THE pain was worse when he moved. Or when he blinked, or when the wind blew. The trembles started while he was still on the boat. Now he was shivering and sweating. And panting and drooling. He was at his limit. When all of this was said and done, he’d find out what spell the pythia used on him and then find a counter spell, have a bunch of it made and carry it on him always. There was no way he could go through this kind of pain again. His very bones felt as if they were trying to rip apart, muscles strained to the max and nerves alight with cold fire that made his face and neck tingle with numbness. God, he was dying, he just knew.
Chrysanthe shot him a worried look. “Nearly there.”
Good, you stupid cow. I’m about to die.
He’d have to remember to repeat the words aloud when he could speak again. That was if he didn’t die in the next five minutes because he was pretty sure he was about it kick it.
The group stopped and Tristan looked up, surprised. He had no concept of time anymore, only that the sun was nearly set. Ash would be awake already. At home, she’d be standing in front of a mirror right about now, brushing out her new haircut. She didn’t seem to like it much at first, but then it grew on her and she loved it, the subtle change that it was.
Tristan remembered the first time he realized that Ash had a reflection in the mirror. How she laughed and laughed. She’d said that while she admired Mr. Stoker and his brilliant work, he’d gotten much about the race wrong. In older times, yes, some of the things he wrote on were indeed true, but that wasn’t the whole truth of it. It was more of the perceived truth her kind held onto. The older of her kind were a fiercely superstitious bunch and often were afraid to deviate from this perceived truth—such as having to travel with the earth of their birthplace. It took vampires into nearly the seventeenth century to realize the folly of that “truth”.
He swayed, looking up at the house in front of him. His mind had wandered and he wasn’t sure how long. It felt like years he’d been standing there, waiting for the door to open. Someone did remember to knock, right?
The other two exchanged a look when their knocks went unanswered. With a nod to his partner, Silas opened the front door and let them in. Tristan, unable to walk on his own anymore, was dragged in by the elf.
Chrysanthe scoffed, cowering as she covered her mouth and nose with a hand. “Old tosser.”
God, the smell. “What…what’s…,” were all the words Tristan could mutter. If this spell Chrysanthe’d slapped on him didn’t kill him that smell alone just might do it. The air was heavy with it, they could taste the sour earth mixed with the bite of metallic electricity and rotting greens.
“Oh dear, don’t worry. I promise he’s one of the best. An antediluvian.”
Silas held back the curtain that blocked the doorway out of the foyer. The cloth was stained with smoke from the old pythia’s pipe, potions for relaxation and other… alterations of the mind. Chrysanthe nodded and walked into the next room, immediately regretting not buying the facemask Silas had once, in all seriousness, suggested they use when they visited the old antediluvian.
“You’re behind, bygone--belated!” an old voice called out from deep in the room. “L—late!”
The few bare bulbs strung across the room like ugly Halloween decorations were clustered with flies and moths, trying to suicide themselves from the looks of it just to be free of the suffocating, dense air.
Silas floated into the room, despite supporting most of Tristan’s heavier weight. The elf knew the pile of books on the left hand wall hid a sofa and went over, avoiding tripping on books and alchemy supplies. Chrysanthe helped sweep the books aside, clearing off the sofa, inciting a string of Greek curses flung at them.
“Oh dear, no need to be rude,” she answered to the swearing and waded through the room to the source of the voice.
Silas, left alone with their “captive”, lowered Tristan to the sofa. The elf’s hand actually felt cold to Tristan when it was placed on his forehead. Silas frowned down at him, thinking he looked like death, all pale and covered in sweat from a fever that was quickly overtaking him.
“Chrysanthe,” the elf said softly but firmly, by way of warning.
“I know, love.”
Tristan’s eyes widened. “You… talk?”
The elf cracked a small smile and slipped off his glasses. Tristan gasped when he finally saw the man’s eyes for the first time, the startling unnatural, bright fuchsia that they were. “She usually talks enough for us both.”
Tristan snorted a laugh and his eyes rolled back at the over exertion. He was about to lose consciousness. It was a miracle he lasted this long. “I don’t feel so good,” he whispered through the panting. His chest was tight; it was so hard to breathe.
“Chrysanthe,” Silas warned again, louder.
“I know!” She cleared her throat as if to clear away her outburst and smoothed her hands over her skirt. She hated that she needed to rely on this man for anything, but it couldn’t be helped, his magic was stronger and that was that. She only wished he had better housekeeping and hygiene habits. “Aggi, dear?”
“Stay, stall--stop calling me that!”
She smiled, turning a stack of books taller than her. “Oh dear, are you not ready?”
The old man looked up from where he was bent over a table. His salt and pepper hair was a wild beehive of a mess, twisted and filled with twigs. He was short for a man, close to five feet, but not quite. Some of his stature was due to the kyphosis bowing him over. His hands were gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis and shaky but he moved with a surprising deftness that proved his strong will.
The table he worked at was covered with shit, not an inch of it showed between plants—potted and uprooted, glass cylinders, books, papers, matches, foils of gold and other metals, wooden rods and metal… all the tools of a pythia. Or rather, all the tools of the most disorganized pythia to ever exist. The disorganization almost disgusted Chrysanthe more than the smell.
“Lurch, lag--late!” the old man screamed again, wrinkled hands shaking as he reached for an ingredient and ended up knocking over a vile of something clear that fizzed when it soaked a strand of yew.
Chrysanthe crossed her arms over her chest and pouted at him. “You look a fright, Aggi, dear.”
The old man harrumphed. “Not all women share your position, point--perspective.”
Now it was Chrysanthe’s turn to harrumph. “You’ve been transmuting gold again, haven’t you?”
The old pythia only scowled at her, telling her she was right.
“He’s not well.”
“Should have theorized, think--thought of that before you spelled him. You knew you were misfiring.”
Chrysanthe tensed and forced herself not to look back at the scowl she knew Silas inevitably wore.
The old pythia looked past her to the American on the sofa, hands constantly moving as he finished off the spell he’d been working on. Despite the shakes in jitters his old body gave him, he was very deft with his work. He was told to have it ready before the others arrived and that he wasn’t could mean his life if he didn’t save Tristan’s. His employer was a very precise man.
“You, elf, take that off his arm.”
Silas didn’t argue despite knowing he was just called elf in the derogatory way and not as a simple statement of identification. He went to a nearby table to root around the antediluvian’s things until he found an old hand-powered cutting tool to remove the cast on Tristan’s left wrist.
“I’m ready,” the old antediluvian muttered. “You’re late and I’m ready. Been ready before today, recently, yesterday and more. Motion, maneuver--move.”
Chrysanthe sighed as she side stepped out of the old man’s way. He moved with an unsteady gate, but seemed confident where he placed his feet despite the fact that he was nearly blind and his robes looked very heavy—the weight of his spells, no doubt. “Shouldn’t you spell yourself young already, Aggi? I mean, how much longer can you function like this? You’re at a great risk like this…”
His bushy brow rose, showing a clear glimpse of his grey eyes. “You younglings and your fears, don’t trust your own selves enough. Spiteful, shameful--stupid.”
She just huffed, following the old man as he nimbly made his way to Tristan through the piles of junk. Old and shaky, but he was quick and sharp. Perhaps Chrysanthe had misjudged him.
“Are you done yet, elf? Don’t have all dawn, diurnal--day.”
Silas rolled his eyes but stepped away, taking the last of the cast material with him. He returned the hand cutter where he’d found it and then looked for a trashcan. Realizing such a thing didn’t exist in this place Silas just threw the trash onto the table. Chrysanthe, having been watching him, smirked when he turned and they met eyes. He just smiled and shrugged.
“All right here, let’s see what’s left of the buck, baby--boy.” The old man leaned over, inspecting Tristan up close as if he were some sort of book to be read. Tristan wasn’t even conscious anymore, his breathing dangerous shallow. “Could have brought him sooner.”
“Boat only moves so fast, Aggi.”
“Mainland? I see. Elf. Come here. Control, clasp--clutch him down. He’s not going to like this.”
“He has a name, Aggi,” Chrysanthe snapped bitterly. “And it’s not bloody elf.”
Without complaint, Silas did as he was told and went over to sit on top of Tristan, straddling his waist, fingers wedged between teeth to hold Tristan’s mouth open. The antediluvian opened the flask he’d been clutching and with no real ceremony or care, upended it into Tristan’s mouth. There wasn’t much, but much wasn’t needed with good, solid magic. Tristan immediately choked and spit it out. Having expected as much, the antediluvian grabbed for the nearby nasogastric feeding tube.
“Wait, what about a laryngoscope, you could hurt—”
Tristan’s body convulsed and Silas bore down on the larger man, fighting to keep him pinned while the old pythia had his way with him. Instead of his nose, the pythia shoved the tube straight down Tristan’s throat. The tube went in, but at what cost, the group wouldn’t know until it was all said and done. The last of the potion in the flask went easily down the tube and into Tristan’s belly, his unconscious body still fighting the tube.
“You’re too rough, Aggi,” Chrysanthe hissed.
“Done what needs to be done. Die, depart--demise, this is the way to live.”
The tube came free as the old pythia whispered a few words of incantation. Tristan’s eyes popped open and he swung out. The old man moved much faster than he should have and it was Silas who took the hit. The elf grunted as he tumbled back and off Tristan. Both men were on their feet at the same time, gun and sword pointed at each other.
“The fuck is wrong with you people!” Tristan screamed and then touched his throat where it ached. He could taste blood and wondered if it was his own or not. “About killed me!”
“Place, plop--put those away.”
Tristan snapped around to look at the old man, pointing the gun at him. “Who the fuck are you?”
The hunched old man furrowed his brow. “Agamemnon,” he answered frankly as if everyone knew that.
“Oh, well that answers everything. And you,” he turned to Chrysanthe. He grabbed her arm and shoved the gun under her chin. Silas immediately reacted but she waved him off despite the fear in her eyes. “You nearly killed me. What happened to your strong magic, huh?”
“It was a mere miscalculation, Tristan. I never meant to harm you.”
“Miscalculation!” Agamemnon harrumphed and turned away to shuffle off. “It had nothing to do with calculations, computing--contrivance. Foresight! Now that’s what was lacked here. Younglings and their narrow sight.”
“Pardon?” she snapped.
“Your miscalculation had nothing to do with masses, meeds--measures… this man’s different. But you already knew that, Chrysanthe. We all know that, universal truth.”
Everyone was now staring at the old man as if he’d sprouted a third head, the second being the nest of salt-and-pepper hair atop his head in the shape of the Tower of Pisa. Tristan was sure he heard an animal moving around in there. “You know me?”
“Heavens me and by the Goddess, everyone knows you, Tristan of the Blum, Tristan of the Uruwashi. The last Uruwashi, death raven. Bonny, bewitching--Beautiful Death.”
Tristan lowered the gun and flicked the safety back on but didn’t bother to put it away. He felt better with it in his hand, especially since he was, obviously, getting better at a quick draw and remembering to remove the safety. He wouldn’t make that mistake again, not like in France.
“What the fuck is going on?” he asked, looking to Chrysanthe and Silas. When he met eyes with the elf, the other man sneered, clutching his jaw where he’d taken the hit.
Good, Tristan thought.
“Why did you almost kill me and who the fuck is Stuttering Steve here and why does heavens me and by the Goddess, everyone know me?”
“Agamemnon!” the old man corrected from the back of the stuffy room.
“Wait, what?” Tristan spun around to look at the old man but there was no one there, just the noise of someone digging around in metal pots. “Isn’t that some guy in mythology? Like… something to do with Troy?” He hadn’t really heard it the first time the old man said it, but now he was sure he knew that name.
“Not myth, absolute, actual--authentic!” The man scoffed. “American’s, so ignorant.”
“Tristan I—” Chrysanthe took a step back when Tristan spun to face her again. “I truly am sorry. I hadn’t meant for you to—”
“Die? No, ‘course not. Then I wouldn’t find that nameless man for you.”
The old pythia’s head popped up from behind a table. “Man? What man?”
Chrysanthe looked upset and nervous as she fiddled with the folds in her skirt. “I really hadn’t meant for it to go so far. I only meant for a mild persuasion, but you’re not normal, Tristan. There’s something very wrong with you.”
Sure, blame it on the Uruwashi.
Silas grunted a noise that might have been a laugh, though his companion was being deadly serious.
“I’m only half Uruwashi.” He made it a statement because, despite what Yuki may have guessed or not guessed, he was sure of it. He had to be sure about something in his life.
“Funny, flaky--fool! Of course you’re not just Uruwashi. You’re much myriad, multifarious--more than that. Everyone knows that.”
Not everyone. “Everyone who?” Tristan asked as he slowly moved through the mess towards the old pythia. “The vampires?”
The old man was still out of sight but Tristan could hear where he was as he continued to dig for whatever it was he was looking for on the floor behind that table. “Vampire? No, no, they care only about blood. And sex. Pythia, we charge, consternation--care about… the world, know everything’s that meant to be known in it.”
“Because of Lilith?”
“Lilith!” The old man popped up, startling Tristan. He’d added to his beehive hairdo a set of welding goggles. A long pipe with something dark smoldering in the bowl hung from his mouth, clutched between yellow teeth. “How is the old girl? I haven’t seen her in anile, antiquated--ages!”
“Blind and mute.”
“Oh.” The pythia frowned and it seemed to pull his whole face down with it. All those wrinkles gathered in his chin. “Oh, I see. So it’s her time, is it? That’s a shame.”
“Do you know what else I am?”
Agamemnon narrowed gray eyes on Tristan, smacked his cracked lips around his pipe. “Regardless of my knack, ken--knowledge, I couldn’t tell you. Wouldn’t, in fact. No, no, a pythia’s job is to tell what they see, not seek to tell.”
“But you see what I am, don’t you?”
The old man looked confused a moment, those gray eyes nearly hidden behind his caterpillar eyebrows studying Tristan deeply. “No. Not spy, spot--seen.”
Behind the two, Chrysanthe was nervously wringing her hands together.
“Chrysanthe!” the old man suddenly shouted.
She started. “Yes?”
Chrysanthe reluctantly weaved her way around towards Agamemnon.
“Now, wait a minute,” Tristan snapped as the old man seemed to have forgotten him and dig around the table again. “Do you know what I am or not?”
“Young man.” Agamemnon stopped fussing about the table, hands resting on top as he glared at Tristan through those eyebrows. “Do you know what happens when you piss off a pythia?”
He flinched back a step. “N—no.”
The old pythia lifted his chin. “Then stop pissing me off. Wrist is fasten, forged--fixed. I’ve no more business with you.”
Chrysanthe chuckled and came around from behind Tristan, shoving past him to go to the old man. “This here.”
“Let’s see now…” Agamemnon took the paper and opened it, turning it to the right and then the left. Upside down and righted again. Grunted. “Your art’s just as bad as before,” he muttered in ancient Greek.
Chrysanthe, not so old, didn’t understand some of the words but understood enough to laugh. As the two fell into soft conversation in Greek, Tristan huffed and turned away, looking around the dimly lit room. He still felt a little sick and his throat hurt. But more than that, he felt frustrated. The old man was off, there was no doubt about that, but Tristan was sure he knew exactly what Tristan was. Maybe he was the only one. It seemed so in Tristan’s desperation anyway. He’d have to find a way to talk to the old man alone.
He was leaning over a small table near the front of the room, trying to get a better look at the slimy green thing in the bubbling water tank when he felt someone very nearby. The soft murmur of voices told him that the pythia’s were still in deep conversation. That left the elf. Tristan turned to glare at him and was, again, startled by the strange color of his eyes. But more than that, the elf at some point since Tristan put his back to him, had taken off his hood, showing a thick shock of bright fuchsia with contrasting bronze colored hair… made entirely of feathers. No wonder the man smelled like a moulting bird every time Tristan was near him.
“Shit!” Tristan hissed under his breath as he flinched and ended up elbowing a glass jar. It crashed to the floor. The others stopped talking long enough to look up and then went back to their conversation as if nothing happened.
Tristan frowned at the mess but had already decided there was no way he was touching it. Besides, there was probably something down there already to eat it if the scurrying of claws meant anything.
“What?” he snapped to hide his jittery surprise.
Silas only watched him with those brilliant colored, half-lidded eyes. And that hair to match… was it even real? Tristan had this crazy urge to touch it and shoved his free hand into his pocket to keep it to himself.
“You got a problem?” Yep, he was feeling indignant. Wasn’t he usually?
The elf made no move and Tristan harrumphed at him, going about being nosey again, picking up a page here, a weird looking tool there, smelling the plants, dried and living. It was amazing the old pythia could find anything with the place in such a state.
One thing in particular caught his attention, a paper, medical article actually. “The Future of Humanity: The “Vampire” Gene” by Doctor Everett Davies, followed by a whole slew of acronyms Tristan didn’t know. Sure, the word vampire was in quotes, but something about it made him think it was less than metaphorical in its use. He tried to skim the article but past the title, everything was so convoluted with medical jargon that he couldn’t understand it.
Silas, ever the vigil, hung close behind Tristan, never taking his bright fuchsia eyes off the American. Tristan was good at ignoring pests, even if they were taller than him.
He was just making his way back to the two pythia when Chrysanthe suddenly said, “Right! Off we go then.”
“I thought we were here for a reason?”
“Reason? You need reason enough more than saving your life?” Agamemnon said.
Tristan stopped, staring at the dirty old man. “You—”
“Of course I knew you were converging, closing--coming. Just who do you think I am, boy?”
A filthy old man, that’s what.
The look on Tristan’s face said it all and Chrysanthe giggled, while the old man scowled. “Should be nicer to those who see an unfortunately timed death and stall, stay--stop it.”
Tristan shot Chrysanthe, who wasn’t giggling anymore, a look. That’s right, she almost killed him. Not on purpose but he wouldn’t forget that. “You’re right. Thank you, Agamemnon. I’m in your debt.”
“Nonsense, just don’t demise, depart--die before fulfilling your fate.”
“And how exactly will I know when it’s fulfilled if I don’t even understand it?”
The caterpillars that were the old man’s brows rose high to show that his eyes were in fact more than just specks of grey underneath, big and round and full of knowledge. “You’ll know. Whole world will know.” With that, the old man put his back to the group as he fussed about to start a new spell.
As they were leaving, the old man called out, “It’s dusky, dim--dark. There’s a resort just down the street, on the water. Tell them I sent you, get a deduction, diminution--discount.”
Chrysanthe smiled. “Thanks again, Aggi. You really saved our hides.”
The old man looked up and frowned. “Didn’t do it for you.” He grunted, shaking his head and turned away again. The others all exchanged looks and shrugs before leaving.
The old man harrumphed, throwing plants around haphazardly as the front door slammed shut. Within moments, the door in the back that lead up to his private sleeping room creaked open with a fright-house slowness.
“You almost told them,” the commanding male voice said. The pythia stiffened, refusing to look back at his guest. “But you did well, I’m pleased.”
The old pythia let out his held breath, finally chancing a glance back. His guest was looking tired these days, his tall frame hunched over his cane, but Agamemnon knew that despite his age, he was strong and keen.
“Was he the one?” Agamemnon asked and then winced, realizing he shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t his business. He was only supposed to do exactly what he was told to, not ask questions. But when he looked up, the other man wasn’t staring those midnight blue eyes into his, so full of wrath and contempt. No, in fact, his guest was smiling big, showing off bright white, perfect blocky teeth that didn’t look right on a man of his age.
The guest inspected a red apple he’d picked up off the table. It was perfect and smelled sweeter than it should have. Polishing it on his cotton dress shirt, he proclaimed, “He’s exactly as I’d hoped.”
Agamemnon grunted a laugh and then tensed hard enough to drop the herbs in his hands when the other man burst into laughter, cutting off his own. He’d have been less on edge if the man had hit him instead.
“You don’t agree?” the other man asked around a bite of apple.
Grey eyes wide, showing a lot of white, the pythia spun faster than his age should have allowed him to. “N-n-nnno. Of course, he’s—”
The guest put his hand up, smiling warmly. “I understand. He’s a little rough around the edges… he’s American after all, but he’ll come around. I’ve no doubt of the possibilities he’s yet to achieve.”
The look all over Agamemnon’s wrinkle-etched complexion said worlds about doubt and the other man laughed softly.
“When it’s all said and done, I trust that he will be exactly how he was designed, a transcendent monster.”