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Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 2)

You see, we're both lonely guys," Todd said from the back. ""There aren't any girls our age aroundhere,

so we're lonely. And then when we comeacross three nice girls like you-well, we just natu rally want to

get to know you better. Understand?"

"So if you girls play along, we can all have fun," Vic put in.

"Fun-oh, no," Rowan said, dismayed. Jade knew she had caught part of Vic's thought and was

tryingvery hard not to pry further. "Kestrel and Jade are much too young for anything like that. I'm sorry,

butwe have to say no."

"I won't do it even whenI amold enough," Jade said. "But that isn't what these guys mean anyway

they mean this." She projected some of the images she was getting from Vic into Rowan's mind.

"Oh, dear," Rowan said flatly. "Jade, you know we agreed not to spy on people like that."

Yeah, but look what they're thinking, Jade said soundlessly, figuring that if she had broken one rule, she

might as well break them all.

"Now, look," Vic said in a tone that showed he knew he was losing control of the situation. He

reached out and grabbed Jade's other arm, forcingher to face him. "We're not here to talk. See?" He

gave her a little shake. Jade studied his features a moment, then turned her head to look inquiringly into

the backseat.

Rowan's face was creamy-pale against her brownhair. Jade could feel that she was sad and disap

pointed. Kestrel's hair was dim gold and she was frowning.

Well?Kestrel said silently to Rowan.

Well?Jade said the same way. She wriggled as Victried to pull her loser. Come on, Rowan, he's

pinching me.

I guess we don't have any choice,Rowan said.

Immediately Jade turned back to Vic. He was still trying to pull her, looking surprised that she didn't

seem to be coming. Jade stopped resisting and lethim drag her in close-and then smoothly detached one

arm from his grip and slammed her hand upward. The heel of her hand made contact just under his chin.

His teeth clicked and his head was knocked backward, exposing his throat.

Jade darted in and bit.

She was feeling guilty and excited. She wasn't used to doing it like this, to taking down prey that was

awake and struggling instead of hypnotized and docile. But she knew her instincts were as good as any

hunter who'd grown up stalking humans in alleys. It was part of her genetic programming to evaluate

anything she saw in terms of "Is it food? Can I get it? What are its weaknesses?"

The only problem was that she shouldn't been joying this feeding, because it was exactly the opposite of

what she and Rowan and Kestrel had come to Briar Creek to do.

She was tangentially aware of activity in the backseat. Rowan had lifted the arm Todd had been using to

restrain her. On the other side Kestrel had done the same.

Todd was fighting, his voice thunderstruck. "Heyhey what are you-"

Rowan bit.

"What are you doing?"

Kestrel bit.

"What the freak are you doing? Who are you? What the freak are you?"

He thrashed wildly for a minute or so, and then subsided as Rowan and Kestrel mentally urged him into a trance.

It was only another minute or so before Rowan said, "That's enough."

Jade said, Aw, Rowan …

"That'senough.Tell him not to remember anything about this-and find out if he knows where

Burdock Farm is."

Still feeding, Jade reached out with her mind,touching lightly with a tentacle of thought. Then she pulled

back, her mouth closing as if in a kiss as it leftVic's skin. Vic was just a big rag doll at this point,

and he flopped bonelessly against the steering wheeland the car door when she let him go.

"The farm's back that way-we have to go back tothe fork in the road," she said. "It's weird," she

added, puzzled. "He was thinking that he wouldn't get in trouble for attacking us because-because of

something about Aunt Opal. I couldn't get what."

"Probably that she was crazy," Kestrel said unemotionally. "Todd was thinking that he wouldn't

get in trouble because his dad's an Elder."

"They don't have Elders," Jade said, vaguely smug."You mean a governor or a police officer or

something ?

Rowan was frowning, not looking at them. "All right," she said. "This was an emergency; we had to do it.

But now we're going back to what we agreed."

"Until the next emergency," Kestrel said, smiling out the car window into the night.

To forestall Rowan, Jade said, "You think we should just leave them here?"

"Why not?" Kestrel said carelessly. "They'll wake up in a few hours."

Jade looked at Vic's neck. The two little wounds where her teeth had pierced him were already almost

closed. By tomorrow they would be faint red marks like old bee stings.

Five minutes later they were on the road againwith their suitcases. This time, though, Jade was cheerful.

The difference was food-she felt as full of blood as a tick, charged with energy and ready to skip up

mountains. She swung the cat carrier and her suitcase alternately, and Tiggy growled.

It was wonderful being out like this, walking alonein the warm night air, with nobody to frown in

disapproval. Wonderful to listen to the deer and rabbits and rats feeding in the meadows around her.

Happiness bubbled up inside Jade. She'd never felt so free.

"It is nice, isn't it?" Rowan said softly, lookingaround as they reached the fork in the road. "It's

the real world. And we have as much right to it as anybody else."

"I think it's the blood," Kestrel said. "Free-range humans are so much better than the kept ones.

Whydidn't our dear brother ever mention that?"

Ash, Jade thought, and felt a cold wind. She glanced behind her, not looking for a car but forsomething

much more silent and deadly. She realized suddenly how fragile her bubble of happiness was.

"Are we going to get caught?" she asked Rowan. Reverting, in the space of one second, to a

six-yearold turning to her big sister for help.

And Rowan, the best big sister in the world, said immediately and positively,"No. "

"But if Ash figures it out-he's the only one whomight realize-"

"We are not going to get caught," Rowan said. "Nobody will figure out that we're here."

Jade felt better. She put down her suitcase and held out a hand to Rowan, who took it. "Together

forever," she said.

Kestrel, who'd been a few steps ahead, glanced over her shoulder. Then she came back and put her

hand on theirs.

"Together forever."

Rowan said it solemnly; Kestrel said it with a quicknarrowing of her yellow eyes. Jade said it with utter

determination.

As they walked on, Jade felt buoyant and cheerfulagain, enjoying the velvet-dark night.

The road was just dirt here, not paved. They passed meadows and stands of Douglas fir. A farmhouse

on the left, set back on a long driveway. And finally, dead ahead at the end of the road, another house.

"That's it," Rowan said. Jade recognized it, too, from the pictures Aunt opal had sent them. It had

two stories, a wraparound porch, and a steeplypitched roof with lots of gables. A cupola sprouted out of

the rooftop, and there was a weather vane on

the barn.

A real weather vane, Jade thought, stopping to stare. Her happiness flooded _back full force. "I love it,

she said solemnly.

Rowan and Kestrel had stopped, too, but their expressions were far from awed. Rowan looked a hairs

breadth away from horrified.

"It's a wreck," she gasped. "Look at that barnthe paint's completely gone. The pictures didn't

show that."

"And the porch," Kestrel said helpfully. "It's fallingto pieces. Might go any minute."

"The work," Rowan whispered. "The work it would take to fix this place up …"

"And the money," Kestrel said.

Jade gave them a cold look. "Why fix it? I like it.

It's different." Rigid with superiority, she picked up her luggage and walked to the end of the roadThere was a ramshackle, mostly fallen-down fence around the property, and a dangerous-looking gate.

Beyond,on a weed-covered path, was a pile of white pickets as if somebody had been planning to fix the

fencebut had never got around to it.

Jade put down the suitcase and cat carrier and pulled at the gate. To her surprise, it moved easily.

"See, it may not look good, but it still works-"She didn't get to finish the sentence properly. The

gate fell on her.

"Well, it may not work, but it's still ours," she said

as Rowan and Kestrel pulled it off her.

"No, it's Aunt Opal's," Kestrel said.

Rowan just smoothed her hair back and said,

"Come on."

There was a board missing from the porch steps, and several boards gone from the porch itself. Jade

limped around them with dignity. The gate had given her a good whack in the shin, and since it was

wood,it still .hurt. In fact, everything seemed to be made of wood here, which gave Jade a pleasantly

alarmed feeling. Back home, wood was revered-,and kept outof the way.

You have to be awfully careful to live in this kindof world, Jade thought. Or you're going to get hurt.

Rowan and Kestrel were knocking on the door,Rowan politely, with her knuckles, Kestrel loudly, with

the side of her hand. There wasn't any answer.

"She doesn't seem to be here," Rowan said.

"She's decided she doesn't want us," Kestrel said, golden eyes gleaming.

"Maybe she went to the wrong bus station,"Jade said.

"Oh-that's it. I bet that's it," Rowan said. "Poorold thing, she's waiting for us somewhere, and

she's going to be thinking that we didn't show up."

""Sometimes you're not completely stupid," Kestrel informed Jade. High praise from Kestrel.

"Well, let's go in," Jade said,to conceal howpleased she was. "She'll come back here sometime."

"Human houses have locks," Rowan began, but this house wasn't locked. The doorknob

turned in Jade's hand. The three of them stepped inside.

It was dark, even darker than the moonless nightoutside, but Jade's eyes adjusted in a few seconds.

"Hey, it's not bad," she said. They were in ashabby but handsome living room filled with huge,

ponderous furniture. Wood furniture, of course dark and highly polished. The tables were topped with

marble.

Rowan found a lightswitch, and suddenly the roomwas too bright. Blinking, Jade saw that the walls were

pale apple green, with fancy woodwork andmoldings in a darker shade of the same green. It made Jade

feel oddly peaceful. And anchored, somehow, as if she belonged here. Maybe it was all the heavy

furniture.

She looked at Rowan, who was looking around tall graceful body slowly relaxing.

Rowan smiled and met her eyes. She noddedonce. "Yes."

Jade basked for a moment in the glory of having been right twice in five minutes–and then she

remembered her suitcase.

"Let's see what the rest of the place is like," she said hastily. "I'll take the upstairs; you guys look

around here."

"You just want the best bedroom," Kestrel said.

Jade ignored her, hurrying up a wide, carpeted flight of stairs. There were lots of bedrooms, and each

one had lots of room. She didn't want the best, though, just the farthest away.

At the very end of the hall was a room painted sea-blue. Jade slammed the door behind her and puther

suitcase on the bed. Holding her breath, she opened the suitcase.

Oh. Oh, no.Oh, no …

Three minutes later she heard the click of the doorbehind her, but didn't care enough to turn.

"What are you doing?"Kestrel's voice said.

Jade looked up from her frantic efforts to resuscitate the two kittens she held. "They'redead!" she wailed.

"Well, what did you expect? They need to breathe, idiot. How did you expect them to make it

through two days of traveling?"

Jade sniffled.

"Rowan told you that you could take only one."

Jade sniffled harder and glared. "I know.That's why I put these two in the suitcase." She hiccuped. "At

least Tiggy's all right." She dropped to her knees and peered in the cat carrier to make sure he was all

right. His ears were laid back, his golden eyes gleaming out of a mass of black fur. He hissed, and Jade

sat up. He was fine.

"For five dollars I'll take care of the dead ones," Kestrel said.

"No!" Jade jumped up and moved protectively in front of them, fingers clawed.

"Not likethat," Kestrel said, offended. "I don't eat carrion. Look, if you don't get rid of them

somehow,Rowan's going to find out. For God's sake,girl, you're a vampire," she added as Jade cradled

the limp bodies to her chest. "Act like one."

"I want to bury them," Jade said. "They shouldhave a funeral."

Kestrel rolled her eyes and left. Jade wrapped the small corpses in her jacket and tiptoed out after her.

A shovel, she thought. Now, where would that be?

Keeping her ears open for Rowan, shesidledaround the first floor. All the rooms looked like the living

room: imposing and in a state of genteel decay. The kitchen was huge. It had an open fireplace and a

shed off the back door for washing laundry. It also had a door to the cellar.

Jade made her way down the steps cautiously. Shecouldn't turn on a light because she needed both

hands for the kittens. And, because of the kittens, she couldn't see her feet. She had to feel with her toe

for the next step.

At the bottom of the stairs her toe found something yielding, slightly resilient. It was blocking herpath.

Slowly Jade craned her neck over the bundle of jacket and looked down.

It was dim here. She herself was blocking the light that filtered down from the kitchen. But she could

make out what looked like a pile of old clothes. A lumpy pile.

Jade was getting a very, very bad feeling.

She nudged the pile of clothes with one toe. It moved slightly. Jade took a deep breath and nudged it hard.

It was all one piece. It rolled over. Jade looked down, breathed quickly for a moment, and screamed.

A good, shrill, attention-getting scream. She addeda nonverbal thought, the telepathic equivalent of a siren.

Rowan! Kestrel! You guys get down here!

Twenty seconds later the cellar light went on andRowan and Kestrel came clattering down the stairs.

"I have told you and toldyou," Rowan was sayingthrough her teeth. "We don'tuse our-" She

stopped, staring.

"I think it's Aunt Opal," Jade said.

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