Autumn Whispers (Page 10)

A few other memories began to phase back in that had been lost in the sudden onslaught of fever. I shot straight up. “Menolly! The Wayfarer!”

Camille hung her head. “She called half an hour ago. I won’t lie—it’s bad. They extinguished most of the flames, but the place is still smoldering. We won’t know till morning how badly the bar was damaged, but it’s not good. Menolly didn’t have much to say. She’ll be here soon, though. Chrysandra’s fighting for her life, and so are several others—customers who were caught in the flames. We may never know how many vampires died—they would have been dusted by the flames if they were caught.”

This time, I laid back down without being shoved. Chrysandra had been with the Wayfarer for years. She was there when Menolly took over and had helped her during the transition. She was easily the best waitress at the bar and she and Menolly had become friends.

“You don’t think . . .” I didn’t want to verbalize what was going on in my mind and I hoped Camille would understand what I was asking without me having to spell it out.

Her thoughts must have been running in the same direction because she sucked in a deep breath. “I know what you’re thinking. I hope to hell Menolly doesn’t decide to sire her.”

“How close . . . how bad . . . is she . . .”

“Chrysandra’s dying. There’s no chance for her to pull through, and Menolly doesn’t know that yet. I plan on being there when Menolly walks in to check on her. Maybe I can stop her, if her instincts get the better of her.” Camille glanced up at the clock. “Speaking of, I guess I should go wait for her. You rest. And by the way, Kitten . . .”

“Yes?” I stared at her defiantly, knowing what she was going to say.

“Aswala told me what she told you. Don’t you dare think of trying anything exerting for the next few days. Though, your hand is going to be hurting so I doubt you’ll be able to do more than bitch and moan.”

She sounded all too gleeful and I waved her out with my left hand. When she was gone, I looked down at my right hand. It was swathed in bandages, but at least it was still there. Necrotic bites could so easily cause gangrene, and I had movement and feeling in my fingers—all too much for comfort.

I shrugged, then flipped on the television, bored. The news was on and they were showing clips of the Wayfarer, engulfed in flames. I caught my breath, staring at the brilliant tongues of fire licking the building. Luckily, the shops next to it had been spared, but I had a sick feeling that morning wasn’t going to see more than a pile of rubble where the bar used to be.

Wincing at the announcer’s flippant tone, I changed stations until I found a nice, brainless rerun of Jerry Springer. I knew it was trash, and Camille and Menolly constantly teased me about it, but the truth was that I was a total fan girl and was crushing hard on the dude.

For some reason, he tripped my trigger and I fantasized getting locked overnight in a supermarket with him, and meeting in the junk food aisle where he’d drag me to the ground and fuck me like hungry bunnies.

By the time the “Shocking Family Secrets” episode was over, I was beginning to worry. Camille wasn’t back yet and I hoped to hell there wasn’t a crisis going on in Chrysandra’s room. Since Aswala wasn’t around to stop me, I pushed back the covers and slipped out of bed. A wave of dizziness and nausea hit me, but I pushed it down and headed slowly for the door, making sure my gown was firmly tied shut. An IV was in stuck in my arm, but it was hanging on one of those poles and I was able to roll it along with me.

The way was clear as I peeked out into the hallway, and I scurried out, holding onto the wall with one hand while I rolled alongside my drip-bag buddy. As I passed each open door, I glanced in—there weren’t that many rooms in the medic unit and Chrysandra had to be here somewhere.

I was about to run out of hallway when I saw her—in the ER at the end of the corridor. The doors were closed but I was tall enough to see a group of healers next to Menolly and Camille through the windows. They were gathered around a bed that appeared to be cordoned off behind clear plastic curtains. One of the healers looked engrossed in casting a spell, another worked furiously at some machine to which she was hooked up.

I pushed through the doors and Camille turned, letting out a little noise. Menolly’s back was turned to the wall and her shoulders were shaking.

“Don’t even say it.” I moved over to her side and turned to look at Chrysandra. “Oh Great Mother . . .”

Encased by what was—for all intents and purposes—a plastic bubble, Chrysandra looked like she’d been spitted and roasted over a bonfire. Any resemblance to who she had been was gone, the skin largely burned away to reveal raw muscle and sinew covered in blisters and remnants of blackened skin. Her hair was gone. She was on a ventilator and a host of tubes were feeding meds and liquids into her. But what struck me as most horrific was that her eyelids and lips had been incinerated. She was so still, I thought she must have passed out.

I stared, unable to look away, then hung my head, the pain in my hand receding as I focused on my feet. I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. I wanted to help but there wasn’t anything I could do.

Camille placed her hand on my shoulder and I glanced at her. She silently shook her head and I turned back to look at Chrysandra. There was no way in hell she could make it back from this. A moment later, she woke and began to scream, but her voice was so strained that only a rough croaking came out.

“Can’t they stop the pain?”

Camille shook her head. “They’ve given her what they can. She’s too fragile to be transported right now, and even if she was at a burn center, all they could do is prolong her life for a few more hours. Maybe a day.”

“Then why can’t they help her die? Put her out of her pain?”

“She’s human, Kitten. The FBHs have a problem with that concept. If she was conscious enough to tell them to stop . . . but she’s not. She’s caught in the pain, that’s all that exists for her right now. She’s dying and she’s not going easy.” Her words were whispered, but as she spoke, Menolly turned around, bloody tears slicing a trail down her cheeks.

“I want her to die. I want her to get out of that body, to be free from it. If you’re worried that I might turn her, don’t for a moment think I’d sentence her to eternity in a body so disfigured. But I can kill her, if they’d let me. I can take her out, give her release. All I need is a moment.”

At that moment, the healer who was casting the spell stopped. “I can hear you.”

Menolly faced him, defiant. “And you have a problem with what I said? Some fuckhead set fire to my bar—I know it was no accident. A murderer is responsible for Chrysandra lying here, dying. And there’s nothing we can do to stop it, so I want her to go, to be free from this pain. And then, I will track down the motherfucking cocksucker who did this and I will make him pay—I will make him pay and pay with an excruciating and painful death.”

“If I answered your question, I would be suspect.” He stared at her for a moment. “She’s going to go on in pain for too long. I can’t remove the ventilator without permission from her family and we can’t find any of them.”

“That’s because she left them behind. I’ve known her for years now and I have never heard her mention a single member of her family.” Menolly held his gaze, and I could feel her glamour reaching out, trying to ensnare him.

But he was Fae, and he merely smiled, cool and aloof. “You know, I think I need to consult with the others. And for that, we need privacy. Excuse us for a few moments, please.” He said everything he could not say aloud in one dark, deliberate look.

As he motioned for his colleagues to follow him, Camille whispered to me. “Guard the door.” As I moved to keep watch through the windows, she pulled back the plastic for Menolly. I didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see what she did. She couldn’t very well break Chrysandra’s neck—that would be too obvious, so she’d have to drink her down and I couldn’t bear to watch her sink her fangs into the burned flesh of the woman we called our friend.

But Camille swallowed and fastened her gaze on the bed. And even though I didn’t want to see, I had to. Menolly was about to play the angel of death. And Camille and I . . . the least we could do was to stand witness.

The sterility of the ward, its pale cream walls and stark stainless counters faded into the background. The rise and fall of Chrysandra’s chest, powered by the soft hiss of the ventilator, was the only noise as Menolly approached her side. This woman we had partied with. Watched movies with and shared appetizers. This woman, our friend, was here in front of us, but she was nowhere in sight. All that remained of her was a charbroiled living steak. The blood of her burns stained the sheets, flowers on snow, spreading their fatal blooms.

Menolly stood over her for a moment, then leaned down and whispered in her ear. Chrysandra began to breathe quickly, and with one last look, my sister bared her fangs and sank them through the crisped, flaking skin, searching for the jugular as she pressed her lips to Chrysandra’s neck in one final kiss. Pressing her eyes shut, Menolly’s tears raced down her face, their crimson drops falling to spread across Chrysandra’s featureless cheeks and brow. The sound of life transferring from one body to another, the hush of pained breath moving to shallow pants to a faint, faint whisper and then . . . silence.

My shoulders began to shake as I watched Menolly slowly withdraw, her chin covered with burned flesh that had stuck to her skin, her mouth stained with the red of Chrysandra’s life. She looked from Camille to me, turned and crossed to the sink where she washed her face, wiping her mouth softly with a paper towel. A moment later, the three of us were standing by Chrysandra’s bed as the monitor shrieked out the lack of a pulse, the lack of a heartbeat.

The healer came running in. He pushed through the plastic without giving us a second look, and checked Chrysandra for a pulse. Then he listened for her heart, and lastly, he lay a gentle hand on her forehead, and I could tell he wanted to close her eyes but couldn’t—the lids had been burned away.

He noted the time in her chart as his colleagues joined him. A few whispers later, they exited the plastic curtains and he stopped by Menolly’s side.

“I’m sorry to tell you that your friend didn’t make it. She died. Her burns were too extensive.” He caught her gaze again, and compassion flickered across his face.

Menolly nodded. “If no one claims her body, I will. I honestly don’t know where her family is.”

Nodding, he turned away. “I’ll make a note of that. Six others also died in the fire.”

Menolly crouched down into a squat as she wrapped her arms around herself and began to rock. “No . . . no . . . no . . . what the fuck happened? Who did this and why?”

Camille stepped between her and the healer, pushing him back. “Keep us informed,” she said brusquely. She took Menolly by the shoulders and drew her to her feet, moving her toward the door. Menolly allowed herself to be guided along. She did not resist, did not speak, a horrified expression branded on her face. And then we were in the hall and Aswala was there, looking ready to scold me.

I shook her off. “We need to leave.”

“I have to see them. I have to know who died.” Menolly’s stammers were barely above a whisper, but they echoed through the still hall.

“You aren’t in any shape—” Camille started, but let her words drift off. “All right. Delilah, go get dressed. You’ll still be on bed rest till tomorrow when we get home.”

Pain flared in my hand, digging deep, sending me leaning against the wall moaning. The image of a scalded Chrysandra came to mind. I couldn’t fathom the pain she’d been in—it must have been excruciating beyond any scope of the imagination. I straightened my back as I headed back to my room. By the time I got there, I’d broken into a sweat, but I downed a glass of water, then another, and my stomach slowly began to settle.

Aswala followed me in, and silently handed me my clothes. She removed the IV from my arm and stood back, watching me.

“Your sister. She’s going to need some counseling over this.”

“Riiiggghhht. . . .” Menolly was about as likely to agree to counseling as I was to agree to a boob job. “That’s not going to happen.”

“It was her bar. She feels responsible. I could see it in her eyes. Until they find the reason for the fire—and let’s hope the reason is beyond her control—she’s going to imagine the worst possible scenario.”

“Oh, we’re pretty sure this was arson. We have full reason to believe it.”

“Regardless of that possibility, your sister is still going to blame herself. Trust me, I’ve seen this sort of situation far too often.” Aswala opened my chart and scribbled something in it. “I’m releasing you, because otherwise I have a feeling you’ll just sneak out. But get your butt home and in bed. You hear me?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I do. I just . . . we need to be home right now.”

“I understand. Get dressed. And I want you to drink a lot of water over the next few days. It will help dilute what toxin still runs in your veins. The antivenin is helpful but it can’t negate all of the poison.”

I accepted the bottle of water she pressed in my hand and began to dress. All the quietude of the past couple of months had vanished in a snap of the fingers, in a quick gust of wind.

Aswala handed me a kit containing the healing salve to put on my wound, as well as a week’s worth of bandages. Then, feeling I should say something, I caught her gaze.