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The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (8/26)


"No matter how exotic human civilization becomes, no matter the developments of
life and society nor the complexity of the machine/human interface, there always come
interludes of lonely power when the course of humankind depends upon the
relatively simple actions of single individuals."
Frank Herbert Dune Messiah


Chapter Eight, Hotel

"For the last time: no car-seat driving! Comprende?" I tried to keep from shouting as I turned onto the bloodsucker's drive.

"But Aunt Leah, you're supposed to slow down before you make a turn, and use your turn signal."

I gave a small growl. She was completely unphased, and gave me a toothy smile in return. "Nessie, if you're ever going to successfully pass for human, you're going to have to learn to not give a shi-shiitake mushroom about every little thing."

"It is okay, Aunt Leah. You can curse in front of me."

"I-"

"I have very good hearing. I have heard you say many words to the wolves and several of them have been quite unkind. But Uncle Emmett says you use them as 'terms of endearment,' and so it is okay."

Quickly, I tried to change the subject. "Why do you call me aunt?"

"Because I like you," she said as I parked next to a pair of ice white Jeep Wranglers – the Unlimited edition kind, with all the extra features, including chains on the wheels. Yes, I spent a lot of time around Jake, who spent a lot of time around Rose's car magazines – which could only be the Denali coven's. "And Aunt Alice says Grandpa Charlie will marry your mommy, which will make you and Uncle Seth Mommy's brother and sister."

I restrained a shudder of disgust (who would want to be let's-see-if-we-can-make-a-Frankenstein-in-my-uterus) and jumped out into the snow. It was knee-high here and melted where I stood, but I still didn't want to subject Nessie too it – she is, after all, my favourite Cullen, after Esme, who cooks, and Carlisle, who gives me meds – so I lift her up into my arms and head into the house, while she tells me all she knows about her "cousins." This is mostly limited to the fact that Tanya, the oldest, is just over twelve hundred years old, and was originally from what would become Gniezno, Poland. The youngest in the "family" was almost as old as Carlisle, and had served in the household of Mariana of Austria, Queen Regent of Spain, until her mate Eleazaar came across her when she was nineteen and turned her. What a love story.

Before I am even on the porch, I can sense them inside – the Cullens, plus the four new ones. I do not know how, but it must be must be by smell. The Cullens are very flowery – freesia and rosemary and lavender – and spun sugar. These new ones have that same overwhelming scent of flowers, but are also sharper, colder... like frozen caramel, or some other sort of cold sugary thing. Was it because they lived up north, or a personal reflection on their dispositions? I don't know. Only that that's what it was like, as they certainly weren't breathing or fidgeting or anything normal, decent people would do. It is girly, but I held Nessie close to me as I pass through the door.

All twelve of them are gathered around the living room. Carlisle is standing, arm around Esme, near the windows. Alice is seated next to Rose on one of the couches, the midget wearing her favourite shade of grey-blue, the latter in red so bold she must have soaked it in the blood of her victims; she might even snack on it when she's hungry. Emmett is on the arm of the couch, while Jasper is seated on the glass coffee table, looking ready to spring into action if needed. For once, I am glad of his worry-wort behaviour, as I really would not like to see The Thing murdered, especially today – I just have too bad of cramps to do much about it. Edward and Bella are sitting together, hands clasped, opposite the Denalis.

They are a strange group, the Denalis. One, who I know from Nessie's mind-sharing to be Tanya, has long, curly strawberry-blonde hair that I would have killed for if I thought I could pull the look off. She, like the others, are standing very close to the door. There is a Spanish-looking couple with olive-tinted skin and pin-straight black hair of differing lengths – Carmen and Eleazaar. The last, who cannot be much older then Edward – in human years, I mean – if not Seth, is dark-haired and death-pale.

They spin when they hear the door opening, or maybe when they catch my musky, earthy scent. Or maybe just in fearful anticipation of the child I hold, who couldn't anyone but a lit professor's ego. A sharp hiss comes from one of their clenched lips, while the Spanish couple and the red-head fall into their own versions of West Side Story-crouches.

Instinctively, I bare my teeth and hunch down a bit, pressing Nessie closer to me then perhaps necessary. A growl escapes my lips, and I'm ready to phase if necessary – she's only a child, for fuck's sake – but, before anything more can happen, the young black-haired girl stepped forward and spoke, "Uciszają siebie, Tanyen'ka. One powiadali amerykański wilkołak byłby jest przynoszący dzieckcko,"to the red-head, and then to me, "Forgive my family, young one. They are not over-fond of vourdalak, though we were warned of your pack's presence. It is an instinctual thing. I am Ekaterina Dobryniniva, but everyone calls me Kate. That," she jerked her finger towards the strawberry-blonde, "is Tanya, our leader. Those two," now pointing at the Spanish couple, were were both now standing up, somewhat abashedly I might add, "are Carmen and Eleazaar."

She paused, seemingly waiting for something. After a moment, I realized what it was. "I'm Leah. Leah Clearwater, the Beta of our pack." I, slowly, released Nessie – but not before she'd a chance to send me an, "Overreact much?" at me through her thoughts – "This is Nessie."

"Renesmee," the icicle-loving whore corrected automatically.

"Whatever," I told them, heading back to the Mercedes to collect the pizza and buffalo wings. I set them on the table just inside the door and took a seat on the floor nearby, where I could see the Rabbit pull up when the guys got back. They were all busy oh-and-awing over Nessie anyway.

After about half-hour, Carlisle came over to me and asked how I was doing. "So fucking delightful my mouth hurts from all the grinning I've been doing," I snapped back. I really shouldn't've, but twelve vampires can make a girl edgy, even if she gets on with about half of them.

"Would you like a sedative?"

Yes, because pills solve everything, you sparkly moron. How many doctorates do you have again? "I'll be fine when the rest of the pack arrives," I told him, which was probably true. Strength in numbers and all that business. Plus sixteen days of Jake.

Eventually, I got Dr. Sparkles (which, by the way, doubles as his stripper name – Sparkles, that is, not the Dr. part) to go away, and remembered I still had the iPhone. Upon which I could download games, at the good doctor's expense. This wiled away a good forty-five minutes, and would have done more if Kate hadn't come over and sat down right next to me.

"Allo."

"Hey," I said, trying to figure out how you played mah-jong on such a small screen.

"I have never met a werewolf before," she told me, "especially not a she-wolf."

I gave up on the mah-jong. "Now you can say you have. Now nice for you." Scrabble it was then.

"You are a very odd person."

"So they tell me." I put down the word yodel, which has to be the greatest starting Scrabble word in history. Days of playing games (including this one) with vampires have sharpened my skill. I can now go on the road and become a Scrabble champion. The pay's probably better then being a vampire's watchdog.

"You have not moved at all since you sat down."

"Yes I have," I told her, glaring at the tiny screen. Barber. The AI put down barber. What was I supposed to do with that? "It's called breathing. You may not be familiar with it, but-"

"You are either rude because you are uncivilized," she went on as I tried to ignore her and think of a word I could make out of the letters b, l, i, e, c, x, and a. Axe? No, the e was already taken... Cabby? Not enough b's. Rebel, off the r? No, that needed another e... "But I doubt that, as you were willing to protect Edward's daughter, even when out-numbered, when she is not of your own species."

Calmly, I explained. "My maternal instincts are on the fritz." She could probably smell them. Stupid period. Stupid vampires. Stupid Christmas.

"I think you do it to put people off."

"How intuitive of you. You shift around in people's minds like the mind-raper?" If you do, I will murder you with my thoughts. Behold the wonder of Spice Girls songs! So, tell me what you want-

Laughing, "No. My gift isn't like that." Thank God, I've already tortured myself too much. Asking me to think of annoying song lyrics might just kill me. Heart attack. Keel over. Die. And then I'd have missed out on all the wonderful Christmas-break time I'd planned with Jake, and it'd be all the vampire's fault. Again. Stupid vampires. "And you can make clixby."

"What?"

"Clixby, off the y. C, l, i, x, b, and then the y from yodel."

"Is that even a word?"

"Yes. It means to be politely rude, briskly vague, or firmly uninformative."

Dryly, "Really?"

"Oh yes. It's also a city in Lincolnshire."

I looked at the time. Jake had to be getting home soon. "Do you spend your time reading maps or something, or...?"

"No. It's from a book... looks like the best you can spell now is case."

I slammed down the phone, amazed when it didn't break. "You wanna play?"

"No, it's just I know all of them." She gestured vaguely in the direction of the other bloodsuckers. "I don't know you. That makes you interesting."

"Again, my name is Leah. I'm twenty-one and a Gemini. My mom is currently dating Bella's," (I did a mocking gesture), "dad. I'm the Beta of my pack. I like Karamel Sutra ice cream and long walks on the beach."

"Nyet. Try this. For instance: I am Kate, I've been a vampire since I was seventeen. My father was the posadnik, or mayor, of Kiev. My aunt Malusha was Grand Prince Vladimir's mother. When Vladimir converted to Christianity, my father forced the citizens to convert, and several of the pagans burned our home. They killed my mother and two of my cousins. It almost killed me too – my family thought it had – but Sasha, my 'mother', and Tanya found me and turned me. I've been with Tanya ever since. Now you try."

"Having never died," I drawled, "I cannot tell you how I did so. But when I do, I'll be sure to find you."

"Tell me a werewolf story, and I'll get Carmen to tell you one of her stories about Carlos II." I cocked my eyebrow at this. "The insane King of Spain? So disfigured and disabled and inbred that it's frankly ridiculous? His mother was his father's niece, and her parents were first cousins, and nearly set of grandparents and great-grandparents he had were either uncle/niece or first or second cousins? Descended from Juana the Mad and Phillip the Handsome at least fourteen different ways? No? Nothing at all?"

"Disgusting, but no." I hate vampires, I sang in my mind... now what rhymes with vampire? I know: I hate leeches. They cannot go to beeches. They step into the sun, then the peasants have some fun... No, I lost it.

"Pity. What are they teaching you children these days?"

"Don't ask me. Ask them," I pointed out of the window as I jumped up, relieved to see the Rabbit finally pulling in. I was almost giddy with relief. "And, maybe later, I'll tell you the exciting tale of inter-pack politics."

Sadly enough, she did not seem to catch onto the sarcasm dripping from my voice. Or, if she did, she chose to ignore it.

Chapter Nine