Bleeding Hearts Page 50

The others in the cage dropped to their knees, waiting.

Saga was one scary-ass woman.

“Go.” She ordered the three Hel-Blar back into the cage. They whimpered and hissed. The gate clanged shut. “Seen enough?”

Christabel and I both nodded jerkily.

“Then come with me.” She was smiling again, proud and helpful, as if we were on a school field trip. We climbed past the Hel-Blar enclosure while they paced along the perimeter, snarling at us. I tried not to feel sick. They’d been people once. And Isabeau could have turned into one of them, if she’d been any less strong. I hoped Logan never saw this.

A complicated maze filled the plateau in front of us, reaching nearly to the foot of the mountain. Torchlight gleamed here and there, like eyes. The cedar hedges were thick as walls and reinforced in weaker points with barbed wire and thorny vines.

“You made a maze?” I asked, startled. It was the last thing I’d expected. For one thing, it was totally cool and out of a movie.

“We didn’t.” Saga shrugged. “Someone meant to turn this place into a kind of carnival amusement park in the twenties, but then the stock market crashed and the whole thing was abandoned.”

There was a small fire belching pine smoke. There were benches set around it with three more faintly blue vampires waiting for us.

“Crap,” I said.

Chapter 19

Christabel

Connor lifted his chin. I knew he was picturing himself as a space captain to her ship’s captain. He looked older, more certain.

I just felt like an idiot.

“We’re going to tell you about our bloodchange,” Aidan explained. “And what we mean to do as a tribe. The council needs to know.” He set up the camera again and glanced at Connor. “We’ll send this to your mother.”

“I doubt my mother will do what you want,” Connor said evenly. “Unless eating your own spleen is what you had in mind.”

“Yes, I’ve heard the stories,” Saga approved. “It’s what gives me hope. There was no sense in talking to Lady Natasha; she was all vanity. Do you know how the Hel-Blar got their name?”

Connor nodded. I had no idea.

“It’s some old Viking word, meaning ‘blue as death,’ ” Connor explained for my benefit. I noticed he kept a wary eye on the other vampires.

“Aye,” Saga confirmed, tossing her red hair over her shoulders. “The Norse word for vampire is Draugur. And there are two types, the Hel-Blar and the Na-Foir.”

“Na-Foir?” Connor frowned. “I’ve never heard that word.”

“Of course you haven’t,” she returned. “We’ve lived in secret for centuries.”

“Your note said you represented the Hel-Blar.”

“A small ruse to buy us time. For too long we’ve been confused with the Hel-Blar, been hunted or used as scapegoats. But we’re not like them.” She lifted her arm, the firelight making it look almost healthy. “Na-Foir means ‘corpse-pale.’ ” She grimaced. “Not entirely flattering, I’ll grant you. But we’ve been lost in folktale and legend long enough that it hardly matters.

“We’re not contagious,” she continued. “And some of us used to look more Hel-Blar than we do at present. But in reality we’re more like the Hounds or Montmartre’s Host, though we’ve never served him. We survived the bloodchange as they did, through will and luck and strength—only we have more scars to prove it.”

Connor looked faintly stunned, as if he couldn’t process all the information we’d been given. For me, it was just another chapter in the fantasy novel my life had turned into; he looked like he was about to descend into a full-blown existential crisis.

“This color”—Aidan pushed up his sleeve, showing off blue-tinted muscles—“is not the color of madness. It’s the color of survival.” His eyes glittered. “The hunger that makes the Hel-Blar so vicious would do the same to anyone, prince and pauper alike. They turn blue because they’re bloated with blood and still not sated. We’re as pale as any other vampire now because we found a way through that starvation, but our veins remember.” He flexed, those blue veins as ropey as snakes under his skin. “The fangs are a side effect of the hunger.” He’d said that before. The fact that it was starting to make a little sense was not actually comforting.

“We had a scientist,” he said to the camera. “And she spent years working in her labs, testing Hel-Blar and finding out what makes us different. We’re willing to share those discoveries with the council and with Geoffrey Drake.”

“My uncle. He’s a scientist,” Connor said to me. “Are you their scientist?” he asked the only other female vampire at the fire.

She shook her head.

“Gretchen was eaten.”

I gulped. “Eaten?”

“By one of her test subjects.”

I had to remember to stop asking questions. I hadn’t yet gotten an answer I liked.

“We’ve spent centuries hiding from other vampires, from our own kind,” Saga said quietly. “But no more. I’ve bloodkin to protect. We might never pass for humans, but we’ll damn well pass for vampires now that a new Blood Moon’s been called.”

“And the Hel-Blar you’re keeping in the backyard?” Connor asked.

Saga shrugged one shoulder. “I might need them. An army’s an army, and we can’t afford to be picky.”

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