I recommend listening to really awesome music as you read this chapter. Hope it doesn't disappoint!
saints & sinners
(A Storm is Coming)
It was the morning of July 3. All of the Night People going on the Hunt had boarded the train, except for Maya. She was standing in the throne room, in front of the door that led down to the train station. "Are you sure you don't want to come?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Hunts aren't exactly the most common of occurrences."
Quinn shrugged. "Someone has to make sure the slaves don't misbehave," he explained. "Besides, I'm still tired. I think it would be best if I stayed behind."
Maya still looked skeptical. "All right," she said at last. "Make sure the slaves do all of their regular duties, plus clean up the palace. I want this place to be sparkling when we get back. Meraux will be coming in a few weeks' time."
Quinn smiled and kissed her hands. "Of course, my Queen. Have fun at the Hunt."
Maya grinned, pulling her hair back into a tight bun at the top of her head. She was wearing an elastic black ensemble and combat boots. Her "hunting outfit" was meant to keep everything orderly. If any blood happened to stain her clothes, most people wouldn't know. "I intend to. I'll see you tomorrow."
With that, she turned and disappeared into the tunnel that led to the train station. Quinn waited a few heartbeats before turning to Iona. "You know what to do," he said shortly. "Make sure the palace is spotless. If there's an emergency, I'll be in my room."
Iona curtseyed as he passed her, then turned to go tell the other slaves about their duties for the day.
The skyline of the Salt Lake was turning pink as the sun set, and two people were currently standing in the middle of a basketball court.
Ariel was awaiting 12:30 with unease. She was so distracted by the possibility of Aradia being executed on public, world-wide television, that she hadn't been able to train properly all day. Plus, she had a feeling that it was going to rain soon, and she had never liked rain.
Rosamund put her hands on her hips after Ariel had failed to block her attack for the fifth time in a row. "What is wrong with you?"
"Sorry. It's just—I'm worried," she admitted, running a hand through her hair and sitting down. Rosamund sighed and sat next to her.
"Listen to me, kid. I don't know what's going to happen at 12:30, but Aradia is not going to be executed, okay? Maya would make sure it happened at a time where everyone was awake."
Ariel sighed and noticed that her hands were shaking slightly. "I just feel sick," she said, closing her eyes as her stomach roiled again.
"Do you think you might be coming down with something?"
"I don't know." She glanced behind her at the large bell tower—the tower that marked the center of the ghetto. It was a few blocks away, but it was still clearly visible. 12:14, it read. Sixteen more minutes, and then she could go back to feeling better.
Her hand moved down to the purple necklace Valencia had given to her, outlining its shape in her pocket just to make sure it was safe. The night prior, Valencia had told her she would need it for today, and Ariel thought it would be better to be safe than sorry.
"Do you want to go back to the apartment or something?" Roz asked.
Before Ariel could answer, someone spoke—but not out loud. The voice was in her head.
She sprung to her feet and looked around, wondering who had said that. Rosamund got up and narrowed her eyes, touching Ariel's arm. She had heard the voice too.
A few seconds later, Timothy appeared from the shadows. Ariel recoiled. "Timothy? What are you doing here?"
"Saving your life," he replied, coming to a stop in front of them. "Please—you have to get out of here. Maya's planned a Hunt. It's happening in less than twenty minutes, when the sun goes down."
Roz straightened. "How can we be sure you're telling the truth?"
Timothy scowled at her. "Why would I waste my time telling you this, when none of Salt Lake's population even knows why they're having a meeting in the town center? When 12:30 hits, the dragons are going to make their Call, and everyone will be drawn to the center of the ghetto. Then they'll kill everyone in sight. You have to get out."
Roz looked at Ariel and pointed at Timothy. "Do you trust him?"
Ariel swallowed and looked at him. His eyes were a wide, innocent shade of blue. He saved my life once. "I . . . don't know. I don't distrust him."
Timothy clenched his jaw and glowered at the asphalt. Ariel chewed on the inside of her cheek and added, "I mean—he saved my life."
Apparently this was enough for Roz, because she nodded once and took something out of her pocket. It was a bright yellow-and-red zinnia keychain that reminded Ariel of the sun. "All right, parasite. Spread the word that a Hunt is going to happen soon. Tell everyone that they need their emergency earplugs. Now."
Timothy spared one last look at Ariel and disappeared. All she felt was a whoosh of wind as he passed. Rosamund turned to Ariel and took out bright purple earplugs. "The people here trust you," she said, handing a pair to her. "You go spread the word as well. I'll go tell Nyala. Put these in before 12:30."
As Ariel turned to go, Roz added, "Oh, and Ariel?"
"When you're done telling people a Hunt is coming, I would find a place to hide."
Quinn opened his eyes to see that he was in the same place as his last dream. It was still raining; the house behind him was still smoking and charred; and the woman was still standing on the edge of the cliff. The only difference was that he could feel again.
The woman didn't say anything when he stood next to her. Quinn broke the silence by saying, "Who are you?"
The woman looked at him, her green eyes as bright as the last time he'd seen her. It was almost a comfort, seeing as she had died in his arms the last dream. Her expression was resigned with a trace of sadness. "You know who I am, John," she said.
He shook his head and stared out over the crashing waves on the sand. The woman sighed and sat down on the edge of the cliff, patting the space next to her. Quinn sat down as well, and she turned to face him, rolling up one of her black sleeves to reveal the palest skin he'd ever seen.
She held it out to him, and he took it, staring at her in disbelief. "You want me to drink your blood?"
She nodded. "Since this isn't real, it won't satisfy your actual thirst . . . but hopefully it'll trigger something."
Quinn stared at the arm, his canines already lengthening at the thought of blood. "But—"
"Do you want to know who I am or not?"
"You can't just tell me?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Quinn gave her one last look, and raised her arm to his lips. The moment he tasted her blood, something snapped. Buried images and words rushed to the forefront of his mind.
The woman, leaning in to whisper in his ear. I want to surrender to the darkness—
The woman sitting above him, a knife raised above his throat. Quinn's voice saying, I can't stand the sight of me in your eyes—
The woman's knife dropping to rest on his chest; her shaking her head, tears in her eyes. I can't kill you—God help me, I can't—
The two of them in a room, talking to each other. We live or die together from now on—
Quinn talking to Hunter Redfern. This is my soulmate—
"Rashel!" he gasped, breaking away from her arm and clutching his head. Rashel smiled, water—he couldn't tell if it was tears or the rain—trickling down her face. The pain in his head slowly receded, and he looked up to meet her bright green gaze. "Rashel," he breathed again.
"You remember," she whispered. Quinn cupped her face with his hands. Electricity traveled down his arms and left a pleasant tingling sensation behind. The air started to hum again.
"I never forgot," he replied. Rashel smiled and leaned forward, pressing her lips to his.
12:30 came too soon. Ariel had just put her earplugs in when the loudspeakers above the ghetto crackled and the deepest, most spine-tingling sound she'd ever heard came out of it. It made gooseflesh erupt on her arms and the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.
The earplugs made it too faint for her to be affected by it, but the people around her—those who hadn't believed her or hadn't had the time to put their earplugs in—definitely were. A little girl, who couldn't have been more than ten years old, dropped her earplugs and her expression became vacant. She turned and started walking toward the clock tower with a sort of robotic shuffling.
Ariel panicked and grabbed the girl, dragging her backwards. The child opened her mouth and let out a bloodcurdling scream, making Ariel wince. She kicked Ariel's shins and dug her nails into her flesh, squirming to get away. When she finally sank her teeth into Ariel's arm, she was forced to let go. The girl dropped to her feet and ran away.
All around her people were moving toward the town square. Every time she tried to stop one, they would violently throw her off and break into a run. Ariel stood in the middle of a sea of bodies, helpless.
I have to talk to Roz. She'll know what to do, she thought wildly.
But where was Roz?
Timothy's voice spoke in her head. Ariel? Are you okay?
Something akin to relief washed through her, and she closed her eyes to concentrate more. She'd done a bit of telepathy with Aradia, but she had no idea how it would work with Timothy. Yes. Where are you?
I'm on West Street. Anyone I try to stop, they attack me and start running for the clock tower.
Me too. Have you seen Rosamund?
The blonde lady who was with me.
Oh. I saw her heading into the town square. But she didn't look like she was brainwashed. She had some wood with her. I bet she's planning on staking someone.
Ariel began to run. The sun was setting more rapidly now; the sky was bleaching of color and becoming darker. The streetlights hummed as, one by one, they began to flicker on, spilling orange light over the robotic populace. Thanks. Be careful!
I'm a vampire. They won't go after me. You be careful.
The moment she entered the town square, a stench of death so powerful overwhelmed her, and she slowed to a stop to survey the damage. Night People were everywhere. Blood splattered the gray stone of the square, and there were already bodies lying around. The screams she could hear were a faint buzz in her ears.
Her stomach heaved violently and she started to back up—no! Don't be a coward. Adventure Ariel, remember? You came here for Roz. So find Roz.
She held her breath as she scanned the writhing crowd for a shock of blonde hair—and froze.
Roz was in the forefront of the fight, shoving pieces of wood into any vampires she saw. But one dodged her thrust, grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. Before she could react, he had forced her neck to one side and had his mouth on her throat.
Blind fury overtook Ariel, and a growl ripped itself from her throat. She started running toward the vampire—as she ran, her clothes melted into her skin to become golden fur. A tail sprung free, and her fingernails lengthened into razor-sharp claws. For a moment, Ariel felt like she was flying—and then she was charging at the vampire as a snarling lion.
The vampire looked up a moment too late. He dropped Roz as Ariel jumped, and he wasn't fast enough to escape her. She crashed into him and dived for his throat, her jaws widening around his neck and biting down hard.
Muscle crunched and bones snapped underneath her teeth. It sounded like breaking glass. As Ariel pinned the vampire to the ground, Rosamund rolled over, grabbed a piece of wood, and plunged it into the heart of the vampire to finish him off. Then she collapsed on the body as Ariel scrambled to her feet.
Ariel turned to face her and concentrated on changing back. In the next moment, she was human again and holding Rosamund in her arms. She stood up and half-dragged, half-carried her into a shadowy alley that was safe from attack, hyperventilating.
Oh, God, she'd just turned into a lion. And she hadn't even meant to! And she'd killed somebody! Ariel closed her eyes, shaking, trying to keep her breathing even.
Roz grinned up at her in the semidarkness as Ariel took out her earplugs. Blood trickled from the wound on her neck, and the stench of death made her gag. "So that's your form, huh?" She coughed into her hand and, when she pulled it away, her skin shone scarlet. Ariel's stomach heaved, but she swallowed down the bile. "Nice."
Tears brimmed in Ariel's eyes. She had killed someone, and now Roz was dying, too. She could barely see her in the darkness, so she settled for fisting her hands in her shirt. "What were you thinking?"
Roz cleared her throat and whispered, "I took one for the team."
The screams in the square were deafening, but Ariel was focused entirely on Roz's face. Roz sighed and smiled at her. "Hey . . . can you . . . do me a favor?"
Ariel swallowed and nodded, tears streaming down her face.
"Tell Eric I'm sorry," she whispered.
Ariel sobbed harder at that and lowered her to the asphalt alley. "Tell him yourself!"
Rosamund smirked as her green eyes fixed on something in the distance. Her own eyes prickled hotly. She sighed softly and stilled. Ariel laid Roz on the ground, gently sliding her eyes shut. "You were supposed to tell me about my family," she told the cooling corpse, voice catching.
Iona was armed with a broom, a dustpan, and a feather duster. She was ready to take on the vampires' private rooms, no matter how messy they may be. Maya wants this place to be spotless, she thought with a small smirk, I'll make sure it's spotless.
She worked her way down the hall, cleaning every room but Quinn's, until she got to the second-to-last room. She'd discovered two of Maya's three labs, and she still had to clean Timothy's bedroom. She twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, stepping inside to see if the room was Timothy's.
It was Maya's third lab. The room had innumerable beeping medical machines, but the sight of those wasn't what had surprised Iona. No, it was the cot pushed to the end of the room—and who was on it.
Maggie Neely lay on the mattress, out cold.
This was where Maya had been keeping her.
The cleaning supplies clattered to the floor as Iona turned on her heel and headed straight for the prisons.
The tears spilled over as Ariel stood up and stepped over Roz's body. They're going to pay, she thought, stepping out into the city lights so she could re-enter the fray. The screams had all but disappeared, and now there was nothing but the noise of the Night People feasting.
Before she could focus on changing into a lion, someone grabbed her arm and dragged her back into the alleyway. Ariel spun around, ready to attack, but relaxed when she saw that the person was Nyala. Nyala bowed her head when she saw Roz, then clenched her jaw and met Ariel's eyes. "You need to leave," she ordered.
"No," Ariel hissed, her eyes burning from the tears. "They killed Roz. They need to pay."
"We'll take care of it," retorted Nyala. "You need to escape before someone finds you and kills you. Don't you realize that Eris is currently unoccupied? I'm betting all of the Night People from that stronghold are here."
"So, the prisons are unguarded," said Nyala, turning around and giving Ariel a little push. "You need to go back to Eris as soon as you can."
Ariel was already taking a step back. "But—Roz—"
"She'll be given a hero's burial. You need to find Aradia and free her. She's the only leader we have left!"
Ariel closed her eyes and nodded, taking out the necklace and slipping it on. Then she turned around and started to run—the normal way. She wasn't going to turn into a feral beast if she could help it.
She entered a part of the ghetto she had never seen before. Now that she was out of the town center, the Salt Lake seemed eerily silent. Gooseflesh emerged across her arms, and she started walking down the street.
You know, you would be able to get to Eris faster if you were a lion. Valencia's voice was soft in her head. Ariel shook her head and closed her eyes, picking up her pace.
No. I won't—I'm not a monster.
Lions aren't monsters. They're regal animals that inspire respect wherever they go. They also can go up to thirty-six miles per hour. Eris is forty miles away from here. If you leave now, you'll be there in no time.
I don't know how to change back.
You do. You just need practice. Trust me on this, all right?
Ariel swallowed, wiping her eyes. I don't even know who you are. Why should I trust you?
Let's just say I have your best interests at heart. I do want you to succeed, Ariel, even though you might not believe me. All right, I can see you're still not listening to me. If I help you with changing and changing back, will you do it?
Ariel stopped and closed her eyes, nodding slightly. A liquid heat spread through her muscles, and she shifted.
It wasn't painful—it was like a bandage being ripped off. There was a sting at first, but it faded quickly. She felt like she was floating in nothingness for a moment. When she opened her eyes, she was sitting on the street as a lion.
Ariel stood up, gathering her balance and her bearings, and started off at a slow trot. When she got the hang of her shape, she picked up speed, until she was charging through the streets.
She stopped when she saw a nine-foot-wall topped with barbed wire. Guards stood in the posts positioned in the middle of them, and she backed into the shadows. How do I get out?
Jump. Valencia's voice rang clear in her head.
Jump? Can I do that?
That wall is nine feet tall. Lions can jump up to eleven feet. Jump. But get a running start first.
Ariel took a deep breath, then stepped back out into the streets. She ran at the wall, gathered her muscles, and leapt. She soared over the wall and landed hard on the ground. In a second, she had recovered and was running toward the mountain range—toward Eris.
Iona stepped out of the room at the same time Quinn opened his door. She stopped and stared at him, wide-eyed, hoping he wouldn't notice she was in front of one of Maya's studies.
Quinn, for his part, looked like an electric shock had gone through him. The moment he stepped out into the hall, he looked up and his black eyes met hers. "Iona," he breathed. "You've grown."
Iona was stunned. He had never called her by her name—except when they had met when she was eight, back when he was a Daybreaker. "My lord?"
Quinn appeared in front of her and grabbed her shoulders. "Don't—don't call me that. Call me Quinn." A smile blossomed on his face. "Iona, I remember."
"How—how can I know you're telling the truth?"
"You have a soulmate named Tristan Dawson. Delos Redfern's soulmate is named Maggie Neely, and Delos is a Wild Power and also a lamia vampire. Gillian Lennox, a Harman girl, comes from the bloodline of Elspeth Harman, and she helped him escape in 2006. There aren't any Harman girls left, because Thea Harman died in 2000 on her way to London and Blaise Harman committed suicide two years later. My soulmate's name is Rashel Jordan, and she was a human vampire hunter."
He finished with a wider smile than he'd worn before. Iona laughed and turned, heading down the stairs. Quinn followed her. "There aren't any guards in the prisons today," she explained. "I wasn't planning on this, but since I have your help, we can break everyone out—James, Delos and Aradia."
"Sounds like a plan. Aradia first?"
"Yes, she sounds like she would take longer to free. Maya and the others aren't coming back until midnight, so we have plenty of time."
Aradia was meditating in her cell when they opened the door. Her head turned slightly, and she smiled. "Hello, John and Iona."
Quinn only felt a small twinge of annoyance at the use of his first name. He was almost getting used to it from her. "Aradia," he greeted. "We're here to free you."
Aradia pushed herself to her feet and faced them as Iona produced a hairpin and successfully picked the lock with it. When Quinn shot her a questioning look, she smiled a bit sheepishly. "Let's just say, I've had a lot of experience when it comes to things like these," she said.
She pushed the door open, and Aradia walked out, her eyes gazing vacantly at the rock ceiling. "Thank you, Iona," she said, touching her arm with perfect accuracy. "If you don't mind, I would like to be taken to the highest part of the mountain."
Iona and Quinn exchanged a glance. "Why?" asked Iona. Aradia merely smiled and looked at Quinn for an answer.
"We have an outpost on the peak," said Quinn.
Aradia's smile widened. "That will be perfect."
To get to the peak, they had to climb close to seven hundred steps—and those were when Quinn wasn't carrying Aradia. Maya hardly ever remembered to feed her prisoners, so it wasn't a surprise that Aradia was sick and often too weak to climb more than thirty steps at a time.
They reached the peak of the mountain within an hour. Aradia stood in front of the wall of windows and closed her eyes, her lips beginning to tremble as she said a spell.
"What's she doing?" asked Quinn. Iona elbowed him in the ribs to keep quiet.
"A summoning spell, by the looks of it," she whispered back.
Aradia lifted her face to the sky and began to speak. The only sound in the room was her voice.
"It is not I who speak these words, but Hecate. It is her hand that guides me now; it is her voice that gives my words power. Hear me, Spirits, and listen to my call."
"I call forth the light of the Day. I call forth the flame of the hearth. I call forth the land of kings. I call forth the twilight and the dark. By blood and darkness I summon thee! By the powers of Earth, Water, Air and Fire—I call you back!From the narrow path—I call you back! As a daughter of Hellewise and the Maiden of the Witches—I call you forth!"
A pulse of power—that was the only word Iona could use to describe the wave of energy that washed through her—exploded out of Aradia, and she fell to her knees. Quinn caught her before her head hit the ground.
Iona was rooted to the spot. Her fingers and toes tingled at the magic in the air, and she could feel the hairs on her neck stand up. Quinn felt the magnitude of the spell as well. When he looked up, his eyes were wide. "What was that?" he whispered.
"Something very, very powerful," replied Iona.
And Iona is right, but more so than she can possibly imagine. Aradia has conducted one of the most potent summoning spells in existence. Her spell is encircling the globe, searching for the four people the world needs the most.
Delos couldn't sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Maggie—brown eyes flat, body limp, face frozen in fear. Just like Poppy.
If Maggie died because of him, he'd never be able to forgive himself. He'd go crazy with guilt, just like everyone else in Daybreak.
Like Ash, because he hadn't stopped Mary-Lynnette from going to San Francisco. Like Eric, because he hadn't fought hard enough to convince Thea to stay in Nevada. Like James, because he'd allowed himself to let Poppy go hunt alone.
He couldn't do anything here in Eris. Not with Maggie's life at stake.
Something that sounded like thunder echoed through the room then. The ground began to shake, and rocks from the ceiling showered down on them. James grabbed the wooden bars of their cell to keep from falling. The candle flame enlarged to twice its size, then went out, immersing them in total darkness.
"What the hell was that?" asked James. Delos's fingers started tingling.
"I don't know," he said, "but I doubt it's anything good."
He stared into the candle flames in silence, listening to the footsteps and heartbeats above him. Contrary to popular belief, candles did make a noise. They hissed. It was the only noise Kierlan Drache was used to, here in his prison cell.
"You're not coming out until you tell us where the Wild Power is," they'd told him. The irony almost made him want to laugh. They'd executed Delos Redfern on public television back in 2006—why was Maya still looking for the fourth Wild Power in the first place? Four less one and darkness triumphs.
Kierlan smiled and looked at his nails. They kept them closely trimmed so he wouldn't be able to hurt himself, and they never sent shapeshifters into his cell for anything. He hadn't chosen a form yet, after all.
Go ahead, he thought, smiling at the lone candle. Look for Mal. He's not the Wild Power.
The ground abruptly began to tremble. The candle's flame swelled in size before it exploded in a shower of yellow light. Kierlan was too far away to be harmed, but it had surprised him nonetheless.
The guard opened the door outside, letting light flood Kierlan's room. "What happened?" he demanded.
"I don't know. I need a new candle, though." He smiled innocently, squinting in front of the bright lights. The guard scowled and shut the door. A few minutes later, he returned with a lit candle and set it in front of the door.
Kierlan didn't move from his spot against the wall. Instead, he stared at the ceiling, wondering if he had just imagined the candle flame turning blue before it exploded.
"Papers," said the man as he made his way down the aisle, holding out an expectant hand. Catherine Clovis smiled at him as she handed him her passport. He glanced over it quickly and handed it back to her, moving on to her two companions.
Catherine, whose true name was actually Iliana, only let out her breath when he went into the next carriage. "I think I'm going to be sick," she admitted to the strawberry-haired blonde sitting next to her.
Winfrith Arlin smiled at her, and Nissa Johnson leaned back into the seat to sleep. "My stomach's all twisted, too," she said, grabbing her friend's hand. "But Washington won't be so bad. You'll see."
Iliana sighed and pressed her forehead against the window. Suddenly, an electric shock ran through her, and she straightened, glancing around. Winfrith was talking to Nissa. No one had touched her.
And she suddenly had the inexplicable urge to look behind her. But there was nothing there but the end of the carriage. A strange pull made her want to go west, but, for the life of her, Iliana couldn't identify the reason why.
She tugged on Winfrith's sleeve, getting her attention. "Did you feel that?" she whispered. Winnie frowned at her, confused.
"Nothing," said Iliana, turning to look out the window. Winnie stared at her for a short while, but returned to her conversation with Nissa.
But Iliana never lost the urge to look behind her—to look west.
Something's coming, she thought. Something big.
The pain was indescribable. It felt like someone had rolled her over with a steamroller, dipped her in acid, and poked her with sharp knives all over her body. And it came all at once—that was the worst part. She had been floating in a sea of nothing, and suddenly red-hot pain came and disrupted her from her sleep.
Her eyes flew open and she jerked up, clutching her stomach. She grimaced as she took a breath. The sharp ache reverberated all the way down to her toes, but it hurt the most in her abdomen. Her fingers ghosted over her midsection, probing for injuries, and she winced.
Where am I?
Then she took note of her surroundings. The white sheer window drapes were floating on the soft breeze coming in through the open windows, and the sky outside was a pale gray. Candles flickered on plates chained to the ceiling. She could smell the rain and hear it pattering softly on the roof.
But there was another smell . . . blood. Lots of blood. Her mouth went dry at the very thought of it. She looked around and saw a mirror directly across from her. A woman she didn't recognize stared out back at her: a woman with a sleeveless, floor-length pale green dress, a streak of gray in her fire-orange hair, emaciated arms, a hollow blue gaze with dark circles underneath her eyes. Her reflection was a living skeleton.
What happened to me?
She could remember bits and pieces—a girl with spun gold for hair and a golden ring and an angelic smile shoving her out of the way of purple blaze erupting from a scaly snout—a boy with dirty blond hair hurling orange flames at a man—a wolf launching itself into the air—and fire, God, the blue fire—
She closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see her skeleton-self, and she slowly swung her legs out over the bed. Her whole body ached, but she gritted her teeth, stood up, and took a few steps forward. She fell to the carpeted floor immediately, catching herself with her hands. More pain traveled up her arms in waves.
The door was a few feet away from her, a mocking symbol of her weakness. The woman tried again to rise, to take a step toward the door, and she fell. On the fourth try, she caught herself on to the dresser, and limped her way to the door. Her legs just didn't seem to know how to work properly.
When she opened the door, she saw an equally gray hallway, with end tables scattered across the corridor. Candles cast a soft glow on the alabaster. She used the wall to support herself as she made her way to the end of the hall. She would stumble every so often, but soon she got the hang of walking once more.
Then she had to face a new challenge: going down the stairs. That was where the blood was, she was sure of it. Her frail hands, their skin stretched over every bone, grasped the railing for dear life as she slowly climbed down the stairs.
When she reached the bottom, she immediately saw the carnage. The door was ripped off of its hinges, and bodies were scattered across the hall. But their hearts weren't beating—it would be too difficult to get the blood out. But there was someone in here with a heartbeat, weak as it was. She followed the heartbeat, leaning heavily on the wall for support.
The heartbeat led her to a middle-age woman with dark brown-and-gray hair pulled back into a gentle bun. She was sitting against the wall, her arms, neck and lips scarlet. The woman winced at the pain in her body and went to the one sitting on the floor, collapsing into a heap at her side.
She grabbed the burgundy arm, ready to drink and relieve her thirst, when the woman spoke. She had a gentle but commandeering voice, and it captured the woman's attention immediately. "Jezebel Redfern."
Jezebel Redfern. Is that my name?
Jezebel Redfern stopped halfway to her arm and looked up at the woman, waiting for her to continue. The woman wore a black dahlia necklace, and her brown eyes were awestruck. "You're awake."
Jezebel started lapping at the blood on her arm and nodded. The blood washed over her tongue, and she almost cried. Her tongue felt like dust, and every drop of blood she licked off of the woman's arm felt like heaven. When she had cleaned the blood off of the woman's hand, she cleared her throat and nodded again. "I suppose. What's your name?"
The woman relaxed against the wall as Jezebel continued to suck on her arm. "I'm Dylis Argall. I led this coven."
Jezebel blinked, noting her use of past tense. "What happened? Where am I?" she asked, looking at the body of a young girl lying facedown on the linoleum. Dylis sighed.
"You've been under our protection at our coven, here in Wales. We thought you were safe—it's been sixteen years—we had no idea they were coming—" she winced and shook her head, a few strands of silver coming out of her bun to frame her face. Her brown eyes focused on Jez. "Maya's werewolves came in here, just a few hours ago, and slaughtered my coven. But they didn't find you. Our spells made sure of that. How much do you remember?"
Heat. Pain. Orange fire. Blue fire. So much smoke—
Jezebel winced and shook her head. "Screaming," she whispered. "Death. Buildings burning. There was blue fire, too. So much blue fire."
Dylis smiled sadly. "Yes. There was a War, sixteen years ago. We were losing. But we had the Wild Powers—those destined to help us win the war; our saviors, if you will—on our side. You're one of them, Jez."
Jez started. "But—"
Dylis shook her head. "I'm dying," she chided softly. "Let me finish."
Jez was quiet. Dylis smiled and continued, "You're a Wild Power. That means you hold a very powerful weapon—blue fire. But the Daybreakers—our side—needed four Wild Powers to win the War, and we only had three. I agreed to house you until Daybreak had found the fourth one. But on your flight to London, you encountered two dragons. Dragons are very powerful shapeshifters on the enemy side. You used so much blue fire you had to use your life force to help fuel it.
"The blue fire incinerated the dragons, but not before they had killed your friends. The use of your life force caused you to pass out. I found you buried underneath the rubble of London, and I put a glamour in your place when I brought you here. You've been in a coma, recovering your life force, ever since that day. Nothing we did or could do could wake you up. But something happened that caused you to wake up today." Her brown eyes studied her face. "What was it?"
Jez shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know anything—"
"You'll remember," promised Dylis. "You'll remember—and when you do—find the other Wild Powers. Find Maya. Kill her, once and for all. Kill her, and you save the world."
Jez didn't know who the other Wild Powers were, or who Maya was, but she could feel the woman's strength draining away. She clutched her hand and nodded. "I will. I promise."
Dylis smiled and turned her head, revealing her neck. "Drink, Jez. Dead blood is no good to you." She closed her eyes. "At least I will die in peace."
Jez couldn't resist. She scooted forward and brushed Dylis's hair back, attaching her lips to her throat. Sharp teeth punctured skin, and blood sprayed into her mouth. Jez gulped down every mouthful greedily, closing her eyes at the sweet sensation of relief, smoothing out the feeling of sandpaper in her throat.
She didn't stop drinking until she felt Dylis's hand go limp.