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Huntress (Chapter 5)

The boy's light hair was longish, falling over his forehead in disarray. He had a nice face, serious, but

with an unexpected dimple in his chin that gave him a slightly mischievous look. His body was nicely

muscled but compact; standing, Jez knew, he'd be no taller than she. There was a large bump coming up

on his forehead, just under the falling hair. The ghoul had probably slammed him against something.

Jez jumped up and got a blue plastic cup full of water from her nightstand. She grabbed a clean T-shirt

from the floor and dipped it into the water, then she gently brushed back the hair from the boy's

forehead.

It was silky under her fingers. Even softer than she would have thought. Jez kept her face expressionless

and began to wipe his face with the damp cloth.

He didn't stir. Jez's heart, which was already thumping distinctly, speeded up. She took a deep breath

and kept wiping.

Finally, although it probably didn't have anything to do with the water, the boy's dark eyelashes moved.

He coughed, breathed, blinked, and looked at her.

Relief spread through Jez. "Don't try to sit up yet."

"That's what they all say," he agreed, and sat up. He put a hand to his head and groaned. Jez steadied

him.

"I'm fine," he said. "Just tell the room to stop moving." He looked around the room, bunked again and

suddenly seemed to focus. He grabbed her arm, his eyes wide. "Something followed me-"

"A ghoul. It's dead."

He let out his breath. Then he smiled wryly. "You saved my life."

"And I don't even charge," Jez said, embarrassed.

"No, I mean it." His smile faded and he looked straight at her. "Thank you."

Jez could feel heat trying to rise to her face, and she had a hard time holding his gaze. His eyes were

gray and so intense-fathomless. Her skin was tingling.

She looked away and said evenly, "We should get you to a hospital. You might have a concussion."

"No. I'm okay. Let me just see if I can stand up."

When she opened her mouth to protest, he added, "Jez, you don't know why I'm here. It can't wait."

He was right; Jez had been so intent on getting him conscious that she hadn't even wondered what he

was doing here. She looked at him for a moment, then nodded. She helped him up, and let go of his arm

when she saw he could stand without falling over.

"See, I'm fine." He took a few steps, then made a circuit of the room, loosening his muscles. Jez watched

him narrowly, ready to grab him if he fell. But he walked steadily except for a slight limp.

And that wasn't from his encounter with the ghoul tonight, Jez knew. He'd had the limp from childhood,

from when the werewolves took his family.

How he'd been able to get over that and join Circle Daybreak, Jez would never know.

He'd lost his parents almost as young as she had. He'd lost his two sisters and his brother, too. His entire

family had been on a camping trip atLake Tahoe , when in the middle of the night they'd been attacked

by a pack of werewolves. Renegade 'wolves, hunting illegally because Night World law wouldn't let them

kill as often as they liked.

Just like Jez's old gang.

The 'wolves had ripped through theDavis family's tents and killed the humans, one, two, three. Easy as

that. The only one they left alive was seven-year-old Hugh, because he was too little to have much meat

on his body. They had just settled down to eat the hearts and livers of their victims, when

suddenly the one too little to be worth eating was dashing at them with a homemade torch constructed of

kerosene-soaked underwear wrapped around a stick. He was also waving a silver cross on a chain the

werewolves had torn from his sister's neck.

Two things werewolves don't like: silver and fire. The little boy was attacking with both. The 'wolves

decided to kill him.

Slowly.

They almost did it. They managed to chew one of his legs almost off before a park ranger arrived,

attracted by the spreading fire from the dropped torch.

The ranger had a gun, and the fire was getting out of control. The 'wolves left.

Hugh almost died of blood loss on the way to the hospital.

But he was a tough kid. And a very smart one. He didn't even try to explain to anybody what he'd been

doing with the silver necklace. He knew they would never believe him if he said he'd suddenly

remembered a bunch of past lives, including one where he'd seen a werewolf killed.

Hugh Davis was an Old Soul.

And a wakened Old Soul, which was even more rare. It scared Jez a little. He was human and she was

from the Night World, but she didn't pretend to understand the magic that brought some humans back

again and again, reincarnating them in new bodies. Letting them remember all their past lifetimes, making

them smarter and more clearheaded every time they were born.

In Hugh's case, also gentler every time. In spite of the attack on his family, when he got out of the

hospital the first thing he did was try to find some Night People. He knew they weren't all bad. He knew

some of them would help him stop the werewolves from hurting anyone else.

Fortunately, the first people he found were from Circle Daybreak.

Circles were witch organizations, but Circle Daybreak was for humans and vampires and shapeshifters

and werewolves, too. It was an underground society, as secret within the Night World as the Night

World was secret within the human world. It went against the most basic tenets of Night World law: that

humans were not to be told about the Night World, and that Night People shouldn't fall in love with

humans. Circle Daybreak was fighting to unite everybody, to stop the killings, and to bring peace

between the races.

Jez wished them luck.

She suddenly realized that Hugh had stopped walking and was looking at her. She blinked and focused,

furious with herself for her slip in concentration. As a huntress-of vampires or anything else-you stayed

alert all the time, or you were dead.

"You were miles away," Hugh said softly. His gray eyes were calm but intense as always. That look Old

Souls get when they're reading you, Jez thought.

She said, "Sorry. Um, do you want some ice for that bump?"

"No, I like it. I'm thinking of getting one on the other side, to match." He sat on the bed, serious again.

"Really, I've got some stuff to explain to you, and it's going to take a while."

Jez didn't sit. "Hugh, I think you need it. And I need to take a shower or my aunt will get suspicious

about what I'm doing in here for so long. Besides, the smell is driving me crazy." Although she couldn't

use her vampire powers without bringing on the bloodlust, her senses were still much more acute than a

human's.

"Eau de Ghoul? And I was just starting to enjoy it." Hugh nodded at her, switching from gentle humor to

gentle gravity as always. "You need to do what will keep your cover here. I shouldn't be so impatient."

Jez took the fastest shower of her life, then dressed in clean clothes she'd brought to the bathroom. As

she returned carrying a glassful of ice from the kitchen and a washcloth, she saw that Claire's bedroom

door was ajar and Claire was watching her narrowly.

Jez raised the glass in a mock toast, and slipped into her own bedroom.

"Here." She made an ice pack and handed it to Hugh. He accepted it docilely. "Now, what is it that's so

urgent? And how come you're so popular with ghouls all of a sudden?"

Instead of answering, Hugh looked into a middle distance. He was bracing himself for something. Finally

he lowered the ice pack and looked straight at her.

"You know I care about you. If anything happened to you, I don't know what I'd do. And if anything

happened because of me…" He shook his head.

Jez told her heart to get down where it belonged. It was pounding in her throat, choking her. She kept

her voice flat as she said, "Thanks."

Something like hurt flashed in his eyes and was gone instantly. "You don't think I mean it."

Jez still spoke flatly, in a clipped, hurried voice. She wasn't good at talking about emotional stuff. "Hugh,

look. You were my first human friend. When I came to live here, nobody at Circle Daybreak would have

anything to do with me. I don't blame them-not after the things my gang did to humans. But it was hard

because they wouldn't even talk to me, much less trust me, and they wouldn't believe I wanted to help

them. And then you showed up that day after school. And you did talk to me-"

"And I did trust you," Hugh said. "And I still do." He looked distant again. "I thought you were the

saddest person I'd ever seen, and the most beautiful-and the bravest. I knew you wouldn't betray Circle

Daybreak."

And that's why I love you, Jez thought before she could stop herself. It was easier to live with if she

didn't put it into words.

Because it was hopeless, of course. You couldn't hang on to an Old Soul. Nobody could-not unless

they were one of those tiny fraction of people who were soulmates. Wakened Old Souls were too…

old. They knew too much, had seen too much to get attached to any one person.

Much less a person who was tainted with vampire blood.

So all she said was "I know. That's why I work with Circle Daybreak. Because you convinced them I

wasn't some kind of spy for the Night World. I owe you, Hugh. And-I believe you care about me."

Because you care about everybody, she added silently.

Hugh nodded, but he didn't look any happier. "It's about something dangerous. Something I don't want

to ask you to do." He dug into his jeans pocket and came up with a thick packet of what looked like

folded newspaper articles. He held it out to her.

Jez took it, frowned, then paged through the first few articles. Headlines jumped out at her.

"'Four-year old dies in coyote attack.' 'Record heatwave in Midwest; hundreds hospitalized.' 'Mother

confesses: I killed my babies.' 'Mystery virus erupts in eastern U.S.: Scientists baffled.'"

There were lots more, but she didn't look at them. She looked at Hugh, her eyebrows drawn together.

"Thanks for sharing this. Am I supposed to fight the coyote or the virus?"

His lips smiled, but his eyes were bottomless and frighteningly sad. "Nobody can fight what's

happening-at least not in the ordinary way. And all that's just the beginning."

"Of what?" She loved Hugh, but sometimes she

wanted to strangle him. Old Souls loved being mysterious.

"Have you noticed the weather lately? It's either floods or droughts. Record cold days in winter, record

heat in the summer. Record number of hurricanes and tornadoes. Record snowfall and hail. It just gets

weirder and weirder every year."

"Well-sure." Jez shrugged. "They talk about it on TV all the time. But it doesn't mean any-"

"And the earth's being disturbed, too. Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Last year four dormant volcanoes

erupted and there were dozens of major quakes."

Jez narrowed her eyes. "Okay…"

"And there's another weird thing, even though it's not as obvious. You have to kind of dig a little to get to

the statistics. There's been an increase in animal attacks all over the world. All kinds of animals." He

tapped the pile of newspaper articles. "This coyote attack-a couple of years ago you never heard about

coyotes killing kids. Just like you never heard of mountain lions attacking adults. But now it's happening,

and it's happening everywhere."

Prickles of unease were going up Jez's arms. It was true, what Hugh was saying. Not that she'd paid

much attention to the human news when she was a vampire-but it did seem as if animal attacks were

getting more frequent.

"A bunch of elephants stomped their trainers last year," she said slowly.

"Dog attacks are up four hundred percent," Hugh said. "According to the California state police. In

New Mexico there's an epidemic of rabid bats. In Florida they've had seven tourists killed by alligators

since last January-and believe me, that information was hard to find. Nobody wanted to report it"

"I bet."

"Then there are the insects. We're seeing more and more people get attacked by them. Killer bees. Fire

ants. Tiger mosquitoes-and, no, I'm not joking. They're for real, and they carry dengue fever, a really

nasty disease."

"Hugh…"

"Which brings me to diseases. You have to have noticed that. There are new diseases popping up all

over. Ebola. Mad cow disease. That flesh-eating bacteria. Hanta viruses. Lassa. Crimean-Congo

hemorrhagic fever. You bleed from your ears and nose and mouth and into the whites of your eyes-"

Jez opened her mouth to say "Hugh" again, but he was racing on, his chest rising and falling quickly, his

gray eyes almost feverish.

"And they're resistant to antibiotics the same way that the insects are resistant to pesticides. They're all

mutating. Changing. Getting stronger and more deadly. And-"

"Hugh." She got it in while he took a breath.

"-there's a hole in the ozone." He looked at her. "What?"

"What does it all mean?"

It means that things are changing. Spiraling out of control. Heading for…" He stopped and looked

at her. "Jez, it's not those things themselves that are the problem. It's what's behind them." "And what is

behind them?" Hugh said simply, "The Old Powers are rising." Chills swept over Jez. The Old Powers.

The Ancient Magic that had controlled the universe in the old days of the Night World. No one could see

or know the Old Powers; they were forces of nature, not people. And they had been sleeping like giant

dragons for thousands of years ever since humans had gained control of the world. If they were waking

up again now…

If magic was coming back again, everything would change.

"It shows in different weird ways," Hugh went on. "Night People are getting more powerful. Lots of them

have noticed it. And they say the soulmate principle is back."

The soulmate principle. The idea that for every person there was one destined soulmate, one true love,

and that the two souls were bound for eternity. Jez lifted her shoulders and dropped them without

meeting Hugh's eyes. "Yeah, I heard. Don't believe it, though."

"I've seen it," Hugh said, and for a moment Jez's heart stopped. Then it started again as he continued, "In

other people, I mean. I've seen people our age who found their soulmate, and it's really true; you can see

it in their eyes. The Old Powers really are rising, Jez… for good and for evil. That's what's behind all

these other changes."

Jez sat very still. "And so what happens if they keep rising?"

"What happens is…" Hugh paused and then looked at her. "It means a time of darkness is coming," he

said simply.

"A time-?"

"Of serious darkness. The worst. We're talking the end of the world, here."

Jez could feel gooseflesh on the back of her neck, where her wet hair touched her skin. She might have

been tempted to laugh if it were anybody else telling her this. But it was Hugh, and he wasn't joking. She

had no desire to laugh.

"But then it's all over," she said. "There's nothing we can do. How can anybody stop the end of the

world?"

"Well." He ran a quick hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead. "That's why I'm here. Because

I'm hoping you can."

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