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Black Dawn (Chapter 10)

But at the instant which would have made it akiss, Delos pulled away. Maggie felt the brush of his warm lips and then cold air as he jerked back.

"No,"he said."No." She could see the clash of fear and anger in his eyes, and she could see itsuddenly resolve itselfas the pain grew unbearable.He shuddered once, and then all the turmoil vanished, asif it were being swept aside by a giant hand. It left only icy determination in its wake.

"That's not going to help," Maggie said. "I don'teven understand why you want to be this way, butyou can't just squash everything down-"

"Listen," he said in a clipped, taut voice. "Yousaid that in your dream I told you to go away. Well,I'm telling you the same thing now. Go away anddon't ever come back. I never want to see yourface again."

"Oh, fine." Maggie was trembling herself withfrustration. She'd had it; she'd finally reached thelimit of her patience with him. There was so muchbitterness in his face, so much pain, but it was clear he wasn't going to let anyone help.

"I mean it. And you don't know how much of aconcession it is. I'm letting you go. You're not justan escaped slave, you're an escaped slave whoknows about the pass in the mountains. The pen-.alty for that is death."

"So kill me," Maggie said. It was a stupid thingto say and she knew it. He was dangerous – andthe master of that blue fire. He could do it at theturn of an eyelash. But she was feeling stupid andreckless. Her fists were clenched.

"I'm telling you to leave," he said. "And I'll tellyou something else. You wanted to know what happened to your brother."

Maggie went still. There was something differentabout him suddenly. He looked like somebodyabout to strike a blow. His body was tense and hiseyes were burning gold like twin flames.

"Well, here it is," he said. "Your brother is dead. I killed him."

It was a blow. Maggie felt as if she'd been hit. Shock spread through her body and left her tingling with adrenaline. At the same time she felt strangely weak, as if her legs didn't want to hold her up any longer.

But she didn't believe it. She couldn't believe it, not just like that.

She opened her mouth and dragged in a breathto speakand froze.

Somewhere outside the cave a voice was calling.

Maggie couldn't make out the words, but it was agirl's voice. And it was close …and coming closer.

Delos's head whipped around to look at the entrance of the cave. Then, before Maggie could say anything, he was moving.

He took one step to the wall and blew out theflame of the little stone lamp. Instantly, the cavewas plunged into darkness. Maggie hadn't realizedhow little light came from the entrance crack-almost none at all.

No, she thought. Less light is coming throughthan before. It's getting dark.

Oh, God, she thought. Cady.

I just walked off and left her there. What's wrongwith me? I forgot all about her-1 didn't eventhink….

"Where are you going?" Delos whispered harshly.

Maggie paused in mid rush and looked at himwildly. Or looked towardhim, actually, becausenow she couldn't see anything but darkness against paler darkness.

"To Cady," she said, distracted and frantic, clutching the water bag she'd grabbed. "I left herdown there. Anything could have happened bynow.

o.

"You can't go outside," he said. "That's the hunting party I came with. If they catch you I won't beable to help-2'

I don't care!" Maggie's words tumbled over his."A minute ago you never wanted to see me again.Oh, God, I left her. How could I do that?"

'It hasn't been that long," he hissed impatiently. "An hour or so." Vaguely, Maggie realized that hemust be right. It seemed like a hundred years sinceshe had climbed up to his ledge, but actually every thing had happened quickly after that.

"I still have to go," she said, a little more calmly."She's sick. And maybe Gavin came back." A waveof fear surged through her at the thought.

"If they catch you, you'll wish you were dead," he said distinctly. Before Maggie could answer, hewas going on, his voice as brusque as ever. "Stayhere. Don't come out until everybody's gone."

She felt the movement of air and the brush ofcloth as he passed in front of her. The light fromthe entrance crack was cut off briefly, and then shesaw him silhouetted for an instant against gray sky.

Then she was alone.

Maggie stood tensely for a moment, listening.The sound of her own breathing was too loud. She crept quietly to the entrance and crouched

And felt a jolt. She could hear footsteps crunching on the broken slate outside. Rightoutside. Thena shadow seemed to fall across the crack and sheheard a voice.

"Delos! What are you doing up here?"

It was a light, pleasant voice, the voice of a girl only a little older than Maggie. Not a woman yet.And it was both concerned and casual, addressingDelos with a familiarity that was startling.

But that wasn't what gave her the bigjolt. It wasthat she recognized the voice. She knew it and shehated it.

It was Sylvia.

She's here, Maggie thought. And from the wayshe'stalkingshe's been here before – enough to getto know Delos. Or maybe she was born here, and she's just started coming Outside.

Whatever the truth, it somehow made Maggiecertain that Miles had been brought here, too. But then-what? What had happened to him after that?Had he done something that meant he had to disappear? Or had it been Sylvia's plan from thebeginning?

Could Delos have really… ?

I don't believe it, Maggie thought fiercely, butthere was a pit of sick fear in her stomach.

Outside, Sylvia was chatting on in a musical voice. "We didn't even know you'd left the groupbut then we saw the blue fire. We thought youmight be in trouble-"

"Me?"Delos laughed briefly.

"Well-we thought there might betrouble," Sylvia amended. Her own laugh was like wind chimes.

"I'm fine. I used the fire for practice."

"Delos." Sylvia's voice was gently reproving now,in a way that was almost flirtatious. "You knowyou shouldn't do that. You'll only do more damageto your armit's never going to get better if youkeep using it."

"I know." Delos's brusque tone was a sharp con

trast to Sylvia's teasing. "But that's my business.""I only want what's best for you-"

"Let's go. I'm sure the rest of the party is waiting

for us."

He doesn't like her, Maggie thought. All herwhinnying and prancing doesn't fool him. But Iwonder what she is to him?

What she really wanted at that moment was to dash out and confront Sylvia. Grab her and shake her until she coughed up some answers.

But she'd already tried that once-and it had gotten her thrown into slavery. She gritted her teethand edged closer to the entrance crack. It was dangerous and she knew it, but she wanted to seeSylvia.

When she did, it was another shock. Sylvia always wore slinky tops and fashionable jeans, butthe outfit she had on now was completely medieval.More, she looked comfortable in it, as if thesestrange clothes were natural to her-and flattering.

She was wearing a sea-green tunic that had longsleeves and fell to the ground. Over that was another tunic, a shade paler, this one sleeveless andtied with a belt embroidered in green and silver. Her hair was loose in a fine shimmering mass, andshe had a falcon on her wrist.

A real falcon. With a little leather hood on itshead and leather ties with bells on its feet. Maggie stared at it, fascinated despite herself.

That whole fragile act Sylvia puts on, shethought. But you have to be strong to hold up a big bird like that.

"Oh, we don't have to rush back just yet," Sylvia was saying, moving closer to Delos. "Now that I'm here, we could go a little farther. This looks like anice path; we could explore it."

Cady, Maggie thought. If they go to the end ofthe path, they'll see her. Sylvia will see her.

She had just decided to jump out of the cavewhen Delos spoke.

"I'm tired," he said in his flat, cold way. "We'regoing back now."

"Oh, you're tired," Sylvia said, and her smile wasalmost sly. "You see. I told you not to use yourpowers so much.

"Yes,"Delossaid,evenmoreshortly. "Iremember."

Before he could say anything else, Sylvia went on. "I forgot to mention, a funny thing happened.A guy named Gavin dropped in on the huntingparty a little while ago."

Gavin.

Maggie's stomach plummeted.

He got away. And he saw everything.

And he must have moved fast,she thought absently. To hook around and get to a hunting partyon the other side of this ledge-in time for Sylviato come find Delos.

"You probably donI know him," Sylvia was saying. "But I do. He's the slave trader I use to getgirls from Outside. He's normally pretty good, but today he was all upset. He said a group of slavesgot loose on the mountain, and somehow his part ner Bern got killed."

You… witch,Maggie thought. She couldn'tthink of a swear word strong enough.

Sylvia knew. There was no doubt about it. IfGavin was her flunky, and if he'd told her that Bernwas dead, he must have told her the rest. That Bernhad been killed by Prince Delos himself, fried withblue fire, and that there were two slave girls infront of Delos at the time.

She knew all along, Maggie thought, and she wasjust trying to trap Delos. But why isn't she afraidof him? He's the prince, after all. His father's dead; he's in charge. So how come she daresto set upher little traps?

"We were all concerned," Sylvia was going on,tilting her silvery head to one side. "All the nobles,and especially your greatgrandfather. Loose slavescan mean trouble"

"How sweet of you to worry," Delos said. Fromwhat Maggie could see of his face, it was expressionless and his voice was dry and level. "But youshouldn't have. I used the fire for practice-on the other slave trader. Also on two slaves. They interrupted me when I wanted quiet."

Maggie sat in helpless admiration.

He did it. He outsmarted her. Now there's nothing she can say. And there's no way to prove thathe didn't kill us. Gavin ran; he couldn't have seenanything after that.

He saved us. Delos saved Cady and me bothagain.

"I see." Sylvia bowed her head, looking sweet andplacating, if not quite convinced. "Well, of courseyou had every right to do that. So the slaves aredead."

"Yes. And since they were only slaves, why arewe standing heretalking about them? Is there something about them I don't know?"

"No, no. Of course not," Sylvia said quickly. "You're right; we've wasted enough time. Let's go back."

In her mind, Maggie heard Gavin's voice. "It's not like they were ordinary slaves. If we don't deliver that maiden we're dead."

So she's lying again, Maggie thought. What a surprise. But who's the maiden? And why's she so important?

For that matter, she thought, who's this greatgrandfather of Delos's? When Sylvia mentionedhim it sounded almost like a threat. But if he's agreat-grandfather he's got to be ancient. How areSylvia and some old geezer teamed up?

It was an interesting question, but there was no time to think about it now. Sylvia and Delos wereturning away from the cave, Sylvia murmuringabout having to take a look at Delos's arm when they got back. In another moment they'd passed out of Maggie's line of sight and she heard thecrunching noise of feet on slate.

Maggie waited until the last footstep faded, then she held her breath and waited for a count ofthirty. It was all she could stand. She ducked through the entrance crack and stood in the openair.

It was fully dark now. She was very nearly blind.But shecould sense the vast emptiness of the valley in front of her, and the solidity of the mountain at her back.

And she should have felt relieved, to be outsideand not caught-but instead she felt strangely stifled. It took her a moment to realize why.

There was no sound at all. No footsteps, novoices, and no animals, either. And that was whatfelt eerie. It might be too cold at night for mosquitoes and gnats and flies, but there should have been someanimal life to be heard. Birds heading intothe trees to rest, batsheadingout. Deer feeding.Bucks charging around-it was autumn, after all.

There was nothing. Maggie had the unnervingfeeling that she was alone in a strange lifelessworld swathed in cotton, cut off from everythingreal.

Don't stick around and think about it, she toldherself sternly. Find Cady. Now!

Gritting her teeth, she thrust the water bag intoher jacket and started back. By keeping close to the mountains bulk on her left and feeling ahead with her foot before each step, she could find her way in the dark.

When she reached the ledge, her stomach tightened in dismay.

Terrific. Going down in pitch darkness-there's going to be no way to see the footholds. Oh, well, I'll feel for them. The worst that can happen is I fall a hundred feet straight down.

"Cady," she whispered. She was afraid to talk tooloudly; the hunting party might be anywhere andsound could carry surprisingly well on a mountain slope.

"Cady? Are you okay?"

Her heart thumped slowly five times before she heard something below. Not a voice, just a stirring,like cloth on rock, and then a sigh.

Relief flooded through Maggie in a wave that wasalmost painful. Cady hadn't died or been abducted. because Maggie had left her. "Stay there," she whispered as loudly as she dared. "I'm coming down.I've brought water."

It wasn't ashard going downas she'd expected. Maybe because she was still high on adrenaline,running in survival mode. Her feet seemed to findthe toeholds of their own accord and in a few minutes she was on the boulders.

"Cady." Her fingers found warmth and cloth. Itmoved and she heard another little sigh. "Cady, areyou okay? I can't see you."

And then the darkness seemed to lighten, andMaggie realized that she couldsee the shape shewas touching, dimly but distinctly. She glanced up and went still.

The moon was out. In a sky that was otherwisecovered with clouds, there was a small opening, a clear spot. The moon shone down through it like asupernatural white face, nearly full.

"Maggie." The voice was a soft breath, almost awhisper, but it seemed to blow peace and calm into Maggie's heart. "Thanks for letting me rest. I feel stronger now."

Maggie looked down. Silver light touched thecurves of Cady's cheek and lips. The blind girllooked like some ancient Egyptian princess, herdark hair loose in crimped waves around her shoulders, her wide, heavy-lashed eyes reflecting themoon. Her face wasas sereneasever.

"I'm sorry it took so long. I got some water,"Maggie said. She helped Cady sit up and put thewater bag to her lips.

She doesn't look as feverish, she thought asCadywas drinking. Maybe she can walk. But where?Where can we go?

They would never make it to the pass. And even if they did, what then? They'd be high on a moun tain-some mountain-in the dark and cold of aNovember night.

"We need to get you to a doctor," she said.

Cady stopped drinking and gave the bag back. "Idon't think there's anything like that here. There might be some healing woman down there in thecastle – but. .She stopped and shook her head. "It's not worth it."

"What do you mean, it's not worth it? And, hey, you rereally feeling better, aren't you?" Maggieadded, pleased. It was the first time Cady had gottenout more than a few words. She sounded very weak,but rational, and surprisingly knowledgeable.

"It's not worth it because it's too much of a risk. I'm too much of a risk. You have to leave me here, Maggie. Go down and get to shelter yourself."

"Not this again!" Maggie waved a hand She really couldn't deal with this argument anymore. "IfI left you up here, you'd die. It's going to get freezing cold. So I'm not going to leave you. And ifthere's a healing woman down at the castle, thenwe're going to the castle. Wherever the castle is."

"It's the place all the Night People are," Arcadiasaid, unexpectedly grim. "The slaves, too. Everybody who lives here is inside the castle gates; it'sreally like a little town. And it's exactly the placeyou shouldn't go."

Maggie blinked. "How come you know so much?Are you an escaped slave like Jeanne?"

"No. I heard about it a year or so ago from someone who had been here. I was coming here for a reason-it was just bad luck that I got caught bythe slave traders on my way in."

Maggie wanted to ask her more about it, but anagging voice inside her said that this wasn't thetime. It was already getting very cold. They couldn't be caught on the mountainside overnight

"That road the cart was on-does it go all theway to the castle? Do you know?"

Cady hesitated. She turned her face toward the valley, and Maggie had the strange sense that shewas looking out.

"I think so," she said, at last. "It would makesense that it does, anyway-there's only one placeto go in the valley."

"Then we've got to find it again." Maggie knewthat wouldn't be easy. They'd run a long way fromBern and Gavin. But she knew the general direction. "Look, even if we don't get to the castle, weshould find the road so we know where we are. And if we have to spend the night on the mountain,it's much better to be in the forest. It'll be warmer."

"That's true. But-"

Maggie didn't give her a chance to go on. "Canyou stand up? I'll help-put your arm around myneck… ."

It was tricky, getting Cady out of the nest of boulders. She and Maggie both had to crawl most of the way. And although Cady never complained, Maggiecould see how tired it made her.

"Come on," Maggie said. "You're doing great."And she thought, with narrowed eyes and set teeth,If it comes to that, I'll carryher.

Too many people had told her to leave this girl.Maggie had never felt quite this stubborn before.

But it wasn't easy. Once into the woods, the canopy of branches cut off the moonlight. In only minutes, Cady wasleaning heavilyon Maggie,stumbling and trembling. Maggie herself was stumbling, tripping over roots, slipping on club mossand liverwort.

Strangely, Cady seemed to have a better sense ofdirection than she did, and in the beginning shekept murmuring, "This way, I think." But after awhile she stopped talking, and some time afterthat, she stopped even responding to Maggie'squestions.

At last, she stopped dead and swayed on her feet.

It was no good. The taller girl shivered once, thenwent limp. It was all Maggie could do to breakher fall.

And then she was sitting alone in a small clearing, with the spicy aroma of red cedar around her, and an unconscious girl in her lap. Maggie held still and listened to the silence.

Which was broken suddenly by the crunch offootsteps.

Footsteps coming toward her.

It might be a deer. But there was something hesitant and stealthy about it. Crunch, pause; crunchpause. The back of Maggie's neck prickled.

She held her breath and reached out, feeling fora rock or a stick-some weapon. Cady was heavyin her lap.

Something stirred in the salal bushes betweentwo trees. Maggie strained her eyes, every muscle tense.

"Who's there?"

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