Twilight prophecy, p.21
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       Twilight Prophecy, p.21
 

         Part #17 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 21

 

  Lucy took a bus to Binghamton by way of Timbuktu, or so it seemed. It took most of a day to get there. But at least she'd been able to buy a ticket with what remained of her cash, using a false name and convincing the sales agent that she had lost her ID and was in a real jam. He'd taken pity on her.

  She never would have thought herself capable of embarking on such a wild journey as the one she'd just been on. A journey that had left her life in ruins, her heart in pieces and was now coming to an end with absolutely nothing gained. And yet, she wasn't finished. Not completely. She intended to see this through, to try to make right, in the only way she could, what she had done so very, very wrong.

  She was going to the university, to the dusty, familiar basement, to find her beloved clay tablets, and she was going to sit there and translate until she either found an answer or ran out of shards.

  Or ran out of time.

  She didn't know for sure if her house was being watched. She presumed it had been, at first, but maybe they'd given up after so many days of her not showing up. She hitched a ride from the bus station with a biker and had him drop her off several blocks from her house, and then she walked along a road that ran parallel to hers, cut through the woodlot in between and emerged on the edge of her own small backyard.

  And then she stood there in the shelter of the trees, looking at what had been her haven. The tiny cracker-box house with its pristine white paint and neat black shutters. Its organized, color coordinated window boxes were sprouting weeds, and the once perfectly manicured lawn was shaggy. Newspapers had piled up on her front stoop, and the mailbox was overflowing. The place was a mess.

  For just a moment she stood there, thinking it was an exact match for what had happened to her neat, organized, tightly controlled life. It, too, had got away from her. It had spiraled into chaos. She'd spent the past week scared to death, frantic, excited and. . . alive, she realized slowly. More alive than she had ever been. Awash in emotions and sensations she had never before allowed herself to experience. Emotions that included a blinding, dizzying passion for a man who was like no other she had ever known.

  Or ever would.

  He undoubtedly resented her now, maybe even hated her, for ruining his chance to save his people. Much more, for the lives that had been lost because of her foolish mistakes. First in publishing her translation too soon, never knowing the deadly impact it would have on a race of people living today. And secondly, and even less excusable, leaving that ebook on her phone within Utanapishtim's reach. She couldn't undo those mistakes. But maybe she could keep things from getting any worse.

  From the woodlot beyond the backyard, she watched the house for several long minutes. She moved along the edge of the woods so she could look past her house and see the road out front. There was, as she had feared, a dark sedan parked directly across the street.

  Well, it was still her home. And she needed it desperately right then. So she moved back through the woods until the house itself blocked her from the street and dashed right up the middle of the tiny backyard, ducking low until she reached the back door.

  Her key was already in her hand. She inserted it in the lock, opened the door and slipped silently into her house, feeling as nervous as a cat burglar. Closing the door behind her, she leaned back against it and sighed. The relief of home washed over her. God, if only she could curl up into a ball and stay right there.

  But she couldn't.

  She kept very low as she moved through the house, never turning on a single light nor moving in any way that could be seen from outside. As much as she wanted to bask in her haven, she just didn't have time. She had to be fast, and she had to be efficient. She crept up the stairs to her bedroom to get clean clothes and packed everything essential into a backpack she found in her closet. A couple of changes of clothes, all her important papers from their fireproof lockbox under the bed, including her birth certificate, social security card, passport, diplomas and degrees. She added a hairbrush, extra socks and running shoes.

  Then she took that bag with her and headed into her bathroom for a quick shower, keeping the water cool enough so it wouldn't steam up any windows and give her presence away.

  She slicked her wet hair back and fastened it behind her head with a black band, then stuffed a few more essentials into her backpack. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. Just the basics. She quickly changed into cargo pants and a black tank top, with thick cushy socks and tall black lace-up hiking boots. She added a khaki Binghamton Mets baseball cap and a pair of dark sunglasses.

  As an afterthought, she stuffed an empty duffel into her backpack, in case she needed to take some things from her office. Finally, stopping in the kitchen, she shoved a box of granola bars and several bottles of green tea into the bulging bag, snagged a jacket from the hook near the back door and crept outside again.

  "Goodbye, house," she whispered. "You've been good to me. " But there was something inside telling her that she had outgrown this little nest of hers. This hiding place-which was what it had been. A cocoon where she had secreted herself away from life. From living.

  The woman who emerged from that back door, she felt, was not the same one who'd left this house by the front door so short a time ago. Not even close.

  She knew things, had seen things, she had never known or seen before. She'd come to understand things she had never even considered. And she'd shifted her vision about what was right and what was wrong in the world, seeing things now as varying shades of gray, not pure black and white like before.

  Sometimes the ends really did justify the means. James had shown her that. And shown her, too, that there were still real heroes in this world. He was one of them, she had no doubt of that, no matter how badly his efforts had turned out. He'd failed. And he believed that proved that her doubts about him had been right all along.

  But she believed she'd been wrong. James was more heroic than any man she had ever known. She hoped she would get a chance to tell him that one day. She wished she had done so before leaving him this last time. But the pain of walking away had left her too raw to say anything at all.

  She was in love with him. She knew that now.

  For whatever that was worth.

  Her bicycle was leaning against the side of the house, and she wanted it in the worst way. It would make traveling a whole lot faster and easier. She dislodged her backpack and lay on her belly in the grass, sliding along the side of the house and gripping the bike by its front wheel. And then she inched it toward her slowly, very slowly, bit by bit, avoiding any sudden motion that would give her away.

  Eventually she managed to get the bike all the way to the backyard, easing it around the corner and then, finally, she stood upright. She slid her backpack on once more and walked the bike into the woods out back, through them and out to the road. There she mounted and rode, heading for the university and hoping to God she could blend in with summer session students long enough to get to the basement of her building undetected.

  "Damien, thank God I've found you. " James stared at the man in blatant relief when he answered his own door. "But why are you back here? In your own house? Don't you know the danger you're in?"

  Damien, the first true vampire, the onetime great King Gilgamesh, met his eyes, his own grim, and nodded at the suitcases piled on the floor behind him while pulling James inside and closing the door. "I'm aware and taking precautions. Shannon stayed behind, in case one of those vigilante groups targets me while I'm here. "

  "Stayed behind. . . ?" James closed his eyes. "Where?"

  "What?"

  "Where did she stay behind, Damien?"

  "On the island, of course. She wanted to return with me, but I wouldn't allow it. She was safe there, and I thought it best to leave it that way. "

  "And you haven't heard from her since?"

  "We've all agreed not to use mental communication, as you well know, James. " And th
en his eyes narrowed. "Why? What the hell is happening?"

  James lowered his head. "Utanapishtim. . . is alive. I. . . I raised him. "

  "For the love of the gods. . . "

  "I took him to the island. But he wasn't. . . he wasn't right. He wasn't sane, and he got hold of a copy of the book-that damned Folsom book, and-"

  "And what?" Damien gripped James's shoulders, staring into his eyes. "He couldn't have read it-he wouldn't even know the language. "

  "He knows the language. He absorbs knowledge by touch. And he apparently believed what the book said. "

  "Which was what, exactly?"

  "That he'd been cursed by the gods for creating the vampire race, and that his only means of redemption was to destroy it utterly. "

  Damien waited, his eyes already seeming to reflect what James was about to tell him.

  "He attacked his own people-the refugees on the island. He. . . has the same ability as Brigit. He can blast things to bits by directing a beam of energy from his eyes, and he-"

  "Where's Shannon?" Immediately Damien closed his eyes and called out to her.

  "She won't respond if she's alive, Damien. She won't risk giving away the location of the island to the mortals. "

  Damien nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. "Then you need to tell me. Were there any survivors?"

  "Yes. " James swallowed hard. "But many were killed. I don't even know about my own family yet. We only know a group got away and headed for the other side of the island. And that Utanapishtim took a yacht and headed for the mainland, rather than going after them. I assumed he would come here. "

  "Why would he come after me?"

  James shrugged. "Because the same passage from that book that told him he'd been cursed for creating our race, and that he must eliminate us all to undo the curse, also told him that he needed to start with the eldest one first. And that would be you. "

  "Then he will come here. "

  "If he can find you. And he seems to have a sense of all of us. He can hear vampires, home in on them. And I believe he can also take their powers. " He met Damien's eyes. "I believe he has already. "

  Damien blinked in shock.

  "There's more," James began.

  "I'm sure there is. And I know you're working hard to save your people-our people-but right now my only concern is Shannon. "

  "The missing parts of the tablet, Damien-the missing parts were taken deliberately. The DPI has them, and they left the rest knowing that someday it would be translated, and that we would believe raising Utanapishtim was the only way to save our kind. But the opposite was true. Raising him was the way to begin the destruction. And I did it, Damien. I did it. I played right into their hands. "

  Sighing, Damien squeezed James's shoulders. "You couldn't have known. I was fooled, too, James. And I'm far older and more experienced than you. "

  "I let my ego-"

  "Pssh, ego. You're the best of all of us. Always have been. You didn't do this for ego, James. You did this to save your people because you thought it was your destiny. And I'll tell you something, my friend. You're not finished yet. " He blinked and said, "And speaking of destiny, where is your professor?"

  James averted his eyes. "She's gone. She's done all she can for us, and-and she's gone back to try to rebuild her life. What's left of it, anyway. Yet another bit of destruction left in my wake, I'm afraid. "

  "No, she's not gone. You're not finished with that yet, either. " Damien clapped his shoulder hard. "I have to return to the island. I have to find Shannon. I don't have time to wait here for Utanapishtim to show. "

  "If he's determined to get to you, he'll go where you go. He'll follow you right back to that island and finish what he started there. He's not sane, Damien. "

  "Why the hell not? He was when I knew him. And he died shortly thereafter, so he should be just the same as-"

  "He never died. He was conscious, aware, but entombed. Even when his body was burned, he remained. "

  Damien's face contorted. "For five thousand years?"

  James nodded.

  "You resurrected a monster. You realize that?"

  "I made a mistake, I know that now. "

  "And you just expect me to wait here for him to come to me? Not even knowing if my wife is dead or alive? And as the authorities are moving against us?"

  James blinked. "What authorities?"

  "Hell, you've been out of touch. I keep forgetting. " Damien shook his head slowly. "Just today, while we slept, the White House Press Secretary said that the government now admits to the existence of vampires. He conveyed a plea from the president himself to the vigilantes to stop with their attacks. "

  "It's bullshit. "

  "No question," Damien said. "They've put out arrest warrants for any and every vampire-for our own protection, they say. They claim they've set up a safe house for us, and that they want to begin having discussions with our leaders. They're asking us to trust them, promising to arrest the vigilantes and prosecute them for violating our civil rights. "

  "Do you believe them?"

  "No, and I've just emailed an electronic recording to a local TV station saying so. They wanted to know why it wasn't a video. " He smiled bitterly, shaking his head at the ignorance of the mortal world.

  "I thought everyone knew vampires don't show up on film. "

  "Apparently not. But meanwhile, they're quietly rounding up members of the Chosen. "

  "What?" James was stunned.

  "I hate to think why, and we don't know where, but they've been disappearing, ordinary people with ordinary lives. The only common denominator among them is that they have the antigen. Most probably don't even know what it means. And I caught wind they're going to raid your professor's university, confiscating any remaining pieces of that tablet that might be there. They're calling the information a matter of national security and using the Patriot Act to justify taking it. "

  "When?" James asked, his heart suddenly seeming to seize up in his chest. "Tonight. Why?"

  James lowered his head swiftly. "God, no. "

  "What?"

  "Lucy. . . I think it's a fairly safe bet that she'll be there. At the university. "

  "Well, she's not safe there, James. You need to get her out. And I need to get to that island and find Shannon. " Damien turned, reached for a single bag and strode toward his own front door, leaving everything else behind.

  But James stopped him, a hand on his shoulder. "We have to find Utanapishtim, Damien. We have to kill him. "

  Damien lowered his head. "And how do you suggest we do that? Kill him, I mean. "

  "Lucy thought the answer to that would be on those tablets-the pieces she hadn't translated yet. But you must know how it was done the first time. "

  Damien nodded. "He was beheaded. "

  "Then get me an ax. "

  Damien stared at James as if he had never met him before; then he walked out the door and around the corner of the house to a woodpile. He tugged an ax easily from where it was embedded in a log and held it out. "I thought you were a healer, James. The good twin. "

  "I was. But I told you, he took that from me. "

  "Are you sure?"

  James lowered his head. "I hoped I was wrong, but. . . yes, I think so. I know when he could have done it. And then later. . . "

  "It doesn't matter. You're still good, you can't turn your back on your own moral code. Believe me, I know. "

  "My goodness has cost countless vampires their lives. Maybe even my own family. I'm through being good. " James took the ax from Damien's hand.

  "I want you to let this go, James. I want you to go to the university and find your Lucy," Damien said.

  "You've delivered your warning. You've done all you can. But you have to know that there are more important things than the greater good. "

  "What could possibly be more important than saving our people, Damien?" James asked softly.

 
; "Love, James. Love is more important. I've lived longer than anyone on this planet-other than Utanapishtim himself-and I'm telling you, that is the one thing I know for sure. Love is. . . it's everything, James. It's everything. "

  James felt those words sink into his heart like hot arrows, and they stayed there while he bled from the wounds. "Brigit went after the refugees on the island. She intended to find them, help them and then catch up with me. This will be her first stop. When she arrives, she'll have news of Shannon for you. Give her another couple of hours, all right?"

  "All right. "

  James looked at the ax. "You sure you don't need this?"

  "I have others. If he comes for me, I'll be ready. Go. Find the solution for this if you can, but remember what I said. Solve this first," he said, with a hand to his heart.

 
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