Twilight fulfilled, p.17
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       Twilight Fulfilled, p.17
 

         Part #18 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 17

 

  An hour later, even though she was itching to be on her way to find Utana, to discover for herself whose side he was truly on, Brigit lay upon a bed of pillows on the floor. J. W. was stretched out beside her, and there was a ring of glowing candles surrounding them, flames dancing so close she could feel their heat on her face.

  Rhiannon knelt just above their heads. Her face always changed during these rites of hers. Whenever she performed magic, her expressive features turned placid, utterly tranquil. Even her eyes beamed with nothing but pure love, the kind the mystics called Namaste. Rhiannon called this expression "the eyes of spirit. " It was, she had taught Brigit, the state of being in which the very essence of God or Goddess, or both, flowed through the priestess. That gaze sought, found and drew forth the deity within any other individual participating in the ritual. Brigit felt it, and not for the first time. J. W. , though, might not have experienced this rush before. It was something too otherworldly to be described through words. It wasn't experienced through the five known senses. It was something else altogether, something that had to be lived in order to be known.

  The room seemed to fade and her vision to become unfocused. Thoughts ceased their zipping in and out of her brain, and it, too, became quiet. Her breathing deepened, slowed, becoming such a rhythmic flow that she could no longer completely distinguish between inhale and exhale. It was all just like ocean waves, washing in, washing out, overlapping. Gentle, cleansing, calming.

  Brigit felt herself expand to fill the entire room and then move beyond it, as her spiritual self floated free of her physical shell. Rhiannon was speaking softly, but her words were only a distant song, which made sense somehow, though the words themselves were lost. It was just a pretty noise now.

  Gosh, Brigit felt so big. She wondered, as she always did, how she was ever going to squeeze all of herself back into that tiny little body. But she knew the self she was experiencing now was her true self. That part of her that was also part of. . . well, of every thing. There was no separation between her body and the pillows. Or the floor beneath them. Or the ground beneath that. Or the planet. Or the stars. Or the entire universe. That was how big she was.

  There was no separation between her and her twin brother. Or between her and Rhiannon, who always seemed so much more than Brigit felt herself to be. But not really.

  Rhiannon was telling her to look for her power. She was telling J. W. to look for it, too. Brigit couldn't make out the words, just felt the energy of the instructions. So she felt around until she found her power, and she gasped when she did. It seemed bright, pulsing, a ball of energy that was not unlike a star. She imagined herself cupping it in her hands, even though part of her was sure it would burn, which was silly. She was pure spirit. She couldn't burn.

  She felt as if her brother's hands were cupping the star, too, even though neither she nor J. W. had hands anymore. And then J. W. stepped away from her-at least, that was what it felt like, and she sensed, rather than saw, that he now held a beaming, pulsing star cradled within his own palms, even while she still held one in hers. The star had divided, becoming two, neither one less than the original had been.

  Rhiannon's voice was calling them back into their bodies now. Guiding them.

  But Brigit wasn't ready. She wanted to see Utana. And the moment she thought of him, she did see him. She saw him first as a spirit as big as she felt right then, but all crammed into a tiny container-the statue where his ashes had been held, she realized. Smaller than a body. Far more constricting, because a body was able to experience life on the physical plane. To hone the focus down to this one, vivid, beautiful lifetime in order to relish every instant, every breath, every sensation, every morsel. And yet he'd been unable to experience life in that way. To exist in that way. Or in any way, besides in darkness.

  She saw, then, the explosion of force when he'd been released by her own brother's extraordinary power. J. W. had revivified Utana in order to save the vampire race. But the prophecy he'd believed was telling him to do so had been misinterpreted. Utana was instead the means of their destruction.

  And he'd exploded forth from oblivion in a flash that seemed as if it must have been second only to the Big Bang itself. The moment of creation.

  Sensation had bombarded Utana like needles shot from a cannon and embedding themselves in every inch of his skin. Every touch had stabbed his nerve endings. Every pinprick of light had been blinding. The most subtle of smells had been overwhelming, and the slightest sound deafening, almost too painful to bear. He'd wanted only release.

  "He was out of his mind," Brigit whispered. Or she tried to. What came out sounded like babble to her. "He didn't even know how to be human anymore. "

  Rhiannon's voice called to her, the words still unintelligible but their meaning clear: come back.

  Brigit tried to say "not yet," but again only a slurred, meaningless noise emerged. But she ignored that, seeking Utana again, searching, trying to experience him as he was now.

  Peaceful. Silent. Asleep, resting, dreaming. . . of her. She saw a vision, of the two of them entwined, not entirely in physical form. The top halves of them seemed normal-torsos, arms, heads and faces, eyes locked on one another. Lips melded in an endless kiss. But the bottom halves of their bodies were smoke and glitter, green and gold, or those were the closest colors she could name. In truth, they were colors that didn't exist in this world. Colors humans could not perceive. The colors of pure spirit.

  "Come back to me, little one," Rhiannon called. "You're floating too far away. Come back. "

  Brigit felt the most incredible sensation in her heart. It seemed to be expanding, so big it might burst, as her spirit settled at last into its temporal home. She felt tiny again, but reassured that the larger part of her was still there, and that she was still a part of it. A very small part of it, but still. . . She opened her eyes, and the room slowly came back into focus.

  "I really do love him," she whispered. "And what's more, he loves me back. " Blinking, she whispered, "I felt it. I saw it. It's real. "

  Utana came awake to pain, hot, searing pain, and the stench of his own burning flesh. An anguished scream was driven from the depths of his soul as his eyes flew open wide. Through a red haze of agony and wisps of smoke rising up from his own skin, his vision swam, cleared, swam again. Men were around him. Nashmun, his so-called vizier, stood only an arm's length away, holding a red-hot poker in his fist. And smiling. The scar on his face made the grin look demonic.

  Utana lunged toward him, but his arms were brought up short, wrenching his shoulders as iron rang against iron. Chains. He was in chains. Upright, with shackles at his wrists and ankles, and a foot of iron chain from each embedded in the stonelike wall at his back.

  "What meaning is this, Nashmun!" he demanded, his mastery of the language faltering under duress.

  His vizier's smile died, and his eyes went as cold as twin granite stones. "It means you should have done what you were told to do to begin with, Utana. You were resurrected for a reason, after all. We brought you back to do a job. "

  Utana's eyes narrowed. He called on his inner power, intending to send its deadly beam to this man and end his reign of terror once and for all time. Nashmun was not worthy to live. Nothing happened.

  "It's the drug. The liquid we injected into you," Nashmun told him, gloating and pleased. "It will inhibit your powers for as long as I need them inhibited. You can't hurt me, Utana. You're helpless. "

  "I am never helpless. "

  "You are now. And we are not going to give you a choice. You're going to do the job we brought you back to do," Nashmun told him again.

  "Why you say you raised me?" Utana licked his lips and tried to clear his mind of the fog that kept overwhelming him. "You did not. James of the Vahmpeers, he is the one. He awakened me. " He thought of James-Brigit's beloved brother-who had raised him from ash. He had insisted Utana must save his people. Instead
, Utana had tried to annihilate them. How James must hate him for that.

  "James Poe, the male half of the mongrel twins, did exactly what we wanted him to do," Nashmun said. "Don't you see, Utana? We've been planning all of this for years. Every single detail. We found the prophecy, the real one, not the bits and pieces you and your demon offspring have been playing at deciphering. We found it first. We translated it. All of it. And we saw our opportunity to rid the world of this unnatural, demonic plague once and for all. All it took was a little editing, a little chipping away of those clay tablets. A character here, a sentence there. The vampires read that prophecy exactly the way we wanted them to. James brought you back because we made him think that's what he was supposed to do. "

  Brigit had suspected as much, hadn't she? And James's beautiful mate, the genius Lucy. Truly the women had been far wiser about all of this than the men had been. The men should have left it all to them to begin with.

  As the thought of Brigit came into Utana's mind, she filled it. Her image, her face, her eyes, all swam there in his inner sight, rippling before him like a blissful mirage in the desert. Beautiful, alluring, and he wanted to reach for her, to touch her. He thought he could smell her skin, taste her kiss, but only for a moment. And then she vanished, like the vision she was.

  Had she been right about all of it? Had the gods ever truly decreed that he must wipe out the vahmpeers? Had his long sentence of living death truly been a punishment for creating the Undead race? Or was all of that yet another tentacle of this DPI beast's many-armed plot?

  "What sayed the tablet-the true one?" he asked, even though he had little hope the betrayer would tell him.

  "Nothing much. And certainly nothing I'm going to share with you. Not yet, anyway. Maybe just before I kill you. But not yet. First, I need you to do your job. "

  "You wish me to murder the vahmpeers. "

  "That's right. "

  "What sayed the tablet? Did the gods truly decree that I must do this? Or did you only make it seem so?"

  "It doesn't matter. You're going to do it. You're not going to have a choice. "

  Utana strained at his chains, but it was useless. Someone approached, a small, nervous man in white. He jabbed Utana in the thigh with another needle, and immediately he felt his head beginning to fill with mists, his eyes to grow heavy.

  "Why. . . you wake me to burn me, to taunt me, then make me sleep more?"

  "I only needed you to scream in pain, Utana. And you did. I don't need you anymore right now. You just rest. Oh, and just so you know, if you get your strength back and try to break those chains, I'll know. We've installed sensors to detect if you break free. " He moved closer as Utana's head fell to one side, his neck suddenly too weak to hold it upright. "That's a good king. You just sleep now. I imagine your favorite mongrel belly dancer will be here within the hour. "

  Alarm and sudden understanding brought Utana's head up again, but only briefly. He imagined Brigit in his mind, knew she would have heard his anguished shout, felt his pain. And he knew, too, that she would come to him. Just as Nashmun wanted her to do. He tried to shout a mental warning at her, but he had no idea if the message was received. His own mind went dark even as he tried to call out to her. And then he knew no more.

  "Did you feel that?"

  Brigit gasped the question as her arm snapped around her own middle, hand clasping her waist.

  The vampires were gathered around a circular table, studying two sets of blueprints of the same building. One set, dated 1911, was labeled St. Dymphna Asylum. The other, dated 1986, was for St. Dymphna Psychiatric Hospital. There had been modifications, expansions, made in between. The place was currently serving as a prison for the Chosen. Though that was certainly not what the DPI were calling it.

  They all looked up, though, at Brigit's exclamation. J. W. hurried around the table to her side. "What is it, sis?"

  Her brows bunched together, eyes closed, she said, "It burns!"

  Her brother tugged her hand away, examining the flesh between her midriff-baring T-shirt and her low-riding jeans. Then he went still, raising his eyes to her face. "There's nothing there. "

  "It's not my pain. " The heat began to ease. Brigit relaxed, opened her eyes, met her brother's gaze. "It's Utana. He's hurt. "

  "He has my power. If he's hurt, he'll heal himself. "

  "He's with those people, James. The DPI. Gravenham-Bail. "

  "He works for them, remember?"

  She shook her head. "Then why did he just scream in pain as if something-or someone-was burning his flesh? God, it felt like a branding iron. "

  From beyond her brother, Damien-the vampire once known as Gilgamesh, king of ancient Sumer-whispered, "I did not feel the pain. But I heard him cry out. " And then he looked past J. W. to Brigit. "I was made by him. I was the first. For me to hear his cry is natural, inevitable. For you to feel his pain-that's something else entirely, Brigit. "

  "By the gods, have you shared blood with him?" Rhiannon gasped.

  Brigit met her aunt's critical eyes and did not flinch. "I drank from him. I drank in his power, and it made me stronger. That strength will benefit us all. "

  "Not if you use it to help our enemy, it won't. "

  "Rhiannon, they're going to try to force him to kill us. All of us," Brigit insisted. "Do you understand that?"

  "I didn't see anyone forcing him to raze Haven Island with his eyes, burning alive every vampire in his path. "

  Brigit glared at Rhiannon. "Why don't you try being buried alive for a few thousand years, Aunt Rhi? See what it does to your temper, not to mention your sanity. He believed what they wanted him to believe. Just like we did when we raised him. They're the enemy. Not Utana. "

  "We've all agreed on a plan, Brigit," J. W. said softly. "We'll go in and get the Chosen out of that place before the DPI makes their move. Before they're expecting us. We'll take them by surprise. If we go rushing back there now, though, before we're ready, we'll blow any chance we have of saving the captives. "

  She blinked at her brother. "But he's in pain. "

  "He's not our priority. " He said it coldly, without inflection, as if Utana's anguish was not even worth consideration.

  "But perhaps he is yours," Rhiannon said, as she came across the room and stood nose to nose with Brigit. The other vampires in the room watched silently as Rhiannon uttered but one word. "Choose. "

  "I'll get him away from them. Bring him in. If you talk to him, you'll see-"

  "Choose, Brigit. "

  "He can help us. "

  "We do not want or need any help from that monster. If you bring him within reach of any vampire, I will tear him apart with my own two hands. " Rhiannon paused there, turning away while blinking rapidly, angrily. "And you with him, if you try to stand in the way. " Her voice had thickened, deepened.

  "Rhiannon!" Brigit's mother shouted.

  "He has murdered our people," Rhiannon went on. "He intends to murder the rest. You cannot be with him and remain with us, Brigit. And so the time has come, my little rebel, for you to choose. Him? Or us?" She turned away, as if putting Brigit from her life.

  Brigit's heart twisted into such a tight, hard knot that she could hardly bear it. Tears of anger and rage welled up in her eyes. Besides her own mother, Rhiannon was the woman she loved most in the world, but she'd turned her back to Brigit now, both literally and figuratively. Brigit looked around the room at every vampire there. No one spoke nor moved to defend her. All of them were waiting to see what choice she would make.

  Her eyes met J. W. 's, but he said nothing. Even her own twin, her other half, refused to support her. Blinking back tears, she clenched her teeth, stiffened her spine and lifted her chin. "You're wrong about him. About me, too. You're very, very wrong. And I will prove it to you. " She moved to pick up her jacket and the little backpack she used because she wouldn't be caught dead with an actual purse, then turned to face them again.

&nb
sp; No one had moved, but Lucy clutched J. W. 's arm, staring at him so hard that Brigit knew she was talking to him with her mind. Yelling at him, maybe. Her parents were hugging one another, her mother crying softly and thinking at her, I understand, my love. You have to go see for yourself. I'll be here for you, when you return.

  "I will prove it to you," Brigit said again. "I'll show you that he's good. That he's one of us. But I shouldn't have to. I guess you're just all so used to thinking of me as the bad twin that you can't wrap your narrow minds around the fact that I'm the one who's supposed to save us. Not your saintly J. W. No. The good twin fucked everything up, remember? The prophecy was talking about me-not him. I'm the one who's supposed to fix this. And that's what I'm going to do. But I swear on the dust of the dead, it'll be a cold day in hell before I forgive you for not trusting me. " She looked at her brother. "Any of you. "

  And then, without another second's hesitation, she slammed out of the house. Moments later her tires spat gravel and left rubber as she shoved the car into gear and sped away. Hot tears were flooding down her cheeks, and they made her angry. She clutched the steering wheel with one hand and pounded it with the other. "Dammit, why do I care?"

  This was wrong. It was wrong, and so damned unfair. J. W. was the one who'd walked out on his family, denied his vampiric side, tried to live as a mortal for his entire adult life. Not her. She'd stayed; she'd been loyal. She'd embraced her fangs and developed her powers. She'd done the lessons, learned the history, studied at Rhiannon's feet. She was the one who'd stood by them.

  Even though they'd condemned her power as evil, warned her not to wield it, made her feel like something less, while elevating J. W. to the status of a Christ figure. And yet, when the chips were down, they'd wanted her to use her unworthy power after all. To kill for them. They'd wanted her to entomb a living man, a beautiful man, the father of their race, for all time. And then had the nerve to turn on her when she'd refused.

  "I hate them," she muttered. "I hate them all. "

  Even if Utana were the monster they believed him to be, doing such a thing to him would be wrong. But he wasn't. He wasn't. She knew him. Utana was no monster. He was a man, and she loved him.

  But even as she drove on, sobbing, she heard herself whisper, "Oh, God, what if I'm wrong?"

  Midnight. The late-summer hum of insects was more present than the buzz of traffic. It was quiet outside the asylum walls tonight. "Too quiet," Brigit whispered, and tried to laugh at her use of the cliched movie line, but she failed to work up even a smile. She was worried.

  She crouched in the trees outside the chain-link fence, peering in at the place. She felt Utana's energy and knew he'd been in this very same spot not so long ago.

  The hospital seemed harmless, ordinary. Hard to believe the Chosen were all being held inside. She was fairly sure that was where Utana was, too. In that brief blast of agony she'd felt emanating from him, she'd also received a block of other impressions. The unmistakable feeling of a room below ground. A basement. The smell of concrete and paint, and perhaps propane fumes. The antiseptic atmosphere of a hospital. The rippling waves of energy coming from hundreds of humans, flowing down from above. The cold feel of iron at his wrists and ankles. The jangling of chains. The aura of the scar-faced Gravenham-Bail nearby, his smugness, and his feelings of triumph, of victory at hand, of hatred for those he was about to destroy. The thrill of pleasure that notion gave the man sang from his soul like a choir of demons. He was truly evil.

  From Utana came feelings of confusion followed by anger, and then a rush of fear like a layer of ice, flash freezing all the rest. Fear. . . not for himself but for her. And then nothing.

  She was going to hurt that DPI bastard. She was going to hurt him bad.

  Brigit unzipped her large duffel. Weapons filled it: guns, knives, even a small crossbow. She'd kept the stash in the trunk of her car ever since this insanity began, intending to use it to fight back against the vigilantes who'd decided to destroy the vampire race by burning their homes while they slept by day.

  But that, too, had been no more than a DPI brainstorm. Gravenham-Bail himself had instigated that movement, feeding the flames of fear until they blossomed into violence.

  She selected a few choice weapons, then zipped the bag again and tucked it beneath a stand of brush, making a mental note of the exact location, should she return here later.

  She eyed the chain-link fence, certain it was electrified, then spotted a limb high overhead. Hunkering low, she jumped, sprang high, caught the limb easily. Then she swung like a trapeze artist. Once, twice, each time gaining more momentum, more distance. On the third swing she pulled her knees to her chest and cleared the fence. In a second she'd landed in a low crouch and was staring at the giant of a building.

  She blinked in the darkness, looking around, staying low and still. But there was no movement, no indication that she'd been seen. She darted nearer the hospital and began making her way along the side, her back to the brick wall as she moved as silently as she could along the wide bed of white gravel that encircled the place. Here and there a rosebush or shrub blocked her path. She hopped over them rather than step away from the building and expose her silhouette against the night sky. Inch by inch she moved, a silent child of the night.

  Just the way Aunt Rhiannon had taught her.

  When she reached the front corner, she peered around, then ducked quickly back. Two guards stood, as always, at the front door. She needed them to leave their posts, and, moreover, she needed that door opened for her.

  Lowering herself to all fours, she crept around the corner, then crawled toward the door, until only a single shrub stood between her and the guards. She stared at them from behind the branches, homing in on their minds, listening to their thoughts.

  They doubled the security tonight, one guard thought. That's never happened before. Must be expecting trouble. Wish they'd tell us more. I hate this need-to-know shit.

  And the other one: I should get off early, go home a few hours before she expects me, see if I can catch her in the act. I know something's going on. I know it.

  Brigit focused her eyes on the radio attached to the second man's belt. And then on his mind. She'd rarely tried to control the minds of mortals. But she needed to do so now.

  It was dark, which meant it was safe to vamp up, bringing out the Undead part of her. Her fangs elongated. Her eyesight sharpened, and the blood-lust was like a hunger pang. But her mental powers were heightened, too. She focused her thoughts.

  They're calling you.

  Guard number two picked up his radio. It was dead silent, but still, frowning, he listened.

  Get inside, Brigit thought at the men as urgently as she could. We need you in here ASAP!

  "Shit," said the first. "This must be it. " He drew his sidearm.

  The second clipped the radio to his belt, drew his own handgun and then hit the buttons on the security panel and opened the door.

  Brigit, still on all fours, sprang over the shrub the way Pandora might have done. She hit the ground on two feet, knees bent, and sprang again, this time landing on the top step, barely managing to grip the door just before it fell closed.

  She stood there, her back to the wall, holding the door open by a hairsbreadth, just enough to keep the locks from engaging, while the guards started to make their way through the building. And then, quick as a heartbeat, she slipped inside.

  And heard the click of a hammer being drawn back as the cold steel barrel of a gun was pressed to her head.

  "Welcome to St. Dymphna, Brigit. We've been expecting you. "

 
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