By Blood We Live Page 36

29

Justine

NIGHT AGAIN. DARKNESS goes into you like ink into water. Like. I keep seeing the ways things are like other things. Since Turning.

I thought Fluff would’ve been awake before me, but he wasn’t. I sat up and looked down at him. He was frowning, slightly. Sometimes, asleep, he looks about five years old.

Five years.

Twenty thousand.

One night, a few months after we met, he took me to a self-storage place out in Pasadena. U-STASH. It’s a chain. He owns it. A hundred facilities, nationwide. You’ve probably seen them: logo’s a big red packing crate on a yellow background. We went in and he took me to one of the units and opened it up. It was full of Egyptian treasure. Gold. So much gold. He said it was only a small part of it. Amenhotep the First. His tomb was never found. The tomb builders were kept in isolation in special villages so no one would find out where the king and his treasure was going to be buried. Sometimes, when the tomb was finished, the Pharaoh would have them killed to make sure. Stonk said he got the information from one of the workers in exchange for his life.

I left him sleeping in the vault, got dressed and went upstairs. The house knew I’d changed. The floor and the walls and the furniture. They were in on it.

There was something else. A faint throbbing I hadn’t felt last night. I stood still. It was a good, warm feeling now but I knew it wouldn’t feel good later, in a few days if I didn’t … if I didn’t …

Drink.

The thirst. For years the thirst meant him. Now it meant me. My skin prickled. I thought of the blood bags in the fridge—but that wouldn’t work yet. He’d told me it took years to make the shift. And even the thought of MREs sort of annoyed the thirst, put an edge on it like the smell of electrical burning. I tried to remember drinking his blood, but I couldn’t, even though my body knew it had happened. Instead of a memory of it there was just a massive red blackness. Just nothing.

For a while I stood in the kitchen doorway thinking about what I was, now. The reality of it. A vampire feeds on the blood of humans. Drinks it. Swallows it down. In the world I grew up in blood was something to be scared of. Hepatitis. HIV. (Stonk had shaken his head when I asked him. No, sweetpea, we don’t get diseases. Diseases can’t live in us.) In the world I grew up in blood was practically the dirtiest thing around.

I thought I’d got used to the idea. Drinking blood. But when I thought of myself doing it it made me dizzy and hot. Disgusted, too, a little. I told myself not to be shocked. It was stupid to be shocked. I’d known this was what it was, what it would be. I’d always known.

The study still smelled of bleach but there were no other signs of what had happened, what we’d done. I turned the desk lamp on and woke my laptop.

Finder.

Documents.

Files.

Encryption.

Enter password.

My hands didn’t move. The book title I’d noticed yesterday came back to me: You Can’t Go Home Again. It meant something different now. It made me doubt myself. I saw what Fluff had meant, that you couldn’t trust it, the feeling of things seeming to mean things. Or what he’d actually said was you had to trust it and mistrust it, to keep bouncing between the two. Be the loving servant of two masters, was the phrase he used.

Yeah, well, physician heal thy fucking self.

I entered the password.

The faces came up, the information.

30

Remshi

WHOEVER LOVED THAT loved not at first sight?

I loved Vali. But you’ll have worked that out by now.

All of it, once I was in it, felt as if it had happened before.

Naturally. Love being indefinite déjà vu.

The humans, in lousy furs, rattling with trinkets of teeth and bone, had been following the retreating ice north, and I’d been following the humans. Not just me. Fellow vampires Amlek, Mim, Una and Gabil were travelling more or less with me, though they were elsewhere that night. We were governed by an irregular familial gravity. We gathered for a while, lived and hunted as a group, separated, came together again. No obligations, no see you Friday or I’ll be back around seven. I’d made Amlek. Amlek had made Mim. Una and Gabil, two and three hundred years old respectively, had their own makers, but they’d have to trace back to me in the end. (The first question I asked any vampire I met was: How old are you? So far no one counted as many winters as I did.) But that particular night I’d felt like being alone, and I’d been around long enough to know when to follow my inclinations.

As I entered the clearing a gang of Homo sapiens were just about to hack the werewolf’s head off. She was impaled on a low tree branch, stuck with at least a dozen spears, one through the throat. (Not looking where I was going, she fessed-up afterwards. My own stupid fault. If I hadn’t stuck myself on that tree they’d never have got the spears into me.) Her hands, huge and elegantly clawed, had been cut off and lay among the frozen leaves on the ground.

Two humans with flint hatchets had climbed up (had been ordered to climb up, their wobbling faces said) into the tree above her and now stood, or rather crouched, ostensibly ready to deliver the decapitative coup de grâce, in fact wishing they were far away. The remaining fifteen ringed her, the boldest darting close—grinning and screeching and tongue-flapping and mooning—to add wounds with knives and darts, with which latter her torso was already liberally quilled. The full moon—the heavenly one—lit the forest’s slivers and gashes of stubborn snow. Lit too Vali’s wet snout and bloodied fangs, her glistening pelt, her hard bare breasts and flat, deep-naveled belly …

I can tell you what I did next. I can tell you exactly what I did next. But I can’t tell you why. Divine whim? A determined universe? Aesthetic indignation? Desperate boredom? Sheer randomness? Take your pick. These days my preference is for Mysterious Moments of Pure Being, wherein perhaps all the above meet in paradoxical simultaneity and you find yourself doing something with both a deep sense of inevitability and absolutely no clue why you’re doing it.

The two shivering ninnies in the tree first. She wouldn’t die from her wounds, but she would certainly die from having her head cut—or, as it would have been with these halfwits, bludgeoned—off. (These were pre-silver days, or at least, pre-worked silver; a handful of smarter-than-average primitives had found certain rocks gave the creatures trouble—argentine and chlorargyrite we now know, though at the time your grandsires simply called them “wolf rocks” or “monster rocks”—but bullets and blades were millennia away.) The forest was cold and crisp and full of dark consciousness. It had been a long time since I’d seen this sort of action, but there were my energies like loyal horses, rearing and snorting and pounding the earth. I held them for a moment (a long time since I’d felt this sort of physical self-delight, too, outside feeding) then released them, with a thirty-foot leap into the tree, where a nifty spring and flip had me hanging like a bat in front of human Tweedles Dum and Dee. There was of course the stretched moment of stunned introduction. Their faces, swiped with paint, achieved a lovely nude look of surprise that had the briefest moment to switch to one of terror and certainty of death before I despatched them with a pair of tracheal slashes. A moment later my lady’s would-be decapitators went sailing over their companions’ heads and disappeared into the darkness on the other side of the clearing.

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