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The Chosen (Chapter 3)

God, it stank.

RashelJordan had seen a lot of vampire lairs in her seventeen years, but this was probably the most

disgusting. She held her breath as she stirred the nest of tattered cloth with the toe of one boot. She could

read the story of this collection of garbage as easily as if the inhabitant had written out a full confession,

signed it, and posted it on the wall.

One vampire. A rogue, an outcast who lived on the fringe of both the human world and the Night World.

He probably moved to anew city every few weeks to avoid getting caught. And he undoubtedly looked

like any other homeless guy, except that none of the human homeless would be hanging around aBoston

dock on a Tuesday night in early March.

He brings his victims here, Rashel thought. The pier's deserted, it's private, he can take his time with

them. And of course he can't resist keeping a few trophies.

Her foot stirred them gently. A pink-and-blue knit baby jacket, a plaid sash from a school uniform, a

Spiderman tennis shoe. All bloodstained. All very small.

There had been a rash of missing children lately. TheBoston police would never discover where they had

gone-but now Rashel knew. She felt her lips draw back slightly from her teeth in something that wasn't

really a smile.

She was aware of everything around her: the soft plash of water against the wooden pier, the rank

coppery smell that was almost a taste, the darkness of a night lit only by a half moon. Even the light

moisture of the cold breeze against her skin. She was aware of all of it without being preoccupied with

any of it-and when the tiny scratch sounded behind her, she moved as smoothly and gracefully as if she

were taking her turn in a dance.

She pivoted on her left foot, drawing her bokken in the same motion, and without a break in the

movement, she stabbed straight to the vampire's chest. She drove the blow from her hips, exhaling in a

hiss as she did it, putting all her strength behind it.

"Gotta be faster than that," she said.

The vampire, skewered like a hot dog, waved his arms and gibbered. He was dressed in filthy clothing

and his hair was a bushy tangle. His eyes were wide, full of surprise and hatred, shining as silver as an

animal's in the faint light. His teeth weren't so much fangs as tusks: fully extended, they reached almost to

his chin.

"I know," Rashel said. "You really, really wanted to kill me. Life's tough, isn't it?"

The vampire snarled one more time and then the silver went out of his eyes, leaving only the look of

astonishment. His body stiffened and slumped backward. It lay still on the ground.

Grimacing, Rashel pulled her wooden sword out of the chest. She started to wipe the blade on the

vampire's pants, then hesitated, peering at them more closely. Yes, those were definitely little crawly

things. And the blankets were just as repulsive.

Oh, well. Use your own jeans. It won't be the first time.

She carefully wiped the bokken clean. It was two and a half feet long and just slightly, gracefully curved,

with a narrow, sharp, angled tip. Designed to penetrate a body as efficiently as possible-if that body was

susceptible to wood.

The sword slipped back into its sheath with a papery whisper. Then Rashel glanced at the body again.

Mr. Vampire was already going mummified. His skin was now yellow and tough; his staring eyes were

dried up, his lips shrunken, his tusks collapsed. Rashel bent over him, reaching into her back pocket.

What she pulled out looked like the snapped-off end of a bamboo backscratcher-which was exactly

what it was. She'd had it for years.

Very precisely, Rashel drew the five lacquered fingers of the scratcher down the vampire's forehead. On

the yellow skin five brown marks appeared, like the marks of a cat's claws. Vampire skin was easy to

mark tight after death.

"This kitten has claws," she murmured. It was a ritual sentence; she'd repeated it ever since the night

she'd killed her first vampire at the age of twelve. In memory of her mother, who'd always called her

kitten. In memory of herself at age five, and all the innocence she'd lost. She'd never be a helpless kitten again.

Besides, it was a little joke. Vampires… bats. Herself… a cat. Anybody who'd grown up with Batman

and Catwoman would get it.

Well. All done. Whistling softly, she rolled the body over and over with her foot to the end of the pier.

She didn't feel like carting the mummy all the way out to the fens, the salt marshes where bodies were

traditionally left inBoston . With a mental apology to everybody who was trying to clean up the harbor,

she gave the corpse a final push and listened for the splash.

She was still whistling as she emerged from the pier onto the street. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go—

She was in a very good mood.

The only disappointment was the constant one, that it hadn't been the vampire, the one she'd been

looking for ever since she'd been five years old. It had been a rogue, all right-a depraved monster

who killed human kids foolishly close to human habitations. But it hadn't been the rogue.

Rashel would never forget his face. And she knew that someday she would see it again. Meanwhile,

there was nothing to do but shish-kebab as many of the parasites as possible.

She scanned the streets as she walked, alert for any sign of Night People. All she saw were quiet brick

buildings and streetlights shining pale gold.

And that was a shame, because she was in terrific form tonight; she could feel it. She was every

bloodsucking leech's worst enemy. She could stake six of them before breakfast and still be fresh for

chemistry first period at Wassaguscus High.

Rashel stopped suddenly, absent-mindedly melting into a shadow as a police car cruised silently down

the cross-street ahead. I know, she thought. I'll go see what the Lancers are up to. If anybody knows

where vampires are, they do.

She headed for the North End. Half an hour later she was standing in front of a brownstone apartment

building, ringing the buzzer. "Who's there?"

Instead of answering, Rashel said, "The night has a thousand eyes."

"And the day only one," came the reply from the intercom. "Hey there, girl. Come on up."

Inside, Rashel climbed a dark and narrow stairway to a scarred wooden door. There was a peephole in

the door. Rashel faced it squarely, then pulled off the scarf she'd been wearing. It was black, silky, and

very long. She wore it wrapped around her head and face like a veil, so that only her eyes showed, and

even they were in shadow.

She shook out her hair, knowing what the person on the other side could see. A tall girl dressed like a

ninja, all hi black, with black hair falling loose around her shoulders and green eyes blazing. She hadn't

changed much since she was five, except in height. Right now she made a barbaric face at the peephole

and heard the sound of laughter behind the door as bolts were drawn.

She waited until the door was shut behind her again before she said, "Hi, Elliot."

Elliot was a few years older than she was, and thin, with intense eyes and little shiny glasses that were

always slipping off his nose. Some people would have dismissed him as a geek. But Rashel had once

seen him stand up to two werewolves while she got a human girl out a window, and she knew that he had

practically single-handedly started the Lancers-one of the most successful organizations of vampire

hunters on the east coast.

"What's up, Rashel? It's been a while."

"I've been busy. But now I'm bored. I came to see if you guys had anything going." As Rashel spoke,

she was looking at the other people in the room. A brown-haired girl was kneeling, loading objects from

boxes into a dark green backpack. Another girl and a boy were sitting on the couch. Rashel recognized

the boy from other Lancers meetings, but neither of the girls were familiar.

"Lucky you," Elliot said. "This is Vicky, my new second-in-command." He nodded at the girl on the

floor. "She just moved toBoston ; she was the leader of a group on the south shore. And tonight she's

taking a little expedition out to some warehouses in Mission Hill. We got a lead that there's been some

activity out there."

"What kind of activity? Leeches, puppies?"

Elliot shrugged. "Vampires definitely. Werewolves maybe. There's been a rumor about teenage girls

getting kidnapped and stashed somewhere around there. The problem is we don't know exactly where,

or why." He tilted his head, his eyes twinkling. "You want to go?"

"Isn't anybody going to ask me?" Vicky said, straightening up from her backpack. Her pale blue eyes

were fixed on Rashel. "I've never even seen this girl before. She could be one of them."

Elliot pushed his glasses higher on his nose. He looked amused. "You wouldn't say that if you knew,

Vicky. Rashel's the best."

"At what?"

"At everything. When you were going to your fancy prep school, she was out in theChicago slums

staking vampires. She's been inL.A. ,New York ,New Orleans… even Vegas. She's wiped out more

parasites than the rest of us put together." Elliot glanced mischievously at Rashel, then leaned toward Vicki.

"Ever heard of the Cat?" he said.

Vicki's head snapped up. She stared at Rashel.

"The Cat? The one all the Night People are afraid of? The one they're offering a reward for? The one

who leaves a mark-"

Rashel shot Elliot a warning look. "Never mind," she said. She wasn't sure she trusted these new people.

Vicky was right about one thing: you couldn't be too careful.

And she didn't like Vicky much, but she could hardly turn down such a good opportunity for vampire

hunting. Not tonight, when she was in such terrific form.

"I'll go with you-if you'll have me," she said.

Vicky's pale blue eyes bored into Rashel's a moment, then she nodded. "Just remember I'm in charge."

"Sure," Rashel murmured. She could see Elliot's grin out of the corner of her eye.

"You know Steve, and that's Nyala." Elliot indicated the boy and girl on the couch. Steve had blond hair,

muscular shoulders, and a steady expression; Nyala had skin like cocoa and a faraway look in her eyes,

as if she were sleepwalking. "Nyala's new. She just lost her sister a month ago," Elliot added in a gentle

voice. He didn't need to say how the sister had been lost.

Rashel nodded at the girl. She sympathized. There was nothing quite like the shock of first discovering

the Night World, when you realized that things like vampires and witches and werewolves were real, and

that they were everywhere, joined in one giant

secret organization. That anybody could be one, and you'd never know until it was too late.

"Everybody ready? Then let's go," Vicky said, and Steve and Nyala got up. Elliot showed them to the door.

"Good luck," he said.

Outside, Vicky led the way to a dark blue car with mud strategically caked on the license plates.

"We'll drive to the warehouse area," she said.

Rashel was relieved. She was used to walking the city streets at night without being seen-important when

you were carrying a rather unconcealable sword-but she wasn't sure that these other three could manage.

It took practice.

The drive was silent except for the murmur of Steve's voice occasionally helping Vicky with directions.

They passed through respectable neighborhoods and venerable areas with handsome old buildings until

they got to a street where everything changed suddenly. All at once, as if they had crossed some invisible

dividing line, the gutters were full of soggy trash and the fences were topped with razor wire. The

buildings were government housing projects, dark warehouses, or rowdy bars.

Vicky pulled into a parking lot and stopped the car away from the security lights. Then she led them

through the knee-high dead weeds of a vacant lot to a street that was poorly lighted and utterly silent.

"This is the observation post," Vicky whispered, as they reached a squat brick building, a part of the

housing project that had been abandoned. Following her, they zigzagged through debris and scrap metal

to get to a side door, and then they climbed a dark staircase covered with graffiti to the third floor. Their

flashlights provided the only illumination.

"Nice place," Nyala whispered, looking around. She had obviously never seen anything like it before.

"Don't you think-there may be other people here besides vampires?"

Steve gave her a reassuring pat. "No, it's okay."

"Yeah, it looks like even the junkies have abandoned it," Rashel said, grimly amused.

"You can see the whole street from the window," Vicky put in shortly. "Elliot and I were here yesterday

watching those warehouses across the street. And last night we saw a guy at the end of the street who

looked a lot like a vampire. You know the signs."

Nyala opened her mouth as if to say she didn't know the signs, but Rashel was already speaking. "Did

you test him?"

"We didn't want to get that close. We'll do it tonight if he shows up again."

"How do you test them?" Nyala asked.

Vicky didn't answer. She and Steve had pushed aside a couple of rat-chewed mattresses and were

unloading the bags and backpacks they'd brought.

Rashel said, "One way is to shine a flashlight in their eyes. Usually you get eye-shine back-like an animal's."

"There are other ways, too," Vicky said, setting the things she was unloading on the bare boards of the

floor. There were ski masks, knives made of both metal and wood, a number of stakes of various sizes,

and a mallet. Steve added two clubs made of white oak to the pile.

"Wood hurts them more than metal," Vicky said to Nyala. "If you cut them with a steel knife they heal

right before your eyes-but cut them with wood and they keep bleeding."

Rashel didn't quite like the way she said it. And she didn't like the last thing Vicky was pulling out of her

backpack. It was a wooden device that looked a bit like a miniature stock. Two hinged blocks of wood

that fit snugly around a person's wrists and closed with a lock.

"Vampire handcuffs," Vicky said proudly, seeing her look. "Made of white oak. Guaranteed to hold any

parasite. I brought them from down south."

"But hold them for what? And what do you need all those little knives and stakes for? It would take

hours to kill a vampire with those."

Vicky smiled fiercely. "I know."

Oh. Rashel's heart seemed to thump and then sink, and she looked away to control her reaction. She

understood what Vicky had in mind now.

Torture.

"A quick death's too good for them," Vicky said, still smiling. "They deserve to suffer-the way they make

our people suffer. Besides, we might get some information. We need to know where they're keeping the

girls they kidnap, and what they're doing with them."

"Vicky." Rashel spoke earnestly. "It's practically impossible to make vampires talk. They're stubborn.

When they're hurt they just get angry-like animals."

Vicky smirked. "I've made some talk. It just depends on what you do, and how long you make it last.

Anyway, there's no harm in trying."

"Does Elliot know about this?"

Vicky lifted a shoulder defensively. "Elliot lets me do things my way. I don't have to tell him every little

detail. I was a leader myself, you know."

Helplessly, Rashel looked at Nyala and Steve. And saw that for the first time Nyala's eyes had lost their

sleepwalking expression. Now she looked awake- and savagely glad.

"Yes," she said. "We should try to make the vampire talk. And if he suffers-well, my sister suffered.

When I found her, she was almost dead but she could still talk. She told me what it felt like, having all the

blood drained out of her body while she was still conscious. She said it hurt. She said…" Nyala

stopped, swallowed, and looked at Vicky. "I want to help do it," she said thickly.

Steve didn't say anything, but then from what Rashel knew of him, that was typical. He was a guy of few

words. Anyway, he didn't protest.

Rashel felt odd, as if she were seeing the very worst of herself reflected in a mirror. It made her…

ashamed. It left her shaken.

But who am I to judge? she thought, turning away. It's true that the parasites are evil, all of them. The

whole race needs to be wiped out. And Vicky's right, why should they have a clean death, when they

usually don't give their victims one? Nyala deserves to avenge her sister.

"Unless you object or something," Vicky said heavily, and Rashel could feel those pale blue eyes on her.

"Unless you're some kind of vampire sympathizer."

Rashel might have laughed at that, but she wasn't in a laughing mood. She took a breath, then said

without turning around, "It's your show. I agreed that you were in charge."

"Good," Vicky said, and returned to her work.

But the sick feeling in the pit of Rashel's stomach didn't go away. She almost hoped that the vampire

wouldn't come.

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