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The Chosen (Chapter 10)

Or not to meet them so much as graze past them, before concentrating on his chin. She didn't dare stare

directly into them for long.

"Maybe she is from another planet," Quinn was saying to the girl. "Maybe she's not human. Maybe I'm

not, either."

That's right, Rashel thought. Make fun of them by telling them a truth they won't believe.

But, she noticed, Quinn looked more as if he didn't care what they found out than as if he were mocking

them. "Maybe she's from another world. Did you ever think of that?"

Rashel was confused again. Quinn seemed to be trying to get himself killed. He appeared to be verging

on telling these girls about the Night World, and under the laws of the Night World, that was punishable

by death.

You're really slipping, Rashel thought. First the slave trade, now this. I thought you were supposed to be

such a stickler for the law.

"There are darker dimensions," Quinn was confiding to the group, "than you have ever imagined. But,

you see, it's all part of life's grand design, so it's all right. Did you know"-he put his arm around a girl's

shoulders, gesturing outward as if inviting her to look at some horizon-"that there's a certain kind of wasp

that lays its eggs in the body of a caterpillar? A live caterpillar. And it stays alive, you see, while the eggs

hatch and the little waspettes eat it from the inside out. Now, who do you think invented that?"

Rashel wondered if vampires could get drunk.

"That would probably be the most horrible way to die," Daphne chimed in, her musical voice ghoulish.

"Being eaten by insects. Or maybe being burned."

"It would probably depend on how fast you burned," Quinn said meditatively. "A flash of fire-high

enough temperature-you bum the nerves out in the first few seconds. Slow baking would be different."

"I'm writing a poem about fire," Rashel said. She was surprised to find that she was annoyed because

Quinn didn't really seem to have noticed her. On second thought, she should be annoyed; her plan

depended on him not only noticing but choosing her.

She was going to have to capture his attention.

"Do you have it with you?" Daphne was asking helpfully.

"No, but I can tell you the beginning," Rashel said. She braced herself to look at Quinn as she

recited:

"There's warmth in ice; there's cooling peace in fire,

And midnight light to show us all the way. The dancing flame becomes a funeral pyre; The Dark was

more enticing than the Day."

Quinn blinked. Then he smiled, and he looked Rashel over, dearly taking notice of the velvet jumpsuit

and ending with her face. He looked everywhere… except into her eyes.

"That's right; you've got it," he said with that same brittle exhilaration. "And there's plenty of dark out

there for everyone."

Rashel's worry that he might look too deep if he met her gaze was groundless. Quinn didn't seem to be

really seeing anybody here.

"There is plenty of darkness," Rashel said. She moved toward him, feeling strangely brave. Her instincts

sensed a weakness in him, a flaw. "It's everywhere. It's inescapable. So the only thing we can do is

embrace it." She was standing right in front of him now, looking at his mouth. "If we hold it dose, it won't

hurt so much."

"Well. Exactly." Quinn showed his teeth, but it wasn't the manic smile. It was a grimace. He didn't look

happy anymore; suddenly, for just an instant, he looked tired and sick. He was almost leaning away from

Rashel.

"I came here so I could do that," Rashel said in a sultry voice. She was scaring herself a little. In the

name of the charade, she was doing everything she could to seduce him-but it was surprisingly easy and

surprisingly enjoyable. There was a sort of tingling all over her body, as if the jumpsuit had picked up a

charge.

"I came to look for the darkness," she said. Softly.

Quinn laughed abruptly. The feverish good humor came flooding back. "And you found it," he said. He

went on laughing and laughing, and he reached out to touch Rashel's cheek.

Don't let him touch you!

The thought flashed through Rashel's mind and communicated to her muscles in an instant. Without

knowing how she knew, she was certain that if he touched her, it would all be over. It was skin-to-skin

contact that had nearly fried every circuit in her brain before.

She danced back from his fingertips and smiled teasingly, while her heart tried to pound its way out of

her chest.

"This place is so crowded," she said throatily.

"Huh? Oh. Then why don't we schedule something more private? I could pick you up tomorrow night.

Say seven o'clock in the parking lot."

Bingo.

"But Quinn." It was Daphne, looking aggrieved.

"You told me to meet you tomorrow." She trembled her chin.

Quinn stared at her, and for once, Rashel could read his face easily. He was thinking that anybody that

stupid deserved it.

"Well, you can both come," he said expansively. "Why not? The more the merrier."

He walked away laughing and laughing.

Rashel watched him go, resisting an impulse to shake her head. She'd done it; she'd passed the last test

and been chosen. So why was her heart still pounding?

She glanced out of the side of her eye at Daphne. "Well, I don't know about anybody else, but I've had

enough excitement for tonight." She went to get her coat, with the rest of Quinn's coterie glaring jealously

after her.

She had one enjoyable experience on the way out. Ivan, still slouching, tried to stop her at the door.

"Shelly, hey. I thought we were going to get to know each other better."

Rashel didn't need him anymore; she had her invitation. "I'd rather get to know a head louse," she said in

her sweet chatty voice, and she stepped on his foot hard with her high heel.

In the car, she waited a full twenty minutes, watching the front of the club, before Daphne joined her.

"Sorry, but I didn't want anybody to think we were leaving together."

"You did a great job," Rashel said, driving away. "You even managed to get both of us invited to meet

Quinn together-that was dangerous, but it worked. The only thing that surprised me is that he invited us in

front of everybody. Is that how he did it before?"

"No. Not at all. Last time, he sort of whispered it to me when nobody was around. But, you know,

nothing was normal tonight. I mean, he usually asks new girls questions-I guess to figure out if they have

families who'll miss them. And he isn't usually that-that…"

"Manic?"

"Yeah. I wonder what's going on with him?"

Rashel pressed her lips together and stared straight ahead through the windshield.

"You sure you want to go through with this?"

It was Sunday night and they were nearing the parking lot of the Crypt.

"I've told you and told you," Daphne said. "I'm ready. I can do it."

"Okay. But, listen, if there's any trouble, I want you to run. Run away from the club and don't look back

for me. All right?"

Daphne nodded. At Rashel's suggestion, she was wearing something more sensible tonight: black pants

heavy enough to provide some warmth, a dark sweater, and shoes she could run in. Rashel was dressed

the same way, except that she was wearing high boots. The knife was in one.

"You go first," Rashel said, parking a street away from the club. "I'll come in a minute."

She watched Daphne walk away, hoping she wasn't going to get this little blond bunny killed.

She herself was the danger. Quinn was going to use mind control on them to get them to go to the

warehouse quietly. And Rashel wasn't sure what would happen when he did it.

Just don't let him touch you, she told herself. You can carry it off as long as he doesn't touch you.

Five minutes later, she started toward the Crypt.

Quinn was in the dark parking lot, standing by a silvery-gray Lexus. As Rashel reached the car, she saw

the pale blob of Daphne's face through the window.

"I almost thought you weren't coming." There was now a sort of savagery mixed in with Quinn's lunatic

good humor. As if he was angry she wasn't smart enough to save herself.

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world." Rashel kept her eyes on the car. She wanted to get this over

with. "Are we going somewhere?"

There was that tiny hesitation that seemed to come every time she spoke to him, as if it were taking him

a minute to focus. Or as if he were trying to figure something out, she thought nervously.

Then he answered smoothly, "Oh, right, get in."

Rashel got in. She glanced once at Daphne in the back seat. Daphne said, "What's up?" in a chirpy voice

laced with feminine rivalry.

Good girl.

Quinn was getting in the driver's side. Once the door was shut, he turned the engine on to run the heater.

The windows immediately began to fog.

Rashel sat in a state of continuing mind, ready for the unexpected at any moment.

Only the unexpected didn't come. Nothing came. Quinn was just sitting there in the driver's seat.

Watching her.

With a sudden void in her stomach that threatened her zanshin, Rashel realized that it was too dark. Too

familiar. They were sitting here together in silence, so close, visible to each other only in silhouette, just as

they had in the cellar. She could almost feel Quinn's confusion as he tried to figure out what was

bothering him.

And Rashel was afraid to say anything, afraid that her chirpiest voice wouldn't be a good-enough

disguise. The horrible feeling of connection was mounting, like some giant green wave looming over them

both. In a moment it would break, and Quinn would say, "I know you," and switch on the light to see the

face without the veil.

Rashel's fingers edged toward her knife.

Then, through the electric buzzing in her ears, she heard Daphne say, "You know, I just love this car. I

bet it goes really fast, too. This is all so exciting-I'm just so glad I got here this time. Not like last week."

She went on, blathering easily, while Rashel sank back lightheaded with relief. The connection was

broken; Quinn was now looking at his instrument

panel as if trying to escape the chatter. And now Daphne was talking about how exciting it was to ride in

the dark.

Smart, smart girl.

Quinn had to interrupt her to say, "So, you two girls want to surrender to the darkness?" He said it as if

he were asking if they wanted to order pizza.

"Yes," Rashel said.

"Oh, yes," Daphne said. "It's just like we always say. I think that would be just the most seriously cool-"

Quinn made a gesture at her as if to say, "For God's sake, shut up." Not a rough gesture. It was more

like an exasperated choir director trying to get through to some soprano who wouldn't stop at the end of

the measure. Stop here.

And Daphne shut up.'

Like that.

As if he'd turned off a switch in her. Rashel twisted slightly to look at the backseat and saw that Daphne

had slumped to one side, body limp, her breathing peaceful.

Oh, God, Rashel thought. She was used to the kind of mind control other vampires had tried on her. The

persuasive, whispery-voice-in-the-head type. And when Quinn hadn't tried to use that, or to call for help

in the cellar, she'd assumed he was low on telepathy.

Now she knew the truth. He packed a telepathic punch like a pile driver. No, like a karate blow: swift,

precise, and deadly.

He turned to look at her, a dark shape against a lighter darkness. Rashel tried to brace herself.

"And the rest is silence," Quinn said, and gestured at her.

Rashel fell into a void.

She woke up as she was being carried into the warehouse. She had enough presence of mind not to

open her eyes or make any other sign that she was conscious. It was Quinn carrying her; she could tell

even with her eyes shut.

When he dumped her on a mattress, she deliberately fell so that her head was turned away from him and

her hair was over her face.

She had a moment's fear that he was going to discover the knife in her boot when he shackled her

ankles. But he didn't even roll up her pant leg. He seemed to be doing everything as quickly as possible,

without really paying attention.

Rashel heard the shackle snap shut. She kept perfectly still.

She lay and listened as he brought Daphne in and chained her. Then she heard voices close by and the

sound of other footsteps.

"Put that one down here-what happened to her purse?" That was Lily.

"It's still in the car." Ivan.

"Okay, bring it in with the other one. I'll do her feet."

Thump of a body hitting a mattress. Footsteps going away. The metallic clink of chains. Then a sigh from

Lily. Rashel could imagine her straightening up and looking around in satisfaction.

"Well, that's it. Ivan's got number twenty-four in the car. I guess we're going to have one very happy

client."

"Joy," Quinn said flatly.

Twenty-four? One client?

"I'll leave a message that everything's going to be ready for the big day."

"Do that."

"You're awfully moody, you know. It's not just me who's noticed it."

A pause, and Rashel imagined Quinn giving one of his black looks. "I was just thinking it was ironic. I

turned down a job as a slave trader once. That was before. Do you remember before, Lily? When we

lived in Charlestown and your sister Dove was still alive. A captain from Marblehead asked if I wanted

to ship out to Guinea for some human cargo. Black gold, I think he called it. As I remember, I hit him on

the nose. And Fight-the-Good-fight-for-Faith Johnson reported me for brawling."

"Quinn, what's wrong with you?"

"Just reminiscing about the old days in the sunlight. Of course, you wouldn't know about that, would

you? You're lamia; you were born this way. Technically, I suppose, you were born dead."

"And technically, I suppose, you're going peculiar. My father always said it would happen."

"Yes, and I wonder what your father would think about all this? His daughter selling humans for

money. And to such a client, and for such a reason-"

At that moment, while Rashel was listening desperately, hanging on every word, heavy footsteps

interrupted. Ivan had returned. Quinn broke off, and he and Lily remained silent as another body

thumped on a bed.

Rashel cursed mentally. What client? What reason? She'd supposed the girls were being sold as regular

house slaves or food supplies. But clearly that wasn't the case.

And then something happened that drove thoughts of the future right out of her mind. She heard

footsteps next to her bed, and she was aware of someone leaning close. Not Quinn, the smell was

wrong.

Ivan.

A rough hand grabbed her hair and pulled her head back. Another arm slid under her waist, lifting her

up.

Panic shot through Rashel, and she tried to push it away. She forced herself to stay limp, eyes shut, arms

dangling passively.

I ought to have been prepared for this.

She'd realized from the beginning that playing her part might include allowing herself to get bitten. To feel

vampire teeth on her throat, to allow them to spill her blood.

But it bad never happened to her before, and it took every ounce of her will to keep from fighting. She

was scared. Her arched throat felt exposed and

vulnerable, and she could feel a pulse beating in it wildly.

"What are you doing?"

Quinn's voice was sharp as the crack of glacier ice. Rashel felt Ivan go still.

"I've got something to settle with this girl. She's a smartass."

"Take your hands off her. Before I knock you through the wall."

"Quinn-" Lily said.

Quinn's voice was painfully distinct. "Drop her. Now."

Ivan dropped Rashel.

"He's right," Lily said coolly. "They're not for you, Ivan, and they have to be in perfect shape."

Ivan muttered something sullen and Rashel heard footsteps moving away. She lay and listened to her

heart slowly calming.

"I'm going to get some sleep," Quinn said, sounding flat and dull.

"See you Tuesday," lily said.

Tuesday, Rashel thought. Great. It's going to be a very long two days.

They were the most boring two days of her life. She got to know every corner of the small

glass-windowed office. The windows were a problem, since she was never absolutely sure if Lily or Ivan

were outside one of them, standing in the warehouse proper and looking through. She listened carefully

for the warehouse doors, froze instantly at any suspicious sound, and trusted to luck.

Daphne woke up Monday morning. Rashel had her neck twisted sideways and was staring through the

office glass up at the one tiny window set high in the warehouse wall. Just as it turned gray with dawn,

Daphne sat up and screamed.

"Sh! It's all right! You're here in the warehouse with me."

"Rashel?"

"Yeah. We made it. And I'm glad you're awake."

"Are we alone?"

"More or less," Rashel said. "There are two other girls, but they're both hypnotized. You'll see when it

gets lighter."

Daphne let out her breath. "Wow… we did it. That's great. So how come I'm so completely and utterly

terrified?"

"Because you're a smart girl," Rashel said grimly. "Just wait until Tuesday when they take us out."

"Take us out where?"

"That's the question."

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