Misguided Angel Page 33

TWENTY-EIGHT

Dark Angel

Piper Crandall was from one of the most solid families of the New York Coven, and her immortal background was immaculate. The Crandalls were Van Alen loyalists. Piper's cycle grandparents had been two of Cordelia and Lawrence Van Alen's closest allies on the Conclave.

Their fortunes in the Coven had risen at the same time that Lawrence had been named Regis.

Under the guise of friendship, Deming had been able to undertake a comprehensive scan on Piper's subconscious without the vampire suspecting anything. So far, Piper gave every indication of being nothing but a normal, well-rounded Blue Blood.

Deming hoped to probe deeper into the tangled layers of her memory. There were many ways to hide the truth, even from oneself, but sooner or later surface innocence revealed the dark heart of guilt. But if Piper was responsible for Victoria's death, Deming still had to find a motive.

That was the prickly thing--even if Piper secretly hated Victoria, she had to have a reason to kill her. Something that sent the pendulum swinging from closet animosity to outright violence.

Victoria's demise was calculated and cruel, and if Piper had a hand in it, she had to have had good reason to do so. Deming had her theories, mostly along the lines of how girlish affection had masked a bitter rivalry and resentment. She had seen girls kill their friends for less, but so far nothing about Piper indicated that she had been anything other than fond of Victoria.

Another puzzle was the nature of the video: if Piper or another one of Victoria's friends had done this, why did they seek to expose the vampires as well?

That afternoon, she followed Piper into their shared seminar. As Deming understood it, The Spirit of the Self was an excuse for these overprivileged children to read books and watch old movies and pontificate on philosophical matters of which they had no understanding so they could cruise into an easy A that pumped up their transcripts. (The class did not have a final exam, only two term papers.) If Deming found it all too precious, it was a welcome change after an earlier embed assignment. A few months ago, she'd had to go undercover as a factory worker in a sweatshop to gather evidence that its Blue Blood owners were using compulsion to drive their Red Blood workers to the brink of exhaustion.

The professor, a long-haired ex-hippie, began the lesson. "So how did you all like Paradise Lost?" he asked. Yesterday they had watched the movie The Devil's Advocate. The theme of this year's seminar was the depiction of evil in the modern world, the devil as a pop-culture commodity.

"I hated it," a boy answered immediately. "Milton makes the devil into Heathcliff with a pitchfork. He makes evil too seductive." He was slim and shy-looking, with curly dark hair and bright blue eyes. Paul Rayburn was a merit aid student, one of the Red Blood kids allowed to enroll at a reduced tuition. He probably had no idea he was surrounded by immortals. In Shanghai they called such humans sheep, and Deming was not interested in sheep.

"I disagree. I don't see Lucifer as a monster. I think he's merely misunderstood. I mean, without him, there's no story, right?" asked another dark-haired boy. This one was slumped in his seat, a pen in his mouth. His thick dark hair was brushed away from his forehead to reveal piercing dark eyes. There was something about his face that was more arresting and striking than handsome, and there was something twisted about his mouth that made him look like he would enjoy watching innocent creatures die.

So this was Suspect Number Three: Bryce Cutting. A dark angel, Deming realized, from his affectus alone.

The Venator reports had failed to mention that. While there were certainly a number from the Underworld who had pledged to follow Michael and Gabrielle upon Exile, there were not many. Deming did not want to be prejudiced against his provenance--it made her as silly as a Red Blood with their obsessions about race (like many Blue Bloods Deming had lived in many different cycles under a multitude of ethnicities)--but it was still something to consider. There were very few dark angels around who had not gone Silver Blood. Bryce Cutting, like the current Regent, was one of them.

"Interesting point, Bryce." Their professor nodded. "Satan's story does propel the narrative."

Bryce gave his adversary a smug grin, but it only inveighed a passionate response from Paul. "But that's exactly why the story blows--the devil recast as romantic hero. I can't stomach that Satan's desire to be godlike is sympathetic. We shouldn't root for evil," he argued. "The whole idea of idealizing jealousy and ambition is just like how Wall Street became a huge advertisement for getting rich off the stock market rather than the scathing polemic Oliver Stone had intended. Instead of the audience hating Michael Douglas, they wanted to be him. Greed is good, and they loved it. It's the same here. The devil is us, and we're supposed to relate to the scale of his ambition? What was wrong with staying in Paradise? Was playing a lyre and flying around in the clouds really so bad? I don't think so." Paul smiled.

The class tittered, and Paul seemed to win the debate, but Bryce had no intention of conceding the point. "Tragic hero is right. This country was founded on the same idea that the story is based on--that it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Better to be independent, and the master of your own universe, than a slave," Bryce said triumphantly.

Paul scoffed. "I don't think the Founding Fathers had Paradise Lost in mind when they drafted the Constitution."

"How do you know?" Bryce asked. "You weren't there."

For a moment, Deming wondered if Bryce would reveal his immortal status and bare his fangs to scare the poor human to death. Of course Bryce was just being deliberately argumentative, and in any event, he had a poor grasp of American history (Deming would bet he had not been in cycle during the time). Most likely, it irked him that Paul had unknowingly stumbled upon the truth. John Milton, one of the members of the original Conspiracy, had written the poem to warn humanity of the devil's temptations, and instead, the Red Bloods had taken to it as a tragic story of unfulfilled promise. She suspected Bryce was annoyed that Paul, a lowly human with a sharp mind and the ability to sway opinions, had gained popularity in the class.

Still, it was blasphemy for any Blue Blood to talk in such a manner about the Morningstar. Lucifer a hero? Merely misunderstood? Of course she had heard New York was a very liberal Coven, but still. She had been concentrating her efforts on cracking Piper, but maybe there wasn't anything in that pretty head of hers but the usual teenage angst and drama. Deming had not yet been ready to give up on her, but with those words, Bryce Cutting just jumped to the front of the line.

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