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The Chosen (Chapter 12)

The voice was shrill, almost hysterical.

Unbalanced, Rashel thought dazedly, looking around. The sound of her secret being yelled out loud

stunned her.

But just for an instant. The next moment she was moving swiftly between the rows of girls, looking for…

"Nyala!"

"I know why you're here!" Nyala sat up tensely. She looked just as she had when Rashel had seen her

last, cocoa skin, queenly head, wide haunted eyes. She was even dressed in the same dark clothes she'd

been wearing the night they caught Quinn.

"You're here because you were in on it all along! You pretend to be a vampire hunter-"

"Shut up!" Rashel said desperately. Nyala was shouting loud enough to be heard on the other side

of the door. She knelt on Nyala's bed. "I'm not pretending, Nyala."

"Then how come you're free and we're all chained up? You're on their side! You call yourself the Cat-"

Rashel clamped a hand over her mouth.

"Listen to me," she hissed. Her heart was pounding. All the girls around her were staring and she

expected to hear the cellar door open at any moment. "Nyala, listen. I know you don't like me or trust

me-but you've got to stop yelling that. We may only have one chance to get out of here."

Nyala's chest was heaving. Her eyes, the color of dark plums, stared into Rashel's.

"I am a vampire hunter," Rashel whispered, willing Nyala to believe it. "I made a mistake letting that

vampire go that night… I admit it. But I've been trying ever since to put things right. I got captured on

purpose so I could find out what was going on here-and now I'm going to try to get all these girls free."

She spoke slowly and distinctly, hoping Nyala could sense the truth of her words. "But, Nyala, if the

Night People find out I'm a vampire hunter-much less the Cat-they are going to take me out and kill me

right this minute. And then I don't think the rest of you have a chance."

She stopped to breathe. "I know it's hard to trust me. But please, please try. Do you think you can do

that?"

A long pause. Nyala's eyes searched hers. Then, at last, Nyala nodded.

Rashel took her hand off Nyala's mouth. She sat back on the bed and they stared at each other.

"Thank you," Rashel said. "I'm going to need your help." Then she shook her head. "But how did you get

here? How did you find the club?"

"I didn't find any club. I went back to that street with the warehouses on Wednesday. I thought maybe

the vampire might come back. And then-somebody grabbed me from behind."

"Oh, Nyala." Wednesday night, Rashel thought. The night Daphne saw Ivan carry in a new girl and put

her on a cot. That girl was Nyala. Rashel put a hand to her head. "Nyala-I almost saved you. I was there

the next night-when Daphne fell out of the truck. Do you remember that? If I had only known…"

Nyala wasn't listening. "Then there was this whisper in my mind, telling me to sleep. And I couldn't

move-I couldn't move my arms or my legs. But I wasn't asleep. And then he carried me into a warehouse

and he bit me." Her voice was detached, almost pleasant. But her eyes froze Rashel in place.

"He bit me in the neck and I knew I was going to die, just like my sister. I could feel the blood coming

out. I wanted to scream but I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything." She smiled oddly at Rashel. "I'll tell

you a secret. It's still there, the bite. You can't see it, but it's still there." She turned her head to show a

smooth unblemished neck.

"Oh, God, Nyala." Rashel had felt awkward trying to make gestures of comfort with Daphne, but

now she didn't think. She just grabbed Nyala and hugged her hard.

"Listen to me," she said fiercely. "I know how you feel. I mean-no, I don't know, because it hasn't

happened to me. But I'm sorry. And I know how you felt when you lost your sister." She leaned back

and looked at Nyala, almost shaking her. "But we have to keep fighting. That's what's important right

now. We can't let them win. Right?"

"Yes…" Nyala looked slowly around her bed, then up at Rashel. "Yes, that's right." Her eyes seemed

to sharpen and focus.

"I'm making a plan to get out of here. And you have to stay calm and help me."

"Yes." Nyala sounded more definite this time. Then she smiled almost serenely and whispered, "And

we'll get our revenge."

"Yeah." Rashel pressed her hand. "Somehow, we will. I promise you."

She walked back to her cot feeling eyes on her, although nobody asked any questions. Her own eyes

were stinging.

What had happened to Nyala was her fault. The girl had already been on the edge, and because of

Rashel, she'd gotten herself caught and attacked by a vampire. And now…

Now Rashel was worried about Nyala's sanity, even if they did manage to get off the island.

She's right about one thing, though, Rashel thought. Revenge. It's the only way to wipe out the things that

have been done to these girls.

The fire in her chest was back-as if there were coals where her throat and heart ought to be. She let it

harden her and burn away any stray thoughts of mercy for Quinn. Strange how she kept having thoughts

of him, long after she'd made the resolution to kill him.

"Is she okay?" Daphne said worriedly. "I remember her from the warehouse."

"I know." Rashel took the lockpick and sat on Daphne's cot. She began to work at Daphne's shackles.

"I don't know if she's okay. The vampires haven't been living in harmony with her." She glanced bitterly at

Fayth, who just looked back gravely and steadily.

"Nobody thinks all the Night People are good," Fayth said. "Or all the humans. We don't approve of

violence. We want to stop it all."

"Well, sometimes it takes violence to stop violence," Rashel said shortly. Fayth didn't answer.

"But why was she calling you a cat?" Daphne asked.

Rashel could feel Fayth's gaze on her. "The Cat. It's the name of a vampire hunter, one who's killed a lot

of vampires."

Daphne's dark blue eyes widened slightly. "Is it you?"

Rashel sprung a lock. Somehow, with these two girls staring at her, she didn't feel quite so brash as she

had a moment ago. She didn't feel terribly proud of being the Cat.

Without looking up, she said, "Yes." Then she glanced behind her at Fayth.

Fayth said nothing.

"There's going to be more killing before this is all done," Rashel said. "And I can't think of anybody who

deserves it more than the vampires who brought us here. So you let me take care of that, and we won't

argue about it. All right?" She sprung the other lock on Daphne's shackles. Daphne immediately stretched

her legs luxuriously, then swung them to the floor. Fayth just nodded slowly.

"All right, then. Listen. The first thing we've got to do is get these girls organized." Rashel moved to work

on Fayth's chains. "You're both good talkers. I want the two of you to go around and talk to them

individually. I want to know who's going to be able to help us and who's still under mind control. I want

to know who's going to be a problem. And I especially want to know who has any experience with

boats."

"Boats?" Fayth said.

"No place on this island is safe. We have to get off. There are four boats in the harbor right now- if we

can just find somebody to handle them." She looked from Daphne to Fayth. "I want you to bring me

back at least two sensible girls who have some chance of not sinking a powerboat. Got it?"

Daphne and Fayth glanced at each other. They nodded. "Right, boss," Daphne murmured, and they

started off.

Rashel sat, weighing a chain in her hand and

thinking. There was no need to tell Daphne-yet-that she didn't plan to ship out with the boats.

Half an hour later Daphne and Fayth stood before her beaming. At least Daphne was beaming; Fayth

was wearing that grave smile that was starting to drive Rashel crazy.

"Allow me to introduce Annelise," Daphne said, leading Rashel to a cot. "Originally a native of Denmark.

She's done the race circuit in Antigua-whatever that means. Anyway, she says she can handle a boat."

The girl in the cot was one of the oldest there, eighteen or nineteen. She was blond, long-legged, and

built like a Valkyrie. Rashel liked her at once. "And this is Keiko over here," Fayth said in her simple

way. "She's young, but she says she grew up around boats."

This one Rashel wasn't so sure about. She was tiny, with hair like black silk and a rosette mouth. She

looked like a collector's doll. "How old are you?"

"Thirteen," Keiko said softly. "But I was born on Nantucket. My parents have a Ciera Sunbridge. I think

I can do what you're asking-it's just the navigation that worries me."

"There isn't anybody else," Daphne stage-whispered in Rashel's ear. "So my advice is we trust the kid."

"I think the navigation will be straight west," Rashel said. She smiled reassuringly at Keiko. "Anyway,

even the open ocean will be safer than here." She gestured to Daphne and Fayth to come back to their

corner.

"Okay. Good job. You're right about trusting the kid; I don't think we have any other choice. We

definitely need two boats for all these girls. What else did you find out?"

"Well, the ones that are still under mind control are the ones that came with us," Daphne said. "Juanita

and Missy. And the one that might cause trouble is your buddy Nyala. She's not completely hinged, if

you know what I mean."

Rashel nodded. "The mind control may be a problem-how long did it take to wear off the others,

Fayth?"

"A day or so after they came in. But that's not the only problem, Rashel. Annelise and Keiko think they

can handle the boats-but not tonight. Not until tomorrow."

"We can't wait until tomorrow," Rashel said impatiently. "That's cutting it way too fine."

"I don't think we have a choice. Rashel, all these girls are tranquilized. Drugged."

Rashel blinked. "How-?" She shut her eyes. "Oh."

"The food," Fayth said, as Rashel nodded in resignation. "I realized right off that there was something in

it. I think most of the girls know-and they'd rather be tranquilized than think about what's happening to

them."

Rashel rubbed her forehead wearily. No wonder the girls hadn't asked her any questions. No wonder

they weren't all screaming their heads off. They were doped to the gills.

"From now on we've got to keep them from eating," she said. "They need clear heads if we're going to

escape." She looked at Fayth. "Okay. We wait. But that's going to make everything more dangerous.

How often do they bring food in here?"

"Twice a day. Late morning and around eight at night. And then they take us to the bathroom two by

two."

"Who does it?"

"Rudi. Sometimes he has another werewolf with him."

Daphne bit her lip anxiously. "Are we equipped for werewolves?"

Rashel smiled. Holding her knife, she pulled the decorative knob at the end of the sheath. It came off,

revealing a metal blade. She reversed the knob and stuck it in the end of the sheath, so the blade stuck

out like a bayonet. The hard wooden sheath itself was now a weapon.

"The blade is silver-coated steel," she said in satisfaction. "We are equipped for werewolves."

"You see?" Daphne said to Fayth. "This girl thinks of everything."

Rashel put the knife away. "All right. Let's talk to everybody again. I want to explain my plan. When we

do this tomorrow night, it's going to take cooperation and precision."

And, she thought, a lot of luck.

"Chow time!"

Rudi walked between the rows of cots, tossing packages from a plastic bag to either side of him. He

looked, Rashel thought, exactly like a trainer throwing herring to seals.

She scanned the aisle behind him. No other werewolf at the door. Good.

It had been a long night and a longer day. The girls were dizzy from lack of food, keyed up, and getting

more tense with each untranquilized hour. A couple of them couldn't seem to shake their first impression

of Rashel-which had come from Nya-la's yelling.

"Eat up, girlies. Got to keep up your strength." A slightly warm foil package hit Rashel's lap, another hit

the mattress. Same thing as brunch-hot dogs of the kind you get at a convenience store. Smeared with

mustard and drugs. The girls had been surviving on the grapefruit juice he'd poured for them.

As Rudi turned to throw a package to Juanita, Rashel rose smoothly from her cot. In one motion she

leaped and came down right on target.

"Don't make a sound," she said in Rudi's ear. "And don't even think about changing."

She had his arm twisted behind his back and the silver knife to his throat. Rudi didn't seem to know how

he'd gotten there. There were hot dogs all over the floor.

"Now," Rashel said. "Let's talk about jujitsu. This is what you call a proper hold. Resistance to it will

cause serious pain and quite possibly a fractured joint. Are you getting this, Rudi?" Rudi wiggled a little

and Rashel exerted pressure upward on his knuckles. Rudi yelped and danced on his toes.

"Hush! What I want to know is, where is the other werewolf?"

"Guarding the dock."

"Who else is on the dock?"

"I-nobody."

"Is there anybody on the stairs or in the kitchen? Don't lie to me, Rudi, or I'll get annoyed."

"No. They're all in the gathering room."

Rashel nodded at Daphne. Daphne jumped out of her bed.

"Remember-quick and quiet everybody," she said, like a cheerleader who'd been promoted to drill

sergeant.

Rashel felt Rudi boggle as every girl in the room kicked off her covers and stood up free.

"What the-what the-"

"Now, Rudi." Keeping his elbow trapped against her, Rashel exerted pressure again, moving him easily

in the direction she wanted. "You go first. You're going to unlock the top door for us."

"Annelise and Keiko in front," Daphne said. "Missy right here. Let's go."

"I can't unlock it. I can't. They'll kill me," Rudi muttered, as Rashel moved him up the stairs.

"Rudi, look at these young women." Rashel swung him around so he had a good view of the prisoners

behind him. They stood in one tense,

dear-eyed, lightly breathing mass. "Rudi, if you don't unlock that door, I am going to tie you up and leave

you alone with them… and this silver knife. I promise, whatever the vampires do to you won't be

worse."

Rudi stared at the girls, who stared back at him. All ages, all sizes, united.

"I'll unlock the door."

"Good boy."

He fumbled getting the door open. When it was done, Rashel pushed him through first, looking tensely

around. If there were vampires here, she had to change tactics fast.

The kitchen was empty-and music was blasting from somewhere inside the house. Rashel gave a quick

savage grin. It was a lucky break she wouldn't have dared to pray for. The music might just save these

girls' lives.

She pulled Rudi out of the way and nodded to Daphne.

Daphne stood at the head of the stairs, silently waving the girls out. Fayth led the way with the Valkyrie

Annelise and the tiny Keiko behind her. The other girls hurried past, and Rashel was proud of how quiet

they were.

"Now," she whispered, pushing Rudi back into the stairwell. "One last question. Who's throwing the

bloodfeast?"

Rudi shook his head.

"Who hired you? Who bought the slaves? Who's the client, Rudi?"

"I don't know! I'm telling you! Nobody knows who hired us. It was all done on the phone!"

Rashel hesitated. She wanted to keep questioning him-but right now the important thing was to get the

girls off the island.

Daphne was still waiting in the kitchen, watching Rashel.

Rashel looked at her and then helplessly at Rudi's bushy brown head. She should kill him. It was the only

smart thing to do, and it was what she'd planned to do. He was a conspirator in the plan to brutally

murder twenty-four teenage girls-and he enjoyed it.

But Daphne was watching. And Fayth would give her that look if she heard Rashel had done him in.

Rashel let out her breath. "Sleep tight," she said, and hit Rudi on the head with the hilt of her knife.

He slumped unconscious and she shut the cellar door on him. She turned quickly to Daphne. "Let's go."

Daphne almost skipped ahead of her. They went out the back door and picked up the hiking path.

Rashel moved swiftly, loping across the beaten-down wild grass. She caught up to the string of girls.

"That's it, Missy," she whispered. "Nice and quiet. Nyala, you're limping; does your leg hurt? A little

faster, everybody."

She made her way up to the front. "Okay, Annelise and Keiko. When we get there, I'll take care of the

guard. Then you know what to do."

"Find which boats we can handle. Destroy whatever we can on the others and set them adrift. Then each

take half the girls and head west," Annelise said.

"Right. If you can't make it to land, do your best and then call the Coast Guard."

"But not right away," Keiko put in. "Lots of islanders use ship-to-shore radio instead of telephones. The

vampires may be monitoring it."

Rashel squeezed her shoulder. "Smart girl. I knew you were right for the job. And remember, if you do

call the Coast Guard, don't give the right name of the boat and don't mention this island." It was perfectly

possible that there were Night People in the Coast Guard.

They were almost at the bottom of the cliff, and so far no alarms had sounded. Rashel scanned the

moving group again, then became aware that Daphne was behind her.

"Everything okay?"

"So far," Daphne said breathlessly. She added, "You're good at this, you know. Encouraging them and

all."

Rashel shook her head. "I'm just trying to keep them together until they're not my problem anymore."

Daphne smiled. "I think that's what I just said."

The wharf was below them, the boats bobbing quietly. The ocean was calm and glassy. Silver moonlight

gave the scene a postcard look. Ye Olde Quaint Marina, Rashel thought.

She loped to the front again. "Stay behind me all of you." She added to Daphne, "I'll show you what I'm good at."

A few feet of rocks and sand and she was on the wharf. Eyes on the shack, knife ready, she moved

silently. She wanted to take care of the werewolf without noise, if possible.

Then a dark shape came hustling out of the shack into the moonlight. It took one look at Rashel and

threw back its head to howl.

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