Immortal Remains 2 - 30 Days of Night, page 24
Judging from some of the suspicious glares directed Eben’s way, the one who had spoken up wasn’t the only one who smelled daylight. Was it maybe because of how Eben had been turned, injecting himself with vampire blood in order to save his town?
Whatever it was, if he had to fight, he would do so. He wouldn’t win, not against these odds. But he’d take a few of them out with him, at least.
A tall, dark figure pushed through the gathered crowd, headed right toward Eben. Was this it?
Eben braced for the coming attack.
It took him a moment to realize that the figure was Dane, and his right arm was raised more as a shield than an attack. He swept up to Eben, lowered his arm over Eben’s shoulders, and spoke softly. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you, but not here.”
“Fine. I have plenty to show you as well.” Dane gave the crowd a confident, relaxed wave and led Eben away, pressing between vampires who, moments ago, looked like they’d as soon tear Eben’s head off as let him pass. Dane had chosen the least-defended direction, back toward the Lilith Room, but his entrance seemed to have defused the tension that had filled the hall like smoke from a fire, just moments ago. Eben could hear casual conversations, the scuff of feet as the crowd thinned, vampires wandering back to their feeding or other activities.
“Enok knows where Stella is,” Eben whispered, drawing Dane into the Lilith Room, which had emptied out. Except for Lilith, of course. “I have to warn her in case he goes after her while we’re here.”
Dane showed him a concerned face. “Okay, Eben. You’re going to be angry, but…she’s not there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“She went to Georgia. To deal with the pregnant girl. She asked me not to say anything to you. So you wouldn’t worry.”
“She did what?”
“She went with Andy Gray. They were leaving right after us.”
“Oh my God. I could kill you all. I would have told her not to go. Not till I came back, anyway.”
“Which might have been too late. The pregnancy was progressing way too fast for that.”
“I don’t care,” Eben snapped. “Why’s it even important?”
“Because it’s our first chance to really learn what happens when a human and a vampire reproduce,” Dane said. His tone made it clear that he considered that a foregone conclusion. Even if it was, Eben didn’t consider it more important than Stella’s safety. Not even in the same league.
He hadn’t liked Dane from the get-go. Not one bit. If Dane imagined that his precious crossbreed baby took precedence over Stella, then their tentative companionship would degenerate into a serious problem, in a hurry. He took Dane’s lapel in his hand and was about to tell him that, when Lilith’s voice sounded in his head again.
And here is the traitor. Dane.
“Who?” Dane asked aloud.
As an experiment, Eben tried thinking his response. You heard it, too? It’s Lilith.
But you—Dane thought at him.
Apparently I have some skills you didn’t know about. Neither did I, to tell you the truth.
I cannot say I am happy that you have come here, Dane, Lilith’s voice said. Eben knew from Dane’s puzzled expression that both could hear her. I had hoped never to encounter you again. Unless, of course, I was in a position to do you some terrible harm.
Dane glanced at her tortured body, prone on the altar. She didn’t look their way. I take it you’re not, at present, he thought.
Did I somehow give you that impression?
You don’t look very threatening from here.
After all these years, I am astonished that you still put stock in appearances.
A failing on my part, no doubt.
I have other concerns, little traitor, larger concerns than you, and—
Such as? Speak to me, dear Lilith, of such grievances.
A third voice in his head, this one deep, undeniably masculine, and with a reverberation that made the hairs on Eben’s neck stand straight up.
Enok. Lilith’s voice. She sounded frightened, which unsettled Eben all the more.
Of course, my dear Lilith. You did not think I had forgotten about you?
One must be sadly deluded. My thoughts are with you, Lilith, more often than you suspect. At times I peer into your mind just so I can enjoy your delicious suffering on the most visceral level, from the inside.
Pleasant, Dane’s voice said.
Don’t—Eben thought, then stopped himself, knowing anything he thought would be picked up by the others, including Enok.
You are correct, Eben Olemaun. While I am, for lack of a better phrase, inside your head, there is nothing you can think that I do not know at the same time you do. No matter how hard you try to suppress it—in fact, the harder you try the more apparent it becomes. Your beloved Stella Olemaun, for instance. You do not want to see her mangled corpse outside your cabin, with her head jammed onto the end of a fir branch and her blood painting the snow red. Your imagination is particularly vivid, too—see the way her left leg is twisted and cocked at such a strange angle, the knee snapped, a shard of bone thrusting out through flesh and clothing alike? See how her fingers are hooked into the snow, as if the pain of her last moments set her to digging. Does she, in your mind, think she can escape it by burrowing beneath the drifts?
Eben didn’t know what Enok or the others would think of his thoughts now, coming as they did not in linear word streams but in red and purple bursts of rage, images of Stella (as Enok had so vividly described), blue spikes of terror, outrage at being invaded in this fashion.
Be done with him, Enok, Lilith offered. He is of little importance.
Lilith, Lilith. I take great pleasure in your excruciating agony, but you are not the end-all of my existence, or my only interest, by any means. Just now, these two insects, in fact, are far more intriguing than you. In fact, I think I would like to see them. In person.
I don’t think that’s necessary, Dane thought.
But Eben already heard the shuffling of many feet outside the room. He cast a worried glance toward the doorway, which had been empty a minute before.
No longer. Now vampires filled it and streamed inside, deliberate, their gazes locked on Dane and himself.
ENOK RULED FROM a space that might have been a throne room from a Scandinavian folk tale, built for a woodland king.
Dane had expected genuine luxury, but that seemed to have escaped Enok’s capabilities here. The touches he had attempted, like the gold paint on his throne, he didn’t quite pull off. The paint had bubbled and chipped here and there, showing rough wood beneath, and Dane knew at a glance that the throne wasn’t real gold. The cushions on which Enok rested his scrawny rear weren’t hand sewn for him, but probably came from a discount department store down in Tromsø. Tapestries on the walls were copies, not originals—Dane had seen the original of one of them in an Austrian castle, fifty years before, and was pretty sure it remained there. Even the strip of red carpet that ran from the doorway to the throne, covering the plank floor, was worn, matted, and stained, more suited to a dormitory hallway than a ruler’s inner sanctum.
He didn’t feel Enok’s presence in his head anymore and wondered what the vampire would think if he knew Dane was reflecting on his failure to impress.
Beyond that, Dane was also rather terrified as to what would happen next.
Dane and Eben had gone along peacefully with the bloodsuckers Enok sent to bring them. They had been vastly outnumbered, making resistance quite possibly suicidal. Besides, he had known—as soon as he discovered Enok’s hand in this operation—that they would have to come face-to-face at some point. Easier to let Enok summon them than to try to fight their way to him. The room turned out to be on the level with the processing equipment, a level Dane hadn’t bothered to explore very thoroughly.
Enok leaned forward on his “throne”—really an oversized chair mounted up o
“My apologies for the rude way in which I greeted you both,” Enok said when they were brought in and released on the red carpet. His opening statement took Dane by surprise. “Honored guests, and the first thing I do is dip inside you like you are just two more of my playthings. I imagine that is what happens when one is essentially unchallenged in day-to-day living. Arrogance becomes habitual. Not pretty, is it?”
“It rarely is,” Dane managed to answer.
“And you, Eben Olemaun, I especially grieve for.”
“Because I owe you so much gratitude.”
Dane glanced at Eben, who clearly didn’t understand the comment. “Gratitude?” Eben repeated.
“Of course. You dispatched Vicente. And your wife—while she did not succeed in destroying her—undid Lilith to the point that I was able to best her easily. Two of my children, yes? But also two of my most powerful competitors. Now, no more challenges for me. With them gone, my power over the nightwalkers is essentially absolute. You, Dane. Your handful of followers are no more troublesome to me than maggots.”
“I don’t have followers,” Dane said.
“Exactly my point.”
“I don’t think you understand. I don’t have followers because I’m not some crazed demagogue, imagining that people consider me their leader just because I buy them off with easy food. I have allies, though. And they’re no maggots.”
Dane had intended this to be a reconnoitering trip, to find out what was taking place in this part of the world, who was behind it, then to possibly return with those allies, in force, to put an end to it. He had learned the answers to the questions, but had been found out too soon, too easily.
Now he had to face Enok, one-on-one—well, two, with Eben, but he didn’t really think Eben shared his particular philosophy. Dane and his friends hoped to achieve a balance with the human world, peaceful coexistence, a patch of dirt they could call their own. Eben was a walking contradiction—he seemed to want all vampires destroyed, and if the accomplishment of that goal was to include himself and Stella in that destruction, then so be it.
It had all gone so horribly wrong.
Enok’s likely response to his statement would be to kill them both immediately—if not with his own bare hands, then by ordering the hundred or so vampires who had escorted him and Eben here, and who now stood back against the walls of the vast room, to do it for him.
Instead, the self-styled leader of the nosferatu laughed, loud and long. “Well spoken,” he said. “But…how do the Americans say? Bullshit? But convincingly stated bullshit nonetheless.”
“I’d hate to think I did you any favors,” Eben said. Taking Enok’s attention onto himself and off Dane. Dane appreciated the effort. If they were going to beat Enok, they’d have to keep him off guard.
“That is only because you do not know me, Eben Olemaun. I am the sort who does favors in return. Even when I am vexed. Vicente, for instance—I kept his remains, after you vanquished him there in your little village. He performed some good turns for me over the years—centuries, really—and I just might decide to bring him back one of these days so I can do the same for him.”
“When it serves your own purposes,” Dane said.
“I said I am grateful, not stupid.” Enok—rather pointedly, Dane believed—looked away from him, focusing his attention on Eben. “Whether you accept this or not, you and your woman both did me favors. Favors of an enormous scope. And they are greatly appreciated. I could certainly do the same for you.”
“I don’t have anyone I want killed,” Eben said.
That’s a lie, Dane thought. Then again, Enok was lying too.
“Not the sort of favor I had in mind,” Enok said. “You did me a good turn. And by dispatching of Vicente—a powerful adversary, even for me—you proved that you would be a good addition to my…team? As the captains of industry say? What I am offering you is a future. Not a cabin in the snow, outside a pathetic little town that only desires your services when they are in dire need, and would rather pretend you do not exist the rest of the time. Think about it, Eben. Like it or not, you are vampire. Those you would protect despise your very nature. There are those who would consider you necessary, perhaps, but hardly popular. If they could do without you, they would do so and breathe a sigh of relief.”
“Those people know me!” Eben shot back. “They’re my friends, my neighbors. We’ve been through hell together. They wouldn’t turn on me.”
“Of course,” Enok said, not at all convinced. He settled back in his chair, no longer seeming on the verge of leaping out of it. Even so, he looked tense, restless. His long, thin fingers clicked against the armrests. “And whenever a human goes berserk and decides to murder a group of defenseless children, what is it they say? ‘He seemed like such a nice person.’ That does not mean they would trust him if he resided next door again after his incarceration, no? When you go into Barrow now, do they invite you into their houses for a drink, to share in good times?”
Eben didn’t answer. He chewed on his lower lip. “Don’t let him get to you, Eben,” Dane whispered, afraid that if Eben exploded, Enok would wipe him out on the spot. Then he would be left completely without allies here.
“Shut up,” Eben snapped.
“He’s working you.”
“I know. Just be quiet.”
“At my side, Eben, you would be treated the way you deserve to be treated. As a hero, a champion. Your beloved could join you, if you still want her. But if you would rather not, you could have your pick, some wonderful sport…what do you think, ‘Sheriff ’ Olemaun? Power beyond your wildest imaginings? Respect? The next phase in the evolution of planet Earth? Or would you rather remain the nuisance outside of town, the man no one really wants to see coming?”
“Fuck you,” Eben said. He sucked in a breath, swelling his chest. His fists were clenched so tight the knuckles had gone pale. “Fuck you and your next phase and your power. Do you honestly believe the shit you sling around, or are you just like one of those monkeys in the zoo, throwing it because you aren’t imaginative enough to think of anything better to do?”
Enok looked like he’d been physically struck. Dane felt a stirring of pride at Eben’s defiance. Enok’s reaction was different. “Take this pig away,” he said. “Get him out of my sight.”
The vampires who had been standing back swarmed around them again, dozens of hands clutching at Dane and Eben. “Not the other one!” Enok shouted over the sudden din, pointing at Dane. “Just Olemaun!”
Dane struggled to reach Eben, but the weight of the hands on him pulled him back. He caught Eben’s gaze, held it, but then Eben was dragged out of sight. Dane remained where he was, on the shabby carpet, surrounded by at least fifty vampires. “What about me?” he asked, bracing for the answer.
“You, insect, have done me no favors at all. Bork Dela was one of my best suppliers. His destruction has left a large void in my operation, and it will take some time to fill it properly. I owed Eben Olemaun a chance. You, I owe nothing. You are a special treat for those down below. Every now and then, I let them have a solid meal. They have to cut it into rather small pieces, but they find sport in that as well.”
To a vampire, being eaten by bug eaters was the ultimate humiliation. He must have really pissed Enok off. Despite the fear roiling in his guts, he couldn’t help smiling
“I amuse you? Really?” Enok went on. “You are a disgrace. Not even worthy of the name nosferatu. You bring dishonor to the species. Even Lilith deserves a better fate than you.” He waved a hand, dismissing Dane from his presence. The hands closed on Dane again, fingers digging in tight. “May these last few moments of your pathetic existence be as unpleasant as possible.”
EBEN OLEMAUN had known times of extreme terror before. Hiding in a basement watching, and worse, listening, when he couldn’t see through the dark and the driving snow, to his town being torn apart, life by life, soul by soul.
The most frightening moment might have been when he realized what he needed to do to save Barrow. In the first instance, he had always had Stella to lean on, had been able to draw strength from her seemingly bottomless reservoir of courage. In the second, however, he had been entirely alone. She would never have gone along with the idea, and he had to keep it hidden even from her—the hardest thing he had ever done, keeping that secret, harder even than plunging the needle into his vein.
Now he was alone again. Alone in terms of allies, anyway, much less friends. Or Stella, who he would probably never again see, never hold her, never smell the dry, slightly fruity aroma of her hair.
On Enok’s orders, the vampires had dragged him up to the second level, the one on which the majority of visitors seemed to spend their time, drinking blood from the taps of the floor’s many bars. They held him by the arms, the neck, the ears, the hair. Sharp-clawed fingers tore holes through his clothes. All the while, they called out to their fellows, in words he didn’t understand.
He could get the sense of it, though, from the looks that the others shot his way. Looks of pure hatred. They were calling him a traitor, or worse.