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Huntress (Chapter 12)

Jez kept one hand on the kid as they walked up the stairs under the dirty fluorescent bulbs. She could

only imagine what Iona must be thinking as they shepherded her to the top.

They came out on the roof into slanting afternoon sunlight. Jez gave Iona's shoulder a little squeeze.

"See-there's the garden." She nodded toward a potted palm and three wooden barrels with

miscellaneous wilted leaves in them. Iona glanced that way, then gave Jez a sober look.

"They're not getting enough water," she said as quietly as she said everything.

"Yeah, well, it didn't rain enough this summer," Morgead said. "You want to fix that?"

Iona just looked seriously at him.

"Look, what I mean is, you've got the Power, right? So if you just want to show us right now, anything

you want, be my guest. It'll make things a lot simpler. Make it rain, why don't you?"

Iona looked right at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm just saying that there's no reason for you to get hurt here. We just want to see you do something like

what you did the night of the fire. Anything. Just show us."

Jez watched him. There was something incongruous about the scene: Morgead in his high boots and

leather jacket, iron-muscled, sleek, sinewy, on one knee in front of this harmless-looking kid in pink

pants. And the kid just looking back at him with her sad and distant eyes.

"I guess you're crazy," Iona said softly. Her pigtails moved as she shook her head. A pink ribbon

fluttered loosely.

"Do you remember the fire?" Jez said from behind her.

"Course." The kid turned slowly around. "I was scared."

"But you didn't get hurt. The fire got close to you and then you did something. And then the fire went

away."

"I was scared, and then the fire went away. But I didn't do anything."

"Okay," Morgead said. He stood. "Maybe if you can't tell us, you can show us."

Before Jez could say anything, he was picking up the little girl up and carrying her. He had to step

over a line of debris that stretched like a diagonal wall from one side of the roof to the other. It was

composed of telephone books, splintery logs, old clothes, and other odds and ends, and it formed a

barrier, blocking off a corner of the roof from the rest.

He put Iona in the triangle beyond the debris. Then he stepped back over the wall, leaving her there.

Iona didn't say anything, didn't try to follow him back out of the triangle.

Jez stood tensely. The kid's a Wild Power, she told herself. She's already survived worse than this. And

no matter what happens, she's not going to get hurt.

I promised her that.

But she would have liked to be telepathic again just for a few minutes, just to tell the kid one more time

not to be scared. She especially wanted to as Val and Raven poured gasoline on the wall of debris. Iona

watched them do it with huge sober eyes, still not moving.

Then Pierce lit a match.

. The flames leaped up yellow and blue. Not the bright orange they would have been at night.

But hot. They spread fast and Jez could feel the heat from where she was standing, ten feet away.

The kid was closer.

She still didn't say anything, didn't try to jump over the flames while they were low. In a few moments

they were high enough that she couldn't jump through them without setting herself on fire.

Okay, Jez thought, knowing the kid couldn't hear her. Now, do it! Come on, Iona. Put the fire out.

Iona just looked at it.

She was standing absolutely still, with her little hands curled into fists at her sides. A small and lonely

figure, with the late afternoon sun making a soft red halo around her head and the hot wind from the fire

rippling her pink-trimmed shirt. She faced the flames dead-on, but not aggressively, not as if she were

planning to fight them.

Damn; this is wrong, Jez thought. Her own hands were clenched into fists so tightly that her nails were

biting into her palms.

"You know, I'm concerned," Pierce said softly from just behind her. "I have a concern here."

Jez glanced at him quickly. Pierce didn't talk a lot, and he always seemed the coldest of the group-aside

from Morgead, of course, who could be colder than anyone. Now Jez wondered. Could he, who never

seemed to be moved by pity, actually be the most sensitive?

"I'm worried about this fire. I know nobody can look down on us, but it's making a lot of smoke. What if

one of the other tenants comes up to investigate?"

Jez almost hit him.

This is not my home, she thought, and felt the part of her that had sighed and felt loved and understood

wither away. These are not my people. I don't belong with them.

And Pierce wasn't worth hitting. She turned her back on him to look at Iona again. She was dimly aware

of Morgead telling him to shut up, that other tenants were the least of their worries, but most of her

attention was focused on the kid.

Come on, kid! she thought. Then she said it out loud.

"Come on, Iona! Put out the fire. You can do it! Just do what you did before!" She tried to catch the

child's eye, but Iona was looking at the flames. She seemed to be trembling now.

"Yeah, come on!" Morgead said brusquely. "Let's get this over with, kid."

Raven leaned forward, her long front hair ruffling in the wind. "Do you remember what you did that

night?" she shouted seriously. "Think!"

Iona looked at her and spoke for the first time. "I didn't do anything!" Her voice, so composed before,

was edging on tears.

The fire was full-blown now, loud as a roaring wind, sending little bits of burning debris into the air. One

floated down to rest at Iona's foot and she stepped backward.

She's got to be scared, Jez told herself. That's the whole point of this test. If she's not scared, she'll never

be able to find her Power. And we're talking about saving the world, here. We're not just torturing this

kid for fun…. It's still wrong.

The thought burst out from some deep part of her. Jez had seen a lot of horrible things as a vampire and

a vampire hunter, but suddenly she knew she couldn't watch any more of this. I'm going to call it off.

She looked at Morgead. He was standing tensely, arms folded over his chest, green eyes fixed on Iona

as if he could will her into doing what he wanted. Raven and Val were beside him, Raven expressionless

under her fall of dark hair; Val frowning with his big hands on his hips. Thistle was a step or so behind

them.

"It's time to stop," Jez said.

Morgead's head whipped around to look at her. "No. We've gotten this far; it would be stupid to have

to start all over again. Would that be any nicer to her?"

"I said, it's time to stop. What do you have to put out the fire-or did you even think of that?"

As they were talking, Thistle stepped forward. She moved right up to the flames, staring at Iona.

"You'd better do something fast," she shouted. "Or you're going to burn right up."

The childish, taunting tone caught Jez's attention, but Morgead was talking to her.

"She's going to put it out any minute now. She just has to be frightened enough-"

"Morgead, she's absolutely terrified already! Look at her!"

Morgead turned. Iona's clenched fists were now raised to chest-level; her mouth was slightly open as

she breathed far too fast. And although she wasn't screaming or crying like a normal kid, Jez could see

the tremors running through her little body. She looked like a small trapped animal.

"If she's not doing it now, she's never going to,"

Jez told Morgead flatly. "It was a stupid idea in the first place, and it's over!"

She saw the change in his green eyes; the flare of anger and then the sudden darkness of defeat. She

realized that he was going to cave.

But before he could say anything, Thistle moved forward.

"You're gonna die!" she shrilled. "You're gonna burn up right now!" And she began kicking flaming

debris at Iona.

Everything happened very fast after that.

The debris came apart in a shower of sparks as it flew toward Iona. Iona's mouth came open in horror

as she found fiery garbage swirling around her knees. And then Raven was yelling at Thistle, but Thistle

was already kicking more.

A second deluge of sparks hit Iona. Jez saw her put up her hands to protect her face, then fling her arms

out as a piece of burning cloth settled on her sleeve. She saw the sleeve spurt with a tiny flame. She saw

Iona cast a frantic look around, searching for a way to escape.

Morgead was dragging Thistle back by her collar. Thistle was still kicking. Sparks were everywhere and

Jez felt a hot pain on her cheek.

And then Iona's eyes went enormous and blank and fixed and Jez could see that she'd made some

decision, she'd found some way to get out of this.

Only not the right one.

She was going to jump.

Jez saw Iona turn toward the edge of the roof, and she knew in that same instant that she couldn't get to

the child in time to stop her.

So there was only one thing to do.

Jez only hoped she would be fast enough.

She very nearly wasn't. But there was a two-foot wall at the roof's perimeter, and it delayed Iona for a

second as she scrambled onto it. That gave Jez a second to leap through the fire and catch up.

And then Iona was on the wall, and then she was launching her small body into empty space. She

jumped like a flying squirrel, arms and legs outspread, looking down at the three-story drop.

Jez jumped with her.

Jez! The telepathic shout followed her, but Jez scarcely heard it. She had no idea who had even said it.

Her entire consciousness was focused on Iona.

Maybe some part of her was still hoping that the kid had magic and could make the wind hold her up.

But it didn't happen and Jez didn't waste time thinking about it. She hit Iona in midair, grabbing the small

body and hanging on.

It was something no human could have done. Jez's vampire muscles instinctively knew how to handle

this, though. They twisted her as she fell, putting her underneath the child in her arms, putting her legs

below her like a cat's.

But of course Jez didn't have a vampire's resistance to injury. She knew perfectly well that when she hit,

the fall would break both her legs. In her weakened state it might well kill her.

It should save the kid, though, she thought unemotionally as the ground rushed up to meet her. The extra

resiliency of Jez's flesh would act as a cushion.

But there was one thing Jez hadn't thought of.

The trees.

There were discouraged-looking redbud trees planted at regular intervals along the cracked and mossy

sidewalk. None of them had too much in the way of foliage even in late summer, but they certainly had a

lot of little branches.

Jez and the kid crashed right into one of them.

Jez felt pain, but scratching, stabbing pain instead of the slamming agony of hitting the sidewalk. Her legs

were smashing through things that cracked and snapped and poked her. Twigs and branches. She was

being flipped around as some of the twigs caught on her jeans and others snagged her leather jacket.

Every branch she hit decreased her velocity.

So when she finally crashed out of the tree and hit concrete, it merely knocked the wind out of her.

Black dots danced in front of her eyes. Then her vision cleared and she realized that she was lying on her

back with Iona clutched to her stomach. Shiny redbud leaves were floating down all around her.

Goddess, she thought. We made it. I don't believe it.

There was a dark blur and something thudded against the sidewalk beside her.

Morgead. He landed like a cat, bending his knees, but nice a big cat. A three-story jump was pretty

steep even for a vampire. Jez could see the shock reverberate through him as his legs hit concrete, and

then he fell forward.

That must hurt, she thought with distant sympathy. But the next instant he was up again, he was by her

side and bending over her.

"Are you all right?" He was yelling it both aloud and telepathically. His dark hair was mussed and flying;

his green eyes were wild. "Jez!"

Oh. It was you who yelled when I jumped, Jez thought. I should have known.

She blinked up at him. "Of course I'm all right," she said hazily. She tugged at the kid lying on her. "Iona!

Are you all right?"

Iona stirred. Both her hands were clutching Jez's jacket in front, but she sat up a little without letting go.

There was a burned patch on her sleeve, but no fire.

Her velvety brown eyes were huge-and misty. She looked sad and confused.

"That was really scary," she said.

"I know." Jez gulped. She wasn't any good at talking about emotional things, but right now the words

spilled out without conscious effort. Tm sorry, Iona; I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. We shouldn't have done

that. It was a very bad thing to do, and I'm really sorry, and we're going to take you home now.

Nobody's going to hurt you. We're going to take you back to your mom."

The velvety eyes were still unhappy. Tired and unhappy and reproachful. Jez had never felt like more of

a monster, not even that night in Muir Woods when she had realized she was hunting her own kind.

Iona's gaze remained steady, but her chin quivered.

Jez looked at Morgead. "Can you erase her memory? I can't see any reason why she should have to

remember all this."

He was still breathing quickly, his face pale and his pupils dilated. But he looked at Iona and nodded.

"Yeah, I can wipe her."

"Because she's not the Wild Power, you know," Jez said levelly, as if making a comment about the

weather.

Morgead flinched. Then he shoved his hair back with his knuckles, his eyes shutting briefly.

"She's an extraordinary kid, and I don't know exactly what she's going to be-maybe President or some

great doctor or botanist or something. Something special, because she's got that inner light- something

that keeps her from getting mad or mean or hysterical. But that's got nothing to do with being a Wild

Power."

"All right! I know, already!" Morgead yelled, and Jez realized she was babbling. She shut up.

Morgead took a breath and put his hand down. "She's not it. I was wrong. I made a bad mistake.

Okay?"

"Okay." Jez felt calmer now. "So can you please wipe her?"

"Yes! I'm doing it!" Morgead put his hands on Iona's slender shoulders. "Look, kid, I'm-sorry. I never

thought you'd-you know, jump like that."

Iona didn't say anything. If he wanted forgiveness, he wasn't getting it.

He took a deep breath and went on. "This has been a pretty rotten day, hasn't it? So why don't you just

forget all about it, and before you know it, you'll be home."

Jez could feel him reach out with his mind, touching the child's consciousness with his Power. Iona's eyes

shifted, she looked at Jez uncertainly.

"It's okay," Jez whispered. "It won't hurt." She hung on to Iona's gaze, trying to comfort her as

Morgead's suggestions took hold.

"You don't ever have to remember this," Morgead said, his voice soothing now. Gentle. "So why don't

you just go to sleep? You can have a little nap… and when you wake up, you'll be home."

Iona's eyelids were closing. At the last possible second she gave Jez a tiny sleepy smile-just the barest

change of expression, but it seemed to ease the tightness in Jez's chest. And then Iona's lashes were lying

heavy on her cheeks and her breathing was deep and regular.

Jez sat up and gently put the sleeping child on the sidewalk. She smoothed back one stray pigtail and

watched the little chest rise and fall a couple of times. Then she looked up at Morgead.

"Thanks."

He shrugged, exhaling sharply. "It was the least I could do." Then he gave her an odd glance.

Jez thought of it at the same instant. She was the one so concerned about the child-why had she asked

Morgead to wipe her memory?

Because I can't do it, she thought dryly. Out loud she said, "I'm really kind of tired, after everything that's

happened today. I don't have much Power left."

"Yeah…" But his green eyes were slightly narrowed, searching.

"Plus, I hurt." Jez stretched, gingerly testing her muscles, feeling every part of her protest.

The searching look vanished instantly. Morgead leaned forward and began to go over her with light,

expert fingers, his eyes worried.

"Can you move everything? What about your legs? Do you feel numb anywhere?"

"I can move everything, and I only wish I felt numb somewhere."

"Jez-I'm sorry." He blurted it out as awkwardly as he had to the child. 'I didn't mean … I mean, this just

hasn't turned out the way I planned. The kid getting hurt-you getting hurt. It just wasn't what I had in

mind."

The kid getting hurt? Jez thought. Don't tell me you care about that.

But there was no reason for Morgead to lie. And he did look unhappy-probably more unhappy than Jez

had ever seen him. His eyes were still all pupil, as if he were scared.

I'm not hurt," Jez said. It was all she could think of. She felt dizzy suddenly-uncertain and a little giddy,

as if she were still tumbling off the roof.

"Yes, you are." He said it with automatic stubbornness, as if it were one of their arguments. But his hand

reached out to touch her cheek.

The one that had been hit by burning debris. It hurt, but Morgead was touching so lightly…. Coolness

seemed to flow from his fingers, seeping into the burn and making it feel better.

Jez gasped. "Morgead-what are you doing?"

"Giving you some Power. You're low and you need it."

Giving her Power? She'd never heard of such a thing. But he was doing it. She could feel her skin healing

itself faster, could feel his strength pour into her.

It was a strange sensation. It made her shiver inwardly.

"Morgead…"

His eyes were fixed on her face. And suddenly they were all Jez could see; the rest of the world was a

blur. All she could hear was the soft catch in his breath; all she could feel was the gentleness of his touch.

"Jez…"

They were leaning toward each other, or falling. It was that silver thread between them, shortening,

pulling. They had nothing to grab on to but each other. And then Morgead's arms were around her and

she felt his warm mouth touch hers.

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