Home > Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(14)

Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(14)
Author: Katie MacAlister

"Madam! Madam, please, you wait!"

A slight tug at the back of my shirt had me looking over my shoulder. The tiny Frenchwoman whom I'd bumped into earlier was squeezing her way between couples, a worried look on her face.

"It is you; oh, I am so glad. I must speak to you. It is very important."

I was so relieved to see her I could have whooped. "Likewise! But maybe we should get out of here. I can barely hear you over the music."

"What?"

I bent toward her and repeated the suggestion. She nodded and pointed to the café where I'd sent the ghosts. It was still open, serving the late-night crowd. I hesitated a moment, not wanting to remain out in the open where Alec and Kristoff could find me, but at the same time not wanting to face the ghosts when I was no closer to helping them. In the end, I chose the latter as the least worrisome.

As I entered the café, I saw Karl and Marta in the corner, huddled together. They stood at the sight of me, but I waved them back and squeezed myself into a chair at a tiny table. The sailor ghost was nowhere to be seen.

"Coffee?" I asked the woman as she pulled out a mirror and checked her reflection.

"Non. Wine!"

"I like how you think," I said, smiling, and asked the waiter for two glasses of the house red wine.

"You must think I am very forward, but I assure you, it is most important that I speak to you."

"As a matter of fact, I was looking for you, too."

"You were?" she interrupted, taking the glass of wine the waiter offered. She took a small sip of it. "But you do not know why I sought you?"

"Oh, I think I do," I said, smiling as I held up a copy of the Regency paperback. "Dancing people."

She sagged in relief, reaching for it. "You did find it. I thought that you must have when I asked the book man and he said that an English lady with curly blond hair had just bought it."

"You have no idea of the evening I've had because of that thing," I said, dropping it into her hand. "I don't think you know just quite what you're getting into, though. I assume you're the Zorya?"

Her eyes widened. "You are of the light?"

"No." I shook my head. "But I had an introduction to the folks around here who subscribe to that religion, and I feel it only right to warn you about them."

"Warn me?" She surprised me by laughing. "Warn me about the Brotherhood of the Blessed Light?"

"They're the Ilargi, aren't they?"

Her smile faded. "No. Not anymore. It has been a millennium since that name was applied to us. We prefer the name Brotherhood."

"Then who, exactly, are the Ilargi? Every time I mention the name people start looking wary or scared."

She toyed with the stem of her glass for a few moments, her gaze avoiding mine. "The Ilargi were once brothers to my people. They were not of the light, but they served a purpose nonetheless. But they were corrupted and driven out, and now there are only a handful left. They have become tainted, you understand. They eat souls."

"That sounds pretty nasty," I said, the hairs on my arms standing on end. "No wonder everyone gets a bit weird when the're mentioned."

"My people are trying to track down those Ilargi who remain, but it is not easy. They are cunning, you know? And they hide in the mundane world. But the Brotherhood is strong, so they pose us no threat."

"Well, I don't know about that," I said slowly, picking my words with care so as to avoid insulting her. "I just know that the people I met tonight seemed to be under the impression that I was you, and that I was going to marry an Icelander named Mattias."

"The sacristan?" Her smile was back, albeit with a wry cast. "I have not met him, but yes, we are to marry. It was supposed to be tonight, but" - she glanced at her watch - "it is too late now. The ceremony will have to take place tomorrow instead. Oh, but here I am talking and talking and I have not even introduced myself. I am Anniki. You are... ?"

"Pia Thomason. And can I just say how glad I am that you found me? If I had to explain to any more people tonight that I'm not the Zorya, I think I'd probably need locking up in a padded room. The ghosts will be thrilled to see you, too, although one of them is apparently wandering around looking for rum. I understand they need help going somewhere."

"Spirits? You have seen some? Ah, but that is to be expected." She set down her glass of wine, her smile fading. "It is one of the jobs of a Zorya, you understand. We shine the light that illuminates the path of the dead."

"So I gathered. Better you than me, although I have to say that Karl and Marta seem like nice enough people. Er... ghosts. But still, I'm sure they'll be delighted to know you can help them."

"It is the job of the Brotherhood. I will be the light the lost ones seek," she said simply.

I sipped my wine. "This is probably out of line for me to ask, but don't you find those Brotherhood people a little too... well, intense, for lack of a better word."

She frowned a little frown. "Intense? What do you know of the Brotherhood?"

I shook my head. "Not much really, nothing other than some connection to northern lights and the moon."

"The light has its power in the moon," she said in all seriousness. "But I see it is not that which disturbs you most. You were afraid of the Brotherhood?"

"Not afraid, just a little uncomfortable," I hedged, not mentioning how Kristoff had threatened me.

She was silent for a moment, sipping her wine before she leaned forward. "You are mundane."

I was a bit taken aback by the comment. Did she just insult me?

"You are not of our world, but you have kind eyes, and you have seen much tonight that most people will never know exists. I will tell you about the Brotherhood so that you will understand why they are intense. There is darkness in the world. You have felt it, have you not?"

"You mean like terrorists and such?" I asked, confused.

"No, that is part of the mundane world. I speak of true darkness - Dark Ones, they are called, although they are better known as vampires."

"Vampires!" My urge to laugh died with a glance at her serious expression. Clearly she believed what she was saying... that or she was a very good actress going to a whole lot of trouble to pull my leg.

   
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