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The Chosen (Chapter 4)

Quinn was cold.

Not physically, of course. That was impossible. The icy March air had no effect on him; his body was

impervious to little things like weather. No, this cold was inside him.

He stood looking at the bay and the thriving city across it.Boston by starlight. It had taken him a long

time to come back toBoston after… the change.

He'd lived there once, when he'd been human. But in those daysBoston was nothing but three hills, one

beacon, and a handful of houses with thatched roofs. The place where he was standing now had been

clean beach surrounded by salt meadows and dense forest.

The year had been 1639.

Bostonhad grown since then, but Quinn hadn't.

He was still eighteen, still the young man who'd loved the sunny pastures and the clear blue water of the

wilderness. Who had lived simply, feeling grateful when there was enough food for supper on his

mother's table, and who had dreamed of someday having his own fishing schooner and marrying pretty

Dove Redfern.

That was how it had all started, with Dove. Pretty Dove and her soft brown hair… sweet Dove, who

had a secret a simple boy like Quinn could never have imagined.

Well. Quinn felt his lip curl. That was all in the past. Dove had been dead for centuries, and if her

screams still haunted him every night, no one knew but himself.

Because he might not be any older than he had been in the days of the colonies, but he had learned a

few tricks. Like how to wrap ice around his heart so that nothing in the world could hurt him. And how to

put ice in his gaze, so that whoever looked into his black eyes saw only an endless glacial dark. He'd

gotten very good at that. Some people actually went pale and backed away when he turned his eyes on them.

The tricks had worked for years, allowing him not just to survive as a vampire, but to be brilliantly

successful at it. He was Quinn, pitiless as a snake, whose blood ran like ice water, whose soft voice

pronounced doom on anybody who got in his way. Quinn, the essence of darkness, who struck fear into

the hearts of humans and Night People alike.

And just at the moment, he was tired.

Tired and cold. There was a kind of bleakness inside him, like a whiter that would never change into spring.

He had no idea what to do about it-although it had occurred to him that if he were to jump into the bay

and let those dark waters close over his head, and then stay down there for a few days without feeding…

well, all his problems would be solved, wouldn't they?

But that was ridiculous. He was Quinn. Nothing could touch him. The bleak feeling would go away eventually.

He pulled himself out of his reverie, turning away from the shimmering blackness of the bay. Maybe he

should go to the warehouse in Mission Hill, check on its inhabitants. He needed something to do, to keep

him from thinking.

Quinn smiled, knowing it was a smile to frighten children. He set off forBoston .

Rashel sat by the window, but not the way ordinary people sit. She was kneeling in a sort of crouch,

weight resting on her left leg, right leg bent and pointing forward. It was a position that allowed for swift

and unrestricted movement in any direction. Her bokken was beside her; she could spring and draw at a

second's notice.

The abandoned building was quiet. Steve and Vicky were outside, scouting the street. Nyala seemed

lost in her own thoughts.

Suddenly Nyala reached out and touched the bokken's sheath. "What's this?"

"Hm? Oh, it's a kind of Japanese sword. They use wooden swords for fencing practice because steel

would be too dangerous. But it can actually be lethal even to humans. It's weighted and balanced just like

a steel sword." She pulled the sword out of the sheath and turned the flashlight on it so Nyala could see

the satiny green-black wood.

Nyala drew in her breath and touched the graceful curve lightly. "It's beautiful."

"It's made of lignum vitae: the Wood of Life. That's the hardest and heaviest wood there is-it's as dense

as iron. I had it carved specially, just for me."

"And you use it to kill vampires." "Yes."

"And you've killed a lot." "Yes." Rashel slid the sword back into its sheath. "Good," Nyala said with a

throb in her voice. She turned to stare at the street. She had a small queenly head, with hair piled on the

back like Nef-ertiti's crown. When she turned back to Rashel, her voice was quiet. "How did you get

into all this in the first place? I mean, you seem to know so much. How did you learn it all?"

Rashel laughed. "Bit by bit," she said briefly. She didn't like to talk about it. "But I started like you. I saw

one of them kill my mom when I was five. After that, I tried to learn everything I could about vampires,

so I could fight them. And I told the story

at every foster home I lived in, and finally I found some people who believed me. They were vampire

hunters. They taught me a lot."

Nyala looked ashamed and disgusted. "I'm so stupid-I haven't done anything like that. I wouldn't even

have known about the Lancers if Elliot hadn't called me. He saw the article in the paper about my sister

and guessed it might have been a vampire killing. But I'd never have found them on my own."

"You just didn't have enough time."

"No. I think it takes a special kind of person. But now that I know how to fight them, I'm going to do it."

Her voice was tight and shaky, and Rashel glanced at her quickly. There was something unstable just

under the surface of this girl. "Nobody knows which of them killed my sister, so I just figure I'll get as

many of them as I can. I want to-"

"Quiet!" Rashel hissed the word and put a hand over Nyala's mouth at the same instant. Nyala froze.

Rashel sat tensely, listening, then got up like a spring uncoiling and put her head out the window. She

listened for another moment, then caught up her scarf and veiled her face with practiced movements.

"Grab your ski mask and come on."

"What is it?"

"You're going to get your wish-right now. There's a fight down there. Stay behind me… and don't

forget your mask."

Nyala didn't need to ask about that, she noticed. It was the first thing any vampire hunter learned.

If you were recognized and the vampire got away… well, it was all over. The Night People would

search until they found you, then strike when you least expected it.

With Nyala behind her, Rashel ran lightly down the stairs and around to the street.

The sounds were coming from a pool of darkness beside one of the warehouses, far from the nearest

streetlight. As Rashel reached the place, she could make out the forms of Steve and Vicky, their faces

masked, their clubs in their hands. They were struggling with another form.

Oh, for God's sake, Rashel thought, stopping dead.

One other form. The two of them, armed with wood and lying in ambush, couldn't handle one little

vampire by themselves? From the racket, she'd thought they must have been surprised by a whole army.

But this vampire seemed to be putting up quite a fight-in fact, he was clearly winning. Throwing his

attackers around with supernatural strength, just as if they were ordinary humans and not fearless vampire

slayers. He seemed to be enjoying it.

"We've got to help them!" Nyala hissed in Rashers ear.

"Yeah," Rashel said joylessly. She sighed. "Wait here; I'm going to bonk him on the head."

It wasn't quite that easy. Rashel got behind the vampire without trouble; he was preoccupied with the

other two and arrogant enough to be careless. But then she had a problem.

Her bokken, the honorable sword of a warrior, had one purpose: to deliver a clean blow capable of

killing instantly. She couldn't bring herself to whack somebody unconscious with it.

It wasn't that she didn't have other weapons. She had plenty-back at home in Marblehead. All the tools

of a ninja, and some the ninja had never heard of. And she knew some extremely dirty methods of

fighting. She could break bones and crush tendons; she could peel an enemy's trachea out of his neck

with her bare hands or drive his ribs into his lungs with her feet.

But those were desperate measures, to be used as a last resort when her own life was at stake and the

opposition was overwhelming. She simply couldn't do that to a single enemy when she had the jump on him.

Just then the single enemy threw Steve into a wall, where he landed with a muffled "oof." Rashel felt

sorry for him, but it solved her dilemma. She grabbed the oak club Steve had been holding as it rolled

across the concrete. Then she circled nimbly as the vampire turned, trying to face her. At that instant

Nyala threw herself into the fight, creating a distraction, and Rashel did what she'd said she would. She

bonked the vampire on the head, driving the club like a home runner's swing with the force of her hips.

The vampire cried out and fell down motionless.

Rashel raised the club again, watching him. Then she lowered it, looking at Steve and Vicky. "You guys okay?"

Vicky nodded stiffly. She was trying to get her breath. "He surprised us," she said.

Rashel didn't answer. She was very unhappy, and her feeling of being in top form tonight had completely

evaporated. This had been the most undignified fight she'd seen in a long while, and…

… and it bothered her, the way the vampire had cried out as he fell. She couldn't explain why, but it had.

Steve picked himself up. "He shouldn't have been able to surprise us," he said. "That was our fault."

Rashel glanced at him. It was true. In this business, you were either ready all the time, expecting the

unexpected at any moment, or you were dead.

"He was just good," Vicky said shortly. "Come on, let's get him out of here before somebody sees us.

There's a cellar in the other building."

Rashel took hold of the vampire's feet while Steve grabbed his shoulders. He wasn't very big, about

Rashel's height and compact. He looked young, about Rashel's age.

Which meant nothing, she reminded herself. A parasite could be a thousand and still look young. They

gained eternal life from other people's blood.

She and Steve carried their burden down the stairs into a large dank room that smelled of damp rot and

mildew. They dropped him on the cold concrete floor and Rashel straightened to ease her back.

"Okay. Now let's see what he looks like," Vicky said, and turned her flashlight on him.

The vampire was pale, and his black hair looked even blacker against his white skin. His eyelashes were

dark on his cheek. A little blood matted his hair in the back.

"I don't think he's the same one Elliot and I saw last night. That one looked bigger," Vicky said.

Nyala pressed forward, staring at her very first captive vampire. "What difference does it make? He's

one of them, right? Nobody human could have thrown Steve like that. He might even be the one who

killed my sister. And he's ours now." She smiled down, looking almost like someone in love. "You're

ours," she said to the unconscious boy on the floor. "Just you wait."

Steve rubbed his shoulder where it had hit the wall. All he said was "Yeah," but his smile wasn't nice.

"I only hope he doesn't die soon," Vicky said, examining the pale face critically. "You hit him pretty hard."

"He's not going to die," Rashel said. "In fact, he'll probably wake up in a few minutes. And we'd better

hope he's not one of the really powerful telepaths."

Nyala looked up sharply. "What?"

"Oh-all vampires are telepathic," Rashel said absently. "But there's a big range as to how powerful they

are. Most of them can only communicate over

a short distance-like within the same house, say. But a few are a lot stronger."

"Even if he is strong, it won't matter unless there are other vampires around," Vicky said.

"Which there may be, if you and Elliot saw another one last night."

"Well…" Vicky hesitated, then said, "We can check outside, make sure he doesn't have any friends

hiding around that warehouse."

Steve was nodding, and Nyala was listening intently. Rashel started to say that from what she'd seen,

they couldn't find a vampire in hiding to save their lives-but then she changed her mind.

"Good idea," she said. "You take Nyala and do that. It's better to have three people than two. I'll tie him

up before he comes around. I've got bast cord."

Vicky glanced over quickly, but her hostility seemed to have faded since Rashel had knocked the

vampire over the head. "Okay, but let's use the handcuffs. Nyala, run up and get them."

Nyala did, and she and Vicky fixed the wooden stocks on the vampire's wrists. Then they left with Steve.

Rashel sat on the floor.

She didn't know what she was doing, or why she'd sent Nyala away. All she knew was that she wanted

to be alone, and that she felt… rotten.

It wasn't that she didn't have anger. There were times when she got so angry at the universe that it was

actually like a little voice inside her whispering,

Kill, kill, kill. Times when she wanted to strike out blindly, without caring who she hurt.

But just now the little voice was silent, and Rashel felt sick.

To keep herself busy, she tied his feet with bast, a cord made from the inner bark of trees. It was as

good for holding a vampire as Vicky's ridiculous handcuffs.

When it was done, she turned the flashlight on him again.

He was good-looking. Clean features that were strongly chiseled but almost delicate. A mouth that at the

moment looked rather innocent, but which might be sensuous if he were awake. A body that was lithe

and flat-muscled, if not very tall.

All of which had no effect on Rashel. She'd seen attractive vampires before-in fact, an inordinate number

of them seemed to be really beautiful. It didn't mean anything. It only stood as a contrast to what they

were like inside.

The tall man who'd killed her mother had been handsome. She could still see his face, his golden eyes.

Filthy parasites. Night World scum. They weren't really people. They were monsters.

But they could still feel pain, just like any human. She'd hurt this one when she hit him.

Rashel jumped up and started to pace the cellar.

All right. This vampire deserved to die. They all did. But that didn't mean she had to wait for Vicky to

come back and poke him with pointy sticks.

Rashel knew now why she'd sent Nyala away. So she could give the vampire a clean death. Maybe he

didn't deserve it, but she couldn't stand around and watch Vicky kill him slowly. She couldn't.

She stopped pacing and went to the unconscious boy.

The flashlight on the floor was still pointing at him, so she could see him clearly. He was wearing a

lightweight black shirt-no sweater or coat. Vampires didn't need protection from the cold. Rashel

unbuttoned the shirt, exposing his chest. Although the angled tip of her bokken could pierce clothing, it

was easier to drive it straight into vampire flesh without any barrier in between.

Standing with one foot on either side of the vampire's waist, she drew the heavy wooden sword. She

held it with both hands, one near the guard, the other near the knob on the end of the hilt.

She positioned the end exactly over the vampire's heart.

"This kitten has claws," she whispered, hardly aware she was saying it.

Then she took a deep breath, eyes shut. She needed to work to focus, because she'd never done

anything like this before. The vampires she'd killed had usually been caught in the middle of some

despicable act-and they'd all been fighting at the end. She'd never staked one that was lying still.

Concentrate, she thought. You need zanshin, continuing mind, awareness of everything without fixing on anything.

She felt her feet becoming part of the cold concrete beneath them, her muscles and bones becoming

extensions of the ground. The strike would carry the energy of the earth itself.

Her hands brought the sword up. She was ready for the kill. She opened her eyes to perfect her aim.

And then she saw that the vampire was awake. His eyes were open and he was looking at her.

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