The wheezing sound penetrated the comforting darkness and rippled through the silence, like a pebble thrown into a puddle, the sound becoming louder and louder.
Tina pressed her cheek deeper into the pillow, as if that could keep the sound at the edge of her mind, but it never did. She fought against it and against the pull that drew her out of her body.
It always started the same. A small tickle travelled up her legs and through her body until it reached the tips of her fingers and then her mind before the invisible ties wrapped around her ankles and tugged and pulled; no matter how much she resisted and clawed at the sheet, she could never win.
She rolled onto her back, her eyes tightly shut and her hands stiff against her hips.
The sound became louder, closer, until she could feel it vibrating in her chest like the laborious breaths coming in and out of her lungs.
She stayed like that, lying on her back, numb, while the minutes poured into hours, listening to Damon’s breathing, because that was all she could do. She couldn’t touch him, she couldn’t wake him or penetrate the layers in which Damon wrapped his mind. He called her, transported her soul and then… nothing. Damon, why are you doing this to me?
No, she knew it wasn’t his fault. Not really. But…
“How is he doing?”
Tina opened her eyes, but all she could see was the darkness that hid behind Damon’s eyelids.
“He’s dehydrated and anaemic. He should be in a hospital.”
“I’m paying you to take care of him, so you take care of him.”
Before Damon had become a living zombie, Tina had heard Petsha when he taunted semi-conscious Damon. She could see him, through Damon’s eyes, his face nearing, and feel the sharp pain as his fangs dove into Damon’s skin, a pain that lasted and lasted, the raw burn of it becoming stronger with each gulp of Damon’s blood sliding down Petsha’s throat. But those times Petsha was always alone, he never brought anybody with him.
“How can I help him when you are draining him dry?”
“Give him additional transfusions.”
“That won’t help him. You saw yourself that it only helps him temporarily and then he gets even worse.”
Of course he did, when they probably used humans’ or Deadeaters’ blood on him, Tina thought. Shouldn’t Petsha be aware of Lost’s feeding habits?
Her body started to tremble. No, but it wasn’t her body. It was Damon’s. He was starting to have one of his attacks when his chest heaved and it felt as if his lungs wanted to turn inside out, when the cold started to penetrate through the skin like somebody had put an icy block on it, and when something started to drip out of Damon’s nose and mouth. She could already feel the wetness on her chin. Her jaw tensed and if she could have she would have buried her face in her hands. Muriel! She wanted Muriel. Muriel, Muriel, wake me up! Please!
Sometimes her calls for Muriel found their way out of the prison in which Damon had pulled her, and sometimes she had to wait and wait in Damon’s cold shell until she woke up on her own or the gentle hand of sleep pulled her into its depths.
A dot of light appeared before her, dancing in the darkness.
She reached for it.
She touched it.
Her lungs filled with air and her body sprung forward, her chest heaving. Perspiration dampened her hairline as she drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them before she leaned her forehead on her knees. The softness of the blue cashmere blanket and a warm hand soothingly stroking her back slowly calmed her erratic breathing.
“Again?” Muriel’s breath caressed the side of her face.
She nodded, trying to suppress the shivers that shook her body. In the past she had to pretend to be strong, to convince herself that she was, and that she could overcome everything life threw her way. It was different now. Now she really had become strong, she really could overcome everything life threw her way, she had already proved that, to herself and to the world. So why… why was it that every time she woke up from her ‘nightmare’ she thought that she couldn’t go on?
Her body twisted and her arms found Muriel and wrapped around him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah… just give me a moment.”
Warm blue invaded her mind, its wisps stretching over the greyness, chasing away the cold that still lingered inside her.
She stayed like that enjoying the softness of Muriel’s mind before she pushed herself away from his comforting embrace. “I’m okay now. Thank you.”
The blue caress withdrew, leaving her calm and slightly light-headed. Her gaze dropped down on the steel edge of the ‘bed.’ She remembered going to sleep in her own bed; ending up in Sarniikzi meant that somebody had moved her while she slept. “Uriel moved me again, didn’t he?” She rubbed her eyes. “Why? I told him that I hate this thing.” She tossed her legs over the edge. If it had been anybody else, she would have given them a piece of her mind, but… not Uriel.
“I requested that they put you into Sarniikzi,” a female voice said.
Irene. Tina silently sighed. She thought that she and Tristian would have left already.
“You looked exhausted.”
“You really did.” Muriel’s brows lifted in a silent Are you angry with us?
“Whatever.” Tina stood up, but not before she squeezed Muriel’s hand in reassurance. She could never be angry with Muriel. “Could you please give me some privacy?”
The first rays of light peeked over the horizon, over the petrol-station and through the trees that surrounded the motorway, colouring patches of sky violet and pink.
Tina took a sip from a paper cup containing a latte Irene had bought for her from the petrol station. Slight bitterness spilled over her tongue, but she preferred it that: warm and bitter, without any sugar -- the taste she had come to love because her grandmother liked it. She wrapped both hands flush around the cup and leaned them against her stomach.
She looked up and her eyes drank in the colours painted across the sky. She always liked sunrises, but she never stopped to bask in their beauty. She should really take time to enjoy the small things, to appreciate them more -- she glanced sideways at Irene and Tristian’s car, at the boy who sat with crossed legs on the car’s hood, staring at the rising yellow ball -- like Muriel.
A hand descended on her shoulder and she looked at its owner. Irene. “Why are you still here?”
The blonde positioned herself beside Tina and crossed her arms. “Why are you treating me like an enemy? I only wish for you to return home with Tristian and me.”
“You really don't know when to quit, do you? Stop bothering me already.”
“I’m only thinking of you. You will be safe with us; Macele won’t dare directly attack Damon’s House, no matter how brazen she is.”
Tina sighed and looked over her shoulder at the freight hauler, where Haniel, Uriel and Tristian repaired small dents and scratches left on the trailer by that crazy girl’s Aradmas, before she fixed her gaze at the horizon, at the lights that reflected from the remnants of snow that here and there covered the brown, dry-looking grass. It was the beginning of March and it was still so cold. “You reassured Uriel that you would make sure that she doesn’t bother us again.”
“Yes, if you come with us.”
“What about the report of the attack that you are going to file with the Lost’s... erm, guards? You told Uriel that that would stop her.”
“They are called Mesedi. And yes, that would probably stop her, but not for long. As a daughter of the Lost’s new leader, she can do whatever she pleases, as long as she does it discreetly, she doesn’t involve other Lost’s purebreds and doesn’t attack the family directly; that’s why we want you to come with us.”
“You have some funny rules.” Tina took another sip from the cup. She didn’t like the rules, especially not the one where the Lost let Damon rot in Petsha’s hands, the new successor even refusing to give or lend Irene and Tristian help, because when the Lost’s leader allowed himself to be taken away by somebody as low as a Deadeater, he displayed weakness, which not only soiled his family name, but also the Lost as a clan. Tristian had said, We take care of our own, but Tina had learned that didn’t apply to the clan, only to the family.
“Yes, but they work, at least they did when Damon was a leader.” Irene turned toward Tina, her mouth pressed into a narrow line. “I wish we could just kill her, but that would bring too much trouble. “
“You are quite cold-hearted.”
“No, just practical.”
“Killing somebody is practical?” Tina wrinkled her forehead. “That’s pretty cold.”
“Did you forget who we are? We are Bloodeaters, and I’m not just that, but I’m also a Beliya. We protect our own, and we don’t care about anybody else. I wouldn’t be bothered with you if you weren’t Damon’s Beloved. Actually, I could send a bullet through your heart without any hesitation.” Irene put her hand on Tina’s arm. “That’s just the way we are, and you should keep that in mind. Always.”
Tina stepped back from Irene, a small shiver running up her spine at Irene’s cold tone, imagining how cold Irene’s eyes, hidden behind sunglasses, must be. Yes, sometimes she forgot who she was dealing with. The Lost and the Dumes didn’t randomly kill people like Deadeaters and the Elders of the Damned did, but if the situation demanded it, none of them would ever hesitate to end a life.
“You don’t have to be afraid of me, but don’t forget who we are and what we represent.”
She’s worried about you, she probably thinks that you are too naive and too trusting, which you are. Muriel’s voice sounded in Tina’s head.
“How could I forget,” Tina said to Irene before she turned in Muriel’s direction. You are eavesdropping.
No, I’m not. Muriel slid down the car’s hood. You know that I have very sensitive hearing. If you don’t want me to hear things then you shouldn’t talk about them near me.
Tina sighed as she went around Irene toward the trailer. Using the portable steel stairs she climbed up and into it. She moved to the front of the trailer where she slumped into the softness of the couch. She turned sideways, put her knees on the furniture and leaned her arms on the couch’s back. She looked through the narrow tinted window that ran along the side of the trailer and that allowed the natural light to seep into the truck, but wasn’t visible from the outside. She should probably enjoy the sunlight before it slipped away. Norway was a dark and gloomy country in winter, no wonder that in fall, the majority of Deadeaters flew to it as swallows flew toward the south -- or so she had heard. But as Haniel pointed out, it was interesting that despite the increase in Deadeaters the number of missing and murdered people hadn’t risen that much. She wondered what Trinity would think of that. She would probably love to have a long, thoughtful discussion about that with Haniel; not because she would be interested in the subject but because she loved her boys and loved to listen to them.
“What are you doing?” Muriel sat beside Tina.
“I’m thinking about Haniel’s theory that when the Deadeaters are in a cold environment with a small amount of daylight, they don’t need to feed as much as they do in a normal climate.” Not that that knowledge was important for them, not really. She faced Muriel. “Is Irene right? Am I really naive? I mean, I know that I let a lot of things pass me by,” -- like how she had completely missed the fact that Muriel possessed a beast form, despite there being so many clues pointing to it. “But am I really too trusting?”
“You are not too trusting, but you seem to be naive.” Muriel’s fingers wrapped around Tina’s hand. “I think you are the kind of person who can stubbornly jump into something without really thinking about the consequences. Maybe that’s because you are so focused on the task at hand, or maybe because you desperately try to be brave, so you refuse to stop and to think about the consequences, since if you did that, your courage would leave you.”
“I don’t --” She closed her mouth. But she did; she did things without thinking, such stupid things that her cheeks become hot with embarrassment just remembering them. And she was a scaredy cat, sort of, especially when her mind had time to conjure all the possibilities of what might happen, highlighting the worst case scenarios. She rubbed her temples. “I guess I’m too rash sometimes.”
“Yeah.” Muriel smiled at her. “In that respect, you and Haniel are quite similar.”
“We are not even close. I shy away from danger, I’m not a daredevil like him.” She curled her fingers around Muriel’s hand. Whenever she even thought of needing somebody, he was there, a voice of reason, a shoulder to cry on; such a mature, dependable ma -- boy.
“No, you are definitely not a daredevil like him.”
“Hey, what do you think Petsha wants the Aradmas for? Do you think he wants to create more Shadows?” Tina leaned her cheek on the back of the couch. “I mean that’s the only reason why he would want Angelica’s Aradmas.” She peeked over Muriel’s shoulder at Uriel, Tristian and Haniel, who stepped inside the trailer.
“That would be my guess. Now that Angelica is gone and she gave him some of her power, he’s the only one who can control them, and having such powerful allies gives him the upper hand,” Muriel said.
“And there are rumours that he’s using Shadows to gather more Deadeaters, which is why they hunt in groups now. Their fear of Shadows is so strong that it overcomes their thirst. Damon would probably find this amusing.” Tristian sat on the edge of the bench.
Irene joined Tristian, forcing him to sit farther down the bench.
“I don’t know much about the Deadeaters, but from everything I’ve learned about them, they have a strong survival instinct and sense for danger.” Tina tilted her head. “So I don’t understand. Why would they even want to oppose Petsha? He’s one of them, why don’t they join them on their own? Why does he even need Shadows to get more them?”
“Because they live in packs, like wolves, with only one alpha. If the group is too big, or if there’s more than one alpha, they either split up or start to kill each other. Once a Deadeater has been an alpha it can’t ever yield his position to another Deadeater.” Uriel leaned his back against the wardrobe opposite to the couch.
“Why does Petsha even bother with gathering them? If I were him I would order Shadows to kill all the alphas and all the rest would come running to me,” Irene said.
Haniel, who plopped on the seat beside Tina, chuckled. “That shows that you don’t know anything about Deadeaters. Not that I’m surprised. The Lost have always refused to have anything to do with them.”
“Deadeaters have always been the Damned’s responsibility; they are remains of Abbas’s barbaric feeding and have nothing to do with the Lost.”
Tina furrowed her eyebrows, tuning out the conversation around her. She could understand why Bloodeaters treated Deadeaters like things, a nuisance, something that shouldn’t exist and whose presence should be erased, but… somehow just the notion of that kind of attitude toward another living creature -- not that Deadeaters were really living -- bothered her. In human history, similar attitudes had caused too many genocides.
She looked up at Muriel, then her gaze zoomed onto Haniel and then onto Uriel. Despite being Bloodeaters they possessed gentle souls, all of them, and whenever they had to end somebody’s life, they did it swiftly and without causing pain. They were killers -- since she had killed Deadeaters she included herself in that grouping -- but none of them enjoyed it.
Germany? Tina’s ears pricked up. “I thought we were going further north, not south.”
“We have been in this cold country for two months now, and we haven’t found anything new, no matter how many Deadeaters we’ve ‘interrogated’,” Uriel said. “Petsha isn’t here.”
“But he is in Germany?” Tina raised her brows.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Uriel shrugged.
Tina narrowed her eyes at Uriel. Uriel
never did anything without a reason. He had something in mind, she
was sure of that, but what, she would have to wait to find out.