Chapter 2: Deal Breaker

Caryn didn't speak as they rushed down the streets, taking shortcuts where they could through the alleys. She had a lot to think about. Adianna, dying? The pride and joy of the Vida line, nigh untouchable by witch or vampire alike—dying? And one of their own involved in it? It seemed improbable. Caryn sped up, her pace almost matching Ruby's. She had made a promise to Sarah, before she left.

"Dominique will…well, she'll never forgive me" Sarah shook her head, her blonde hair tumbling around her face, almost as bright as her aura. "But Adianna…Caryn, you've got to make sure she's all right."

"After trying to keep you in one piece all the time, it'll be easy." Sarah smiled at her, the first real smile she'd ever shown to Caryn.

"Thanks," she whispered. And then she was gone.

Caryn clutched her duffel closer. Adianna had to be all right. She was so concentrated in her thoughts that she didn't register Ruby's sudden halt until she ran into her.

"What— Caryn began, when three vampires dissolved from the darkness, spreading themselves in a half circle facing them. Caryn turned to find three more vampires closing in behind them. Her pulse sped up, and her stomach turned as the vampires registered her fear…and enjoyed it.

"Ruby," she whispered. "These are the vampires that attacked Adianna."

"How do you know?" she asked, forehead wrinkling.

"I can feel the imprint of Adianna's blade in their blood. No other witch except for Dominique can wield a Vida blade like that, but Dominique prefers a sword these days. Besides, I can see her aura in them." Caryn's voice trembled. "They fed off her, didn't they?"

Ruby's lips just tightened in response.

"Ruby— " Caryn began. One of the vamps stepped forward, cutting her off as effectively as if he had slapped her.

"We've come for the little witch." Caryn could see his white teeth flash in the moonlight. A witch, a true witch of the Vida and Smoke dynasty wouldn't have been terrified but Caryn couldn't stop a shiver from going up her spine.

"Vayn." Ruby muttered under her breath. She raised her voice to snap at the vampire---Vayn, Caryn guessed. "We're both witches Fang Boy," Ruby sidled into a defensive position and her knives snicked out of their sheathes and into her hands. Caryn had a small bottle of pepper spray in her bag, but there was no way she would be able to get to it fast enough to fight them off. Besides, she would be lucky if it would make the vampires so much as sneeze.

"'Fang Boy?' Is that really the best you've got?" Ruby started forward, but the vamp held up his hand. "Easy Wand Girl," he smirked as Ruby tightened "I meant the little Smoke cowering behind you."

"Me?" Caryn squeaked.

"Her?" Ruby demanded.

"Give her over now, and I promise I won't have to break your spine and suck the marrow out of your bones. Though I'll admit," he said, his eyes growing darker the dim light "I much prefer the second option."

"Over my dead body." Ruby crouched, planting herself in front of Caryn.

"I was really, really hoping you'd say that." The vamp lashed out, knocking Ruby off her feet before he'd finished his sentence. The other vamps circled Caryn and she backed up, holding her bag in front of her like a talisman.

Meanwhile Ruby slashed at the main vamp's feet, scoring blood on his thigh, but that was all she got before he wrapped on pale hand around her throat and lifted her up in the air. Ruby's legs flailed and the vamp closed his eyes as if in ecstasy.

"Stop!" Caryn cried. The vampire holding Ruby looked at her, still lifting the other witch aloft. "I'll go, I'll go. Put her down."

"You're coming whether this one dies or not." The vamp lifted Ruby a fraction higher. "Now just sit tight, I'll deal with you in a minute little Smoke."

"No!" Fear made Caryn's voice stronger than her normal soft tones. "I'm saying I'll come with you—peacefully—but only if you let her live. And…I have a promise to fulfill before you do anything else. But I will go with you so put her down now."

"No offense to you little Smoke, but forgive me if Single Earth's little pawn doesn't inspire the greatest amount of fear in my belly. Why don't you go wait in the corner like a good little girl while I finish up here?" The other vampires closed in around Caryn, one ripped her medical bag from her while the others twisted her arms painfully behind her back.

"You don't fear me?" Fear and pain added an edge of hysteria to her voice. "Well you should be—Vayn, is it? I may be a healer for Single Earth, but do you really think the Smokes would be so defenseless? I can stop your heart from beating even the few beats it needs to survive—and I will if you don't put her down. I work at Single Earth to protect lives, not watch other people destroy them." Vayn looked at Caryn, trying to peer into her mind, but Caryn had been trained to keep her thoughts to themselves. Great Mother, please let this work. If Vayn could tell she was bluffing, he would snap Ruby's neck in an instant—and probably Caryn's the moment after.

The seconds dragged on, and Ruby's struggles had diminished to erratic twitching. At last, still looking at Caryn the entire time, he dropped the other witch to the ground.

"Who knew that the Smokes had some spine in them after all?" he muttered. He strode over and grabbed Caryn's chin and forced it up so she was looking into his eyes. With both her arms still pinned behind her back, she had no choice but to endure his corpse cold touch.

Behind him she could hear Ruby's rasping voice. Caryn was relieved that she was still alive after all that time, until she realized that Ruby was wheezing "Traitor" over and over again. Vayn squeezed her chin painfully, bringing her focus back to him. She could see his eyes dilating as he sensed her fear.

"However, I can't allow you to shut down my heart before I deliver you." She never even sensed his mental attack until it robbed her of her thoughts and sent her plunging into darkness.