Twilight fulfilled, p.1
Twilight Fulfilled, p.1Part #18 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
It was the blackest, rainiest night the forgotten and overgrown cemetery had seen in centuries. Ancient tombstones leaned drunkenly beneath the bones of dead-looking trees, while gnarled limbs shivered in the cold. Arthritic twig-fingers scratched the tallest of the old stone monuments like old, yellow fingernails on slate. And the surviving vampires huddled together around an open, muddy grave.
Brigit Poe, part vampire, part human, and one of the only two of her kind, was dressed for battle, not for a funeral. It was only coincidence that she wore entirely black. That breathable second-skin fabric favored by runners covered her body from ankles to waist like a surgical glove. Over the leggings, she wore tall black boots, with buckles all the way up to her knees. The chunky four-inch heels provided extra height, an advantage in battle. And the weight of them would add more potency to a kick. Her black slicker looked as if she'd lifted it straight from the back of a cowboy actor in an old spaghetti western. It was long and heavy, with a caped back, but it did more than keep the rain away. Its dense fabric would help deflect a blade.
She could have wished for a hood. She could have wished for a lot of things, topmost among them: for the task she faced to fall to anyone other than her. But that wasn't going to happen.
As she stood there, watching each vampire move forward to pour ashes into the muddy hole, her twin brother walked up to her and plunked a black cowboy hat onto her dripping-wet blond curls. She had, she'd been told, hair like Goldilocks, the face of an angel, the heart of a demon-and the power of Satan himself.
Black hat, she thought. It figured. In that spaghetti Western she'd been envisioning, she definitely would have worn a black hat. Her brother would have worn a white one. He was the good guy. The hero.
"It's not going to be easy," he told her. "Hunting him down. Killing him. "
"No shit. He's five thousand years old and more powerful than any of us. "
"Not exactly what I meant, sis. " James-known to her as J. W. despite his constant protests-looked her dead in the eyes. She pretended not to know what he was looking for, even though she did. Decency. Morality. Some sign that she was struggling with the ethics of the decision that had been made-that she must find and execute the ancient one who had started the vampire race.
Only days earlier, her brother had located and resurrected the first immortal, the ancient Sumerian king known as "the Flood Survivor. " He was the original Noah, from a tale far older than the Biblical version. His name was Ziasudra in Sumerian, Utanapishtim in Babylonian.
A prophecy, the same prophecy that had foretold the war now raging between vampires and the humans who had finally learned of their existence, had also said that the Ancient One, the first immortal, the man from whom the entire vampire race had descended, was their only hope of survival.
Or at least, that was what they had thought it said. Turned out, their ancestor was actually the means of their destruction. Still believing the Ancient One was their salvation, J. W. had used his healing power to raise Utana from the ashes. And the man had returned to life with his mind corrupted by thousands of years spent trapped, conscious, his soul bound to his ashes.
Believing he'd been cursed by the gods for sharing his gift of immortality and inadvertently creating the vampire race, he'd set out to destroy them all. One look beaming from his eyes, and they were annihilated. He'd killed many vampires already.
Human vigilantes had killed even more.
The end of their kind, it seemed, was at hand.
Unless she could stop Utana from his self-appointed mission.
"What I meant," her brother went on, "was that killing someone who can't truly die, knowing that all you're really doing is sentencing him to spend eternity, virtually buried alive-"
"Are you trying to tweak my conscience, J. W. ?" she asked, irritated. "It won't work. I don't have one. Never have. That bastard's killed hundreds of my kind. Our kind. I've got no problem taking him out before he can eliminate the rest of us. No problem whatsoever. "
Someone cleared his throat, and she looked toward the open grave again. Thirteen survivors of the recent annihilation had scooped up the dust of their beloved dead and brought the remains here, to this abandoned and long-forgotten cemetery in the wilds of Maine.
Those gathered included ten vampires: Eric and Tamara, Rhiannon and Roland, Jameson and Angelica, Edge and Amber Lily, Sarafina and the newly turned Lucy. In addition, there was Sarafina's mortal mate, Willem Stone, and the mongrel twins, Brigit herself and her brother, J. W. The supposed only hope for the dark half of their family.
Rhiannon, their unofficial aunt, her long, slit-to-the-thigh gown dragging in the mud at her uncharacteristically bare feet, poured the final jar of ashes into the hole, threw the jar in after them, then tipped her head back and opened her arms to the skies. The rain poured down on the pale skin of her breasts, almost completely exposed by the plunging neckline of her bloodred gown. Her long black hair hung in wet straggles, and her eyeliner was running down her cheeks, mixed with rainwater and tears. She was not herself.
"I know you can hear me, my friends. My family. " Her voice broke, but Roland moved up behind her and placed his strong hands on her bare shoulders. Then slowly, he slid them outward, following the length of her arms upward, his black cloak opening with the motion, sheltering her from the rain. He clasped her hands in his, his arms open to the skies just as hers were.
It was a beautiful image. And heartbreaking at the same time.
"I know you can hear me," Rhiannon said again. "And I trust you've found that we, too, enter paradise when we leave this life. We, too, are worthy of heaven. We have souls-souls that feel, that love, that live, a thousand times more powerfully than those of the mortals who call us soulless monsters. " She closed her eyes, drew a breath. "Be well, there in the light, my beloved ones. Be well, and fear not. For those you've left behind will survive. " She opened her eyes, and they were cold and dark, more frightening than ever, ringed as they were in black. "And I swear by Isis Herself, you will be avenged. "
She lowered her arms slowly, but Roland still held them, and he wrapped them around her waist, enfolding her in his cloak and in his arms as if they were one.
"It is done, my love. Come, we need to brief our little warrior before we send her off into battle. "
Rhiannon turned, meeting Brigit's eyes, holding them. There was so much there, Brigit thought, staring at her mentor, the woman she most admired, most wanted to be like and whose approval she most craved. And truly, had never been without. There was love in those dark-ringed eyes. Love and grief and fear. A lot of fear.
Fear in Rhiannon's eyes was something so unusual that it shook Brigit right to the core.
J. W. tightened his hand on her shoulder. "It's going to be all right, little sister. "
"Easy for you to say. Your job was to raise our living dead forebear. I'm the one who has to deal with him now that he's up and rampaging. "
"Come," Eric said. "Let's return to the mansion. It's unsafe to be out in the open for long, even here. "
One by one, and two by two, they filed out of the cemetery together, taking a soggy path that wound from the old graveyard along a narrow and twisting course to the towering structure that sat alone on the rocky, seaside cliff. The ocean was as restless tonight as the skies, as the vampires and their kin made their way higher. Winds buffeted them, howling and crying as if they, too, mourned the loss of so many.
Brigit walked alone. Normally she and J. W. would have been a pair, side by side, the only two of their kind and yet opposites in every way. But now he had his mate, the beautiful, brilliant Lucy, a vampire
And yet, she was all but on her way. Her bag was packed and waiting at the mansion. She'd been waiting only for the funeral rites to conclude.
Up ahead, Rhiannon, in the lead-where else?-reached the mansion's door and stood, holding it open while the others entered the crumbling ruin.
Brigit was last in line, and as she passed, Rhiannon put a hand on her forearm. "We'll have a talk before you leave," she said softly. "Wait in the library. "
Great, Brigit thought. One more delay, and it was as inevitable as it would be unpleasant. The elders must want to brief her before she left on what was undoubtedly a suicide mission. Just what she needed. A lecture before dying.
Downtown Bangor, Maine
The oldest being on the planet, the first immortal, the original Noah, stood trembling on a village sidewalk in the pouring rain. He wore a dripping wet bed sheet, wrapped in the old style around his body, covering one shoulder. He'd arrogantly refused to don the clothing that had been offered him when he'd first been resurrected. The type of clothing that he now realized was necessary if he hoped to become invisible among mankind in this strange new age. People looked askance at him, ordinary humans, mortals, dashing past him from their speeding mechanical conveyances to the small and poorly designed buildings that lined the streets. In and out they ran, as if the rain would melt them. Up and down the streets they rolled in those machines. Automobiles. Cars, he'd heard them called.
He wanted to know how they worked. But later. First he wanted to become invisible. He would prefer dead, but death wasn't an option for him right now.
Right now he had very few options, in fact. But he did have needs, and the immediate ones were urgent enough to distract him from the problem of attracting too much attention. That would come after his initial needs were met. He needed warmth, shelter from the ice-cold, unforgiving rain. So much rain.
It would have been a blessing in his time-unless it went on too long. He wondered briefly whether this rain was normal in today's civilization, or whether the gods, the Anunaki, had yet again decreed that mankind must be brought to its knees.
Utana shook off the shiver of apprehension that thought induced and tried once again to keep his focus on his immediate requirements. He needed food, lots of it. His belly was rumbling, twisting and gnawing at him, demanding sustenance. And water-he needed sweet water to drink. Those things were first. The rest could wait. The garments to help him blend in with the mundane commoners as thick on this land as fleas upon a desert dog, the knowledge he so craved and must acquire in order to make his way in this world, the mission he must accomplish in order to extract forgiveness from the gods-all of those things could come later.
Food. Water. Shelter.
And so he looked at the buildings he passed-red brick or wood, no beauty nor art to them, with wide openings in the walls that appeared to be empty but, he had learned, were not. In the rain it was easier to see the droplets on the hard, transparent walls. When dry, the things-windows, they called them, made of a substance known as glass-were nearly invisible.
And yet, not quite.
He moved closer to one of the windows, drawn by the smell of food, only to pause as he stared at the image he saw there. The image of a man, wearing exactly what he wore and moving exactly as he moved. Clearly a reflection, he thought, lifting his hand, watching as the image did the same. Much like what one would see when looking into still water.
He tipped his head slightly and studied his image in the glass. It was no wonder, he thought, that the mortals were disturbed by him. He looked menacing. Wild. Standing in the rain, letting it pour down upon him, while they all raced for cover. He allowed it to soak his hair, his garment, his skin. And he was bigger than most of them, too. Taller, broader. He sported several days' growth of beard upon his face. Dark it was, and dense, and he noticed that most of the people he encountered kept their faces shaved to the skin. A few had allowed their beards to grow, but they were trimmed carefully, tame and neat.
He pushed a hand through his long, onyx-black hair, shoving the dripping locks backward. And then he returned his attention to the window, and to the people he could see beyond it. They sat at tables, enjoying bountiful food that was brought to them by smiling servants who seemed content with their lot.
Finally something that made sense to him.
He watched for a while before going to the door through which others came and went. As he started to push the door open, a man appeared and stood blocking it. Skinny, but tall enough, and smiling even though his eyes showed fear.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we're full tonight. Do you have a reservation?"
Utana looked from the man's head to his shoes, and up again. "I know not. . . reservation," he said. "I wish food. "
"Well, um, right. But as I said, we're full tonight. " He lifted a hand, a helpless gesture. "No room. "
"Bring food here, then. I wait. " Utana crossed his arms over his chest.
"Um, right. From out of town, are you?"
Utana only grunted at the man, no longer interested in conversing with him. Silence would best convey that the discussion was over.
"Yes, I see. Well, the thing is, it doesn't quite work that way here. I do have a suggestion for you, however. "
"I know not suggestion. Bring food. I wait. "
"Why don't you try the soup kitchen? Methodist church at the end of the road. See? You can see the steeple from here. "
He was pointing while he babbled, and Utana only managed to understand a word here and there. He was learning the language rapidly, but interpreting the words spoken in the rapid-fire way of the people here was still difficult. He followed the man's pointed finger and saw the spire stabbing upward into the sky. "Ah, yes, church. I know church. House of your lonely god. "
"Yes. Yes, that's it. Go to the church. They'll have food for you there, and a place to sleep, as well, if you need one. "
Utana nodded, but he was more enticed by the smells coming from within, and impatient with the man, who was clearly trying to send him away without a meal. It was all very good to know there would be a bed for him at the house of the mortal's singular god. But there was food here now, and he wasn't leaving without partaking of some of it.
So he simply pushed the skinny man aside and continued opening the door. As he was about to enter, another man ran up and pushed against the door from within. But Utana pushed harder and shoved the man back hard, sending him flying into the wall, where he caught himself with one hand, rubbing the back of his head with the other.
Utana walked into the food place.
There was noise at first, people talking, and the clinking, chinking sounds of their ridiculous eating utensils and dishes. But as their eyes fell upon him, the eating and conversation ceased, and dead silence ensued.
Utana eyed the tables, the food, the stares of the stunned diners, no doubt surprised by the appearance of a large, dripping wet man, dressed in what James of the Vahmpeers had told him was meant to be used as bedding, but he cared not. He was focused only on food, on sustenance. His nostrils flared as he caught the scent of beef, and his gaze shot to its source.
A man in an odd white hat came through a swinging door in the back of the room, bearing in his arms a tray laden with so much bounty he could barely carry it. Each dish was covered by a lid of shining silver, and yet the aromas escaped, and Utana's stomach churned in its need.
He did not hesitate. He strode toward the small, food-bearing man, who froze at the sight of him. His frightened eyes darted left and right as he debated whether to stay where he was or to retreat. In three strides, Utana was there, taking the tray. Then he turned and walked back through the room. People rose from their tables, backing away from the path he cut. Two people stepped forward instead, and tr
Utana moved past the ruckus to the door. Servants shouted after him, asking what he thought he was doing. But he ignored them all, carrying his bounty into the street and through the pouring rain, in search of a sheltered spot in which to eat.
In a moment he spotted one of the humans' wheeled machines, a large one, with a back like a gigantic box and a pair of doors at the rear that stood wide open. Utana marched straight to it and easily stepped up into the box. He set his bounty on its floor and pulled the doors closed behind him. Making himself comfortable, or as comfortable as he could be while still wet and freezing cold, he lifted the shining lids one by one, bending closer to smell. He had no idea what most of the dishes contained, except for the one that hid the large joint of beef he'd been smelling. It was still warm, brown on the outside and oozing with juices. He picked it up and bit in, and the flavor exploded in his mouth. Tender and luscious, pink in the middle, the meat was the finest meal he'd had since reawakening to life. He leaned back against the metal wall of the box, chewed and swallowed, and sighed in relief.
One need, at least, had been met this day.
Washington, D. C.
"Congratulations, Senator MacBride," the Senate Majority Leader said.
He'd just sailed into the room where she'd been waiting for over an hour, hand extended as he crossed toward her.
Rising, she accepted the handshake. He wore a huge smile-one of those toothy crocodile smiles she'd learned how to identify her first week in office. So she prepared herself for the storm of bullshit that was sure to follow.
"Thank you, Senator Polenski. And might I ask what is it I'm being congratulated for?"
The veteran senator just waved a hand in the air. "Your new appointment. But please, sit down. Relax. I'll ring us up some refreshments and tell you all about it. " Walking to his desk, he reached for the phone. "What would you like? Coffee? Perhaps something a bit stronger, to celebrate?"
"I'd really prefer to know what I'm celebrating first, Senator. "
He set the phone back down and perched on the edge of his desk. She was still standing right between the two cushy chairs in front of the desk, on a carpet that was so deep, her sensible two-inch pumps nearly became flats.
He met her eyes. "You've been named head of the Committee on U. S. -Vampire Relations. "
She lowered her head, laughing softly. "Fine. Fine, I'll have coffee. You can tell me all about it as we sip. "
He was stone silent until she had stopped laughing. She weighed the tension in the room and realized that he hadn't been making a joke. Lifting her head slowly, she met his eyes, tiny blue marbles beneath a head of thick white hair that always looked windblown. "Come on, Senator Polenski, you can't be serious. "
"I'm completely serious. Word is out that they exist, thanks to that idiot former CIA operative and his tell-all book. Most of them-and a good number of ordinary human beings, as well-have been wiped out by vigilante groups at this point, but our intelligence agencies believe there are a handful remaining. Surely you've been following all of this in the news. "
"I. . . I didn't think it was. . . real. " She sank into one of the chairs, the wind knocked out of her. "I thought the official stance on the late Lester Folsom was that he was demented and suffering from delusions. "
"It was. Unfortunately, no one bought it. So now we need to own up. They exist. It's real. John Q. Public is terrified, and scared citizens are dangerous citizens, MacBride. We need someone to get a handle on this. To calm the public. To see to it that these. . . creatures are contained, monitored and dealt with. "
She must have given away her gut-level reaction to his words, because he averted his eyes, and added, "As fairly and humanely as is practical, of course. "
"Of course," she said.
He nodded. "You will act as the conduit between the CIA and the Senate. You'll gather all the information available and ride herd on the man in charge of this mess, Nash Gravenham-Bail. Freaking mouthful. Rest assured, he isn't going to accept your involvement easily. You're going to have to ride him hard, do your own digging, know when he's holding back and how much and push for more. "
"Get him to tell me everything. I understand. "
Rafe Polenski shook his head. "Gravenham-Bail will never tell you everything. But get as much as you can. Bring the rest of us up to speed, put together your committee members and with them, come up with a plan of action for us to consider. "
She blinked three times, shook her head and looked away.
"Well? What do you have to say?"
She drew a breath, opened her mouth, closed it again and drew another, searching her mind for words as her brain clogged itself up with questions. Clearly no one in their right mind would want to take this on. This was the modern-day equivalent, she thought, of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and God knew that hadn't gone too well. For the Indians, at least.
Vampires. Good God. Vampires.
They were pushing this assignment onto a junior senator from the Midwest. Someone they thought was too naive to know better. Someone easily manipulated, easily controlled. She was none of those things. But she hadn't been in office long enough for them to realize it. She knew exactly what was happening here. This wasn't going to succeed, and someone was going to have to take the fall when the shit hit the fan. She had just been appointed to be the one.
She knew all of that.
And she also knew that she couldn't turn the post down. One did not turn down Senator Rafe Polenski. The man was a legend.
"Well?" he asked, waiting, already knowing her inevitable answer.
She met his calculating eyes, and knew she was well and truly trapped. But maybe knowing what was going on would give her an advantage. Maybe she could outwit the snowy fox himself and live to tell the tale. Maybe she was a little smarter than this old-school, old-boy network member knew.
"Your decision, Senator MacBride?" he asked pointedly.
"Scratch the coffee," she said. "I'll have vodka. "
Mount Bliss, Virginia
Jane Hubbard exited a taxi, and stood looking at the front of a massive and beautiful building. Winged angels made of stone flanked the tall, wrought-iron gate, which had opened to let the taxi enter. It had proceeded along a circular drive with a giant fountain in the center, where a statue of the beautiful St. Dymphna stood, holding a lighted oil lamp-with a real flame, no less-in one hand, like something straight out of Aladdin, and a sword in the other. The sword pointed downward, its tip piercing a writhing dragon at her feet, and water spurted upward from the slain serpent, arching gently back down again into the pool below.
The building had once been known as the St. Dymphna Asylum, as attested by those very words engraved into the white stonework above the entry doors, but was now known as the St. Dymphna Psychiatric Hospital. A more modern sign just beyond the gates said so.
But the place didn't look modern. It looked a century old. Maybe two. And as comforting as the angels and the saint were, Jane felt a shiver of apprehension when she studied the chain-link fence that enclosed the manicured lawns.
Melinda, at her side, squeezed her hand. "It'll be like a vacation, right, Mommy?"
"That's right, honey. That's right. "
Jane had no reason to mistrust her government. The official who had shown up at her door had been female and kind. She'd known about Melinda's condition-the rare Belladonna Antigen in her blood. Jane had known, too. She'd known that the condition made her baby bleed like a hemophiliac. She'd known that it made donors extremely hard to find. And she'd known that it meant her daughter, now seven, probably wouldn't live to see forty.
What she hadn't known-had never even suspected-was that it made her a favorite t
Especially now that humans and vampires were virtually at war.
And so the government had set up a haven for these rare humans, a place where they could go and be protected, cared for and absolutely safe, until this vampire problem was under control.
Jane would do anything to protect her little girl. It was the just the two of them. Had always been. Melinda was special. She was more special than even the government or her own doctors knew. Jane had always protected her.
And that was what she was doing now. Protecting Melinda.
Holding her little girl's tiny hand, she stepped through the arching, churchlike, wooden double doors of St. Dymphna's, and wished she could shake the feeling that she was making a terrible mistake.
Twilight Fulfilled by Maggie Shayne / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on19 votes