Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (Page 17)
Kristoff roared in anger, throwing himself toward Alec.
No slouch on the reaction front, Alec spun around and was out the door, Kristoff in hot pursuit.
“Stay here,” I told the others, dashing after him.
Andreas tried to push me aside, but I slapped at his hands, grabbing his wrists and yanking him to a stop. “You have to stay with Frederic and the gang,” I told him.
His scowl was familiar, if not identical to Kristoff's. “You stay.”
“That's the man I love out there!” I said, jerking him back.
“He's my brother!” He grabbed me around the waist, plopping me down in a chair before running for the door.
“Love takes precedence over blood,” I said, tossing up a wall of light in front of him, keeping him from leaving the room.
His glare as I ran through the light should have dropped me dead on the spot, but I simply repeated, “Stay with Frederic!” as I ran off.
Kristoff and Alec were no longer in sight as I raced down the hallway, Andreas's frustrated curses following me. A door opened as I passed it, Rowan's eyes visible as he peeked out before fully opening the door.
“Pia? What's going on?” Magda asked as they emerged from the room. Raymond was clutching his camera in one hand, the Taser in the other. Rowan glanced up and down the hall, doing a double take at Andreas trapped behind a wall of shimmering, glittering silver light.
“Alec is here. He's betrayed us! Kristoff is after him. Reapers in the room back there with ghosts. No time to talk.” I threw myself forward, slamming right into Mattias, who had evidently come back from escorting the other Zorya out.
“Pia-pooh!” he burbled happily, rubbing his mouth where my forehead had smacked into it. “Smooch?”
“Get out of my way, you giant Viking,” I said, disentangling myself from him in order to run around the corner. I hesitated for a second, unsure which way to go. I was in a reception area, a flight of stairs on my left, while the space to my right was taken up with an empty curved desk, and the typical setup of chairs and small occasional tables bearing what looked like informational pamphlets. Across the wall on the far side of the room was a banner that proclaimed, THE BROTHERHOOD AND YOU! FIVE SIGNS THAT YOU MIGHT BE HAUNTED.
“Wait for us; we're coming, too,” Magda said as I hurried up the stairs.
“You need me. I go with you,” Mattias told me.
“No! Stay with the reapers, all of you! They could be up to something, and Andreas is alone with them!”
Rowan, who had been about to follow, nodded and disappeared back into the hallway. Magda and Raymond continued on, determined looks on their faces.
“We're your posse,” Magda declared as we reached the top. I was a bit breathless, but didn't pause, just charged down the corridor that resembled the one behind us. “You need us.”
“My dear, really, posse?” Raymond asked somewhat wheezily as I opened door after door, searching for the man whose life was woven into mine. “You don't think that's a bit dated?”
“I love you!” declared Mattias as he followed them. “I want to be your posse, too!”
“Do you have a better word for it?” Magda asked Raymond somewhat snappishly.
“Dammit, Kristoff, where are you?” I muttered, flinging open the door next to me, giving the room a quick once-over, and running to the next one. “Don't do this to me!”
“I love Kristoff, too.”
“Compatriots,” Raymond suggested.
“That's just being pedantic,” Magda told him, following me. “'Compatriot' is much more dated than 'posse.'”
“Supporters, then,” he offered.
“We're her friends, not garter belts!”
The last door opened to reveal an empty room. I stepped inside it, looking around in bewilderment, defeat bowing my shoulders before I realized what that meant.
“Roof!” I shouted, shoving Mattias and Magda out of the way as they both tried to come into the room at the same time.
“Good God, a rooftop fight? I hope I have enough film left for this,” Raymond muttered as we ran en group up the last flight of stairs.
The sunlight was blinding when we emerged from the relative dimness of the offices, the heat already kicking into high gear. The roof held a tiny little garden on one side, with all the big cooling units and communication equipment on the other side. In the center of the small swath of green grass, two men lunged at each other, both clad in coats and hats, the blades of their swords flashing silver in the sun.
“Kristoff!” I yelled, shoving aside a lawn chair as I dashed forward.
“Stay back, Beloved,” he yelled, glancing over his shoulder at me.
Alec lunged, his blade coming away dulled and wet.
“Watch out!” I bellowed, picking up the chair with the intention of throwing it at Alec.
“Perhaps I should be fighting Pia rather than you,” Alec taunted him. I threw the chair, but he moved aside easily.
Kristoff snarled an invective that had Alec laughing.
“Then you would know what it's like to watch your Beloved die before your eyes.”
“You what ?” I asked, setting down the second chair I had just hefted.
Alec laughed again, dancing around Kristoff, his blade moving so fast it was just a blur. I had no idea how Kristoff parried those jabs, but he did, moving as easily as if he'd been born to it.
“Let's jump him,” Magda said, prodding Raymond forward a couple of steps. “You have the Taser. Go zap Alec.”
“Haven't told her yet, have you?” Alec asked Kristoff.
“Told me that you made him a vampire? Oh, yes, he told me that,” I said, anger causing the light to gather in my palms.
Raymond watched the intricate dance as the two men fought, shaking his head. “I wouldn't dare. They're moving too fast.”
I agreed. And they were moving fast, inhumanly fast, their faces and hands turning red as they fought. I released the light, shaking my hands free of it, looking around for something else I could use to disarm Alec.
“You'd think vampires would have had the sense to fight somewhere they couldn't get sunburned,” I said, eyeing a large potted plant.
“Ray, do something!” Magda demanded. “Posses don't just stand around watching!”
“Er…” Ray pulled his camera out of his pocket and took a picture.
“Oh, for the love of all that is right and holy…” Magda snatched his camera away.
“He didn't tell you how he killed my Beloved? How he watched her die slowly, her flesh melting off her body? He didn't tell you how I almost died that night, too?” Alec called.
My eyes widened as I looked at Kristoff. You killed Alec's Beloved?
My wife did. I told you she killed the mate of a Dark One.
You didn't tell me she was Alec's Beloved!
I didn't know until you showed me that damned reaper journal.
“I thought you said vamps couldn't live without their Beloveds,” Magda said as Raymond pestered her for his camera back.
“They can't,” Alec yelled, leaping aside as Kristoff lunged forward, simultaneously throwing a metal bench at him. Alec jumped back, then immediately started an attack on the other side.
I realized at that moment what Kristoff was doing. He was keeping himself between Alec and me. My heart warmed with love for him. He wasn't just keeping me alive for his own sake, but because he truly did have gentler emotions for me. They wouldn't ever be what he had for his late girlfriend, but I had at last resigned myself to being happy with what he could give me.
“How did you survive, then?” I asked, sending Kristoff wave after wave of love.
He glanced back at me for a split second, startled. I blew him a kiss. Mattias, next to me, blew him one as well.
“We weren't yet Joined. I had just met Eleanor when she ran into the Zorya.”
The word echoed with a horrible reverberation in my head.
“A Zorya?” Magda asked, just as astounded as I was. “Uh-oh.”
“No!” I screamed, throwing myself forward as Alec, taking advantage of the misstep, kicked Kristoff's other leg out and was instantly upon him, the sword held at Kristoff's heart. “Nooo!”
Alec looked up from Kristoff, his green eyes like those of a cat, relish evident in them as he panted, his face and hands blistered. “Why shouldn't I kill him, Pia?”
“Because I love him,” I said simply.
He hesitated, his eyes searching my face. Tears spilled over my eyelashes as I looked at Kristoff, his skin blistering as well, his gaze steadfast on mine.
Alec shook his head, his fingers tightening around the hilt of the sword. “Not good enough.”
“Then… because I can do this.” I pulled as hard as I could on the power of the moon, pulling from it the silvery cool light that filled me with a calm sense of rightness, slamming it into Alec's chest.
He flew backward into a storage bench, knocking it over, his arms and legs tangling up in the chair cushions that spilled out from inside it.
Kristoff reached for the sword Alec had knocked out of his grip, stalking over to where the man who had once been his friend lay inert in a small stream of blood seeping from a cut on his head.
I joined Kristoff. We both stood and watched Alec for a moment.
“You didn't kill him,” Kristoff said.
“No. There was only enough power in that ball of light to knock him backward and maybe singe off a little chest hair. Your wife was a Zorya?”
Pain washed through him. Pain and guilt and something that, for a moment, reminded me of fear. “Yes.”
“Which means, unless things have changed over the centuries, that you were a sacristan.”
Kristoff turned to me, his eyes robin's-egg blue. “I did not know the woman was his Beloved.”
I touched his mind with mine. He was reluctant to allow the intimacy, but I was insistent, and he finally let me in. The dark, stained part of his mind that I thought was due to his plans with the vampires was now lit brightly.
You thought I would hate you if I knew you were once a reaper, too?
You did not wish to be Zorya anymore.
You have to be married to a sacristan to be Zorya. I could not risk giving you up. And I knew that once you were aware of what I had been, how it was my wife who had started the reapers on their path of murder, you would not wish to remain with me.
I stared at him in growing disbelief. Do you seriously believe that I would dump you because of something you were a couple of hundred years ago?
Other women have when they found out.
Other women like Angelica?
He turned away from me, prodding Alec with his shoe.
“Show's over, I guess,” Magda said softly. “Why don't we go inside and give them a bit of privacy?”
“Probably best,” Raymond said, fussing over the camera that Magda had handed back to him. “Oh, now look what you did. You had it set completely wrong for this amount of sun….”
“Come on, Mattias. Mattias . Honey, we need to have a talk about Pia. Why don't you come with Ray and me, and I'll tell you how things stand.”
The others left. I grabbed Kristoff's arm and made him turn around to me. “I know you don't want to talk about her. And I promise I will never bring up her name after this, but please, Kristoff, answer me. Did the woman you loved above all others shun you because she found out about your origins?”
His eyes narrowed. “The woman I loved above all others?”
“Angelica. Your girlfriend. The one the reapers killed,” I said, in case I'd gotten her name wrong.
“I loved her, but I didn't love her above all other women,” he said. “And yes, we were tracing some reapers when somehow she stumbled across information about my past. She was repulsed by what I had been, and ran away from me. It was then that the reapers caught her.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, waggling a finger at him. “You were mourning her when I first met you.”
“No, I wasn't,” he said, stroking his chin.
“But… you had sworn eternal vengeance or something like that. Alec told me.”
He gave a little shrug. “I had sworn to avenge her death, yes. As well as find out who had given her the information about me that sent her fleeing to that death.”
“Still haven't figured it out?”
We both looked down to the source of the question, Kristoff immediately putting the sword tip to Alec's neck.
Alec waved it away, pulling himself up until he was propped up on a nearby bench. “You can drop the sword. I'm not going to kill Pia.”
I widened my eyes. “Were you going to try?” I squeaked.
“Yes. It seemed only fitting to take his Beloved as he took mine.” Alec winced as he felt along his head, his fingers coming away smeared with red. “And speaking of killing, why didn't you end my suffering once and for all?”
“I couldn't do that without a ceremony and a group of reapers,” I said, watching him carefully. “Not that I would. You really would have killed me?”
“Yes.” He looked up, his gaze meeting mine before a wry smile stole over his mouth. “No. I thought I could, but I guess I'm just too weak.”
“I don't think it's weakness,” I said, smiling slowly. “I think you realize that Kristoff did not kill your Beloved.”
Alec leaned back against the bench, his eyes closed. “Does it matter anymore?”
“Yes, it does,” Kristoff said, lowering the sword. “You told Angelica the truth.”
“Yes. As I did Mabel, and Augustine, and who was that dairymaid in Alsace whom you used to visit every Sunday? Marie? I told them, just as I told every woman who ever captured your heart.”
“Only one woman has captured my heart,” Kristoff said, raising the sword again.
I looked at him in surprise, hope bursting into unreasonable but undeniable being deep inside my heart, growing with a desperate prayer. I thought you just said you didn't love Angelica above all others.
Kristoff shot me a look. I'm a little busy. Now is not the time to discuss relationships.
I think it's just a perfectly fine time. Who have you given your heart to? I was suddenly giddy, almost light-headed as I waited for him to answer.
“And she took me by surprise,” Alec said with a rueful little laugh. “I wanted to destroy her as I've destroyed all the others, hoping each time that it would do the job, drive you beyond bearing.”
Dio! You pick now to have this conversation? Right now? This second? This instant?
Yes! Now! Stop stalling! Tell me!
“But you weren't driven beyond bearing. You never were. So I changed tactics. I figured if I couldn't rip your heart out the way you ripped out mine, I'd destroy the other parts of your life.”
“He didn't rip out your heart. His wife did. He had nothing to do with it,” I pointed out.
Alec cracked open one eye and glared at me. “Pia, you do not interrupt a man when he is explaining his master plan after having been soundly defeated. Don't you watch any James Bond movies?”
“Sorry,” I said contritely, with a pointed look at Kristoff. “Go on. Both of you.”
Alec opened his mouth to speak, checked himself, then glanced at Kristoff. “I'm missing something, aren't I?”
“She's making me admit I love her,” Kristoff said, his voice and face equally pained.
“You said it!” I shrieked, clutching his chest and kissing the pained expression right off his face. “You can't take it back! You said it out loud in front of a witness! Wait-are you sure? You're not just saying that because you have mild feelings of affection for me, and don't want to break my heart? You're not just being nice?”
“Alec?” Kristoff asked, his hands on my butt.
“Are you daft, woman? You can't tell he's arse over heels in love with you?” Alec shook his head, winced at the movement, and slowly pulled himself onto the bench until he could slump down with a grunt. “You must be losing your touch, Kris. None of the others doubted you were anything but a devoted slave to their merest of whims.”
“This is different,” Kristoff said, hoisting me up so my mouth was level with his. “This is my Beloved.”
Say it again, I demanded as I bit his lower lip, welcoming the lovely taste of him as he gave me what I wanted.
I love you, Pia. I don't know why you ever thought I didn't. I believed I was making myself quite obvious.
That's because you're a man, and it doesn't occur to you that other people might think you were so much in love with your dead girlfriend that you could never love anyone else.
Never is a long time.
So you really did love her?
I thought about that for a moment. That's OK. I've been in love before, too. You're right. What we have is totally different from that. Say it again.
I love-You've loved other men? What other men?
I giggled at his outraged tone, releasing his lip. “You knew I had been with men before you.”
“Been with,” he said, an irritated flare to his nostrils. “'Been with' is completely different from 'in love with.' I will require the names and addresses of these men you were in love with.”
“So then I decided, What the hell, I'll let her live. And they'll live happily ever after, while I continue to suffer untold, endless agonies because I had a Beloved once, and his first wife killed her before I could so much as bed her. This is the thanks I get for my generosity.”
“Shut up, Alec,” Kristoff said, scooping me up in his arms and starting toward the door that led back into the building.
“You're going to leave me here?” he called after us. I stopped licking Kristoff's ear and looked back at Alec. “I'm wounded! I let you win! I didn't kill Pia and watch you die slowly, in agony, while laughing and telling you about each exquisite moment of hell that my life has been since your first Zorya wife killed my love.”
“Set me down,” I told Kristoff. He did so. I took his hand and marched back to where Alec was hunched over on the bench. “I think it's time we got this over with once and for all. Kristoff, your wife was a Zorya.”
“Did you know she was going to kill Alec's Beloved?”
“She said her oxen ran wild and trampled the woman. I did not even know she was Moravian.”
I turned to Alec. “You said your Beloved was melted. Did you see Kristoff's wife do it?”
His face twisted. “Not the actual cleansing, but I didn't need to. She was decapitated, and her body was horribly mangled, with parts of her burned away. Only the damned reaper light could do that.”
“That's what she meant,” Kristoff said slowly, his gaze inward.
“Your wife?” I asked.
“Ruth said she'd tried to clean away the stain of the death, but couldn't. I thought she was speaking metaphorically, but she was speaking literally instead….”
“She was telling the truth about the trampling, then.” More puzzle pieces were coming together. “But then she probably panicked when she saw a dead vampire, and used the light to try to get rid of the body. Poor woman. She must have been scared to death to try to hide the whole thing. And then when Alec found out and went nuts…”
Alec froze for a moment before slumping back against the bench, one hand over his eyes. “An accident. It was an accident after all. All this torment, each second since that moment a unique hell of its own, and her death was due to an accident. I should have killed the oxen.”
“You did. They were my best team,” Kristoff said, then cleared his throat when I nudged him. “Why did you never tell me this?”
Alec sighed and looked up at him. “You were my most hated enemy. You killed the one woman who could save me. Or so I thought. I turned you, pretended I was your friend so I could shadow your every footstep, and make sure that you suffered just as I did. I drove away your women, tried to take your Beloved, and plotted with infinite detail both of your demises. Why do you think I didn't tell you?”
“But you're not Kristoff's enemy, are you?” I said gently, leaning against Kristoff, so happy I thought I might break into song at any moment.
“No,” he said dolefully. “Sometime over the last hundred years the enjoyment has gone out of watching you suffer.”
“You didn't tell the reapers where to find Kristoff's girlfriend, did you?” I asked, suddenly wary.
Alec shook his head. “I told her about him. I never thought she'd run straight out into the pack of them. I did my best to save her.” He looked up at Kristoff. “I was truly sorry about that.”
“Before this breaks down into a true Hallmark moment and we all start buying each other Precious Moments figurines, why don't we get you off the roof?” I said, holding out my hand for Alec. “The sun is moving and it's going to hit you soon. And although the blistering is gone off your face, you don't look like you could stand too much more.”
Alec let us help him to his feet, supporting him between us as we got him back to the door. “If I said I was sorry about everything, Kris…” He let the sentence trail off, but looked expectantly at Kristoff.
Kristoff nodded and socked Alec on the shoulder in a guy gesture of forgiveness, but Alec was still recovering from that ball of light, and tottered into the wall. Kristoff righted him with a word of apology, dusted him off, then held open the door for him.
“Why did you tell Frederic we were coming to kill him?” I asked.
“I knew by that time that I couldn't kill you. I figured I'd have them do it for me,” Alec admitted.
“But you couldn't even do that, could you, you big galoot?” I said, taking Kristoff's hand. Mattias bounded up the stairs to greet me, refusing to stop kissing my free hand until Kristoff pushed him down half the flight of stairs.
“Kristoff!” he said in a wounded little voice as he picked himself up. Magda and Ray were next to him, looking startled.
Ray snapped a quick picture as we descended to the first floor.
“He's sorry, Mattias. But no more kissing, OK?”
He sighed. “Magda says we weren't really married.”
“No, we weren't, because Kristoff was a sacristan. But don't worry,” I said, patting his hand. “I'll find you another Zorya, someone who will like you kissing her all the time, OK?”
“That's all we need,” Alec murmured under his breath. “Another Zorya.”
“Everything OK?” Magda asked, her eyes round as she looked from Alec to Kristoff.
“Yes. Everything is just fine now. Old wounds healed over, misunderstanding cleared up, forgiveness given. It's an Oprah kind of moment.”
“I'll say. So what now?”
“Now we go tell Frederic to stop killing vampires, or else. Oh! Why did the Ilargi give a Dutch necromancer your phone number?” I asked Alec as we headed down the stairs to the main floor.
“I have no idea,” he answered, seeming somewhat startled by the idea.
“Yes, you do. Or at least, you made me think you did last night, when you were rescuing me from the reapers. Remember? I asked you if you were doing undercover work for the Brotherhood, and you said yes.”
“Of course I did. I was lying. I knew nothing about a necromancer and an Ilargi.”
“Great. Now what am I going to do?”
Rowan was waiting for us. His eyebrows rose at the sight of Alec being supported by Kristoff.
“I missed it all, didn't I?” he asked his cousin.
“Yes. I'm sorry. Next time I'll wait for you,” Kristoff told him.
“You'd better.” Rowan examined Alec for a moment, then slid his shoulder under Alec's arm.
“I don't suppose anyone has any idea where I can find the Ilargi?” I asked mournfully as our little ragtag group made its way down the hall to the boardroom. No one answered. “I didn't think so. Damn.”
“There's something-Gah… I think the shutter is jammed….” Raymond stopped, fighting with something on his camera.
“The Brotherhoodians aren't going to go ballistic when they see all of the vampires, are they?” Magda asked as she walked next to me.
“I'm thinking that's not going to be a big problem,” I said, smiling at the memory of the worried look worn by the governors.
Rowan opened up the door, he and Kristoff helping a still wobbly Alec to a couch. Andreas, who stood with a gun pointed at the small herd of reapers, looked utterly astonished.
“Was it bad?” he asked his brother.
“Very. Pia made me tell her I love her in front of Alec.”
I sent a tiny little ball of light to Andreas's feet.
He grinned at me. “I mean, congratulations.”
“I'm sorry about all this,” I told Frederic as he rose slowly to his feet. “It was really just a big misunderstanding. Alec doesn't want you to kill us.”
“He doesn't?” Frederic asked, his face as placid as ever.
“No. Do you, Alec?”
“Not anymore, no. Ouch. I don't suppose you have a healer handy? I think a couple of my ribs are piercing my lung.”
“Suck it up, buttercup,” I told him. “You have healing powers. Go to it.” I turned back to the reapers. “And just in case you're still worried, I will repeat that we're not here to hurt any of you guys.”
All of the reapers looked pointedly at Andreas.
He grinned sheepishly and put away the gun.
“So you see? All's well. Oh, there is just one thing,” I said, biting my lip.
Boo, would you mind it if I made sure that the Brotherhood doesn't hurt any more vampires?
Kristoff sighed into my mind . I'm becoming used to the idea that my Beloved could strike me dead with the slightest flick of her fingers. If you think that's the only way, go ahead.
That's just one of the many reasons I love you. And it's two flicks of my fingers.
“What's that?” the female reaper asked when I didn't finish.
“Hmm? Oh. I understand you don't have a Zenith. I'd like the job, please.”