Misguided Angel Page 13

They stopped and looked around the shadowy space, Jack's torch illuminating a rather standard-looking cavern, with moss green rocks and a sandy floor. The cave was littered with the usual teenage detritus: crushed cigarette butts and empty beer bottles.

Something isn't right, Jack sent.

You feel it too? Schuyler asked. What is it?

Then she knew. It's not here, is it? This isn't the Gate of Promise.

No, this is a mere vapor, a distraction. A cunning illusion.

Hellsmouth was nothing but a haunted house, something to scare away the local populace, a distraction from the real menace.

"What do we know about Blue Bloods?" Jack mused.

"That they don't like to make anything easy?" Schuyler said. "That they keep their secrets. They brought peace and art and light to the world. They are a highly civilized people.

They built temples and monuments, cities of gold that rise to the heavens," she said, thinking of Paris and how beautiful it was.

"Exactly. Think of the gates we've already found--the Gate of Vengeance under a statue--a sculpture, an icon. The second underneath one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in North America. A vampire would not build a gate in a hole in the ground, a crude cavern in the sand." Jack shook his head.

"No. You're absolutely right. Whoever put this here did so to conceal the gate's true location." Schuyler said. "But if this isn't the gate--then why are the Petruvians guarding it?"

TWELVE

The Symbol

Schuyler paced the rocky floor. How much did they know about the Petruvian Order after all? That first night, Ghedi had asked them to trust him--he had named Lawrence Van Alen as a friend, yet he had never met the man. How much of his story was true? After their month of imprisonment as guests of the Countess, Schuyler chided herself for not being more careful.

"Do you think we might've been wrong about Ghedi?" she asked Jack.

He shook his head. "It is better to trust and face betrayal than to remain skeptical of everything and everybody. Your open heart is a gift. It led you to me, for instance.

"But in this case I don't believe Ghedi played us. The Croatan have no use for Red Bloods. I doubt he has ever set foot in here. If, as I'm guessing, the Petruvian Order was founded by the original gatekeeper, Halcyon would have followed a certain standard for dealing with humans. It's common practice, the Conspiracy has done it for hundreds of years. They tell the Red Bloods only as much as they need to know."

They took one more sweep around the dark cavern, and Schuyler noticed something they hadn't seen before, a symbol etched on one of the walls. It was a triglyph, a symbol in three parts.

The first consisted of two interlocking circles, the Blue Bloods' symbol for union; the second was of an animal they couldn't identify. The third symbol was one Schuyler had never seen before: a sword piercing a star.

"It's the archangel's sigil," Jack explained. "The star connotes the angel who bore it.

Lucifer. The Morningstar." The Fallen Angel.

Schuyler traced the outline of the triglyph with her fingertips. "Have you ever seen this before?"

"I feel like I have . . . somewhere . . . in the past. I can't remember," he said, studying it as he kept his torch focused on the symbol. "It may be a ward, to keep the spell of doom around this place."

"Somehow I don't think that's it." Schuyler couldn't take her eyes off the triglyph. The symbol had a hypnotic, lulling effect, which was only broken by the sound of footsteps. "That's Ghedi. Let's not tell him about this until we find out what he knows."

Jack nodded and pointed his torch toward the cave entrance to help guide the way. The priest was breathing heavily when he reached them. "Did you find her?" he asked, looking around nervously.

"No. We should go. If she's not here, we have to let her family know," Jack replied.

Ghedi looked relieved, and they began their upward climb.

"Wait." Schuyler stopped. She'd heard something familiar--a small silent whimpering in the distance, the sound of muted anguish from one who is suffering. "There." She ran into the deepest recess of the cave, toward a small crouched figure, bound and shackled in the dark.

"MariElena," Schuyler whispered. She crouched down and put a hand on the girl's brow.

Hot. Burning. Hopefully it was a fever from exposure, and nothing else.

The girl stirred and whimpered again.

The priest crossed himself and knelt down next to her.

"Do you know where you are?" Schuyler asked in Italian.

"In the cavern," MariElena replied without opening her eyes. "Near the dried-up creek."

Jack took off his jacket and put it around the young girl's shoulders. "Do you know why you are here?" he asked.

"They brought me here," she answered dully.

"Who were they?" Schuyler asked. "What did they do to you?"

In answer, MariElena shuddered involuntarily as if having a seizure.

Schuyler held the girl in her arms and continued to soothe her. "It's all right, it's all right,"

she whispered. "You're going to be okay. You're safe now."

But the girl only shook her head and shut her lips tight.

"There now," Ghedi said, placing a cool handkerchief on her feverish brow.

Schuyler prodded her with the glom, took the chance to look into the girl's memories. The boyfriend had driven her out of town and into the mountains. He had taken her straight into the forest. Then there was nothing. Mist and vapor. The girl had woken to find herself bound in the cave.

Jack cut off the bonds and helped the girl to her feet. Schuyler took her right shoulder.

The girl staggered and swayed between them, then fell to a faint.

"Here, let me help," Ghedi said, rushing to MariElena's side.

Things happened too quickly after that, because the next thing Schuyler knew, the priest was holding a ivory-handled knife against the girl's throat.

"What are you doing?" Schuyler cried, reaching toward the priest and the girl, as Jack came at them from behind.

"What I am meant to do," Ghedi said, holding the girl, who was now as limp as a rag doll in his arms, the glittering blade pressed at her jugular. MariElena's thin blouse fluttered against her neck, and as it did, Schuyler caught a glimpse of the triglyph again. This time it was branded on the girl's chest. The interlocking circles. The animal. Lucifer's sigil. It glowed in the dark like a beacon.

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