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Black Dawn (Chapter 18)

Maggie stared at her wildly.

"You…what?"

"I shouldhave told you earlier," Aradia said. "ButI didn't realize he was your brother until my mind became clearer. You're a lot alike, but I couldn'tthink properly to put it together." She added,quickly and with terrible gentleness, "But, Maggie, I don't want to get your hopes up. I don't thinkthere's much chance he's all right."

Maggie went still. "Tell me."

"He actually saved me before you ever did. I wascoming to this valley, but I wasn't alone-therewere several other witches with me. We didn'tknow where the pass was exactly-we'd only man aged to get incomplete information from our spiesin Hunter Redfern's household."

Maggie controlled her breathing and nodded.

"It was Samhain evening-Halloween. We werewandering around in the general area of the pass,trying to find a spell that would reveal it. All wedid was set off an avalanche."

Maggie stopped breathing entirely. "An avalanche?"

"It didn't hurt your brother. He was on the road,the place we should have been, if we'd only known.But it did kill the others in my party."

"Oh,"Maggie whispered. "Oh, I'm sorry…"

"I wasn't seriously hurt, but I was completely dazed. I could feel that the others were dead, butI wasn't sure where I was anymore. And that waswhen I heard your brother shouting. He and Sylvia had heard the avalanche, of course, and they cameto see if anyone was caught in it."

"Miles would always stop to help people," Maggiesaid, still almost in a whisper. "Even if they only needed batteries or socks or things."

"I can't tell you how grateful I was to hear him.He saved my life, I'm sure-I would have wandered around dazed until I froze. And I was so happy torecognize that the girl with him was a witch … "She grimaced.

"Huh," Jeanne said, but not unsympathetically."I bet that didn't last."

"She recognized me, too, immediately," Aradiasaid. "She knew what she had. A hostage to bargainwith all the other witches. And to buy credit withHunter Redfern. And of course, she knew that she could stop me from seeing Delos."

"All she cares about is power," Maggie said quietly. "I heard hertalking-it'sall about her, and how the witches have given her a bad deal becauseshe's not a Harman or something."

Aradia smiled very faintly. "I'm not a Harman byname, either. But all true witches are daughters of Hellewise Hearth-Woman-if they would just realize it." She shook her head slightly. "Sylvia was so excited about finding me that she couldn't resist explaining it all to your brother. And he … wasn't happy."

"No," Maggie said, burning with such fierce pride that for a moment the cold cell seemed warm to her.

"She'd only told him before that she was taking him to some secret place where legends were stillalive. But now she told him the truth about theDark Kingdom, and how she wanted him to be apart of it. She told him that it could be theirstheir own private haven-after Delos left with Hunter Redfern. He could become a vampire orshapeshifter, whichever he liked better. They wouldboth be part of the Night World, and they couldrule here without any interference."

Maggie lifted her hands helplessly, waving themin agitation because she couldn't find words. How stupid could Sylvia be? Didn't she know Miles atall?

"Miles wouldn't care about any of that," she finally got out in a choked voice.

"He didn't. He told her so. And I knew right awaythat he was in trouble with her." Aradia sighed."But there was nothing I could do. Sylvia played it very cool until they got me down the mountain.She pretended all she cared about was getting meto a doctor and telling the rangers about my friends. But once we were in her apartment, everything changed."

"I remember her apartment," Maggie said slowly."The people there were weird."

"They were Night People," Aradia said. "And Sylvia's friends. As soon as we were inside she toldthem what to do. I was trying to explain to Miles,to see if we both could get away, but there weretoo many of them. He put himself in between meand them, Maggie. He said they'd have to kill himbefore getting to me."

Maggie's chest felt not so much tight now asswollen, like a drum barrel full of water. She couldfeel her heart thudding slowly inside, and the wayit echoed all through her.

She steadied her voice and said, "Did they killhim?"

"No. Not then. And maybe not ever-but that'sthe part that I don't know. All I know is that theyknocked him out, and then the two slave tradersarrived. Bern and Gavin. Sylvia had sent for them."

And they must have come fresh from kidnappingP.J., Maggie thought. What wonderful guys.

"They knocked me out. And then Sylvia boundme with spells and practiced with her truth potions on me. She didn't get much information, becauseI didn't have much information. There was no armyof witches coming to invade the Dark Kingdomright now, I wish there were. And she already knew that I was coming to see Delos."

Aradia sighed again and finished quickly. "Thetruth potion poisoned me, so that for days afterwards I was delirious. I couldn't really understandwhat was going on around me -I just faded in andout. I knew that I was being kept ina warehouse until the weather cleared enough to take me to thevalley. And I knew that Miles had already been disposed of-Sylvia mentioned that before she left mein the warehouse. But I didn't know what she haddone with him-and I still don't."

Maggie swallowed. Her heart was still thumping in that slow, heavy way. "What I don't understandis why she had to set up a whole scenario to explainwhere he went. She let some rangers find her onthe mountain, and she said that he fell down acrevasse. But if he was dead, why not just let himdisappear?"

"I think I know the answer to that, at least," Aradia said. "When Miles was fighting them off he saidthat his roommates knew he'd gone climbing withher. He said that if he didn't come back, they'dremember that."

Yes. It made sense. Everything made sense-except that Maggie still didn't know what had becomeof him.

There was a long silence.

`"Well, he was brave," Jeanne said finally, andwith unexpected seriousness. "If he did die, he wentout the right way. We just ought to hope we cando the same."

Maggie glanced at her, trying to read the angularfeatures in the darkness. There was no trace ofmockery or sarcasm that she could see.

Well, Cady's changed into Aradia, Maiden of allthe witches, and I've changed into the Deliverernot that I've been much good at it, she thought. But I think maybe you've changed the most afterall, Jeanne

"You know, I don't even know your last name,"

she said to Jeanne, so abruptly and so much offthe subject that Jeanne reared back a little.

"Uh-McCartney. It was-it is�CMcCartney." Sheadded, "I was fourteen when they got me. I was at the mall playing Fist of Death at the arcade. And Iwent to go to the bathroom, and it was down this long empty corridor, and the next thing I knew Iwas waking up in a slave trader's cart. And now you know everything," she said.

Maggie put out a hand in the dimness, "Hi,Jeanne McCartney." She felt the cold grip of slen der, callused fingers, and she shook Jeanne's hand.And then she just held on to it, and to Aradia's soft warm fingers on the other side. The three of themsat together in the dark cell, slave, human, andwitch Maiden-except that we're really all just girls,Maggie thought.

"You didn't tell me one thing," Maggie said suddenly. "What'd they callyou when you started working here? What was your job?"

Jeanne snorted. "Second Assistant Stable Sweeper.And. now you know everything. "

Maggie didn't think she could possibly sleep in aplace like this, but after the three of them had sat quietly for a long time she found herself dozing. And when the rattle of the dungeon door startledher, she realized that she'd been asleep.

She had no idea what time it was-the flare wasburning low. She could feel Aradia and Jeannecome awake beside her.

"Dinner?" Jeanne muttered.

"I just hope it's not PJ.-" Maggie began, and

then broke off as firm, determined steps sounded on the stone floor of the corridor.

She recognized the stride and she stood up tomeet Delos.

He stood outside the cell, the dying torchlightflickering on his dark hair, catching occasionalsparks off his golden eyes. He was alone.

And he didn't waste time getting to the point.

"I came to see if you've decided to be reasonable," he said.

"I've been reasonable from the beginning," Maggie said quietly and completely seriously. She was searching his face and the slight link she felt between their minds at this distance, hoping to findsome change in him. But although she felt turmoilthat was almost anguish, she also felt the steel ofhis resolve.

I won't let you be killed. Nothing else matters.

Maggie felt her shoulders sag.

She turned slightly. Aradia and Jeanne were stillsitting on the bench, Aradia motionless, Jeannecoiled and wary. But she could tell that they bothfelt this was her fight.

And they're right. If I can't do it, nobody can…But how?

"They're people," she said, gesturing toward theother girls, but watching Delos's face. "I don't knowhow to get you to see that. They matter, too."

He hardly glanced back at them. "In the time ofdarkness that is coming," he said, as carefully as ifreciting a lesson, "only the Night People will survive. The ancient forces of magic are rising. They'vebeen asleep for ten thousand years, but they'rewaking up again."

A low voice, not belligerent, but not afraid either,came from the back of the cell. "Some of us believethat humans can learn to live with magic."

"Some of you are idiots and fools and are goingto die," Delos said, without even looking.

He stared at Maggie. She stared back at him.They were willing each other ashard as possible to understand.

And I think he's got a stronger will, Maggiethought, as she broke the locked gaze and looked away, thumping the heel of a clenched fist against her forehead.

No. That's not right. I'm Steely Neely and I nevergive up.

If I tell him that some things are worth dyingfor…

But I don't think he's afraid to die. He's justafraid for me. And he just won't listen if I say that I'd rather die than see some things happen. Butthat's the truth. There are some things that you just can't allow to happen, whatever the cost. There are some things that have just got to be stopped.

She froze, and the cell seemed to disappeararound her.

She was seeing, in her mind's eye, an equallydark and uncomfortable little cart. And her ownvoice was saying, Jeanne. It's got to stop.

Feeling very light-headed, she turned toward thebench. "Jeanne? Come over here."

Jeanne straightened and walked up doubtfully.She looked into Maggie's face.

Maggie looked at her and then at Delos.

"Now you show him," she said in a voice thatwas like her own voice, but older and much grimmer,

"what his Night People do to slaves who try to escape. Like you showed me."

Jeanne's expression was inscrutable. She went onstaring at Maggie for a moment, then she raisedher eyebrows and turned around.

She was wearing the same slave tunic she hadbeen wearing for the last four days. She lifted it upin the same way and showed Delos her back.

He took one look and reeled back as if she'd hit him.

Maggie was braced, but even so the backlash ofhis shock and horror nearly swamped her. Shegrabbed on to the iron bars of the cell and waitedit out, teeth gritted while her vision went fromblack to red to something like a normal gray.

"Who did this?"Delos managed finally, in a voice like ground glass. He was dead white, except forhis eyes, which looked black in contrast. "Who?"

Jeanne dropped her tunic. "I thought you didn't care about vermin." And she walked away without answering him, leaving him speechless.

Maggie watched her sit down, then turned back.

"Some things have got to be stopped," she saidto Delos. "Do you see what I mean? Some thingsyou just can't let go on."

And then she waited.

I knew he didn't know that kind of thing washappening, she thought, feeling vaguely glad in avery tired, sad, and distant way. But it's good to see it proved.

The silence stretched endlessly.

Delos was still staring at Jeanne. He had run ahand through his hair at some point; it was disheveled and falling over his forehead. The skin of hisface seemed to be stretched, very tight and his eyeswere burning gold.

He looked as if he'd completely lost his bearings,and he didn't know what to trust anymore. And then he looked at Maggie.

She was still standing there, waiting and watching. Their eyes met and she realized suddenly thatshe'd never seen him so vulnerable-or so open.

But if there was one thing Prince Delos had, it was resolution. After another moment of helplessness, she saw him straighten his shoulders and draw himself up.

And, as usual, he got directly to the point."You're right," he said simply. "And I was wrong.

There are some things that have got to be stopped."Maggie leanedagainst the bars and smiled."I'll get the key," he said, and then went on,briskly planning. "I want the three of you out ofthe castle, at least, before I confront Hunter.""You can't do it alone," Maggie began.Sheshould have known he'd immediately start arranging everybody's life again. "Especially not with yourpower blocked-"

"There's no reason for you to be in any moredanger than you have to be," he said. "I'll send youoff with some of my people who can be trusted-"

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," a voice saidfrom the corridor.

It gave Maggie a horrible jolt. They were all tired,and all caught up in the moment, and none of themhad seen the figure until it was almost behindDelos.

Hunter Redfern was standing there smiling. Sylvia was behind him. And behind them,crowdedtogether, were armed guards.

"We've had to dispose of the few idiots who insisted on remaining loyal to you," Hunter said amiably. His eyes were shining like the purest gold."The castle is now under our control. But do go onwith your plans, it's very sweet to hear you trying to save each other."

"And it's no use trying to pretend," Sylvia addedspitefully. "We heard everything. We knew you couldn't be trusted, so we let you come down here on purpose, to see what you'd say."

For someone who'd known Delos a while, shedidn't understand him very well, Maggie thought.Maggie could have told her that pretending was thelast thing that would occur to Delos. Instead he did what Maggie knew he would; he launched himself at Hunter Redfern's throat.

Delos was young and strong and very angry but it was no contest. After Sylvia had squeaked and withdrawn, the guards all came to help Hunter. After that it was over quickly.

"Put him in with his friends," Hunter said, brushing off his sleeves. "It's a real pity to see my onlysurviving heir come to this," he added, once Deloshad been kicked and thrown into the cell. For amoment there was that note of genuine feeling in his voice that Maggie had heard before. Then the golden eyes went cold and more bitter than ever. "I think tomorrow morning we'll have a very special hunt," he said. "And then there will be onlythree Wild Powers to worry about."

This time, when the guards left, they took all theflares with them.

"I'm sorry," Maggie whispered, trying to inspectDelos's bruises by touch alone. "Delos, I'm sorry…I didn't know … "

"It doesn't matter," he said, holding her hands."It would have happened eventually anyway."

"For a vampire, you didn't put up much of afight," Jeanne's voice came from the back of the cell.

Maggie frowned, but Delos turned toward herand spoke without defensiveness. "That witch bound more than just the blue fire when she putthis spell on my arm," he said. "She took all myvampire powers. I'm essentially a human until she removes it."

"Aradia?" Maggie said. "Can you do anything? Imean, I know only Sylvia is supposed to be able totake the spell off, but …"

Aradia knelt beside them, graceful in the darkness. She touched Delos's arm gently, then sighed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Even if I were at full power, there's nothing I could do."

Maggie let out her breath.

"That's the only thing I regret," Delos said. "ThatI can't save you."

"You have to stop thinking about that," Maggiewhispered.

She was filled with a strange resignation. Itwasn't that she was giving up. But she was very tired, physically and emotionally, and there wasnothing she could do rightnow….

And maybe nothing ever, she thought dimly. Shefelt something steadying her and realized it was Delos's arm. She leaned against him, glad of hiswarmth and solidity in the darkness. There was a tremendous comfort in just being held by him.

Sometimes just having fought is important, shethought. Even if you don't win.

Her eyelids were terribly heavy. It felt absolutely wonderful to close them, just for a moment …

She only woke up once during the night, and thatwas because of Delos. She could sense something in himsomething in his mind. He seemed to beasleep, but very far away, and very agitated.

Was he calling my name? she wondered. I thought i heard that …

He was thrashing and muttering, now. Maggieleaned close and caught a few words.

"I love you… I did love you …always remember that …"

"Delos!" She shook him. "Delos, what are youdoing?"

He came awake with a start.

"Nothing."

But she knew. She remembered those wordsshe'd heard them before she had actually met Deloson the mountain.

"It was my dream. You were … going back intime somehow, weren't you? And giving me thatdream I had, warning me to get away from thisvalley." She frowned. "But how can you? I thought you couldn't use your powers."

"I don't think this took vampire powers," he said,sounding almost guilty. "It was more-I think itwas just the bond between us. The soulmate thing.I don't even know how I did it. I justwent to sleepand started dreaming about the you of the past. Itwas as if I was searching for you-and then I foundyou. I made the connection. I don't know if it's ever been done before, that kind of time travel."

Maggie shook her head. "But you already know it didn't work. The dream didn't change anything.I didn't leave as soon as I woke up in the cart,because I'm here. And if I had left, I would never have met you, and then you wouldn't have sentthe dream…."

"I know," he said, and his voice was tired and abit forlorn. He sounded very young, just then. "Butit was worth a try."

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