Dark Heirloom (An Ema Marx Novel Book 1), page 7
The room was a foot longer than mine, with the same ordinary furniture. Oil paintings covered everything—the walls, the furniture, the floors, and even each other, being stacked several frames high on every surface. Dried paint splattered the wardrobe, and layers of rainbow-colored fingerprints stained the handle of the drawer in the nightstand. A desk peeked out from under piles of paper, paintbrushes, charcoal, used paper towels, stained plastic cups, and a mound of other things I didn’t recognize.
Paying close attention to my footing, I stepped around canvases, trash, and clothes until I stood in the center of the room. The cat waited by the door, his back arched, and watched me with curious green eyes.
I spun in a slow circle, taking in the whole of Jesu’s art. Most of them were landscapes and still life images. Some were portraits of people dressed in Renaissance, Baroque, or Victorian clothing. A few canvases looked abstract and unfinished. Those were all painted using globs of brown tints.
An easel with a canvas, covered by a dirty cotton sheet, sat alone in the far left corner. Tiptoeing around obstacles, I inched closer while trying to decide if I should unveil it. My fingers gripped the edge of the frayed sheet and lifted a corner.
I jumped. Why hadn’t I heard Jesu approaching? Oh yeah, soundproof rooms. Now his heart pounded, his seething breath a deafening contrast to the silence from before.
“I’m sorry.” I dropped the sheet and faced him. “I didn’t mean to snoop, I was just curious.”
I searched the floor for a clean space to step. Jesu stood in the only spot my legs could reach. He glanced around, looking everywhere except at me.
“I, ah, did not have time to clean. Please excuse the mess.”
I pushed past him and exited the room. I expected the cat to follow, but I didn’t see him anywhere.
“Hey, where’s the cat?”
Jesu’s eyes darted back and forth. “We do not have a cat.”
“But I saw—”
“No. We do not have a cat.” He shut his door.
How rude. I pounded on the egress.
He opened it a crack. “Yes?”
“Just what am I supposed to do down here?”
“Anything you like. Except snoop in my room.”
I sighed. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how to get out of here.”
His gaze lowered to the floor. “It is not all bad, is it?”
“Jesu, I had a life in Chicago. I had friends and family and…” I almost said and a boyfriend, but stopped, not sure if Anthony even knew I was missing.
Jesu winced. “I am sorry.”
I expected him to close the door again, but he didn’t. His lips pressed together and his eyes became distant as he contemplated. He spoke slowly, as though choosing his words carefully.
“Give my brother what he wants. The right story will earn your freedom.” He nodded to himself as if approving of his own idea, then he gently closed the door.
I stood in the hall, slack-jawed and blinking in disbelief. Was he telling me to lie to Jalmari?
Green eyes flashed in the mirror’s reflection. My mind refused to slow to a manageable speed as I poured more water into the basin. I scrubbed at my hands and face for the fifth time before rinsing. My reflection pulled on a black shirt and fastened the buttons.
Since Leena’s revelation of the girl’s identity, since my brother’s vision of the future had been set in motion, I could not quiet the voice in my head. Of course, we quarreled. I wanted to kill the girl, to end it now while she was weak and ignorant, but the voice said no.
Those were my orders; to watch, and wait, and keep her alive. Struggle as I did, I was obligated to obey the voice’s command. I was weak and pitiful in the face of my demon.
She will kill us, I argued. She will kill you, and so she will kill me.
“She does not know of me,” he replied.
She will learn.
“She is weak. You need not fear her.”
She will become stronger, and fear will be an ally then. Are you so ignorant that you cannot see what is in front of you? Do you not remember who destroyed you the first time? We must strike before she does.
“You will not disobey me, Jalmari. You will observe her only.”
She is not one of your experiments. She will doom us to hell as soon as she has the chance, do you not see how much she already loathes me?
“You are pitiful to fear a bitch.”
And you are a fool to underestimate her. What of the throne, will you risk it again after all the years of work and fighting you—we— have done to keep it?
“The throne is naught but a trophy we can win back.”
I growled at my reflection in the mirror.
What is so special about her that puts the throne in second place?
“Ah, but that is what you will observe. Could be it is nothing.”
You would risk the crown on the likely chance that she is ordinary?
“No, but I will risk the crown on the improbable chance that she is extraordinary. Royalty is a prize anyone can have, and I have never failed you that. This girl, on the other hand, is a rare commodity. She could be of great value.”
My frustrations sprang forth as a beastly roar, and I punched the mirror. A shatter echoed through the room as large cracks rippled from the center of the glass to the edges, and then froze in a fraction of a second. The mirror did not crumble as I’d hoped, but stood intact, the broken pieces distorting my face.
“It appears I have failed to teach you patience,” came the voice.
Patience is the reason you are locked in my consciousness.
“Patience is a vampyre’s virtue, and the reason I am not dead.”
I wished he were dead.
The voice growled at my bitter thought, but he could do nothing more than speak.
“You will observe her only.”
Yes, My Lord.
I spat into the basin, hating myself.
The sun sank below the horizon, signaling the start of my workday. He might not care about the throne, but I certainly did, and I had the right and responsibility to govern my people well. I would not yield and risk the well-being of my clansmen for him and his new plaything.
At least the rat was being watched. Jesu had taken a rather strong interest in her, and insisted that she room with him. I expected he would. It was his premonition, it was only natural for him to be curious. He would make good on his last word to our mother, of that I was certain, and I could observe the girl through my brother. The voice did not openly object to that.
Dematerializing my body, I sank into the floorboards and passed into the room below. Hovering two meters above the rug in my office, I tightened until I became solid again, then landed lightly on my feet.
I sat on the leather armchair behind my desk as Maria entered the room with a glass of B-Positive and a black folder. She placed both on my desk.
“Thank you, Maria.” I lifted the glass to my lips and took a long sip while opening the folder and reading my agenda for the day. “Any phone calls?”
“Yes, sir. The head of the R.E.D. called.”
“America, My Lord.”
I took another sip. “Wanting their report on the girl, no doubt.”
“Yes, My Lord. They know you are a busy man, but they worry, and it is not like you to fall behind in your work. Is everything well?”
I glanced to the side and wet my lips. I needed to learn to hide my stress better, especially if I was going to keep my crown. Of course, I was not overly surprised that Maria noticed my unease. As my third-in-command, and most trusted colleague, she was like a mother to me and knew me extremely well.
The phone on my desk rang before I could answer her. I picked up the receiver. “This is the head speaking.”
“Naamah, my friend, what’s the news?” As my second-in-
“Your Grace, there has been more talk of Victor recruiting men to lead in a revolt against us.” Naamah’s voice crackled into the phone.
I sighed. “There is nothing I can do about talk, Naamah. We need proof.”
“We have reason to believe he is planning a revolution, sir.”
“A new clan has given birth under the name of an old enemy, with branches in Madrid, Berlin, and, now, Helsinki. The Spanish and German R.E.D. officials investigated and reported Victor as their leader. We have every reason to believe he is leading the Helsinki branch as well, and could be tied into the rebel group.”
“Which clan name did they take?”
“The Akkadians, sir.”
My back stiffened. Now I understood why the Council suspected Victor. He was one of few vampyres left who remembered who the Akkadians were.
“Ah, the Akkadians.” The voice in my head conjured images of battles, fought alongside a much younger version of Victor, in ancient Babylonia.
I shook my head, trying to clear my mind of memories that weren’t my own.
“He is a good soldier. Loyal. Not like you.”
This man you speak of so highly is trying to overthrow us.
“You should not have stripped him of his title. He was loyal to me for hundreds of years. It was wrong of you to expel him from the Council.”
He committed a crime.
“He is a vampyre.”
“Your Majesty? Sir?”
“Will you shut up?” My fist pounded against the desktop, cracking the mahogany wood. Voi vittu! See what you make me do?
“I beg your pardon?”
“Jalmari!” Maria hissed. My head snapped in her direction. I had forgotten she was still in the room. Her eyes bulged from their sockets as she scowled at me. I cocked an eyebrow, not understanding. “You just told Naamah to ‘shut up’.”
I blinked several times, shocked at my own behavior, then held the receiver at arm’s length and cleared my throat. In my impatience with the second consciousness in my head, I’d accidently insulted a member of the Neo-Draugrian Council. I brought the phone to my ear again and tried to keep my voice even. “Naamah?”
“My sincerest apologies, friend. I was… distracted.”
“Of course.” He didn’t sound convinced.
“Um,” I cleared my throat again, unable to remember where the conversation left off before my outburst.
“The Akkadians, sir.”
“Right. I can leave for Helsinki tomorrow night. Invite dear Victor over for dinner. I’d like to settle this peacefully, if possible.”
“You must observe the girl.”
Jesu can watch her. This is more important.
“Very well, sir.”
“Naamah, I apologize, but I must call back later.” I hung up without a proper goodbye, cupped both hands over my face, and sighed.
“Your Majesty, you never answered my question.” Maria’s voice was soft, yet stern.
“Tell the R.E.D. they can expect their report in the morning, add that to my list.” I mumbled through my fingers as I held up the folder.
“That is not the question I was referring to.” She took the folder anyway. “Is everything well, My Lord?”
“No,” I sighed. “I need a new desk.”
Night fell over the island. Silver moonlight snuck through the tiny window above my bed, making the colors and small details of my room stand out. I thought I would feel tired, having been awake for almost twenty-four hours, but my eyelids weren’t the least bit heavy.
The deafening silence hanging in the air left me bored within minutes. I owned nothing other than a change of clothes and the toiletries in my backpack. All I had to occupy myself was the riddle Jesu left me with.
Give my brother what he wants. The right story will earn your freedom.
His words played over and over in my mind, until I was almost certain I had deciphered the meaning. Jesu wanted me to educate myself. Make up a lie, but make sure it was a good one. It had to be so believable that even Leena wouldn’t know it wasn’t true. It also needed to make me insignificant to Jalmari so he wouldn’t see any reason to keep me around. Only then, would I be free to go home.
But I couldn’t even imagine a lie that would work. I didn’t know why I was here in the first place, or why Jalmari hadn’t just killed me in the alley like he’d intended to. I didn’t know why I had become one of them, but I did know that Jalmari wanted answers just as much as I did.
Claws scratching against glass drew my attention to the window. The black cat sat just outside.
“How did you get out there?” I stood on the mattress so I could pull the glass pane up. The black creature glided onto my bed. “I wish I could fit through that window.”
I smiled as the cat rolled onto his back. I scratched his tummy. He closed his eyes and purred. I didn’t feel as silly talking to the cat knowing no one could hear me.
“You know, I can take you back to Chicago with me when I get out of here. Would you like that, kitty?” He cocked his head and opened one eye.
“I bet you would. We have more pigeons than you’d know what to do with. And rats. You can hunt them all day if you want.” He closed his eyes and purred while listening to my baby talk. I sighed.
“I wish I knew how to get out of here. This family is insane. You know that though, you hide whenever they come around. You don’t like them either, do you?”
“That’s because they’re jerks.” I wrinkled my nose. “You know what they did to me? Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now. The important thing is finding a way home. I miss my mom, and my ex-boyfriend.”
A weight lifted from my chest. Once I started confessing my feelings, I couldn’t stop. “I miss him so much. I didn’t even get to say goodbye, or tell him how I really felt.” I flopped back on the bed and closed my eyes. My heart ached, remembering Anthony, our last moments together.
“He cheated. After four years, he cheated on me. I didn’t have the heart to break up with him. I thought I would have plenty of time to talk to him about it later, after we both blew off some steam and everything settled down. And Mom? Who’s going to take care of her now? Who’s going to remind her to take her arthritis pills?” Opening my eyes, I realized the cat was tense and staring at me. I stroked his fur and he licked my fingertips.
“That’s sweet, cat, but I can’t feel a thing. They stole my ability to feel. They ruined everything. I’ve probably lost my job now, too.” My stomach knotted with homesickness. The cat sprang up and meowed, but I no longer wanted company.
“Leave me alone, I’m tired of petting you.” I turned onto my side.
The cat grabbed my sleeve with his teeth and pulled.
I swatted at him. “Stop that.”
His ears folded back as he hissed.
“Okay, this is why I don’t have pets, now get out!” I went to the door and opened it. “Go on, get lost.”
He approached the door, then stopped and sat midway between the bed and the threshold.
“Go. Out.” I pointed.
He narrowed his bright green eyes and then tackled the cuff of my pant leg, pulling me towards the doorway with his teeth.
I put my hands on my hips. “Are you actually trying to kick me out of my own room?”
The cat let go of my pants and nodded.
My jaw dropped. “Did you… did you just nod at me?”
He bobbed his head up and down again.
“You can understand what I’m saying?”
The cat nodded a third time.
He cocked his head. “Meow?”
I closed the door and faced the cat. “What’s two plus two?”
The creature meowed four times.
“Holy shit. What are
I crouched. “Okay, little guy. I know how hard it is to get help around here, so I’ll tell you what. I’ll help you out if you promise not to get me into trouble, deal?”
“This is so weird.” I sucked in a deep breath and stood. “Okay, what do you need help with?”
The furry thing pulled on the leg of my pants.
“You want me to follow you?”
“All right, lead the way then, little one.” I opened the door. He trotted down the hall and across the fourth wing, turning back every so often to see if I was still following. He led me into the dark, narrow corridor going to the first wing.
“Cat, I can’t see in there,” I complained. “Wait up for me.” I dragged my fingers along the stone wall as I followed the scent of wet fur. I knew how insane this was, but compared to vampires, hanging out with a cat didn’t seem that bad.
As we emerged together on the other side, we raced across the kitchen, down the dining room, and into the ballroom. I slowed to a stop in the middle of the room. Three young women dressed in cotton workers’ uniforms dusted the granite statues and polished the floor. They must have been the help Jesu spoke of. They ignored me while they worked in silence. I knew it was rude to stare, but I couldn’t help it. They smelled of nitrogen and sanitizer and they looked like me, completely white except for their black hair and black eyes. I approached the woman nearest me. “Hey, who bit you?”
She stopped dusting the marble man, dropped her chin, and lowered her gaze.
“Pyydän anteeksi, arvoisa rouva.”
The cat tugged the heel of my pant leg.
“Okay, I’m coming.”
He leaped across the ballroom and up the staircase. I followed him, taking the stairs two at a time. I expected to be out of breath when we reached the third floor, but to my surprise, I wasn’t.
The disgruntled voices of Jalmari and Leena pricked my ears. My mind told me the sound should have been muffled, but I could clearly hear every foreign word they spoke. I wish I knew what they were saying.