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

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

"You, too," she said, watching me with a rueful look as I made a dash for the exit.

The town we were staying in wasn't large, but its city center was filled with narrow little streets that twisted and turned upon themselves. I got lost twice, trying to find my way to the top of the town, and had to backtrack to the still-brightly-lit main square to get my bearings before setting out again on a street I hoped led to the small hotel we called home.

I'd just left the lights of the square and was making my way down a narrow, dark street that I had a horrible suspicion I'd just been down, when a dark form loomed up out of a doorway, causing me to simultaneously jump and shriek. My jump was to the side, however, not straight up, causing me to crash into the stone wall of the building.

The man said something in an unfamiliar language while I clutched the heart that seemed to be leaping from my chest. "Oh dear god, you scared me. You shouldn't do that to people; you could give them a heart attack."

The shadowy figure was still for a moment, then moved out into the light. "My apologies, madam," he said in a voice heavy with an Icelandic accent. "I did not see you, either. Here are your things."

"No harm done," I said, scrabbling at my feet for the contents that had spilled out of my purse.

"You are a tourist, yes?" the man asked.

"Yes." He seemed nice enough, with a freckled face and the same open, cheerful countenance that I was becoming convinced was standard in Iceland. "Just here for a few days, unfortunately. Oh, thanks." I tucked my bag under my arm, taking the books from him.

He stooped once more and picked up something else at my feet, offering it to me a second before he froze. The light hit his palm, flashing off of something held there.

I looked in surprise at the object he held: a narrow silk cord from which a stone hung, a small oval stone somewhat milky in color, blue and green flashing from the depths.

"Oh, that's nice," I said, taking it to admire it better. "Is it an opal? It doesn't look quite like an opal."

"It is a moonstone," the man answered, his voice kind of choked.

It looked like a bookmark, the kind you slid around the pages and cover of a book, but rather than a charm hanging from the end, as I'd seen before, this one had the moonstone.

"It's very pretty. Did it come from one of my books? I didn't know it was in there. I'll have to take it back to the bookseller. He probably didn't realize this was tucked away inside - "

The man suddenly broke into laughter. "You didn't tell me who you were," he said, chuckling a last couple of chuckles before he took my arm and steered me out of the alley in the opposite direction. "I thought you were just an ordinary tourist."

"Um..." I didn't quite know what to say to that. It seemed odd to insist that I was, in fact, perfectly ordinary, but I had a suspicion that the nice Icelander thought I was someone else. "I think maybe there's some sort of a mistake."

"No mistake," he said, smiling with genuine happiness. "We've been expecting you, you know. The Zenith said you'd arrive today, but we thought you'd be here earlier. I suppose you felt it necessary to maintain your cover as a tourist?"

"OK, now we really are talking at cross-purposes." I stopped, not willing to get myself any more lost than I had been. "My name is Pia Thomason, and I really am just an ordinary tourist."

"Pia? Heh-heh. You are very good," he said admiringly, taking my arm again and gently pushing me forward. "I am Mattias. I am the sacristan."

"Sorry?" I said, unfamiliar with the word. Would it make me a Bad American if I tore my arm from his grip and turned around to run back to the holiday crowds? With everyone down at the waterfront park enjoying the celebrations, the town was all but deserted.

"It means - let me see if I can translate it for you - keeper of the doors, yes? You understand?"

"A doorkeeper? Is that some sort of a doorman?" I asked, puffing a little since Mattias was hauling me gently but persistently up one of the steep stone roads. "Like at a hotel, you mean?"

"Doorman... that may not be the right word. Doorkeeper sounds better. I am doorkeeper of the Brotherhood of the Blessed Light."

I tried to remember what was the predominant religion of the area, but drew a blank. "Ah. I assume that's a religion?"

He chuckled again. "You wish to play? I will play. Yes, it is a religion, a very old one. Its origins are in the Basque region. We were once known as Ilargi, but now we are called by the name of the Brotherhood. We have been around since the beginning of the darkness."

"Ilargi?" I asked, startled at the familiar word. I peered up into the face of the man who continued to urge me up the street. "Isn't that the name of the woods outside of the town? The place with the ruins?"

"Woods?" His blond brows pulled together. "I do not understand. Are you testing me?"

I dug my heels in and stopped him a second time. He faced me with a puzzled expression, but I could see no signs of hostility or, worse, madness. He had to have me confused with someone else. "I'm sorry, Mattias, but I really do think you have the wrong person. I do not understand half of what you are saying."

"It is I who am sorry. My English is not very good."

"Your English is better than mine. I meant you're misinterpreting what I'm saying, and I haven't a clue about your responses. For example, I don't know where you're taking me."

"Here," he said, waving a hand at a building ahead of us. It was a small church made of grey stone that sat at the top of the street.

I relaxed a smidgen at the sight of it, feeling that Mattias was no threat despite his confusion. "Is that your church?"

"Yes. We will go in now."

I hesitated, trying to figure out how to get through to him that I wasn't the person he thought I was.

"It is all right," he said, taking my hand and tugging me up the steps to the church door. "I am the sacristan. I am the sun."

"The son of who?" I asked, eyeing the church carefully. It looked perfectly normal, not at all out of the ordinary.

"Not 'who'... the sun. You know, the sun in the sky?" he said, pointing upward.

"Oh, the sun. You... er... you think you're the sun?"

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