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Huntress (Chapter 7)

She emerged on the rooftop.

There was a sort of roof garden here-anyway, a lot of scraggly plants in large wooden tubs. There was

also some dirty patio furniture and other odds and ends. But the main feature was a small structure that

sat on the roof the way a house sits on a street.

Morgead's home. The penthouse. It was as stark and unlovely as the rest of the building, but it had a

great view and it was completely private. There were no other tall buildings nearby to look down on it.

Jez moved stealthily toward the door. Her feet made no noise on the pitted asphalt of the roof, and she

was in a state of almost painfully heightened awareness. In the old days sneaking up on

another gang member had been a game. You got to laugh at them if you could startle them, and they got

to be furious and humiliated.

Today it wasn't a game.

Jez started toward the warped wooden door-then stopped. Doors were trouble. Morgead would have

been an idiot not to have rigged it to alert him to intruders.

Cat-quiet, she headed instead for a narrow metal ladder that led to the roof of the wooden structure.

Now she was on the real top of the building. The only thing higher was a metal flagpole without a

She moved noiselessly across the new roof. At the far edge she found herself looking four stories straight

down. And directly below her there was a window.

An open window.

Jez smiled tightly.

Then she hooked her toes over the four-inch lip at the edge of the roof and dropped gracefully forward.

She grabbed the top of the window in mid-dive and hung suspended, defying gravity like a bat attached

upside down. She looked inside.

And there he was. Lying on a futon, asleep. He was sprawled on his back, fully clothed in jeans, high

boots, and a leather jacket. He looked good.

Just like the old days, Jez thought. When the gang would stay out all night riding their bikes and hunting

or fighting or partying, and then come home in the morning to scramble into clothes for school. Except

Morgead, who would smirk at them

and then collapse. He didn't have parents or relatives to keep him from skipping.

I'm surprised he's not wearing his helmet, too, she thought, pulling herself back up to the roof. She

picked up the fighting stick, maneuvered it into the window, then let herself down again, this time hanging

by her hands. She slid in without making a noise.

Then she went to stand over him.

He hadn't changed. He looked exactly as she remembered, except younger and more vulnerable

because he was asleep. His face was pale, making his dark hair seem even darker. His lashes were black

crescents on his cheeks.

Evil and dangerous, Jez reminded herself. It annoyed her that she had to remind herself of what

Morgead was. For some reason her mind was throwing pictures at her, scenes from her childhood while

she was living here in San Francisco with her Uncle Bracken.

A five-year-old Jez, with shorter red hair that looked as if it had never been combed, walking with a little

grimy-faced Morgead, hand in hand. An eight-year-old Jez with two skinned knees, scowling as a

businesslike Morgead pulled wood splinters out of her legs with rusty tweezers. A seven-year-old

Morgead with his face lit up in astonishment as Jez persuaded him to try the human thing called ice

cream….

Stop it, Jez told her brain flatly. You might as well give up, because it's no good. We were friends

then-well, some of the time-but we're enemies

now. He's changed. I've changed. He'd kill me in a second now if it would suit his purpose. And I'm

going to do what has to be done.

She backed up and poked him lightly with the stick. "Morgead."

His eyes flew open and he sat up. He was awake instantly, like any vampire, and he focused on her

without a trace of confusion. Jez had changed her grip on the stick and was standing ready in case he

went straight into an attack.

But instead, a strange expression crossed his face. It went from startled recognition into something Jez

didn't understand. For a moment he was simply staring at her, eyes big, chest heaving, looking as if he

were caught in between pain and happiness.

Then he said quietly, "Jez."

"Hi, Morgead."

"You came back."

Jez shifted the stick again. "Apparently."

He got up in one motion. "Where the hell have you been?"

Now he just looked furious, Jez noted. Which was easier to deal with, because that was how she

remembered him.

"I can't tell you," she said, which was perfectly true, and would also annoy the life out of him.

It did. He shook his head to get dark hair out of his eyes-it was always disheveled in the morning, Jez

remembered-and glared at her. He was standing easily: not in any attack posture, but with the relaxed

readiness that meant he could go flying in

any direction at any moment. Jez kept half her mind on watching his leg muscles.

"You can't tell me? You disappear one day without any kind of warning, without even leaving a note…

you leave the gang and me and just completely vanish and nobody knows where to find you, not even

your uncle .. . and now you reappear again and you can't tell me where you were?" He was working

himself into one of his Extremely Excited States, Jez realized. She was surprised; she'd expected him to

stay cooler and attack hard.

"What did you think you were doing, just cutting out on everybody? Did it ever occur to you that people

would be worried about you? That people would think you were dead?"

It didn't occur to me that anyone would care, Jez thought, startled. Especially not you. But she couldn't

say that. "Look, I didn't mean to hurt anybody. And I can't talk about why I went. But I'm back now-"

"You can't just come back!"

Jez was losing her calm. Nothing was going the way she'd expected; the things she'd scripted out to say

weren't getting said. "I know I can't just come back-"

"Because it doesn't work that way!" Morgead was pacing now, tossing hair out of his eyes again as he

turned to glare at her. "Blood in, blood out. Since you're apparently not dead, you abandoned us. You're

not allowed to do that! And you certainly can't expect to just walk back in and become my second

again-"

"I don't!" Jez yelled. She had to shut him up. "I have no intention of becoming your

second-in-command!" she said when he finally paused. "I came to challenge you as leader."

Morgead's jaw dropped.

Jez let her breath out. That wasn't exactly how she'd planned to say it. But now, seeing his shock, she

felt more in control. She leaned casually against the wall, smiled at him, and said smoothly, 'I was leader

when I left, remember."

"You… have got to be … joking." Morgead stared at her. "You expect to waltz back in here as

leader?"

"If I can beat you. I think I can. I did it once."

He stared for another minute, seeming beyond words. Then he threw back his head and laughed.

It was a scary sound.

When he looked at her again, his eyes were bright and hard. "Yeah, you did. I've gotten better since

then."

Jez said three words. "So have I."

And with that, everything changed. Morgead shifted position-only slightly, but he was now in a fighting

stance. Jez felt adrenaline flow through her own body. The challenge had been issued and accepted;

there was nothing more to say. They were now facing each other ready to fight.

And this she could deal with. She was much better at fighting than at playing with words. She knew

Morgead in this mood; his pride and his skill had been questioned and he was now absolutely determined

to win. This was very familiar.

Without taking his eyes from her, he reached out and picked a fighting stick from the rack behind him.

Japanese oak, Jez noted. Heavy, well-seasoned, resilient. Good choice.

The fire-hardened end was very pointy.

He wouldn't try to use that first, though. First, he would go for disarming her. The simplest way to do this

was to break the wrist of her dominant hand. After that he'd go for critical points and nerve centers. He

didn't play around at this.

A minute change in Morgead's posture alerted her, and then they were both moving.

He swung his stick up and down in a perfect arc, aiming for her right wrist. Jez blocked easily with her

own stick and felt the shock as wood clashed with wood. She instantly changed her grip and tried for a

trap, but he whipped his stick out of the way and was facing her again as if he'd never moved in the first

place.

He smiled at her.

He's right. He's gotten better. A small chill went through Jez, and for the first time she worried about her

ability to beat him.

Because I have to do it without killing him, she thought. She wasn't at all sure he had the same concern

about not killing her.

"You're so predictable, Morgead," she told him. "I could fight you in my sleep." She feinted toward his

wrist and then tried to sweep his legs out from underneath him.

He blocked and tried for a trap. "Oh, yeah? And you hit like a four-year-old. You couldn't take me

down if I stood here and let you."

They circled each other warily.

The snakewood stick was warm in Jez's hands. It was funny, some distant part of her mind thought

irrelevantly, how the most humble and lowly of human weapons was the most dangerous to vampires.

But it was also the most versatile weapon in the world. With a stick, unlike a knife or gun or sword, you

could fine-tune the degree of pain and injury you caused. You could disarm and control attackers, and-if

the circumstances required it-you could inflict pain without permanently injuring them.

Of course if they were vampires, you could also kill them, which you couldn't do with a knife or gun.

Only wood could stop the vampire heart permanently, which was why the fighting stick was the weapon

of choice for vampires who wanted to hurt each other… and for vampire hunters.

Jez grinned at Morgead, knowing it was not a particularly nice smile.

Her feet whispered across the worn oak boards of the floor. She and Morgead had practiced here

countless times, measuring themselves against each other, training themselves to be the best. And it had

worked. They were both masters of this most deadly weapon.

But no fight had ever mattered as much as this one.

"Next you're going to try for a head strike," she informed Morgead coolly. "Because you always do."

"You think you know everything. But you don't know me anymore. I've changed," he told her, just as

calmly-and went for a head strike.

"Psyche," he said as she blocked it and wood clashed with a sharp whack.

"Wrong." Jez twisted her stick sharply, got leverage on his, and whipped it down, holding it against his

upper thighs. "Trap." She grinned into his face.

And was startled for a moment. She hadn't been this close to him in a long time. His eyes-they were so

green, gem-colored, and full of strange light.

For just an instant neither of them moved; then-weapons down, their gazes connected. Their faces were

so close their breath mingled.

Then Morgead slipped out of the trap. "Don't try that stuff," he said nastily.

"What stuff?" The moment her stick was free of his, she snapped it up again, reversing her grip and

thrusting toward his eyes.

"You know what stuff!" He deflected her thrust with unnecessary force. "That I'm Jez and I'm so wild

and beautiful' stuff. That 'Why don't you just drop your stick and let me hit you because it'll be fun' stuff."

"Morgead… what are you… talking about?" In between the words she attacked, a strike to his throat

and then one to his temple. He blocked and evaded-which was just what she wanted. Evasion. Retreat.

She was crowding him into a corner.

"That's the only way you won before. Trying to play on people's feelings for you. Well, it won't work

anymore!" He countered viciously, but it didn't matter. Jez blocked with a whirlwind of strikes of her

own, pressing him, and then he had no choice but to retreat until his back was against the corner.

She had him.

She had no idea what he meant about playing on people's feelings, and she didn't have time to think

about it. Morgead was dangerous as a wounded tiger when he was cornered. His eyes were glowing

emerald green with sheer fury, and there was a hardness to his features that hadn't been there last year.

He does hate me, Jez thought. Hugh was wrong. He's hurt and angry and he absolutely hates me.

The textbook answer was to use that emotion against him, to provoke him and get him so mad that he

gave her an opening. Some instinct deep inside Jez was worried about that, but she didn't listen.

"Hey, all's fair, right?" she told him softly. "And what do you mean, it won't work? I've got you, haven't

I?" She flashed out a couple of quick attacks, more to keep him occupied than anything else. "You're

caught, and you're going to have to let down your guard sometime."

The green eyes that had been luminous with fury suddenly went cold. The color of glacier ice. "Unless I

do something unexpected," he said.

"Nothing you do is unexpected," she said sweetly.

But her mind was telling her that provoking him had been a mistake. She had hit some nerve, and he was

stronger than he'd been a year ago. He didn't lose his temper under pressure the way he'd used to. He

just got more determined.

Those green eyes unnerved her.

Move in hard, she thought. All out. Go for a pressure point. Numb his arm-

But before she could do anything, a wave of Power hit her.

It sent her reeling.

She'd never felt anything exactly like it. It came from Morgead, a Shockwave of telepathic energy that

struck her like a physical thing. It knocked her back two steps and made her struggle for balance. It left

the air crackling with electricity and a faint smell of ozone.

Jez's mind spun.

How had he done that?

"It's not hard," Morgead said in a calm, cold voice that went with his eyes. He was out of the corner by

now, of course. For a moment Jez thought he was reading her thoughts, but then she realized her

question must be written all over her face. 'It's something I discovered after you left," he went on. "All it

takes is practice."

If you're telepathic, Jez thought. Which I'm not anymore.

The Night People are getting stronger, developing more powers, she thought. Well, Hugh had been right

on that one.

And she was in trouble now.

Whack! That was Morgead going for a side sweep. He'd noticed her lack of balance. Jez countered

automatically, but her head wasn't clear and her body was ringing with pain. He'd shaken her, distracted

her.

"As you said, all's fair," Morgead said, with a small, cold smile on his lips. "You have your weapons. I

have mine."

And then he threw another of those Shockwaves at her. Jez was better braced for it now, but it still

rocked her on her feet, took her attention off her weapon-

Just long enough for her to screw up and let him in.

He drove upward to catch her stick from below. Then he twisted, sweeping her stick in a circle, forcing

her off balance again, trying to topple her backward. As Jez fought to recover, he struck to her elbow.

Hard.

Wham!

It was a different sound from the crisp whack when wood hit wood. This was softer, duller, the sound of

wood hitting flesh and bone.

Jez heard her own involuntary gasp of pain.

Fire shot up her arm, into her shoulder, and for a moment she lost her grip on the stick with her right

hand. She forced her fingers to close on it again, but they were numb. She couldn't feel what she was

holding.

She couldn't block properly with one arm useless.

And Morgead was advancing, that deadly cold

light in his eyes. Absolutely merciless. His movements were relaxed and easy; he knew exactly what he

was doing now.

Two more whacks and he got through her guard again. The oak stick slammed into her ribs and she felt

another wave of sickening pain. Gray dots danced in front of her eyes.

Fractured? Jez wondered briefly. She hoped not. Vampires could break each other's ribs in fun and

know that everything would heal in a day or two. But Jez wouldn't recover like that. Morgead might kill

her without even meaning to.

She couldn't let him keep striking her-but she couldn't retreat, either. If he got her into a corner, she'd be

lost.

Whack-wham. He got her on the knee. Pain sparked up and down her leg, lighting every nerve. She had

no choice but to back up. He was crowding her relentlessly, forcing her to the wall.

Morgead flashed a smile at her. Not the cold smile. This one was brilliant, and very familiar to Jez. It

made him look devastatingly handsome, and it meant that he was in absolute command of the situation.

"You can give up anytime, now," he said. "Because I'm going to win and we both know it."

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