillingness to go along with my plan, Andris finally gave up and stood. I followed Nick out of the booth and took the lead, intending to go through the back exit, where there were fewer people.
“Why here?” Nick asked. “Why don’t we take the front door like all the others?”
“Because Andris is touchy about being the center of attention. He has reason to be. I’ve been staring down his admirers all night. Besides, it’s better to keep a low profile.”
“That’s boring. If you have power, then why not use it?”
“See?!” Andris cried suddenly, drawing shocked stares from several people in the vicinity. He noticed the attention and dropped his voice below the house music, hissing earnestly, “He’s physically too young for this kind of responsibility! Now I know we can’t take our eyes off of him for even a moment!”
Nick gave him a ruffled glare. “I don’t need a babysitter. I was just talking.”
“Talking is dangerous. Shutting up is better.”
“Would you knock it off?” I snapped. “Cripes! You’re getting more attention than ever!”
Andris paused to glance at the silent crowd around us, which stared in curiosity at him in particular. It was hard not to notice the painfully beautiful ancient.
“See? Now let’s go.”
“Mm-hmm…” He hid his face with a hand and followed me out.
I pushed the door open and a light, cool breeze rushed into the back of the club. Luckily, our exit seemed to get everybody moving normally again. But when the door closed with a heavy whump, we had other, more pressing circumstances to deal with.
“Dammit,” Andris said, his voice devoid of all emotion. “I have no luck.”