Read Die Once More Online

Authors: Amy Plum

Die Once More

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Epilogue

Excerpt from
After the End

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About the Author

Books by Amy Plum

Copyright

About the Publisher

ONE

A NEW CITY. A NEW LAND. A NEW LIFE. OR SO I
had hoped.

I left my friends, my country, the home I've had for a hundred years to escape a girl who has seen only seventeen summers. I put an ocean's distance between us just to discover it wasn't far enough.

We traded places: She's now in Paris, and I'm in New York. And therein is the problem. This is Kate's town, and it's like she never left. She's still here. She is everywhere.

In a week of walking the city streets, I feel like I've seen her a hundred times. From the American accents of high school girls chatting loudly on the subway to the downtown teenagers wearing her uniform of T-shirt, slim jeans, and Converses. She is in all of them, peering out of their eyes, taunting me with a love I will never taste. Because her heart is with another—my best friend, Vincent. I love him like a brother, but right now couldn't
be gladder about the four thousand miles of ocean between us.

I wrap my coat tighter around me and lean out over my rooftop vantage point. Below me, chunks of floating ice turn the East River into one of the frozen martinis that seem to be endlessly flowing at my New York kindred's parties. For a bitingly cold daybreak the first week of March, the Paris sky would be spread with a blanket of gray clouds. But here in Brooklyn, where the sun has just risen, the sky is a dazzling field of cornflowers. The diamonds it casts on the surface of the water blind me. Bring me to tears. Or at least, provide a good excuse for my stinging eyes.

I hear a whistle, and turn to see my kindred Faust waiting for me next to a door shaft sticking up like a lone tombstone in the middle of the football-field-size roof. I make my way toward him, passing the barbecue pits and the giant swimming pool: all covered and hibernating. Waiting for the ice to melt and the city to move the party back outside again. The endless party. Life's a party in New York.

What am I doing here?
I ask myself for the hundredth time.
Surviving
, is the correct response.
The only way I know how
.

“Council's ready for you,” Faust says, clapping me across the shoulder as he guides me down the stairs.

“So I don't get it,” he says. “You and your kindred come to New York a week ago on a mission to re-embody your kindred Vincent. You succeed, he goes back with the others, but you decide to hang out here at Frank and Myra's house. Then Vincent calls you to Paris, and after barely twenty-four hours in France you're back in New York?”

“What can I say? They were up against Violette and her army,” I say, avoiding his point.

Faust nods. “Yeah, I guess you can't turn down a request from your kindred to help out with Paris's final battle against the numa. Man, what I would have given to be there and watch the Champion kick numa ass.”

“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” I respond. “Only room for twelve on Gold's plane. I would have brought more of you if I had understood what was going down.”

“Frank and Myra . . . they're still in Paris, right?” Faust asks, eyes sparkling with good-natured jealousy. “I can't understand why you came back last night and didn't stick around for the after-party,” he says, and then, seeing my blank expression, shuts up.

After a few seconds, he murmurs, “Man, we could sure use your Champion here. We've got our own bad stuff going down. But I'm sure you've heard all about that.”

I follow him down six long flights of stairs. This building is massive, taking up a whole city block. Faust explains the floor plan as we descend.

“So you've already seen the roof. Next floor down, the seventh floor, is exhibition space, concert hall, and—as you probably saw last night—party headquarters. It's the only floor allowed to humans. That's why it has a dedicated elevator and stairway that don't access the other levels.”

Faust points to a wall where industrial-size elevator cars are caged in by retracting metal gates. “Those go down to the
basement. Man, you have to see that. It's so huge, there are actually two antique railroad tracks down there—used to bring goods in and out. At the front of the building we have river access for boats, and a dozen ambulances. The armory's down there too. Basically everything that's high security, and the stuff we don't want people to see, is belowground.”

We exit the stairwell on the ground floor and begin making our way down the cavernous stone-gray corridors toward the front of the building. As we walk, I try to get a reading on Faust. He's got this regimented air, but not as much as a soldier or policeman. And he struts straight-backed, but with his arms slightly spread, like his muscles are getting in the way. He's already built big but has doubled his size with some serious time in the gym. Like most guys I've seen here, he favors facial hair: long razor stubble for him. Taking a wild guess, I would peg him as a fireman. I wonder if that's what he was before he died.

“So I've given you the layout. Now let me explain what it's all about,” Faust says, switching into tour guide mode. “The building's a New York landmark, built of reinforced concrete in 1913 for a food processing company and then abandoned in the fifties.”

I nod, and he continues. “Gold scooped it up for a song and made it our secret headquarters. No one realized we were operating out of here until the nineties . . . at which point it was decided to make it an open secret.”

We turn a corner, and I begin to hear voices echoing through the cavernous corridors. “To the community, we're a bunch of
artists, musicians, and young independent businesspeople—creative types—who've been granted these luxury living and working spaces by an arts foundation. We ‘give back to the community' by opening the place up for exhibitions, concerts, and the monthly intel-gathering ‘block parties' like we had last night.”

He smiles at the memory of the epic party on the top floor of the building that just ended a few hours ago. It was in full swing when I arrived from the airport. I passed through, grabbed a drink, and spent the rest of the evening alone on the roof, until, after dawn, I saw the fleet of revenant-driven taxis shuttle the last partygoers home.

No partying for me. Not last night. Not with the gore of battle still fresh in my mind. Not after witnessing the permanent death of Jean-Baptiste, our leader. And in the midst of it all, my lovely Kate, fierce and beautiful and no longer human. I needed time to process it. To remember. To heal.

“It's the best spy network ever,” Faust explains, jerking me back into the here and now. “The locals offer us up valuable information on our enemies without even knowing what they're giving us. The council always meets immediately after to discuss what we learned. So—perfect timing for your official welcome.” Faust and I turn a corner and are in an airy, sunlit space occupying the entire front section of the building, overlooking the waterfront. A kitchen that could easily provide for several restaurants is fitted along the wall at the back. And between it and the floor-to-ceiling windows is a café area with around fifty tables. These are artfully grouped around potted trees strung with Christmas lights.

“This is where I leave you,” Faust says, gesturing toward a gathering of ten tables arranged in a large circle. Several dozen of my New York kindred are seated there, waiting for me in a solemn silence. I move to stand behind the one empty chair left at the “head” of the circle—the one with the prime view of the river.

A familiar figure, dressed all in white, stands at the far end of the table to greet me. “Bardia of the five boroughs of New York, I present to you Jules Marchenoir, longtime Paris kindred,” says Theodore Gold. “Witness for yourselves: His aura confirms him as one of us. Having met him before, I personally vouch for his goodwill, and I know that he is highly esteemed by the kindred of his birthplace.”

“And
I
personally vouch for this man's ability to seduce half the human population of London without even breaking a sweat,” interrupts a muscle-bound guy who could be Ambrose's older brother, drawing laughs from around the table. He holds up a fist, which I bump with my own as I take my seat next to him. “Met you at the '97 London convocation. Coleman Bailey, Harlem Riots of '43,” he says, repeating a tradition I'd noticed with American revenants: introducing themselves with a detail of their death.

Gold chuckles, taking his seat, and says, “Sorry for the formal tone, Jules. There's a formula for introducing out-of-town revenants to kindred. Besides having a high number of immigrants, Americans also tend to move around a lot.”

I nod and accept a glass and pitcher of water from the man sitting on my left. “We're used to formalities in the Old World,” I
say, trying my best to sound light. This is the last place I want to be: in the hot seat, having to explain myself to a lot of strangers while my brain is melting and my heart is in tiny jagged pieces—in a language that is not my own. But it's a necessary evil. If I want to stay, they need to know why.

My face has given something away: I see compassion on my kindred's faces. One girl speaks up. “We were so sorry to hear about Jean-Baptiste,” she says, and everyone else nods and adds their own words of condolence.

Gold speaks up. “We're going to make this brief, Jules. No formal inquisition necessary. In America we don't have leaders, or ‘heads,' like you do in Europe. Everything is done democratically. I usually speak for the crowd, since I am the official American historian—somewhat like Gaspard is for you. But any New York revenant animated over twenty years can be on the council, and it holds all the power.”

Gold pauses and looks around the group, waiting to see if anyone wants to jump in. When no one does, he says, “You have expressed a desire to join us here in New York. Could you give us an indication of how long you plan on staying?”

Here we go. “An indeterminate amount of time, if you are willing to host me,” I respond.

I see curiosity burn behind the eyes of the bardia. A member of the council speaks up. “Can you tell us the purpose of your stay?”

“I need time away from Paris,” I say.

“Wouldn't your kindred prefer you to stay closer . . . say, elsewhere in France?” she presses.

“At the moment, I was hoping for a bit more . . . distance.” This is harder than I thought. If I could say it in French, I could add the innuendos needed to imply that it was a personal issue and they could mind their own damn business. But their expressions show openness and willingness to help me, so I swallow my bitterness. Note to self: They're not the ones I'm upset with.

“Your kindred called you back to France to fight with them barely two days ago,” someone says, “and you complied. But you returned to New York last night—immediately after the battle. Can we conclude that this break from France is your decision, and not something wished for by your leaders?”

I take a moment to formulate my response. “My kindred would prefer that I stay. It is my decision to leave. But I am here with their blessing.”

“We will not be perceived as taking your side in any type of personal dispute, then, if we welcome you among us?”

“Definitely not,” I respond.

Everyone seems to relax. So this is what they were digging for.

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