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Black Dawn (Chapter 3)

Itwas raining, of course. Not a terrible storm, justa steady spitting patter that Maggie hardly noticed.It plastered her hair down but it also concealed thenoise of her steps.

And the lowlying clouds blocked out MountRainier. In clear weather the mountain loomed over the city like an avenging white angel.

I'mactuallyfollowingsomebody,Maggiethought. She could hardly believe it, but she wasreally moving down her own home street like a spy,skirting cars and ducking behind rhododendron bushes.

While all the time keeping her eyes on the slender figure in front of her.

That was what kept her going. She might havefelt silly and almost embarrassed to be doing thisbut not tonight. What had happened put her farbeyond embarrassment, and if she 'started to relax inside and feel the faint pricklings of uncertainty,memory surged up again and swept everythingelse away.

The memory of Sylvia's voice. The buckle might not have been fastenedright.And the memory ofher mother's hand going limp as her body sagged.

I'll follow you no matter where you go, Maggie thought. And then…

She didn't know what then. She was trusting to instinct, letting it guide her. It was stronger andsmarter than she was at the moment.

Sylvia's apartment was in the U district, the college area around the University of Washington. Itwas a long walk, and by the time they reached it,the rain was coming down harder. Maggie was gladto get out of it and follow Sylvia into the under ground garage.

This is a dangerous place, she thought as shewalked into the echoing darkness. But it was simply a note made by her mind, with no emotionattached. At the moment she felt as if she couldpunch a mugger hard enough to splatter himagainst the wall.

She kept a safe distance as Sylvia waited for the elevator, then headed for the stairs. Third floor. Maggie trotted up faster than the elevator could make it and arrived not even breathing hard. Thedoor of the stairwell was half open and she watched from behind it as Sylvia walked to anapartment door and raised a hand to knock.

Before she could, the door opened. A boy wholooked a little older than Maggie was holding it,letting a couple of laughing girls out. Music driftedto Maggie, and the smell of incense.

They're having a party in there.

That shouldn't be so shocking-it was Saturdaynight. Sylvia lived with three roommates; they were undoubtedly the ones having the party. But as the girls walked past Sylvia they smiled and noddedand Sylvia smiled and nodded back before walkingcalmly through the door.

Hardly the sort of thing you do when your boyfriend's just been killed, Maggie thought fiercely.And it doesn't exactly fit the "tragic heroine" act,either.

Then she noticed something. When the boy holding the door let go, it had swung almost shut – but not quite.

Can I do it? Maybe. If I look confident. I'd haveto walk right in as if I belonged, not hesitate.

And hope she doesn't notice. Then get behindher. See if shetalksto anybody, what she says…

The laughing girls had caught the elevator. Maggie walked straight up to the door and, withoutpausing, she pushed it open and went inside.

Look confident, she thought, and she kept ongoing, instinctively moving toward a side wall. Herentry didn't seem to have caused a stir, and it waseasier than she'd thought to walk in among these strangers. The apartment was very dark, for onething. And the music was medium loud, and everybody seemed to be talking.

The only problem was that she couldn't see Sylvia. She put her back to the wall and waited forher eyes to adjust.

Not over there-not by the stereo. Probably inone of the bedrooms in back,changing.

It was as she moved toward the little hallwaythat led to the bedrooms that Maggie really noticedthe strangeness. Something about this apartment,about this party… was off. Weird. It gave her thesame feeling that Sylvia did.

Danger.

This place is dangerous.

Everybody there was so good-looking – or elseugly in a really fashionable way, as if they'd juststepped off MTV. But there was an air about themthat reminded Maggie of the sharks at the SeattleAquarium. A coldness that couldn't be seen, onlysensed.

There is something so wrong here. Are they alldrug dealers or something?Satanists?Some kindof junior mafia? They just feel so evil….

Maggie herself felt like a cat with all its fur standing on end.

When she heard a girl's voice coming from thefirst bedroom, she froze, hoping it was Sylvia.

"Really, the most secret place you've ever imagined." It wasn't Sylvia. Maggie could just see thespeaker through the crack in the door. She waspale and beautiful, with one long black braid, andshe was leaning forward and lightly touching theback of a boy's hand.

"So exotic, so mysterious-it's a place from thepast, you see. It's ancient, and everybody's forgotten about it, but it's still there. Of course, it's terribly dangerous-but not forus…."

Not relevant, Maggie's mind decided, and shestopped listening. Somebody's weird vacationplans; nothing to do with Sylvia or Miles.

She kept on edging down the hall. The door atthe end was shut.

Sylvia's bedroom.

Well, she has to be in there; she isn't anywhereelse.

With a surreptitious glance behind her, Maggie crept closer to the door. She leaned toward it untilher cheek touched the cool white paint on the wood, all the while straining her eyes toward theliving room in case somebody should turn her way. She held her breath and tried to look casual, buther heart was beating so loudly that she could only hear it and the music.

Certainly there was nobody talking behind thedoor. Maggie's hopes of eavesdropping faded.

All right, then, I'll go in. And there's no point intrying to be stealthy; she's going to notice.

So I'll just do it.

It helpedthat she was so keyed up. She didn't even need to brace herself; her body was at maximum tension already. Despite her sense that therewas something menacing about this whole place, she wasn't frightened, or at least not in a way that felt like fear. It felt like rage instead, like being desperately ready for battle. She wanted to grab some thing and shake it to pieces.

She took hold of the knob and pushed the dooropen.

A new smell of incense hit her as the air rushedout. It was stronger than the living room smell,more earthy and musky, with an overlying sweetness that Maggie didn't like. The bedroom was even darker than the hall, but Maggie stepped inside.There was tension on the door somehow; as soon as she let go of it, it whispered shut behind her.

Sylvia was standing beside the desk.

She was alone, and she was still wearing theGore-Tex climbing outfit she'd had on at Maggie'shouse. Her shimmering fine hair was starting todry and lifting up like little angel feathers awayfrom her forehead.

She was doing something with a brass incenseburner, adding pinches of powder and what looked like herbs to it. That was where thesickeninglysweet smell was coming from.

Maggie had plannedas far as she'd plannedanything at all – to,rush right up and get in Sylvia'sface. To startle her into some kind of confession. She was going to say, "I need to talk to you." Butbefore she could get the first word out, Sylvia spokewithout looking up.

"What a shame. You really -should have stayedhome with your .parents, you know." Her voice wascool and languorous, not hasty and certainly notregretful.

Maggie stopped in her tracks.

Now, what's thatsupposed to mean? Is it athreat? Fine. Whatever. I can threaten, too.

But she was taken by surprise, and she had toswallow hard before speaking roughly. "I don'tknow what you're talking about, but at least you'vedropped the weepy-weepy act. You were really badat it."

"I thought I was very good," Sylvia said andadded a pinch of something to the incense burner."I'm sure the officers thought so, too."

Once again, Maggie was startled. This wasn'tgoing at all as she expected. Sylvia was so calm, somuch at ease.' So much in control of the situation.

Not anymore, Maggie thought.

She just admittedit was an act. All that chokey stuff while she was talking about Miles…

Fury uncoiled in Maggie's stomach like a snake.

She took three fast steps forward. "You knowwhy I'm here. I want to know what really happenedto my brother."

"I told you"

"You told a bunch of lies! I don't know what the truth is. The only thing I do know is that Miles would never make a stupid mistake like not buckling his harness. Look, if you did somethingdumb-if he's lying out there hurt or something,and you were too scared to admit ityou'd bettertell me right now." It was the first time she'd putinto words a reason for Sylvia to be lying.

Sylvia looked up.

Maggie was startled. In the light of the singlecandle by the incense burner, Sylvia's eyes werenot violet but a more reddish color, like amethyst. They were large and clear and the light seemed to play in them, quivering.

"Is that what you think happened?"Sylviaasked softly.

"I said, I don't knowwhat happened!" Maggie feltdizzy suddenly, and fought it, glaring into Sylvia's strange eyes. "Maybe you had a fight or something.Maybe you've got some other boyfriend. Maybe you weren't even out climbing on Halloween in the first place. All I know is that you lied and that there's no body to find. And I want to know the truth!"

Sylvia looked back steadily, the candlelight dancing in her purple eyes. "You know what yourbrother told me aboutyou?" she asked musingly."Two things. The first was that you never gave up.

He said, `Maggie's no rocket scientist, but once shegets hold of something she's just like a little bull terrier.' And the second was that you were a complete sucker for anybody in trouble. A real bleeding heart."

She added a few fingernail-sized chips of smoothbark to the mixture that was smoking in the incense burner.

"Which is too bad," she went on thoughtfully."Strong-willed and compassionate: that's a real recipe for disaster."

Maggie had had it.

"What happened to Miles? What did you dotohim?"

Sylvia laughed, a little secret laugh. "I'm afraidyou couldn't guess if you spent the rest of yourshort life trying." She shook her head. "It was toobad, actually. I liked him. We could have beengood together."

Maggie wanted to know one thing. "Is he dead?""I told you, you'll never find out. Not even whenyou go where you're going."

Maggie stared at her, trying to make sense ofthis. She couldn't. When she spoke it was in a levelvoice, staring into Sylvia's eyes.

"I don't know what your problem is-maybeyou're crazy or something. But I'mtellingyou rightnow, if you've done anything to my brother, I am going to killyou."

She'd never said anything like this before, butnow it came out quite naturally, with force andconviction. She was so angry that all she could seewas Sylvia's face. Her stomach was knotted and sheactually felt a burning in her middle, as if therewere a glowing fire there.

"Now," she said, "areyou going to tell me what happened to him?"

Sylvia sighed, spoke quietly."No."

Before Maggie quite knew she was doing it, shehad reached out and grabbed the front of Sylvia's green Gore-Tex jacket with both hands.

Something sparked in Sylvia's eyes. For a moment, she looked startled and interested and grudgingly respectful. Then she sighed again, smilingfaintly.

"And now you're going to kill me?"

"Listen, you…"Maggie leaned in. She stopped."Listen to what?"

Maggie blinked. Her eyes were stinging suddenly.The smoke from the incense burner was rising directly into her face.

"You…"

I feel strange, Maggie thought.

Very strange. Dizzy. It seemed to come over herall at once. There was a pattern of flashing gray spreading across her vision. Her stomach heavedand she felt a wave of queasiness.

"Having a problem?" Sylvia's voice seemed tocome from far away.

The incense.

It was rising right in her face. And now…

"What did you do to me?" Maggie gasped. Shereeled backward, away from the smoke, but it wastoo late. Her knees were horribly rubbery. Herbody seemed to be far away somehow, and the sparkling pattern blinded her completely.

She felt the back of her legs come up against abed. Then they simply weren't supporting her anymore; she was slithering down, unable to catch herself with her useless arms. Her lips were numb.

"You know, for a moment there, I thought Imight be in trouble," Sylvia's voice was sayingcalmly. `But I was wrong. The truth is that you'rejust an ordinary girl, after all. Weak and powerlessand ordinary. How could you even thinkabout going up against me? Against my people?"

Am I dying? Maggie wondered. I'm losing myself.I can't see and I can't move….

"How could you come here and attack me? How could you thinkyouhad a chance at winning?" Even Sylvia's voice seemed to be getting more and more distant. "You're pathetic. But now you'll find out what happens when you mess with real power.You'll learn…."

The voice was gone. There was only arushingnoise in anendless blackness.

Miles, Maggie thought. I'm sorry….Then she stopped thinking at all.

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