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Authors: Kevin Emerson

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Blood Ties

Oliver Nocturne, Book Three

Kevin Emerson

For Oona, who introduced me to Lythia.

Prologue

THE VANDENBURG RESEARCH STATION
, located at Prydz Bay on the continent of Antarctica, near the magnetic South Pole of the planet, was a lovely place to spend the month of June if you didn't mind extreme cold or near total darkness.

Professor Darren Stevens was one of those rare people who found the icy desolation of an Antarctic winter peaceful and relaxing. Watching the sun just edging over the rim of the frozen sea gave him a feeling of relief. He was glad to be so far from the violence and struggles of the rest of the world. Here, all he had to worry about was the stinging wind, the endless ice, and his geologic instruments.

Day after day, Professor Stevens sat at his computer, his face bathed in blue light from the monitor, holding his coffee mug with the faded words
I SAW MERMAIDS AT WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS
, and studying the graphs of his ice core samples. The long tubes of ice were striped with tiny layers of dust. Just a few inches told a million years of history: the global warmings and ice ages, the rise and fall of species and civilizations.

Reading the ice cores made Professor Darren smirk at the worries of the people up north in the sunlight. No matter how human beings mucked up the planet, it would be fine. In time, human beings would be no more than a layer of dust in the ice, thinner than a fingernail. It wasn't like anything anyone did could actually end the world. And so the professor could relax in the cold, quiet night without any worry.…

Unfortunately for the professor, there were other beings that enjoyed the dark and didn't mind the cold too much. One of them was standing in front of him now.

“What are Hannah's favorite toys?” the young vampire girl named Lythia LeRoux asked. She gazed at the professor kindly. When he didn't reply, Lythia answered her own question, as she enjoyed doing. “I bet she likes horses. Little human girls always like horses. Who knows why.… Their blood tastes terrible.” Lythia sighed. “And what is her favorite food?”

Again, when the professor didn't reply, Lythia did. “I bet she likes brownies. And probably lots of those wicked foods, like pizza and macaroni and cheese.” Lythia wrinkled her nose playfully. Like most vampires, she absolutely hated cheese. She blew her magenta hair out of her eyes and took a bite of the frozen candy bar she held in her red-mittened hand. The chocolate cracked like ice, and Lythia scowled.

For a moment, her lavender eyes narrowed at the professor. “You know…” She stepped closer, lowering her voice. “I can't wait to get out of here—all this nasty ice—but my father says it won't be much longer now. And until then, at least we can be friends, right?”

Professor Stevens didn't reply, as usual, but his eyes did seem to momentarily flicker with life. This made Lythia smile, though she knew that she'd probably just imagined the professor's response. He was, after all, currently hanging by his armpits in a large freezer unit, his body sprinkled with frost, his skin a delicate shade of blue. He was wearing his heavy parka, and the thick fur of his hood had frozen around his head and stuck to his shaggy gray hair.

On either side of the professor were his beautiful three-foot-long ice-core samples. Lythia thought they looked like chimes. She'd even hit one to see if it made a pretty tone, but it had simply shattered.

“My father says that your research is silly,” Lythia said to the professor, curling a lock of her hair around her pointed green fingernail. “He says a human trying to understand the universe is like a plankton trying to understand the ocean.…” She trailed off. Her father, Malcolm LeRoux, had said so very much more on the subject, going on and on, but Lythia found all that talk incredibly boring.

She looked down at her hands, where she held the professor's wallet open to the picture of his daughter, Hannah. She looked back up to the professor and his frost-speckled eyes. “I bet she tastes better than you.”

Two tubes ran out of the professor's neck, snaking down to two jars on the floor. One collected a slow flow of the professor's blood, while the other added a special plasma called Sanguinaise back into the professor's system. Sanguinaise sped the process of blood regeneration. It was used when humans were put into Staesys, or frozen in time, so that when the humans woke up they wouldn't know they'd been fed on.

It was also helpful for vampires whose food supply was limited, such as if you were in Antarctica and had only one human to feed you for a week. In this case, instead of being frozen in time, the professor was literally frozen, to keep him fresh.

Sanguinaise wouldn't work forever. After a while, it would exhaust all the bone marrow in the human and cause skeletal breakdown. But Lythia didn't need to worry about that. She and her companions wouldn't be here much longer.

“Does Hannah ever have nightmares? What are they about? I love nightmares—”

“Lythia!”

Lythia spun to find her father storming into the room. Malcolm was very tall and broad, and had to hunch and twist to maneuver through the research station's cramped halls, which put him in a foul mood. He reached out and slammed the clear door on the freezing unit as he hurried by. Lythia thought she saw a flicker of disappointment in the professor's eyes. How bored he must be when she wasn't talking to him.

Malcolm continued out of the lab, ducking through a metal hatchway. “I told you,” he barked over his shoulder, “the food will spoil if you keep that door open.”

Lythia naturally fell into step behind her father. If he was rushing, then there was something worth rushing for. She followed him down a narrow hallway. Tiny portal windows looked out on windswept miles of silver ice and purple sky.

The hall led to another cramped room, this one lined wall to wall with computer machinery and reverberating with a shrill beeping sound. A green light blinked by a keyboard in the center of a long desk. Malcolm slapped at the keys. Monitors flickered to life and a myriad of maps appeared. Some were standard GPS, some were grid maps of the ocean floor, and there were others that rotated on multiple axes and would have made no sense to the professor or any other human. They showed the intersections of many worlds.

“Did we find it?” Lythia asked.

“I think so.” Malcolm tapped quickly. “There. Yes, we've got it.”

On the center monitor was a rather normal-looking map of the Indian Ocean. A red dot was blinking atop a tiny island alone on the blue sea.

“Go send a message to Ravonovich,” Malcolm instructed tersely, “and let him know we've pinpointed the location where the Artifact will arrive. Tell him we'll meet him there.”

Lythia turned and rushed out of the room, a spring in her step. The Artifact! It was so exciting when prophecies came true. Lythia had been lucky in her young existence to be with her dad a few times when things like this happened: when myth and possibility became reality. But none had ever been as important as this. Lythia knew that it was a big deal that her dad had finally been asked to work on the Nexia prophecy, and to have his decades of Artifact research finally pay off.…

She passed through the lab and offered the professor a quick glance. “Time to run, Professor. Someone will thaw you out in time. Say hi to Hannah for me!” she said with a smile, knowing there was little chance of that.

She entered another narrow hallway, then a small living room with couches and lamps, most of which had been overturned. A bookshelf lay on the floor, its contents scattered about. There were smears of blood here and there from that other troublesome human, the professor's colleague, who had put up a fight when Lythia and her dad had arrived. He'd been taken back to their boat to sustain the crew.

Lythia picked up her shoulder bag from one of the couches, stuffing her clothes and dismemberment dolls back into it. Then she turned to the wall where the bookshelf had stood. There was a tunnel carved there that dropped straight down into the ice. It had been melted using a magma drill. Lythia ducked inside and climbed down a metal ladder. At the bottom was a cylindrical cave with frozen blue walls. Another tunnel led off toward the end of the ice shelf, where their boat awaited. The tiny cave was lit by the amber glow of a swirling magmalight lantern. Beside it was a black box: a geo-harmonic phone.

Lythia touched a button on the phone and a video screen jumped to life, revealing a plush, dark office. A pointed, pale face appeared. Mr. Ravonovich cleared his throat, adjusted his bow tie, and spoke in a thin voice. “Yes, dear?”

“Father says we've got the location. He's sending it to you, and we'll meet you there.”

Ravonovich nodded slowly. “Thank you, Lythia. Give your father my congratulations.”

The screen flicked off.

Lythia was about to head for the boat, but she had one more thing she wanted to do. Glancing up the ladder to make sure her father wasn't coming, she reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a flat object wrapped in crimson cloth. She carefully unfolded the fabric, revealing a diamond-shaped hand mirror with a border of jade. She held the mirror up by its short handle. Pale white light sparkled on her face, as if from many sources.

“They've found the Artifact,” she whispered at the mirror.

The lights danced around, and Lythia nodded as if she was hearing a voice.

“I will,” she said. She tucked the mirror back into her bag and started down the ice passage for the long journey north.

Chapter 1

An Uneasy Quiet

THERE WERE SOME THINGS
that Oliver Nocturne enjoyed about school. One was whenever Mr. VanWick was giving a history lecture and he was listening intently and no one around him was talking or snickering at him. Another was … well, lately that had been pretty much it. Maybe the only other thing he enjoyed about school was that tonight was the last night.

But the torture wasn't over yet.

Oliver was sitting on a single chair outside the door to his classroom. They'd had early dismissal, around two a.m., same as every other night during this awful month of June. The summer solstice was a week away, and the sun was so strong that even a cloudy day was dangerously bright. And because Seattle was so far north, the sun rose at nearly four in the morning and didn't set until almost ten at night. It was close to four now, and sickly dawn light was beaming into the hall from every doorway. Oliver's seat was positioned in a narrow rectangle of shadow.

The classroom door was closed. Faint murmurs echoed from inside. Oliver's parents were in there, having their parent-teacher conference with Mr. VanWick. It was the end of Oliver's fourth year of his eighth Pentath of school. A Pentath was five human years long. Since vampires aged about one year for every five human years, this meant that he was nearing the end of seventh grade. He had one more year, and then he would move on to his ninth Pentath, which was like eighth grade.

In eighth grade, all bets were off, because the moment a vampire received his demon, he graduated immediately to high school. If your demon came early, you might only spend a year in the ninth Pentath, or you could end up like Bane had, spending eight years there, until he was the only one left in his class.

High school was the promised land: no dress code, no books, no homework, just hanging out discussing the world and learning the advanced powers that only a fully demonized vampire could achieve, like Occupying animals and Evanescence, where a vampire could move as mist. There were entire lectures devoted to causing chaos, driving humans mad, corrupting governments, committing thievery and fraud, and on and on.

But all that was a long way off for Oliver. Between now and then, there was at least one more year of dress shirts and ties, textbooks and homework. Plus, Oliver wasn't sure if high school was something that his future even held. Unlike any other vampire child, he already knew who his demon was: Illisius.

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