Misguided Angel Page 9

She realized that was why there had been so many close brushes with the Venators, who patrolled the metropolitan areas. She and Oliver had been on their turf.

But not in the forests, Jack had explained. Not in the wild. Here, they were safe.

For fifteen years Schuyler had almost never left New York. What a difference the Transformation had made; not only had she traveled all round the globe, now she was hiking the Italian mountain range. She looked over to Jack, who felt her gaze.

All right? he sent.

"It's an adventure." She smiled. It was a rush being on their own, finally free of the Countess. Every day with you is a new adventure.

Jack smiled and continued to forge ahead, clearing a path with his walking stick, brushing away dead branches and warning them of slippery rocks.

For a human, Ghedi displayed a monumental level of endurance, but even he was tired after a full day's climb. They arrived at a plateau near the top of Monte Rosa and stopped to enjoy the panoramic view of the coast below. They had made good time. Tomorrow, if they kept up the pace, they would be in Pontremoli by midnight.

They agreed to rest for the evening. There was a creek not too far away where they could refill their water bottles, and the ground was nice and dry. Ghedi chose to set up a little ways away to give them their privacy. Schuyler removed her pack and helped Jack set up their tent.

They worked wordlessly together, a team. Once the tent was secure, Schuyler offered to bring fresh water to boil for supper. She poured the water into the kettle and set it on the fire that Jack had started.

"We have to ask him," Schuyler said, kneeling in front of the flames. "It just doesn't make sense, unless he was Baldessarre's Conduit. But somehow I don't think he was."

Jack promised to bring it up, and when Ghedi joined them in front of the fire, Jack let their friend warm up a little before he asked the question. "Tell me, Ghedi," he said in a friendly voice. "How is it that one of the most important places in our history has come under the jurisdiction of a teenage priest?" Jack removed his shoe and shook out a few pebbles, stretching his long legs closer to the fire. He had adopted a casual air, but for a moment Schuyler was worried Jack was going to grab Ghedi by the throat again.

"What happened to the vampires who were guarding the site, you mean," Ghedi said. He gazed off into the distance. "They are lost."

"Killed?"

"I do not know. No one does. They have been gone a long time now. Father B. told me that when his order took over, only the Conduits were left. The original guardians were long gone."

"Silver Bloods?" Schuyler asked, looking at Jack.

"No." Jack shook his head. "If the Croatan had taken the gate, the world as we know it would not exist. Something else must have happened."

"You mentioned that Father B. had questions for Lawrence," she said to Ghedi. "I don't know if I have those answers, but I can try to find them. That's what we're here for."

"Yes. We have much to discuss, but it is a dangerous business. Let us talk when we are in the safety of the monastery. The original gatekeepers put wards there." He looked nervously around the surrounding woods, scared that they were being watched. Schuyler understood that even in their relative isolation, with the Silver Blood threat, one was never quite alone.

"Ghedi is right: we shall not mention it until then," Jack said, throwing a stick into the fire and watching the flames dance around it.

Schuyler agreed, Ghedi's words turning over slowly in her head. Something about what he'd said was bothering her. When the Petruvian Order took over, only the Conduits were left.

"So Father Baldessarre, he wasn't . . . he wasn't a vampire either," she said slowly, letting the information sink in. She still couldn't believe it.

"No. He was human, like me."

"And when did his order take charge?" Jack asked sharply.

"Sometime in the fifteenth century."

Schuyler exchanged a wary look with Jack. Humans had been in charge of protecting one of the Gates of Hell for centuries now. This was certainly not what they had thought they would find on their search. Human gatekeepers! What did this mean? And what questions did they have? What were they hoping her grandfather would tell them?

Ghedi said good night, and retired for the evening. When he was gone, Schuyler removed the stack of Repository files from her pack. She rifled through the yellowed pages, reading.

"I just don't understand," she said, looking up from her papers. "Halcyon was an Enmortal. Like Lawrence, like Kingsley, like every one of those who were inducted into the Order of the Seven. So how did Father Baldessarre and the Petruvians come to be the gatekeepers? Something must have happened in the fifteenth century--but what?"

Jack frowned. "The only reason would be desperation. Halcyon must have had no other choice. Otherwise, why would she trust a group of humans to do a vampire's job?"

They puzzled over it some more. Schuyler did not want to voice any more fears or show how unsettled their latest discovery had made her. While she was half-human herself, the Blue Bloods were strictly a closed society. Human knowledge of vampire existence was tightly restricted to the traditional positions of familiar or Conduit. Red Bloods were not privy to the workings of the shadow world. What Ghedi had described was a breach of the highest level, something that could upend everything she knew and understood about the Code of the Vampires. And if the Code was not real, then what was?

She took the first watch and kissed Jack good night. He could not argue her out of it, and had finally agreed to rest.

Schuyler shivered slightly, but something told her it wasn't from the mountain breeze.

Four centuries had past with human gatekeepers guarding the Gate of Promise. She was glad for the fire. It burned a clear, azure blue, steady and true, against the wind.

The Man From the Citadel

Florence, 1452

The Silver Blood chanced a glance in their direction, and immediately the cloaked stranger disappeared.

"We've been spotted. Now!" Dre urged, running toward their prey. Gio and Tomi burst out of the shadows, golden swords at the ready, and the chase resumed.

They followed the Silver Blood through the crooked streets, all the way into the cathedral, to the very top of Brunelleschi's unfinished dome, the highest point in Florence.

The Silver Blood dodged their blows with an agility and strength equal to their own. It was unlike any other they had ever encountered, but in the end, it was still no match for the three armed Venators. Backed into a corner, it snarled and hissed, knowing it had already lost.

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