He didn’t mean the school library. He took me to the city library. The building was even more ancient than the school, at least 800 years old. The stained glass windows made it look like a cathedral inside. As it had been part of a cathedral originally, I suppose that wasn’t so surprising.
We went downstairs, to the rare books room. Marc showed his ID, and the librarian unlocked the door and let us in.
He took down a large leather-bound volume, hand-written and hand-illustrated. He handed me a pair of white cotton gloves. I looked at him, my eyebrows raised.
“We wear gloves so that the oils from our skin don’t touch the pages as it speeds disintegration,” he said. I put them on.
I turned the pages slowly, watching the history of vampires in Europe unfold in front of me. The book was mostly drawings, with the occasional phrase in Latin, which Marc translated for me. The most important part was the prophecy, which strangely enough, was written in English.
I looked a question at Marc. He shrugged.
“No one knows when this book was written, or by whom,” he said.
“Then why does everyone take it so seriously?” I asked.
Child of Darkness, Child of Light;
One consumes, one burns bright.
Fates intertwine, paths cross at last;
Reshape the future from the past.
“Huh. That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Stregoni-Garda child will end the Velathri’s rule. In fact, it doesn’t even mention the Velathri.”
“That’s not how the Velathri have chosen to interpret it,” Marc said. “One thing that’s clear, though, is that this person brings change to the established order.”
“So they’ve killed all these children based on their interpretation of some ancient rhyme,” I said. “What if they’re wrong?”
“They don’t really care. As long as they’re in power, and remain in power, they don’t care who they hurt. Or kill,” Marc said. “Either way, it’s worked so far.”
I thought of the children who had died. I thought of Marc’s parents, and my grandparents. More than ever, I appreciated my parents’ efforts to keep me safe. And I decided that I couldn’t let more people die. I might not be the answer to the prophecy. In fact, I really didn’t think I was. But I refused to let these guys kill more kids. Starting with me.
I turned to Marc. “So what do I do?”
“First? Learn to fight. Ready to go back to work?”
Back to the gym we went. We spent another two hours sparring before we stopped for the day.
“Keep it up,” Marc said, “And you just might survive.”
“Gee, thanks,” I said, wiping my face with a towel.
“Tomorrow, we move to the dagger and the staff.”
“The what and the what?”
“You need to know how to fight up close. That’s the dagger. And you need to know how to grab whatever’s at hand – that’s the staff. Don’t think you’ll always have a sword when you need it,” Marc said.
We walked back toward my dad’s house in silence. As we walked past a tourist information office, Marc stopped.
“Let’s go in here,” he said. “We need a map of the original city walls for you.”
Inside the small office, Marc looked carefully at the maps.
“Here,” he said, pulling one out of the pile. He paid the woman sitting behind the counter, and we continued our walk around the city’s center – where the original city walls had once stood. My dad’s house backed up to the boundary I couldn’t safely cross.
At the front door, Marc bowed, kissing my hand.
“I thought we were dispensing with the niceties,” I said.
“Touche,” he laughed. “See you tomorrow.”
“Katie?” my dad said as I entered the house. He’d gotten back before I had. That was a first.
“It’s me!” I called as I walked down the hallway to my room. “I’m going to shower and change, okay?” I asked.
“Sure, fine,” he called.
I took off the black outfit and took a hot shower. I put on the t-shirt and shorts I’d started out in that morning, and headed to the kitchen. Johan and his parents were sitting at the table.
Oh. This was not how I’d envisioned my reunion with Johan. And I hadn’t even had time to think about our relationship, or how it might be changing. I was make-up free, with wet hair curling around my shoulders. But he didn’t seem to mind.
“Katie,” he said, standing up and reaching for me. I ran into his hug. It felt so comfortable, so familiar to be in his arms. I leaned my head on his shoulder, so happy and relieved to see him I didn’t even think about the fact that my dad and Johan’s parents were in the room.
I jumped back, letting go of Johan so fast I stumbled.
“How was your training?” Dad asked, looking from Johan to me. Johan’s face flamed red, and I’m sure mine did the same.
I tried to gather my thoughts.
“Fine,” I said. “I learned a lot.”
I didn’t feel it was necessary to tell him that I’d learned he was still keeping secrets from me. I was grateful to Marc for telling me the truth, even if it had been hard to hear.
“Great,” Dad said, still eyeing Johan. “Dinner’s ready.”
We sat down to another of my grandmother’s recipes … shrimp scampi, Italian style. Everyone enjoyed it, although everyone except me drank “tomato juice” with their meal.
“Um, so where’s Mom? And Claire? And her parents … um, I mean Adam and Ariel?” I asked as we cleaned up the kitchen.
“They’re on their way,” Edward said. I didn’t miss the sympathetic look Juliana gave me.
“What are you not telling me?”
Juliana raised her eyebrows and turned toward my dad.
Dad sighed. “We’re not sure what’s happening,” he said. “Your mother should have already been here. I can’t imagine what’s keeping her.”
“Can’t you?” Edward asked sharply.
“Yes, she is Garda, but Katie is her daughter,” Dad said, his own voice tense.
Adam turned to me. “Adam, Ariel, and Claire took the other book to Rome for safekeeping. We think your mother may have gone with them.”
“But weren’t we supposed to bring both books here?” I asked. “And why Rome?”
“Because that’s where the Garda Council is located,” Dad answered.
“Really?” I asked. “What about Ireland?”
“The Council moved from Ireland to Rome at the height of the Roman Empire,” Dad answered. “They felt it was important to be at the center of civilization.”
I thought for a minute. “So why would they take the book to the Council, rather than bringing it here?”
Dad sighed. “Because, Katie, the Council is rethinking its treaty with the Stregoni Benefici.”
“Oh. And what does that mean?”
“It means that if there is a war between the Velathri and the Stregoni Benefici, the Garda will sit it out.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Katie, very bad. One of the reasons there hasn’t been all-out war before this was that with the Garda as our allies, the balance of power was in our favor. The Velathri weren’t willing to take us on with such powerful beings fighting with us.”
“So … what changed?”
“Fergus the Fierce is missing.”
“Um, wouldn’t he be dead by now?” I asked, confused. I thought the story Dad had told me happened hundreds of years ago.
“Katie, vampires don’t die of old age,” my dad said.
“Oh, right.” I thought for a minute. “So do you think someone – or something – killed him?”
“We hope not,” Adam answered. “We hope he’s in hiding. But right now, we don’t know. And the Garda don’t know, either. As they made original agreement with him, they’re reconsidering it now that he’s missing.”
“And what about the book?” I asked.
“I’m not sure what they plan to do with that. One of us will have to travel to Rome to speak with them,” Dad said.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Juliana said. “I’ve been friends with Libby since before Katie and Johan were born. I need to find out about the book, but I also need to make sure she’s safe.”
“Johan and I will stay here,” Edward said.
I looked around at my dad’s small house. “Where will everyone sleep?”
Edward laughed. “We own the house next door. We’re not moving in with you!”
Whew. That was good. Five people in this house would be close quarters. There were the two bedrooms downstairs, and a large room upstairs that was part library, part archaeologist’s workroom. It used to be my grandmother’s sewing room, but now was my dad’s home office.
And then there was the one bathroom. There were some modern American conveniences I missed … like multiple bathrooms in a house. Dishwashers. Air conditioning.
“Johan will take classes with you, and I’ll help your dad on his dig,” Edward said.
“Um, what exactly are you looking for?” I asked. “You already found the two books.”
Dad looked uncomfortable. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to go there.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Dad?”
“There’s supposed to be a third book,” Dad said. “The book you have gives a history of fairies in Ireland. The book Claire has is a history of vampires. There have been rumors throughout time of a third book, which outlines a new order.”
“Tell me the whole story, Dad. I can handle it.”
“Okay. Legend has it that the third book, when joined with the other two on a specific date, will give us the ability to create a new world order – one where the Velathri don’t rule all magical creatures by fear, one where children of fairies and vampires don’t have to be hidden to survive to adulthood, one where werewolves and witches and fairies don’t have to hide, living in forests and small villages and underground, so the Velathri don’t hunt them down and kill them.”
“I thought the books were all in Pompeii at the same time,” I said.
“They were,” Dad answered. “But I guess it wasn’t time yet.”
“You know the date?”
“Again, it’s just legend. But the date predicted is the summer solstice the year the new leader turns 17.”
“Who’s the new leader?”
“That’s not clear,” Dad said, grimacing. “The Velathri think it has something to do with the rhyme Marc showed you today, and that’s why they’ve worked so hard to make sure the children of fairies and vampires don’t survive. Sadly, those children might have united us even without a third book, if they’d been allowed to live.”
“So the Tuatha didn’t – don’t – trust vampires. And apparently for good reason,” I said.
My dad nodded.
“So … why are they okay with you having the books?”
“I have the skills to find the books, and I promised to make copies, so each group – Garda, Tuatha, Velathri, and Stregoni – have a set,” Dad said. “This means power is balanced, and no one group has an advantage. But the Garda apparently have decided to take things into their own hands.”
“It’s okay, though, right?” I said. “You were going to give them the book anyway.”
“It’s not okay,” Edward said. “Your dad still needs to make copies. And we’re still looking for the third book.”
“I contacted the Velathri as soon as I found the first book,” Dad said. “I asked permission to have copies printed before returning it to them. I received permission last week, which is why I asked Claire to bring it to Italy.”
“You asked their permission? Why?” My brows drew together as I tried to figure that one out.
Dad sighed. “Because, Katie, the Velathri are, for lack of a better word, our bosses.”
“But … I thought you were here to control them. To keep them from harming humans.”
“In a way. The Velathri make the rules. And they are very strict about enforcing them. The Stregoni Benifici are here make sure the Velathri follow the rules.”
I stared at him blankly.
He looked thoughtful.
“Okay. Let me try to explain in human terms. I guess you could say we’re kind of like game wardens. We protect the game in our forests from hunters, but we still answer to the government that appointed us, even if members of that government are hunters themselves. Does that make sense?”
Wow. This was all more complicated than I’d thought.
Suddenly, I remembered something. I thought back to the conversation in my mom’s kitchen the last night we spent in Charleston. It was only three days ago, but it felt like a lifetime.
“Wait. Adam and Ariel didn’t know Claire had the book until three days ago,” I said. “She had hidden it in her closet.”
“Hmmm. I wonder if Adam and Ariel took it from her,” Edward said.
“Why didn’t they take the book I have, too?” I asked.
“Because it has a spell on it,” Juliana said, smiling. “Remember? It chose you. If they’d taken it, it would have just disappeared and reappeared somewhere else.”
I jumped up. “Let me give it to you now, Dad,” I said. “I really don’t like having it in my backpack, even if we are inside the city walls.”
I went to my room and dug the book out of the bottom of my backpack. I looked down at the book in my hand as I handed it to Dad. Such a small thing to cause so much trouble.
“So we have the Garda’s book, and they have the Velathri’s book. This feels like a stand-off.”
Dad frowned. “Both the Garda and the Velathri agreed. I don’t understand what’s happening now.”
I was relieved to have the book out of my possession.
“Why didn’t you ask me for it earlier?” I asked Dad.
“Because,” he smiled. “The spell means you have to give it to me freely, without prompting. Otherwise, it just disappears again.”
“Even if you’re the rightful owner?”
“Even if I’m the rightful owner.”
“So who put the spell on it?”
“A woman I know here in town.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Her name wouldn’t be Natalia, would it?” I asked.
My dad raised his eyebrows. “How do you know Natalia?”
“She stopped and said ‘Hi’ today when Marc and I were eating lunch at the plaza,” I said. “She seemed to know you really well.”
“Who’s Marc?” Johan said at the same time my dad said, “Not really.”
“Marc is my – I guess our – tutor,” I said to Johan.
“Why were you eating lunch together?” he asked.
I stared at him. “Because it was lunch time.”
But I had more important things to worry about than Johan suddenly thinking he owned me. I turned back to my dad.
“Really?” I asked him, going back to Natalia.
“Really,” he said. “I asked her to cast a spell that would keep the book out of the wrong hands. And of course I paid her. Witches don’t work for free. I didn’t mention you. I didn’t say I was taking the book to Charleston. I have no idea how she bound it to you.”
“She almost got me killed,” I said. “The Velathri would have never even noticed me if I hadn’t been carrying the book.”
“Tony,” Juliana said gently. “You should have known better than to trust a witch. Their ‘help’ always comes with conditions. You know that.”
Dad looked frustrated. “I had no idea she even knew Katie existed. Natalia has only recently moved here, and it’s been seven years since Katie visited Montepulciano. I’ve been careful not to return, too, until last year.”
“I wonder where the witch got her information,” Adam said thoughtfully. “I think it’s more important than ever that Juliana find out what the Garda are thinking.”
“Then,” Juliana said, standing up, “I need to go home and get ready. I have to leave early tomorrow to catch the train to Rome.”
Edward and Johan stood, too. “We should all go,” Edward said.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Johan whispered as he passed me.
I smiled, but didn’t answer. If he was worried about Marc now, just wait until he saw him. Tomorrow should be interesting.
I stood up to go to my room.
“Wait, Katie,” my dad said. “I have something for you.”
I waited while he went into his bedroom, returning with a black case in his hands.
I stared. “Is that … what I think it is?”
“Yes, it’s a laptop,” he said, smiling. “I know you had to leave your computer in Charleston, and I thought you might miss it.”
“Wow, thanks, Dad,” I breathed. “It’s perfect.”
I opened the case, pulling out the silver laptop. I couldn’t believe it. The desktop in my bedroom in Charleston was old and slow. Using this would feel like driving a Ferrari after a VW Beetle.
“There’s wireless upstairs, in my study. I’ve already downloaded the software you need,” Dad said. “All you have to do is turn it on.”
“This is great,” I smiled, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m going to go use it right now!”
“Don’t stay up all night,” Dad said, smiling. “Remember you have training in the morning.”
“Right, Dad, no problem!” I answered over my shoulder as I bounced down the hall to my room. My own laptop. And the first thing I planned to do was a little research … on my own mother.