Chapter 3 - 'Ashley': The next morning, Alex woke up with a splitting headache. She sighed, rubbing her temples. "It was a dream," she muttered, trying to make herself believe it. But if it was a dream, why wasn't she wearing pajamas? Why was her homework not done? And why did she have Ashes to Ashes in her bookbag? She shook the questions off and got ready for school.

Luckily, she had first period study hall and not much homework. She could get it done. Someone sat down next to her. She glanced over and found herself looking into dark green eyes. Her neighbor was a girl about a year older than she was, a pretty, black-haired girl. "Hi," she said, holding out a hand. "I'm Ashley."

Alex eyed her hand for a second before shaking it. This was abnormal. "Alex."

"Nice to meet you, Alex. What year are you?"

"Junior. You?"

"Senior. I just moved here."

"Why'd you move here? This is a blink-and-miss-it town. The college is the only thing keeping it going. There's no malls, the music store's crap, and the theater is hopeless."

Ashley laughed. "I didn't have much of a choice." She glanced at Alex's binder, covered with pictures of vampires from movies and TV. "You like vamps, huh?" she asked. Alex shrugged.

"Yeah."

"Ever read Ash Night?" There was an odd look in Ashley's eyes when she said that, Alex thought.

"Yeah, have you?" Ashley smiled.

"I have."

"Anne Rice is good too. I wonder if Aubrey and Lestat would get on well." Ashley seemed to find this genuinely amusing, almost too amusing, it seemed. Alex smiled in response to the older girl's laughter as she finished her physics homework. She shut her book with a snap. "Thank God that's done," she muttered. She was right; because the bell rang.

"What lunch do you have?"Ashley had pulled her roster out and was studying it. "I've got fifth."

"Then I'll see you then," Alex replied. "But I have to get to the other end of the building in four minutes, so I've gotta run."

"OK, see you at lunch." And then, unseen by Alex, 'Ashley' slipped into an empty room and shut the door. She smirked at the tall, black haired man - or so it seemed, anyway - who was leaning casually against the wall.

"Who's Lestat?" Aubrey wanted to know. Jessica - for that was Ashley's real name - laughed.

"Oh, just another made-up vampire. I'll get you one of the books eventually; see what you think." She grinned at him. He rolled his eyes.


Alex, meanwhile, was trying not to think about her new friend. Ashley seemed all right, but there was something about her that made Alex edgy. She wasn't sure what, exactly, but there was something. Yeah, something that reminds you of Nikolas and Sarai, part of her said. She shook her head, telling herself once again that it had been a dream, or a hallucination. She knew it hadn't been, but telling herself it had was a comfort of sorts. If she believed it, she felt that her entire world would be turned on its end. She wasn't exactly fond of her life, but she didn't need to have people who were supposed to be fictional causing trouble for her.

Fifth period came, in her mind, too soon. She still hadn't figured out how to deal with Ashley. But there the other girl was, walking over to where Alex sat alone. "Hey," Ashley said. "For a small town school, this place is pretty crowded. I wasn't sure I'd find you."

"Well, it serves for Kutztown, Maxatawny, Albany, and Greenwich, so it's not just one town," Alex said, taking a sip of her Mountain Dew Code Red.

"Playing vamp with the red drink?" Ashley asked.

"No. Why?"

"Just wondered. Doesn't your interest freak people out?"

"Well, yeah, but I don't care. I'm getting out of this town as soon as I graduate."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Anywhere but here."

"Anywhere?" There was an odd half-smile on her face. Alex didn't like it.

"Well, within reason, of course. I'm thinking New York, or maybe L.A." Alex shrugged. "A big city. I'm sick to death of small towns."

"Hmm. I can think of one town, in Massachusetts, that's not so bad."

"You're from there?"

"Yeah. Ramsa, Mass. Though that wasn't the town I meant." The bell rang. The two girls separated. In seventh, Alex had a substitute, so she took out Ashes to Ashes and began reading. By the end of the period, she was trembling. The lead character lived in Ramsa, she had black hair and dark green eyes, and her name was Jessica Ashley Allodola.

She shook her head as she headed for history. She was being an idiot. It was all just coincidence... right? Except that too many coincidences had happened to her lately. Entirely too many.

She did her best to focus on the class discussion about the Emancipation Proclamation, but she knew she didn't do a very good job of it. She finished the class and went to her locker in a daze. It was impossible. Totally impossible. Fiction did not come to life and start following people. But it had happened to Jessica Allodola, who, if she was right, was also Ashley, the new girl at school. Aubrey had tracked her down, as had the Smoke witch Caryn. Alex had gotten a visit from Sarai and Nikolas. Now Ashley was at her school. Aubrey and Caryn had entered Jessica's school under false pretenses. Was it so far-fetched to think that Ashley, if she was truly Jessica, would do the same to her?

No. But it was far-fetched to think that fiction was reality. Right? She didn't know anymore. She was so confused, and for once, all she wanted was to be home, so she could lock herself in her room, alone, so she could think. But it wasn't to be. Alex wasn't going to go home that day, though she did not yet know it.

She was walking away from school when she heard footsteps behind her. She turned to see Ashley. "Oh, you live this way?"

"I don't live anywhere, but yes, I'm staying around here." She smiled enigmatically. Alex supposed that she was meant to get some hidden meaning from the other girl's words, but... and then a chill ran down her spine as she remembered a similar scene in Ashes to Ashes.

"Have you read the new Ash Night yet?" she asked, eyes narrowing. "You know, Ashes to Ashes?"

"I haven't read it, no." I lived it, Jessica thought, but Alex wasn't to know that. At least, not for a few minutes more. She fell into step beside the younger girl and they kept walking.

"Oh, because your last comment was almost a direct quote?"

"Really?" Well spotted. Though Aubrey will probably kill me for stealing his lines. "That's weird, isn't it?" Alex eyed her.

"More than weird. What with that and... other things, I feel like I've fallen into one of Ash Night's novels."

"Maybe you have. For all you know, it could all be true, couldn't it?" Ashley asked.

"Maybe. I'd like some proof of that though."

"Well, we'll have to give you some." Alex looked up. There was a man in the tree they were walking under. He leapt down lightly, too lightly. She studied him, shock making her numb. He was tall, with raven black hair and eyes to match. Pale-skinned and black clad, he had a face stolen from a Roman coin, and there were tattoos on his arms. Very familiar tattoos. Anyone who had read Tiger, Tiger or Dark Flame would know who he was.

"Aubrey," she said, her voice flat from shock.

"She's faster than you were, Jess," Aubrey said, smiling at Ashley - Jessica.

"I think Ravena got to her already."

"Nikolas? I doubt it would be Kristopher." He looked at Alex. "So, you've met Nikolas. How about his brother's fledgling, Sarai? You know, she's Dominique Vida's daughter. Or was."

Alex stared at them as Jessica walked over to stand with Aubrey. "I... you..." she paused and took a breath. "What do you people want with me?"

"You're interesting," Jessica said. "Half Vida and half Silver. What a combination."

"What? Vampires can't... can vamps have kids?"

"Apparently, a male vampire can father a child with a witch," Aubrey said dryly. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here. Though your mother had to die for you to live. A pity, really. Things would be so much more interesting if you knew how to use the power you have."

She ignored the mention of power. She wasn't powerful. If she was, then no one would have ever bullied her. Certainly none of her mother's boyfriends would have taken a swing at her, or tried... She didn't like to think about that. Instead, she focused on something else. "Half Vida? So, what, my birth mother was Dominique's sister then?"

"Yeah. I know, that's a scary thought, being related to the Ice Bitch," Jessica said, shaking her head. "So, it's time we left."

"Left?" Alex said blankly. Then she rallied a little. "Why... why are you guys here? Sarai I get, even Nikolas, but you..."

"Preemptive strike," Aubrey said, grabbing her wrist. "We're keeping the Vidas from getting their claws in you." Then the world disappeared, or she disappeared from it. Either way, when things were normal again, the three people - or rather, the two vampires and one human girl - were standing in a house that Alex realized had to be Aubrey's. Aubrey's house, on the edges of New Mayhem. She went to a window. They didn't stop her as she looked out. She was right. It was New Mayhem.

"You said you wanted to be anywhere but Kutztown," Jessica said mischievously. "Does New Mayhem work?"

A/N: Sorry I took so damned long... It wasn't my intention. My Alex muse was suppressed by others. My muses fight a lot.