I racked my brain for that long ago conversation with Porsche, but I came up blank.
Fennel winced. “Not so much offended as broken the rules, Liam. Our existence must be kept secret from the human population at all costs. If humans were to know that vampires exist, they would not be able to handle the truth beyond their media created world. There would be chaos in the world we work so hard to keep peaceful.”
“I haven’t told anyone!” I cried, confused. “The students think I’m a disgraced Hollywood superstar who they are way too thrilled to be close to. I--“
“Your grandfather, Peter, is aware of your transformation nightly. And also, Amy, the young girl, is more than aware of you and the whole clan. She is even assisting you. Neither of them are supernatural creatures. That is twice that you have broken the rules.”
“I--” I stopped. What could I say? I couldn’t lie to him, he knew the truth. And he was absolutely right. This is what the Elders did, they enforced the rules, they kept the vampire life secret and in order.
I tried to rack my booze-clouded brain for an answer, and cursed the fact, for once in my life, that I wasn’t sober. If I was, maybe I could be more than a babbling idiot in the presence of kings. I was an actor for God’s sake, I was supposed to know how to improv and make things up on the spot, because the show must go on, no matter what.
“I-I needed Peter to help me when I first changed,” I said. “Without him, I would have ended up like Nina. Peter is my grandfather, and at the time, he was the only one who would have helped me. No other vampires came to my aid. Peter won’t tell anyone. And Amy… Amy had to know. We are, we were…” I corrected myself, although I felt my heart crack, “in a relationship. And she’s young. I… uh…” I looked up to see if any of my excuses were working, but they didn’t seem impressed.
I hung my head. So this was it, this was how it was going to end, after everything I had been through. I knew there was no hope in trying to fight them off, trying to run. I knew the truth: my blood was possessed, captured, just by their eyes simply gazing upon me. They would lay down the final verdict and then rip my head off.
I frantically wished that I could see Amy one last time, so that I could tell her, despite it all, that I love her.
That thought surprised me because that certainly wasn’t what I had been thinking all week. But I wanted Amy beside me, her hand on my shoulder, her lips on mine.
I wouldn’t trade my relationship with her for the world. If they were going to rip my head off because of her, then I think it was well worth it.
“Law of deliverance!” Connor suddenly blurted out beside me and all the elders turned to look at him.
“Liam evokes the law of deliverance,” Connor said, calmly.
The elders regarded him with curiosity.
“Yes, please explain.” I glanced at Connor like he was crazy. If I were in his shoes, I would have made sure to get out of there as soon as possible, because I wouldn’t want to be around for an elder killing. But Connor held his gaze steady.
“The law of deliverance states that if the vampire believes the mortal to be close to death, then they can share their secret, under pain of death themselves. Liam’s grandfather, Peter, is an old man, living on borrowed time. If you were to see him, you would see that he is practically on his deathbed, hobbling around, with rows and rows of medications that he needs to take to keep his heart beating. And Amy.” He glanced at me. “Amy suffers a blood disease that claimed her mother’s life, and she too will succumb to it, and likely soon her demise will begin, judging by the smell of her blood. Both of them are beginning to smell of death, my lords. I’m sure that if you would like to investigate, you will find this true.”
They glanced at one another, and then back at me.
The elders whispered to each other and then bowed low to me.
“We will investigate the case. If your plea is accepted, then please accept our apologies for the wrongful intervention. Our condolences again, and… good luck on your mission.”
And then they were gone, moving so fast I could hardly see them go.
I turned to Connor. “We have to get Amy to safety. How can we avoid this? If we put dead pig’s blood on her, will they think that’s enough, from the smell? Come on, Connor, let’s move! That was fast thinking.”
“Liam.” Connor didn’t move, routed to his spot. “There is no need.”
I stared back at him. “What are you talking about?
“Liam,” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “I am much older than you and I have seen much death. I can detect even the smallest hint of it.”
I shook my head. “Amy’s not dying, Connor, she’s fine. The way her disease works, it’s slow and even when it becomes active, she’s got years. Peter, I understand, and it’s going to suck, but I get it. But Amy’s fine.”
I shook my head, babbling again, “No, trust me. I saw Porsche die from the same thing, I know what it looks like. It’s not like that.”
“Maybe it’s like that and maybe it’s not,” he said dismissingly. “But the truth is, when she is around me, the scent of death fills my nostrils. The law was not false invoked, Liam. They will find it true and you will be safe.”
“No.” I didn’t want to believe it, but like in my office when we caught Isabelle, I knew Connor was telling the truth. “No, no, no!”
“I’m sorry.” His eyes were full of pain. “I know what it’s like to lose one you love. Even if you are at odds with them.”
“I’m not talking about this anymore.” I shook my head. “Thank you for coming up with some weirdo law to save my skin, but I’m going to go get Amy to safety.”
I turned on my heel and stormed out of the theater, leaving Connor there. I knew my path was crooked, I couldn’t seem to keep walking in a straight line.
Going to the dorms was harder than I imagined, and I trailed a hand along the wall, trying to hurry and be careful at the same time.
“Hi Liam,” a few girls called, as they walked down the hall, and I nodded, not trusting my own voice.
I knew what death smelled like, Connor wasn’t high and mighty. I had killed my fair share of people, and there was a similar tinge of the lord of necromancers on Peter, as much as it hurt me. Porsche had the same smell to her, near the end, and even Nina, as soon as I got down there, smelled the same way with a twist of vampire. Death was something vampires got used to, the scent becoming as familiar as the smell of strawberries or freshly baked bread.
I rapped on Amy’s dorm room twice. We hadn’t seen each other in weeks, aside from rehearsal, and we hadn’t spoken a word to each other. Her first episode of Ranger had aired and it almost killed me to watch it without her, to not call her and tell her how proud of her I was.
This was going to be an awkward encounter, but I needed to know.
There was no answer at the door and I leaned in, peeping through the peephole, but the distorted view showed an empty room.
“Amy? Amy?” I called through the door, rapping again and hoping she was just hiding inside.
It was probably about the third call, my voice a little louder than I meant it to be, when a door opened down the hallway and Sarah and Amy came out of Sarah’s dorm room.
“What the hell are you doing?” Amy asked, her arms crossed.
“Amy!” I headed towards her, lurching a little and she ducked away to avoid contact.
“Are you drunk?” she asked, with distaste. “That’s real responsible, Liam.”
“Liam, you shouldn’t be here,” Sarah said, clearly a bit annoyed as well.
But I focused on Amy, moving forward and trying to get my nose close enough to her neck. I was half in transformation, and I knew I shouldn’t be out, but it allowed me to get a whiff of her life force.
The familiar smell drifted into my nostrils. Connor was right. She smelled like death. My Amy was dying, far too soon.
At first, I just thought they were scrapes, cuts, bruises. Every theater actor has them, because it isn’t exactly a glamorous life. I had gotten a few in the summertime, during Gatsby, and now that I had been working on Ranger for a few weeks, with Drago’s ridiculously hard but supposedly safe stunts, there were more of them. I had ignored them for a while, assuming it was nothing.
I had also gotten sick a few times during the summer, horrible coughs and colds that I just couldn’t shake. I had even cancelled a visit home with Liam because I felt like crap for a week. But everyone gets sick, especially when they are working a hard schedule and traveling. So I ignored it.
But one morning, I woke up at dawn, coughing. I looked at the clock, hating my life at that moment. It was 5 am and I was still exhausted, despite having gone to bed at nearly 9 pm. In the dawn light, my arm was practically shining like a halo and the wound was shiny and purple, and a bit wet.
Realistically, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I was approaching twenty and had HIV since birth. I was what was known as a long term non-regressor, the disease was lying dormant for years. I took my medication daily, and I never skipped a dose. I guess, somewhere in my head, I thought that it would never show up. But here it was. And lesions were not the first sign, which meant I had been stupidly ignoring other signs for a while.
I closed my eyes, trying not to let a million doomsday thoughts enter my head. This wasn’t the end. Times were different and modern science was progressing rapidly, and AIDS was no longer a death sentence.
But I couldn’t help but think of Porsche’s lifeless body; of my mother’s grave. AIDS was a death sentence for them, and one day, it would be for me, unless a vampire got me first.