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Huntress (Chapter 17)

Morgead's entire body jerked once and then went absolutely still. As if he'd been turned to stone. The

only thing alive about him was his eyes, which were staring at Jez with shock and burning disbelief.

Well, Jez told herself, with a grim humor that was almost like sobbing grief, I startled him, that's for sure.

I finally managed to stun Morgead speechless.

It was only then that she realized some part of her had hoped that he already knew this, too. That he

would be able to brush it off with exasperation, the way he had the fact that she was a Daybreaker.

But that hope was shattered now. It had been a stupid hope anyway. Being a Daybreaker was

something that could change, a matter of confused attitude.

Being vermin was permanent.

"But that's-that's not-" Morgead seemed to be having trouble getting the words out. His eyes were large

with horror and denial. "That's not possible. You're a vampire."

"Only half," Jez said. She felt as if she were killing something-and she was. She was murdering any hope

for what was between them.

Might as well stomp it good, she thought bitterly. She couldn't understand the wetness that was

threatening to spill out of her eyes.

"The other half is human," she said shortly, almost viciously. "My mother was human. Claire is my cousin,

and she's human. I've been living with my uncle Jim, my mother s brother, and his family. They're all

human."

Morgead shut his eyes. A moment of astonishing weakness for him, Jez thought coldly.

His voice was still a whisper. "Vampires and humans can't have kids. You can't be half and half."

"Oh, yeah, I can. My father broke the laws of the Night World. He fell in love with a human, and they

got married, and here I am. And then, when I was three or so, some other vampires came and tried to

kill us all." In her mind Jez was seeing it again, the woman with red hair who looked like a medieval

princess, begging for her child's life. The tall man trying to protect her. "They knew I was half human.

They kept yelling 'Kill the freak.' So that's what I am, you see." She turned eyes she knew were

feverishly bright on him. "A freak."

He was shaking his head, gulping as if he were

about to be sick. It made Jez hate him, and feel sorry for him at the same time. She scarcely noticed that

hot tears were spilling down her cheeks.

"I'm vermin, Morgead. One of them. Prey. That's what I realized a year ago, when I left the gang. Up

until then I had no idea, but that last night we hunted, I remembered the truth. And I knew that I had to

go away and try to make up for all the things I'd done to humans."

He put a hand up to press against his eyes.

"I didn't just become a Daybreaker. I became a vampire hunter. I track down vampires who like to kill,

who enjoy making humans suffer, and I stake them. You know why? Because they deserve to die."

He was looking at her again, but as if he could hardly stand to. "Jez-"

"It's weird. I don't know about our connection"- she smiled bitterly at him, to let him know she knew all

that was over now-"but I felt bad lying to you. I'm almost glad to finally tell you the truth. I kind of

wanted to tell you a year ago when it happened, but I knew you'd kill me, and that made me a little

hesitant."

She was laughing now. She realized she was more than a little hysterical. But it didn't seem to matter.

Nothing mattered while Morgead was looking at her with that sick disbelief in his eyes.

"So, anyway…" She stretched her muscles, still smiling at him, but ready to defend herself. "Are you

going to try and kill me now? Or is the engagement just off?"

He simply looked at her. It was as if his entire spirit had gone out of him. He didn't speak, and all at

once Jez couldn't think of anything to say, either. The silence stretched and stretched, like a yawning

chasm between them.

They were so far away from each other.

You knew all along it would come to this, Jez's mind told her mockingly. How can you presume to be

upset? He's actually taking it better than you expected. He hasn't tried to tear your throat out yet.

At last Morgead said, in a flat and empty voice, "That's why you wouldn't drink my blood."

"I haven't had a blood meal for a year," Jez said, feeling equally empty. "I don't need to, if I don't use my

Powers."

He stared past her at the metal wall. "Well, maybe you'd better drink some of your human friends'," he

said tiredly. "Because whoever has

us-

He broke off, suddenly alert. Jez knew what it was. The van was slowing down, and the tires were

crunching on gravel.

They were pulling into a driveway.

A long driveway, and a steep one. We're somewhere out in the country, Jez thought.

She didn't have time for any more banter with Morgead. Although she felt drained and numb, she was

focused on outside issues now.

"Look," she said tensely as the van braked. "I know you hate me now, but whoever has us hates us

both. I'm not asking you to help me. I just want

to get my cousin away-and I'm asking you not to stop me from doing that. Later, you can fight me or

whatever. We can take care of that between the two of us. Just don't stop me from saving Claire."

He just looked at her with dark and hollow eyes. He didn't agree or disagree. He didn't move when she

positioned herself to erupt out of the van as soon as the back door was opened.

But, as it turned out, she could have saved her breath. Because when the door did open, letting in

sunlight that blinded Jez, it was to reveal five vicious-looking thugs, completely blocking the entrance.

Three of them had spears with deadly points leveled right at Jez. The other two had guns.

"If anybody tries to fight," a voice from around the side of the van said, "shoot the unconscious ones in

the kneecaps."

Jez sagged back. She didn't try to fight as they forced her out of the van.

Neither, strangely, did Morgead. There were more thugs standing around behind the van, enough to

surround both Jez and Morgead with a forest of spears as they were led to the house.

It was a nice house, a small sturdy Queen Anne painted barn red. There were trees all around and no

other buildings in sight.

We're out in the boondocks, Jez thought. Maybe Point Reyes Park. Somewhere remote, anyway,

where nobody can hear us scream.

They were shepherded into the living room of the house, and Hugh and Claire were dumped

unceremoniously on the floor.

And then they were all tied up.

Jez kept watching for an opportunity to attack. But one never came. All the time she and Morgead were

being tied, two of the thugs pointed guns at Claire and Hugh. There was no way Jez could disarm them

both before they got off a shot.

Worse, she was being rendered helpless by an expert. The cords were made of bast, the inner bark of

trees. Equally effective against vampires and humans. When the guy tying her up was through, she had no

use of her arms or legs.

Hugh woke up, gasping with pain, when they tied his injured arm. Claire woke up when the werewolf

thug who'd finished winding cords around her slapped her.

Jez looked at that particular 'wolf carefully. She was too angry to glare at him. But she wanted to

remember his face.

Then she looked back at Claire, who was staring around her in bewilderment.

'I-where are we? What's going on, Jez?"

Hugh was also looking around, but with much less confusion. His gray eyes were simply sad and full of

pain.

'It's all right, Claire," Jez said. "Just keep quiet, okay? We're in a little trouble, but don't tell them

anything." She stared at her cousin, trying to will her to understand.

"A little trouble? I don't think so," came a voice from the living room doorway.

It was the same voice that had given the order

about shooting kneecaps. A light, cold voice, like an Arctic wind.

The speaker was a girl.

A very pretty girl, Jez thought irrelevantly. She had black hair that fell straight down her back like silk,

and eyes that gleamed like topaz. Porcelain skin. A cruel smile. Lots of Power that surrounded her like a

dark aura.

A vampire.

She looked perhaps a year older than Jez, but that didn't mean anything. She could be any age.

And those eyes, Jez thought. They're vaguely familiar. Like something I've seen in a picture….

"I should probably introduce myself," the girl said, looking at her with cold mockery. "I'm Lily Redfern."

Jez felt her stomach plummet.

Hunter Redfern's daughter.

Well, that explained a lot.

She was working for her father, of course. And she was a powerful enemy herself, over four hundred

years old. There were rumors that last year she'd been working the human slave trade, and making a lot

of money at it.

I should laugh, Jez thought. There I was telling Morgead that Hunter wanted to steal a march on the

Council-and here he really did. Just not through me, of course. He's sent his only surviving child out to

take care of us, to get Morgead to turn over the Wild Power.

And that's why so many thugs-he can afford to buy as many as he needs. And the smooth

operation-Lily's a born strategist. Not to mention absolutely merciless and cold as ice.

She was right. We're not in a little trouble. We're in a whole lot.

Somebody, Jez thought with a strange, quiet certainty, is going to die here.

Lily was still talking. "And now let me introduce my associates, who've done so much to make this all

possible." She gestured at someone hidden in the hall to come forward. "This is Azarius. I think you've

met."

It was the vampire Jez had fought on the platform. He was tall, with dark skin and a look of authority.

"And this," Lily said, smiling, "is someone you've also met." She gestured again, and a second figure

appeared in the doorway. It was Pierce Holt.

He was smiling faintly, his aristocratic face drawn in lines of genteel triumph. He waved one slender hand

at them, his eyes as cold as Lily's.

Morgead gave an inarticulate roar and tried to lunge at him.

He only succeeded in falling on the floor, a struggling body in a cocoon of bast. Lily and Azarius both

laughed. Pierce just looked scornful.

"You really didn't guess?" he said. "You're so stupid, Morgead. Coming out this morning to meet me, so

trusting, so naive-I thought you were smarter. I'm disappointed."

"No, you're dead," Morgead raged from the floor. He was staring at Pierce, black hair falling over his

forehead and into green eyes that were blazing with rage. "You are dead when this is over! You

betrayed the gang. You're complete scum. You're-"

"Shut him up," Lily said, and one of the thugs kicked Morgead in the head.

He must really be out of power, Jez thought, wincing. Or he'd have blasted Pierce then.

"I'm smart," Pierce was saying. "And I'm going to survive. I knew something was fishy when she"- he

nodded toward Jez without looking at her- "said she had a deal with Hunter Redfern. It didn't sound

right-and then the way she was so worried about that vermin kid. So I made a few calls, and I found out

the truth."

"You realize that your friend there is working with Circle Daybreak," Lily interrupted. She was also

looking at Morgead and ignoring Jez. "She lied to you and tricked you. She was trying to get the Wild

Power for them."

Morgead snarled something inarticulate.

"And she's not just a Daybreaker," Pierce said. Finally he looked at Jez, and it was with venomous spite.

"She's a mutant abomination. She's half vermin. She should have been drowned at birth."

'You should have been drowned at birth," Morgead said through locked teeth.

Lily had been watching in amusement, but now she waved one hand. "Okay, enough fun and games.

Down to business." Two of the thugs sat Morgead back up, and Lily walked to the middle of the room.

She looked at each of them in turn, Jez last. "I've only got one question for you," she

said in her cool, quiet voice. "Which human is the Wild Power?"

Jez stared at her.

She doesn't know. She knows almost everything else, but not that. And if she can't find out…

Jez gave Hugh and Claire one long, intense look, telling them to keep silent. Then she looked back at

Lily.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Lily hit her.

It was a pretty good blow, but nothing to compare with what Jez got when she was in a fight. Jez

laughed, a natural laugh of surprise and scorn.

Lily's hawklike golden eyes went icy.

"You think this is funny?" she said, still quietly. "My father sent me to get the Wild Power, and that's just

what I'm going to do. Even if it means tearing you and your vampire boyfriend to pieces, mutant."

"Yeah, well, suppose I don't know? Did you ever think of that? Then I can't tell, no matter what you and

your little…" Jez glanced at Pierce and Azarius. "Your little hobgoblins do."

Lily's porcelain skin was flushing with fury. It brought out faint scars on one side of her face that Jez

hadn't noticed before, like mostly-healed burn marks. "Look, you little freak-" Then she turned to the

thugs. "Teach her a lesson."

Things were exciting for a while. Jez could hear Claire and Hugh yelling and Morgead snarling while the

hobgoblins beat her up. She hardly felt

the blows herself. She was in a place where they didn't matter.

When they finally got tired and stopped, Lily walked up to her again.

"Now," she said sweetly, "has your memory gotten any better."

Jez looked at her from under a swelling eyelid. "I can't tell you something I don't know."

Lily opened her mouth, but before she could speak, a new voice cut in.

"She doesn't have to tell you," Hugh said. "Ill tell you. It's me."

Lily swiveled slowly to look at him.

He was sitting up straight inside his cocoon of bonds, his face calm under the dried blood. His gray eyes

were clear and straightforward. He didn't look afraid.

Oh, Hugh, Jez thought. Her heart was beating slow and hard and her eyes prickled.

Lily glanced at Azarius.

He shrugged. "Sure, it could be. I told you, it could be either of them. They were both at the station

when the flash came and the train stopped."

"Hmm," Lily said, a sound like a cat purring to dinner. She moved toward Hugh. He didn't look away

from her, didn't flinch.

But beside him, Claire gave a convulsive wiggle.

She had been watching everything with a desperate, dazed expression. Jez was sure she didn't

understand a quarter of what was going on. But now she suddenly lost the muddled look. Her dark eyes

sparked and she looked like the Claire who'd

taunted Jez a hundred times in the hallway back home.

'I don't know what you're talking about," she said to Hugh. "You know perfectly well it's me." She

turned to Lily. Tm the Wild Power."

Lily's mouth tightened. She put her hands on her hips, looking from Hugh to Claire.

Then Jez heard the strangest sound of her life.

It was laughing-a wild and reckless laughing. There was an edge almost like crying to it, but also

something that was exhilarated, daredevil, free.

"If you really want to know who it is," Morgead said, "ifs me."

Lily whirled to glare at him. Jez simply stared, dumbfounded.

She'd never seen him look so handsome-or so mocking. His smile was brilliant and flashing, his dark hair

was falling all over his eyes, and his eyes were blazing green emeralds. He was tied up, but he was sitting

with his head thrown back like a prince.

Something tore inside Jez.

She didn't understand why he would do it. He must know he wasn't saving her. The only people he

might possibly save were Hugh and Claire. And why would he care about them?

Besides, it was a futile gesture. He didn't realize that he couldn't be the Wild Power, that he hadn't been

around when the train stopped.

But-it was such a gallant gesture, too. Probably the most gallant thing Jez had ever seen.

She stared at him, feeling the wetness spill from

her eyes again, wishing she were telepathic and could ask him why in the worlds he had done it.

Then his green eyes turned to her, and she heard his mental voice.

There's just a chance they'll let one of them go with a beating. Just maybe-as a warning to Circle

Daybreak not to mess with Hunter anymore. Especially if I convince Lily I'll work with her.

Jez couldn't answer, but she shook her head very faintly, and looked at him in despair. She knew he

could read that. Do you know what they'll do to you? Especially when they find out you're a fake?

She saw his faint answering smile. He knew.

What difference does it make? he said in her mind. You and me-we're lost anyway. And without you, I

don't care what happens.

Jez couldn't show any reaction to that at all. Her vision was dimming, and her heart felt as if it were trying

to claw itself out of her chest.

Oh, Morgead …

Lily was breathing hard, on the verge of losing control. "If I have to kill all of you-"

"Wait," Pierce said, his cool voice a striking contrast to Lily's strained one. "There's a simple way to find

out." He pointed at Jez. "Stake her."

Lily glared at him. "What?"

"She's never going to tell you anything. She's expendable. And there's something you have to understand

about the Wild Power." He moved smoothly to Lily's side. "I think Morgead was right about one thing. I

think the Wild Power isn't operating consciously at this point. It's only when the

danger is greatest, when there's no physical way to escape, that the power comes out."

Lily cast a sideways look at Hugh and Claire, who were sitting tensely, their eyes wide. "You mean they

may not know which it is?"

"Maybe not. Maybe it's completely automatic at this point. But there's one way to find out. They all

seem-attached-to the halfbreed. Put her life in danger, and then see which of them can break free and try

to save her."

Lily's perfect lips slowly curved in a smile. "I knew there was a reason I liked you," she said. Then she

gestured at the thugs. "Go on, do it" Everything was confused for a bit. Not because Jez was struggling.

She wasn't. But Claire was screaming and Hugh and Morgead were shouting, and Lily was laughing.

When the worst of the noise died down, Jez found herself on her back. Azarius was standing over her,

and he was holding a hammer and stake.

"Isn't it interesting," Lily was saying, "that a stake through the heart is the one thing that takes care of

humans and vampires equally efficiently?"

"And halfbreeds, too," Pierce said. They were on either side of Azarius, looking down and laughing.

"Lily, listen. Listen," Morgead said, his voice hoarse and desperate. "You don't have to do this. I already

told you, it's me. Just wait a minute and talk to me-*

"Don't even bother, human-lover," Lily said without glancing at him. "If you're the Wild Power, then save

her."

"Don't any of you do anything!" Jez yelled. "Not anything, do you understand?"

She was yelling it mainly at Claire-or was she?

Suddenly Jez felt strangely uncertain.

Her heart was beating very quickly, and her mind was racing even faster. Fragments of thought were

glittering through her consciousness, like bits of melody almost too faint to catch. It was as if all the

prophecies she'd heard about the Wild Powers were echoing, ricocheting around her brain at insane

speed. And there was something about them, something that was bothering her. Something that made her

wonder…

Could it be that Claire wasn't the Wild Power? Jez had assumed she was-but was it possible that she'd

been wrong?

Hugh had been on the platform, too, watching the train approach. Hugh had reason to be upset at having

to watch Jez die. He cared about her. Jez knew that now. And Hugh was seventeen.

Could Hugh be the Wild Power?

He hadn't been in the Marina district-but he lived in the Bay Area; there was no reason he couldn't have

been watching the fire just as she and Claire had.

But there was still something nagging at her. The prophecies… 'two eyes are watching'… 'Four of

blue fire, power in their blood….'

Lily was speaking. Jez heard her as if from a great distance.

"Do it. Right beside the heart first."

Azarius positioned the stake. He raised the hammer.

Morgead screamed, "Jez!"

Jez shouted, "None of you do anything-"

And then the hammer came down and the universe exploded in red agony.

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