Avenari - Chapter 7
I didn’t want anyone sniffing around, so I parked my car on the street, near a gaggle of other cars. A red Fiesta sat in Nick’s driveway, indicating that someone was home who hadn’t been there last night, and I prepared a quick alias as I walked up to the door and rang the bell.
After a few moments, the door unlocked and opened, and I found myself looking up at a surprisingly beautiful blonde dressed immaculately in a crisp white blouse and slacks.
“What?” she demanded abruptly, shattering the mental image I’d had of a sweet, pretty mom taking care of her sick son. She scrutinized me as though I were unclean, lingering on my amulets before taking in my crimson mock-turtleneck, faded black jeans, and fairly new black and red sneakers. She was either analyzing my fashion sense—of which I possessed none—or checking me for signs of plague.
I hesitated for a second, recovering from my surprise, then retrieved my dignity and murmured inoffensively, “I’m Lydia, a friend of Nick’s. I came to see how he was doing. He said he wasn’t feeling too well yesterday.”
Sharp, hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion. “I’ve never seen you before.”
I praised every deity known to man that I had retained my youth. “Er...I just moved here. We’re in a few of the same classes.” What was with this woman? Her mind was like a tangled mess of apathy and paranoia. How could Nick live like this, and why would his own mother treat him like a quarantine patient?
“I see,” she muttered, pausing before seemingly forcing herself to open the door. “Come in, then. He’s in his room—upstairs, last door on the right. Remove your shoes and put them on that rack—second shelf—and don’t touch the walls when you go up.”
I did as she told, trying not to appear flustered, but too weirded-out not to rush a little. She watched me the whole time, only leaving me to my own devices when I’d gone up the steps and turned the corner.
“Crimeny,” I said, shaking off the eerie crawl of her eyes on my skin. For someone so used to being a wallflower to the mortals, this was not the best introduction to total visibility.
Knocking was out of the question. As soon as I reached Nick’s door, I opened it and hurried inside and shut it again in a single move. I sighed and rested my forehead against the wood, temporarily forgetting why I was there and just willing away that horrible feeling. Thank goodness Mom had been so sweet and wonderful. Otherwise, I might have ended up like Nick.
It was a sobering thought, which brought me back to reality.
Once I turned around, however, I found Nick sitting on his made-up bed in a fresh change of clothes—same style, but green this time. He was gaping at me as though I were the ghost of Christmas future: a mix of terror and shock.
“What?” I said, more than a little miffed. I lowered my tone and jerked my thumb at the door. “Is that your mother?”
His mouth moved without sound for a second or two, but then he managed to ask in a deadpan tone, “What are you doing here?”
“Eh? Escaping that crazy person downstairs, obviously!” I hissed, worried about being overheard. Dignity had leapt out the window and saved itself, leaving me behind to battle the situation alone.
Nick made a face. “Told you it sucked. Anyway, why are you here, during the day?” Not to be deterred, this one. I could see that my meal ticket had recovered nicely.
“Oh, that.” I picked up the joined necklaces and pointed at them with an uneasy grin. “My dead mother gave them to me in a dream.”
Skeptical eyes narrowed at me. “Okay, you’re starting to drift to the realm of insanity again. Why don’t you sit down and recover some marbles before babbling like a crazy person?” He slid the computer chair over to me with his foot and pointed at the seat. “There you go.”
“Look, kid, I already explained that I’m not insane. The only crazy in this house is that woman downstairs.” I entered further and moved the chair against the bed, then sat down and rested my elbow on the comforter.
“Now, tell me the real reason why you’re able to come out during the day,” he said evenly, still convinced that I wasn’t quite right in the head.
“I’m not crazy! What is it with you thinking people are nuts when weird things happen?”
He folded his arms and gave me a dubious leer. “Uh-huh. You do know that the ones who claim to be sane are probably the least sane of the bunch, right?”
“Don’t make me bite you again,” I threatened pointing at his throat in irritation. It was bare and smooth and pale, and I could see the shadows of his veins and arteries just beneath. I had to blink several times to make myself look away. I was still a little parched.
He laughed and leaned closer with a cocky grin. “Be my guest. I kind of liked it.”
My eye twitched a little. “If I’m insane, then you’re a freak.”
“Whatever,” he said with a shrug, leaning back against the wall and picking up the TV remote to channel surf. “Man, I hate it when there’s nothing on.”
I frowned. “Never say ‘bite me’ to a vampire, kid. Not everyone is as nice as I am.”
He shrugged. “I’d only ever say it to you, so what’s the problem?”
I gave him a serious stare. “I may be nice, but you should still keep your guard up. If you’re too easygoing let slip what I am, then I’ll be forced to kill you myself. We’re not lawless, and if you become a threat I can’t guarantee your safety.”
“Jeeze, chill!” he said quickly. “I’m not telling anyone, okay? I’m still trying to get over the whole thing. Yesterday afternoon, if anyone had told me about what was going to happen, I would have kicked them in the shins and told them to stop screwing with me.”
My face formed an expression which sat on the line between irritated and confused. “You’re...an odd person, Nick.”
“Cute. And you’re a blood-sucking monster, right? Sure, I’m odd, but I’m not the one telling sane people that my mom’s ghost gave me magical jewelry in a dream.”
“How the hell else could I have gotten here?” Who needed to get bitten for me to gain a little clout with this kid? It was rude to mock people who were speaking in all seriousness.
“The possibilities are endless, most of them probably more convincing.” He sighed and shut the TV off, then turned to me, wearing the face of utter reason. “Fine, let’s think about this. Yesterday, I was kidnapped to my own home by a vampire, who turned out to be an ego-driven loony. She tells me that she has to sleep during the day because the sun will kill her. Today, she returns in the middle of the day and tries to tell me that her dead mother gave her some magical implements in order to achieve this feat. Should I expect you to visit tomorrow and tell me that you’re also an alien from an alternate dimension?”
“Now see here, kid. I’m not lying. Okay, the timing was a bit too convenient, but I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for all of it.” I folded my arms and sat back a bit. “Besides, how am I supposed to prove something like that? It’s not like I can control time and take you back. I nearly burned to a cinder when I tried to take the ruby off. Check out the tan!”
He frowned at my hand, then back at me. “Fine. Then is there any reason why your late mom would up and decide to do something like that all of a sudden?”
Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed the half-hour and a TV turned on simultaneously. His mom sure was creepy.
Shaking my head and reminding myself that the kid was serious, I said, “Apparently, she wants me to make my own. She said that I’m the last of Plorávero clan—the family name I don’t use in the public realm—but I’m not sure what the hell that means. I’m still fuzzy on the details. I was only ten when she died, and my dad knew next to nothing about my mom’s family. Then dad died, and I’ve been with Simone ever since.” Just thinking about it made my chest tighten. Children were virtually useless when it came to saving their loved ones, but age had done quite a number on me in the memory department. The older I got, no matter how unchanging my body was, I couldn’t help but feel worse and worse about my helplessness. Even if it had been an accident, pain still hurt.
“Uh...sorry about reminding you,” Nick said, scratching his head and looking away. “I’ve spent most of my life avoiding my parents, so it’s hard for me to understand that sort of thing, but I guess it would suck to lose the people who really cared about what happened to you.”
“Pretty much,” I sighed. Then I perked up a bit. “So…back to a less depressing topic, I came here to see if you wanted to visit my home. I figured that if I want you to be totally safe, then you should meet my family. They’re sleeping, but we can stick around until sunset.”
He squinted at me. “Um, isn’t it a little early for me to go meeting your vampire dad? I mean, I only just met you.”
Mortal boys...sweet sanity, were they the same as ever. “Don’t go getting any weird ideas, whippersnapper. I’m older than your grandma—maybe—how old is your grandma?” I shook my head quickly to realign my thoughts. “Anyway, there’s a bit of an age barrier there. Plus, I’m not human anymore, idiot.” Wow, there really was too much happening all at once. I was too excited, but I had every reason to be: I wasn’t bored anymore.
“That was a joke,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Like I’m willing to bite off more than I can chew. But still, I can’t go ‘til after sundown anyway.”
“Why? What, are you the vampire now?”
He pointed at the door. “She’ll never let me leave in my condition. I woke up an hour ago, after all, and she thinks I’m dying again. To avoid more hospital expenses, she’s holing me up in here until I’m chipper again.”
“What? Can’t I use archaic expressions, too?” he demanded mock-indignantly.
Kids these days. Some things had certainly changed since my exile from mortal society. “It’s just weird,” I said. “That aside, isn’t there any way you can get out of here?”
“Nope. Not unless my mom goes into a coma or dies or decides to go to the bar early.”
“Why did you put the most likely excuse last?”
“I’m emulating you.”
I frowned, partly amused and partly worried. “Bizarre. Which option would be best?”
He smirked. “That she falls asleep during her favorite show—not likely, unfortunately.”
“That wasn’t even an option!” I argued.
“Well, now it is.”
He was screwing around with my head on purpose, the little devil. Was it just me, or had the Goth movement stolen every last bit of my people’s respect? “Tch. I wish she would go to sleep then,” I said, unfolding my arms and drumming my fingers against the side of the chair. “I don’t think I could handle staying...here...eh?”
Before I could finish my thought, the ruby around my neck began to glow, as though absorbing the sun from the window to emit its own scarlet light.
“What the hell is that?” Nick said.
I didn’t answer. There was power moving through the air like a balmy breeze, seeping out with the ruby’s light and distracting me. Just as I was about to take hold of the stone, however, the golden feather in the middle flashed so brightly that we had to shield our eyes from it, and by the time we looked again, the stone had returned to normal.
“Well, that was creepy,” Nick commented. “Does the other one sing?”
“Shut up, mortal,” I said, unable to keep from laughing.
“Why did it do that?” He was giving me an odd look, finally beginning to think that perhaps I wasn’t entirely deranged.
I shrugged, mystified myself. “How the hell should I know? I only just got the thing. Hell, it might have been taking our picture, for all I know.”
“No harm in asking.”
“I guess...it doesn’t feel any different. We’ll deal with the bizarre occurrences later. For now, let’s go try to negotiate with your mom. If necessary, I’ll use some mind tricks to make her let you go.” I stood and brushed off the weird event, too focused on kidnapping Nick again to reset my priorities.
He hesitated at my statement. “Wait, can you really do that? The mind tricks, I mean.”
“Why shouldn’t I be able? There are fringe benefits to the whole vampire thing.” Ridiculous to think that I might not be able to entrance a normal human being into taking a nap!
The kid underestimated me greatly.
We made as little noise as possible as we went downstairs, and I made a point of not touching anything but the floor. Something told me that if I did, Nick would pay the price.
“I’ll go in and ask,” Nick whispered to me at the bottom of the steps. “You listen, and if she says no, you can come in and do your thing, all right?”
I grinned and shooed him along. “Roger that, whippersnapper.”
He shot me a parting glare at the “whippersnapper” remark as he headed down the hall, but before I could even focus in on the conversation, he had returned at a run.
“What’s up?” I couldn’t sense anything truly amiss. His mom was still breathing, by the sound of it.
“Come and see!” He grabbed my hand and pulled me along into the sterile living room.
Once in, I blanched when I saw what he was indicating. Fortunately, I had maintained some measure of self-control, but this was almost enough to rob me of what I had.
“She’s...sleeping,” I said, surprised. Asleep, his mom seemed harmless and beautiful. “A wolf in sleep’s clothing!”
“N-nothing,” I assured him with a flustered hand gesture. “More importantly, didn’t you say that your mom would never fall asleep during this show?” Looking at the TV, however, this concept mystified me to no end. Bob Barker wasn’t that captivating. Then again, there did seem to be an underground movement for The Price is Right.
He kneeled beside his sleeping mother and placed a hand on her forehead. “Yeah. She doesn’t have a temperature, and everything seems fine except for the obvious. It’s just weird.”
“How would you know whether or not everything is fine? What if it’s sleeping sickness?”
He chuckled and gave me a confident grin. “Trust me. When you spend as much time in the hospital as I do, you start to get a feel for whether or not a person is sick.”
True. From what I could gather from the random little peeks into his mind, he’d spent about half of his life in a hospital bed, and the other half either at home or at school. It was no wonder that he was so deprived. It would only make my task more entertaining.
“Fine, then what’s wrong with her?” I asked.
“Nothing at all. She’s just sleeping.”
Creepy, indeed…however, in that case, we were free. “Let’s go, then. She’ll wake up later, but right now I can take you to see my house.”
“All right.” He stood and headed into the kitchen. “I’ll leave a note telling her that I’m staying at my friend’s place. I do it often enough that she won’t get too suspicious.”
“As if she would immediately make the ridiculous leap to a vampire kidnapping.”
“Judging by experience, you would.”
“Shut up and get moving, dinner.”
Ten minutes and one haphazard cell phone search later, we arrived at my car, which he immediately began drooling over. And, like a doting mother, I bragged and showed off my precious baby, making sure that he saw each and every special feature. It took a while, but we eventually got on the road.
However, Nick had never before ridden in a vehicle with someone who had split-nanosecond reaction times.
“Augh! You’re gonna hit!” he screamed, covering his face and cowering in his seat.
“No, we’re not,” I muttered for the fifth time.
“Slow the hell down!”
“Look, kid. I’m an excellent driver and this car was customized for my style. Anyway, I’ve been doing this since before you were a gamete, so have some confidence.”
“Don’t you dare teach me biology while my life is on the line!”
“It’s not on the line,” I said in annoyance, weaving around a gaggle of commuters who didn’t know the meaning of following distance.
“Ack! He nearly hit you!”
“Oh, pony wants to play rough, eh?” I chuckled darkly, hitting the gas and bypassing the jerk in the souped-up Pinto. “Who the hell soups-up a Pinto, anyway?”
“I’m too young to die!”
“That wasn’t your mentality yesterday. Think of this as karmic retribution.”
By that time he couldn’t even scream anymore, and was gripping the OS bar as though it were his escaping soul. Exasperated, I turned on the stereo and drowned out his sporadic whimpers for the rest of the ride with some eighties rock.
“You hate me, don’t you?!” Nick demanded as we pulled through the ivy-entwined, wrought iron automatic gate. All of our cars had sensors that let the gate open for us upon approach, which was a feature that everyone but Simone appreciated immensely. Simone could have opened it any time with telekinesis, so he didn’t really care. It made me just a little jealous.
“I don’t hate you at all,” I said, still exasperated. “In fact, I’ve taken quite the shine to you, so you should be grateful that I didn’t drive with the intent to maim. I’m immortal, and though it would rend my heart in half, my baby is replaceable. You, conversely, are neither.”
“A shine? What the fuck is a shine?” The poor kid was going into conniptions.
“It means I don’t hate you. I happen to like you quite a bit, actually. You’re no Ivan, but I’ve known him most of my life, and predictability can get tiring.”
He finally regained enough composure to carry on a civilized, non-accusatory conversation while we headed up the long drive. “Huh...well, at least somebody doesn’t think I’m a waste of space. Who’s Ivan, anyway?”
I smirked. “My ex-boyfriend and current best friend.”
He blinked at me, totally thrown. “Um, isn’t that sort of thing supposed to go the other way around? Like one of those boring girl-next-door stories?”
“Stupid. If it weren’t for the whole getting-changed-into-an-immortal-being thing, I probably would have ended up marrying him—small town, you know? But with how things are now, the most he can be is my friend. He’s not tough enough to hold a position higher than that.”
The gears in his head were grinding away like an old computer. “So...so does that mean there’s a higher position to be gained? You said there was no...sex...in your world.”
I shrugged. We were almost there, but driving any faster on this shifty road would have pushed even my luck. “Well, there’s something called a blood partner, about the same level as a human lover or spouse, but a bond like that is incredibly powerful, and not to be taken lightly. It’s also almost never the individual’s decision, but chosen by a blood reaction.”
“And what’s a blood reaction?”
I grinned at the absurdity of it all, “Love at first sight. Soul mates. That’s what you would call it on your side of the world. In reality, it’s just power in your blood reacting to a compatible power in another’s blood—yin and yang, so to speak. Neither party can fight it because they don’t want to. They’re pretty much guaranteed to bond.”
“So that never happens with humans, huh?”
“Why, you want the job?” I cast him a sidelong smirk.
He snorted derisively, a pinkish flush crawling up his throat. “Gimme a break. You’re out of your mind. I’d never be able to handle a whack-job like you. You make high-maintenance look like a goldfish—and just so you know, my goldfish died last week.”
“Heh. I thought as much. There’s more benefit from friendship than love, if you ask me. The latter is just so...what’s the word? Restrictive. A person can have a million friends, but love only lets you have one person. One person to depend on. One person to depend on you. I can take care of myself, but I don’t babysit.”
“Then what do you call me?” he demanded. “You sure as crap seem like my babysitter, calling me ‘kid’ all the time.”
I laughed a bit evilly. “Emergency provisions.”
His eyes widened a smidge, before screwing up into an irritated glare. “See? Insane. You’re totally off your—what’s that?!”
“What!” I looked ahead. We’d just crested the hill and were approaching the fountain and the Manor. “Oh. Damn, you scared me. That’s my house, stupid.”
“No way! You live in that?”
I squinted one eye at him. “Why did you say ‘that’ as though it were a toaster?”
“Insane!” he snapped again. “Not a toaster—a mansion!”
“That’s just the Manor. Simone bought it in the mid-eighties and had it renovated. Some half-insane trust fund kid was the owner, but when his family tree died, it went up for sale.”
“So this place has a history of insanity, huh?” He was giving me that look again, which I ignored. “Anyway, don’t talk about that huge house so lightly! You better have a big family to be living with all that unnecessary space.”
“Simone, the twins, Jenn, Veronica, Mitch, and myself—seven of us live here. We’re not wasting space; we’re utilizing it quite well, actually. In fact, the twins share a second basement.”
I pulled into the garage and we got out, taking longer than necessary to walk the short distance to the front door because Nick wouldn’t shut up about the structure or the fountain or the thick mat of ivy clinging to the walls. I practically had to drag him to get him in the door, but the moment he was inside, everything else became a point of interest.
“You’re hopeless,” I sighed in irritation.
“Oh, my God! This typewriter! Can I touch it?” His fingers hovered uncertainly above the ancient device, twitching like eager spiders.
“Sure. Just don’t break it. Simone loves that thing, and he’ll have my head if it breaks.”
Even though it somewhat annoyed me, his excitement was a welcome shift from the norm. Considering all the years I had spent living with this family and the gradual apathy that had set in over time, it made me happy to finally see someone who could appreciate the antiques the way they should have been appreciated. Unlike Simone, Nick was fascinated with them because of their age and condition, not because of some obscure memory of an ancient life.
“This is just too awesome,” he laughed, leaving the typewriter and walking around the perimeter of the room to examine every piece.
I smiled. “Glad you like it. Don’t destroy anything, now. I’ll be right back.”
“Huh? Where are you going?” his attention was momentarily diverted. Momentarily.
I turned toward the grand staircase and headed over to the door beneath it, which led to the main basement and our archives. “I’m going to hunt down my family records, if we have any. I want to figure out what these necklaces are for.”
“Oh. Don’t take too long.” He glanced around nervously. “I don’t want to foot the bill if I break something.”
“Then don’t break anything,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I’ll only be a minute.”
He attempted protest my command, but before he could even open his mouth, a Faberge egg caught his eye. Like a moth to a flame, he wandered over to gaze at it in admiration.
“Silly boy,” I chuckled to myself as I descended the concrete spiral staircase into the former bomb shelter.
A motion-sensor triggered the fluorescent lighting once I reached the bottom, illuminating over a dozen rows of files, deeds, letters, and albums—some of which dated all the way back to Ancient Rome. Simone alphabetized everything, so I sought out row “R” for my last name. However, no matter how hard I sifted through the files, there was nothing on my family.
“Huh,” I said, frowning at the pale oak shelves around me. “Where could it—wait!”
Row “P” was far more fruitful, and I very quickly found what I was looking for.
“Plorávero Nari-len qa Avenari...Shimari? Why is it written in Shimari?” I clenched the leather-bound parchments tightly and muttered a curse, “Dammit, I wish I could read Shimari.” Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea after all to refuse Simone’s lessons. All I knew were the letters and enough words to start a gimmicky tattoo parlor.
As I was about to close the book, however, the ruby did its eerie glow trick again, and knowing what came next I covered my eyes with my arm before the feather flashed. When I looked again, the stone was the same, but the words on the page were not.
Maybe I really was going insane. Suddenly, the gibberish made sense, and the words were forming sentences and paragraphs right before my eyes. Plorávero Lineage and the Blood Raven, the title whispered in my head.
“Geh?!” I managed to choke out, my hands shaking in surprise. “How? How could it just...or was it...?” I looked at the ruby again, then back at the book, then back at the ruby—and abruptly it clicked. “Wishes!”
I shut the book and tucked it under my arm, and in an instant I was behind Nick. “I’m going crazy!” I cried.
He yelped and spun so fast the he made two revolutions before stopping to face me, but once he saw who it was, he snapped and shouted, “Vampire or not, you just can’t go around appearing and disappearing behind people like a freaking ghost!”
The basement door chose that moment to finally click shut, far, far behind me.
“Not important,” I interrupted, shoving the book under his nose. “Can you read this?”
He glared at me, then snatched the book from my hands and glared at the page, before shoving it back and replying, “No. That’s not English—or any other language I’ve ever seen, for that matter. And are you really just now noticing your madness? Because that seems like something a person would spot right away.”
“Not important!” I growled again, holding the book up and jabbing at it with my finger. “I can read it. I shouldn’t be able to, but I can!”
He merely gave me an empty stare, uncertain as to whether or not he should reiterate his belief that I was off my rocker.
What a frustrating child he could be. “Dammit! Stop clinging to your insanity excuse and think about it. Right before your mom fell asleep, the ruby started to glow, right?”
The look was still there, but this time he replied slowly, “Yeah, and...?”
“Well just now I found this book, and I couldn’t read it, but then the ruby flashed and I could. And both times, I wished for something, and that thing happened. That’s why your mom fell asleep, and that’s why I can read this gibberish!”
He made a face. “Fine, but the yelling is unnecessary. I’m right here, and my ears are about to start bleeding.”
“Don’t you get it?” I demanded, lowering the volume by a considerable amount. “The ruby grants wishes, and this book is proof.”
“Be that as it may, it’s the only explanation!”
He sighed, “There you go again—picking the least sensible explanation and claiming that it’s the only one that makes sense. Maybe I’m the crazy one for thinking that all of this is really happening, and you’re just a figment of my skewed imagination.”
“Don’t write me off as a figment,” I snapped. “Anyway, come on. We’ll test the wish thing later. Right now, I want to get all the info I can out of this book before Simone rises.”
“Where are we g-going?” he said when I got hold of the front of his shirt and dragged him with me toward the grand staircase.
“Upstairs to the game room. You’ll love the collection. You can play to your heart’s content while I barrage you occasionally with my ranting over whatever is in this book.”
“I don’t know whether I should be happy or terrified,” he sighed, giving up and simply following me when I let go. “And dammit, you stretched my shirt!”