Schuyler watched the car pull away, conflicting feelings and thoughts warring in her brain. Aggie was a vampire - and she was dead - which meant she, Schuyler, could die too. She'd almost died that day - if not for Beauty. She watched the car disappear around the corner. He was leaving her. Something about the way he had walked away made her feel as if he were walking away from her forever, and she would always be alone.
"Miss, can I help you?" the disgruntled concierge asked, pursing his thin lips.
Schuyler looked around. She was the only person standing in the Llewellyns' marble lobby. "Actually, yes," she replied smoothly. "I need a taxi, please."
The doorman at the front soon sent her on her way.
"Houston and Essex, please," she instructed the driver. She was going to the only place where she knew she would find a safe haven.
The line at The Bank was long as usual, but this time Schuyler walked straight up to the front of the rope. "Excuse me," she told the drag queen, "but I really need to get inside right now."
The Cher wannabe pursed her lips. "And I really need a tummy tuck. But nobody gets what they want. Get in the back like everyone else."
"You don't understand. I said, LET ME IN RIGHT NOW." The words were a roar in her mind, even stronger than the last time she had tried it.
The drag queen staggered back, holding her head as if she'd received a blow. She nodded to the door goons, who lifted the rope.
Schuyler strode in, mentally waving away the ticket taker and the ID check who were thrown backward toward the wall as if they were just dominos.
Inside the club was pitch-black, and Schuyler could barely make out the shadowy forms of revelers swaying, humming and dancing to the intoxicating music. The music was so loud, she could hear it in every pore of her body. She felt rather than saw her way through the crowd, slowly but steadily pushing her way forward through the mass of dancers. Finally, she found the stairs that led up to the lounge on the top floor.
"Grass, crank, blow," came the hiss of a reptilian drug dealer perched on the third step. "Something for the little lady? Take her to the stars?"
Schuyler shook her head and hurried past him.
She found Oliver on the second level, next to the windows, sitting cross-legged and admiring the view of Avenue A. He looked at once aloof and perfectly miserable. She felt exactly the same way. She didn't realize how much she'd missed him until she saw his familiar face, his hazel eyes hidden underneath his long bangs.
"Well, well. To what do I owe this honor?" he asked, when he noticed her standing in front of him. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and stared at her in a hostile fashion.
"I have to tell you something," she said.
Oliver crossed his arms. "What is it? Can't you see I'm busy?" he snapped, motioning to the large empty space surrounding him. "Well, I was busy," he muttered. "There were tons of people here just a minute ago. I don't know how you missed them."
"Just because..." she protested. Just because I left you at the dance alone and went to be with another guy, she had begun to say, but she stopped herself right in time. She had left Oliver alone, and for all intents and purposes, she had been his date at the Informals. He was her best friend, and she saw him all the time, but at the dance, they were supposed to have been a couple. Not in a romantic way, but in a, we're-here-at-this-crappy-dance-together-so-let's-make-the-best-of-it kind of way. What she'd done was incredibly rude. How would she feel if Oliver had done the same to her? If he'd left her alone, with no one to talk to, while he went off and danced with Mimi Force? She would probably give him as cold a shoulder as he was giving her now. Colder, most likely.
"Ollie, I'm sorry about last Saturday night," she said finally.
"I'm sorry. I said I'm sorry. Okay? I wasn't thinking."
He looked up at the ceiling, as if talking to an unseen observer. "Schuyler Van Men, admitting she was wrong. I don't believe it." But his hazel eyes were crinkling, and she knew they were friends again.
That was all she'd had to say. Sorry.
No matter how overused and abused it was, sorry was still a powerful word. Powerful enough to make her best friend talk to her again.
"So we're okay?"
Oliver had to laugh. "Yeah. I guess."
Schuyler smiled. She sat down on the ledge next to him. He was her best friend, her confidante, her soul mate, and in the past week, she had ignored and neglected him, pulling away because she was too frightened to tell him the truth about herself. "I have to tell you something about me." She reached out and took his hands in hers. "Oliver, I'm a... I'm a vam..."
Oliver's face softened. "I already know."
"Excuse me?" she demanded.
"Schuyler. Let me show you something."
Still holding her hand, he led her down past the basement pit and the coed bathrooms toward the corner where she had encountered that strange blank wall the last time they were at the club. He muttered a few words, and an outline of a door glowed brightly. Oliver pushed softly on it, and the wall swung open, revealing steep, curving stairs that led to the lowest bowels of the building.
"What is this?" Schuyler asked as they stepped through the entryway. The wall shut behind them, leaving them alone in the dark.
Oliver removed a thin flashlight from his shirt pocket. "Follow me," he said. They began to walk down the stairs, which spiraled down for what seemed like miles. Schuyler was out of breath by the time they arrived at the bottommost stair.
There was another door, a more magnificent one this time, made of gold, ebony, and platinum. INGREDIOR PERCIPIO ANIMUS read the inscription around the perimeter.
Oliver removed a gold key from his wallet and twisted it in the lock.
"Where are we? What is this all about?" Schuyler asked, stepping tentatively inside the room.
It was a library - a large, airy space that smelled like chalk dust and parchment. There were bookshelves that reached seventy-five feet to the ceiling, and a maze of ladders and bridges that connected the towering stacks. It was bright and well-lit, and decorated with cozy Aubusson rugs and bankers lamps. Several scholars at rolltop desks looked up curiously when they entered. Oliver bowed to them and led Schuyler to a private cubicle.
"This is the Repository of History. We keep it protected."
Oliver put a hand to his lips. He led her to a small, shabby desk in the back of the room. It held a gleaming iBook, several framed photographs, and a dozen Post-it notes. He searched the shelf on top of the desk and made a satisfied sound as he took down a book, musty and dirty from years of use. He blew softly on the cover. He flipped to the first page and displayed it to her. He pointed to the crumbling page where a family tree was illustrated, the name Van Alen inscribed in the center, with Hazard-Perry in small letters underneath.
"What is this?"
"It's how we're related," Oliver explained. "How we're associated, I mean. We're not family, so don't worry."
"What do you mean?" she asked, still trying to fathom the fact that there was a secret library underneath the nightclub.
"My family has served yours for centuries."
"I'm a Conduit. Like everyone in my family. We've been caretakers for the Blue Bloods forever. We work as doctors, lawyers, accountants, financiers. We've served the Van Alens in that capacity since the 1700s. You know Dr. Pat? She's my aunt."
"What do you mean, serve us? Your family is so much richer than mine," Schuyler pointed out.
"An accident of fate. We offered to ameliorate the situation, but your grandmother wouldn't hear of it. 'Times have changed, she said."
"But what does that mean - a Conduit?"
"It means, we serve a different purpose. Not all humans are familiars."
"You know about that?" she asked. She looked down at the page again, recognizing the names of her ancestors on her mother's side.
"I know enough."
"But why didn't you ever say anything?"
"I'm not allowed."
"But how come you can know what you are, but I didn't know what I was?"
"Search me. That's how it's been since the beginning Being a Conduit is something that's passed down, that's taught, and it's easier to teach at a young age. We serve to keep the Blue Bloods a secret, to protect them and help them manage in the real world. The practice is an old one, and only a few vampire families keep Conduits nowadays. Most got rid of theirs, like the Forces. It's an ancient tradition, and some Blue Bloods don't keep to the old ways anymore. Like your grandmother said, things are different now I'm one of the last of our kind."
"Who knows?" Oliver shrugged. "Most Blue Bloods can take care of themselves anyway. They don't need us anymore. They don't trust the Red Bloods to help; they want to control them instead."
There was a commotion at another desk, and they turned to see a cowering, hunchbacked librarian being berated by an angry older woman with a distinctly recognizable blond bob.
"Anders is getting it again. Mrs. DuPont is not happy with the way his research is going."
Schuyler recognized the graceful figure of The Committee chair. "And Anders is?"
"A librarian. All the library staff is Red Blood. Conduits who don't work for any single family anymore."
Schuyler noticed that the Blue Bloods at the library ordered the librarians around with a grand, authoritative fashion, and for a moment she was embarrassed to be a vampire. What happened to common courtesy?
"Why do they talk to you guys like that?"
"Your family never did," Oliver said, blushing. "But like I told you, most Blue Bloods resent us. They don't even think we should be here, or know about them. But no one from your side wants to take over the Repository. No one's interested in caretaking some old books."
"What's she doing here anyway?" Schuyler wondered, watching Mrs. DuPont look through some paperwork her Conduit had brought.
"This is the headquarters of the Conclave of Elders. The Wardens - you know. They meet over there, in the boardroom behind the stacks."
"How long have you known? About me, I mean." Schuyler asked. She looked back at his desk, at the photograph of the two of them that had been taken the past summer in Nantucket. Oliver, his face red from the sun, was squinting at the camera. He had a dark, deep caramel tan and his hair had lightened to a rich golden brown, while Schuyler looked pale and uncomfortable, underneath a huge floppy beach hat, a white smudge of sunscreen on her nose. They had looked so young then, even if it was only a few months ago. Last summer they had been just kids,just a bunch of kids who were dreading going back to high school. They had spent the two weeks sailing and making bonfires on the beach. To Schuyler it felt like a lifetime ago.
"I've known since I was born. I was assigned to you," he said simply.
"You were assigned to me?"
"As I understand it, every member of a vampire family is assigned a human conduit at birth. I'm two months younger than you. You could even say you're the reason why I was born. I sought you out. Remember?"
Schuyler looked back on all her memories. She remembered now how he kept making friendly overtures, and how she'd resisted at first. He was always sitting next to her in class, or asking her questions, and finally, in the second grade, when they'd shared that dismal lettuce sandwich, they'd become friends.
"And what exactly do you do?"
"I help you. I nudge you in a certain direction, suggest how to use your powers so you can discover them on your own. Remember that night at The Bank, when I kept telling you 'think positive and we'll get in'?"
She nodded. It was as she suspected, and she told him how she had used it this evening to get past the drag queen at the door.
He guffawed. "Priceless. Wish I'd seen that one."
She smiled wryly. "Well, they did tell us at Committee meetings that mind-control was possible."
"But only very few vampires can do it," he pointed out.
"I don't get it, though. If this Repository is down here - why were you so worried about us not getting into The Bank? Surely there's another entrance to this place."
Oliver nodded. "There is. Through Block 122. That's why they have a 'members-only' policy. As in, Blue Bloods and their guests only. I could have gone in through there, I'm one of the few with a key - even though I'm only a lowly Red Blood - but I hate that place."
She nodded for him to continue.
"The Bank is a fluke. For the longest time it was empty. But then a couple of neighbors and homeless people reported seeing people go in and never coming out, and to alleviate suspicion, they figured they'd rent out the top floors to anyone interested. This club promoter came along first, and they liked the idea of a nightclub so much they decided to open another club next door - but a private one of course."
Schuyler processed all the information. The private nightclub, The Committee, it certainly fit in with everything she knew about the Blue Bloods so far. They liked to keep to themselves.
She was still bothered by Oliver's admission, however, and his explanation for their friendship. She couldn't help but remember how Oliver was always loaning her money, and she never had enough to repay him, but he never seemed to worry about it, or ask for it back. Was that part of it? Where did the Conduit end and her friend begin?
"So anyway, you're not really my best friend? You're like, my babysitter?"
Oliver laughed and raked a hand through his thick hair. "You can call me whatever you want. You're just not going to get rid of me that easily."
"Then why did you get so mad at me when I told you about The Committee?"
He sighed in frustration. "I don't know - I guess a part of me didn't want it to be true, even though I knew it was. I mean, I knew it would happen, but I just wanted us to be the same, you know? And we're not. I'm a Red Blood. You're immortal. I guess it just bummed me out. So sue me, I'm human." He smiled at his pun.
"You're wrong. Apparently I'm not so immortal, actually," Schuyler said.
"What do you mean?"
"Jack told me that something is killing vampires."
"That's impossible." Oliver shook his head. "I told you, there's something wrong with that dude." He cracked a smile.
"No, there's not. I'm serious. It's a secret. Aggie was a vampire. And she's not recycling. She's gone. She's dead. Like, really dead this time. Her blood is gone."
"Oh, God," Oliver said, his face draining of color. "I didn't know. That's why I told you I wasn't in mourning at her funeral. I thought, what's the big deal? She'll just come back."
"She's never coming back. And she's not the only one. There have been more - other kids are getting killed. Blue Bloods. We're not supposed to die, but we are."
"So what does Jack want to do about it? What does he know?" Oliver asked.
"He wants to find out what's hunting us." She told him about Jack's memory about Plymouth. The message nailed to a tree in a lonely field. Croatan.
"How is he going to do that?" Oliver asked.
"I don't know, but I think we can help him."
Schuyler looked around the old room.
"This library holds the entire history of the Blue Bloods, right? Maybe there's something in here we can find."
They had invaded the sanctuary. Ever since Mimi could remember, her father retreated into his book-lined den after work and hardly ever came out for dinner. It was a locked door, a special place, where children weren't allowed. Mimi recalled scratching at the door when she was a child, desperate for his attention and love, only to have her nanny cart her away, with admonishments and threats. "Leave your father alone, he's a busy, busy man with no time for you."
Her mother had been the same way - a distant satellite - always on vacation somewhere children were not allowed or welcomed. It had been a lonely, quiet childhood, but she and Jack had made the most of it. They were each other's sole company; they depended on each other to the point where Mimi didn't know where she ended and her brother began. Which made what she was about to do even more necessary. He had to know the truth.
She strode into the great marble hallway and walked right up to the locked door to their father's study. With a wave of her hand, the lock disintegrated and the door blew open with a bang.
Charles Force was sitting at his desk, nursing a crystal goblet of dark red liquid. "Impressive," he congratulated his daughter. "It took me years to learn that one."
"Thank you." Mimi smiled.
Jack followed behind, slouching forward, his hands in his pockets. He looked at his sister with a newfound respect.
"Father! Tell him!" Mimi demanded, walking up to the desk.
"Tell me what?" Jack asked.
Charles Force took a sip from his glass and watched his children with hooded eyes. His so-called children. Madeleine Force and Benjamin Force. Two of the most powerful Blue Bloods of all time. They had been there in Rome, during the crisis. They had founded Plymouth, they had settled the New World. He had been the one to call them up again and again, whenever they were needed.
"About the Van Alen mongrel," Mimi said. "Tell him."
"What about Schuyler? What do you know?" Jack asked. "More than you, my brother." Mimi said. She took a seat in one of the leather club chairs across from her father's desk. She turned to her brother, flashing her green eyes at his identical ones. "Unlike you, I've accessed my memories. She's not in them. I've checked. Again and again. She's not there. She's not anywhere. She isn't supposed to exist!" Mimi's voice took on a high screech. Her fangs were bared.
Jack took a step backward. "That can't be. I have her in mine. You couldn't be more wrong. Father, what the hell is she talking about?"
Charles took another sip from his glass and cleared his throat. Finally, he said, "Your sister's right."
"But I don't understand..." Jack said, slumping down into the other club chair.
"Technically, Schuyler Van Alen is not a Blue Blood." Charles sighed.
"That's impossible," Jack declared.
"She is and she's not," Charles explained. "She is a product of Caerimonia Osculor, of a union between a vampire and a human familiar."
"But we can't reproduce - we don't have the capacity..." Jack argued.
"We cannot reproduce among ourselves, that is true. We cannot create new life; we merely carry the spirits of those who have passed in a new embryonic form through in vitro fertilization. I believe it is even common among the Red Bloods these days. Our women are implanted with the seed of an immortal consciousness so that it can take on a new physical shell in the Cycle of Expression.
"But since the Red Bloods have the ability to create new life, new spirits, miscegenation between the two is apparently not impossible. Improbable, but not impossible. However, in all our years, it has never happened before. To conceive a baby of mixed blood is against the strictest laws of our kind. Her mother was a troubled and foolish woman."
Mimi poured some of the liquid in the decanter into a new Baccarat glass. She took a sip. Rothschild Cabernet. "She should have been destroyed," she hissed.
"No!" Jack cried.
"Do not be so alarmed. Nothing is going to happen to her," Charles said soothingly. "The Committee has not come to a definitive conclusion concerning her fate. She appears to have inherited some of her mother's traits, so we have kept close watch on her."
"You're going to kill her aren't you?" Jack said, his head in his hands. "I won't let you."
"That is not for you to decide. Look deep into your memories, Benjamin. Tell me what you see. Look for the truth inside yourself."
Jack closed his eyes. When they had danced at the Informals, he had felt Schuyler's presence in his own memories as if he had known her from out of time. He went back to that night, to the room where they were dancing at the American Society mansion, and to the memory of the night of the Patrician Ball - the night they had waltzed to Chopin. One of his most vivid and treasured memories - it was... her... it couldn't be anyone else! There! He felt triumphant! He looked closely at the face behind the fan. There was the fair, porcelain skin, the delicate features, that upturned nose, and he recoiled - those weren't Schuyler's eyes - those eyes were green, not blue - those eyes were...
"Her mother's," Jack said, opening his own eyes and looking at his father and sister.
Charles nodded. His voice was uncharacteristically harsh. "Yes. You saw Allegra Van Alen. It's a powerful resemblance. Allegra was one of our best."
Jack lowered his head. He had projected that image onto Schuyler when they were dancing, had used his vampire powers to fill her own senses, so that she thought she had sensed the past as well. But Schuyler was a new soul. Her mother, it was her mother whom Jack had pursued across the centuries. That's why he'd been drawn to Schuyler, ever since that night in front of Block 122 - because her face was so like the one that haunted his dreams.
Then he looked up at Mimi. His sister. His partner, his better half, his best friend and worst enemy. It was she who had been with him since the beginning. It was her hand that he reached for now in the darkness. She was strong, she was a survivor. It was from her that he drew his strength. She had always been there for him. Agrippina to his Valerius. Elisabeth de Lorraine-Lillebonne when he was Louis d'Orleans. Susannah Fuller to his William White.
Mimi reached over and took his hand in hers. They were so alike; they had come from the same dark fall, from the same expulsion that had cursed them to live their immortal lives on earth, and yet, here they were, thriving after a millennia. She patted his hand, the tears in her eyes mirroring his own.
"So what do we do now?" Jack asked. "What's going to happen to her?"
"For now, nothing. We watch and wait. It's probably best if you stay clear of her. And your sister has informed me about your concerns about Augusta's death. I'm pleased to say we are very close to finding the perpetrator. I am sorry to have kept you both in the dark for so long. Let me explain..."
Jack nodded and gripped his sister's hand even more tightly.
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