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Black Dawn (Chapter 17)

He stared at her for an instant, his golden eyeswide.

"Don't you believe me?"

"I wouldn't put it past Sylvia to try," he said. "ButI don't think she's strong enough."

"She said she got special ingredients. And shesaid that nobody else could take the spell off."When he still looked doubtful, although a bit more grim, Maggie added, "Why don't youtry it?"

He reached down with long, strong fingers to pullat the fastenings of his brace. It came off easily,and Maggie's eyebrows went up. She blinked.

He extended his arm, pointing it at the wall, anddrew a dagger from his belt.

Maggie had forgotten about the blood part. Shebit the inside of her cheek and didn't say anythingashe opened a small cut on his wrist. Blood welled up red, then flowed in a trickle.

"Just a little blast," Delos said, and looked calmlyat the wall.

Nothing happened.

He frowned, his golden eyes flaring dangerously.

Maggie could see the concentration in his face. Hespread his fingers.

Still nothing happened.

Maggie let out her breath. I guess spells are invisible, she thought. The brace was just for show.Delos was looking at his armasif it didn't belong to him.

"We're in trouble," Maggie said, trying not tomake it sound like I told you so. "While they thought they were alone in here, they were talkingabout all kinds of things. All Hunter cares about is getting you to help him destroy the humans. Butthere's been some big split in the Night World, and the witches have seceded from it."

Delos went very still, and his eyes were distant."That means war. Open war between witches and vampires."

"Probably," Maggie said, waving a hand vaguely."But, listen, Delos, the witches sent somebody here,an ambassador, to talk to you. To try to get you on their side. Hunter said they've got one of the Wild Powers on their side already-the witches, I mean.Are you getting this?"

"Of course," Delos said. But now his voice wasoddly distant, too. He was looking at something Maggie couldn't see. "But one out of four doesn'tmatter. Two out of four, three out of four-it's notgood enough."

"What are you talkingabout?" Maggie didn't waitfor him to answer. "But, look. I know the girl whocame to talk to you. It's the girl I was with on therocks, the other one you saved from Bern. She'sAradia, and she's Maiden of all the witches. And,Delos, they're looking for her right now. They wantto kill her to stop her from getting to you. And she's my friend."

"That's too bad."

"We've got to stopthem," Maggie said, exasperated.

"Wecan't."

That brought Maggie up short. She stared at him."What are you talking about?"

"I'm saying we can't stop them. They're toostrong. Maggie, listen to me," he said calmly and clearly, when she began an incoherent protest.

That's the first time he's said my name out loud, she thought dizzily, and then she focused on hiswords.

"It's not just the spell they've put on me. And it'snot just that they control the castle. Oh, yes, theydo," he said with a bitter laugh, cutting her off again. "You haven't been here very long; you don'tunderstand. The nobles here are centuries old,most of them. They don't like being ruled by a precocious child with uncanny powers. As soon asHunter showed up, they transferred their loyalty to him."

'BUt-"'

"He's everything they admire. The perfect vampire, the ultimate predator. He's ruthless andbloodthirsty and he wants to give them the wholeworldas their hunting grounds. Do you really thinkany of them can resist that? After years of huntingmindless, bewildered animals that have to be rationed out one at a time?

With maybe the oddcreaky slave for a special treat? Do you think any of them won't follow him willingly?"

Maggie was silent. There was nothing she couldsay.

He was right, and it was scary.

"And that isn't all," he continued remorselessly."Do you want to hear a prophecy?"

"Not really," Maggie said. She'd heard more thanenough of those for one lifetime.

He ignored her. "My old teacher used to tell methis," he said.

"'Four to stand between the light and theshadow,

Four of blue fire, power in their blood.

Born in the year of the blind Maiden's vision;Four less one and darkness triumphs.'"

"Uh huh," Maggie said. To her it sounded likejust more of the same thing. The only interestingthing about it was that it mentioned the blindMaiden. That had to be Aradia, didn't it? She wasone famous witch.

"What's `born in the year of the blind Maiden'svision?"' she asked.

"It means all the Wild Powers are the same age,born seventeen years ago," Delos said impatiently. `But that's not the point. The point is the last line,`Four less one and darkness triumphs.' That meansthat the darkness is going to win, Maggie."

"What do you mean?"

"It's inevitable. There's no way that the humansand the witches can get all four Wild Powers ontheir side. And if there's even one less than four,the darkness is going to win. All the vampires need to do is kill one of the Wild Powers, and it's allover. Don't you see?"

Maggie stared at him. She did see what he wassaying, and it was even scarier than what he'd saidbefore.

"But that doesn't mean we can just give up,"she said, trying to puzzle out his expression. "If we do that, it will be all over. We can't just surrender and letthem win."

"Of course not," he said harshly. "We have tojoin them."

There was a long silence. Maggie realized that her mouth had fallen open.

"… what?"

"We have to be on the winning side, and that'sthe vampire side." He looked at her with yelloweyes that seemed as remote and deathly calm as apanther's. "I'm sorry about your friends, but there's no chance for them. And the only chance for youis to become a vampire."

Maggie's brain suddenly surged into overdrive.

All at once, she saw exactly what he was saying.And furygave her energy. He was lightning-fast, but she jumped up and out of the way before he could close his hands on her.

"Are you out of your mind?"

"No

"You're going to killme?"

"I'm going to save your life, the only way I can."He stood up, following her with that same eerie calm.

I can't believe this. I …really …can't … believe this, Maggie thought.

She circled around the bed, then stopped. It was pointless; he was going to get her eventually.

She looked into his face one more time, and saw that he was completely serious. She dropped herarms and relaxed her shoulders, trying to slow herbreathing, meeting his eyes directly.

"Delos, this isn't just about me, and it's not justabout my friends. It's about all the slaves here, andall the humans on the Outside. Turning me into a vampire isn't going to help them."

"I'm sorry," he said again. "But you're all that really matters."

"No, I'm not,"Maggie said, and this time the hottears didn't stop at her eyes, but overflowed and rolled down her cheeks. She shook them off angrily, and took one last deep breath.

"I won't let you," she said.

"You can't stop me."

"I can fight. I can make you kill me before youturn me into a vampire. If you want to try it thatway, come and take your best shot."

Delos's yellow eyes bored into hers-and thensuddenly shifted and dropped. He stepped back, hisface cold.

"Fine," he said. "If you won't cooperate, I'll putyou in the dungeon until you see what's best foryou.

Maggie felt her mouth drop open again."You wouldn't," she said.

"Watch me."

The dungeon, like everything else in the castle,was heart-stoppingly authentic.

It had something that Maggie had read about in books but hadn't seen in the rooms above: rushesand straw on the floor. It also had a stone benchcarved directly into the stone wall and a narrow,barred window-slit about fifteen feet above Mag gie's head. And that was all it had.

Once Maggie had poked into the straw enoughto discover that she didn't really wantto know whatwas down there and shaken the iron bars that made up the door and examined the stone slabs in the wall and stood on the bench to try to climb to the window, therewas nothing else to do. She sat on the bench and felt the true enormity of the situation trickle in on her.

She was really stuck here. Delos was really serious. And the world, the actual, real world out there, could be affected as a consequence.

It wasn't that she didn't understand his motivation. She had been in his mind; she'd felt thestrength of his protectiveness for her. And she wanted to protect him, too.

But it wasn't possible to forget about everyoneelse. Her parents, her friends, her teachers, thepaper girl. If she let Delos give up, what happenedto them?

Even the people in the Dark Kingdom. Laundressand Old Mender and Soaker and Chamber-pot Emptier and all the other slaves. She caredabout them. She admired their gritty determination to goon living, whatever the circumstances-and theircourage in risking their lives to help her.

That's what Delosdoesn't understand, shethought. He doesn't see them as people, so he can'tcare about them. All his life he's only cared abouthimself, and now about me. He can't look beyondthat.

If only she could think of a way to makehimsee-but she couldn't. As the hours passed and thesilence began to wear on her, she kept trying.

No inspiration came. And finally the light outsideher cell began to fade and the cold started to settle in.

She was half asleep, huddled on her chilly bench,when she heard the rattle of a key in a door. She jumped up and went to peer through the bars, hoping to see Delos.

The door at the end of the narrow stone corridoropened and someone came in with a flare. But itwasn't Delos. It was a guard, and behind him wasanother guard, and this one had a prisoner.

"Jeanne!" Maggie said in dismay.

And then her heart plummeted further.

A third guard was half marching, half supporting Aradia.

Maggie looked at them wordlessly.

It wasn't like Jeanne not to fight, she thought, asthe guards opened the cell door and shoved theother girls in.

The door clanged shut again, and the guardsmarched back out without speaking. Almost as an afterthought, one of them stuck a flare in an ironring to give the prisoners some light.

And then they were gone.

Jeanne picked herself up off the floor, and thenhelped Aradia get up. "They've got P.J. upstairs,"she said to Maggie, who was still staring. "Theysaid they wouldn't hurt her if we went quietly."

Maggie opened her mouth, shut it again, andtried to swallow her heart, which was in her throat.At last she managed to speak.

"Delos said that?"

"Delos and Hunter Redfern and that witch.They're all very chummy."

Maggie sat down on the cold bench."I'm sorry," she said.

"Why? Because you're too stupidly trusting?"Jeanne said. "You're not responsible for him."

"I think she means because she's his soulmate,"Aradia said softly.

Jeanne stared at her as if she'd started speaking a foreign language. Maggie stared, too, feeling hereyes getting wider, trying to study the beautiful features in the semidarkness.

She felt oddly shy of this girl whom she'd calledCady and who had turned out to be something shecould never have imagined.

"How did you know that?" she asked, trying notto sound tongue-tied. "Can you justtell?"

Asmile curved the perfect lips in the shadows."I could tell before," Aradia said gently, backing upquite accurately to sit on the bench. "When youcame back from seeing him the first time, but Iwas too foggy to really focus on anything then. I'veseen a lot of it in the last few years, though. Peoplefinding their soulmates, I mean."

"You're better, aren't you?" Maggie said. "Yousound lots moreawake." It wasn't just that. Aradia had always had a quiet dignity, but now therewas an authority and confidence about her thatwas new.

"The healing women helped me. I'm still weak,though," Aradia said softly, looking around the cell.

"I can't use any of my powers-not that breakingthrough walls is among them, anyway."

Maggie let her breath out. "Oh, well. I'm gladyou're awake, anyway." She added, feeling shy again,

"Um, I know your real name, now. Sorry about the misunderstanding before."

Aradia put a hand-again perfectly accuratelyon Maggie's. "Listen, my dear friend," she said,startling Maggie with both the word and the intensity of her voice, "nobody has ever helped me more than you did, or with less reason. If you'd been oneof my people, and you'd known who I was, it wouldhave been amazing enough. But from a human, who didn't know anything about me …"Shestopped and shook her head. "I don't know if we'll even live through tonight," she said. `But if we do,and if there's ever anything the witches can do foryou, all you have to do is ask."

Maggie blinked hard. "Thanks," she whispered. "I meanyou know. I couldn't just leave you."

"I do know," Aradia said. "And that's the amazingthing." She squeezed Maggie's hand. "Whatever happens, I'll never forget you. And neither will theother witches, if I have anything to say about it."

Maggie gulped. She didn't want to get startedcrying. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to stop.

Fortunately Jeanne was looking back and forthbetween them like someone at a tennis match."What's all this sappy stuff?" she demanded. "Whatare you guys talking about?"

Maggie told her. Not just about Aradia being Maiden of the witches, but about everything she'dlearned from listening to Hunter Redfern andSylvia.

"So the witches have left the Night World," Aradia said quietly, when she was finished. "They wereabout ready to when I left."

"You were coming here to talk to Delos," Maggie said.

Aradia nodded. "We heard that Hunter had gotten some lead about the next Wild Power. And weknew he wasn't goingto take any chances on letting Circle Daybreak get hold of this one."

Jeanne was rubbing her forehead. "What's Circle Daybreak?

'It's the last circle of witches-but it isn't justwitches. It's for humans, too, and for shapeshiftersand vampires who want to live in peace with humans. And now it's for everybody who opposes the darkness." She thought a moment and added, "I used to belong to Circle Twilight, the …not-so wicked witches." She smiled, then it faded. "Butnow there are really only two sides to choose from.It's the Daylightorthe Darkness, and that's all."

"Delos really isn't on the side of the Darkness,"Maggie said, feeling the ache in her chest tighten."He's just-confused. He'd join you if he didn'tthink it meant me getting killed."

Aradia squeezed her hand again. "I believe you,"she said gently.

"So, you're some kind of bigwig of the witches,huh?" Jeanne said.

Aradia turned toward her and laughed. "I'm theirMaiden, the representative of the young witches. If I live long enough, I'll be their Mother one day, and then their Crone."

"What fun. But with all that, you still can't thinkof any way to get us out of here?"

Aradia sobered. "I can't. I'm sorry. If-this isn'tmuch use, but if I can do anything, it's only to givea prophecy."

Maggie made an involuntary noise in her throat.

"It came while I was asleep in the healers hut,"Aradia said apologetically. "And it was just athought, a concept. That if there was to be any helpin this valley, it was through appealing to people's true hearts."

Jeanne made a much louder and ruder noisethan Maggie's.

"There is one more thing," Aradia said, turningher wide unfocused eyes toward Maggie and speaking as gently asever. "I should have mentioned thisearlier. I can tell you about your brother."

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