Tina floated in the warm, welcoming darkness, which reminded her of being a child, just tucked into bed with a kiss on her forehead. She nuzzled into the pillow feeling sleep slowly overtaking her.
A soft cry calling her name ripped through the silence. She ignored it, but more of them followed, becoming louder and louder.
She rolled onto her back.
She opened her eyes, staring at the padded surface of the Sarniikzi visible in the semi-darkness lit by a small light set in the middle of the lid.
He wasn’t going to leave her alone, was he?
Yes, I’m coming. She sighed. And she had just gone to sleep. She pushed up the lid. She had naively thought that after they had gotten him out of Petsha’s hands she would take the concoction to remove Damon’s blood from her system and that would erase the bond of Beloved that held them together. Then she would be fancy free, riding off into the sunset together with the Dumes. That’s all she wanted; to be with Dumes, to create a home with them. But Damon had messed up her plans; he needed the connection with his Beloved. It was the rope that pulled him from the depths of his soul and gave him the strength to rule the beast living within. And she couldn’t just leave him, not after they had gone through all the trouble to save him.
Just a minute. She climbed out of the steel crate, put on the flats she used as slippers and stepped through the door. She went across the hallway into the room at the end of it, where a Sarniikzi, three times the size of the one she used, stood in the middle of the bare room.
Her hand slid over the steel surface. It was good that the Lost had one as large as this at their disposal, since without the Sarniikzi’s healing abilities Damon would probably still be like a broken doll. Lifeless, weak and helpless, like that time...
She closed her eyes for a moment. It had been almost a month since Damon’s rescue and two weeks since they had rented a small house in the northeast of Turkey, an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Sea. But being in Petsha’s lab, with those people in plastic wrappers, seemed to her like it had happened only yesterday.
A murmur of words vibrated in her head again, a few of them her name. I'm here, she answered as she grabbed the lid’s handle and pushed it up with the help of the crate’s hydraulics.
The lid opened and revealed a black, furry heap napping inside it. With his frame smaller than it had been two weeks ago, with less fur and fangs that didn’t reach past his jaw anymore, the beast looked more human now. Her fingers tiptoed over the long arm, playing with the short fur.
The eyes opened revealing pupils that were green instead of red.
Tina smiled. Lately she could see Damon in the beast’s features so clearly. “Hi.”
Hey, Damon greeted back.
“You called.” Repeatedly.
Yes, I would like to go out.
“I see.” She turned toward Tristian, Damon’s Beliya, who stood by the door and who never left Damon’s side. “He would like to take a stroll, could you unchain him, please?”
Tristian came forward and unlocked the shackles around Damon’s limbs.
Damon rose up and climbed out of the Sarniikzi, his head almost touching the ceiling of the room. He gave her a smile, exposing his serrated teeth. It was a sight that had nearly sent her running off the first time she saw it.
She knew better now and in a weird, twisted way even found it cute. She shook her head. There had to be something wrong with finding it cute. She wrapped her hand around his, careful not to cut herself on the sharp claws, not bothered by the way the beast towered over her. Too used to it, probably. “Shall we?”
Damon climbed out of the Sarniikzi and docilely trailed behind her as she went out the door into the hallway and toward the back door. Tristian, carrying two stun-guns as a safety precaution, followed a step behind them.
They arrived in the back yard, illuminated by the moonlight, where she sat down on the bench beside the wall of the house. She looked up at the sky visible through the bluish dome that stretched over the premises to shield them not only from Shadows but also from prying eyes.
She expected Damon to spread out his wings and make a few circles above the house or to use the large yard to stretch his body, but he descended to the stone ground before her.
He rested his head on Tina’s knees.
“Shouldn’t you use your leisure time more wisely?” Tina patted his head.
This is the place that I want to be, and since you refuse to join me in the Sarniikzi... Damon arched his neck to look up at her.
Tina snorted. “Are you flirting with me?”
Damon looked at her, flashed his teeth in his scary-looking smile and reached out with his hand.
Tina thought that he would caress her cheek, but he stared at his hand before he let it fell down and he turned away.
No. Not in this form. Damon gazed forward. Not when I’m this ghastly, repulsive thing.
“You are still you.”
A moment of silence before he spoke. Would you treat me like a pet even if I was ‘me’?
“Like a pet?” Tina tilted her head. “Yes, I guess I do pet you a lot.” And no, she wouldn’t do that if he was his normal self. She buried her fingers in the black strands, to caress him, to console him. “You are right.” She did treat him like a pet, like he was this enormous, moody cat.
He moved away.
She smiled inwardly. But that wasn’t the nature of the beast; it was Damon, all Damon.
I hate it. This body.
Tina stayed silent, knowing from past experience that he would take anything that she might say as patronising. And if Damon hated anything, it was being patronised. Which actually didn’t make sense. She leaned her elbow on her knee and rested her chin in her hand. Damon was a seven-hundred-year old man and he sometimes acted like a spoiled teenager, minus the rebellion and tantrums. Should he be more mature? But maybe this was the same case as with Muriel and Haniel; their young bodies influenced their state of mind. Uriel, the oldest of the Dumes, had explained it to her, not that she had understood him really, but she did grasp that it had something to do with hormones and brain chemicals. Where those two things even different?
I can’t do anything. Damon lifted his hands with their long talons. They are too clumsy and too strong. The only thing they are good for is snapping people’s necks and tearing their bellies. He set his hands in his lap.
“Uriel told me that Muriel had a lot of problems with his beast form too.”
You’ve already mentioned that.
“It took him some time, but in the end he accepted it as part of himself.”
I have no intention of doing anything similar.
“Yes, I’ve gathered that.” Tina tried to stand up. “We should go back.”
“Okay,” Tina said. She couldn’t force him to obey her, not when he was twice her size and a hundred times more powerful even in this current weakened state. But in case he got more petulant and showed unwillingness to cooperate, she could call the backup anytime -- not that she had ever needed to before.
You don’t have to indulge me. I’m not a child. He sat beside her, bending the wooden surface with his weight.
“I never said you were.”
But you are patronising me.
He was being cranky and she refused to quarrel with him. “I’m not suicidal enough to argue with you since you can kill me with a swing of your arm.”
I was always able to kill you with a swing of my arm, but that didn’t hold you back before.
“Yes, but you weren’t as quickly irritated as you are now.”
Is that why you are avoiding me?
“I’m not avoiding you.”
Of course not.
He was being sarcastic. More evidence that he was getting better, Tina thought. “I always come when you call me.”
Yes, but never on your own, Damon said. And at the beginning you came on your own, I could sense you.
“You are getting better.”
“You don’t need our tie to draw you out anymore. You can surface on your own now.”
That’s true, but I still need you. You are my Beloved.
“I’m not Trinity.”
I know that.
Sometimes she wondered if he did. She pulled her legs against her chest and wrapped her arm around them. She glanced sideways at him. “I don’t intend to become her substitute.”
It’s not like you could replace her.
Yes, she knew that. She closed her eyes and leaned her chin on her knees. He didn’t have to throw it in her face. Not that she cared. As soon as Damon got well, she was going to wipe the mark of Beloved from her soul. And then nothing would bind them together. She bit her lip and tightly squeezed her eyes.
A heavy hand landed on Tina’s head.
Look at me.
She didn’t want to, but she granted him his request. She raised her brows.
She couldn’t replace you either.
“Gee.” And that should make her happy or something? “Like it matters.”
It should. He patted her head before he stood up and spread his four wings.
One flap of them pushed Tina against the wall. She lifted her head and followed Damon’s ascent. And he reproached her for being patronising.
The dry wind carried the thrum of bass to Tina’s ears as she leaned against the trunk of a tree watching a young black-haired boy playing with the local animals. She tilted her head and listened. It was coming from the side of the house, probably from the giant truck which was parked there.
She stood up, readjusted her cap and pushed her sunglasses higher on her nose. It was probably Haniel, the baby boy of the Dumes. She glanced at Muriel, who seemed occupied with the hedgehog on his knees. He wouldn’t miss her.
She went around the corner toward the freight-hauler and peeked inside it.
Two motocross bikes stood on Haniel’s side of the work counters with Haniel and Anael, one of the Numuns, working on them.
Tina climbed into the truck and joined them. “What are you doing?” she shouted over the music.
“Oh, hey.” Haniel turned down the volume. “We are killing some time.”
Anael, the white-haired girl, completely ignored her, not that that bothered Tina too much.
“These --” he pointed at the bikes “-- will come in handy to the Numuns when they escort Prva on her pilgrimage.”
“Pilgrimage?” Tina stepped closer to Haniel, took one of the hair-clips that held her bangs from her forehead and used it on the long black hair drifting in Haniel’s face. She knew that Prva, the leader of the Damned, and her personal guard were planning a trip to the Resting Circle, but that wouldn’t happen for quite some time.
“She’s going to that resting place, and it’s somewhere in Africa,” Haniel said.
“It’s southern Arabia,” Anael said.
“It’s Africa.” Haniel looked at Anael over his shoulder.
“It’s southern Arabia,” Anael repeated.
“It’s Africa,” Tina said.
“Who told you that?” Anael asked.
“Uriel. He learned it from Tristian.”
“And how would Tristian know?” Anael pulled herself up and stepped in front of Haniel.
“He’s already been there,” Tina said.
“And you believe that?” Anael crossed her arms.
“I saw him there with Damon when I was in Damon’s memories.”
“You were in the Resting Circle?” Haniel straightened.
“Just in Damon’s head.”
“What is it like?” Haniel asked.
“Large and gold,” Tina said.
“It has to be more than that.” Haniel leaned on the motorbike.
“It’s full of sarcophagi. Circles and circles of them.” Tina squeezed between the motorbikes to reach the counter. “Metal-looking and richly decorated in the first circle, and stone and plain ones in the rest of them.”
“There are twelve sarcophagi in the first circle, right?” Haniel first looked at Anael and then at Tina.
“I think so.” Tina sat on the counter after she pushed Haniel’s junk out of the way. “Eleven gold ones and one black.”
“Yes.” Anael nodded. “Eleven of them for the daughters and one for Abbas.”
“The black one, probably, since it’s the only one,” Tina murmured. “So, eleven coffins means that he had eleven daughters?”
“Yeah,” Haniel said. “Prva and Angelica are the last of them.”
“If Tina didn’t hallucinate Angelica.” Anael narrowed her eyes at Tina.
“I’m not in the habit of imagining things. I know what I saw. And I saw Angelica’s form above Petsha’s.” They had been through this already. The Numuns hadn’t believed her, especially Anael, even though Muriel had told them that he could feel weird vibrations coming from Petsha through his clone, but they attributed those to Petsha’s new powers. Just because Prva couldn’t feel her sister’s life energy since Angelica’s supposed demise didn’t mean she was dead, obliterated from the world. Yes, they had all witnessed part of Angelica’s energy disappearing in an explosion together with Trinity and Abbas, but they also saw a part of Angelica’s energy going into the blonde Deadeater.
“We will see if it’s true or not when Prva arrives,” Anael said before she went back to her motorbike.
“Prva is coming? Here? When?”
“Soon, probably,” Haniel said.
A soft whisper calling her name filled Tina’s mind, but she ignored it. “Didn’t she seal off the estate?”
“So?” Anael said, tinkering with the engine. “That doesn’t mean that she can’t come and go as she pleases, that just means that nobody except her or the Numuns can.”
“The seal allows anyone with Prva’s genetic code to pass through it,” Haniel explained. “Actually the Resting Circle works the same way, or so Prva said.” He tapped a wrench against his palm. “That’s why only the daughters and their descendants can open the gates of the New Dawn.”
“Only the daughters,” Tina repeated. That didn’t sound right. “Wait a minute. I was told that Angelica can’t enter the sacred place.” Had they been lying to her? But why would they? Or were they talking about another secret place? And what was the New Dawn? She thought that the place was called Resting Circle.
Haniel raised his brows.
“They are the same, right, the sacred place where Prva intended to hide Abbas and the Circle?” When Haniel nodded, Tina continued, “But in that case, how could you keep Angelica away from Abbas?”
“Oh, that.” Haniel waved his hand. “Angelica was -- is -- only energy and without her body she can’t pass through New Dawn’s arch.”
That made sense. Tina reclined back against the truck wall. The calls in her mind became louder. She should really go and see Damon. Yes, yes, she said to him. I hear you.
Then why aren’t you coming?
I will, soon. Tina crossed her arms. “I was also told that that only Prva knew the location of the place, but what about Damon? He knows it too.”
“You can’t locate it without the Eye of the New Dawn. The last I heard there were only two of them left, and Damon lost his,” Anael said.
“Are you trying to tell me that only Prva has one?”
“Yes, now stop asking questions. It’s annoying.”
“It’s not like you have to answer them,” Tina said to Anael and she would have stuck her tongue out at her, but then Anael, unpredictable and wild as she was, might use that knife of hers on it. “You could ignore me.”
“For that I would have to have ear plugs.”
Tina rolled her eyes. What was that supposed to mean? That she had an annoying voice? Whatever. “I’ll put ‘ear plugs’ on the shopping list. Just for you.” She gave Anael a fake smile.
“How sweet of you,” Anael hissed.
Haniel started to laugh.
“What?” Tina glared at him.
“You two are so adorable.”
“Don’t call me adorable.” Anael glared at Haniel.
A knife flew by and almost hit Haniel in the head, but he evaded it at the last instant. He chuckled. “But you are, Anael, you are.”
Another knife flew at Haniel; this time he caught it.
“I would love to stay and chat.” Tina slid off the counter. “But duty calls.”
“Damon?” Haniel asked.
“He’s been calling you a lot lately.”
“He’s getting stronger and he surfaces more often, that’s why.”
“But it’s like you are his babysitter.”
“Yeah, just don’t say that to him.” Tina wiggled out from between the motors and with a wave went out into the sunlight. Her ‘master’ was waiting for her.