Twilight fulfilled, p.3
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       Twilight Fulfilled, p.3
 

         Part #18 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 3

 

  Bangor, Maine

  Brigit smelled death in the air. Death, grief, violence. And something more. She was standing above a demolished street in downtown Bangor, Maine. There was a taste to the night, a scent and a feeling. It smelled this way after lightning struck. After an electrical transformer had blown up, or after a breaker box had short-circuited.

  And after she had used her power to blow something to bits.

  She would have known what had happened here simply by that smell, even if she hadn't seen the news reports with her own eyes.

  The streets were blocked off. Cops wearing black armbands in honor of their dead stood sentry at every possible access point. But they hadn't covered the rooftops. Local law enforcement agencies had a lot to learn about the Undead-and their mongrel kin.

  Brigit stood on the roof of a hardware store, looking down at the mayhem. Burned-out vehicles, scattered debris. There were still body parts here and there, missed by the EMTs and the crews from the coroner's office, no matter how thorough they thought they had been. She could smell them. Charred meat had a distinctive aroma, and charred human meat had one all its own. It wasn't pleasant.

  Her nose wrinkled, and she averted her face, closing her eyes against the onslaught of remembered images. But she couldn't stop the nightmarish scene from playing out in her mind just as it had so recently played out for real on the streets below her. She was too close, her mind too open. She saw the entire encounter play out in her mind's eye. Utana big and so powerful, but more utterly alone than any man had ever been, cold, wet and shivering in the delivery truck, devouring the stolen food with relish. She felt his awareness of being surrounded, his confusion as to why the humans would want to harm him when his goal was the same as theirs. To exterminate the vampires.

  She felt his anger, and she felt, too, his reluctance to do what he had to do-followed slowly by his bitter acceptance of it. He believed the humans had left him no other choice. He believed it completely.

  She pressed a hand to her forehead, willing the images away, but they played out all the same. The beam blasting forth from Utana's eyes. The men-innocent men-being blown literally to pieces. And despite the horror of it, Brigit found herself compelled to examine the images more closely. How had he widened out the beam that way? She couldn't do that. She had to blow up one thing at a time. How had he managed to broaden its scope to include a wide range of targets all at once? She'd never been able to achieve such a thing.

  Hell, if he was more powerful than she was. . .

  No, she wouldn't think that way. He might be stronger, but she was smarter, faster, more at home in the here and now. Not to mention that she was sane. Oh, she supposed there were some who would debate that, given her hair-trigger temper. But she was at least saner than he was, this man who'd been buried alive for more than fifty centuries.

  It wasn't his fault he was out of his freaking mind, she thought. But that thought, too, she shoved aside.

  She started to turn, intending to track him down by following the essence he left in his wake, but then she paused, brought to halt by the vision still unfolding in her head.

  Utana himself, his wet bedsheet toga dragging the ground, his long black hair clinging to his powerful shoulders and rain-damp chest, climbing down from the truck and walking slowly among the dead. She felt the waves of regret washing over him with so much force that they left him weak. She felt the tears burning in his eyes. And there were, inexplicably, answering tears welling up in her own.

  And then, from directly behind her, he said, "Do you see? The humans-they gave me no choice. "

  Her head came up fast, chills racing up her spine at his presence. How? How had he snuck up on her like that? Why hadn't she felt his approach as she would feel the approach of anyone-mortal or vampire? Had he learned to block his vibrations from others? And at such close range? Impossible.

  She turned to face him, trying to erase any hint of fear from her expression. Her eyes were level with his massive chest, and she had to tip her head back to focus on his face.

  He met her eyes, and his flashed with recognition. "Brigit. The sister of James. "

  "Yes. "

  He lowered his head, perhaps unable to hold her gaze, and she sensed he might be ashamed of what he had done. "You are sent for to kill me?"

  "Yes. "

  "Tell me of your brother and his Lucy. Are they. . . ?"

  "They're fine. "

  Unmistakable and unspeakable regret flashed in the depths of his gleaming jet-black eyes. "I wish not to harm you, sister of James. "

  "Don't worry, Utana. You won't. "

  He blinked twice, a frown appearing between his brows. But as he lifted his head and met her eyes again, she saw something more there. A hint of a spark. Perhaps he was rising to the challenge.

  "I wish there were another way," she said. "I hate having to do this to you. "

  He almost smiled as he repeated her own words back to her. "Don't worry, Brigit. You won't. " And then his teeth bared in a full-on grin. He was very pleased with himself, no doubt at his flawless repetition, right down to the inflection and tone.

  She lifted a hand, palm up, fingers loosely resting against her thumb, as he spun and raced across the rooftop, putting some distance between them. She focused on him, flicked her fingers open and released the powerful, deadly beam from her eyes.

  As if he felt it coming, Utana tucked and rolled, dodging the flash of laser like light. The chimney behind him exploded. Bricks flew like enormous pieces of shrapnel, but he blocked them with one arm, even as he turned and fired a beam from his own eyes in her general direction.

  Brigit dove out of the way, and Utana's blast of energy blew past her and kept going until it hit a window across the street, shattering it.

  Below, the workers cleaning up after the massacre scrambled for cover. People shouted from their crouched positions, looking up and pointing.

  From behind a vent fan, Brigit launched another bolt of destructive energy, then raced to the rear of the building. Even as he shot a beam back at her, she jumped, plummeting downward and landing hard in a low crouch that did little to absorb the teeth-jarring impact.

  Springing upright again, she ran. Her feet pounded the pavement as she poured on every ounce of human speed she possessed, eager to lead Utana away from anyone who might be harmed in the cross fire. Not that there was any love lost between her and humankind. But her vampire family would frown on unnecessary bloodshed.

  Except for Aunt Rhiannon, of course. She would love it.

  Brigit dashed down an alley, trying hard to tune out the stench coming from the trash bins as she did. Behind her, she heard Utana land barefoot on the pavement, and an instant later he was hurling power after her like Zeus hurling lightning bolts after an unrepentant sinner, as she zigged and zagged to avoid being blown to bits.

  Ducking behind a building, she pressed her back to the brick, panting hard to catch her breath. But not for long. She popped her head out just long enough to return fire, then jerked it back behind the wall again. Once, twice, three times. Each blast of power sucked more vital energy from her. More life force. More strength. She wondered if it was the same for him.

  Peering out from behind the building once more, she didn't see him, so she made a dash for the edge of town.

  He followed, no longer firing, just running.

  Yes, she thought. Using his power of destruction must drain him, too. And he'd annihilated many already tonight. She had the advantage. Except that she was pretty sure he'd been stronger to begin with.

  Running onward, she knew she needed more speed, more force. Though it would rob her of precious energy, she paused to call her vampiric self up to the surface. Her jaw began to pulse and throb as her incisors elongated themselves, and her entire body prickled with newly heightened sensation. And then, fully vamped out, she ran full bore. The preternatural burst of speed wo
uld, she knew, make her appear as no more than a blur in the eyes of a human.

  And, she hoped, in the eyes of the first immortal, as well.

  Miles melted away, but Brigit didn't stop until she stood in a wooded glen. There was a pond. There were trees. A nearly full moon hung low in the sky. It would be dawn soon. Leaning against a tree, she hung her head, caught her breath, let her body return to her more natural state. Her fangs retracted. Her skin felt almost numb in comparison to the heightened sensitivity of vampire flesh and nerve.

  "I will wait until. . . you make ready. "

  She straightened, spun. And there he stood, tall and straight and barely winded. "God," she muttered.

  "Utana," he corrected. "You are. . . powerful warrior. Strong. Smart. I expected not such challenge from one so beautiful. "

  "Don't try to distract me with empty flattery, Utana. It won't work. "

  He frowned, tipping his head to one side as if trying to understand the meaning of her words. "I ask again-do not make me kill you, woman. "

  She met his eyes, then had to look away. They were black as night, deep and full of misery. "You murdered dozens of my people. "

  "All my years-as priest, as king, as soldier, as flood survivor, as immortal-all my years, I tell you, never did I kill when I was able to find another way. But-this time, no choice was I given. The will of the Anunaki must be obeyed. "

  She felt his heart twisting with his words, as if he were holding back an emotional storm. There was pain in this man, and she hated that she could feel it. She didn't know why, and wished it would go away, so she tried to close her mind to his. "There has to be another way," she whispered.

  "Another way, yes. A living death for me. I want only release, Brigit of the Vahmpeers. Release for the vahmpeers, as well. To release from the curse of living as demons, hated by the gods, forced to exist on the power of mortal blood. It is damnation for them. You cannot see with the wisdom of one as old as I, woman. But I remove your peoples' curse as I remove my own. I wish only to join them in the Land of the Dead, where we will make our peace. I cannot know that blessed release until I obey the will of the gods and destroy the last of the vahmpeers. "

  "Over my dead body. "

  "Yes, I fear it is so. " He sent a blast, but she felt it coming.

  And even as she lunged out of the line of fire, she realized with stunning clarity that she had known he was going to blast her before he had made a move.

  That apparent psychic bond she'd been cursing only seconds earlier had enabled her to read him.

  She hid behind a fragrant pine, hands braced on its sticky trunk, and she tried not to think before acting. She decided she would attack on impulse, without a plan, while reading his intentions as they formed.

  Popping out from behind the tree, she fired and scored a direct hit. The beam slammed the big man in his abdomen, the force of it bending him in two and launching him backward through the air. He hit a boulder and sank to the ground, only to roll to the side as she sent a second shot.

  She ducked as he shot back. Her pine tree cover, five feet behind her by then, blew apart and went crashing to the forest floor, forming a huge barrier between her and Utana. Dashing to another cluster of trees, Brigit shot again, blindly this time, and then she ran on.

  It must have looked, from above, as if an invisible giant were stomping across the forest, each step snapping trees as if they were toothpicks.

  And yet no further hits were scored. He pursued her, his pain washing over her in waves that were almost as debilitating to her as they must have been to him. God, why did she feel him so powerfully?

  He was getting closer. Brigit turned, lifted a hand to fire and felt an enormous force, like gravity times ten, pulling her straight to her knees. She shot all the same, but he sidestepped the blast and walked slowly toward her.

  Lifting her head, she watched him approach. She raised her hand, palm up, but for the life of her she could not generate enough energy for more than a slight flash from her eyes. It made a popping sound as it crested in the air between them.

  Utana reached her and then sank to his knees, as well, facing her. They knelt there, as close as they could be without touching. Their eyes met, locked. "I can. . . fight. . . no more," he whispered.

  "Neither can I. "

  Three panting breaths, and then his hand cupped the back of her head and he brought her face to his, smashing his mouth to hers, kissing her with all he had. Several days' beard brushed soft against her chin, and they tumbled to the ground, limbs entwined, as fire burned in Brigit's veins and she wondered just what the hell had come over her-over him.

  Exhaustion won out over passion in the end. Their kiss, though heated, began to cool, as, wrapped up in each other, they sank into an exhausted slumber on the floor of the decimated forest.

  When Brigit stirred some hours later, the sun was beating down. The birds were singing a riotous chorus.

  And Utana was gone.

  She got to her feet and stood in silence, absently brushing the leaves and twigs from her clothes, and turning in a slow circle. But he was nowhere near. She didn't feel him anymore.

  She relived the battle, her mind replaying every blast she'd sent and every one he'd returned. She walked back through the forest, noting where she'd been standing, running, diving, with the benefit of clear-minded hindsight.

  Swallowing hard, she shook her head. He could have had her. At least three different times, she realized, she'd been exposed. An easy target, her back to him. And he'd sent bolts of power, not at her, but at nearby trees, toppling them.

  He could have killed her. But he hadn't.

  And then she relived that kiss. That earth-shattering, mind-blowing kiss.

  "Damn, what am I doing?" She pushed a hand through her hair, and closed her eyes.

  Utana had managed to force his eyes open before the sun rose. Pain still throbbed in his body from the single blow she had landed in their battle of the night before. And yet, as he'd studied the beautiful woman in his arms, he was overcome with feelings that were counter to his purpose. He told himself that it was little more than the natural urge to possess her. That any man would feel the same. It was only nature. He was male, she was female. And he wanted to take her, there on the floor of the wooded glen.

  And yet, from within, came the knowledge that he denied and refused to hear. The same knowledge that had held him back from destroying her, and had made him hurl his bolts far from her soft and pleasing form.

  Passion he could understand. Tenderness? For his enemy? No, that would not do. And while he wanted her, and thought she might not object too strongly should he take her, he held back. He told himself that it was because to mount her here and now would mean to stir her to wakefulness. And then the battle between them would no doubt begin again. And he was still in more pain than he cared to be-for a fight.

  She was no ordinary woman. Perhaps she would not be owned. Indeed, according to James, women in this strange world were equal to men and able to choose. He'd thought it a joke. But truly, he had never known a woman like this one. She might very well be the equal of any man he'd ever known. At least in battle.

  Perhaps in passion, as well. The kiss they had shared had been as eagerly returned as received. And fiery, too.

  But no, he had a mission-a mission of the utmost urgency, assigned him by the Anunaki. He'd suffered too much at their hands to give up on the task they had given him. And truly, there must be just cause. The gods would not order the destruction of an entire race unless it were truly necessary.

  He could not doubt them. He had to do as they decreed. He would not defy them again, for the suffering he had known for doing so once-just once-had been beyond human endurance. Should he cross them again, he could not even imagine what punishments might await him.

  And so it was that he eased himself from the embrace of the sleeping female and rose carefully to his feet. For a mo
ment he stood looking down at her as she slept, one hand pressed to his belly, where the skin was burned to black. Her hair was the color of sunlight. Pale yellow gold, and there were leaves of green and gold clinging to its curls. Her eyes, closed now, were the most unusual eyes he had ever seen. His people, all he had known, had eyes the color of onyx stone. Black eyes, to match their hair and their brows. But Brigit-she had eyes like the eyes of Enlil, the God of Air and Sky. Palest blue, with rims of black outlining the color. Her eyes seemed as if they could see through him.

  Wise, she was.

  Perhaps her words ought to be heeded.

  No. She was woman, working on his resolve as only a woman could do. He tore himself away and began trekking through the forest. He needed to distance himself from the beautiful warrioress Brigit, because when near her, he could sense nothing else. Even his pain faded beneath the onslaught of that which was her. Her scent, her vitality. With distance, he would once again be able to home in on the essence of the surviving vahmpeers and resume his pursuit of them.

  He hated the task that lay before him. He resented the gods for putting it upon him. And yet he dared not refuse.

  Miles later, though, it was still Brigit he felt even as he emerged from the forest onto a road. She had filled his senses, leaving room for nothing else. He was in terrible condition. His clothing, the white robe James had called "toga" was filthy. Dry now, at least. But filthy. His body likewise.

  He paused then, beside the road, and tipped his head up to the heavens. "I have no offering to proffer," he said in his own tongue. The new one still felt awkward to him, despite his ability to learn facts by touching objects. "Yet I beg of you, ancient and mighty ones-take this task from me. Allow my offspring to live. Free me of this curse. Surely I have suffered long enough. "

  He closed his eyes and waited for a sign. When none came, he sighed, resolved, and tried again. "If you will not relieve me of this mission, then at least provide me with the means to achieve it. I require shelter. Clothing. Food. "

  Again he closed his eyes, and waited.

  He did not have to wait long. One of the humans' mechanized carts rolled to a stop beside him, and even as he stood there watching, a man got out. He was tall and very lean, and his eyes were the color of pale stone. He bore a battle scar upon his face that spoke of power. Utana recognized the man-had met him once before. The man emerged from the cart-car, Utana corrected himself mentally-and stood facing him.

  As Utana stared at the man, preparing himself to blast him should he move aggressively, the newcomer dropped to one knee, genuflecting, lowered his head and said, "Oh, great and mighty King Ziasudra. It is indeed an honor to kneel before you. "

  Utana felt his brows lift. The rush of pleasure at hearing his old name, even spoken in such a terrible accent, and at being addressed as was befitting a king, was tinged by doubt and suspicion.

  But he withheld judgment, watchful and wary. "Rise, mortal, and tell me what you want of me. "

  The scar-faced man lifted his head but did not rise. "Better to ask what you want of me. Do you remember me, my lord?"

  "You were held captive by Brigit of the Vahmpeers. You were among those she called. . . vi-gi-lants. "

  "Vigilantes, yes. And it was you who set me free. You saved my life, my king. And now I can finally repay that debt. If you will allow it. "

  Utana shrugged. "What do you want of me?"

  "You are the Ancient One, the flood survivor, Utanapishtim, are you not? The first immortal? Beloved of the gods?"

  Utana narrowed his eyes on the human. "I am. But that does not tell me who you are, nor how you know these things that few mortals of your time know. "

  "My name is Nash Gravenham-Bail," the man said. "I have been awaiting your coming, which was foretold to the leaders of my nation. I am a powerful man within my government, my king. But as of right now, I am your servant, sent to tend to you on behalf of my president. "

  Utana frowned. The leaders of this world knew of his resurrection? "I know not. . . pres-ee-dent. "

  "It's our word for king. "

  "Ah. " Then the king of this land knew of him, as well?

  "Will you come with me?" the man went on, still down on one knee. "I have a house for you. Food. Clothing. All you require and more. "

  "Why?" Utana asked. "Why wish you. . . to help me, human?"

  The man lowered his eyes. "I don't blame you for being suspicious of me, my friend. The truth is, my president and I have no love for the vampires you've come to destroy. He wishes to honor you as is befitting a ruler, even one from another time. "

  "And you?" Utana asked.

  The man bowed his head. "I, too, believe in the old gods, the Anunaki. Enki, Enlil, the great Anu, the fierce Inanna. I, too, wish to do their will, to solicit their blessings in this world where few even know their names. Helping you will give me a way to please them. I believe it is what they want of me. " He licked his lips, perhaps nervously. "And as I've already said, you saved my life when you freed me from the vampires. And I am deeply grateful for that. "

  At last, Utana thought. Something he could understand, something he could relate to. And yet, he must be cautious. This world was not his own, and this human, though they had met before, was still a stranger to him.

  He would go with this man, but he would exercise extreme wariness and care. But he was wise and powerful enough, he thought, to risk it. And the rewards of food, of shelter, of a base from which to work while he healed from the painful wound delivered by the lovely warrior woman Brigit, were far too tempting to resist.

  "Be it so," he said to the man. "My vizier, you shall be. Rise, Nashmun," he went on, giving the man a name he preferred, "and serve me well. " As the man stood upright again, Utana leaned close. He stared intently into the human's cold gray eyes. "Betray me not, Nashmun. My wrath knows no mercy. "

 
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