Twilight prophecy, p.16
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       Twilight Prophecy, p.16
 

         Part #17 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 16

 

  James ended his phone call, then powered his cell phone down and replaced it in the belt clip attached to his khaki trousers. "Brigit's fine," he said, moving across the foredeck to join Lucy. She was leaning on the rail, looking out at the expanse of ocean and twilight. The sun had set behind them, and the purple sky and blue sea were equally placid. Unlike the rest of the world.

  "Where is she?" Lucy leaned down to the nearby table, anchored to the deck and surrounded by several lounge chairs, and picked up the two dewy glasses that were sitting there, offering him one.

  "Outside Boston, with a group of vampires she's gathered together. The Resistance, she calls them. "

  He took the glass from her. "What's this?"

  "Seven-and-Seven. I thought we could both use one. "

  He took a sip and nodded. "Good idea. "

  "So what are they up to? This resistance group of hers?"

  He sighed, turning his back to the sea, looking at her instead. "Surveilling the houses of vampires who've fled. Waiting for the mortal vigilantes to try to torch one, and then. . . " He shook his head, then took another swig from the glass. Swallowed, baring his teeth at the strength of the drink. "Killing them. "

  ". . . Killing them?"

  He met her eyes, nodded. "I didn't say I approved. But that's what she's doing, yeah. "

  "But that's. . . murder. "

  "She says it's war. "

  "What do you say?" She watched his eyes as he formed his answer, and she saw his inward search, his quest for understanding.

  "I think it would only be justified if she were defending innocent vampires, asleep inside. But if there's no one there to be harmed, this is just an ambush attack against members of a species who can't hope to defend themselves against something as powerful as Brigit and her vampire gang. "

  "And yet they've been doing the same thing, these mortals. Attacking the helpless while they're unable to fight back. "

  "Yeah. " He shook his head. "That's what Brigit said. "

  "She's putting herself at risk. Those vampires with her, as well. "

  "I told her that, and added that with most of our kind either already dead or in hiding, these battles she's waging are based on nothing more than a hunger for vengeance. "

  "What did she say to that?"

  "She hung up on me. "

  Lucy closed her eyes, one hand automatically going to his shoulder. "I'm sorry, James. "

  "She'll come around once she gets it out of her system. But God knows how much more her acts will fuel mortal hatred and fear of our kind first. " He tossed back the remainder of his drink and set the glass on the table. "Are you ready to try this thing?"

  She stared into his eyes and thought that this insane experiment he was about to try wasn't going to work.

  It couldn't possibly work.

  They'd dropped anchor far from shore, in calm seas, away from shipping lanes, and an equal distance from the mainland and Haven Island, as they were calling it. She supposed it had a better ring to it than "the Isle of the Impaler," as she'd heard James refer to it.

  "I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for this," she said, and she kept drinking as if there was strength in the bottom of the glass, even while walking beside him back across the deck and down the steps to lower level. They moved along the narrow hallway, past closed cabin doors and into the sitting room at the end. James had cleared off an oblong, gleaming hardwood table and set it in the center of the room. They couldn't have done this deed outside, where an errant sea breeze could blow the ashes of the great Utanapishtim away forever.

  He laid the sculpture on the table and stood looking down at it, troubled. Lucy still wished she could convince him-or even herself-that this madness wasn't necessary. But she knew she couldn't. She'd tried. He was a man on a mission, and he believed the ends justified the means. He wouldn't go ahead with it otherwise, and she had to respect him for that.

  Right then, he was torn. She could see it and wished she could ease his mind, so she decided a change of subject might be in order.

  "I wonder how things are going on the island?"

  He looked up from the statue and into her eyes, then past her, through a large porthole at the glittering starlit night sky and the rippling sodalite sea. "I'm worried about that, too. It's not that big an island, and there are a lot of vampires there. "

  "So many I couldn't keep all their names straight. Except the really unusual names, like that guy Reaper. And Briar. And Vixen. "

  "Many vampires take on new names once they've been made over. And many, if not most, use only one.

  It's the name by which they are known among their own kind, even while having to live under one false identity after another to escape detection in the world of man. One is supposed to grow old, to age, to die, after all. " She smiled, lowering her head. "So your father's name isn't really Edge?"

  "It's Edgar," he said with a slow smile.

  Her eyes rounded. "Edgar Poe?"

  "He says his human parents had a warped sense of humor. "

  She laughed softly, sipping her drink again, knowing they were only putting off the inevitable: the moment when he would try to bring Utanapishtim, the first Noah, back to life. He was probably afraid he would fail. Just as she was afraid he would succeed. "How many do you suppose are on the island by now?"

  He met her eyes again. "I don't know. A lot. And the more there are, the more supplies are needed. And the more often they have to make a run to the mainland, the more likely they are to be discovered, or even followed. " Shaking his head slowly, he gazed out to sea again, opening the porthole to let the fresh air waft in. "They would be sitting ducks out there, if the vigilantes found them. "

  "They won't. Not with that fog trick of Rhiannon's. "

  He nodded. "I hope not. But even so, it's not a permanent solution. "

  Lucy stared out over the water, and the breeze lifted her hair from her shoulders. She turned to look at him beside her, only to find his eyes on her face, intense, searching. "What?" she asked.

  "You're very beautiful. I haven't told you that, have I?"

  Lowering her head, she said, "No. "

  "I've been so wrapped up in. . . in all of this," he said, with a wave of his hand toward the table. "I haven't even bothered. . . to thank you. Or to tell you that I. . . well, I like having you around. With me, I mean. "

  She lifted her gaze and her brows as one. "You do?"

  "I've been thinking about how close we might be to. . . to finishing our work together. You've done everything I've asked you to do, and once we have Utanapishtim up and running and back on the island, with Damien to help us communicate with him, you'll be free to go. If that's what you want. "

  She looked away. "I don't have anywhere to go anymore, James. "

  "We can fix that. It's not even that big a challenge. We find out who did the shooting, we exercise some mind control to make him confess, we create an alibi for you, whatever it takes. We can give you back your life. "

  "You have been giving this some thought," she said, surprised to her core. "I appreciate that. "

  He nodded. "But the more thought I give it, the more I realize. . . I don't want you to go. "

  Blinking in shock, her eyes flew back to his, and she tried with everything in her to read them. The whiskey was warming her blood just a little, but not enough to make her see something that wasn't there. And she did see. . . something.

  "I'll miss you, Lucy. "

  Warmth flooded her, right to her toes. "I'll. . . miss you, too," she whispered.

  He curved his hand around the back of her neck, spread his fingers over her nape and drew her head closer to his, bending until his lips brushed over hers. And then he kissed her.

  Feelings she had never known until she met this man-sizzling, electrical, yearning feelings-rushed through her veins like pure liquid fire. She let him kiss her, opening to him like a flower to th
e sunlight. This was primal, and this was right, and they would not be interrupted this time. She knew it, and she rejoiced in it. This had been a long time coming. There was no pretense of shyness or propriety, no hesitation. It was what they both wanted, and she wasn't going to pollute it with anything false. Whatever was coming to life between the two of them was pure, and it was real. And there was no way she would deny it, nor did she believe she could have, even if she'd wanted to.

  She twisted her arms around his neck and kissed him back, letting herself be swept away by passion. James continued to cup the back of her head with one hand as their tongues tangled. He slid the other hand down over her back to her bottom, pulling her hips to his as he arched into her. Her stomach knotted in need and anticipation.

  The boat's gentle rocking, the soft sounds of the sea water lapping against the hull, and the scent of salt water and fresh sea air, seemed to work as aphrodisiacs on her. It was all too beautiful, too perfect, and as they began tugging at each other's clothes and tossing them to the soft white carpeting beneath their feet, she knew life would never be this perfect again.

  Tonight was once in a lifetime. Their lives were entirely different-opposite, really. Hers was the existence of a bookish, timid intellectual. His was the constant adventure of a true hero to his people. She'd done all right, she thought, in surviving for a short while in his world. But she'd managed only because she hadn't been given a choice.

  She was a coward and would truly be far more comfortable in a dusty basement, studying cuneiform carvings on a jagged piece of ancient clay than running from enemies, saving lives, stealing artifacts and raising the dead.

  "Lucy," he whispered, while kissing her neck and earlobe. "Stop thinking. "

  She smiled to herself. "I'm sorry. There's just so much-"

  "Just feel. Just shut your mind off and feel, Lucy. Feel my touch. Feel what's happening to your body. "

  She closed her eyes and refocused, this time on sensation. His breath, warm on her neck, and the way it sent shivers of pleasure up her spine. His palm on the flat of her back, sliding beneath the tank top she wore, so it was skin on skin, his rough, hers smooth.

  "That's it," he whispered. "That's all. Just feel. " He pushed her back against the wall and tugged the tank top up over her head, and she raised her arms to let him. The bra came next. And then he was pushing her jeans down, every movement of his hands a caress as he undressed her. His knuckles dragging over her hips, his fingertips trailing over her thighs, pausing to dance in the hollows behind her knees and making her suck in a breath. And then he stood staring at her naked breasts, his eyes raking them before his hands covered them. Rough palms on sensitive nipples. She tipped her head back and bit her lip.

  "Oh, Lucy. My beautiful Lucy. " He replaced his hands with his lips, and the sensations rippling through her made her gasp aloud. When he scraped his teeth over those yearning peaks, her knees nearly buckled.

  But he didn't let them. He was right there, holding her upright as he sucked her breasts. She barely noticed him standing on the legs of her jeans to help her step out of them. Or pushing down her panties until they fell at her feet and she felt his hard, strong hands closing on her bare buttocks.

  Then he slid one hand down between her thighs, parting and probing her there, while she gasped for air.

  She clung to his neck, his shoulders, as if for dear life, and he slid his hands down the backs of her thighs and easily lifted her up, pulling her to him, sliding his erect shaft inside her, when she hadn't even been aware he had undressed. The breath rushed from her lungs and her eyes slammed closed at the sensation of him filling her. He was thick, stretching her to receive him, pressing deeper and still deeper. Her sensitive inner thighs were rubbed by the fine hairs and hard muscle of his as he began to move, sliding out and in again. His pace was slow as she clung to him, then picked up as his body played hers like a maestro at his chosen instrument. Higher and higher he made her soar, as he drove into her harder and faster. She sank her nails into his broad shoulders and felt unable to get close enough to him. To be possessed fully enough by him.

  His mouth found her neck, and kissed and nibbled upward to her chin, insisting she lower it so he could feed from her lips again. When she did, his tongue mimicked what their bodies were doing.

  She cried out, but his kisses swallowed the sound, and then everything in her seemed to explode in unbearable pleasure. Sensation reached critical mass, then detonated, and the ripples that followed made her body turn to liquid fire. Nothing but feeling existed in her. She was entirely enveloped in the ecstasy of physical pleasure, of release.

  She was pure sensation. Just as he'd instructed.

  She clung to him, limp and more satisfied than she had ever been in her life, and he held her in his arms, kissing her hair and her face, his arms so tight around her that she felt like a tiny thing, all wrapped up in strength. She wondered if a dusty university basement, or even her own little house in Binghamton, could ever feel this secure, this safe.

  This perfect.

  And then their bliss was shattered by the sound of something clattering. They both turned to see the statue lying on the floor beside the table, and it must have hit a nearby chair on the way down, because it was broken in two at the neck.

  "Hell!" James lowered her to her feet and turned, unashamedly naked, to pick it up. "It's okay. " He looked inside one half, then the other. "It's all right, nothing spilled out. It's all in the lower half. "

  Self-conscious, cold and alone now, Lucy hurriedly gathered up her borrowed clothes. She pulled on the jeans, the tank top. Nothing underneath. She felt wild, untamed. Primal. Her hair blew as the ocean breeze picked up strength. She quickly turned to close the porthole, shutting out the wind.

  "Thank you. We can't risk a sudden gust blowing away my people's savior. "

  "That's not going to happen," she said softly. And inwardly she thought it couldn't happen. Because he was his people's savior. Him, James William Poe. He was the one. And she was so proud of him that she felt her chest swelling with it before she reminded herself that she had no right to feel so proprietary. He didn't belong to her, nor she to him. They were two different people-different species, even-on totally opposite paths. This. . . this beautiful interlude was only that. A brief, magical oasis in the midst of chaos and war and death. And when it was over and peace had been restored, they would go their own ways and cherish the memory.

  She would not have a single regret.

  He met her eyes, part of the statue in each hand, and said, "It's time, Lucy. "

  She didn't ask him again if he was sure. She wouldn't insult him that way. She'd made her arguments. He'd made his choice. She wasn't even entirely sure he was wrong.

  He turned to face the table. Lucy walked up to take her place beside him, determined to be of whatever help she could, for as long as this interlude might last.

  James tipped one half of the broken statue up and poured its contents onto a crisp white bedsheet that he had spread over the table. Right in the center. Then he looked up at Lucy, standing directly across from him, and she held his eyes, biting her lip.

  It had been good between them. He'd known it would be, had sensed that it would be fiery. Amazing. Special. More than just sex. But the reality of it had been even better than he had imagined. And he had been imagining it. A lot. Making love with Lucy had felt natural and easy, as instinctive as breathing-and yet at the same time exciting and thrilling almost beyond endurance. He liked sex with her. He liked holding her and kissing her. He liked her, period, and he thought it was mutual. But he was already sensing that she was. . . pulling back. Withdrawing from him. And he didn't know why.

  She didn't have a clue what a gorgeous, sexy woman she was, he thought. She saw herself as the nerdy, buttoned-up professor.

  Clueless to her own charms, really.

  And right now she wanted to ask him not to do what he was about to do. But
she was trying not to. He wondered if she knew how much he appreciated that.

  It was quiet on the Nightshade. Dark. They'd turned off all the lights, except for a soft yellow night light, and shut down the engine, so they wouldn't draw any attention that might evolve into an interruption at the crucial moment of this miracle he was about to try to perform. Well, partly that. It was also partly a precaution to ensure that Utanapishtim wouldn't be startled if and when he woke up.

  He knew that the ancient one would. His only fear was that he would raise some kind of mindless monster, like the corpses back in Byram.

  He picked up the statue's head and shook it, to ensure any bits it might contain joined the rest. As he did, the wind picked out outside, howling past them and heaving the boat without warning. Lucy grabbed the table, and James grabbed Lucy, as they both lost their balance.

  Then the boat stilled again, and she met his eyes, her own wide as she whispered, "What the hell was that?" She looked around as if expecting to see a ghost.

  "Just a gust, Lucy. Just a gust. We're fine. "

  "Are you sure?" She looked at the ashes. "I mean, I didn't think I believed in gods and curses before now, but hell, I've been living with vampires for the past week. I've seen the dead raised and your sister blowing things up with her freaking eyes. Are you sure someone's not trying to tell you not to proceed?"

  He drew a deep breath and opened his mouth to say of course he was sure, but then he didn't. Couldn't. "No," he said at length. "No, I'm not sure at all. But you know I have to do this, right?"

  She drew a steadying breath and nodded once, firmly. "Yes. I know. "

  "Ready?"

  She had painstakingly drawn lines of cuneiform on a piece of paper, spelling the words Friends and Safe, to show the Ancient One when he awoke, but James knew she couldn't hope to write out entire conversations without several hours-if not days-and a half dozen reference books by her side. This was going to have to do until they managed to get the Old One to Gilgamesh, which they could do in less than an hour's time.

  "I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she said.

  Nodding, James opened his hands and extended his arms, holding them palms down over the small pile of ash and bone fragments. He stared at the dust on the table, and he willed the power to rise up from within him, to surge up from the earth far below, up through the ocean water, up through the hull of the boat, into the bottoms of his feet and up through his body. He willed the power to rain down from the white light somewhere in the universe, through the atmosphere and the sky, through the boat's cabin and upper deck, and to enter through the top of his head to beam down into his body. He visualized the energies meeting in his solar plexus, swirling together and blazing ever more brightly, shooting as one up to the very center of his chest and then splitting into twin beams that shot into his shoulders, down his arms and into his hands. He visualized portals opening in his palms to let that light out, and he felt his palms heat and tingle in response.

  And then the glow began to emanate from his hands.

  He watched, unable to look away as the ashes seemed to absorb the light. To glow with it themselves, and then to demand more. It felt as if the ashes were sucking the light from his hands, rather than simply receiving it. It was a startling feeling. Entirely different from the way he usually felt during a healing.

  He thought about stopping, right then, breaking the contact, stopping the flow. But he was mesmerized by then, and dying to see what would happen next. Then the ashes began to crawl like microscopic bugs. He thought he was imagining it at first, the movement was so slight, as if each granule had somehow come to life and begun to wriggle, to squirm. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Or was it real?

  "Something's happening," Lucy whispered.

  Okay, it was real. She saw it, too. And then he knew it was true with even more certainty, because those granules were skittering across the sheet, moving apart, spreading out, forming a sort of oblong shape. . . and then spreading out more, as he recognized the picture they were drawing.

  Ash-flat, one-dimensional ash-painted itself outward from the shape he now realized was a human torso. And it continued moving, growing, expanding, shaping itself into arms and legs and a head.

  "It's like some kind of demon-possessed Etch A Sketch," Lucy muttered.

  James nodded, unable to take his eyes off the spectacle unfolding before him, beneath his hands, which were pulsing now with white heat. He willed the power to keep flowing, even though it was starting to take an incredible effort. He pushed the light outward, and the shape, the drawing, began to rise up from the sheet, growing thicker, taking on three dimensions, filling out. Fingers took form, the features of a human face growing clear. The ash was multiplying itself, there was no question. There was far more now than there had been before.

  And now a body lay on the table, an ash-gray body that seemed as if it would disintegrate if he so much as touched it. So he didn't. He kept his hands hovering just above it, lifting them higher as the body thickened, and still he kept channeling that light. It felt as if the body on the table was sucking him dry, and yet he pushed on.

  The ash grew denser, its texture changing now, color seeming to bleed into it from the very room around them. He saw translucent skin, fingernails and deep black strands of hair writhing from the head. And deep inside that conglomeration of ash, James saw the bleached white of bone appearing, then vanishing again beneath the pink of muscle, the blue of veins twisting and swirling into shape like a thousand tiny snakes scurrying to take their places. Organs appeared, purple and healthy. The heart formed, and then suddenly, with a powerful sucking of energy from his hands, that heart began beating.

  Beating!

  Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Tha-thump.

  "Oh, my God," Lucy whispered.

  James knew without looking that her head came up then. He felt her tearing her gaze from the miracle taking place on the table between them to look at him. He felt her attention, but he couldn't return it. He was locked on to what he was doing, and he couldn't stop. What was most alarming was that he tried to. And couldn't. It was as if he'd grabbed hold of a live wire, and now it was feeding from him, controlling him so he could not let go.

  The figure's skin turned opaque, then pink and then copper, and then eyebrows sprouted, thick and black. Lashes curled from the eyelids. A shadow of beard appeared.

  "James, are you all right?"

  He couldn't answer her. He couldn't speak. He finally managed, with great effort, to rip his eyes from the powerful naked body on the table between them and look into hers. Without the ability to speak, he tried to tell her that he was dying. That this was going to kill him. That this creature was draining the very life force from his body. And that he was sorry for that-sorry for leaving her behind.

  Lucy's eyes widened, and she reached down, grabbed James by the wrists and pulled upward with all her might, grunting with the effort.

  The grip of the creature was broken all at once. James flew backward, as if released from a powerful grasp without warning. He hit the wall and sank to the floor, and then he just lay there, gasping for breath, trembling with muscle fatigue and weakness.

  Lucy raced around the table, and leaned over him, her eyes searching his face, one hand pressing to his cheek. "James, my God, you're white as a sheet! Are you all right? Please, say something. "

  He stared at her, trying to gather his wits, to catch his breath, to form words. He was shaking right to the very core. And then his attention was caught by what was happening behind her.

  As he stared, riveted, the body on the table slowly sat up. Its eyes opened, black as the night itself, staring straight ahead and then scanning the room, taking in everything all at once. It got to its feet and looked down at itself, naked, copper-skinned. Massive. It opened and closed its hands, staring at them as if in wonder, and then it turned its vivid onyx eyes on James, met his stare, held it.

  And Ja
mes couldn't look away.

  Until the creature, the five-thousand-year-old thing that James Poe had somehow raised from ash, tipped back its head, its long ebony hair trailing down its back. And then, its face contorting in some kind of unspeakable anguish, it released a roar that was deafening in both decibel level and in the utter agony it contained.

 
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