Remembered Kisses: Chapter 16: Frustrations

Chapter 16: Frustrations

Sam met his apprentice for coffee at the campus commissary. As the young man settled onto the wire-work chair across from him, Sam scrutinized him carefully. He looks like he hasn’t slept for weeks.
Sam took a sip of his coffee, brewed strong and black, and glanced over at his friend.  “You’re hitting it a little hard, aren’t you?”  He asked.  “You haven’t been sleeping.”

Marcus shook his head.

“Still hearing her voice?”

Marcus nodded.  “In my sleep,” he said. He splayed his fingers together on the table. “And in my waking.  She’s asking me to help her.  She's telling me she loves me.  Asking me to save her.  I don’t know, Professor.”  He looked up, staring at Sam with bag-laden eyes.  “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Sam nodded.  He took a sip of his coffee. It was a good brew, but the local place that had won the rights to have a stall off the quad was known for it. “Have you seen anybody about it?”

“About what? Hearing the voice of my dead lover?”  Marcus shook his head.  “What are they going to say?  That I’m going crazy?  That I need to let go?  I know that.”  He lifted his own mug to his lips, but didn’t drink.  He just held it there, staring ahead into nothingness.  “I don’t know.  I miss her.  I miss touching her hair.  I miss hearing her voice- really hearing it.  I miss waking up and rolling over and seeing her there.  Now I barely sleep because there’s no one in the bed.  The difference is… well, it affects me more than I thought.”  He shook his head and put his coffee back down without having tasted it. He pushed the cup forward a little, turning to adjust it just so. “Any luck on your investigation?”

Sam shook his head.  “Not much.”

“Lily tells me,” Marcus said, his tone careful, “That a vampire came by your shop last night.  A pretty one.  Is that true?”

Sam nodded, watching Marcus carefully. The younger man’s attention was still focused on his coffee cup, and there was a slight tremble in his hands. “That was Sofia.  She’s my contact with the Lorenzos.  She’s helping me gather information.”

“And she tells you it’s not them.”

“She does.”

Marcus sighed. “And you believe her?” He glanced up at Sam. “They’re snakes.  You told me that yourself.”

“They’re certainly different.

“Different?”  Marcus stared at Sam, and the exaggerated civility of his tone began to slip away.  “Different?  Do you even hear yourself?  It’s not like they’re a minority racial group with a history of systematic oppression. They’re vampires. Are you telling me that you’re suddenly buying into this whole tragically misunderstood tortured souls routine?”

“No.  I know they’re monsters.  I know they also don’t want a war.”

“They outnumber us.  With the rest of the Dead Court on their side, the numbers are staggering.  Why wouldn’t they want a war?”

“Because they all fear death.  That’s part of what defines them, part of what takes them on their journey.  They made a choice, to be dead or be a monster.  And, in a war, even if they win, some of them are going to die.  And most of them would sell out their own sire rather than be the one penned in the dead book.  And they all know that, and none of them wants to be the one sold out and dead.  So they wait, and they maneuver, and they don’t do anything overt or take stupid risks.”

“You seem sure.”

“I have made a bit of a study of monsters,” Sam said quietly.  “It’s been part of my life’s work. And they have enough on their hands with the nightmares.  They’re getting them, too.”

Marcus looked away. “I don’t know.  I still think you’re being led on.  Something doesn’t smell right here.”  He looked back.  “What would Van Helsing say?”

“That girl is not someone I’d rely on for good decision making, Marcus.  She never used a scalpel to solve a problem where napalm was available.  Are you suggesting blowing up warehouses in the middle of town?”

Marcus shrugged. “It’s better than cozying up to murdering serpents.”

“I’m doing it for the right reasons.  We have to walk this line carefully. It’s for the sake of our entire town.  Lasting peace is a good thing.”

“No matter how many people are left broken along the way, right?  You know what they say about good intentions.”

“Yeah,” Sam replied.  “I know.  The road to hell.  But maybe some people need to go to hell so the rest can live.”

“That’s a dangerous thought, Professor.  You have a martyr complex?”

Sam smiled ruefully. “It depends on who you ask. But someone needs to step up.”  Though it cost my life.  Damn it all.  Is anything so sure?  

Marcus nodded.  “Yeah,” he said. “Something we agree on.  This can’t continue.  Someone needs to do something.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Marcus sighed again. “I don’t know Sam.  I’m tired, and I miss her, and I hurt, and it feels like either nothing matters or everything matters and no one is doing anything about it either way.” He set his coffee back down on the table, still untouched.  He stood up.

Sam didn’t miss the pain in his eyes as he did, or how weak he seemed as he stood.  “Marcus.  You’re killing yourself.  You need to sleep. Kendra wouldn’t want this for you.”

“Can’t sleep,” he said.  “I told you.  I’ve tried. Don’t worry.  I’m on top of it.  I’m going to go visit the scene again.”

“What about class?”

Marcus shrugged.  “What about class, Professor?”  And then he turned, tugged his coat tighter around him, and walked away.

Sam frowned.  He finished his own coffee and spent a moment staring into the dregs, trying not to think about what secrets might lurk in their shape.  “Damn my eyes,” he muttered, and got up himself, heading to his office.

*

Sam was walking back home to the Dusty Covers through the park when Saul came storming out of the trees.

“Damn it, Sam,” Saul said.  “They got me.  Or almost did.”

His leather jacket was cut, and though his skin beneath appeared whole Sam could tell that wasn’t the case.  He could smell the blood, both in the real world and through his other senses: it was a good glamour, but he was an experienced mage and it was harder to it was harder to fool his other senses. Sam could smell the cold sea spray, the deep Caledonian woods, and acres of peat-clad hills. He filed that away and hurried over to his friend. “What?  Who did?”

“I don’t bloody know.  If I knew I’d be bloody storming their door with a  brigade. Or something.  Not that I have a brigade. But bloody vengeance would be in the wreaking!” He ranted off into a long tirade of increasingly incomprehensible gibberish, only recognizable to Sam as Gaelic-ish.

Sam held up a hand.  “Hold on a moment there, mate,” he said.  “Back up. What happened?”

“They bloody cut me, Sammy.  They tried to get at my insides.  Some prick with a knife slips up behind me, somehow, and then, while I’m sitting there tryin’ to work that out something else latches on to me and tries to drain out my me.”

“Your what?”

“My me.  My essence.  What makes me a person.”

“Can… Can they do that?  To you?”

“Not easily.  Hardly at all, once I figure out what’s bloody happening. But they tried. And they crept me.  Right up on me.  I’m a bloody psychic.  Nothing can do that.”

Sam studied him for a minute.  “Could it be a nightmare?”

“No!  I know how to feel a nightmare when I need to…” He swore again.  “Damn it.  Damn it to bloody buggery, you’re right.  I got to be feeling for them in specific.  Different resonance than mortals.  They’re findable, but when I’m walking around these bloody streets that’s not what I’m after.  Not that I was walking.  I was sleeping.  On a bench.”

“On a bench?”

“It’s a public bench! There’s no bloody imperialist law against that, is there?  I left dear old Belfast because of the imperials, don’t think I won’t do the same, either!  They cut up my newspaper, Sam. I bought that thing with my own money!”

Sam blinked.  “Do you need somewhere to sleep, Saul?” He asked kindly.

“Do I need somewhere to… no, I don’t need a bloody place to sleep!  I don’t need to sleep.”

“But you just said…”

“Just because I don’t need to doesn’t mean I don’t like to. Have you never had a nap, Sam?  They’re magnificent.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  We’re talking about me being bloody attacked, and I think it’s whatever you’re looking for.”

“You sure?”

“No I’m not bloody sure.  Didn’t stick around.  I dropped a bit of sunlight to blind them and took a quick step between worlds.”  He turned around widdershins, checking around.  “To you, really.  Figured you could do something about it.  Seein’ as you’re big shot fix everything mage.”

“Everyone keeps saying that,” Sam said.  “It’s a vicious rumor. What makes you think it was the same person I’m looking for?”

“It’s the style.  The life draining.  It’s what vampires do.”

“Yeah. Sofia was telling me something like that.”

“Nice legs, that one.  Anyway.  It’s what happened to your boy’s girl, right?  Her life got eaten.  They tried to do the same thing to me. I think they didn’t realize what I was when they did it.”

“They.  So you think it was more than one.”

“Aye.  One to cut me open, to open the channel- blood works well.”

“I’ve heard.”

“But the one doing the draining? I never saw it.  Might have been a spirit thing, I think.  Not a vampire. Definitely not a vampire. Discorporeal, and not as efficient as Lorenzo Lorenzo could do.”

“Wait, Lorenzo can go discorporeal?”

“Of course he can. He’s a fifteen hundred year old vampire, Sam, around since the fall of Rome.  He’s one of those things the stories talk about. He’s consumed enough life force over the years that he’s almost a wizard in terms of the amount of otherworld in him.”  Saul waved his hands. “Can probably do a bat, too.  I don’t know.  He keeps some, though.  Useful messengers, they say.  I don’t know.  Creep me out a bit. Bats, I mean.  The gnomes that ride them, too.”  He shivered and took a breath.  “Anyway.  Yeah.  Jumped sideways.  I have to go to ground for a little bit.”

“What about  your vengeance?”

“Angry talk.  I’m not a fighter.  I’m a seer.  I see things, I don’t fight them.  Not much good at it.  I’d tell you where I’m going but I don’t want anyone to torture it out of you by peeling your toenails off.”

“I wouldn’t sell you out, Saul.”

“You wouldn’t?  Why not?  Someone was peeling off my toenails I’d sell my mother.  Well. Maybe not my mother. But somebody else’s, for sure.  Bugger that, I’m not being tortured for anyone. Not someone else’s mother.  I don’t know her!  She might have hit her kids!  Why am I going to be tortured for a child-beating bitch? That’s positively crazy!”

Sam stared. “You’re not making any sense, Saul.”

“No I’m not!  I’m bloody scared!” He took a deep breath and rubbed his eye.  “Aye, I’m out of here.  Bloody look after yourself, all right?”

“So you’re asking me to do you a favor?”

Saul laughed.  “Oh, lad, you bloody bastard. No. It’s so I can collect on the one you still owe me. Ass. I’ll be enjoying your book tonight.”  He grinned, and Sam could still see a tinge of mad fear in it, and he stepped into a ray of sunlight and was gone.

“Need to learn how to do that,” Sam muttered, looking around. “The garden.  Always see weird shit in the garden.  Wonder what it is about this place.”   He adjusted his coat again; it was getting cold early this year.  He checked behind him, turning widdershins just once to clear some of the nexus energy off, and hurried home.

(Read Chapter 15 here)                                                                                 (Read Chapter 17 here)

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