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Huntress (Chapter 2)

The skinhead's face was contorted, his eyes huge. He stared at her, breathing hard like a hurt animal. "I know," Jez said. "You ran fast. You can't figure out how I ran faster."

"You're-not-human," the skinhead panted. Except that he threw in a lot of other words, the kind humans liked to use when they were upset.

"You guessed," Jez said cheerfully, ignoring the obscenities. "You're not as dumb as you look."

"What-the hell-are you?"

"Death." Jez smiled at him. "Are you going to fight? I hope so."

He fumbled the gun up again. His hands were shaking so hard he could scarcely aim it.

"I think you're out of ammo," Jez said. "But anyway

a branch would be better. You want me to break one off for you?"

He pulled the trigger. The gun just clicked. He looked at it.

Jez smiled at him, showing her teeth. She could feel them grow as she went into feeding mode. Her canines lengthening and curving until they were as sharp and delicate and translucent as a cat's. She liked the feel of them lightly indenting her lower lip as she half-opened her mouth.

That wasn't the only change. She knew that her eyes were turning to liquid silver and her lips were getting redder and fuller as blood flowed into them in anticipation of feeding. Her whole body was taking on an indefinable charge of energy.

The skinhead watched as she became more and more beautiful, more and more inhuman. And then he seemed to fold in on himself. With his back against a tree, he slid down until he was sitting on the ground in the middle of some pale brown oyster fungus. He was staring straight ahead.

Jez's gaze was drawn to the double lightning bolt tattooed on his neck. Right. . . there, she thought. The skin seemed reasonably clean, and the smell of blood was enticing. It was running there, rich with adrenaline, in blue veins just under the surface. She was almost intoxicated just thinking about tapping it. Fear was good; it added that extra spice to the taste. Like Sweetarts. This was going to be good….

Then she heard a soft broken sound.

The skinhead was crying.

Not loud bawling. Not blubbering and begging. Just crying like a kid, slow tears trickling down his cheeks as he shook.

"I thought better of you," Jez said. She shook her hair out, tossed it in contempt. But something inside her seemed to tighten.

He didn't say anything. He just stared at her- no, through her-and cried. Jez knew what he was seeing. His own death.

"Oh, come on," Jez said. "So you don't want to die. Who does? But you've killed people before. Your gang killed that guy Juan last week. You can dish it out, but you can't take it."

He still didn't say anything. He wasn't pointing the gun at her anymore; he was clutching it with both hands to his chest as if it were a teddy bear or something. Or maybe as if he were going to kill himself to get away from her. The muzzle of the gun was under his chin.

The thing inside Jez tightened more. Tightened and twisted until she couldn't breathe. What was wrong with her? He was just a human, and a human of the worst kind. He deserved to die, and not just because she was hungry.

But the sound of that crying … It seemed to pull at her. She had a feeling almost of deja vu, as if this had all happened before-but it hadn't. She knew it hadn't.

The skinhead spoke at last. "Do it quick," he whispered.

And Jez's mind was thrown into chaos.

With just those words she was suddenly not in the forest anymore. She was falling into nothingness, whirling and spinning, with nothing to grab hold of. She saw pictures in bright, disjointed flashes. Nothing made sense; she was plunging in darkness with scenes unreeling before her helpless eyes.

"Do it quickly," somebody whispered. A flash and Jez saw who: a woman with dark red hair and delicate, bony shoulders. She had a face like a medieval princess. "I won't fight you," the woman said.

"Kill me. But let my daughter live."

Mother…

These were her memories.

She wanted to see more of her mother-she didn't have any conscious memory of the woman who'd given birth to her. But instead there was another flash. A little girl was huddled in a corner, shaking. The child had flame-bright hair and eyes that were neither silver nor blue. And she was so frightened …

Another flash. A tall man running to the child. Turning around, standing in front of her. "Leave her alone!

It's not her fault. She doesn't have to die!"

Daddy.

Her parents, who'd been killed when she was four. Executed by vampire hunters….

Another flash and she saw fighting. Blood. Dark figures struggling with her mother and father. And screaming that wouldn't quite resolve into words.

And then one of the dark figures picked up the little girl in the corner and held her up high… and Jez saw that he had fangs. He wasn't a vampire hunter; he was a vampire.

And the little girl, whose mouth was open in a wail, had none.

All at once, Jez could understand the screaming.

"Kill her! Kill the human! Kill the freak!"

They were screaming it about her.

Jez came back to herself. She was in Muir Woods, kneeling in the ferns and moss, with the skinhead cowering in front of her. Everything was the same… but everything was different. She felt dazed and terrified.

What did it mean?

It was just some bizarre hallucination. It had to be. She knew how her parents had died. Her mother had been murdered outright by the vampire hunters. Her father had been mortally wounded, but he'd managed to carry the four-year-old Jez to his brother's house before he died. Uncle Bracken had raised her, and he'd told her the story over and over.

But that screaming…

It didn't mean anything. It couldn't. She was Jez Redfern, more of a vampire than anyone, even Morgead. Of all the lamia, the vampires who could have children, her family was the most important. Her uncle Bracken was a vampire, and so was his father, and his father's father, all the way back to Hunter Redfern.

But her mother…

What did she know about her mother's family? Nothing. Uncle Bracken always just said that they'd come from the East Coast.

Something inside Jez was trembling. She didn't want to frame the next question, but the words came into her mind anyway, blunt and inescapable.

What if her mother had been human?

That would make Jez…

No. It wasn't possible. It wasn't just that Night World law forbade vampires to fall in love with humans. It was that there was no such thing as a vampire-human hybrid. It couldn't be done; it had never been done in twenty thousand years. Anybody like that would be a freak….

The trembling inside her was getting worse.

She stood up slowly and only vaguely noticed when the skinhead made a sound of fear. She couldn't focus on him. She was staring between the redwood trees.

If it were true … it couldn't be true, but if it were true… she would have to leave everything. Uncle Bracken. The gang.

And Morgead. She'd have to leave Morgead. For some reason that made her throat close convulsively. And she would go … where? What kind of a place was there for a half-human half-vampire freak?

Nowhere in the Night World. That was certain. The Night People would have to kill any creature like that.

The skinhead made another sound, a little whimper. Jez bunked and looked at him.

It couldn't be true, but all of a sudden she didn't care about killing him anymore. In fact, she had a feeling like slow horror creeping over her, as if something in her brain was tallying up all the humans she'd hurt and killed over the years. Something was taking over her legs, making her knees rubbery. Something was crushing her chest, making her feel as if she were going to be sick.

"Get out of here," she whispered to the skinhead.

He shut his eyes. When he spoke it was in a kind of moan. "You'll just chase me."

"No." But she understood his fear. She was a huntress. She'd chased so many people. So many humans …

Jez shuddered violently and shut her eyes. It was as if she had suddenly seen herself in a mirror and the image was unbearable. It wasn't Jez the proud and fierce and beautiful. It was Jez the murderer.

I have to stop the others.

The telepathic call she sent out was almost a scream. Everybody! This is Jez. Come to me, right now! Drop what you're doing and come!

She knew they'd obey-they were her gang, after all. But none of them except Morgead had enough telepathic power to answer across the distance.

What's wrong? he said.

Jez stood very still. She couldn't tell him the truth. Morgead hated humans. If he even knew what she suspected… the way he would look at her…

He would be sickened. Not to mention that he'd undoubtedly have to kill her.

I'll explain later, she told him, feeling numb. I just found out-that it's not safe to feed here. Then she cut the telepathic link short. She was afraid he'd sense too much of what was going on inside her.

She stood with her arms wrapped around herself, staring between the trees. Then she glanced at the skinhead, who was still huddled in the sword fern.

There was one last thing she had to do with him.

Ignoring his wild flinching, she stretched out her hand. Touched him, once, on the forehead with an extended finger. A gentle, precise contact.

"Remember… nothing," she said. "Now go."

She felt the power flow out of her, wrapping itself around the skinhead's brain, changing its chemistry, rearranging his thoughts. It was something she was very good at.

The skinhead's eyes went blank. Jez didn't watch him as he began to crawl away.

All she could think of now was getting to Uncle Bracken. He would answer her questions; he would explain. He would prove to her that none of it was true.

He'd make everything all right.

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