They let her keep the jeans! Schuyler was thrilled.
The shoot ended late, way past the six o'clock end time, and by the time they were done it was dark outside. She said her good-byes in a flurry of air kisses, waving madly to everyone at the corner. The merry gang dispersed - Anka and the stylists disappearing in a Town Car, the hair and makeup crew into taxicabs, Jonas and his assistants to the nearest bar.
"Do you want a ride uptown?" Bliss asked. "My driver should be here shortly."
Schuyler shook her head. "Thanks, but no. I think I'm going to walk a bit." It was a nice night, cloudless and brisk.
Bliss shrugged. She was already sucking on a cigarette, and in her tight T-shirt, new jeans, and purple monkey-fur jacket, she looked every inch an off-duty model. "Suit yourself. Don't forget, mi casa, tonight at ten."
Schuyler nodded. She hugged the plastic bag with her new jeans tightly. She was back to wearing her many layers - a black T-shirt over a black turtleneck over a black jersey skirt over a pair of gray jeans and white-and-black striped stockings, with her beat-up black combat boots. She meant to walk east toward Seventh Avenue, and continue to stroll up through Times Square, Lincoln Center, and the Upper West Side on the way home.
As she walked east toward Tenth Avenue, she felt a little wary. The streets were completely deserted; the warehouse buildings that housed new art galleries were dark and forbidding. The streetlights flickered and there were puddles on the ground from a recent rainstorm. Schuyler suddenly wished she had taken Bliss up on the offer of a ride. Feeling anxious, she began walking faster toward the well-lit avenues. If she could only get to Ninth, with its coffeeshops and boutiques, she knew she would be safe.
She tried to shake the fear off, thinking it was merely paranoia from the dark - and who was she to be afraid of the dark anyway? She was a vampire! She laughed ghoulishly, but she felt a prickle of fear just the same.
She couldn't deny it anymore.
Someone was following her.
Or some thing...
She broke out into a quick run, her heart beating wildly in her chest, and her breath coming in quick gasps. She turned around...
A shadow against a wall.
Her shadow. She blinked. Nothing. There was nothing and no one. You're just paranoid, you're just paranoid, she told herself. She forced herself to walk slower, to show herself she wasn't afraid.
Only a few more steps to the haven of Ninth Avenue... so close... she turned around one more time... and felt something reach around and grab her by the neck. She struggled to breathe, to open her eyes, to kick away, but she couldn't scream; it was as if something had locked her throat and was squeezing it tightly. A dark, giant creature... tall and strong as a man, a dense and noxious presence with... crimson eyes, crimson eyes with silver pupils shining in the dark, staring at her... boring into her brain... and then she felt it...
No! No! No!
She refused to believe it, but yes, there were fangs pricking her skin - but how could it be? She was one of them! What was this?
With all the strength she had, she pushed back at her attacker - but she flailed, scratching at nothing it was like the wind had her in its grip - it was no use, the fangs came down stabbing her neck - her blood, her bright blue blood, seeping the life out of her... She was dizzy and confused... she was going to pass out - when a blue-black blur suddenly materialized, barking madly.
The bloodhound snarled and leaped at the dark creature. The monster released her, and Schuyler staggered onto the dirty sidewalk, clutching the side of her neck. Her bloodhound ran in circles, snarling and barking loudly. The dark creature disappeared.
Beauty was still barking when Schuyler finally opened her eyes. Someone was holding her up.
"Are you okay?" Bliss Llewellyn asked.
"I don't know," Schuyler said, still in shock. She tried to regain her balance, leaning heavily on Bliss's shoulder, her legs still shaking.
"Easy," Bliss soothed.
Beauty was still barking, with loud, angry howls, and growling at Bliss.
"Heel, Beauty, heel, that's Bliss, she's my friend," Schuyler said, putting an arm out to soothe the trembling dog. But the dog wouldn't stop. Beauty ran around Bliss, nipping her ankles.
"Beauty, that's enough!" Schuyler said, taking Beauty's collar roughly. Where had she come from? How had she known? Schuyler looked into the dog's intelligent black eyes. You saved me, she thought.
"What happened?" Bliss asked again.
"I don't know. I was just walking when something attacked me from behind..."
"I heard you," Bliss said, her voice shaking. "I was waiting over there, outside the studio, for my car, when I heard you screaming down the block, so I ran over to help."
Schuyler nodded, still dazed from the experience. Her bag and its contents were scattered around her - her books open and soaking in the puddles, her prized new jeans crumpled in a heap.
"What do you think it was?" Bliss asked, helping Schuyler gather her things and putting them back in her leather bag.
"I don't know... it seemed... unreal," Schuyler stammered. She zipped up her bag and shouldered it roughly. She was still a bit unsteady on her feet, but holding Beauty's leash made her feel better somehow. She felt stronger around the bloodhound, more substantial.
Already, the memory of the attack was staring to fade - a dark mass, with shining red eyes and silver pupils - and teeth, teeth sharp enough to puncture skin - fangs - just like hers - but when her fingers touched the side of her neck, there was nothing there anymore. Not a wound. Not even a scratch.
Catherine Carver's Diary
23rd of December, 1620
Alas! Alas! Everyone from Roanoke is disappeared. Myles and the men found nothing of the colony. The shelters had been dismantled, the animals nowhere in sight. There was nothing but a bare patch of field. Nothing remained of the settlement except for a lone sign nailed to a tree. John showed it to me.
It chilled my blood to see it. Alas! Alas! It is true. We are cursed! They are here. All is lost! We weep for our kindred. But we must protect the children. We are not safe!
Ridiculous. It was one of Mimi's favorite words.
Her python Birkin? Ridiculous! Her father's new G-5 jet? Ridiculous! Bliss Llwellyn's house party? OTT, baby. Ridiculous to the max. There was nothing like a party to get her blood flowing. Mimi surveyed the crowded room. Almost everyone from The Committee was there, and a great selection of delicious-looking Red Bloods. She was glad she'd convinced Bliss to throw the party.
Things had been way too serious around school - what with midterms just around the corner, the seniors stressing about applications, the lingering sadness from Aggie's funeral - and they all needed to relax. Bliss had been hesitant at first - badgering Mimi with a thousand petty concerns like, Will anyone show? What about food? Who's going to buy the beer? What about the furniture? What if something happens to it? Some of it is really expensive! She had almost driven Mimi mad with all her angsting. "Leave it all in my capable hands," Mimi finally told her friend.
So, in quick succession, Mimi commandeered an army of publicists and event planners to transform the Llewellyns' triplex penthouse apartment into a bacchanalian haven - complete with a sponsored open bar (as if alcohol had any effect on them anyway), a crew of models holding serving trays bearing bite-size edibles (potatoes stuffed with caviar, lobster timbale, and shrimp cocktail), and slew of brightly colored goodie bags stuffed with a full line of luxurious bath products. Mimi had even hired a crew of reflexologists, aromatherapists, and Swedish masseurs to give foot, hand, and back massages to the guests. The white-clad "pamper police" were busy at work kneading, chopping, and relieving the stressed-out muscles of the private school elite.
Bliss arrived home to find all the furniture on the downstairs floor replaced with zebra-pint couches, shag rugs, and Aero lamps. A DJ was setting up in front of the fireplace.
"Don't freak, okay?" Mimi said, holding up a hand in front of Bliss's face.
"What the f - ?" Bliss asked, looking around at the total transformation of her parents' home into a groovy 60s-style nightclub.
Mimi explained she'd had all of Bliss's parents' things secured and transferred to a storage location, and that everything would be put back tomorrow morning before they got home. She'd gotten the idea from one of the design magazines, suggesting an empty house was the perfect place for a party.
"Am I a genius or what? This way, you don't have to worry about anything being stolen or broken," Mimi assured. "Where have you been, anyway? You're late!"
Bliss shook her head, aghast. She wondered what her stepmother would say if she knew everything in her precious Penthouse des R��ves was in Jersey somewhere. She gaped at Mimi for a second, threw her hands up in resignation, and headed to her room to change.
"You're welcome!" Mimi called.
The latest smashcut remix (Destiny's Child vs. Nirvana) was blasting from the Llewellyns' surround-sound stereo system. Mimi smiled to herself in the dark. She wet her lips, which shone brightly with blood. Her Italian boyfriend was somewhere, passed out as usual.
"Lychee martini?" a waitress asked, offering her a cocktail.
The perfect chaser. Mimi smiled and emptied its contents. Then she took another and another, while the confused server just stared at her.
"Thirsty?" a voice behind her asked.
Mimi turned around.
Dylan Ward was watching her, his dark hair masking his eyes. The same feeling of dread came over her. "What's it to you?" she sneered.
Mimi walked over to him. She was wearing a cropped red leather Dsquared jacket and a vented chiffon Balenciaga skirt that hugged her curves. It annoyed her that Dylan didn't even notice how good her legs looked in that skirt. There was something impudent about that. As if he didn't even care what she looked like. Blasphemy! She checked his neck. So far, no sign that Bliss had tried to seal their bond. Mimi smiled to herself. An idea formed in her head. Now, this could be fun.
If she performed the Caerimonia Osculor on Dylan before Bliss did, he would be bound to her forever. He would forget all about Bliss. That would serve Bliss right for continuing to see him after Mimi had forbade her to do so. Not that she was even interested in Dylan or anything, she was just bored.
She lowered her lashes flirtatiously. "Help me with something?" she asked, leading him away from the party.
In the shadows, she looked like a helpless beautiful girl, and without even thinking about it, Dylan found himself automatically following her farther and farther, deeper into the dark.
"But she invited me! I know the owner of this apartment!" Schuyler argued. She'd never even heard of a guest list for a house party. But then again, she'd never been invited to one. The elevator had opened to the lowest floor of the apartment, and Schuyler found her way barred by a cadre of stony-faced PR girls.
"Did you RSVP?" one of them demanded, snapping her gum and looking balefully at Schuyler's mismatched outfit. She was wearing a flowing tunic with layers of plastic beads, denim shorts over black leggings, and scuffed cowboy boots.
"I only heard about it today," Schuyler groaned.
"I'm sorry, you're not on the list," the clipboard girl replied, savoring the rejection.
Schuyler was about to step back into the elevator and go home, when Bliss appeared from behind a hidden doorway.
"Bliss!" Schuyler cried. "They won't let me in."
Bliss marched over. She had showered and changed into a slim-fitting Missoni dress with zigzagging stripes and high-heeled gladiator sandals. She took Schuyler by the arm and pulled her through the PR barricade, over the protests of the clipboard hellions. She led Schuyler into the main room, which was crowded with Duchesne kids angling for drinks at the bar, sprawling on couches, or dirty-dancing by the windows.
"Thanks," Schuyler said.
"Sorry about that. It's Mimi. I told her my parents were away and I was thinking of hosting a little get-together, and she puts together like, the MTV Movie Awards After Party."
Schuyler laughed. She looked around - there were go-go boys and go-go girls writhing in cages hung from the ceiling, and she recognized several famous faces in the mix. "Isn't that - ?" Schuyler asked, noticing a peppy teen actress funneling beers in front of a cheering crowd.
"Yeah," Bliss sighed. "C'mon, let me show you the rest of the place. It doesn't usually look like this."
"I'd love to - but I have to do something first."
Bliss raised her eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I have to find Jack Force."
She had to find Jack. She had to tell him what had happened to her. They had barely spoken to each other since the night of the Informals, but she perceived he was the only one who would understand. She was fighting to hold on to the memory - already it was slipping - already she couldn't remember the exact details of where, why, or how it had happened - except for the eyes, eyes glimmering red in the dark, with silver pupils. Red eyes and sharp teeth.
But the Llewellyns' penthouse was like a house that magically expanded - everywhere you turned, there were rooms and rooms off innumerable hallways, with hidden treasures. Schuyler found an indoor lap pool, a fully equipped gym, and what looked to be a staffed day spa on the premises, complete with massage tables and essential oils, as well as a game room filled with old-fashioned carnival arcade toys, with mechanical fortune tellers and penny games, all of them in perfect working condition. She pushed a penny into a slot and removed her fortune.
YOU ARE A TRAVELER AT HEART.
MANY JOURNEYS AWAIT YOU.
She wished Oliver were there to see it.
"Have you seen Jack? Jack Force?" she asked everyone she bumped into.
She was told that he had just left, or was on another floor, or had just arrived. He seemed to be everywhere and nowhere.
At last, she found him in an empty guest bedroom on the uppermost floor. He was strumming a guitar and singing softly to himself. Downstairs was the house party of the century, but Jack preferred the silence upstairs.
"Schuyler?" he said, without looking up.
"Something happened," she said, closing the door behind her softly. Now that she'd finally found him, all the feelings she'd bottled up came out. She was trembling, so scared that she hadn't even noticed that he'd divined her presence from sense alone. Her eyes were wide and frightened. Without thinking twice, she ran to his side and sat next to him on the bed.
He put an arm around her protectively. "What's wrong?"
"I was at a photo shoot today, and afterward, I was walking alone... and I was... I can't remember..." She struggled for the words. For the images. At the time, they were burned into her brain, yet it felt like she was grasping - reaching for them. She held on to the tendrils of the memory - something terrible had almost happened to her - but what? What words could convey what had happened, and why was her memory betraying her? "I was attacked," she forced herself to say.
"What?" He cursed. He shook her shoulders, then held her close. "By whom? Tell me."
"I don't remember. It's gone, but it was... powerful, I couldn't stop it. Red... red eyes... teeth... going to suck... here," she said, pointing to her neck. "I felt it, deep into my veins... but look, I don't have any puncture wounds? I don't understand."
Jack frowned. He kept his arms around her. "I'm going to tell you something. Something important."
"Something is hunting us. There is something out there hunting Blue Bloods," he said softly. "I wasn't sure before, but I am now."
"What do you mean, hunting us? Don't you have it backward? We're the ones everyone else needs to be afraid of!"
Jack shook his head. "I know it doesn't make sense."
"Because The Committee said we can't be kil - "
"Exactly," Jack interrupted. "They've always told us we live forever, that we're immortal and invulnerable, that nothing can kill us, right?" he asked.
Schuyler nodded. "That's what I was telling you."
"And they're right. I've tried."
"I've jumped in front of trains. I've cut myself. I was the one who fell out the library window last year."
Schuyler remembered that rumor - how some kid had jumped off the third-floor balcony and landed in the cortile. But she hadn't believed it. No one could survive a fifty-foot jump and live, much less land on their feet.
"To see if what they were telling us was true."
"But you could have died!"
"No. I couldn't. The Committee was right about that, at least."
"That night - that night in front of Block 122 - you were hit by the taxi."
He nodded. "But it didn't hurt me."
"No." Schuyler nodded. So she had seen him fall underneath the taxicab's wheels. He should have died. But he had appeared on the sidewalk, whole. She'd thought she was just tired from the night, that her eyes were strained. But it had actually happened. She'd seen it.
"Schuyler, listen to me. Nothing can harm us... except - "
"I don't know!" He folded his hands into fists in frustration. "But there is something out there. The Committee isn't telling us everything."
Jack explained that before the first meeting, the senior members of The Committee decided that they wouldn't tell the premature about the danger. That instead of warning everyone, it was best to leave them in the dark for now. It was enough that they would find out about their true heritage first; no reason to raise alarm bells where there might be none. Except that he hadn't believed them. He knew they were keeping something from them.
"They're holding something back. I think it's something that might have happened before, in our history. Something to do with Plymouth, when we first came here. I've tried to dig it up, but it's as if it's blocked from my sight. When I try to think about it, all I remember is a word. A message nailed to a tree in an empty field. It contained one word: Croatan."
"What's that?" Croatan. Schuyler shuddered, repulsed by the mere sound of it.
"I have no idea." Jack shook his head. "I don't even know what it is. It could be anything. It might be a place, I'm not sure. But I think it has to do with what they haven't told us about. Something with the power to kill Blue Bloods."
"But how do you know? How can you be so sure?" she asked him, alarmed.
"Because, like I told you, Aggie Carondolet was murdered," he said, looking intently into her deep blue eyes. Schuyler was silent. "And?"
"Aggie was a vampire."
Schuyler gasped. Of course! That's why she'd felt so empathic at the funeral. She'd known, somehow, that Aggie was one of them.
"She's never coming back. She's gone. Her blood - all of it - was drained from her body. Her memories, her lives, her soul - gone. Sucked out, just like we suck the Red Bloods," he said sadly. "Extinguished. Taken."
Schuyler looked at him in horror. It couldn't be true.
"And she wasn't the first. This has happened before."
Catherine Carver's Diary
25th of December, 1620
Panic everywhere. Half of us are determined to flee, to find safer ground. Perhaps head south, farther away. The Conclave is meeting today to discuss the alternatives. John is convinced that one of them is hidden among us, that one of us has succumbed to their power. He is determined to convince the Elders. William White will stand with him, he said. But Myles Standish is adamant about staying. He has argued that there is no proof, even if the Roanoke colony is gone, that they were overtaken by Croatan. A hysterical lie, he says, perhaps even a willful misleading. He will not believe messages left on trees. The Conclave is ever in accordance, it has never happened that they have failed to reach an agreement. It is not our way to doubt. Myles Standish has led us well for as long as I can remember. But John is certain there is danger. Stay or flee? But where would we go?
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