The Central Park Conservatory luncheon was one of the most important events on Cordelia's social calendar. It was held in a ballroom at the Plaza, and was already well under way when Schuyler arrived. She checked in at the registration table and found her grandmother seated in the center with well-preserved luminaries on either side.
"My granddaughter, Schuyler," Cordelia said, looking pleased.
Schuyler pecked her grandmother's cheek. She took a seat at the table, removing a program from her chair.
The yearly luncheon raised a significant sum for the upkeep and maintenance of the park. It was one of the Blue Bloods most cherished causes. It had been their idea to bring nature to New York, to bring an oasis to the heart of the city, a simulacrum of the Garden they had been banished from so long ago. Schuyler recognized many of the grande dames and socialites from The Committee meetings flitting about from table to table, greeting guests.
"Cordelia - what's Croatan?" Schuyler demanded, breaking in to the gossipy chitchat.
The table went silent, and several ladies raised their eyebrows at Schuyler and her grandmother.
Cordelia startled at the word. She broke the roll she was holding in two. "This is neither the time nor the place, young lady," she said quietly.
"I know you know. We saw it in one of the Repository books. It had your initials in them. Cordelia, I have to know," Schuyler whispered fiercely.
At the podium, the mayor was thanking the ladies of the conversancy for their generous donations and efforts to keep Central Park a vibrant and beautiful place. There was a ripple of applause, under which Cordelia admonished her granddaughter.
"Not now. I will tell you afterward, but you will not embarrass me at this function."
For the next hour, Schuyler sat glumly, picking at the herb chicken on her plate and listening to a host of speakers describe the new activities and developments planned for the park. There was a slide show on the new art exhibit, and a presentation on the restoration of Bethesda Fountain.
Finally, after they were given their gift bags, and she and Cordelia were safely ensconced in Cordelia's ancient limousine, with Julius driving, did Schuyler get her answers.
"So you've found Catherine's diary. Yes, I left my initials there. For someone to find. I didn't know it would be you," Cordelia said, amused.
"It wasn't me. It was Oliver Hazard-Perry actually."
"Ah. Oliver, yes. A very helpful boy. From an excellent family. For Red Bloods, that is."
"Don't change the subject. What's Croatan?"
Cordelia raised the partition separating them from Julius. When it was fully closed, she turned to Schuyler with a frown. "What I am going to tell you is verboten. We cannot speak of it. The Committee has legislated it out of existence. They have even tried to suppress it from our memories."
"Why?" Schuyler asked, looking out the window at the city. It was another gray day, and Manhattan seemed to be lost in a fine mist, ghostly and majestic.
"As I told you, times have changed. The old ways are no more. The people in power do not believe. Even the woman who wrote that diary would disown her words. It would be too dangerous for her to admit her fears."
"How do you know she would feel that way?" Schuyler asked.
"Simple, because I wrote it. It's my diary."
"You're Catherine Carver?" Schuyler asked.
"Yes. I remember the Plymouth settlement clearly, almost as if it were yesterday. It was a terrible journey." She shuddered. "And an even more terrible winter followed it."
"Why? What happened?
"Croatan." Cordelia sighed. "An ancient word. It means Silver Blood."
"You were told the story of our Expulsion."
"Yes." The car slowly made its way across Fifth Avenue. Because of the bad weather, there were only a few people milling outside the department stores, a handful of tourists taking pictures of the window dressing, shoppers trying to get out of the rain.
"When God cast out Lucifer and his angels from heaven, as punishment for their sins, we were cursed to live our immortal lives on Earth, where we became vampires, dependent on human blood to survive," Cordelia said.
"They told us all this at The Committee meetings."
"But they don't tell you this part. It's been stricken from our official records."
Cordelia didn't answer. Instead, her voice took on a monotone quality, as if she were reading from a book committed to memory. "Early in our history, Lucifer and a small host of his loyal followers broke off from the group. They rejected God, and were contemptuous of their banishment. They did not want to regain the Lord's Grace. They did not believe in the Code of the Vampires."
"Why not?" Schuyler asked, as the car idled at the light. They were on Sixth Avenue now, among the skyscrapers and corporate office buildings with the names of their companies engraved on the fa?ade. McGraw-Hill. Simon and Schuster. Time Warner. A bank of televisions in the Morgan Stanley building blasted the latest news from the stock market.
"Because they did not want to live within any kind of law. They were willful and arrogant, on earth as they were in heaven. Lucifer and his vampires discovered that performing Caerimonia Osculor on other vampires instead of humans made them more powerful. As you know, Caerimonia Osculor is the sucking of blood that vampires commit on humans in order to gain strength. In the Code of the Vampires, it is forbidden to perform the Caerimonia Osculor on fellow Blue Bloods. But this is exactly what Lucifer and his vampires did. They began to consume Blue Bloods to complete Dissipation."
"You mean - "
"Until they had sucked out the very life force from a being, yes. Until they had consumed a Blue Blood and all his memories."
"But why? And what happened then?"
"By consuming the Blue Blood's life force, Lucifer and his vampires' blood turned Silver. They become the Silver Bloods. Croatan. It means Abomination. They are insane, with the lives of many vampires in their heads. They have the strength of a thousand Blue Bloods. Their memories are legion. They are the devil in disguise, the devil that walks among us; they are everywhere and nowhere."
As Cordelia spoke, they drove past Sixth Avenue to Seventh, and the neighborhood changed again. Schuyler saw Carnegie Hall on the corner and several people lined up outside buying tickets, huddled under their umbrellas.
"For thousands of years, the Silver Bloods hunted and killed and consumed Blue Bloods. They broke the Code of the Vampires by directly interfering in human affairs and acquiring power in the world of men. They were unstoppable. But the Blue Bloods never stopped fighting them. It was the only way to survive."
"The Last Great War between the Blue Bloods and the Red Bloods ended during the final years of the Roman Empire, when the Blue Bloods were able to unseat Caligula, a powerful and wily Silver Blood vampire. After Caligula was defeated, for many centuries Blue Bloods lived in peace in Europe."
"So why did we come to America?" Schuyler asked, as the car shot up Eighth Avenue.
"Because we were distressed by the religious persecution we found rising in the seventeenth century. So in 1620, we came to the New World on the Mayflower with the Puritans, in order to find peace in the New World."
"But there was no peace, was there?" Schuyler said, thinking of Catherine's diary.
"No. There was not," Cordelia said, closing her eyes. "We discovered that Roanoke had been savaged. Everyone was lost. The Silver Bloods were in the New World as well. But that was not the worst."
"Because the killings began again. In Plymouth. Many of our young Blue Bloods can only be taken during the Sunset Years, when we turn from human to our real vampire selves. It is our most vulnerable time. While we are not in command of our memories, we do not know our strength. We are weak and can be manipulated and controlled, and in the end, consumed by the Silver Bloods."
They drove up the West Side Highway, past the shiny new developments by the river and next to Riverside Park.
"Some refused to believe that the Silver Bloods were responsible. They refused to see what was right in front of them, insisting that those who had been consumed would be able to return somehow. They were blind to the threat. And after a few years, the killings stopped. The years passed and nothing happened. Then centuries - still nothing. Silver Bloods became a myth, a legend, passing into a quaint fairy tale. Blue Bloods gained wealth, prominence, and status in America, and as time went on, most of us forgot about the Silver Bloods completely."
"But how? How could we forget something so important?"
Cordelia sighed. "We have become complacent and stubborn. Denial is a strong temptation as well: Now everything about the Silver Bloods has even been removed from our history books. Blue Bloods today refuse to believe that there is anything stronger than them in the world. Their vanity does not allow them to conceive of it."
Schuyler shook her head, appalled.
"Those of us who warned and campaigned for eternal vigilance were banished from The Conclave, and have no power in The Committee today. No one listens to us anymore. No one has listened to us since Plymouth. I tried then, but I was not powerful enough to take control."
"John wanted to raise the alarm," Schuyler said, remembering what the diary had said. "Your husband."
"Yes. But we were unsuccessful. Myles Standish you know him today as Charles Force - became the head of the Conclave of Elders. He has led us ever since. He does not believe in the danger of Croatan."
"Not even when it kills children?"
"According to Charles, it has not been proven."
"But Jack said all of Aggie's blood was drained, as were two others they'd found earlier. They had to have been consumed by a Silver Blood!"
Cordelia looked grim. "Yes, that is my guess as well. But no one listens to an old woman who has lost her fortune. I never believed the Silver Bloods had gone away entirely. I always thought they were only resting, watching, and waiting, for their time to return."
"That has to be it. That's the only explanation!" Schuyler argued. "But the police arrested my friend Dylan. He couldn't have done it! Dylan's human. They took him away yesterday."
Cordelia looked troubled. "I thought the official explanation was a drug overdose. I heard that is what The Committee had decided."
"That's what we heard - but now they're saying she was strangled."
"It's true in a sense," Cordelia mused.
"You need to help us. How do we find out who the Silver Bloods are! Why they are here? Where are they? How can we find them?"
"Something has awakened them. Something is harboring them. They could be anyone we know. Silver Bloods disguised as Blue Bloods in our midst. It takes a long time to turn a Blue Blood into a Silver Blood. My guess is that a powerful Silver Blood has returned, and is beginning to recruit new disciples."
"So what do we do now?" Schuyler asked, as the car pulled up to their street.
"You have the knowledge of the Silver Bloods. You at least know what is out there. You can prepare yourself."
"There is one thing. One thing your mother discovered. Silver Bloods are still bound to the laws of heaven and the Sacred Language." She whispered the rest in Schuyler's ear.
Cordelia opened the car door and stepped out. "I can say no more on this matter. I have already broken The Code to tell you this story. As for the problem you have presented, I do apologize, but you are going to have to speak to Charles Force. He is the only one who can help your friend now."
The Committee meetings were reinstated on Monday. They had been canceled for several weeks, without any explanation given to the junior members. During the meeting, planning for the Four Hundred Ball began in earnest. There was still no mention of Aggie's death or Dylan's arrest. Instead, there was excited chatter for the Christmas formal. The Four Hundred Ball was the most anticipated party of the year, the most glamorous, the most fantastic, and the most exclusive, as only Blue Bloods were invited.
Schuyler went to the meeting just to see if she could still talk some sense into Jack, who was standing with his back to her. The junior members were divided into subcommittees, and Schuyler joined the Invitation group only because it sounded like the least work. Just as she'd thought, the only task they had was to put together the guest list, which would be vetted by the Senior Committee, and then they would stamp and mail the invitations, which were already chosen, designed, and printed.
"I'm worried about Dylan," Bliss said, when the meeting was over. "Where is he? The police still won't say. And my dad keeps telling me to keep out of it."
"I know, I am too." Schuyler nodded, as her gaze drifted over to where Jack was chatting with Mrs. DuPont and Mimi.
"It's a lost cause, Schuyler. I know the Force twins. They stick together."
"I just have to try," Schuyler said wistfully. She still couldn't believe that the boy who'd kissed her so passionately not so long ago was now ignoring her and acting as if nothing had ever happened between them. She couldn't reconcile the Jack who'd told her about his dreams and his blocked memories with the one who was cheerfully debating swing orchestras or jazz bands for the upcoming ball.
"Suit yourself," Bliss sighed. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
Schuyler nodded. Bliss walked away and Schuyler moved toward Jack Force. Thankfully, Mimi had already left the room.
"Jack, you have to listen to me," she said, pulling him aside. "Please."
"I know what The Committee's hiding. I know what Croatan is."
He stopped, gaping at her. "How?" He had avoided meeting her gaze, but he looked at her now - Schuyler's cheeks were blazing red from anger, and she looked even more beautiful than he remembered.
"My grandmother told me." She relayed everything her grandmother had told her about the Silver Bloods, and the killings in Roanoke and Plymouth.
His forehead furrowed. "She isn't allowed to do that. It's privileged information."
"You know about this?"
"I did some research of my own, and my father told me the rest. But it's a dead end."
"What do you mean? It's the first clue."
He shook his head. "Schuyler, I'm sorry to have misled you. But Aggie's death is being taken care of. You have to trust The Committee to do the right thing. Your grandmother told you an old myth. There is no such thing as the Silver Bloods. No one has ever even proved they really existed."
"I don't believe you. We need to convince The Committee to warn everyone. If you don't join me, I'll do it myself."
"There's nothing I can do to stop you?" Jack asked.
Schuyler jutted her chin out in determination. "No." She looked askance at him. Just a few weeks ago, she'd been falling in love with him, with his courage and his bravery. Where was the boy who refused to swallow the lies The Committee told them? Where had he gone? When they had danced together at the Informals, she thought she had never been happier in her life. But Jack wasn't the boy she thought he was. Maybe he never had been.
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