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Disclaimer: I don't own the NW. Some of the sentences in this chapter are taken right out of the book, FYI. So, if you recognize a sentence, chances are I don't own it.

"Oh my God," I said softly, sinking to my knees.

I looked up at Ash. He was staring off into space, seemingly speechless. I bit back tears and stiffly hoisted the goat up into my arms to bring it inside. It was heavy, and I staggered under its weight. Ash offered to take it from me, but I stubbornly insisted I was fine. I didn't want him to think I was weak.

I gently placed it in the middle of the room, and then we just stared at it. I was still in shock. I had known Ethyl was going to die, but I never could've predicted just how real it would feel. It wasn't the same as reading about it. The author had left out the gory details; the matted clumps of blood that tangled in its fur, and the dead flatness of its black eyes. It was morbid and horrifying, like something I would expect to see in a horror movie.

I was suddenly consumed with anger. How could Jeremy do this?

As my shock reseeded, I remembered where the black iris was hidden. I slowly opened the goat's mouth, and pried out the black spray painted flower. I held it up so Ash could see it.

"A black iris?" He asked. "Why would the murderer stuff a black iris into the goat's mouth?"

I shrugged. I couldn't remember exactly why Jeremy had put that there.

I was about to say as much, when the front door flew open. Rowan, Jade and Kestrel stumbled in, talking hurriedly to each other.

"I think it might be that girl, Bunny," Kestrel was saying, sweeping her golden hair out of her face. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, her eyes brilliant golden flames. "She has a lamia name, and she uses those little wooden sticks all day."

"You mean nail files?"Jade piped up.

"Yeah," Kestrel said.

"Hmm, maybe," Rowan considered, tapping her chin with an elegant finger, "I think-"

She suddenly cut off as she noticed the scene laid out in front of her.

Kestrel was the first to react.

"Ash," she hissed, crouching into a defensive position. Jade and Rowan followed suit, their hisses and snarls filling my ears. I watched with fascination as the three girls prepared to fight. They looked so different, frightening; their teeth elongated into delicate, feline points, their faces became thinner and sharper, and their eyes became silvery and mystical. They looked like predators. Even though I knew they weren't hunting me, I still couldn't stop the rush of adrenaline from pounding through my veins.

Should I intervene or something?

"Hi," Ash said, not looking the least bit intimidated by their hisses.

"What are you doing here?" Jade demanded, her green eyes as hard as emeralds.

Ash sighed, and looked at the three sisters. "I'm here to take you back home, where everyone misses you violently."

Jade breathed, "Give me a break."

Kestrel said, "What if we don't want to be taken?" and showed her teeth briefly. Ash just sighed, looking like a man who just wanted to get the job done.

"We can't go home, Ash," Rowan said firmly. Her breathing was slightly irregular, but her chin was held high.

"Well, you have to come home, because otherwise there are going to be some fairly drastic consequences."

"We knew that when we left," Jade said, with as little emotion as Rowan. Her chin was held high, too.

"Well, I don't think you've really thought it through." Ash's voice had an edge.

"We'd rather die than go back," Jade said.

Kestrel glanced at her quickly, one eyebrow raised.

"Oh, well, fine. I'll just make not of that," Ash said tightly. Then his expression darkened. He looked determined, more determined than I thought he could look. He didn't look like a lazy cat. Not in the least. He looked more like a pale, elegant tiger.

"Now, listen," he said. "There are a few small things that you don't understand, and I don't have any time to play games. So how about we send your little friend home and then we can all have a family talk."

I got up and headed towards the door, but Jade latched onto my arm, stopping me from leaving. "No. Phoebe stays."

"Fine," Ash agreed, exasperated. He ran his pale fingers through his blonde hair, mussing it nicely. "Now will someone please go find Aunt Opal? I need to have a talk with her before I leave."

The room settled into a seemingly endless silence.

"Ash. . .don't you know?" Rowan said.

"Of course he knows. Ten to one, he did it," Kestrel said.

"What is it that I'm supposed to know?" Ash said, with every sign of losing his patience.

"You aunt's dead," I said softly.

"Somebody staked her," Jade added.

Ash looked around the room. His expression said he suspected it was a practical joke. Oh, God, I thought, when he's startled and bewildered like that he looks so young. Vulnerable. Almost human.

"Somebody. . .murdered. . .Aunt Opal. That's what you're telling me?"

"Are you telling us that you don't know?" Kestrel asked. "What have you been doing all night, Ash?"

"Banging my head against a rock," Ash said. "Then looking for you."

Jade seemed to suddenly notice the goat lying in the middle of the room. "What happened?" she gasped, pointing at it.

"Obviously, Ash got hungry," Kestrel said dryly. Ash shot her a dirty look and muttered something under his breath that I couldn't quite catch.

I held up the black iris, "this was found in the goat's mouth."

"A black iris," Kestrel said, taking it. "Been to your club recently?" she asked Ash, arching an eyebrow.

Ash gave her a weary look. "I couldn't have done it. I was with Phoebe when she found it."

I nodded, acknowledging that this was true.

"Besides, do I look like the kind of person who wastes time turning goats into pincushions?" Ash continued.

"No. No, I don't believe you did this," Rowan said in her quiet way. "But somebody did—probably whoever killed Aunt Opal. We've been trying to figure out who."

"Well, who have you got for suspects?"Ash wondered.

"There's this boy named Jeremy Lovett, who's a werewolf. But he was very outright about it; he wasn't trying to hide anything. There is also this girl named Bunny Marten, who may be a vampire hunter. She seems like the more likely suspect," Jade filled him in.

Ash nodded and said, "Alright, I see why you can't go home until this is solved. So, we'll figure out who killed Aunt Opal, and then we'll take the appropriate action, and then we'll go home. Got it?"

His sisters exchanged glances. They didn't answer.

"Maybe we should go into town again tomorrow," I offered. "Talk to Jeremy more."

Jade nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. We couldn't really talk to him because we had Mark and Mare with us."

"Mark and who?" Ash asked.

"Mark and Mare. They're our neighbors," Rowan explained. "They're really nice."

"Humans?" Ash asked, even though I was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"Yeah," Jade said. "Don't worry, we didn't tell them anything. And we're not going to."

"Good," Ash said. "Now let's all go to bed. In the morning, we can start trying to solve Aunt Opal's murder."

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