I felt good about my choice. I felt like I was growing up, in a way. I even liked feeling responsible for Martel. This was more than just fetching an artifact. I was entrusted with people's lives. My earlier trepidations subsided, leaving me with a sense of purpose.
I could do this.
Leaning back in the chair despite the dust, I kept Martel's gaze, continuing to question him. "So, what's Vara gonna say when I'm not there and she can't find you?"
He shut down, his face becoming a mask. Martel wouldn't look at me, and remained silent for several minutes. I wanted to apologize for bringing it up, but I also needed to get to business. The vampire was easy on the eyes, but I wasn't on vacation anymore.
When he finally spoke, his voice had lost all the emotion he'd gained. "If she hasn't called for me yet, it's because she's fixated on Steven."
"Fixated?" The way he said it implied something beyond the normal meaning. Hopefully nothing too bad.
Martel turned to me, sorrow in his eyes. "She can't tear herself from him. She'll lay with him, suckling on his veins, oblivious to the world. I've seen her go days without stopping."
"Days?" I whispered, stunned. "She feeds on him for days?"
"And she killed off everyone after he arrived? And she grows stronger from him?" Martel nodded. "Who the hell is he?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
I chuckled, rising to pace the room. "That's the big mystery here. No one knows who this kid is, or why he's here." I looked down at the vampire. "But he's a disruption in this world, and I'm going to take him away."
Martel's flagging hope spiked, and he rose to his feet. "I could show you her rooms. She won't notice us, and you can figure out how to take Steven from her." I nodded, and followed him on another trip through the complex.
I'd walked city blocks shorter than some of the halls we trod. I imagined none of the previous residents had been out of shape. They could have gone days without seeing another living soul, or gotten lost trying to get a midnight snack.
Then I thought of all the people Martel said Vara had killed or driven off in her jealousy. She'd had some time to get like this, warped and twisted. It would take time for her to get better, to forget about Steven and move on with her life.
We were in a cleaner part of the complex, with less signs of disuse. Must be near Vara's rooms. Martel slowed his pace, his shoulders tensing. I grabbed his wrists, pulling him to a halt.
"It's going to get ugly when I leave, isn't it?"
The vampire chewed his lower lip, unable to meet my gaze. When he didn't speak, I tugged on his arm. "What do you mean?"
I rolled my eyes. "Now you decide to go all coy on me." I let go of his wrist, but we remained close. "You understand that Vara is going to lose it when Steven disappears? If she did this-" I gestured at the empty complex, "-when the kid was here, what's she going to do when he isn't?"
Martel shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it." His voice bordered on sullen, his jaw set.
My voice dropped to a whisper. "You know you won't survive. You already know she's going to kill you."
His eyes snapped up, and the vampire growled as he spoke. "I know no such thing. Once the kid's gone, things can go back to normal. Vara will love me again."
I remained silent, shocked by his reaction. My optimism had taken a blow, my newfound sense of responsability wiped out. I'd decided not to kill the lover of a man who knew said lvoer was going to kill him in a fit of rage. What was the point?
After several interminable moments, Martel turned. "Come on. Maybe she's asleep, and you can just take the kid."
The prospect of escaping with Steven suddenly didn't seem like such a victory.