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Black Dawn (Chapter 8)

What are you doing?" he repeated ferociously.His grip was hurting her.

"I'm throwing the water bag down there," Maggiesaid. But she was thinking, He's so strong. Stronger than anybody I've ever met. He could break mywrist without even trying.

"I know that! Why?"

"Because it's easier than carrying it down in myteeth," Maggie said. But that wasn't the real reason,of course. The truth was that she needed to get temptation out of the way. She was so thirsty thatit was a kind of madness, and she was afraid ofwhat she would do if she held onto this cool, sloshing water bag much longer.

He was staring at her with those startling eyes,as if he were trying to pryhis way into her brain.And Maggie had the odd feeling that he'd succeeded, at least far enough that he knew the real reason she was doing this.

"You are an idiot," he said slowly, with cold wonder. "You should listen to your body; it's telling youwhat it needs. You can't ignore thirst. You can'tdeny it."

"Yes, you can," Maggie said flatly. Her wrist wasgoing numb. If this went on, she was going to dropthe bag involuntarily, and in the wrong place.

"You can't," he said, somehow making the wordsinto an angry hiss. "I should know."

Then he showed her his teeth.

Maggie should have been prepared.

Jeanne had told her. Vampires and witches and shapeshifters, she'd said. And Sylvia was a witch,and Bern had been a shapeshifter.

This boy was a vampire.

The strange thing was that, unlike Bern, he didn'tget uglier when he changed. His face seemed palerand finer, like something chiseled in ice. His goldeneyes burned brighter, framed by lashes that lookedeven blacker in contrast. His pupils opened and seemed to hold a darkness that could swallow aperson up.

But it was the mouth that had changed the most.It looked even more willful, disdainful, and sullen-and it was drawn up into a sneer to displaythe fangs.

Impressive fangs. Long, translucent white, tapering into delicate points. Shaped like a cat's canines,with a sheen on them like jewels. Not yellowing tusks like Bern's, but delicate instruments of death.

What amazed Maggie was that although helooked completely different from anything she'd seen before, completely abnormal, he also lookedcompletely natural. This was another kind of creature, just like a human or a bear, with as muchright to live as either of them.

Which didn't mean she wasn't scared. But shewas frightened in a new way, a way ready for action.

She was ready to fight, if fighting became necessary. She'd already changed that much since entering this valley: fear now made her not panicked buthyper alert.

If I have to defend myself I need both hands.And it's better not to let him see I'm scared.

"Maybe you can't ignore your kind of thirst," shesaid, and was pleased that her voice didn't wobble."But I'm fine. Except that you're hurting my wrist. Can you please let go?"

For just an instant, the brilliant yellow eyesflared even brighter, and she wondered if he wasgoing to attack her. But then his eyelids lowered,black lashes veiling the brightness. He let go ofher wrist.

Maggie's arm sagged,and the leather bagdropped from her suddenly nerveless fingers. It landed safely at her feet. She rubbed her hand.

And didn't look up a moment later, when he saidwith a kind of quiet hostility, "Aren't you afraidof me?"

"Yes." It was true. And it wasn't just because hewas a vampire or because he had a power thatcould send blue death twenty feet away. It was because of him, of the way he was. He was scary enough in and of himself.

"But what good is it, being afraid?" Maggie said,still rubbing her hand. "If you're going to try tohurt me,IT

fight back. And so far, you haven't triedto hurt me. You've only helped me."

"I told you, I didn't do it for you.And you'll neversurvive if you keep on being insane like this."

"Insane like what?" Now she did look up, to seethat his eyes were burning dark gold and his fangswere gone. His mouth simply looked scornful and aristocratic.

"Trusting people," he said, as if it should havebeen obvious. "Taking care of people. Don't youknow that only the strong ones make it? Weak people are deadweightand if you try to help them, they'll drag you down with them."

Maggie had an answer for that. "Cady isn'tweak," she said flatly. "She's sickShe'll get betterif she gets the chance. And if we don't take care ofeach other, what's going to happen to all of us?"

He looked exasperated, and for a few minutesthey stared at each other in mutual frustration.

Then Maggie bent and picked up the bag again."I'd better give it to her now. I'll bring your can teen back."

"Wait." His voice was abrupt and cold, unfriendly. But this time he didn't grab her."What?"

"Follow me." He gave the order briefly andturned without pausing to see if she obeyed. It wasclear that he expectedpeople to obey him, withoutquestions. "Bring the bag," he said, without lookingover his shoulder.

Maggie hesitated an instant, glancing down atCady. But the hollow was protected by the overhanging boulders; Cady would be all right there for a few minutes.

She followed the boy. The narrow path that wound around the mountain was rough and primitive, interrupted by bands of broken, razor-sharpslate. She had to pick her way carefully aroundthem.

In front of her, the boy turned toward the rocksuddenly and disappeared. When Maggie caught up, she saw the cave.

The entrance was small, hardly more than acrack, and even Maggie had to stoop and go in sideways. But inside it opened into a snug littleenclosure that smelled of dampness and cool rock.

Almost no light filtered in from the outsideworld. Maggie blinked, trying to adjust to the neardarkness, when there was a sound like a match strike and a smell of sulphur. A tiny flame was born, and Maggie saw the boy lighting some kindof crude stone lamp that had been carved out ofthe cave wall itself. He glanced back at her and his eyes flashed gold.

But Maggie was gasping, looking around her.The light of the little flame threw a mass of shifting, confusing shadows everywhere, but it alsopicked out threads of sparkling quartz in the rock.The small cave had become a place of enchantment.

Andatthe boy's feet was something that glitteredsilver. In the hush of the still air, Maggie couldhear the liquid, bell-like sound of water dripping.

"It'sa pool," the boy said. "Spring fed. The watees cold, but it's good. Water .Something like pure lust overcame Maggie. She took three steps forward, ignoring the boy completely, and then her legs collapsed.Shecupped a hand in the pool, felt the coolness encompass it to the wrist, and brought it out asif shewere holding liquid diamond in her palm.

She'd never tasted anything asgood as that water. No Coke she'd drunk on the hottest day of summer could compare with it. It ran through herdry mouth and down her parched throatand then it seemed to spread all through her, sparklingthrough her body, soothing and reviving her. A sort of crystal clearness entered her brain. She drankand drank in a state of pure bliss.

And then, when she was in the even more blissfulstate of being not thirsty anymore, she plunged the leather bag under the surface to fill it.

"What's that for?" But there was a certain resignation in the boy's voice.

"Cady. I have to get back to her." Maggie sat backon her heels and looked at him. The light dancedand flickered around him, glinting bronze off hisdark hair, casting half his face in shadow.

"Thank you," she said, quietly, but in a voice thatshook slightly. "I think you probably saved mylife again."

"You were really thirsty."

"Yeah." She stood up.

"But when you thought there wasn't enoughwater, you were going to give it to her." He couldn'tseem to get over the concept.

"Yeah"

"Even if it meant you dying?"

"I didn't die," Maggie pointed out. "And I wasn'tplanning to. Butyeah, I guess, if there wasn't anyother choice." She saw him staring at her in utterbewilderment. "I took responsibility for her," shesaid, trying to explain. "It's like when you take ina cat, or-or it's like being a queen or something.If you say you're going to be responsible for your subjects, you are. You owe them afterward."

Something glimmered in his golden eyes, just fora moment. It could have been a dagger point ofanger or just a spark of astonishment. There wasa silence.

"It's not thatweird, people taking care of each other," Maggie said, looking at his shadowed face.

"Doesn't anybody do it here?"

He gave a short laugh. "Hardly," he said dryly."The nobles know how to take care of themselves.And the slaves have to fight each other to survive." He added abruptly, "All of which you should know.But of course you're not from here. You're fromOutside."

"I didn't know if you knew about Outside," Mag gie said.

"There isn't supposed to be any contact. Therewasn't for about five hundred years. But whenmy-when the old king died, they opened the pass,again and started bringing in slaves from the outside world. New blood." He said it simply andmatter-of-factly.

Mountain men, Maggie thought. For years there had been rumors about the Cascades, about menwho lived in hidden places among the glaciers andpreyed on climbers. Men or monsters. There were always hikers who claimed to have seen Bigfoot.

And maybe they had-or maybe they'd seen ashapeshifter like Bern.

"And you think that's okay," she said out loud."Grabbing people from the outside world and dragging them in here to be slaves."

"Notpeople.Humans.Humansarevermin;they're not intelligent." He said it in that same dispassionate tone, looking right at her.

"Are you crazy?"Maggie's fists were clenched; herhead was lowered. Stomping time. She glared upat him through narrowed lashes. "You're talking to a human right now. Am I intelligent or not?"

"You're a slave without any manners," he saidcurtly. "And the law says I could kill you for the way you'retalkingto me."

His voice was so cold, so arrogant…but Maggiewas starting not to believe it.

That couldn't be all there was to him. Becausehe was the boy in her dream.

The gentle, compassionate boy who'd looked ather with a flame of love behind his yellow eyes,and who'd held her with such tender intensity, hisheart beating against hers, his breath on her cheek. That boy had been real-and even if it didn't makeany sense, Maggie was somehow certain of it. And no matter how cold and arrogant this one seemed, they had to be part of each other.

It didn't make her less afraid of this one, exactly.But it made her more determined to ignore herfear.

"In my dream," she said deliberately, advancinga step on him, "you cared about at least onehuman. You wanted to take care of me."

"You shouldn't even be allowedto dream aboutme," he said. His voice wasas tense and grim asever, but as Maggie got closer to him, looking directly up into his face, he did something that amazed her. He fell back a step.

"Why not? Because I'm a slave? I'm a person."

She took another step forward, still looking at him challengingly. "And I don't believe that you're asbad as you say you are. I think I saw what youwere really like in my dream."

"You're crazy," he said. He didn't back up anyfarther, there was nowhere left to go. But his wholebody was taut. "Why should I want to take care of you?" he added in a cold and contemptuous voice."What's so special about you?"

It was a good question, and for a moment Maggie was shaken. Tears sprang to her eyes.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "I'm nobodyspecial. There isn'tany reason for you to care aboutme. But it doesn't matter. You saved my life whenBern was going to kill me, and you gave me waterwhen you knew I needed it. You can talk all youwant, but those are the facts. Maybe you just care about everybody, underneath. Or-"

She never finished the last sentence.

As she had been speaking to him, she was doingsomething she always did, that was instinctive to.,her when she felt some strong emotion. She had done it with P.J. and with Jeanne and with Cady.

She reached out toward him. And although shewas only dimly aware that he was pulling his handsback to avoid her, she adjusted automatically,catching his wrists….

And that was when she lost her voice and whatshe was saying flew out of her head. Because something happened. Something that she couldn't ex plain, that was stranger than secret kingdoms orvampires or witchcraft.

It happened justas her fingers closed on hishands. It was the first time they had touched like that, bare skin to bare skin. When he had grabbed her wrist before, her jacket sleeve had been in be tween them.

It started as an almost painful jolt, a pulsatingthrill that zigged up her arm and then sweptthrough her body. Maggie gasped, but somehowshe couldn't let go of his hand. Like someone beingelectrocuted, she was frozen in place.

The blue fire, she thought wildly. He's doing thesame thing to me that he did to Bern.

But the next instant she knew that he wasn't. This wasn't the savage energy that had killed Bern, and it wasn't anything the boy was doing to her. Itwas something being done to both of them, by some incredibly powerful source outside either of them.

And it was trying … to open a channel. Thatwas the only way Maggie could describe it. It was blazing a path open in her mind, and connectingit to his.

She feltas if she had turned around and unexpectedly found herself facing another person's soul.A soul that was hanging there, without protection,already in helpless communication with hers.

It was by far the most intense thing that hadever happened to her. Maggie gasped again, seeingstars, and then her legs melted and she fellforward

He caught her, but he couldn't stand up either.Maggie knew that as well as she knew what wasgoing on in her own body. He sank to his knees, holding her.

What are you doing to me?

It was a thought, but it wasn't Maggie's. It washis.

I don't know …I'm not doing it … I don't understand!Maggie had no idea how to send herthoughts to another person. But she didn't need to,it was simply happening. A pure line of communication had been opened between them. It was afierce and terrible thing, a bit like being fused together by a bolt of lightning, but it was also so wonderful that Maggie's entire skin was prickling and her mind was hushed with awe.

She felt as if she'd been lifted into some new andwonderful place that most people never even saw. The air around her seemed to quiver with invisible wings.

This is how people are supposed to be,shethought. Joined like this. Open to each other. Withnothing hidden and no stupid walls between them.

A thought came back at her, sharp and quickasa hammer strike. No!

It was so cold, so full of rejection, that for a moment Maggie was taken aback. But then she sensedwhat else was behind it.

Anger… and fear. He was afraid of this, andof her. He felt invaded. Exposed.

Well, I do, too,Maggie said mentally. It wasn'tthat she wasn't afraid. It was that her fear was irrelevant. The force that held them was so much morepowerful than either of them, so immeasurably ancient, that fear was natural but not important. The same light shone through each of them, strippingaway their shields, making them transparent toeach other.

It's all right for you. Because you don't have any thing to be ashamed of!The thought flashed by so quickly that Maggie wasn't even sure she hadheard it.

What do you mean?she thought. Wait … Delos.

That was his name. Delos Redfern. She knew itnow, as unquestionably as she knew the names ofher own family. She realized, too, as a matter of minor importance, an afterthought, that he was a prince. A vampire prince who'd been born to rule this secret kingdom, as the Redfern family had ruled it for centuries.

The old king was your father,she said to him. And he died three years ago, when you were fourteen. You've been ruling ever since.

He was pulling away from her mentally, trying tobreak the contact between them. It's none of your business, he snarled.

Please wait,Maggie said. But as she chased after him mentally, trying to catch him, to help him,something shocking and new happened, like a second bolt of lightning.

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