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The Chosen (Chapter 13)

Rashel knew she had to stop the guard before he could make a sound. The vampires' mansion was on

the farther cliffs, overlooking open sea rather than the harbor, and the music ought to help drown outside

noises-but the greatest danger was still that they would be heard before the girls could get away.

She launched herself at the werewolf, throwing a front snap kick to his chest. She could hear the air

whoosh out as he fell backward. Good. No breath for howling. She landed with both knees on top of him.

"This is silver," she hissed, pressing the blade against his throat. "Don't make a noise or I'll use it."

He glared at her. He had shaggy hair and eyes that were already half-animal.

"Is there anybody on the boats?" When he didn't answer, she pressed the silver knife harder. "Is there?"

He snarled a breathless "No." His teeth were turning, too, spiking and lengthening.

"Don't change-" Rashel began, but at that moment he decided to throw her off. He heaved once,

violently.

A snap of her wrist would have plunged the silver blade into his throat even as she fell. Instead Rashel

rolled backward in a somersault, tucking in her head and ending up on her right knee. Then, as the

werewolf jumped at her, she slammed the sheathed knife upward against his jaw.

He fell back unconscious.

Too bad, I wanted to ask him about the client. Rashel looked shoreward, to see that Daphne, Annelise,

and Nyala were on the pier with her. They were each holding a rock or a piece of wood broken from the

jagged pilings of the wharf.

They were going to help me, Rashel thought. She felt oddly warmed by it.

"Okay," she said rapidly. "Annelise and Keiko, with me. Everybody else, stay. Daphne, keep watch."

In a matter of minutes she and the boating girls had checked the boats and found two with features they

thought they could handle… and with fuel. Anne-lise had removed a couple of crucial engine pieces out

of the others.

"Took out the impellers and the solenoids," she told Rashel mysteriously, holding out a grimy hand.

"Good. Let's set them adrift. Everybody else, get yourself on a boat. Find a place to sit fast and sit

down." Rashel moved to the back of the group where Fayth had her arms around a couple of the girls

who looked scared of setting out on the dark ocean. "Come on, people." She meant to herd them in front

of her like chickens.

That was when it happened.

Rashel had an instant's warning-the faint crunch of sand on rock behind her. And then something hit her

with incredible force in the middle of the back. It knocked her down and sent her knife flying.

Worse, it sent her mind reeling in shock. She hadn't been prepared. That instant's warning hadn't been

enough-because she had already lost zanshin.

She no longer had the gift of continuing mind. She had lost her single purpose. In the old days she'd been

fixed on one thing-to kill the Night People. There had been no hesitation, no confusion.

But now… she'd already faltered twice tonight, knocking the werewolves unconscious instead of killing

them. She was confused, uncertain. And, as a result, unprepared.

And now I'm dead, she thought. Her numbed mind was desperately trying to recover and come up with

a strategy.

But there was a wild snarling in her ear and a trail of hot pain down her back. Animal claws. There was

a wolf on top of her.

Rudi had gotten loose.

Rashel gathered herself and bucked to throw the wolf off. He slipped and she tried to roll out from under

him, arms up to keep her throat protected. The werewolf was too heavy-and too angry. He scrambled

over her rolling body like a lumberjack on a log. His snarling muzzle kept darting for her throat in quick

lunges. Rashel could see his bushy coat standing on end.

She felt fire across her ribs-his claws had torn through her shirt. She ignored it. Her one thought was to

keep him away from her throat. Keeping an elbow up, she reached for the knife with her other hand.

No good. She hadn't rolled far enough. Her fingertips just missed the hilt.

And Rudi the wolf was right in her face. All she could see were sharp wet teeth, black gums, and blazing

yellow eyes. Her face was misted with hot canine breath.

Every snap of those jaws made a hollow glunk. Rashel only had one option left-to block each lunge as it

came. But she couldn't keep that up forever. She was already tiring.

It's over, she thought. The girls who might have helped her-Daphne and Nyala and Annelise were at the

far end of the wharf or on the boats. The other girls were undoubtedly too scared even to try. Rashel was

alone, and she was going to die very soon. My own stupid fault, she thought dimly. Her arms were

shaking and bloodied. She was getting weaker fast. And the wolf knew.

Even as she thought it, she missed a block.

Her arm slipped sideways. Her throat was exposed. In slow motion she saw the jaws of the wolf

opening wide, driving toward her. She saw the triumph in those yellow eyes. She knew, with a curious

sense of resignation, that the next thing she would feel was teeth ripping through her flesh. The oldest way

to die in the world.

I'm sorry, Daphne, she thought. I'm sorry, Nyala. Please go and be safe.

And then everything seemed to freeze.

The wolf stopped in midlunge, head jerking backward. Its eyes were wide and fixed. Its jaws were open

but not moving. It looked as if it might howl.

But it didn't. It collapsed in a hot quivering heap on top of Rashel, legs stiff. Rashel scrambled out from

under it automatically.

And saw her knife sticking out of the base of its skull.

Quinn was standing above it.

"Are you all right?"

He was breathing quickly, but he looked calm. Moonlight shone on his black hair.

The entire world was huge and quivering and oddly bright. Rashel still felt as if she were moving in slow

motion.

She stared at Quinn, then looked toward the wharf.

Girls were scattered all over, as if frozen in the

middle of running in different directions. Some were on the decks of the two remaining boats. Some

were heading toward her. Daphne and Nyala were only fifteen feet away, but they were both staring at

Quinn and seemed riveted in place. Nyala's expression was one of horror, hate-and recognition.

Waves hissed softly against the dock.

Think. Now think, girl, Rashel told herself. She was in a state of the strangest and most expanded

consciousness she'd ever felt. Her hands were icy cold and she seemed to be floating-but her mind was

clear.

Everything depended on how she handled the next few minutes.

"Why did you do that?" she asked Quinn softly. At the same time she shot Daphne the fastest and the

most intense look of her life. It meant Go now. She willed Daphne to understand.

"You just lost a guard," she went on, getting up slowly.

Keep his eyes on you. Keep moving. Make him talk.

"Not a very good one," Quinn said, looking with fastidious disgust at the heap of fur.

Go, Daphne, run, Rashel thought. She knew the girls still had a chance. There were no other vampires

coming down the path. That meant that Rudi had either been too angry to give a general alarm or too

scared. That was one good thing about werewolves-they acted on impulse.

Quinn was the danger now.

"Why not a good one?" she asked. "Because he damaged the merchandise?" She lifted her torn shirt

away from her ribs.

Quinn threw back his head and laughed. Something jerked in Rashel's chest, but she used the moment to

change her position. She was right by the wolf now, with her left hand at the exact level of the knife.

"That's right," Quinn said. A wild and bitter smile still played around his lips. "He was presumptuous.

You almost surrendered to the wrong darkness there, Shelly. By the way, where'd you get a silver

knife?"

He doesn't know who I am, Rashel thought. She felt both relief and a strange underlying grief. He still

thought she was some girl from the club- maybe a vampire hunter, but not the vampire hunter. The one

he'd admitted was good.

So he's unprepared. He's off his guard.

If I can kill him with one stroke, before he calls to the other vampires, the girls may get away.

She glanced at the wharf again, deliberately, hoping to draw his gaze. But he didn't look behind him, and

Daphne and the other stupid girls weren't leaving.

Refusing to go without her. Idiots!

Now or never, Rashel thought.

"Well, anyway," she said, "I think you saved my life. Thank you."

Keeping her eyes down, she held out her hand.

her right hand. Quinn looked surprised, then reached out automatically.

With one smooth motion, like a snake uncoiling, Rashel attacked.

Her right hand drove past his hand and clamped on his wrist. Her left hand plunged down to grab the

knife. Her fingers closed on the hilt and pulled- and the sheath with its attached silver blade stayed in the

werewolf's neck.

Just as she'd planned. The knife itself came free, the real knife, the one made of wood.

And then Quinn tried to throw her and her body responded automatically. She was moving without

conscious direction, anticipating his attacks and blocking them even as he started to make them. It

transformed the fight into a dance. Faster than thought, graceful as a lioness, she countered every move

he made.

Zanshin to the max.

She ended up straddling him with her knife at his throat.

Now. Fast. End it.

She didn't move.

You have to, she told herself. Quick, before he calls the others. Before he knocks you out telepathically.

He can do it, you know that.

Then why isn't he trying?

Quinn lay still, with the point of the wooden knife in the hollow of his throat, just where his dark collar

parted. His throat was pale in the moonlight and his hair was black against the sand.

Footsteps sounded behind Rashel. She heard rapid light breathing.

"Daphne, take the boats and go now. Leave me here. Do you understand?" Rashel spoke every word

distinctly.

"But Rashel-"

"Do it now!" Rashel put a force she hadn't known she had behind the words. She heard the quick intake

of Daphne's breath, then footsteps scampering off.

All the while, she hadn't taken her eyes off Quinn.

Like everything else, the green-black blade of her knife was touched with moonlight. It seemed to

shimmer almost liquidly. Lignum vitae, the Wood of Life. It would be death for him. One thrust would put

it through his throat. The next would stop his heart.

"I'm sorry," Rashel whispered.

She was. She was truly sorry that this had to be done. But there was no way out. It was for Nyala, for

all the girls he'd kidnapped and hunted and lured. It was to keep girls like them safe for the future.

"You're a hunter," Rashel said softly, trying for steadiness. "So am I. We both understand. This is the

way it goes. It's kill or be killed. It all comes down to that in the end." She paused to breathe.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"If I don't stop you, you'll be a danger forever.

And I can't let that happen. I can't let you hurt anyone else." She was aware that she was shaking her

head slightly in her attempt to explain to him. Her lungs ached and there were tears in her eyes. "I can't."

Quinn didn't speak. His eyes were black and bottomless. His hair was slightly mussed on his forehead,

but he didn't show any other sign of just having been in a fight.

He's not going to struggle, Rashel realized.

Then make it quick and merciful. No need for him to feel the pain of wood through his throat. She

switched her grip on the knife, raising it over his chest. Holding it with both hands, poised above his

heart. One swift downward stroke and it would be over.

For the first time since she had killed a Night Person, she didn't say what she always said. She wasn't the

Cat right now; this wasn't revenge for her. It was necessity.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and shut her eyes.

He whispered, "This kitten has claws."

Rashel's muscles locked.

Her eyes opened.

"Go on," Quinn said. "Do it. You should have done it the first time." His gaze was as steady as Fayth's.

She could see moonlight in his eyes.

He didn't look wild, or bitter, or mocking. He only looked serious and a little tired.

"I should have realized it before-that you were the one in the cellar. I knew there was something

about you. I just couldn't figure out what. At least now I've seen your face."

Rashel's arms wouldn't come down.

What was wrong with her? Her resolve was draining away. Her whole body was weak. She felt herself

begin to tremble, and realized to her horror she couldn't stop it.

"Everything you said was true," he said. "This is how it has to end."

"Yes." Something had swollen in Rashel's throat and it hurt.

"The only other possibility is that I kill you. Better this way than that." He looked exhausted suddenly-or

sick. He turned his head and shut his eyes.

"Yes," Rashel said numbly. He believed that?

"Besides, now that I have seen your face, I can't stand the sight of myself in your eyes. I know what you

think of me."

Rashel's arms dropped.

But limply. The blade pointed upward, between her own wrists. She sat there with her knuckles on his

chest and stared at a scraggly wild raspberry bush growing out of the cliff.

She had failed Nyala, and Nyala's sister, and countless other people. Other humans. When it really

counted, she was letting them all down.

"I can't kill you," she whispered. "God help me, I can't."

He shook his head once, eyes still shut. She was open to attack, but he didn't do anything.

Then he looked at her. "I told you before. You're an idiot."

Rashel hit him under the jaw the way she'd hit the guard. The hilt of her dagger caught him squarely. He

didn't move to avoid the blow.

It knocked him out cold.

Rashel wiped her cheeks and got up, looking around for something to tie him with. Her whole life was

torn to pieces, falling around her. She didn't understand anything. All she could do was try to finish what

she'd come here for.

Action, that was what she needed. Thought could wait. It would have to wait.

Then she glanced at the wharf.

She couldn't believe it. It seemed as if at least a week had passed since she yelled at Daphne, and they

were all still here.

The boats were here, the girls were here, and Daphne was running toward her.

Rashel strode to meet her. She grabbed Daphne by the shoulders and shook hard.

"Get-out-of-here! Do you understand? What do I have to do, throw you in the water?"

Daphne's eyes were huge and blue. Her blond hair flew like thistledown with the shaking. When Rashel

stopped, she gasped, "But you can come with us now!"

"No, I can't! I still have things to do."

"Like what?" Then Daphne's eyes darted to the cliff. She stared at Rashel. "You're going after them?

You're crazy!" Looking frightened, she grabbed Rashel's hands on her shoulders. "Rashel, there are

supposed to be eight of them, right? Plus Lily and Ivan and who knows what else! You really think you

can kill them all? What, are they all just going to line up?"

"No. I don't know. But I don't need to kill them all. If I can get the guy who set this up, the client, it will

be worth it."

Daphne was shaking her head, in tears. "It won't be worth it! Not if they kill you-which they will. You're

already hurt-"

"It'll be worth it if I can stop him from doing this again," Rashel said quietly. She couldn't yell anymore.

She didn't have the strength. Her voice was quenched, but she held Daphne's eyes. "Now get somebody

to throw me some rope or something to tie these guys with. And then leave. No, give me five minutes to

get to the top of the cliff. Six minutes. That way maybe I can surprise them before they realize you're

gone."

Daphne was crying steadily now. Before she could say anything, Rashel went on. "Daphne, any minute

now they could realize that. Someone's bound to check the cellar before midnight. Every second we

stand here could make the difference. Please, please, don't fight me anymore."

Daphne opened her mouth, then shut it. Her eyes were desolate. "Please try to take care of yourself,"

she whispered. She let go of Rashel's shoulders and hugged her hard. "We all know you're doing it for

us. I'm proud to be your friend."

Then she turned and ran, herding the others ^^ toward the boats.

A moment later she threw Rashel two pieces of line. Rashel tied up Quinn first, then the werewolf.

"Six minutes," she said to Daphne. Daphne nodded, trying not to cry.

Rashel wouldn't say goodbye. She hated that. Even though she knew perfectly well that she was never

going to see Daphne again.

Without looking back, she loped up the hiking trail.

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