When Michael left his small Nebraska hometown to enroll at Archangel Academy, he couldn't have imagined how much the experience would change him. Once mortal, Michael is now a vampire with a destiny that was foretold long ago, and a group of friends with their own mysterious abilities.
But there are enemies too, some of them hiding in plain sight. Being strong enough to defend himself isn't enough. Michael must find a way to protect his entire race of vampires. Dark forces within the school will drive everyone to take sides in the escalating violence. And for all his new powers, Michael will discover that love, jealousy, and vengeance have a danger all their own. . .
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A New Beginning
Happy birthday to me.
Those were the first words Michael spoke when he woke up. He whispered them to himself just as he had every morning on his birthday for as long as he could remember. Unexpectedly, he felt sadness sneak into his heart as he recalled that his birthdays had always started with promise and always ended in disappointment. When he turned and saw Ronan sleeping beside him, the sadness retreated; he knew this birthday would be vastly different.
He dressed quickly, one eye on Ronan, wondering if he should wake him. The urge to fulfill tradition, however, was too strong. Even though this birthday would bear no resemblance to any other that had come before it, he still felt the need to start the day the same way he had for so many years — alone.
As he passed by the window, he paused to remember his dream. He was greatly relieved to find that the land was dry and they weren't floating in the middle of the ocean. It had been just a dream, nothing more. Catching his reflection in the windowpane, Michael scowled. Could've been a premonition, he thought. You've had a few of those before. No, he wasn't going to believe that, he wasn't going to believe that his dream could be yet another vision of the future, a vision that contained danger and turmoil. Today was a day for celebration.
Standing outside St. Florian's, solitude felt different. Back home in Weeping Water he had begun every birthday by himself. The custom had started out of necessity — he didn't have any friends — but it soon became preference. Instead of vainly anticipating a day filled with parties, good wishes, gifts from someone other than his mother and grandparents, he would start the day with a quiet stroll, contemplating the year that had passed and wondering what the future would hold. Now, his annual ritual would merely be a prelude to a day filled with fun, laughter, and, best of all, company.
Walking across the Archangel Academy campus at dawn, Michael gazed upon the collection of stone buildings that at this uninhabited hour looked like the remnants of an abandoned village, not the revered educational institution that it was, and he couldn't believe such a picturesque setting was his home. The flat, hostile landscape of Weeping Water might have been where he grew up, but this was his home, and no matter where he traveled to, no matter where he and Ronan chose to live after they graduated, Michael would always return here. Because he considered Double A to be the place where his life began.
In front of Archangel Cathedral, Michael looked up, exhilarated as he always was by the burst of light that radiated from the large round window. He closed his eyes, accepted the church's offering, felt his face glow, and made his annual wish. This year he didn't wish for a future away from Weeping Water; he didn't wish to be rescued and taken somewhere else, he no longer had to. He also didn't ask that his future only be filled with happiness, that it be spared tragedy and pain, for he knew that would be foolish. He simply wished that no matter what surprises and challenges he encountered this year and for all the years to come that he face them directly and not be weakened by fear.
Suddenly, an odd sensation filled Michael's body; he felt warm and wet at the same time. He opened his eyes and saw that the cathedral's stained-glass window was gone, and in its place was The Well. Looking into it from this new angle was disconcerting at first, but Michael soon saw the familiar, silvery water ripple slightly and then emerging from it a thin, white light that only stopped when it touched his heart. Overjoyed, he knew his wish had been granted. His heart and his soul were connected to The Well, and no matter how difficult the year ahead was, no matter how challenging his future might be, he wouldn't have to be afraid.
And what a wonderful change that would be after the tumultuous year he had had, a year filled with events that were still almost incomprehensible. Losing his mother, the horror of learning she had died at his father's hand, the death of his friend Penry, the disappearances of Imogene and Alistair, the attack on Saoirse's life and her unexplained survival, the revelation that David longed for the annihilation of the water vampires. He knew it would be a struggle to face each new obstacle with a fearless heart, but knowing The Well supported him, knowing The Well was an ally, would make it easier for Michael to find his own courage.
He continued to walk across campus and proudly surveyed his domain. When he came across the white roses that sprouted from the ground in front of St. Joshua's he laughed out loud. No matter how strong and how gifted he might be, he still couldn't decipher their mystery; their truth was just beyond his grasp. Beyond everyone's grasp for that matter. No one understood why they were always present, always in full bloom season after season, century after century. No one, including Michael, understood their purpose, or if they even had one other than adding beauty to the school. Michael bent down to caress a milk-white petal that was incredibly smooth and thick, and he felt like a child and an adult at the same time. He was filled with wonder by this baffling creation and the knowledge that mystery was merely a part of life. Accepting that some things could never be explained was all a part of becoming an adult. So too was understanding the need to exercise caution.
In the distance he saw the headmaster's office. It looked like all the other buildings at Double A, and yet Michael knew it was unique. It was where David presided, where he and his dutiful subjects conspired to destroy The Well and wage war against Michael's kind. He knew that David was a formidable opponent, and he wasn't naïve enough to think that he and his army wouldn't strike out against them again. However, David's plans had been thwarted once already, and David had learned that victory would not be easy or achieved without bloodshed, so they had all settled into an uneasy peace. How long that peace would continue Michael had no idea, but he didn't want to dwell on it, not on his birthday.
The past, however, was strong and tugged on his memory. In the presence of the office he thought of David's predecessor, Alistair, the headmaster who had welcomed him to Archangel Academy. He hoped that wherever he was, he was at peace. He hoped that was the case as Alistair had offered him kindness and support when he first arrived here, and Michael had never properly thanked him. Sadly, he suspected he would never get the chance.
Walking back toward the heart of campus, Michael thought about the other adults in his life and silently remarked that they were truly a disappointing group. He didn't care if he ever saw his father again. His grandparents allowed their own limitations to prevent them from ever having a fulfilling relationship with their grandson. And then there was his mother. He understood Grace's actions and her motives now, he knew that she had fled London to get away from Vaughan in order to prevent him from turning Michael into one of Them, but it still didn't change the fact that she had kept all her secrets to herself and as a result Michael only got to know his mother after she died. They had closure, but they were never close.
Stop thinking about the past, Michael, he thought. Stop imagining what you might do in the future and pay attention to the present. He took his own advice and looked up to find Ronan staring down at him from their dorm room window. Michael was so overcome with a collection of emotions — joy, pride, love — that it took him several moments to feel the rain. Unlike in his dream or premonition or whatever it was, these were just a few drops falling from the summer clouds onto the earth, onto his and Ronan's faces, making them glisten the way they did the night they first met. How his life had changed so drastically, so magnificently since that night. Maybe it was time to bury all those thoughts and feelings that had plagued him; maybe it was time to let go of the past; maybe it was time to grow up.
"Happy birthday, love," Ronan said sweetly. One drop of rain fell from Ronan's lips and didn't stop falling until it landed on Michael's. "Why don't you get up here so I can give you your gift right proper?"
Half a second later the boys were tumbling onto their bed, their bodies damp with rainwater and anticipation, their quickened breaths and the fumbling of the sheets almost drowning out the sounds of the summer rain shower outside. Almost. No matter how hard Michael tried, no matter how much in love he and Ronan were, the world, for better and for worse, would always be waiting for them.
"What was that?" Michael asked, looking out the window over Ronan's bare shoulder.
"What was what?"
"I thought I heard a noise," Michael clarified. "Sounded like a bird flew by."
Pushing Michael's body deeper into the pillows and the mattress, Ronan laughed. "That meadowlark of yours needs to find his own boyfriend. You're taken."
"Guess he wanted to wish me a happy birthday too."
Words quickly gave way to kisses and all thoughts of the lark were forgotten.
It was good that the boys had something to keep them occupied, because if they had inspected the situation further they might have discovered that, while the noise was indeed the sound of wings flapping in the wind, it wasn't created by the lark.
It was David.
His feathered wings, black as sin, created a sinister silhouette against the pale blue sky as he soared over Double A to test out his newly acquired ability.
And, of course, to spy on the unsuspecting couple.CHAPTER 2
Even with his eyes closed Michael knew he was being watched. It was a glorious feeling. The sound, however, was not.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you."
Another one of Ronan's flaws revealed — he couldn't sing. His Irish brogue, so melodic when speaking, somehow lost all of its musicality when he tried to sing. Still it was touching to hear words that were so heartfelt and meant only for his ears, touching and, unfortunately, embarrassing as well. Ronan's attempt at crooning made Michael remember that he had completely forgotten Ronan's seventeenth birthday a few months ago. True to his word, Ronan didn't hold a grudge and seemed to have forgotten about the incident until Michael was compelled to bring it up again.
"Thank you," Michael said, sealing his words with a kiss. "And next year I promise I won't forget yours."
Ronan changed position so they were now lying on their sides facing each other. "I told you, love, it's not a big deal," he replied. "Birthdays don't mean much to vampires or to Atlantians for that matter."
Tugging on the curls of black hair on Ronan's chest, Michael whispered, "I know, but I still shouldn't have forgotten."
Ronan grabbed Michael's hand and pulled it away from his chest; he loved the sensation, but he just felt the need to kiss Michael's fingers. "The concept of age is kind of meaningless to us now," he explained. "I just know you still enjoy this human tradition."
His comment made Michael roll his eyes. Yes, Ronan had been a vampire for longer than Michael had, but only by a few years. And yet sometimes when he spoke he sounded downright ancient. "Well, I promise not to forget your birthday," Michael declared. "Even when we're 362."
Ronan traced his cheek with Michael's fingers. How wonderful it will be to spend 362 years with you, Michael, but before we spend another moment together things need to change. "I want to give you a gift."
Unable to contain his excitement, Michael sat up in bed, bouncing a little bit, delighted and hoping that Ronan's present would be better than his singing.
"I want to give you the gift of honesty," Ronan stated.
Hmm, maybe not. "Is that, um, a new cologne?" Michael asked.
Shaking his head, Ronan wrapped his leg around Michael's waist so their naked bodies were intertwined. "No, I'm talking about the actual word and everything it means."
"Oh," Michael replied warily.
Ronan held Michael's hands in his and looked him directly in the eyes. Whatever he wanted to say, he was serious, and Michael's caution turned into intrigue. "I don't want there to be any more secrets between us," Ronan said. "I didn't tell you about my past with Nakano, or about your father being a vampire, or the fact that Saoirse's different from all of us, and if only I had we could have avoided lots of turmoil, lots of unnecessary pain."
"I told you," Michael said, "I understand why you did all that. You were protecting me."
"And look how it all backfired," Ronan added. "So to bloody hell with all that. From here on out, no more secrets."
Slowly, Michael nodded his head in agreement. He was happy to hear that Ronan wanted to substitute truth for secrets, but he couldn't help wondering what else Ronan could possibly have to tell him. Secret telling, however, would have to wait a while longer, because just as Ronan was about to speak he was interrupted by a knock at their door.
"Open up! We come bearing gifts!"
The high-pitched voice was unmistakable. It belonged to Saoirse.
"Hold on!" Ronan cried.
Like two mice scampering in a field, Michael and Ronan raced around their room putting the clothes back on that they had so carelessly discarded earlier in the morning. Fully dressed, Ronan opened the door to see not just Saoirse, but Ciaran and Fritz as well, all bearing gifts. "You two were in your birthday suits, weren't you?" Saoirse asked.
"No," Ronan said emphatically.
His staunch tone was undermined when Michael said, "Kind of," at the same time.
"Aren't ya glad I told ya to knock first?" Fritz asked. Despite the interruption to their privacy, both boys welcomed the intrusion. The camaraderie made Ronan feel like part of a family, and it reminded Michael that he now had friends who wanted to celebrate his birthday. Both were changes for the better.
Those weren't the only changes that had taken place since the end of the school year. Ciaran and Fritz had become closer, and as a result they were beginning to adopt each other's personality traits. Ciaran was continuing to break through his shell and was no longer so stuffy and reserved; he wasn't as laid back or as funny as Fritz, but he was starting to lighten up and realize there was more to life than just being a lab rat. For his part, Fritz had learned that you can't always get what you want just because you ask for it loudly. He had wanted a more intimate relationship with Phaedra and as far as he knew she had just up and switched schools without even saying good-bye. It had been a hard lesson to learn, but he had come to realize that he had obviously overestimated the depth of their relationship. As a result, he had become more pensive and reflective.
And then there was Saoirse. After surviving the attack on her life during The Carnival for the Black Sun, she had greatly matured. Unfortunately her development was more physical than emotional. Her lean tomboy's body had started to gain curves in all the right places, and she had grown about two inches in height in the past month. She had always been told that she had a beautiful face, but now she had the shape to match.
Although she was becoming a woman, she clung tightly to her girlish charms. She was still a spitfire with a firm grasp on her adventurous, mischievous spirit. As far as her puzzling heritage, the more she thought about it, the more conflicted she became about truly wanting to know why she was so special, so different. The only thing she did acknowledge was that, as a girl who was almost sixteen, she didn't want to be anything close to different.
Piling with his friends on the bed, Michael sat on the pillows like they were a throne. Ronan was next to him, then spread out in a circle, Saoirse, Ciaran, and Fritz, all, for the moment at least, his subjects bearing their majesty gifts and hoping to secure his royal favor. Michael tried to act mature and as if this wasn't one of the most exciting days of his life, but he couldn't; he was practically giddy at being the center of attention, and he decided to embrace it. "C'mon — don't keep me in suspense any longer!" he shouted. "Gimme my gifts!"
The kids were just as excited, and three pairs of hands thrust their gifts toward Michael at the same time. Before he could choose, Fritz made the decision for him. "Open mine first," he ordered. "Because there's no soddin' way their presents can be better."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unafraid"
Copyright © 2012 Michael Griffo.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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