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Huntress (Chapter 10)

Jez held herself perfectly still, keeping her face expressionless. Her mind was clicking through strategies.

Two exits-but to go out the window meant a three-story drop, and she probably wouldn't survive that in

her condition. Although, of course, she couldn't leave anyway without doing something to silence

Morgead-and she wouldn't survive a fight, either….

She suppressed any feeling, returned Morgead's gaze, and said calmly, "And why is that?"

Triumph flashed in his eyes. "Jez Redfern. That's the key, isn't it? Your family."

Ill have to kill him somehow, she thought, but he was going on.

"Your family sent you. Hunter Redfern. He knows that I've really found the Wild Power, and he expects

you to get it out of me."

Relief spread slowly through Jez, and her stomach muscles relaxed. She didn't let it show. "You idiot! Of

course not. I don't run errands for the Council."

Morgead's lip lifted. "I didn't say the Council. I said Hunter Redfern. He's trying to steal a march on the

Council, isn't he? He wants the Wild Power himself. To restore the Redferns to the glory of old. You're

running errands for him."

Jez choked on exasperation. Then she listened to the part of her mind that was telling her to keep her

temper and think clearly.

Strategy, that part was saying. He's just handed you the answer and you're trying to smack it away.

"All right; what if that is true?" she said at last, her voice curt. "What if I do come from Hunter?"

"Then you can tell him to get bent. I told the Council my terms. I'm not settling for anything less."

"And what were your terms?"

He sneered. "As if you didn't know." When she just stared at him, he shrugged and stopped pacing. "A

seat on the Council," he said coolly, arms folded.

Jez burst out laughing. "You," she said, "are out of your mind."

"I know they won't give it to me." He smiled, not a nice smile. "I expect them to offer something like

control of San Francisco. And some position after the millennium."

After the millennium. Meaning after the apocalypse, after the human race had been killed or subjugated

or eaten or whatever else Hunter Redfern had in mind.

"You want to be a prince in the new world order," Jez said slowly, and she was surprised at how bitterly

it came out. She was surprised at how surprised she was. Wasn't it just what she expected of Morgead?

"I want what's coming to me. All my Life I've had to stand around and watch humans get everything.

After the millennium things will be different." He glared at her broodingly.

Jez still felt sick. But she knew what to say now.

"And what makes you think the Council is going to be around after the millennium?" She shook her head.

"You're better off going with Hunter. I'd bet

on him against the Council any day."

Morgead blinked once, lizardlike. "He's planning on getting rid of the Council?"

Jez held his gaze. "What would you do in his place?"

Morgead's expression didn't get any sweeter. But she could see from his eyes that she had him.

He turned away sharply and went to glower out the window. Jez could practically see the wheels turning

in his head. Finally he looked back.

"All right," he said coldly. "Ill join Hunter's team-but only on my terms. After the millennium-"

"After the millennium you'll get what you deserve." Jez couldn't help glaring back at him. Morgead

brought out all her worst traits, all the things she tried to control in herself.

"You'll get a position," she amended, spinning the story she knew he wanted to hear. She was winging it,

but she had no choice. "Hunter wants people loyal to him in the new order. And if you can prove you're

valuable, he'll want you. But first you have to prove it. Okay? Deal?"

"If I can trust you."

"We can trust each other because we have to. We both want the same thing. If we do what Hunter

wants, we both win."

"So we cooperate-for the time being."

"We cooperate-and we see what happens," Jez said evenly.

They stared at each other from opposite sides of the room. It was as if the blood sharing had never

happened. They were back to their old roles- maybe a little more hostile, but the same old Jez and

Morgead, enjoying being adversaries.

Maybe it'll be easy from now on, Jez thought. As long as Hunter doesn't show up to blow my story.

Then she grinned inwardly. It would never happen. Hunter Redfern hadn't visited the West Coast for

fifty years.

"Business," she said crisply, out loud. "Where's the Wild Power, Morgead?"

"Ill show you." He walked over to the futon and sat down.

Jez stayed where she was. "You'll show me what?"

"Show you the Wild Power." There was a TV with a VCR at the foot of the bed, sitting on the bare

floor. Morgead was putting a tape in.

Jez settled on the far end of the futon, glad for the chance to sit.

"You've got the Wild Power on tape?"

He threw her an icy glance over his shoulder. "Yeah, on America's Funniest Home Videos. Just shut up,

Jez, and watch."

Jez narrowed her eyes and watched.

What she was looking at was a TV movie about a doomsday asteroid. A movie she'd seen-it had been

awful. Suddenly the action was interrupted by the logo of a local news station. A blond anchorwoman

came on screen.

"Breaking news in San Francisco this hour. We have live pictures from the Marina district where a

five-alarm fire is raging through a government housing project. We go now to Linda Chin, who's on the

scene."

The scene switched to a dark-haired reporter.

"Regina, I'm here at Taylor Street, where firefighters are trying to prevent this spectacular blaze from

spreading-"

Jez looked from the TV to Morgead. "What's this got to do with the Wild Power? I saw it live. It

happened a couple weeks ago. I was watching that stupid movie-"

She broke off, shocked at herself. She'd actually been about to say "I was watching that stupid movie

with Claire and Aunt Nan." Just like that, to blurt out the names of the humans she lived with. She

clenched her teeth, furious.

She'd already let Morgead know one thing: that a couple of weeks ago she'd been in this area, where a

local news station could break in.

What was wrong with her?

Morgead tilted a sardonic glance at her, just to show her that he hadn't missed her slip. But all he said

was "Keep watching. You'll see what it's got to do with the Wild Power."

On screen the flames were brilliant orange, dazzling against the background of darkness. So bright that if

Jez hadn't known that area of the Marina district well, she wouldn't have been able to tell much about it.

In front of the building firefighters in yellow were carrying hoses. Smoke flooded out suddenly as one of

the hoses sprayed a straight line of water into the flames.

"Their greatest fear is that there may be a little girl still inside this complex-"

Yes. That was what Jez remembered about this fire. There had been a kid….

"Look here," Morgead said, pointing.

The camera was zooming in on something, bringing the flames in close. A window in the pinky-brown

concrete of the building. High up, on the third floor. Flames were pouring up from the walkway below it,

making the whole area look too dangerous to approach.

The reporter was still talking, but Jez had tuned her out. She leaned closer, eyes fixed on that window.

Like all the other windows, it was half covered with a wrought-iron screen in a diamond pattern. Unlike

the others, it had something else: On the sill

there were a couple of plastic buckets with dirt and scraggly plants. A window box.

And a face looking out between the plants.

A child's face.

"There," Morgead said.

The reporter was speaking. "Regina, the firefighters say there is definitely someone on the third floor of

this building. They are looking for a way to approach the person-the little girl-"

High-powered searchlights had been turned on the flames. That was the only reason the girl was visible

at all. Even so, Jez couldn't distinguish any features. The girl was a small blurry blob.

Firefighters were trying to maneuver some kind of ladder toward the building. People were running,

appearing and disappearing in the swirling smoke. The scene was eerie, otherworldly.

Jez remembered this, remembered listening to the barely suppressed horror in the reporter's voice,

remembered Claire beside her hissing in a sharp breath.

"It's a kid," Claire had said, grabbing Jez's arm and digging her nails in, momentarily forgetting how much

she disliked Jez. "Oh, God, a kid."

And I said something like, "It'll be okay," Jez remembered. But I knew it wouldn't be. There was too

much fire. There wasn't a chance….

The reporter was saying, "The entire building is involved…." And the camera was going in for a

close-up again, and Jez remembered realizing that they were actually going to show this girl burning alive

on TV.

The plastic buckets were melting. The firemen were trying to do something with the ladder. And then

there was a sudden huge burst of orange, an explosion, as the flames below the window poofed and

began pouring themselves upward with frantic energy. They were so bright they seemed to suck all the

light out of their surroundings.

They engulfed the girl's window.

The reporter's voice broke.

Jez remembered Claire gasping, "No…" and her nails drawing blood. She remembered wanting to shut

her own eyes.

And then, suddenly, the TV screen flickered and a huge wall of smoke billowed out from the building.

Black smoke, then gray, then a light gray that looked almost white. Everything was lost in the smoke.

When it finally cleared a little, the reporter was staring up at the building in open amazement, forgetting to

turn toward the camera.

"This is astonishing…. Regina, this is a complete turnaround…. The firefighters have-either the water

has suddenly taken effect or something else has caused the fire to die…. I've never seen anything like

this…."

Every window in the building was now belching white smoke. And the picture seemed to have gone

washed-out and pale, because there were no more vivid orange flames against the darkness.

The fire was simply gone.

"I really don't know what's happened, Regina…. I think I can safely say that everybody here is very

thankful. …"

The camera zoomed in on the face in the window. It was still difficult to make out features, but Jez could

see coffee-colored skin and what seemed to be a calm expression. Then a hand reached out to gently

pick up one of the melted plastic buckets and take it inside.

The picture froze. Morgead had hit Pause.

"They never did figure out what stopped the fire. It went out everywhere, all at once, as if it had been

smothered."

Jez could see where he was going. "And you think it was some sort of Power that killed it. I don't know,

Morgead–it's a pretty big assumption. And to jump from that to the idea that it was a Wild Power-"

"You missed it, then." Morgead sounded smug.

"Missed what?"

He was reversing the tape, going back to the moment before the fire went out. "I almost missed it myself

when I saw it live. It was lucky I was taping it When I went back and looked again, I could see it

clearly."

The tape was in slow motion now. Jez saw the burst of orange fire, frame by frame, getting larger. She

saw it crawl up to engulf the window.

And then there was a flash.

It had only showed up as a flicker at normal speed, easily mistaken for some kind of camera problem.

At this speed, though, Jez couldn't mistake it.

It was blue.

It looked like lightning or flame; blue-white with

a halo of more intense blue around it. And it moved. It started out small, a circular spot right at the

window. In the next frame it was much bigger, spreading out in all directions, fingers reaching into the

flames. In the next frame it covered the entire TV screen, seeming to engulf the fire.

In the next frame it was gone and the fire was gone with it. White smoke began to creep out of

windows.

Jez was riveted.

"Goddess," she whispered. "Blue fire."

Morgead ran the tape back to play the scene again. " 'In blue fire, the final darkness is banished; In

blood, the final price is paid.' If that girl isn't a Wild Power, Jez … then what is she? You tell me."

"I don't know." Jez bit her lip slowly, watching the strange thing blossom on the TV again. So the blue

fire in the poem meant a new kind of energy. "You're beginning to convince me. But-"

"Look, everybody knows that one of the Wild Powers is in San Francisco. One of the old hags in the

witch circle-Grandma Harman or somebody- had a dream about it. She saw the blue fire in front of Coit

Tower or something. And everybody knows that the four Wild Powers are supposed to start manifesting

themselves around now. I think that girl did it for the first time when she realized she was going to die.

When she got that desperate."

Jez could picture that kind of desperation; she'd pictured it the first time, when she'd been watching the

fire live. How it must feel… being trapped like that. Knowing that there was no earthly help for you, that

you were about to experience the most terrible pain imaginable. Knowing that you were going to feel

your body char and your hair burn like a torch and that it would take two or three endless minutes before

you died and the horror was over.

Yeah, you would be desperate, all right. Knowing all that might drag a new power out of you, a frantic

burst of strength, like an unconscious scream pulled from the depths of yourself.

But one thing bothered her.

"If this kid is the Wild Power, why didn't her Circle notice what happened? Why didn't she tell them,

'Hey, guys, look; I can put out fires now?'"

Morgead looked annoyed. "What do you mean, her Circle?"

"Well, she's a witch, right? You're not telling me vampires or shapeshifters are developing new powers

like that."

"Who said anything about witches or vampires or shapeshifters? The kid's human."

Jez blinked.

And blinked again, trying to conceal the extent of her astonishment. For a moment she thought Morgead

was putting her on, but his green eyes were simply exasperated, not sly.

"The Wild Powers… can be human?"

Morgead smiled suddenly-a smirk. "You really didn't know. You haven't heard all the prophecies, have

you?" He struck a mocking oratorical pose. "There's supposed to be:

One from the land of kings long forgotten; One from the hearth which still holds the spark; One from the

Day World where two eyes are

watching; One from the twilight to be one with the dark."

The Day World, Jez thought. Not the Night World, the human world. At least one of the Wild Powers

had to be human.

Unbelievable… but why not? Wild Powers were supposed to be weird.

Then she thought of something and her stomach sank.

"No wonder you're so eager to turn her in," she said softly. "Not just to get a reward-"

"But because the little scum deserves to die-or whatever it is Hunter has in mind for her." Morgead's

voice was matter-of-fact. "Yeah, vermin have no right developing Night World powers. Right?"

"Of course right," Jez said without emotion. I'm going to have to watch this kid every minute, she

thought. He's got no pity at all for her-Goddess knows what he might do before letting me have her.

"Jez." Morgead's voice was soft, almost pleasant, but it caught Jez's full attention. "Why didn't Hunter tell

you that prophecy? The Council dug it up last week."

She glanced at him and felt an inner shiver. Suspicion was cold in the depths of his green eyes. When

Morgead was yelling and furious he was dangerous enough, but when he was quiet like this, he was

deadly.

"I have no idea," she said flatly, tossing the problem back at him. "Maybe because I was already out

here in California when they figured it out. But why don't you call him and ask yourself? I'm sure he'd

love to hear from you."

There was a pause. Then Morgead gave her a look of disgust and turned away. A good bluff is

priceless, Jez thought. It was safe now to move on. She said, "So what do the 'two eyes watching' mean

in the prophecy?" He rolled his own eyes. "How should I know? You figure it out. You've always been

the smart one."

Despite the heavy sarcasm, Jez felt a different kind of shiver, one of surprise. He really believed that.

Morgead was so smart himself-he'd seen that flicker on the TV screen and realized what it was, when

apparently none of the adults in the Bay Area had-but he thought she was smarter.

"Well, you seem to be doing all right yourself," she said.

She had been looking steadily at him, to show him no weakness, and she saw his expression change. His

green eyes softened slightly, and the sarcastic quirk of his lip straightened.

"Nah, I'm just blundering along," he muttered, his gaze shifting. Then he glanced back up and somehow

they were caught in a moment when they were just looking at each other in silence. Neither of them

turned away, and Jez's heart gave a strange thump. The moment stretched. Idiot! This is ridiculous. A

minute ago you were

scared of him-not to mention sickened by his attitude toward humans. You can't just suddenly switch to

this.

But it was no good. Even the realization that she was in danger of her life didn't help. Jez couldn't think

of a thing to say to break the tension, and she couldn't seem to look away from Morgead.

"Jez, look-"

He leaned forward and put a hand on her forearm. He didn't even seem to know he was doing it. His

expression was abstracted now, and his eyes were fixed on hers.

His hand was warm. Tingles spread from the place where it touched Jez's skin.

"Jez… about before … I didn't…"

Suddenly Jez's heart was beating far too quickly. I have to say something, she thought, fighting to keep

her face impassive. But her throat was dry and her mind a humming blank. All she could feel clearly was

the place where she and Morgead touched. All she could see clearly was his eyes. Cat's eyes, deepest

emerald, with shifting green lights in them….

"Jez," he said a third time.

And Jez realized all at once that the silver thread between them hadn't been broken. That it might be

stretched almost into invisibility, but it was still there, still pulling, trying to make her body go weak and

her vision blur. Trying to make her fall toward Morgead even as he was falling toward her.

And then came the sound of someone kicking in the front door.

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