Rachel walked through the Village past another wall full of the flyers. In a few nights, DeeDee’s ill-conceived three-night calamity would begin, for better or for worse.
Punk bands from all over the world, obscure, passionate and raw, would find themselves hip-deep in all the mayhem New York has to offer. A sort of Woodstock. For punk. In the middle of the city. At DeeDee's Anti-Disco.
As cuckoo as the whole thing sounded, Rachel did like to keep her ears open for good things among the weeds of trend. With a sigh, she caved in to curiosity and pulled a flyer down for a closer look.
This one was for the Lost Keys, a young band her friend in London had spoke of, obscure even by punk standards. What had Shayna said? Insanely good, insanely talented, insanely dangerous, and, quite probably, actually insane.
Rachel smiled, those words described Shayna herself these past few years. Rachel would have known it even at this distance, even if Renaldo hadn’t spilled the beans.
Shayna had only recently achieved passing normality, after waking up from a dirt nap three years ago. It could take a while for a vampire to find their bearings after a long sleep, but those three years had worried everyone. Shayna’d been under for a mere thirty-five years, but the world changed faster and faster as the decades rolled on. Overall, those changes provided places a-plenty for an eccentric, out-of-touch vampire to hide, at least from normal humans. But the enemies of vampiredom had outpaced those changes, taking greater and greater strides in making life difficult for the undead.
In the end, Shayna had pulled it together well enough, with assistance from Renaldo and Maxine, his dayling. Rachel couldn’t have helped either way, she couldn’t do the travel, everyone had their own problems these days. But Rachel was finally about to solve one of her own.
If her plan worked, then maybe soon she could visit her vampire kin where she’d left them, in England, fifty years ago. She’d come to this land in the roaring twenties, attracted to the smokey jazz clubs, sultry and dark and sparkling in the night. She’d sung again, for a while.
But not these days. The musical thread in the pattern of her life came and went, all the way back to her warsongs of the Mino in the Kingdom of Dahoney, when she first let go of mortal life. These days she had nothing to sing about. Not here in Sebastian’s New York.
She’d stayed off radar as much as possible, but in the end her past had still caught up to her. Sebastian had found out her secret, the valuable skills she’d left behind when she took her Turning.
And so, Rachel put her plan to leave New York in motion.
Rachel did regret that she would not see this London band in a few nights when they’d perform at DeeDee’s. While not a fan of punk, she could identify talent when she heard it, these four had something different. Their distinctive sound was marked by actual talent, driven to the scene by anger at the world and a dedication to affect it, and enhanced by the skills to play way more than three chords.
Under different circumstances, in a different time and place, she would have loved to bathe in the insanity. The raw energy, the passion and anger all dazzled her and stirred something wild within her. The punk phenomenon brought some glorious raw passion to a world that desperately needed it.
But now, Rachel needed peace, and the chaotic event to serve as a distraction.
She preferred to stay far away from DeeDee’s club, anyway. She couldn’t stand the place, not knowing what – or who – dwelled in those walls, and under those floors. The whole situation made Rachel very uneasy, and she was plenty uneasy already. DeeDee's past schemes had –
"Don't tell me you like that crap, Rae."
Rachel started, brought up her guard just for an instant, then realized that it had to be Andrew, the only vampire, and therefore the only person in all of New York, who could sneak up on her.
"Andrew! You asshole!"
"Sorry," he said, and pulled at the flyer in her hand. His smirk and his apology worked in direct opposition to each other.
"Bad scene, you know,” she said. She didn’t talk music with Andrew, he just didn’t get it, at least not the modern stuff. "DeeDee's up to somethin' again, and by now, the Sals will be hot on Marion's trail…"
"Yeah, I’ll be there, too, to watch Marion’s back."
Somehow Rachel knew he'd pull something like that, with his do-good white knight complex, even after all he’d been through. Still, she scoffed at him. "What, you a Bloodrunner now? Let ‘em have the crazy bitch. She's nothing but a fear junkie, letting the whole city down! ”
"That crazy bitch is a damn good Bloodrunner, and the Sals practically have the city as is. We protect our own, Rachel, no matter what."
"It's Sebastian's mess, honey, not your problem anym –"
“Sebastian’s mess is everyone’s problem!” Andrew hissed.
Rachel had struck a nerve, she didn't need vampire eyes to see that. Andrew didn't let his guard around many, and Rachel was one of the few. She touched his hand and his expression softened.
"After everything Dorian did for this city …" His voice drifted off.
Rachel took his arm and they walked toward Washington Square in silence.
They passed a window, and the reflection reminded her what an odd couple they must make to mortal eyes. Not that she or Andrew would care what anyone thought, but you had to keep an eye on your audience at all times, blending in with the everyday world.
In his suit, trench coat and fedora, Andrew looked like something out of a hard-boiled detective novel. Rachel wore an odd dress of her own making tonight, something that might look at home in both modern discotheques and jazz clubs of decades past. While he had a few inches of height over her, the top of her afro matched the peak of his hat.
Rachel tuned in to the present, enjoying the moment before telling him her news. This would be the last time they walked these streets, for a long while. It might be her last walk with Andrew for a while, too. She would try to convince him to join her, but she didn’t give that very good odds.
She’d played this scene in her head a hundred times, but now the words stuck in her throat. How could she tell him she was leaving, that she wouldn't have his back anymore? Would he try to talk her into staying? Not that he could, she'd made her mind up. Lisabet’s death had settled the matter, and Helena’s warning had hastened her resolve.
It would be easier if she really thought he might accept her invitation. Well, only, one way to find out. She took a deep breath.
"I am leaving, Andrew. Come north with me."
He turned and pulled away, as if she'd plunged a knife into him. "Not you, too!" If her earlier words had struck a nerve, these stung like hell and left him bleeding. It made her sick to do that do a friend.
Andrew had every right to feel betrayed, Rachel expected it. But leaving made a lot more sense than sticking around here, even if she didn’t have to now.
"Yeah, me, too. We got enough ground there to make a stand. Marion’s going down. This city's done."
"It's all I got left, Rae. Aside from you…"
Rachel stopped walking. She was his last remaining friend here. All of them had fled or been captured by Sebastian in the takeover. A few had escaped over the years, but more had been caught in the attempt than not, at least those who’d tried without Andrew’s and Rachel’s help. Now Andrew would be alone without her.
She wouldn’t desert him on a whim. There was more to her decision than the obvious, and he’d understand, once she’d told him. She touched his arm and steered him to look at her. His eyes flickered with irritation.
“He knows, Andrew. Helena told me. Sebastian knows where I come from, what I did before I took my Turning.”
Andrew didn’t say anything at that. His expression took on a softer anguish, and he gave a silent nod.
Sebastian would need a new big shot Bloodrunner when Marion finally crashed, and would find a former warrior such as Rachel very appealing. She had to get out of the city before he made his move, before he summoned her.
While no sane Keeper would force someone into that line of work, Sebastian was not known for his rationality, and didn’t take “no” for an answer. He reserved the right to draft any of his citizens into service of any kind, and knew how to extract the performance and work ethic he required – at least out of anyone not hooked on Fear like Marion. Nothing could balance out the toll that habit took.
“He’s gonna try to make me a Bloodrunner. Probably only waiting until Marion’s situation has played out.” They walked a few more paces in silence. “I don’t care what I have to do, I won’t fight for him.”
Rachel would fight, though. She was ready to fight again, somewhere they had ground to stand on, not here, behind enemy lines. She would talk to Iris or Philip about becoming a Bloodrunner, if she made it far enough. But Andrew didn’t need to know that. He had too much to worry about as is.
“I understand, Rae. And you’ve got my blessing. Hell, now that I know, I’ll do what I can to help. I wish I could join you.” He turned to look at her. “But this city is all I got left.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that. Make something new for yourself, someplace else. The world out there could use you.”
More than a decade has passed since Sebastian had taken control of the city. Rachel had hoped Andrew would have moved on by now. But the look on his face gave testimony to how much he’d lost. Not even vampires bounced back from tragedies like that. Those wounds still bled.
The memories made Rachel burn in contempt for all that Sebastian had made of the city, for all he’d done to her friends and Dorian’s supporters, and at the thought of Andrew staying here. And at how different things might have been.
Back when their world was more sane, Dorian had asked Rachel if she would be New York’s third Keeper, alongside Andrew and Jessica. Dorian was one of the last Ancients, thousands of years old, and was planning for New York’s next era, way in advance. Rachel had asked for time to consider the offer, and he gave her a decade. Nobody knew about their conversation, not Andrew or Jessica or anyone.
But Rachel never got her decade. Less than a year later, Sals had killed Jessica, Dorian had fled, and Sebastian had moved in.
The vampire world had stood in shock as the news spread: Jessica, Turned of Dorian and destined to lead alongside Andrew, had been killed by the Sals.
More than that, she’d been captured and tortured, something the bastards just didn’t do, unless they had an important vampire and a purpose in mind. They must have known she was Turned of an Ancient. Tied together by blood, Dorian and Andrew had felt everything they did to her, day and night, neither of them able to sever the psychic connection they all shared.
It had taken a heavy toll on Andrew, but it had driven Dorian completely out of his mind.
Rumor had it Dorian had tried to make use of the telepathic link to help her – to provide mental support or find out where they had her – and it had backfired on him. Rachel had tried to get Andrew to talk about that, but he kept the answer hidden from all, along with all his other secrets.
When, after weeks of suffering, the Sals had finally staked and burned Jessica, Dorian had fled the city without a word. Before Andrew could get his bearings, Sebastian and his mob had descended like wolves. They took full advantage of the chaos as if they’d been waiting in the wings, ready to exploit any weakness. They’d rounded up all of Dorian‘s supporters, and in the end allowed Andrew to go free. They felt the humiliation was more painful than anything else they could have done.
Rachel did understand that Andrew might still need time to get over it. She just didn’t get why he had to be here while he worked on it.
“Just come with me. You can let this city go.”
“No, I can’t.” His words had a finality she’d never heard from him before. "I'm still loyal to these grounds, regardless of who's at the top."
“The grounds are crumbling under your feet!”
“They’re still… my grounds.”
“You’ve done all you can for New York. Why won’t you leave?” She looked him in the eye, and he looked away.
“It’s just not that simple, Rae.”
Andrew was a fool, a sentimental, idealistic, and unwavering fool. A fool she loved, and a fool who, she suspected, wasn't telling her the whole story. If so, she would not get the whole truth out of him, not tonight.
Maybe someday, a hundred years from now, when everything had run its course, maybe then he would finally tell her. Provided they hadn’t all been staked and scorched by then, or taken by Sebastian’s mad regime.
He had made up his mind, as she had made hers. He'd stay, she'd never convince him. And come this weekend, while she slipped away, he would go into the lion's den to watch out for Marion, the monstrous embarrassment that threatened the safety of every vampire in New York. She pictured him, as a lone centurion guarding a crumbling empire, or a captain going down with his ship. And it pissed her off.
“I am relieved, though.” He stole a sidelong glance at her and smiled a little. “Once you’re out, I can stop worrying about what could happen to you here.”
Rachel frowned at him. “That still leaves me worried about you.” She looked him in the eye, and he looked away.
“There’s no need to. If Sebastian were going to do something else, he would have by now. I’m right where he wants me. Bored and in plain sight. And you and I have done all the work we could do, so…”
They walked in silence for a long while, honoring what they'd known and shared, what they'd been through.
When Sebastian first stormed New York and made his intentions clear, Rachel had helped Andrew try to drive him out.
Dorian’s administrators had started to organize all who might help. But Rachel had assisted in secret, like a few others, in case it all went south. That insight had saved her and the other shadow generals.
Someone betrayed the main group, some minor political player. He informed one of Sebastian’s officers, hoping for a position in the new regime in exchange for information. Nobody had seen anything of the turncoat until maybe three years ago. Sebastian had given him a new position, alright, as just another mindless repurposed flunky.
Sebastian chose to let Andrew walk free, to humiliate him more than anything else. Rachel and the other shadow generals would not have known such grace, had their involvement been known.
Once Sebastian had neutralized the previous hierarchy, none had dared oppose him.
Even the Keepers of other cities would not interfere. Everyone had their own problems, as Sals closed in from every direction. Perhaps the other Keepers and Elders had hoped to deal with Sebastian later, when their own cities had stabilized. But vampiredom’s standing against the Salierant had only grown worse.
Some cities had seen their population increase tenfold over the past decade. A city could only hide so many vampires before things went to hell. Rachel didn’t know for sure, but everyone feared that Boston teetered on exactly that problem. Philip had done an exceptional job balancing the city’s needs thus far, but it couldn’t last forever. The tipping point would come sooner or later.
And so Sebastian’s claim to New York went unchallenged, the territory submitted to his rule, and those who remained had to consent to his governance, or else.
Nothing like it had ever happened in vampire history, not that anyone could recall. Vampires didn’t have rules that covered major conflicts or takeovers. The world was huge, and vampires very few. If two vampires couldn’t get along in one city, their peers would just throw both parties out, force each of them to find a new home. And now the Sals emptied city after city, more and more of them forced into refugee status.
Rachel looked up. The night had grown old, they’d walked much longer than she’d realized. To the east, the sky let slip the vaguest hint of a lighter color.
She turned to Andrew. Time to say good bye.
She fussed with his tie as if to straighten it, a pointless gesture. He kept the thing perfectly straight, she had to mess it up first just so she could fix it.
"You look like an off-duty cop.” She pressed her lips together in a forced smile. “They'll tear you apart at DeeDee's, if DeeDee doesn't get you first."
He cracked a half smile. "I'll blend in just fine, as security. Or as one of those protesters. What’s the name of that cult, again?”
"Just be careful.."
“You, too. Don’t get caught. You know what that means.”
”What you do is more dangerous than what I’m doing, hon, and you know it.”
She joined hands with him and kissed his cheek. He leaned in, and kissed her lips.
"Good bye, Rachel."
"Good luck, Andrew. You need it around here."
Andrew gave her hand one last squeeze and turned and walked away.
She watched him for a moment, then turned away. Just a few loose ends to tie up tomorrow night, and she would break Sebastian's law and leave this city through the path that would escape Sebastian’s notice. She looked back, one last time, as her friend slipped into the shadows.
• • • •
Click here for Second half of today's section (posted separately due to length)