Twilight prophecy, p.7
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       Twilight Prophecy, p.7
 

         Part #17 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 7

 

  Why did something very much like relief flutter through Lucy's insides just then? Because the decision had been taken out of her hands? Because she couldn't be brave on her own? Because she knew that not even the most tantalizing opportunity in the world could entice her to overcome her overwhelming cowardice? Yes to all of those, and now, because he'd given her no choice, she didn't need to search for an inner strength that didn't exist. She would do this because she had to, and she would be terrified the entire time because that was who she was.

  James was turning away now, his head lowered, his hands in his hair. "I hate this, Lucy. This isn't who I am, and holding you here this way-it's beyond barbaric. It goes against everything I believe in. "

  Lucy frowned, for the first time looking away from her own torment long enough to see that he was not pretending. This was tearing him apart. Or something was.

  "No one will hurt you," he went on. "But we can't let you go until you do as we ask, Lucy. I'm more sorry than you'll probably ever know. "

  "Shall I just vomit now, or is there a violin solo coming up?" Rhiannon asked, looking from one of them to the other. Roland put his hand on her arm as if to quiet her.

  When Lucy did nothing but blink, her mind still on James and the anguish she'd only just now glimpsed in him, along with the hundreds of questions that glimpse had raised, Rhiannon rolled her eyes and went on. "Professor, give Brigit a list of what you need and where we can find it. " As she spoke, she crossed the room to the desk, and then slapped a notepad and freshly sharpened number 2 pencil down in front of Lucy. "Feel free to use the internet. The ISP has been scrambled. You won't be traced. Be aware, however, that every keystroke is being monitored, so any at tempt to send an SOS will be intercepted. And while J. W. is correct in that we cannot harm you, believe me when I tell you that I can-and will-make your life miserable if you cross me. "

  Lucy believed her.

  "Just translate the tablet, Lucy," Brigit said. "We'll let you go the minute you finish. And that will be faster than anyone could mount a rescue attempt anyway. Besides, just because we can't hurt you-not that we'd want to," she went on, "that doesn't mean we couldn't do some serious damage to anyone who might come charging to the rescue. And you don't want innocent people getting killed over this, do you?"

  Lucy nodded slowly, understanding that she was completely at their mercy. And wishing she understood why they couldn't actually hurt her, how she was. . . related, as James had put it. And more. What were vampires, really? What were their weaknesses? What powers did they possess? Were all the myths true, the crucifixes and holy water and wooden stakes and. . . ?

  "Come with me now, J. W. ," Rhiannon said, interrupting her thoughts. "We're short on time, and your training is about to begin. "

  "Take heart, little mortal," Roland said softly, as he passed her on the way out. "None of us are quite as bad as we seem. And you've been told the truth here. "

  And with that, they all left the room except for Brigit, who sat at the far end of the table, slouched in a chair. She bit into her half-eaten apple and talked with her mouth full. "You must be pretty pissed off right now. I would be. "

  Lucy looked away, refusing to answer. Brigit leaned forward, reaching for the notepad and pencil, pulling them across the table to her. She took another bite and sat back with the pencil poised. "So? Tell me what you need. "

  Lucy thought of all the things she needed, and then she thought of the one thing she wanted. She wanted that book by Lester Folsom, the one with the parts of the story these vampires might not be telling her. "My handbag," she said. "I really can't even begin until you get me my handbag. "

  Brigit frowned, but jotted it down. "I fail to see how your handbag is going to help you translate, but I'll get it. What else?"

  Lucy listed several indispensable reference books from her personal collection. She would have loved to have asked Brigit for some of the volumes at the university, but she didn't want to drag any of her colleagues into this mess or put anyone else at risk. So she only named the books that could be found in her own little cracker-box house with its marigold-filled flower boxes in the front windows and its marigold carpets lining the walk all the way to the stoop.

  She missed her home. Her haven.

  "Got it. And that's upstate, right?"

  "Binghamton, yes. "

  Brigit frowned but didn't argue. "I might need to delegate. Anything else?"

  "My laptop. It's there, too, at the house. "

  Brigit scribbled on her notepad. "Is that it?"

  Lucy nodded. "That's it. "

  "Good. All right, this is going to take some time. Do what you can while I'm gone. Eat some of the fruit I brought you. You must be hungry. And you need to keep your strength up. Also, there's a bathroom all the way at the end," she added with a nod toward the door at the back of the office. "You can wander all you want in this section, but don't go into the main part of the house. We can't afford to have anyone see movement out there. Okay?"

  "Yes. Okay. "

  "Okay. See you in a while. Behave. " And with that, Brigit left her alone.

  Alone in a crumbling mansion full of vampires and their. . . kin. In a hidden section, behind a secret wall, translating an ancient dialect under duress.

  She couldn't have made this up if she'd tried.

  Brigit drove into the city, parked her car in a no parking zone near the curb and walked three of the remaining four blocks to Studio Three. She stopped there, still a block away. She could see the spot on the sidewalk where the spineless little mortal had been shot down.

  She frowned and wondered if she was starting to think a little bit too much like Rhiannon. But then, there was no such thing as too much, in her opinion. Rhiannon was Brigit's hero. She wanted to be as much like the ageless, timeless vampiress as possible. And even then, she knew she would never compare.

  Rhiannon was surely one of the most powerful of her kind, and there was no doubt she was the most arrogant. She was impatient, demanding, intolerant of weakness or whining and she had a temper that could easily explode into violence. But she was good. Deep down, she was good.

  Brigit wasn't. She was the bad twin, always had been. Her brother had been born with the power to heal, to restore life. He'd restored hers-she'd been stillborn. Blue, until he'd wrapped his tiny hand around her fingers, or so the story went.

  She, on the other hand, had been born with an opposing power. One she'd been sternly warned not to use, not to play with, not to demonstrate-ever. J. W. was the good one, the hero, the healer, the guy in the white hat. Brigit was little more than a Disney villainess. Every story needed one, after all. She'd accepted her dark nature long ago. She did what she wanted, when she wanted and she made no apologies. There was no point trying to be good. She hadn't been born with a calling, the way her saintly twin had.

  Rhiannon had been the only person in Brigit's life to encourage her to develop her power. In secret, without the knowledge of her vampire father, Edgar-who preferred to be called Edge, and really, who could blame him?-and her half-vamp, half-mortal mother, Amber Lily-who would have had a breakdown if she'd known, that was how good and pure she was. As a result, she'd become very good at destroying things. Very good. Rhiannon had told her many times that her power, her gift, was every bit as important as her brother's.

  There can be no creation without destruction, child. No life without death. Except for us, of course. No healing power without an illness or injury to heal. Never forget that. He might be the sun, little one, but you, my darling, darkling Brigit. . . you are the moon.

  Brigit smiled as Rhiannon's deep voice resonated through her mind. Oh, it was bull, of course. Rhiannon only loved her because she was a rebel, a mini-me to the great high priestess. And because her powers of destruction made Rhiannon's pale by comparison.

  Still, she appreciated the lies. They'd made her feel a bit more accepted, more worthy.
r />   Pulling herself back to the task at hand, Brigit resumed eyeing the police tape and uniformed cops up ahead. They'd blocked off that section of the street with sawhorses painted in barber pole stripes, from the spot where Lucy had fallen to the far side of the building where the killings had gone down. The alley where Lucy thought her bag had landed was beyond the barricades. Brigit supposed she could create a distraction, then dash in there. But if she had to do any digging through trash to find it, she was likely going to be caught. And she would really hate to have to kill anyone today. What with brother-dearest home doing his best Jesus Christ impersonation, she had to at least try to refrain from playing the role of Lucifer.

  There was another alley running beside the building just this side of Studio Three. A Chinese restaurant and camera supply store flanked it. Seeing no other choice, she made sure no one was noticing her and ducked into it, intending to follow it to the end, pop out a block over and approach the alley she needed from behind.

  She only got halfway along it, though, when a man sitting on the ground shook a battered paper coffee cup at her. "Spare change?" he asked.

  She pressed her lips together in distaste. He smelled to high heaven; even a full-blooded sensory-deprived mortal would have curled her lip in revulsion at his stench. And his milky sightless eyes were all matted together, dried goo in his long lashes. He had salt-and-pepper whiskers that had an ecosystem of their own going on in their depths, and a splotch of white foam in one corner of his lips.

  "Sorry, I'm tapped out. " She kept walking.

  "Cryin' shame. I been waitin' for you all this time, an' now you just walk on by. "

  Brigit had proceeded a few more steps, but she stopped then, a tingle of awareness dancing up her spine. Turning to look at the old man, she saw that he had a very nice-looking satchel beside him. Brown, leather, with two buckles holding its flap top closed.

  "You've been waiting for me, have you?" she asked.

  "If you're the one. You got a purpose, have ya? A calling?"

  She rolled her eyes. "You must be talking about my brother," she said, a hint of sarcasm welling up in her chest, though she knew the man was just talking nonsense.

  "Nope, nope, nope, I think it's you. Came for this, didn't-cha?" He tapped the bag with a flat filthy palm.

  She narrowed her eyes. "The one I came for is in the next alley. "

  "Was. Till I brought it to this one. "

  "Why did you do that?" She stepped a little closer, growing more and more curious about this blind man.

  "It's what I was told to do. Move the bag so those fancy suits snoopin' around wouldn't get their hands on it. Hold it here for you. I got the sight, ya see. Not the eyesight, mind'ja. But the sight. "

  She frowned, and suddenly she didn't doubt him for a second. Hell, she'd been raised by vampires. She wasn't going to doubt a homeless, blind, self-pro-claimed psychic in an alley. Even a skeptical mortal would find this guy a lot easier to swallow than a blood-drinking, night-walking immortal. "You're some kind of psychic, are you?"

  "I see things," he said. "Seen you. Pretty thing, you are. Hair like sunlight at high noon, real pale. Pale blue seawater eyes. Power, too. Power they wouldn't even show me. Said I didn't need to know, but that I'd do well not to piss you off. I ain't, am I? Pissin' you off?"

  "Depends," she said. "Are you going to give me the bag?"

  "Soon as you tell me one thing. I'm s'posed to ask, you see. To make sure you're the one. So here it is, little lady. Here's the question. Makes no sense to me. But here it is, all the same. How were you born?"

  "I was born dead," she replied, quickly and without even thinking about her answer.

  He pressed his lips tight, shook his head in apparent wonder. "Damned if that ain't what they told me you'd say. Alrighty, then, here it is. " He held up the bag.

  She took it, surprised by its weight, eager to dig through it to see just what the good professor wanted so badly. But first, she thought she ought to give the old guy something for his trouble. She dug in her pockets, finding a handful of crumpled bills she'd forgotten were there, and, leaning forward, she pressed them into his hand. "Take this for your trouble," she said.

  "No need. "

  "Take it," she said. And then she smiled a little. "Or you'll piss me off. "

  "Well, now, I guess I don't wanna do that. I thank you, little lady. An' I'll tell you one last thing before you go-which you'd best do soon, since those suits are headin' this way as we speak. "

  She looked up and down the alley, but saw and sensed no one.

  "You do have a callin', a purpose," the old man told her. "You do. An' it's a big one. "

  Brigit's throat went tight and her eyes burned, even as her mind muttered bullshit.

  "Go on now. Git. "

  "I'm already gone," she told him, and then she was. But as she headed back along the sidewalk toward her car, she spotted the suits hurrying down the side walk, intent on the old man's alley. And she had no doubt they had counterparts on the other end. The old fuck had been dead-on balls accurate about those suits heading their way.

  Damn. How, then, could he have been so wrong about her?

  She hefted the bag's strap up onto her shoulder and picked up the pace.

  James followed Rhiannon back through the false wall and into the main part of the dilapidated mansion. Through the bedroom into the second story corridor, and then down the curving staircase into the foyer that had once been fit for royalty.

  She led him down another hallway, where the plaster was disintegrating. His steps crushed fallen chunks of it into fine white powder that stuck to his shoes, and the bare lath showed through the walls like the skeleton beneath a corpse's skin.

  Funny that he'd chosen that particular mental image, he thought, as she led the way into the pitch-dark basement and yet another hidden room that he knew had once been the laboratory of vampire scientist Eric Marquand. But then something caught hold of his attention. A scent, and a sense, too. Death. There was death here.

  He stood motionless, straining his eyes in the darkness. "My night vision isn't as good as yours, Rhiannon, but I don't like what I'm sensing down here. "

  A light flared, but not from a match. The candles on a nearby stand came to life, the wicks smoldering and then bursting into flame one by one under the power of Rhiannon's intense stare.

  Not a vampiric skill, that little trick. That bit was hers alone. The daughter of a Pharaoh and a high priestess of Isis, "Rianikki" knew secrets and possessed powers none of them would ever equal-a fact she wasn't likely to let anyone forget.

  "Your first guinea pig awaits you," she said softly, lifting the candelabra and moving toward a table in the center of the room.

  The flickering yellow light fell upon a dead woman, her body still and pale and wet. He lowered his head, closing his eyes against the sight. "Shit, Rhiannon, what have you done?"

  "Oh, please. I didn't kill her. In fact, knowing your fondness for the weaker race, I asked Roland to find our first candidate. "

  "Roland brought her here?" James's reluctance lifted a little. Rhiannon's mate wasn't as ruthless or cruel as she was. He was, in fact, calm, logical and kind.

  "Yes, and I've sent him out to bring more. As for this one. . . " She nodded at the corpse. "She's thirty-three, married, a mother of two. Her car skidded off the road into an isolated lake a little over a day ago. Roland pulled her body out only hours ago, after I told him we needed a freshly dead mortal for your experiments. "

  James stared at the woman. Her hair had dried in tangles, and there was mud caking on her still damp clothes. But her skin was blue. She was clearly dead and far beyond saving.

  "Well?" Rhiannon asked. "Go on, do that voodoo that you do so well. We haven't got all night. "

  He dragged his eyes away from the dead mother. "Rhiannon, I can't. "

  "Oh, please. You can. You used to run along the beach picking up dead starfis
h and healing them before tossing them back into the waves. When you were three, you did this. "

  "Newly dead. And starfish are not human beings. It's not. . . it's not the same. "

  "How is it different?"

  "What if she's. . . you know. . . in heaven, or-"

  "If she's in heaven, J. W. , then she will return to heaven again in short order. The human lifetime is little more than the flash of a firefly in length. You won't be taking that from her, just rearranging her schedule a bit. Think of her husband, her children, if that helps ease your ridiculously overdeveloped sense of morality. "

  "No, Rhiannon, that would be playing God. " He looked at the dead woman again, shaking his head.

  "That's what I said at first," said a deep voice from behind them.

  James turned, spotting Roland standing there in his traditional getup. He was the only vampire James had ever known who actually wore a black cape and a dark suit.

  "I thought you'd gone for more bodies," Rhiannon chided, but gently, lovingly.

  "I prefer to see how this goes first. " He nodded. "And to say a proper hello to you, James. "

  James moved toward the man, who was centuries older, but didn't look a day over thirty and never would. "I'm sorry I didn't greet you properly upstairs," James said. "I was distracted. "

  "I could see that. " The two embraced, Roland hugging hard and clapping James on the back. "It's been too long, J. W. "

  "It has. And I'm sorry. "

  Roland released him. "No apologies. We each have our own path to walk. But I'm glad you're here now. We need you, J. W. And as distasteful as this task seems, it is my belief that you have to do it. I'm convinced that your woman's interpretation of that Sumerian prophecy is correct, even more so than I was before. "

  "She's not my woman. " James lowered his head, feeling his face heat and wondering why. "She hates me at the moment, and I don't particularly blame her. "

  Roland opened his mouth, closed it again. "That's beside the point. The tablet she translated predicts that the world of men will find out about us-and that has happened. It predicts war breaking out-and that, too, is unfolding as we speak. And then it predicts the end of our kind, James, and says that only Utanapishtim can save us. "

  "I get that, but I don't see how this is going to-"

  "Because," Rhiannon interrupted, "we're going to find his remains, and you are going to restore him to life. Therefore, you must begin pushing your powers to their absolute limits and beyond. Making them stronger, until you can do this thing and save your people. "

  James looked from Rhiannon to Roland. "And you believe this is a good idea, as well?"

  Roland lowered his eyes. "Not good, no. But necessary, yes. Since you were ten years old, you've been asking why. Why were you born with this power to heal? What was its purpose? Now you know, J. W. Now you know. You are the only one who can save us. And it begins here. With her. " He nodded toward the corpse.

  James fought against a full body shudder, but he moved closer to the table, to the dead woman lying there. "And if I manage to wake her, then what?"

  "Then we try a corpse that's been dead a bit longer," Rhiannon said. "A week. And then a month. And then-"

  "What happens to her?"

  Roland's hand closed on James's shoulder from behind. "I'll tend to her. I'll take her to the shore of the lake where her car still lies. I'll erase her memory of us, arrange for a mortal to discover her there. "

  "Her family will be notified," Rhiannon whispered from his other side. "Her husband and children will meet her at some hospital, and there will be tears of joy. They would thank you on their knees if they knew what you were about to do for them, J. W. That should appeal to your hero complex nicely, if saving your own kind is not enough. "

  James looked at her sharply. "You just can't let up, can you?"

  She narrowed her eyes, telling him without a word that he had better watch his step. He held her gaze without flinching.

  "I believe this is necessary. And I've consulted with the elders of our race," Roland went on. "Eric, Dante and Sarafina, Vlad, even Gilgamesh himself-"

  "My parents and grandparents?"

  He nodded. "Yes. Edge and Amber Lily, Jameson and Angelica-they've been consulted. We all agree. This is the only way. "

  Drawing a deep breath, James nodded and moved closer to the table. He held his hands over the dead woman and closed his eyes. He focused his energy, and he felt the warmth begin, the tingling in his palms, the heat and light that emanated from them. . . it all happened just as it always did, though it took a little longer, and he seemed to have to dig more deeply for the energy.

  He felt Rhiannon and Roland watching him, but he paid no attention to them. His entire focus was on the woman, on her spirit, on restoring its connection to her physical body, on healing the damage done by twenty-four hours without oxygen or blood flow, and by the water in her lungs.

  His muscles tensed as the energy moved through him and into her. And then they tensed more. And then, suddenly, there was a release. A rush shot from his core and out through his palms with so much force that he felt a slight recoil effect pushing him away. He stumbled back a step or two, and then Roland caught him from behind. He felt drained, as if the energy he'd pushed into the corpse had come directly from him instead of just through him.

  And then he opened his eyes and stared at the table.

  The woman was stirring, her eyes moving beneath her closed lids. Her body began to tremble, her head to thrash and then her eyes flew open and she blinked in stunned terror.

  Stumbling close to her again, James put a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay. You're okay. You're safe now. You're perfectly safe. Do you know who you are?"

  She blinked blankly a few times and then said, "I'm. . . Ellen. Ellen Gainsboro. " She looked around the darkened room. "Where are my boys? Where's my husband? Who are you?"

  James smiled in relief and nodded at Roland.

  The cloaked vampire moved closer. "You're going to sleep now, Ellen," he said, his voice melodic, hypnotic, irresistible. "And when you wake, you'll be with your family again. You'll rest easily until you hear their voices, and that's when you'll awake, relaxed and happy. You will not remember me, nor anyone you've seen in this room, nor the room itself. You'll sleep until you hear those beloved voices, and then you'll awake to the most blissful joy you've ever known. Do you understand?"

  Her eyes were already closing as she whispered, "Yes. "

  And that would have been comforting to James, if Rhiannon hadn't immediately said, "We're going to need more bodies, Roland. You can't put it off any longer now. "

  "On my way, love," Roland replied, clapping James on the shoulder as he left the basement, carrying the sleeping woman in his arms.

  James staggered a few steps backward, stunned by what he'd just managed to do. He leaned against the wall and wished this task had fallen to anyone else but him.

 
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