Sunshine, p.19
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       Sunshine, p.19

           Robin McKinley
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Chapter 19


  And Paulie had taken the early shift this morning. (He'd offered. ) Okay.

  My little excursion through nowheresville must have taken no time at all. One of the standard features of nowheresville, maybe, that made a kind of sense, but you didn't really expect your very own alarming out-of-this-world experiences to align with the science fiction you'd read as a kid. The science fiction you'd outgrown in favor of Christahel and The Chalice of Death. My eyes wandered involuntarily to the gem-festooned goblet. I had to admit my reading had sort of prepared me for an overheated fantasy like this room. About nowheresville I was on my own.

  Con didn't look as if he'd suffered any ill effects from his coma, or whatever it had been. I wondered what passed for a near-death experience in a vampire? A slightly misplaced stake? He'd been able to go out foraging, anyway: the bread and the apples were both fresh.

  "I wouldn't have expected you to. . . choose to sit next to a fire," I said, at random. Sitting next to a fire seemed like the sort of thing only silly, show-offy vampires would do. Like human kids playing chicken in No Town.

  He didn't say anything. Oh, good, we're playing that game again. I ate another apple.

  He raised his head and shook his hair back in an almost human gesture. Almost. "We do not need heat as you do," he said, and I expertly translated the "we" and "you" into "vampires" and "humans. " "But we may enjoy it. "

  Enjoy. I didn't enjoy thinking about vampires enjoying things. The things they tended to enjoy.

  "I enjoy it," he said, and, surprising me enormously, added, "it is the warmth of life and the heat of death. "

  Life as defined by warmth to a chilly vampire? Death by burning, death by the sun? Or the original death of being turned? Maybe he had been harmed by his coma: it was making him introspective. As being bounced off walls appeared to be doing to me.

  I took a deep breath. "I - I have had a - a feeling that all was not well with you - for some time," I said. "I think it began the night you - healed me. But it took me a while to - to figure out that that was what I was picking up. If I was. If you follow me. "

  "Yes," he said.

  He didn't say anything more for the length of time it took me to eat a fourth apple. Hey, they were small. Was it rude to eat, er, food, in front of a vampire? I'd done it before, of course. But if there was a future in congenial vampire-human relations there were grave (so to speak) etiquette questions to be addressed.

  "Will you tell me what happened to you?" I said, half irritated at the need (apparently) to drag it out of him, half astonished at my own desire to know. What was this, friendship? Big irony alert. Here we're both agonizing over this Carthaginian bond business and maybe it's only that we're learning to be friends. I could get into fireside sitting as the warmth of life too, probably. Hey, he was still a vampire and I was still a human and there was some other weird stuff, like transmuting and poisoned wounds and nowheresville. Not to mention going out in daylight.

  But if we were supposed to be friends, I was going to have to get used to the fact that he wasn't the chatty type.

  He said, musingly, as if he was listening to his own words as he spoke them, "I was more wearied by the effort to heal your wound than I realized at once. I had not, you see, ever attempted anything similar before. As I told you, I had to. . . invent certain aspects. Guess others. I am not accustomed to not knowing what I am doing. "

  One of the advantages of very long life. Lots of time for practice.

  "I was careless after I left you. I permitted myself to be preoccupied. I was. . . sensed. By one of Bo's gang. I needed to escape, and not to let her trace you through me. Another maneuver I am unaccustomed to is protecting the whereabouts of a human. "

  I had the feeling he was saying something more than, "And they weren't going to get anything out of me other than my name, rank, and serial number. " I wondered what a vampire address book would look like: would it have alignments rather than street numbers? What would an alignment index look like?

  Could one vampire steal another vampire's address book?

  "The first one called for assistance, of course; and they were very. . . persistent, when they caught the trace of you on me as well. I eluded them eventually. It was not easy. I came here. As you found me. "

  Naked in a dark empty stone room. Vampire convalescence gone wrong. "You mean you had been like that over a month? You schmuck, why didn't you call me before?"

  He looked up at me, and there was undeniably a faint smile on his face. It looked a little grotesque, but not too bad, considering. Nothing like as awful as his laugh, for example. "It never occurred to me. "

  I had said to Yolande: Vampires don't call humans, do they?

  He looked back at the fire. "Even if it had, I do not think I would have done so. It would not have occurred to me that you could assist in any way. "

  "You called me. You called my name. Once. I wouldn't have found you if you hadn't. "

  "I heard you calling me. You asked me to answer you. "

  "I called you to call me. "

  "Yes. Sunshine, do you wish me to apologize again? I will if you desire it. I could not have rescued myself. I was. . . too far away. But I heard you, and I could still answer. You came and. . . brought the rest of me back with you. I am grateful. I thank you. That is not the way I would have chosen to. . . leave this existence. The balance between us has tipped again. "

  "Oh, the hell with the damn balance," I said. "What I'm thinking is, if you hadn't needed to protect me, it would have been a lot easier, right? I weaken you, don't I? Aside from your having got tired already bailing me out that night. " With the blood of a doe.

  There were times, like now, when the feel of light and warmth was. . . different too. Different like seeing in the dark was different - but differently different. Different in a way I knew didn't come from a vampire. Is this simple nowness of awareness some gift from her?

  For a moment there were three of me: there was the human me. There was my tree-self. And my deer-self.

  Surely we outnumbered the vampire-self?

  "Weakened," he said thoughtfully. "I think your interpretation of weakness may be distorted. I am physically stronger than any human. I can go without sustenance for longer than any human. But you can derive sustenance from bread and apples, which I cannot. And you can walk under the sun, which I cannot. How do you define weakness?"

  I was thinking about my experience of bringing the rest of him back. It was a little difficult not to think about comparative weakness when only one of you could fling the other one across a room and into a wall and you were the one that got flung. Okay, I was not going to pursue that line. I sighed. He had already told me he couldn't stand against Bo alone. Choosing me as an ally might have made more sense to me if getting calories out of bread and apples and going around in daylight had any discernable relevance to the issue. "Where am I?"

  I thought he looked puzzled. Another of those vampire-senses-are-different moments, I suppose. "This is my. . . home," he said at last.

  "You don't call it home," I said, interested.

  "No. I might call it my. . . earth-place, perhaps. I spend my days here. I have done so for many years. "

  "Earth-place? Then we are underground?"

  "Yes. "

  "What about the fireplace?"

  He looked at me.

  "Doesn't the smoke say 'Someone's here'?"

  "The smoke is not detectable in the human world. "

  Oh. Vampires would hold a lot more than one-fifth of the global wealth if they patented a really good air filter. The cynical view of the Voodoo Wars is that the Others had done us humans a favor, by killing enough of us off and thus lowering the level of industrial commerce to a point that we hadn't managed to commit species suicide by pollution yet, which we otherwise might well have. Even if they looked at it this way, which I doubted, this would not have been pure philanthropy. Demons and Were
s, whichever side of the alliance they'd been on, need most of the same things we do, and vampires. . . well. Maybe it depends on your definition of "philanthropy. "

  I looked around a little more. The only light was from the fire, and my dark vision was sort of half-confounded by something about this place, maybe just the thundering excess. Still, I could see a lot, and it was all pretty bizarre. The fur I was wrapped up in appeared to be real fur, long and silky, in jagged black and white stripes. I couldn't think what animal it might be. Something that didn't exist, perhaps, till a vampire killed it. With the slinky black shirt - and the bruises - I felt like something off the cover of this month's Bondage and Discipline Exclusive. All I needed was ankle bracelets and a better haircut. The buttons on the back of the sofa I was lying on were tiny gargoyle faces, sticking their tongues out or poking their fingers up their noses. Every now and then they weren't faces at all, but pairs of buttocks. The sofa itself was some kind of purple plush velvet. . . except that the shadows it laid were lavender. Well, if I could travel through nowheresville I suppose I shouldn't protest about shadows that were lighter than their source, or about furs from animals that didn't exist. My knowledge of natural history in black and white didn't extend much beyond skunks and zebras anyway. Maybe it did exist, whatever it was. The fur could have been dyed, but somehow this didn't suit my idea of vampire chic. Actually Con didn't suit my idea of vampire chic. This hectic Gothic sensibility was a surprise. "Interesting decorating principles," I said.

  He glanced around briefly, as if reminding himself what was there. "My master had a sense of the dramatic. "

  I was riveted both by my master and had. As in used to have, as in dead, rather than undead? "Your master?" I said experimentally.

  "This is his room. "

  Silence fell. Con returned to staring motionlessly at the fire. So much for leading questions. I sighed again.

  Con, to my surprise, stirred. "Do you wish to hear about my master?" he said.

  "Well, yes," I said.

  There was a pause, while he, what? Organized his thoughts? Decided what to leave out? "He turned me," he said at last. "I was not. . . appreciative. But I was apt to his purpose. As there was no going back I agreed to do as he wished. " Another pause, and he added, with one of those more-expressionless-than-expressionless expressions, like his more-than-stillness immobility: "A newly turned vampire is perhaps more vulnerable than you would guess. I was dependent on my master at first, whether I wished it or not, and I. . . chose to let him teach me what I needed to know to survive. That was many years ago, when this was still the New World. "

  Eek, I thought. Three or four hundred years ago, give or take a few decades, and depending on which Old World explorers you are counting from. That can't be right: if he was that old, he shouldn't be able to go out in moonlight.

  "He wished to rule here, when the Liberty Wars came, at least. . . unofficially. "

  The standard human slang was below ground and above ground. Unofficially would be below ground: being the biggest, nastiest junkyard dog of the dark side. Officially would still be pretty unofficial: control another two-fifths of the world economy, presumably, and make our global council into a bit of window-dressing.

  "He might have succeeded, but he had bad luck, and a powerful and bitter enemy with better luck. There were not many of my master's soldiers left after the Liberty Wars. I was one. Much of my master's vitality left him with the ruin of his ambition. He turned collector instead. Those of his soldiers that had survived the Wars left or were destroyed, one by one, till only I remained. When my master also was destroyed, I was left alone. "

  I was glad of the warmth of the fire. Con's voice was low and, as ever, dispassionate, and I had no clue whether he'd been, you know, fond of his master in any way, maybe after he'd got over being un-appreciative of having been turned. What purpose had Con been apt for? I was sure I didn't want to know. Good. One question that probably wouldn't get answered that I didn't have to ask. Why had Con stayed when everyone else left? I remembered him saying a month ago: There are different ways of being what we are. His master before the Liberty Wars sounded like your common or garden-variety world-takeover odin vampire thug, and a powerful one at that. So why had Con stayed? Con who didn't even run a gang now. More questions not to ask for fear he would answer.

  But I didn't have much clue about the working range of vampire emotion. Blood lust. What else? (Other kinds of lust? Maybe it had been. . . life lust, earlier. No, I wasn't thinking about that. ) Did Con get over being unappreciative by getting over being able to feel appreciative? No - Con had just told me he was grateful for being rescued. But gratitude might be a human concept, applicable merely to a situation that demanded some kind of courtesy, as pragmatically meaningless as thank you. Well, at least he'd, hmm, felt that courtesy was demanded.

  And then there was Bo. The inconvenient bond between Con and me that we were trying to, um, strengthen, without, um, intensity, was because of Bo's threat to both of us. I did not like where this thought was going.

  "Your master's bitter enemy. . . was it Bo?"

  "No. Bo's master. "

  Oh well that made it all better immediately. I stuffed a handful of fur in my mouth to stop myself from whimpering.

  Con looked up at me. Perhaps he thought the bread and apples hadn't been enough and I was still hungry. "I destroyed his master. It's only Bo now. "

  I bit down on the fur. Pardon me, I thought, if I don't find this information overwhelmingly reassuring. Only Bo. And his gang, which had chained Con up in a house by a lake not too long ago from which he escaped only by a very curious chance. Con might not fall for that one again but no doubt there were other possibilities. Bo could be assumed to be the resourceful kind of evil fiend. Another of those possibilities had almost got Con a month ago, for example. Why didn't Con want to post an ad in the sucker personals - there had to be hidden vampire zones on the globenet - asking for his old comrades in arms to return for a bit and give him a hand? He could pass out the contents of his master's old room as reward, since he didn't seem too interested in them. If those were real gemstones in my absurd goblet, it was probably worth the national debt of a medium-sized country.

  Why didn't he just run a gang, like a normal vampire of his age? Who should have to because he couldn't go out in moonlight any more.

  There were so many questions I didn't want to know the answers to.

  I pulled the fold of fur back out of my mouth again, and tried to smooth it down. Teethmarks, not to mention spit, probably lowered its value. I felt horribly tired, and alone, despite my companion. Especially because of my companion. I picked up the goblet again - it nearly took two hands; two hands would certainly have been easier, I was just resisting the idea of needing two hands - and teetered it toward my mouth. As it had seemed a long time before the wine hit the bottom pouring it in, it seemed rather a while before it touched my lips, tipping it back out. Drinking straight from the bottle, however, didn't seem like an option. Not in this room. In Con's room maybe - the empty one with no furniture. And no fire.

  I wanted mountains of dough to turn into cinnamon rolls and bread, I wanted an unexpected tour group on a day we're short of kitchen staff, I wanted a big dinner party to ask for cherry tarts, I wanted to curl up on my balcony with a stack of books and a pot of tea, I wanted Mel's warm, tattooed arm around me and daylight on my face. I wanted to go home. I wanted my life back.

  I had been here before. I had once had all that, and I drove out to the lake one night to get away from it.

  "What is this thing, anyway?" I said, heaving the goblet up. I conceded, and used two hands. It could be a loving cup. First prize in vampire league sports. You didn't fill it with champagne, of course; you cut off the heads of the losing team and poured their blood in. Champagne later maybe when they ran out of the hard stuff.

  "It is a Cup of Souls from the ceremony of gathering at Oranhallo. "

hat?" I put it down hastily. Just stop asking questions, Sunshine. No wonder it goddam tingled against my goddam hand. Nobody knows where Oranhallo is. Well, nobody who knows is telling the rest of us. It's not a big issue on the Darkline but it is one of the things that keeps coming up. Among the people who think it exists somewhere you could describe by latitude and longitude, none of the plausible guesses are anywhere near New Arcadia. But there isn't any consensus on whether it is a geographic place or merely a part of the rite. It is a big magic handlers' rite, done by clan. The Blaises probably knew how (and where) to do it, but I didn't. I didn't know anything about cups of souls or ceremonies of gathering, but I didn't want to.

  "It is one of the few articles in this room that my master was given," said Con. "Usually there was some constraint involved. "

  I bet there was. "Why would a magic-handler clan want to give something like this to a master vampire? Especially a master vampire. "

  "It was not freely given," Con said after another of his pauses. "But it was offered and accepted as payment for a task he had undertaken that was to their mutual benefit. There was some choice about the conclusion to this task. This reward was proposed as persuasion to make one choice instead of another. The Cup carries no taint that might distress you. "

  And your gracious dining accessories don't run to wineglasses from Boutique Central. "Then why does it buzz against my skin?" I said crossly.

  "Perhaps because it was the Blaise clan that possessed it," said Con.

  I jumped off the sofa, staggered, bumped into the little table, and heard the goblet crash to the floor as I ran off into the darkness. I didn't get far; Con's master had been a very enterprising collector, and I wasn't up to the weaving and zigzagging to make my way through the spoils. I collided with something that might have been an ottoman almost at once, and hit the floor even harder than the goblet had, although I didn't spill. Further note on vampire emotions, if any: don't expect a vampire to understand the turbulence of human family ties - including broken ones - or maybe it's that vampires don't get it about cowardice, and how a good sound human reaction to unwelcome news is to try and run away from it.

  I picked myself up. More bruises. Oh good. It wasn't going to be a mere matter of high-necked T-shirts this time; I was going to need an all-over bodysuit plus a bag over my head. I turned around slowly, balancing myself against some great furled spasm of plaster that might have counted, in these surroundings, as an Ionic pillar. Con was standing up, facing me, his back to the fire, haloed by its light. Maybe it was my state of mind, but he suddenly looked far larger and more ominous than he had since before I knew his name. I couldn't see his face - maybe my dark vision had been further unsettled by my fall - but there was something wrong about his silhouette against the firelight; something wrong about him being surrounded by light at all. I remembered what I had thought that first time, by the lake: predatory. Alien. He wasn't Con, he was a vampire: inscrutable and deadly.

  I made my way back toward the fire. I don't know if I wanted to reclaim Con as my ally, if not my friend, or if it was that there was no point in running away. I had to pass very close to him to reach the fire; there was only one gap among all the arcane bric-a-brac that would let me through. I knelt on the hearthrug - at least there was a hearthrug, even if the hairy fanged head at one end of it didn't bear close examination - and held my hands out toward the fire. It felt like a real fire. More important, it smelled like a real fire, and when I leaned too close the smoke made my eyes sting. It spat like a real fire too, and since there was no fireguard a spark fell onto the hearthrug. I glanced down; the hearthrug was unexpectedly unprepossessing, the fur short and brownish and patchy, having had sparks fly into it before. A few new burns wouldn't ruin its looks because it didn't have any. I felt hearthrugish. I'd never worried about my looks much; I had always had other things to worry about, like making cinnamon rolls and getting enough sleep. But I was beginning to feel rather too burn-marked. Like I'd been lying too near a fire with no fireguard.

  Did I hear him sit down near me? You don't hear a vampire coming: I knew this by experience. But this wasn't any vampire; this was Con. I'd already promised to help him, if I could, because I needed his help. No. I hadn't promised. But it didn't matter. The bond was there. I hadn't ratified any contract, I'd woken up one morning to discover fine print and subclauses stamped all over my body. If I wanted a signature, it was the crescent scar on my breast. It meant I heard him coming even when I didn't hear him coming.

  I waited a moment longer before I turned to look at him. Vampire. Dangerous. Unknowable. Seriously creepy. This one's name was Constantine. We'd met before.


  "What do we do now?" I said.

  "I take you home," said Con.

  "Okay, that's today. What about tonight? Tomorrow?" I said.

  "We must find Bo. "

  My stomach cramped. Maybe it was just the apples. I also had to learn that shilly-shallying was not a vampire gift. I wondered if I could teach him to say "perhaps" and "not before next week. "

  I knew this wasn't going to be a matter of loading up on apple-tree stakes (or table knives) and knocking on Bo's front door. "You don't know where he, uh, lives. "

  "No. I had only begun to search, since our meeting by the lake. He is well defended and well garrisoned. "

  I glanced up at the invisible ceiling. Given the furnishings the ceiling was probably phenomenal. Or antiphenomenal: like Medusa's head or the eye of a basilisk. "I hope you are better defended," I said.

  "I hope so too. "

  I didn't like hearing a vampire talk about hope.

  "My master specially collected things that defend, or could be turned to defense. He felt that his attempt to win what he desired by aggression had failed, and he wished his subsequent seclusion to be uninterrupted. "

  Gargoyles and tchotchkes: the vampire arsenal.

  "I have always preferred solitude, and have improved on his arrangements. I have some reason to believe that if I never left this place no one would be able to come to me. "

  "You are forgetting the road through nowheresville," I said. Feelingly.

  "I am not forgetting," he said. "I am assailable by you in a way I am assailable to no one and nothing else. "

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