Twilight prophecy, p.8
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       Twilight Prophecy, p.8
 

         Part #17 of Wings in the Night series by Maggie Shayne
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Chapter 8

 

  After Brigit left, list in hand, Lucy worked on the translation for the better part of two hours, until her eyes were beginning to glaze over and water from the strain. She longed for her glasses. Her nerves were jumping with frustration. She was as curious about what the tablet had to say as any of them-though not because she thought it would prevent the extinction of their species, admittedly. Still, a new tablet was always a cause for excited anticipation. And yet there was very little she could do without her books and her notes. Oh, she knew several of the more common words, but it was almost always the uncommon ones that told the story, and without those, there was no context for the bits and pieces she knew by sight.

  Eventually, she felt sure, she would fall asleep there at the table if she didn't get up and move around at least a bit. She decided to explore the rest of the house. Not the entire house, of course, just the hidden, secret section-behind the walls, beneath the stairs. It was all very much like something out of a Nancy Drew mystery.

  Still, Brigit had told her to make herself at home, to look around freely, but not to emerge from the secret depths of the crumbling old mansion, and she'd decided she had nothing to lose by obeying. She didn't want to rock the boat or do anything to anger these people. She didn't want to defy them or fight with them. She wasn't a rebel plotting a coup. She just wanted to go home. And the simplest path to that goal, as far as she could see, was to just do what they wanted, and hope they would keep their promise when she finished and send her on her way.

  Beyond the big room, with the computer and conference table, the room she thought of as the office, other rooms led into each other like a long railroad flat. No hallway in between. There wasn't room for one. The rooms were all shaped the same, long and narrow, and they followed the outline of the house all the way around two sides, as nearly as she could figure. The room beside the office was a kitchen of sorts. It held a fridge and some cupboards, a microwave, but no range. There was a sink, too, with running water. Relief flooded her at the sight of the fridge. She was hungry-Brigit's offering had filled her briefly, but she craved something more solid than fruit. Tummy rumbling, she opened the refrigerator to see what was inside, then gasped and slammed it shut again.

  Bags of blood with the Red Cross logo on the front. Deep red fluid within. God.

  Her hunger pangs turned into queasiness, and she didn't explore the kitchen any further. She left it behind, going to the room after it, which was a bedroom. Tall false windows with glass one couldn't see through. She noticed the big locks on the doors between the rooms and, although they were unlocked at the moment, she shuddered at the implication.

  Next in line was another bedroom. There were four of them, all told, each one arranged the same way, each one with locks on both its doors.

  The final room's door was closed, but as she approached it, the door swung open, revealing a bathroom and James, who paused in the act of exiting it, spotting her and going still.

  He looked. . . tired. Tired enough that she had to wonder what could have happened to him in the two hours since she'd seen him last. Not to mention how he'd gotten into the secret section of the house without walking past her. There must be another entrance somewhere, she realized, and filed that knowledge away for future use. His hair was tousled and damp, as was his face, as if he'd been splashing water on it in an effort to wake himself up.

  "Lucy," he said with a nod. "Sorry if you've been waiting. "

  "I haven't been. " She tipped her head to one side. "Are you all right?"

  "What?" He blinked at her, his expression distracted, and then seemed to digest her question. "Oh. Yeah. Why?"

  "You look. . . worn out. "

  He didn't meet her eyes. "No, I'm good. I was just leaving you a note, actually. "

  "A note?"

  He stepped aside, to let her enter the bathroom. It was almost as big as the bedrooms, and painted a minty shade of green. There was a huge tub with clawed feet and brass fixtures, including a tall, old-fashioned showerhead and a wrap-around rod for the curtain. There was a matching toilet and sink, both ivory colored, with those same brass faucets. An antique stand with a green and black swirling marble top stood beside the lav, and it was littered with bottles. Shampoos and conditioners, soaps and soaks, lotions and perfumes.

  "Looks like the best-stocked room in the house," she said softly. "And you said something about a note?"

  He nodded past her toward a brown wicker hamper with a pile of clothing stacked on it and a note lying on top. A single sheet of unlined vellum, folded once, with her name on the outside.

  Frowning, she turned back toward him, curious, but just as she did, his knees seemed to buckle and he grabbed hold of the door frame to keep from falling. Lucy found herself reaching for him before she could stop herself. She slid her arms beneath his and held him to her. "Easy," she said. "God, what has Rhiannon been making you do?"

  "Only what's necessary. " His hands closed on her shoulders, and he pulled away slightly, but at that moment she lifted her head and he lowered his. Their eyes met, locked. Her arms were around his waist, and it felt for all the world as if they were embracing.

  For a moment, just one breathless moment, she thought maybe he was going to kiss her. It felt like a kiss in the making. Not that she'd experienced many of those. And unbelievably, she was craving it, already feeling his mouth, tasting his lips, in her mind.

  And then he straightened and the moment was broken.

  "I'm. . . well, there's the note. "

  "Yes, I. . . " Silence was better than stammering. She let her arms fall to her sides and stepped away from his warmth, picking up the note, unfolding and reading it.

  Lucy,

  I've left a change of clothes for you. Please use anything you find here freely, and be as relaxed and at ease as you can in this situation. I intend to make your stay here as brief and as painless as possible. And although you were given no choice, your help is deeply appreciated.

  -James

  Lucy nodded, and felt her heart soften toward James Poe. She thought he really meant those words. She thought he was truly torn by what he was being asked to do, pushed to do, by his family. She supposed she could understand that.

  "Thank you. That was. . . most considerate. " She lifted her head to meet his eyes, but he was gone. She leaned through the doorway, looking back the way she'd come, but there was no sign of him. He must move like a ninja, she thought.

  More like a vampire, her mind whispered. Don't forget what he is-part monster. And a kidnapper, too. Don't trust him for a minute, Lucy.

  She disliked the voice in her head, because it made utter sense, and she would have preferred not to hear it at all. She could easily believe the others were monsters, driven by their own sense of self-preservation. Especially the vampire queen, if that was indeed what Rhiannon was. Lucy disliked her intensely, distrusted her utterly and feared her more than both together.

  But she wasn't sure just yet what she thought of James. He seemed to be a decent man, pressed into a bad situation. He seemed different from the others. Even from his sister. And maybe he'd been trying to break away from them, to lead a normal life, given the fact that he'd been living away from them and had been out of touch, much to their dismay, for quite some time. Trying to exist as a human? To pass? she wondered. Trying to embrace his humanity and shun his inner beast?

  Not that it mattered to her. Not in the least.

  Still, she availed herself of his apparent kindness and took a long, hot shower, which eased her aching muscles and cleared her still-foggy head. And then she got out, wrapped herself up in a decadently soft, cushy towel and took a look at the clothes he had left for her.

  Jeans. Low-rise jeans that fit far more snugly than the waist-high, relaxed-fit style she wore at home, when she wore jeans at all. A tiny black T-shirt, with its sleeves and collar ripped out. It had been cut off, too, so that it revealed most of her
midriff when she pulled it on. It was as far as possible from anything she would have found in her own closet at home. There were socks, and a pair of what could only be described as high-heeled army boots. The four-inch heels were thick and chunky, but there was a good two-inch platform, too, so the angle of her foot remained fairly comfortable. The boots laced up over most of her calf and had buckles besides.

  These had to have been taken from Brigit's wardrobe. Lucy felt so uncomfortable it was ridiculous.

  No mirror. Of course there were no mirrors. It was just as well, she probably looked awful. She wound her damp hair up into its customary bun and walked back through the secret rooms, past the blood-filled fridge, to the office, wobbling on the high heels and tugging constantly on the shirt.

  God, she wanted to go home.

  Well, then, she supposed, the best thing was to get back to work. She took a seat at the table, opened the notepad, squinting without her glasses, and got busy.

  An hour later Brigit was back, tossing Lucy's long-lost satchel onto the table.

  "Nice try," the sweet-looking blonde with the dominatrix wardrobe said. Then she dropped the book Mr. Folsom had given Lucy right beside the satchel. "I presume this is what you really wanted?"

  What she really wanted, Lucy thought, setting her pencil carefully on the table, was whatever smelled so good in the white takeout bag Brigit still held.

  And to read that book.

  "I thought I'd like to know a little more about the race I'm being forced to help save. "

  "Yeah, well, you'd better get on it, or there won't be a race left to need your help. The existence of vampires is the hottest topic going right now, thanks to the bits and pieces of this book that have leaked. At least from what I heard on the car radio on the way back here. Vigilante groups are popping up all over the country, and innocent people are dying. "

  "Innocent vampire people or innocent ordinary people?" Lucy asked.

  "Innocent is innocent, bookworm. But to answer your question, both. "

  "I'm sorry if that sounded. . . bigoted. I didn't mean it to. And I'm sorry your people are suffering. "

  "Your people, too. "

  Sighing, Lucy eyed the book again. "Maybe there are some answers in here. " She reached for it, but Brigit snatched it before she could pick it up.

  "Not so fast. Let's see what Rhiannon has to say about this. Besides, anything you want to know, you can just ask. And you don't have time for leisure reading right now, anyway. We need that prophecy translated ASAP. Understand?"

  Lucy frowned, tilting her head to one side. "You seem upset. "

  "You think?" Brigit sighed, shook her head, then dropped the fast food bag on the table at last. "Figured you'd be as starved as I am. My relatives may have the house well stocked with sustenance for them, but I doubt there's much food fit for human consumption around here. "

  "True enough. I've heard they never drink. . . wine. "

  Brigit went stone silent, staring at her for a long moment before asking, "Did you just make a Dracula joke?"

  Lucy nodded. The smells emanating from that bag were making her mouth water and her brain senselessly joyful. "I think so, yes. " She opened the bag, grabbing the fries first. The colder they got, the more they tasted like salty cardboard.

  "He's real, you know," Brigit said while Lucy ate.

  "Who is?"

  "Dracula. "

  Lucy stopped with a French fry between her teeth and stared at Brigit, wide-eyed.

  "Vlad Tepish. Of course, that wasn't his original name. " Brigit bit her lip. "And I'm telling you more secrets than Folsom's book probably will. " She looked Lucy up and down. "I see you did as I suggested and took a look around the place while I was gone. "

  Lucy nodded. "I took a shower. The clean clothes are. . . appreciated. I presume they're yours. "

  "De nada. I told J. W. to take whatever he thought you could use. The rest of the stuff you asked for should be arriving shortly. I sent someone who could move a little faster than I can, and I asked them to bring back some of your own clothes, as well. " She grinned. "Though you really do have a bod under all your starch and tweed. You should show it off more. "

  Lucy thought she should say thanks, but she was too busy blushing. Since when did women talk that way to one another?

  "Shit, you think that's bad, wait till my brother gets a load of you in that getup. " Brigit nodded at the bag. "Go on, eat your junk food. "

  "Um. . . did you bring some for. . . your brother?"

  Brigit frowned, tilting her head to one side. "Yeah. Sure I did. Why do you ask?"

  Lucy shook her head, averting her eyes, not wanting to reply and not sure why. She shouldn't be concerned about the well-being of her captor. Was this the beginning of Stockholm Syndrome? No, it was far too soon, and yet. . . She wanted to like him. She wanted this odd and inexplicable-yet entirely undeniable-attraction she felt for him to be. . . okay. He'd seemed exhausted, worn out, run down, after only a few hours with Rhiannon and her notion of his "training," whatever that entailed. But she couldn't tell Brigit she was worried about him, not without giving herself away.

  She prayed he was good and not evil. She wanted to think of him as her hero again.

  "I just. . . figured he'd be hungry, too," she finally said, and it was lame, but it was the best she could do.

  Brigit was eyeing her curiously. "Nothing to worry about. I brought him a ton. "

  Time for a subject change, Lucy decided. "I've, um-I've actually already begun translating. Just a word here and there, the ones I recognize without my notes. "

  Brigit looked at the notebook where Lucy had been copying the cuneiform line for line, leaving blank lines in between for her translation. A few simple words already occupied those blanks. Simple conjunctions like and, to, with, the, and a few more meaningful words like ancient, death, murder, and the names Utanapishtim and Ziasudra.

  Brigit looked at Lucy again. "You really know your shit, don't you? I mean, you've already got a lot, and you didn't even have your reference books or notes or anything. "

  "Or my glasses," Lucy added, fishing them from their designated pocket in the bag and putting them on. "It's what I've been doing all my life. What my parents did. I grew up with this. " She thought Brigit looked as if she admired her just for a moment, before the other woman shielded her expression. Lucy decided to try again for more information. She'd really been counting on that book to tell her what she wanted to know about the vampires. "It would help a lot if I knew what you were looking for. Specifically, I mean. That way I could let you know the minute I find it. "

  Brigit studied her face. "It's a reasonable request. I'll ask and get back to you. Meanwhile, the rest of your stuff is in your satchel. Phone included. There's no reception in here, and the wireless connection for the computer is password protected. God knows 3G hasn't made it out here yet. So there's no risk you'll do anything stupid, like calling for help. "

  "I wasn't going to do that. "

  "Better safe than sorry," Brigit said, and then she nodded at Lucy's cleavage. "That's pretty," she observed.

  Lucy's hand rose, and she felt the necklace she'd forgotten all about, the jade Kwan Yin Mr. Folsom had been using as a bookmark. And as she fingered it, she detected for the first time what felt like a seam in the jade.

  "Thank you. It was. . . a gift," she said, keeping her hand closed around it so Brigit wouldn't spot that telltale rift, surprised that Brigit seemed to be making an effort to be friendly.

  "Suits you," Brigit said. "Kwan Yin. Mercy and compassion and all that soft-ass shit. I'd probably be more in tune with a Kali pendant. You know, with her necklace of skulls and every arm wielding a weapon or a severed body part. "

  "Destruction and creation go hand in hand. Kali has her purpose. "

  Brigit frowned. "You're the second person today to use that word to me. Purpose. Interesting. I gotta run. The world's going to hell out th
ere. You get back to work, okay?"

  "Thank you. For the food, the clothes. "

  "You're welcome. " Brigit left the room, taking Mr. Folsom's book with her.

  Lucy fingered the jade Kwan Yin, prying at the very fine seam along her graceful neck. As she tugged, Kwan Yin's head popped off to reveal that this was more than a necklace.

  It was a flash drive.

  She dug through her bag until she found her state-of-the-art cell phone-the brand-new Cyborg 4G. She'd been teased over it when she'd bought it, but she was a geek on many levels, including technology, and she'd had to have it. And now she was glad. How many phones had a USB port built in?

  Not many. Yet. It was the one thing they lacked, she'd often said.

  And then she'd bought the one model that did have one.

  She turned her phone on, noting that Brigit had been right-the words No Signal floated in the upper left corner of the screen. Quickly, Lucy plugged Kwan Yin into the side, and when the icon popped up, she tapped it.

  And got a Truth-Eyes Only Version pdf.

  Luckily her ereading program could handle pdf files. She quickly opened it, imported the file and then disconnected the flash drive. After putting Kwan Yin's head back on, she draped the charm around her neck again, tucking it beneath her shirt, out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind.

  Finally she sat back down and began reading the "Eyes Only" version of Folsom's book. She guessed that meant that there were secrets here even the public version of the book didn't contain. And when she saw how he depicted the vampires as soulless, bloodthirsty beasts, she hoped to God that part was one of those secrets. But given what Brigit had told her-the vigilantes, the murders-she guessed not.

 
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