“’Course it is,” he replied thickly. “I should have seen it coming.”

“Wait,” I said, trying to piece it together carefully. “Holy water… can kill you?”

“Yes,” Steve said at last. “Poor little girl.”

Suicide. The word nearly made my heart stop. I instantly felt guilty that I had not moved faster, not been as concerned. Maybe if I had run up the stairs, I could have helped her. But there she lay, clearly not returning.

“Jesus, what are we going to do?” Liam asked.

Steven shook his head. “She wanted to die, Liam, and I think there’s nothing you could do about it.”

“Are we such undesirable creatures that she would end an immortal life?” Liam roared at him, and all eyes turned to me, to fix the situation.

I rose carefully. “Liam, you couldn’t have known she was going to do that.”

“But I should have damn well figured out!” He was pacing, angry. “And maybe if you, Amy, had been nicer to her, none of this would have happened!”

“What?” Now I was angry. Liam and I couldn’t seem to get along lately, not for love or money. “How is this my fault?”

“Nina came to us for help, and she trusted me. She was afraid of the whole world, and she wanted a place to hide. I was the only person she trusted and every time she showed that trust, you had to show up and act like a teenage girl. How are you not self-assured yet, Amy, after all you’ve been through?”

I watched Connor place a gentle hand on Sarah’s back and take Nina from her. He closed her eyes and pulled off his dress shirt to put over her face. I wanted more than anything to stop screaming at Liam for having treated me so poorly, but we were in too deep now.

“This isn’t going to help anything. Don’t yell at her.”

“We need to move on,” Steven said gently. “She’s gone, Liam, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll give her a proper burial, tell the others what happened, report her death to the elders, and that will be all. It’ll be alright.”

“And what if she was murdered?” Liam brought up. “Selene is crazy, and it’d be just like her to go after us one by one. She would know to prey on Nina, she’s weak. What if she dragged her down here, chained her up, and made it look like it was suicide?”

“Liam,” Steven said. “I’ve spoken to Nina about three times and I knew she wanted to die.”

We all fell silent. I was still seething underneath. How dare he blame me for this, and then sit there and not apologize for it?

“Let’s make it happen,” I spoke up. “Because I promised you, Liam, and I promised all of you. Because Porsche was my friend too, and Selene deserves to die. But after that, I’m done.”

“What?” Liam whipped his head to stare at me. “What are you talking about?”

“All we do is fight all the time. I’m sick of it. We clearly can’t get it together. We clearly can’t trust each other. Hell, I’m probably cramping your style!” I really didn’t want to do this in front of everyone, but everything I had been feeling for weeks was finally bubbling to the surface and I was sick of keeping it quiet. “I don’t need to do a graduate year and you know it. My credits are in place and my storyline on Ranger will get extended. I don’t need stupid school plays and immortals who can’t figure out their lives hanging around me.”

I think no one was more shocked than me at the words that came out of my mouth. I almost sounded like those students I had come to hate, who found fame elsewhere and booked it out of here without so much as a thanks. Liam had given me my start, but I felt like I had come as far as I could with him. This was too much to handle, and my life was going to be too short. It could be me on the floor instead of Nina. All it took was one infection, one slip, and my disease would be active and I’d be done for as well.

To my surprise, Liam didn’t beg to keep me, and perhaps that was what I secretly wanted.

He simply nodded. “Fine, Amy, if that’s what you want, I really can’t deal with this right now. Or you.”

I wanted to hit him at that point. Instead, I picked up my backpack and grabbed Sarah’s hand. She looked torn for a moment, between Connor and me, but she rose, following me. Without a word, I headed up the steps with Sarah, making sure to slam the door behind me. If he wanted to be done with me, that was just fine. I’d be better off alone.

I didn’t remember most of the week following Nina’s death. With Amy avoiding me like the Black Plague and my anger at her as strong as ever, there wasn’t much I wanted to do but hole up in my apartment and drink, which is exactly what I did. I told the school I was taking a business trip, which I’m sure they didn’t believe in the slightest, but no one questioned me.

And so I drank my weight’s worth most days, and come nightfall, I headed out into the neighboring towns, drinking from humans for the first time in I couldn’t even remember how long. And it felt good.

I hadn’t gone out womanizing yet, but I’m sure that it wasn’t far behind. All the things about myself: the bloodlust and the regular lust, I found returning tenfold, and I enjoyed them. Perhaps we were better off apart. She was young and sheltered, and she had no idea what it was like on the other side of life. She just enjoyed taking care of me and making cooing noises whenever I got upset.

But none of these angry thoughts took away the horrible feeling I had. Dawn came and I lay with a pounding head. I bent over the toilet, throwing up the red tinged liquid that I needed to survive. I was halfway between dead and alive.

I was into week two of this behavior when I got a call from an extension in the school around dusk. My transformation was not too far away.

“Liam, it’s Connor. You need to be here, in the Red Theater now.”

“Why?” I wasn’t in the mood to play games, but Connor wasn’t really the type to play games either.

“Now,” he said, and hung up the phone.

I called a cab, not wanting to be responsible for another death if I drove in this state. Just before leaving the house, I grabbed a Mickey, putting it in my coat pocket. If I was going to go out, then I was going to have fun.

The cab pulled up at the school as the sun was half set, and I half considered having a snack of the driver. But the urgency in Connor’s voice made me simply pay him and head into the theater. I began to worry, seeing the empty hallways, if something terrible had happened again. And despite my anger, I hoped to God that it wasn’t Amy.

I had about a thousand horrible ideas in my head when I pushed open the door, but none of them matched with the sight I saw when I entered. On the dimly lit stage, standing there as if they owned it, were three cloaked figures. One was in the forefront of the other two, and Connor was on the ground below them, speaking up to them from bended knee.

As I approached, I was awed by them. These were our elders, at least some of them, the oldest vampires in existence. They were almost 2000 years old, and they resided in Romania. They were a different bloodline than Selene, and they governed all vampires. Despite myself, I bowed my head.

It was said that when all vampires were created, there was some instinct in them to respect these ones, to fear them and stand in awe at the same time. It was something about the blood coursing through our veins, the magic that reacted with them. It was almost like I was a puppet on a string. I bowed to them and enjoyed it.

“My lords,” I said, before I could stop myself.

I had only ever seen drawings of them, but they hadn’t changed much. Even when Porsche had told me the legends of them, I felt a sense of respect brew up inside me. To live 2000 years and be so calm, so decent and so regal was something that deserved respect.

“Liam,” one of them, Elias, spoke to me.

If I was identifying them correctly, the other two behind him were Fennel and Silas. My heart was pounding, even as my head swam, and I knew I reeked of booze. These were the kings of vampires, and I was a mess.

It had never occurred to me that they were here because of a controversy. I assumed they wanted Selene dead as much as we did. The elders were very honorable, respectful people, who didn’t kill senselessly, nor did they interfere in vampire killing, usually. The wars we started among ourselves were our own responsibility. And even when they killed, it was polite and clean, a quick grab of the heart from the chest and that was it.

“You are new to the vampire covens, Liam,” he continued.

“Our condolences on the death of one in your coven,” Silas said

I raised my eyes to meet his. He seemed genuinely compassionate, and I was surprised. There were so many vampires who died every day, and some of them were suicide. There was no way they sent out a branch out every time.

But what surprised me more than that was the fact that he referred to it as a coven. In a way, I guess I was part of a coven, and their leader. I had never thought about it like that, it was such an ancient way of referring to things. But he was right. We had all found each other, united in a common purpose, and we stayed together. And I was their coven leader, no matter how bad a job I felt like I was doing.

“Thank you,” I replied. “Nina’s passing does grieve us all. If you’ll forgive me for asking… why are you here?”

“Ah, well.” Elias looked to the other two.

Fennel stepped forward. “Liam, you are new to this life and so we occasionally forgive offenses. But you have had a few years, and we know you have been educated on the vampire ways… despite the fact that it was by a Shield. Who you choose to ally yourself with and who you choose to try and kill are not our concern.” In meeting my eyes, he told us that he knew of our fight against Selene, and he was given us permission to move forward. Whatever they were here for, it wasn’t for that.