Misguided Angel Page 25

"You're never going to end up like him. Don't even worry about that."

"I hope not," Oliver said. "But never say never."

For a moment, Mimi hated Schuyler Van Alen more than ever, but this time it had nothing to do with Jack.

The Changeling

Florence, 1452

Giovanni Rustici, or Gio, as everyone called him, was the group's newest Venator, but already one of the best. He was also a fine sculptor, much more talented at the work than Tomi would ever be. In the space of a few months, he was already the Master's favorite apprentice.

Dre was still away; he had some business in Siena, which meant he would not be home for another fortnight. By day, Tomi and Gio worked on the Baptistery doors, and by night, they patrolled the city streets, restless and uneasy.

Tomi confided in Gio that she was worried about the Red Blood connection and what it might entail. "Perhaps it is time we paid our friend the Changeling a visit," Gio suggested.

The Changeling lived in the sewers of Florence. The creature had not seen daylight in a century, and was shriveled, blind, and wretched. It was too weak to be of any danger to a vampire anymore, and so Andreas had decreed that no one could touch the Croatan, as it was a valuable source of information. In exchange, the Venators let it live. The Changeling had alerted them to the news that one of its kind had infiltrated the palace guard.

The Changeling was not pleased to see them.

Tomi ignored its hisses and drew a symbol on the cave wall. "We found this mark on a human. Tell us what you know."

Gio prodded the Silver Blood with the tip of his sword. "Answer her, beast, or we shall send you where you belong."

The Changeling laughed. "I do not fear Hell."

"There are worse things than the underworld. Your master is sure to be unhappy with you for forsaking him since Rome. If he has returned, he will exact vengeance on the followers who deserted him," Tomi warned. "Who gave the human the mark? What does it mean?"

Gio battered the creature with a volley of hard blows. "Answer her!"

"I do not know, I do not know!" The Silver Blood cowered. "Only that today, your friend Savonarola was made Cardinal," it said with a crafty smile.

"And?"

"The good friar is a Silver Blood."

"He is lying. Savonarola is no Croatan," Gio scoffed.

Tomi nodded. The Petruvian friar had been a Venator before he entered the clergy.

"He has been Corrupted, turned into Abomination after Trieste," the Changeling told them. In Trieste, the advance team had been attacked by the hive of Silver Bloods they had been tracking. Still, the Venators had won the day--or so Tomi had always believed.

"Who else knows this?" Gio demanded.

"Andreas del Pollaiuolo," the Changeling whispered.

TWENTY-ONE

The Regis Doctrine

Endless meetings. Ever since she'd assumed the title of Regent, Mimi felt as if her life was measured out in marathon conference calls and discussions that went nowhere. Today was a school holiday, some sort of teachers' conference, and in her former life she would have spent the day in the usual comfortable routine: a late brunch followed by a massage, then a leisurely stroll through the boutiques on Madison, stopping only for tea at The Pierre, and then a nap before setting off for dinner at the newest restaurant.

There was no time for such trifles anymore. She spent the day locked in her office, reviewing notes and checking in with her various subcommittees. The Venator team assigned to find Forsyth Llewellyn was the last to check in. While Kingsley's subvertio kept Leviathan and Lucifer trapped in the underworld, their coconspirators were still at large. The Venators reported a tip that put Forsyth in Argentina, and Mimi agreed to send the team in that direction.

As for Victoria's fate, Mimi was starting to get worried. They were as much in the dark as they had been on day one, and the moon was waning fast. Soon there would be a new moon on the horizon, its first appearance what the Blue Bloods called the shadow crescent--the sliver in the sky that meant a new dawn was at hand.

Since Sunday night there had been no more strange e-mails, but Mimi found the quiet unsettling. Sam and Ted had every Venator in New York on the case, but it might not be enough.

Centuries of war had armed her with an inherent understanding of battle strategy, knowledge of armies and combat--but this was a new danger, clever and unpredictable. She was worried the Blue Bloods were too accustomed to their dominance, overly reliant on force and hammer, that they lacked the talent to address kidnapping and subversion.

Mimi put her head in her hands and thought so hard she worried her brain would explode.

She had gone through all the books, looking up the history of the Regis, the history of leadership, actions in time of crisis, studying every decision that had been made to bring their Coven here to this moment. Myles Standish (Michael, Pure of Heart) had promised the Blue Bloods they would find safe haven in the new world, and in doing so had broken away from the European Coven.

He had invoked the Regis Doctrine to do so. That was it. Mimi could do the same. She could do something if the Venators failed. Of course she could. There was always an answer. She was not helpless. The Code of the Vampires spelled it out in front of her.

The Regis Doctrine: The Regis or Regent must take every precaution to ensure the safety of the Coven by any means necessary.

It gave Mimi an idea. With the power of the Regis Doctrine, she could take down the wards. Why hadn't she thought of it before? It was so simple, really. Whoever had taken Victoria was hiding her physical location, masking her signature in the glom. But with the wards down, every Blue Blood would be visible in the spirit world. It would override any masking spell put upon her, and the Venators would be able to pull Victoria out through the glom.

But it was a risk. The wards that protected the Coven concealed their immortal spirits in the glom and kept the sangre azul from the many dangers of the twilight world. Without the wards, they were practically Red Bloods. But it would only be for the briefest moment, Mimi thought--in and out and back again, in the blink of an eye. She would reinstate them the moment they got Victoria back.

She had to try it. If the Venators were unsuccessful, she would take down the wards. She hoped it would not come to that, but if it did, she would be ready. She was not going to let Victoria burn.

Still, even with the danger, Mimi's life went on. Her social life especially. It would not do to miss too many of the usual engagements on her calendar. The Coven would begin to talk, then worry, then panic, and she could not have that. There was enough gossip and agitation as it was, from everything that had happened the month before. She would have to calm the troops, show them there was nothing to worry about. They were still Blue Bloods, the enlightened ones, the blessed and the damned.

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