Thicker than Blood: Awakening

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Amethysts in Smoke

“We’re home!” Lu cawed as she landed on a boulder of a rocky shore line. Flapping her wings frantically, she rid herself of the water droplets covering her feathers. She paused when she heard a rather loud crash over the sound of the waves behind her. Turning her head around slowly, she blinked. “Sun Dweller...?”

Mary coughed as she pushed herself onto her side from where she had landed on the sharp rocks face first. Her face was gashed badly from the rocks, but her coat had only suffered a few rips around the top, protecting her for the most part. That didn’t mean she wasn’t in horrible pain though. As she groped her person for her bottle, she trembled terribly.

“S-serum... I... n-need... my... serum...”

Lu flew to her side. Perhaps she had pushed her a bit hard. After all, it was easier for her to move quickly with a smaller body. Obviously, Mary wasn’t used to flying that fast yet. Shifting to her human form, the changeling tried to help the young woman search for whatever she was looking for. Having pushed herself this hard, it was probably a craving, so she must have a container of blood somewhere. Lu’s hand felt a cylinder in the pocket under Mary’s hip. Pulling it out of the pocket, she opened the bottle for the injured one.

“Th-thank you...” Mary teared up as she took the bottle to her lips. She drank like she hadn’t had a drop in days, gulping mouthful after mouthful. When she finally stopped to take a breath, Lu watched the wounds start to close slowly. There was still some blood in the blonde locks, but that could wash out. The limp form began to pop and crack as the bones reset themselves. Sighing heavily, Lu finally relaxed.

“You need to get in better shape. Your reaction was slow, but I’m sure with more practice that you’ll be able to make that landing without a hitch next time. Do you feel better? You sure look it.”

“Yeah...”

Mary was stunned. One moment, she had been in more pain than she could ever remember experiencing before. The next, she felt her body fix itself. It was a strange sensation. If she still had doubts about being a vampire, they were fizzling out. Frankly, she was afraid of her own body right now.

“I just needed my serum.”

“Getting a fix usually makes everything feel better. You must not have been badly hurt if you healed up so well already.”

“Fix?” Mary asked as she sat up, taking another drag off her bottle. “What are you talking about?”

“Your craving for blood,” Lu said in a sarcastic tone, as if Mary should have known what she was talking about.

“I don’t drink blood!” Mary snapped suddenly. Lu gaped back at her. The anger in her face reflected her feelings on the subject. She might be coming to grips with what she was, but she would never accept that she needed blood to live. She would never stoop to the level of a monster to commit such an act if she had any say about it. She would rather starve.

“Okay then...” Lu waved her hands in front of her face as she stood up to walk away. Mary gaped after her, regretting her impulsive response. “Master is in the mansion on top of this cliff.” Lu pointed a slim thumb upward, making Mary look that way. “My best advice to you is to not talk much. He really doesn’t like things that aren’t planned. It throws off his mood to be surprised. He’s such a grump these days!”

Mary followed the shapeshifter up a path to top of the cliff. At first, she wondered why they didn’t just fly up, but she decided not to press the changeling after her behavior earlier. She looked back the way they had come, taking in the rocky beach.

Waves rushed up onto the shoreline, crashing against the cliff they were heading for. It was actually a tranquil scene. The scent of the salty ocean carried on the winds off the sea completed the calming effect. Maybe Lu’s master enjoyed the soothing setting to balance the madness of this world she had just discovered.

Looking back in front of her, her crimson eyes swelled at the sight of the massive wall ahead. Just over the top of it, the young woman saw a pagoda roof. With its arced shingles and curved edges, she gaped in awe. The Brit had never been to Asia before, and she was definitely showing it all over her face.

Lu led her around the wall toward the cliff, where a large red archway framed the entry to the mansion. Inside, Mary could see it was mostly a one-story building with the center rising up three extra levels. The first floor seemed balance with the roof, forming a good sized courtyard with its U shaped structure. Under the moonlight, she could see the statues of dragons resting on either side of the white stone covered path leading to the stairs and front door from the courtyard.

When Lu approached them, the doors opened inward on their own. Mary paused only for a moment before hurrying to catch up. She didn’t really want to get lost inside this place. After passing the threshold, the doors closed again. Where had she found herself now?

The halls were dimly lit by small oil lamps. Mary felt unnerved, but at the same time, she thought she was in a dream. She could feel a presence inside the house. It was like the building was alive somehow, but how could that be? Her ears picked up the sound the of little feet padding in the shadows. There were some sliding noises as well. She stayed close to Lu, who was completely unfazed by their surroundings as she continued deeper into the main hall. The blonde was just waiting for something to come jump out and latch onto her.

“Master! I’ve returned! Sorry I’m a little late,” Lu called toward the end of the main hallway. She waved to the wall at the end. “I saw Anselm, and he said to blame him if you got mad at me for anything after this. Okay?”

“Lu...” Mary gave the shapeshifter a displeased look, which was ignored. When this little imp said she would sell Anselm out, she wasn’t joking. Just what kind of person was Lu’s master? Anselm seemed to think highly of him, but Lu was starting to make her doubt his opinion.

After a pause, the wall split inward into two doors. Again, they seemed to open on their own. Was this mansion haunted or possessed? Could there be people in the shadows she just couldn’t see? Were there even people here? The scampering of feet paused behind them, making Mary glance back. She couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something there.

The smell of smoke caught her nose, making her turn around slowly. From inside, a smoky pestilence creeped from beyond the entryway. Mary was regretting coming all this way now, wishing she could turn back now.

“Thank you, master,” Lu said cheerfully. “I brought a friend of Anselm’s along with me. He insisted that I bring her with me. She isn’t cuter than me, is she?”

Mary could see more lamps inside as the smoke cleared up a bit. It didn’t smell like a fire created the smoke, but it didn’t smell like the smoke of a drug either. Just what was in that smoke? It smelled familiar.

In the back of the room, a pair of amethysts grabbed her gaze. Were those eyes? She couldn’t break away. What was going on? Her heart started beating rapidly as she tried to free herself. Finally, they vanished, allowing her to look away. Shaking her head, she calmed herself.

“Good evening.” The voice sounded hypnotic. It was like a droplet of water falling to a smooth surface of water. It was a deep, male voice, yet it was soft, elegant. The purple gaze returned. The owner must have closed their eyes. “It has been some time, Sun Dweller. I am Lei.”

Lu motioned for Mary to enter with her. As she neared the male before her, the young woman could make out his form much clearer than from the hallway. He was lounging sideways on an Asian, chaise lounge, an opium bed. His robe was black silk with silver and red thread woven in a strange pattern. It appeared to be branches of a tree, but she couldn’t tell for sure from the way the garment folded with him lying down.

His long, black locks fell behind him, but there was some that fell across his exposed chest. His face was pleasing to the eye, dignified and handsome, and his eyes really did look like two, dark amethyst stones, staring back at her without any emotion behind them. Traveling to and from his lips by his long fingers and graceful hand, a long stick of some kind was giving off that strange smoke. What kind of cigarette could he be smoking, she wondered to herself.

“Reeds soaked in blood.”

Mary gaped when he spoke. Had he noticed her staring at it? Her face felt warm. She didn’t want him thinking she was nervous, but she couldn’t shake the feeling he was reading her eyes or something.

“You would call it telepathy.” His voice sighed tiredly. “To your other question, I lost my lust for blood centuries ago. However, I must consume it to sustain my life.”

“Then you really are reading my mind?” Mary sounded more impressed than she had intended to. The vampire looked away with an expression of annoyance.

“Vampir of the East have advanced themselves far beyond their western and southern relations.” He paused to take a drag off of his reed. “Vampir of the South adapted to their environment, turning to the most primal of instincts and behavior. They eventually succumbed to madness that continues to worsen with each passing generation.

“Western vampir fell victim to social superstitions and opinions in influence, believing themselves to be beings of demonic origin. This resulted in a split between those that sought power and those that sought solitude. Both became more human than ever before.”

“And those of you here in the East, how did you evolve?”

Vampires were more complicated than Mary had realized. Anselm had sent her to a vampire. This was not something she had expected. She wasn’t sure she could actually trust him. Lu smirked from her place at Mary’s side, but the Brit ignored her for the moment.

“We turned to the mystic origins of this world,” Lei answered, turning her eyes back at the two females. He studied the guest Lu had brought closely. Mary wished she knew just what he was looking for? Was he going to give her a speech about how she was below her station as Lu had? This was the twenty-first century for god sake. What was station anymore?

“Why are you not in a pair?”

“Can’t you just read my mind and find out?”

“Oh! About that!” Lu spoke up quickly, stepping in front of Mary. Lei would get angry if the woman pushed him much more. They didn’t need that, or at least, she didn’t want to suffer that fate. Shifting to raven form, she flew to over to her master. He raised his free hand to let her perch on the back of his hand.

“It seems the countess' people nabbed her some years ago, master. I saw her in the courtyard of the castle you told me to check. If you ask me, some of her feathers are falling out. You know what I mean?” The bird twirled the tip of her wing beside her head.

Lei’s gaze hardened as he looked back at the raven. The furniture in the room began to tremble, and the intensity gradually increased. Mary looked about the room, wondering what could have caused the occurrence. Could the objects be trembling at his impending wrath, or was he doing this himself? If he could read her mind, it was quite possible that he could also possess psychokinesis. He turned the same gaze at her finally. She shuttered. The look in his eyes was frightful, but it suddenly softened as the room calmed down. It almost looked like he was saddened, but by what?

“This is most unfortunate news,” he said finally. “How strange that the twin remains alive. The countess must have yet to awaken. Perhaps my senses were incorrect last evening.”

“Did you say countess?” Mary asked, although it seemed like a waste of breath if the vampire could read her mind before she could even ask.

“The Countess of Darkness... the Emerald Lady... Eve...” Lei said, taking a drag from his reed. He seemed to be getting more weary as they spoke.

“The woman with green eyes in shadow?”

“How do you know of that description, Sun Dweller?” Lei asked, suspiciously. He let the reed dangle from his lips as he waited on her answer. “I asked you a question.”

“Tell him! Tell him!” Lu flapped her wings frantically. “I told you he gets cranky with surprises!”

“I... I...!” Mary lost her nerve under the gaze. She couldn’t even think. She just felt. She was scared, scared of the amethysts glaring back at her. She was still frightened of that vision back home, and Gabriel’s information had left a chill in his chest. She felt like those eyes in her dream were staring at her again, and the voice called down to her, beckoning her to come. She could almost feel herself falling down that pit again. Suddenly, she felt something like hands reaching into her head.

Hold that memory.

The young woman gaped at the sound of Lei’s voice inside her head. Without knowing what else to do, she let herself fall back into the dream. She could feel the void around her as she fell forever. The green eyes returned, piercing down at her. She wished they would go away. They felt wrong. Slowly, the eyes faded to purple.

Follow my voice, child. Follow me out of the dark.

“The... dark...?” Mary felt her voice leave her lips as her consciousness returned to the room with Lei and Lu. What had just happened? Looking to the vampire for an answer, his face looked solemn, as if he were lost in thought. She wondered why. What had he found in her dream?

“She has engulfed a Sun Dweller in her Darkness.” His tone of voice was grim. “This is unlike her. She knows that the Sun Dwellers fight together. Why only take the one? Why leave her alive?”

“How do you know…?”

“... that she has been engulfed?” Lei finished her statement, looking back at her. Mary blinked under his gaze. “The spiritual link between children of multiple births is a closed one. However, Eve was able to reach into your mind to leave that message for you. I would presume you lost consciousness when this vision came to you.”

“Yes. I suffered a spell in the kitchen.”

Mary felt as if the floor was falling out from beneath her. Had Gabriel been right? Was the Countess of Darkness behind Mara’s kidnapping? Was it because she was a Sun Dweller? What was a Sun Dweller anyway? What did they have to do with her sister and her? Why was any of this happening? They had just been simple children from Rutland. What could they have possibly done to deserve any of this?

“So many scattered thoughts...” Lei said in a faraway voice as smoke crept from his mouth and nose. “What is it you wish to ask me, child? You possessed this before you even arrived.” He looked less irritated as he waited on her to reply.

“Anselm...” Mary said, finding her voice, “Anselm sent me to you for the answers to the questions I’ve been looking for. He also said that if I wanted to save Mara that you would guide me there. Are you about to do that?”

“Truly... It is one thing after another with this generation,” Lei said with a tired groan. “The twins are separated, and one falls under that vixen’s thumb. Now I learn they were horridly named. Honestly, do the errors have an end?” Lu started to giggle so hard she fell from her master’s hand, barely shifting in time to hit the floor. Lei covered his face with his palm, sighing heavily.

“Tell me...” Mary growled as she found her awe for the vampire waning. “Do all immortal beings have such short attention spans?”

It was Mary’s turn to be irritated. After going through all the trouble she had to get here, she had hoped to meet someone more like an old mage or something. Lei seemed powerful enough, but he was beginning to remind her of the smokers she had seen spaced out in the parking lot behind the pizza shop.

“Look here, are you going to answer my question or aren’t you? I haven’t time to waste playing your foolish games, sir.”

“At last, a taste of your true quality,” Lei sighed with a small smile. “Sun Dwellers have an innate sense of their ancient nobility. I had hoped you had not forgotten your station.”

“Pardon me for not being the bloody Duchess of Wales then, Lord Puff Dragon!”

“The Duchess of where?” The vampire crooked an eyebrow at the flustered woman. Turning to his wheezing servant, he asked in a curious tone, “Lu, are you aware of these stations? I am unfamiliar with them.”

“You should remember Wales, master,” Lu said as she rose up to drape an arm on the bottom cushion of his couch from where she was on the floor. “It’s that place under Albion, but it’s not Albion, even though they still sound like Albion. Remember?”

“Oh, the Isles...” He leaned back over the arm of his lounge, thinking about the topic as he inhaled from his reed. “Now I place the accent. I never did enjoy the Isles of Albion. The fey population was enough to grate my eye from Romania.” He seemed to be lost in his thoughts again.

“Um, master...” Lu shift back to bird form to hop up on Lei’s hip. “You’re talking to yourself again.”

“Lu, I do not talk to myself,” he said with a glare back at her, but she didn’t seem threatened by it. “I merely think aloud.”

“Oh, right! You’ve mentioned that before. It still sounds like you’re talking to yourself though.”

“Is this what you people do all night long?” Mary cried out, beginning to pace about. She had lost her patience, but now, that they were engaging in their own inside jokes, she needed them to get back on track before she lost her mind.

“Lounging in your chair while you smoke a reed and babble on about nonsense? Is this your idea of a good time or something? I don’t have eternity to wait around on you two! My sister has been twisted into something wicked, and you want to chit-chat about fey and accents? I cannot believe Anselm told me to put my faith in the likes of you!”

“Tell me, Sun Dweller,” Lei looked back at the young woman, “what were your expectations of our evening activities then? You, who have only known the life of a mortal, long for things you have lost, believing you will find bliss by returning to simple days of youth. Mortals watch their lives pass them by with regret and longing for the past. For you, it is a small house in the countryside with you mother and father and sister. Such a sanctuary was shattered in one night in a late summer, when a man of the night stole your sister away. Tell me this, child, what about that paradise should I find desirable? What you could possibly do to reclaim that lost bliss?”

“How could you...?”

“Answer my question before you judge me further, Sun Dweller.” His eyes were sharpened. Was it irritation or disappointment she saw in those amethysts? She wasn’t certain, but he had begun to make the wheels turn in her head.

“It was-” She stopped herself. Letting the question sink in further, she asked herself what she was truly seeking by rescuing her sister after eleven years. She thought they could go back to how things had been. They were the days she had been happy. She had felt safe and loved, but as she looked at the reality she was coming to understand, she knew she could never go back to those days in Rutland.

She thought of Wes and Mitch back in Virginia, waiting for her to come home. She had learned to laugh with them, feeling pleasure from their company. Gabriel had sworn to protect her. When had she claimed the life she had lost? All that remained was the empty void she had felt for eleven years.

“Your sister...” Lei said it for her. “You moved on from that time long before you stood before me. The only thing that could complete you now is your other half returned from the hand of Darkness. This is the life of the immortal. While mortals’ lives race by them, to us, they are but waves rushing up the cliffs before falling back into the sea. We cannot allow ourselves to dwell in the past, or we would fall to despair for eternity. You have already seen this in Anselm. Instead, we cling to things that stand the tests of time. Companionship in our long existence is the most desirable thing we could ever possess. When you finally come to understand your own longevity, Mary, confusion will not cloud your vision.”

“Enough of your lectors,” Mary growled back with tears in her eyes. He didn’t show any sign of being put off by her outburst, but she bit her tongue anyway. Why was she snapping? There was no point in trying to play strong for him. He could read her mind and probe her thoughts after all. Grounding herself once more, she spoke in a calm voice, “Can you help me or not?”

“I can,” Lei replied, taking a drag off of his reed. “The question you should ask is not can but will I help you, Mary Black?” He gave her a blank look, waiting once again.

“Fine then, will you help me or not?” Mary asked in a more forceful voice.

“That will depend entirely on you, Sun Dweller.”

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