I was to sleep for only 40 minutes. 2 hours later, I awoke to screams echoing through the vents. Smoke tinged the air, and I sat up too fast again. I grabbed my forehead to stop the room from swaying and then tried to understand what was happening. The screams were strangled, trapped, pained. Someone was attacking.
“Ruby, you awake?” Dale’s voice came from the chair across the room. Heidi, Clint, and April sat there, too, their fear thick in the room.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Dale came to me and climbed into the bed. “Drink.” I took his neck eagerly. He moaned a little with satisfaction, but his voice quivered.
“Someone drove up just before the break was to end,” Heidi said. “The screaming started shortly after that. It’s been going on for an hour.”
“Are my parents…”
“They’re fine…Most over here have gone underground. Shori didn’t want to call you awake, in case the attackers could hear it.”
“…They’re Ina, aren’t they?”
“We think so…Shori is still in her room.”
The screams remained across the mansion. I had time to get my mother, so I nodded to my symbionts. “In the fireplace, there’s a hidden passage. I’ll go meet her.”
“We’re not leaving you, girl,” Dale refused.
“You will,” I ordered. “You have to.” He huffed. “I’ll be safe. Don’t worry. Go.”
Dale slowly climbed down from the bed, and April gave him a glass of water as the four of them ducked into the fireplace. I waited for the passage to close behind them before I slid to the foot of the bed and climbed down the step. I took swift, quiet steps to the door and pulled it open. The scent of smoke coated the air but thinly on this end of the mansion. I stayed near the wall to avoid the floor creaking and slid down the hall to my mother-Shori’s room. The door opened as I reached it, and she pulled me inside.
“Are your symbionts safe?”
“I sent them to the others,” I told her.
“Good.” Poppa was in the room, as well as Oscar Silk. I hesitated, and I could tell by his “Oh, come now,” expression that the frown on my face was understood. Poppa ushered me towards a chair. “Calm yourself.”
When I sat, Oscar began to speak. “I would have come forward when the meeting resumed, but given the circumstances, I feel you are entitled to know. Those who killed the Bassanos and attacked you…They are our…well, they were our youngersons.”
I looked to my parents, and they nodded. “I thought it was impossible to return to your original family once it was dissolved.”
“It is. We started to get letters from John, formerly our eldest, presently the last surviving Bassano.”
I almost winced as what he said quickly soaked into my thoughts, but I looked to my father-Daniel. “Didn’t you all check the property? You said they were all dead.”
“We thought they were,” Poppa sighed. “We smelled everyone’s blood, even John’s. There was enough to fool us.”
“John’s first letter told us that Lucas and Claude wanted to propose a union with you,” Oscar said. His eyes flickered up and down my frame as though the idea were incredulous. I simply stared back at him. “Russell didn’t respond to it. There was nothing we could do. He is no longer our youngerson, and we have no authority over what happens to his. His second letter begged us to do something about it. His third hinted at how. He wanted us to…repeat history.” Momma’s eyes burned, but she stayed still. “Russell finally responded to John. He explained the Three Centuries Law, who John’s fathers were now, and told him not to contact us again.” A flash of pain crossed his eyes before he looked away. “Of course, you realize Russell is not here.” It wasn’t until he said it that I thought back to the first half of the Council meeting. Russell hadn’t even been in the audience. “Russell had left to do business in Michigan. His head was sent back to us with a note: ‘You all started this, and now we will end it. True Silks.’”
“They have been planning this the entire time,” I said, shocked.
Oscar nodded again. “I assume because he didn’t agree with his brothers that John wasn’t chosen to offer his sons to you, but I know you were to meet at least one other of our former youngersons over the next few weeks.”
“What do we do?” Momma asked. “Surely, we can’t let them just burn this place down and kill us all?”
“On behalf of those who have fallen, I apologize,” Oscar said to us. “I can’t change how I feel about how you were made, but this should have ended long ago.”
“When you raise children on hatred, don’t expect them to grow up as anything other than hateful children,” Momma said, her voice clearly sharp towards him.
“Yes, well, I also can’t change the past.”
“You may go, Oscar,” Poppa said. Oscar nodded and took the secret passage. The three of us stayed silent for a time before Poppa shook his head. “This is a mess.”
“You think it’s ended,” Momma said softly, “and then they still speak to you as though you’re a sin.” I hated seeing her so sad. I sat beside her and took her hand. She squeezed mine.
“We must get everyone out of here. One of the hidden passages must be an escape route…Perhaps the Davescus had a map…Goddess carry them.”
“We have to stop them first.” Momma stood and walked towards Poppa.
“Shori, I think it would be best for everyone if—” He cried out as Momma took one quick leap onto him and bit his neck. I stood there slack-jawed as Poppa tried to push her away. He stopped, closed his eyes briefly to the pleasure, then shook his head. “Shori, stop!” She climbed off of him and stepped back. Poppa stared at her with wide, confused eyes, his blood staining his collar. “Why did you do that?”
“If they want to kill me, they are going to have to fight me first.”
“You’re sleepy, Daniel.”
“What? I’m not…” Poppa’s entire frame slumped, and his eyes fell low. He tried to shake his head clear of the fogginess, put a hand to his face. “Shori, this is not fair.”
She guided him towards the fireplace and opened the passageway. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, but…” Poppa drifted off, then jerked awake. “Dammit, Shori.”
Momma guided him inside and turned to me. “Ruby, go with him.”
“No.” She gave me a stern glare, but I frowned back at her. “I’m not leaving you to those monsters, Momma.”
“You have a baby to protect now.”
“This baby and I will need you. If we die, we die together.”
Momma clenched her jaw. I knew she worried for my safety, but I worried about hers. I wasn’t strong enough without her, and I knew that. She sighed and came to me. At first, I thought she would bite me, too, but she pulled me to her and hugged me.
“We are Ina. I don’t care how any of them see us. We will always be Ina. This child inside of you is Ina. No matter what happens to me, you live, and you teach it that.”
She kissed my forehead, then took my hand. “Let’s go.”
We walked to the door of the bedroom and opened it. Aidan and Ciaran stood there with guns. Aidan held out two piles of cloth, which we realized were fire blankets when we each took one. He and Ciaran had two more around their necks.
“Did you honestly think we would let you go alone?”
Momma sighed and wrapped herself in the blanket. “You are the most stubborn children.” Ciaran held a gun out for her, and she took it with a scowl. She hated the things, but they could still stop an Ina. “Did they hear you?”
Ciaran shook his head. “They should be in our wing by now searching for people.”
“Aim for their heads. We can burn them later.”
Aidan led the way up the hall and down a connecting corridor that lead to the opposite wing. The smoke floated densely along the floor here, and the screams, though dying off, as most had fled by now, were louder. The scents inside the smoke were thick with the seared flesh and bones of Ina, symbionts, and workhands. I hadn’t expected the mixture to nauseate me, but it was an awful, pungent smell. I took quick steps to the nearest planter and threw up, as quietly as I could, into its soil.
“You should have stayed with everyone else,” Aidan said lowly, concern in his stern voice.
“Well, my mother-Shori was about to go fight alone,” I defended myself. “I couldn’t let her.”
Ciaran pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the corner of my mouth. “There’s still time to…”
“I’m not leaving any of you.”
He gave me a long, deep stare, but he took my free hand in his as we moved on. Most of the wing had been full of neutral families. Judging by the faint scents left in their rooms, they had made it safely out. The closer we moved to the central corridors, however, the smoke rose higher, and the scents grew stronger. The distinct scents of at least four families wafted in the air. The floors and walls were smeared with blood.
“They must have attacked and then gathered them,” Momma concluded. “If we can stop them, the fires might only damage a fraction of this place.”
“Hopefully one of the Davescus’ families is still alive to even…” Aidan gasped sharply and fell to his knees.
“No,” Ciaran moaned. He bowed lowly, brought his hands to his forehead.
I didn’t need to ask what was wrong. The scent of rain in their blood was strong. Kean had died where Aidan knelt. Momma brought a hand to her mouth and closed her eyes. Ciaran straightened for a moment, then pressed his hands and face into the wall beside us. Aidan shrunk down into a ball, blubbering angry Ina words as he slapped the floor.
“Iaishcu annacu.” You old, stupid man. “Layoscu atasii.” You should have stayed with the others.
I rested my cheek against Ciaran’s back as he struggled to breathe. We remained there for as long as we could spare to mourn. Then, Momma crouched beside Aidan, placing a hand on his back to quiet his low wailing.
“Do you smell that?” she asked him. “It’s the blood of one of them. Your father-Kean killed one before he died. His death wasn’t in vain.”
Aidan sat back on his heels and nodded. He kept his head low for a moment, then stood. I stepped aside as he approached Ciaran. He cupped the back of his neck and pulled him close, letting Ciaran bury his face into his shoulder.
“We’re going to kill them,” Aidan said into his ear. The anger in his eyes was subdued but still so strong that I could feel it. “We’ll kill them all.” Ciaran nodded, so Aidan kissed his hair and pushed him forward.
We moved further into the wing where the Sullivans, Guions, Roscricus and other families close to them had been placed. We followed the blood trails deeper into the smoke which grew thicker by the yard. The screaming had stopped, so we knew all who they had captured were dead. We reached the front hall before we saw any “True Silks.” Aidan turned the corner, but jumped back just before gunshots were fired. The bullets pierced the wall at the end of the corridor, and when they stopped, Aidan spun back out and shot at the Ina. We followed him out into the hall, where he stalked over to the man lying on the ground. He had a gun in one hand, an axe in the other. Aidan snatched the axe, but I hurried past before I could see him take his head off. The crunch was enough to bear. The others rushed into the foyer. Momma shot one in the leg before Ciaran tackled him to the ground, bashing his skull into the marble floor. Another came towards Ciaran with what looked to me like a flamethrower, so I aimed with both hands and shot at him. One thing I hadn’t learned to do was to shoot a gun, however, so the recoil threw off my aim. My target cried out and brought a hand to his ear as my bullet went through it.
“Ruby, get down!” Aidan called, but he cried out.
I looked up as quickly as I could. Another brother stabbed at Aidan with a knife. I wanted to go help him, but the one whom I shot crashed into me, and we tumbled to the floor. A bright flash blurred my vision as my head smacked against the marble. Momma jumped on his back, but he yanked her off and tossed her as easily as he would a bag. She crashed into the table and mirror across the foyer.
“Fucking demons,” he said through gritted teeth. He grabbed my throat and squeezed it. “You should be dead already.” I smacked at his face and arms, but he slammed my head into the marble. My sight started faltering, and my lungs screamed as he crushed my larynx. “Thought I would sit by and let them mix my sons’ blood with some mutt bitch, they were sorely mistaken!”
Ciaran rushed up behind us and jerked John Bassano’s head back. All went black, and when light returned, blood gushed from John’s throat. Then, Aidan pulled me away as Ciaran snapped John’s head from his neck.