Whew…y'all, it's been a rough two months. I'll never, for the life of me, never understand the teachers' motivations to make every project and paper due on the exact same day. I bet they all have a monthly meeting and say, "Let's give them lengthy and immense projects in every class, and then make them turn it on the 12th!" Evil teachers, evil, evil, EVIL teachers! Any way, any of you in American colleges, I'd like to know about APA format because apparently nobody has the right answers here—references organized chronologically or alphabetically? Email me the answer or review, whatever.

And, sorry again, but I've irresponsibly devoted some of my time to a new L.J. Smith story. I just get really distracted by new ideas which explains why I have ten million unfinished fanfictions. And I don't want to make anybody look forward to the next one (which once again features our favorite fox shifter) because I've had two months and I've only written one chapter.

Any way, it's not the education system's fault or creativity's fault I've procrastinated for so long. If I was a dedicated writer who truly cares about her readers, I would have stayed up until the wee hours in the morning to finish. The truth is, I had another version of this chapter as well, but I just didn't like the inappropriate comedy in it, so I rewrote the entire thing. As I've said before, I'm not very talented with ending things. But I tried my hardest because after all of your patience, you reviewers do not deserve a half-assed ending. So here's my last chapter (I think), fully assed! ;0) Oh and please keep an open mind in this chapter and pay attention! Wow, I sound like a school marm! Hee, hee, "marm" is a weird word.

Alison: The next chapter will be up…now. Yup, just in case you haven't figured it out by now. ;0) Any way, I'm glad you're enjoying it—because it was just be mean to be glad when readers aren't enjoying it—and hopefully you'll still like it after this chapter.

Mad Angel: Okay calm down! I'm glad you're so enthusiastic about it. And thanks for reviewing on multiple occasions! I'd love to hear from you again so if you could…please review?

Anonymous: I'm glad to help! With finals and everything, every day has been a crappy day for me, so I know how you feel. I'm glad you like him! Well, I followed your encouragement and I kept writing—it was incredibly hard!—so here ya go!

Martha: Very misleading, sorry about that. And you can read the fake jared in this chapter! Please read and review.

More than u know: Sorry, this was the longest gap I've ever had between updates! Very sorry it wasn't soonish! All will explained in this chapter—at least I think it's all, not sure…and of course, I would be very much annoyed if one of my beloved animals turned out to be my soul mate. Any way please review!

Aife Bisclaveret: Hiya and thanks for reviewing. Yes, I finally realize there's a universal hatred for cliffies, but hey, what can you do? Thierry was accidentally funny, and I'm sure he'd be pissed to know his serious side wasn't taken seriously. Any way, I love those little keebler elves! Mean people say when I express this wish, "Look in the mirror." But I can't cook. Any way, try and review this time but not too harshly please?

ArrA: Yes, and those damn cliff hangers! I hate them…if I wasn't writing them myself, hehe, sheepish! And, remember—not to be ominous—but not all stories are about happy endings, but the overall message. I know Adrian isn't the most stable person, but then again, neither is Verity. Thanx for the review and do so again!

Finyda: Yes, I'm usually reckless with my cliff hangers and I apologize for any hyperventilation or strokes that last chapter induced! And you'll find out "who who who" in this chapter, though some people have already figured it out. Any way, even if the thought has occurred to me, I'd like to ignore the possible relationship between batman and robin because batman is my favorite superhero…:0)

Oli: If you go back and read, you'll see it's not the actual Jared. But you don't have to because things will get clearer in this chapter. I hope you still like my story after this chapter…though you'd have to be a truly loyal fan and see the bigger picture to really like it. I love Kyros!! It might be evil to say this, but I love him more than Jared…and yes, poor Adrian. Boys never learn. It's so cold right now too! May in the South is supposed to be warm. I hope you review!

Crydwyn: Thank ya bunches, I was worried them arguing right after a kiss was a bit too Punch and Judy. And yes, all the things incorporated in the story are necessary. I've said it before and I'll say it again. A means to an end. And there's always a way to get out of a tangle…just a bunch a ways people don't approve of.

Falcon: Hey you're name is in my next story! Any way, I know cliffhangers are tough to deal with, but it makes…um…yeah, I have no excuse. I was going try to BS my way through this, but there's no excuse for me ending it so gasp-y and not updating for so long. Other than the fact that I'm incurably selfish. And I was tired of writing and seeing serious Thierry so I thought still-serious-but-accidentally-funny Thierry would be fun to see. And I'm glad to finally make somebody cry for not a sad reason!

H: um, h right back at ya!

Vague Verity

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,

Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;

People often claimed trauma, but Verity would have never have guessed it would feel this bizarre, nor this calm. Similar to the shock of Jared's death, yet not quite as painful, nor deafening. As if she was on the outside looking in, fatalistically detached. She heard nothing save the furious rhythm of her heart, and watched listlessly as the images slid in and out of the seductive shadows.

Jared would find this funny. Maria would too, because that woman loved her irony. Verity made a note to tell this story once she left this island. She would have to remember every detail, because neither Jared nor Maria deserved a poorly told tale. So she looked around, drinking in everything. The dusty furniture, the icy marble floor, the darkness so deep it swallowed the weak light emanating from that lamp…

That lamp, held by the palest hand she ever saw. Oh, Rita thought absently, Jared would hate that. Jared disapproved of people staying inside, hiding from the sun so that their skin was nearly translucent. Jared would have hated Rita being the dungeon for so long. She would just have to reassure him that that boy helped her out.

That boy, she repeated to herself. The very pale woman was scrutinizing her, perhaps with worry or confusion. But Rita turned away, because she didn't like those eyes. No, gazing into those azure ice chips hurt too much. They reminded her of—of…

She took two languid steps backwards, closer to the core of the blackness. Here, it was easier to think. Here, there was not so much to process, not so much to bear. Rita saw nothing and enjoyed her lack of knowledge.

Things would have been so much better if I hadn't known…

She would have found him. Valdis would have encouraged her to go find what she was looking for, instead of sitting around idly. He was that sort of person. So she stepped forward, but couldn't, she soon learned. What was this holding her back?

The world did not come back to her; instead, she felt herself pulled swiftly to a distant scene of a woman, and a man—

With a terrified gasp, Rita fell back against the person holding her tightly. Jared was dead, she remembered. How she envied him.

Her worried green eyes flickered rapidly about the dark chamber, and finally rested to the girl in front of her. And Adrian.

Neither of them noticed her. The girl—woman, Rita corrected. A beautiful, queen like ideal of femininity, the stranger was everything Rita had once wanted to be. She remembered her, but only slightly. In her tangled memories, Verity did not recall the woman looking so terrified.

"Look what you've done to her," Adrian ordered in a low feral growl. Rita shivered at the sound of it. It was tone she hadn't heard for ages; the silkily deep flow of his voice that made her instinctively tense, waiting for the blow. His handsome features were now twisted with effortless cruelty.

He was not the Adrian that had apologized to her. This was not the same man who saved her from the cold, who held her close and comforted her—

No. This was her husband.

And to attest her new realization, Adrian reached forward so quickly his arm was a mere blur. The woman tried to back away, and Rita, had she been able to find her voice, would have told her not to bother. Adrian was too quick to escape. Verity bit her lip as the woman cried out in pain. She knew that his grip on the woman's arm would be harsh.

"Didn't I tell you to look? I swear, Calida, if she is harmed in any way—"

"But she's not!" Calida whimpered, and then winced. I hated the sound of my voice too, Rita told her silently, when Adrian frightened me. "She's not hurt, Adrian, please…she's fine." Adrian did not bother to believe Calida's words. "Just look, damn you, just look! Just…stop hurting me."

Rita nearly cried. It was ridiculous to cry for this woman. But it made her heart ache to see such poise, such beauty, crumbling under the merciless treatment of a heartless criminal. Rita thought it such a waste of energy and affection for an obviously powerful woman such as Calida to love him.

Now Adrian did look, and in a second he forgot Calida's very existence. Instantly he was at her side, snarling at the guard to release her before he dismembered him. Frantic with concern, Adrian drew her into his arms. Gone was the sneer from his lips. Looking up at him, Rita could not find a trace of the violent fire in his eyes nor the tenseness in his jaw. He was her Adrian again by all appearances.

"She's fine," Calida said stonily. Adrian did not bother to acknowledge her as he began to free Rita's hands.

"Are you all right?" he asked her anxiously. "Did he hurt you?" Rita avoided his gaze, and tried to pull away, ineffectually. "You fainted, I think. Don't worry, Rita, I'll—"

"How did you escape your cell?" Calida asked. Again, he ignored her. Without fear, Calida was herself again, and Verity felt all former hatred flooding back. "Dammit, if you don't turn away from that vermin, I will kill her."

"Then you would die soon afterwards, " Adrian retorted calmly. Adrian's hand rose to check her pulse, and he frowned when she flinched away. He continued despite her discomfort, but merely said, "Your blood pressure is low. We'll need—"

"Adrian," Calida said imperiously. Now assured of her relative well being, Adrian turned away from his soul mate and faced her. "I am serious. I will kill that girl with pleasure."

"As was I. You will die, Calida, if you dare touch her." His voice was soft yet deadly. But now she was not so easily intimidated.

"I," she pronounced clearly, " would gladly risk my life if it meant living in a world where she did not belong, albeit for a few seconds." Her tone softened, and the stranger stepped closer. "Think, Adri," she advised in an intimate whisper, "you are surrounded by my men, and I have hundreds more on hand. Even if you escape the castle with her safely, there's no guarantee you'll make it off the island."

Standing behind him, Rita could see his shoulders tense as his eyes surveyed the room. They were surrounded by ten or more men, all of whom were armed and ready. A few eyed Verity hungrily and, against her better judgment, she stepped closer to her soul mate.

Though he was in no position to bargain, Adrian nodded and said, "I will answer your questions, Calida, if you all leave us alone." He took the time to let his unnerving gaze rest on each of the henchmen, so that by the time he looked to Calida again, all were ready to comply at her signal. Half went through the door Verity had used, and the other half exited through which they came.

"You too, Calida," Adrian ordered when their captor appeared ready to close them in. Verity watched with wide eyes as Calida realized that, when Adrian said "us," he had meant him and his soul mate. "For a few moments," he added upon observing her angry mortification. "I just need to speak to her alone. I would like to speak to you when she understands." His tone was so patronizing Verity did not believe for one moment that Calida would obey. Not only that, but to leave them alone would be complete idiocy.

"It is no use to try and plan an escape. You cannot leave now without my men watching," she informed them coolly before stepping outside. The door was left open an inch, Rita noticed.

Again, she found herself in his arms. "Let go," she demanded, looking at any thing but him. Her eyes cowardly focused upon her abandoned lamp, which slowly guttered and vanished into the darkness. If not for that woman's extra light, Verity would have been left to depend on Adrian for sight. And she was not ready to trust him for anything.

It surprised her when he refused, considering he was willing to do anything for her forgiveness just a few moments earlier.

"Ecoute-moi," he whispered very closely to her ear. "Elle ne parle pas francais."

"Why?" she demanded skeptically. The woman was obviously European and, considering how long she and Adrian had lived, Verity could not believe the woman hadn't picked up some French along the way.

"Because, in the past, England and France haven't been the best of friends," he snapped in English, because she had spoken in English. "Mais pas maintenant. Je sais que tu es un petit peu furieuse avec moi—"

"Un petit peu," Verity repeated incredulously. "It's a lot more than a 'little bit,' Adrian. And why does she call you Adri?"

"Francais, Verity," he scolded, shaking her shoulders. With one scorching glance on the offensive hands, Adrian released her, but stayed very close. "Je n'ai pas d'idee maintenant, mais quand l'opportunite arrive—"

"L'opporunite de quoi?" She glanced around the room and so nothing of these said opportunities. "D'echapper?"

"Non, the opportunity to have tea with the bitch," he answered dryly. For the sarcasm and for the offensive term, she pinched his arm painfully. "Of course to escape. S'il te plait, Verity, soit cooperatif."

"Why does it matter?" she asked in nearly inaudible tones. "What does it matter whether I cooperate, and we some how make it alive? You prefer dead soul mates any way." Adrian winced and then spoke through clenched teeth. Since she had abandoned any pretense of hiding their communication, he did the same.

"Verity, if we do not leave soon, Calida will have you changed and then killed. You would not come back."

"All for the better then," she hissed. "And it does not matter. Death as a vampire would not change the fact that it doesn't affect you. Even if we do live, and I die eventually, we've agreed that you will not meet me when I am reborn."

"Yes we have," he shot back in an equally virulent tone. "But you are my soul mate, and anything that happens to you would affect me. And I'd rather have you living until Doomsday without speaking a word to me, than have you die an undeserving and early death with me." Adrian spoke gravely, without a hint of sentimentality.

His last words caused her to, finally, meet his intense eyes. "What do you mean, 'with'—"

"I'll create a diversion—" he continued when she interrupted.

"She won't kill you." Verity wasn't sure if she had made a statement or proposed a question. "She loves you."

"Yes," he agreed. "She does. But she loves her pride as well. Calida won't stand to be humiliated, even by the one she loves. She'll either kill me or leave me. Or both," he added with dry humor. Verity did not laugh, slowly realizing the chilling parallels between her and her nemesis.

"But what does it matter?" Adrian asked in a harder tone. "If I die here, what does it matter? You're determined to never see me again. What difference does it make if I die here, instead of living the rest of my life avoiding yours?"

Anger flared up swiftly and intensely. "Don't you dare, 'Adri' Amaro. I'm not the psycho with a dead body in a display case!" She was confused, and furious for having been confused. For some reason, it was very easy to envision her death. But Adrian, who had been living far away and in the recesses of her mind for thousands of centuries, was an entirely different matter. The world without Adrian Amaro was not unnecessarily worse, but it was not better either.

"Don't call me Adri," he warned, almost comically. "I hate that name. Also, that's just what it is. A dead body. It means nothing now. And for god's sake, Rita, just focus! Once they're distracted—"

"There's at least ten men, Adrian. I'll be killed." An indescribable expression passed over Adrian's features at that aspect.

"No, I'll take care of the ones at that door." He gestured to the door Calida had exited. Upon seeing it slightly ajar, he picked up the lantern and threw it so forcefully at the door it slammed shut. A frightening click told them it locked automatically. The blackness instantly swallowed them mercilessly. Rita steeled herself against any fear, knowing, despite the darkness, that Adrian was not intimidated.

"Oh dear," Verity whispered, although no one was near enough to hear them. "She won't like that."

"Yes, well, I don't like being knocked out and locked up in my own castle. You run out that door, and then you turn right. After some distance you'll see the main entrance we went through—"

"Kyros and Winnie!" she remembered suddenly. "We can't leave without Kyros and Winnie."

Adrian ground his teeth in an effort to tether the biting reprimand. With his entire being, he could not fathom the importance of those two. What was one less shifter, or one less witch? But his soul mate was stubborn, that he could easily understand. So she would either try to find them once she left the room, with or without his help. Better with.

"If you insist on saving that stupid, mangy bastard," Adrian retorted without hiding his animosity, "then turn left and take the first turn on your right. It's the door at the end of that hall way, though the smell of unwashed fur will probably help you find it."

She did not have time to correct his view of Kyros. "Okay," she breathed with relief. "And then I'll come back for you?"

Adrian stared down at her, utterly confused. He would never, ever, ever understand women. Perhaps Rita was willing to look past this morbid discovery. Perhaps she cared for him more than she herself even realized. Or perhaps, he thought dully, she wasn't entirely certain how to leave the castle.

The door over her shoulder, through which she had entered moments before, shook slightly. Adrian stared at it with narrowed eyes. "Yes…no. I'll meet you outside," he answered absently, and gently pushed her aside. Now the door knob rattled. Perhaps the henchmen were growing antsy.

"Adrian, please. Tell me the truth." The anxiety in her voice caused him to turn to her. "You won't go all noble and try to sacrifice yourself?"

He smiled slightly. "You know, I don't think I'll ever be guilty of getting 'all noble.' But, I promise. I'll find you." Now even Verity heard the disturbing activity behind the ancient door. They both stood, tensely awaiting the attack.

But her rival, Rita learned, was annoyingly sneaky. They planned it, she thought with indignation, as the other door—that totally unguarded, still door—silently swung open and the enemy poured through. Of course, through the palpable darkness, she saw none of this. But Adrian's fiery curses and the noises from the opposite side of the chamber said enough. Verity barely had time to register the underhanded mode of attack when she was roughly grabbed, kissed, and felt Adrian's urgent words.

Run.

But I can't see, she argued, understandably panicked. In a kiss that lasted a few precious seconds, Verity not only heard his thoughts but felt all his emotions. One of them was hesitance, and then hardened resolve soon followed.

Without warning, he brusquely hurled her away. She collided violently with another man, but the shooting pain in her head was not priority. A bone chilling cry shook the room, and halted all the men in their tracks. Its rough voice seemed to writhe in growing anguish, as if the feral creature drew nearer to its misery. And although she terror froze her as much as it did the others, Verity felt her sore limbs move towards the sound. Because she had caught a hint of Adrian in it.

At once, there was a blinding light. The wild array of orange and red was accompanied by blistering heat. In her effort to scramble over the man she had accidentally ambushed and caused to fall on his own weapon, Verity barely had time to glance over her shoulder to ascertain the source.

The bed and all its contents, and everything in it, was slowly but surely engulfed by the flames. A majority of Calida's men had conveniently reached the area near Gitana's final resting place, so that they too fell victim to the unexpected inferno. She could not see if the woman was caught in the grasping arms of the fire, but somebody more important was gradually falling into view.

The twitching flames offered swift and fleeting jolts of light, so she could not see Adrian as a whole. But she saw enough to know what had happened. A grotesquely enormous claws, hard and shiny scales glimmering with blood and fire. A quick flash of the huge tail, the loud scrapes turning her stomach as it swept against the floor to strike henchman after another. And, for just a few moments, two cobalt orbs framed by iridescent lids of immense size gazing at her wistfully. The gaping jaws moved slightly, silently blazing with his earlier word.

Run.

No doubt there was a hellish cacophony ignited by the blaze, but the staggering agony of the reptilian savage rang in her ears. It had hurt him, so much so that he screamed, to change to an animal of that size and power. He had always told her it was difficult for a three-horned dragon to change into larger animals. But he had…for her.

Blindly, with only half a mind of her steps, she ran down the corridor and turning at the appropriate halls. Her leg muscles, which had endured cramps, icy water, and long treks, now protested the exercise. Sporadic and pitifully small torches assisted her until she finally reached the door that held her friends. Enraged disappointment slashed through Verity when she realized it was locked.

"I can't," she murmured desperately, scratching at the entrance, looking for some way to break through. "I can't." Rita had no energy left to break it down. Her hands fumbled uselessly, and her panic heightened by the second. How much time had passed? A few seconds? Minutes? How long would they last? How long would he last?

"Kyros! Winnie!" In despair, she slumped against the wall. It was hopeless. Adrian had sacrificed himself for nothing. There was the option of finding another way in, but Rita had not the sensibility nor energy to try. She didn't want to die here, nor cause so many others—

Something suddenly bit into her back. Just as she remembered the knife in her back pocket, metallic clang and raised voices flowed through the door. She sprang to her feet, ready to fight just as Adrian had, when the massive wooden slab abruptly gave way. Again, the persistent dimness concealed the identity of the one responsible. Rita maintained her fighting stance, though her weapon trembled uncontrollably. Faintly, she spied bright red hair…

"Kyros!" she shrieked with breathless joy.

"Jeez, you forget to save a girl and she almost stabs you—" he muttered jokingly as she fell into his arms. The embrace was necessary physically as well as emotionally. The fox shifter felt her knees quaking against his, and her heart pounded as if attempting escape. In concern for her safety as well as his, the Kyros gently disarmed her and placed the knife back in her waist band. With minor panic himself, he realized the girl was near tears. Awkwardly, he patted her shoulders.

"Winnie!" was her next ecstatic exclamation, unfortunately close to his ear. The two girls clutched tightly to each other, and tears fell from both green and blue eyes. Watching the two, Kyros suddenly realized Verity had been searching from them with the same passion of rescue as Winnie had for her. It was a moment of elation that neither he, nor Thierry, could understand the girls' need to demonstrate it now. There were other pressing matters. Escape, for one, and escape being the other.

"Do you smell smoke?" Thierry asked him curiously. Upon concentration, Kyros confirmed the charred scent. Verity, who hadn't noticed the new arrival, now pulled away from her friend and regarded him warily. Kyros had to admire her. Nothing but a pitiful human, but she was ready to defend a witch and a fox shifter from a muscular man with an enchanted ax in hand and a torch in the other.

"I'm Thierry," his boss said curtly. "I'm their displeased employer and the man who bought your house. Do you know a way out and preferably away from the fire?" Verity, dazed with the past hour's events, shook her head numbly. "Do you know who's responsible for this entire mess?"

"For god's sake, Thierry," Kyros cut in roughly, "interrogate the poor girl later. We have to go."

Grudgingly, the man agreed and they propelled her to another door. Rita allowed herself to be led like a child until they heard a piece of architecture crumble and shatter, presumably from the scorching.

"Well," Kyros said cheerfully, rubbing his sore muscles with one hand and supporting Rita with the other. The four gazed thoughtfully at one door, which seeped acrid smoke through every opening. "I bet fifty that that one has something burning behind it."

"Gee, Kyros, you think?" Winnie coughed caustically. As they swiftly moved to the only other door still passable, Kyros pretended to ponder her question.

"That," he chirped, "or the fiery gates of hell have opened right here in Sunnydale."

"For god's sake you two," Thierry growled and paused uncertainly in the corridor, now billowing with smoke. "Either of you know which way you came in?"

"That way," Winnie answered solemnly and nodded towards the end that glowed with hellish flames. "And I'm certain there's no back door."

"Can you make a back door?" Thierry's steely tone made an order out of a question, and without another word they moved the opposite direction. Already Rita felt the smoke slither into her eyes, and into her lungs, cruelly stinging her sight and her voice. Belatedly, the stalwart men realized the struggle their female companions were forced to make against the fire and resorted to half crawling and half dragging across the freezing marble floor. Relief came in the form of Winnie's frustration, and her misplacing it on a priceless antique window they happened to inch by brought in clean arctic air. Through blurred eyes Rita saw that the sun had just set, and she prayed Adrian was still waiting outside the front entrance, and that he hadn't tired of waiting and left altogether.

Wait, she begged, unsure whether the plea remained silent in her head or was choked desperately through her dry, cracked lips. Just wait a few seconds.

A tiny stabbing started abruptly in her mind, nearly paralyzing her if not for Kyros' strong grip wrapped around her shoulders.

Wait.

As far as her sore body allowed her, Rita glanced around her. There was no one else around them, unless they somehow managed to travel through the dark, cloudy stream above them. On the icy floor she saw nothing but the Daybreakers and broken furniture.

Wait! The violence of the thought staggered her.

Her barely suppressed whimper would have distracted her protective guide if not for Winnie's loud curse. For the third time, she had used her powers to demolish the walls, and for the third time, they found another room.

The word came again. Wait, please wait.

But it was not her own. A completely foreign entity had linked to her mind, completely freezing her in her tracks, despite Kyros' stern tugs.

Wait, querida, don't leave me.

Adrian?

It was a fear she had refused to acknowledge the moment she left him. He was not outside, waiting in the snow. Her soul mate had decided, against her wishes, to indeed go "all noble," and sacrifice himself. Now, back in the horrible death room, he was most likely dying. All because of her.

"Verity!" It not Kyros who spoke so dangerously soft, but his "displeased employer." The handsome young man looked at her menacingly, daring her to disrupt their retreat. "Verity Glisscielle, you either speed up or we'll help you speed up." For a man who claimed to wish the unity of humans and Night World species, he wasn't very friendly.

"Wait," she begged.

Wait, Adrian echoed pleadingly. His raw fear and intense pain slid into her fluidly, slowing every thought, tainting every emotion. She could not go on. Verity could not take another step, knowing it was farther away from him.

"Why?" Winnie demanded. "I have one more wall to break through and I don't care if it leads to a frozen swamp land. I am getting you out of here."

"Because—because," she sputtered gaspingly.

Wait, querida, please. I need you.

Although Arlin and Snow glared at her, Mr. Thierry understood immediately. "Are you sure it's worth it?" he asked, not explaining what "it" was. Rita wished he had, for now her mind raced with what exactly "it" was. Did he mean Adrian? Did he mean her risk of going back to save him? Or had he meant the risk of sending all of them back for just one man she wasn't sure she liked?

Hurry, querida, now. An edge lined the sharp thought that sliced through her. Now, come to me now.

Wait, Adrian.

No, shouted the man in anguish. Our link…it's growing weak.

Winnie croaked the last words of her spell, and four massive marble blocks gave way, revealing the cool black night. Wind howled in, feeding the hungry flames.

But, Rita calculated quickly now that she was faced with an ultimatum. Kyros bodily shoved Winnie out the opening, and, after ensuring the human was safe with Thierry, soon leaped into the chilly blackness.

But what? Adrian asked, a note of helplessness slipping into thoughts.

But we've never had a link before. That's why you had to kiss me to tell me to run.

No, querida, it's not—

And I asked you to stop calling me that. And…

"We have no link," Rita whispered. Her green eyes widened at the realization. "It's not Adrian," she told Thierry breathlessly. "It's her. The one who caused everything. It's her."

"Who?"

"Calida…she's still alive. We have to leave, we have to go right now—"

Don't you want to know how I killed your sister, your mother? hissed the stranger. Calida's glacial voice drilled into her mind, causing agony that was just as casual as it was brutal. Don't you want to know how I killed your class mates?

"Calida," Thierry repeated with a look of concentration. "Calida Solanum?"

"I don't know," Verity said through grit teeth, because it was very difficult to fight the cold snarls in her head and carry out a conversation with a stranger. "Blonde, tall, very old—"

"But," Thierry continued to argue, heedless of the looming fire, "she died…"

If you leave now, Calida persuaded sweetly, you'll never know. You'll never know why, you'll never know how, you'll never know…

That's not enough, Verity retorted fiercely. You're trying to trick me, just to kill me.

Stay, Verity Glisscielle. You're not right the way you are.

And what way am I?

"…she was a great illusionist at her time. No, Rita, we can't possibly go back. She can make you see anything—"

Alive, was the vicious whisper.

"That's your opinion," Rita shot back angrily. Thierry frowned.

"No, I'm fairly certain she will kill you if she has the chance." Rita focused on the man before her, and realized the truth of the entire situation.

"You're right," she said breathlessly. Thierry nodded and made movements to help her out the makeshift door. Calida continued to mentally torment her, but Verity struggled to remain the mature of the two.

Not willing to fight? That's just like the French.

I'm half Spanish, she retorted with scornful pride.

Even worse, the woman mocked. Only Thierry's steady hand on her arm kept her from running back into the fire. Calida's taunting grew more hateful as the possibility of Rita's escape drew nearer.

Arsenic is so flammable.

Rita didn't respond. She was too distracted by the burning Persian rug that was disturbingly close to Winnie's door. Faintly, she could hear Kyros' cursing and Winnie's praying down below. She concentrated on their voices instead of Thierry's struggle to extinguish the flames. Vampires were flammable too, she observed, but the boss refused any assistance Verity offered.

The arsenic preserving the body, Calida continued. Your body. Lovely colors you give off.

If the little harlot was attempting to hurt her, Rita concluded, she was doing a terrible job at it. Verity held not attachments to the dainty little corpse any more than she had attachment to any other life. Calida sensed it and tried another tactic. Which was very successful.

Leaving so soon?

Thierry managed to hurl away the carpet and the threatening tapestry hanging just above their exit. Urgently, he offered his hand, clear eyes demanding her cooperation.

Then that will be two Amaros killed by fire.

Verity felt the truth in her thoughts. It was just as Adrian predicted. The witch's pride outweighed her love for him. Rita hesitated.

"Now or never," Thierry threatened, which, Rita vaguely thought, was unnecessarily dramatic. She was sure there were other doors in the castle. But, with Calida no longer communicating—a very bad sign—and the window of opportunity to ever truly know how and why closing, Verity's expression hardened with resolve.

Her singed and trembling hand took Thierry's.

"It was nice meeting you," she said firmly as she shook it, and turned away. Before he could say anything, she had darted between the flames and back into the inferno. The elder sighed disappointedly and swiftly leapt through the wall. He undoubtedly had some explaining to do to his Daybreakers.

As soon as she made fatal decision, the entirely chateau abruptly changed. It was as if the destruction had never occurred, and dark decay had never set in. One second Verity had been crawling in sooty agony, and the next she found herself lying on a bright, sparkling corridor. The polished marble reflected her dumbfounded expression as she slowly stood, and quietly retraced her steps to Gitana's final chamber.

That was the same. There was hardly any light, save the charred remains of Adrian's anger. Everything was black or bloody, and Rita could still see smoke rising from the grilled bodies of the witch's men, presumably another product of her soul mate's wrath. All the furniture, all the decorations had been obliterated. Yet somehow, the person Verity wished most to die stood unharmed in the midst of it all.

Calida waited, proud and almost glowing in the black aftermath. Her head was held high as Rita cautiously approached. As if the witch refused to acknowledge the fact that all her hard work the past centuries had been for a man who would never be grateful. A man who was Rita's soul mate, and who always be linked to a filthy vermin. A man who laid motionless at the witch's feet.

"You," Rita began quietly, because she had unknowingly grown like her soul mate to hate silences, "are supposed to be dead."

"I could say the same for you." Her voice was soft and alluring. No wonder Adrian loved her for some time.

"You know why I'm still here. Why are you?"

Calida Solanum shrugged flippantly. "I heard him think one day, when I was sick and he was reading by my bed, that it would so much more convenient if I died."

She plans to kill me, Rita thought. Otherwise she would not be so open. "So you faked your own death just to please him? That's absurd."

"I loved him," Calida Solanum said distinctly. "And I did everything for him." Her voice was clear as it was pained. "But he loved you. Do you see the injustice in that?"

She did, to be truthful. Just moments before, Rita remembered feeling sorry for her. But it was no excuse. "I loved my sister," she replied in biting tones. The harshness in the human's voice visibly startled the witch. "I loved my mother. I loved Jared, and Bryan, and my class mates…I loved my husband." She stepped closer, and was pleased that she and Calida were almost the same height. "You were not robbed, Calida. You never had him."

Well, Rita thought to herself as she struggled to keep her balance, that's the first time I believe a girl has ever hit me harder than a boy. When she turned her head back to Calida, her cheek throbbing painfully, the queenly woman appeared as if she hadn't moved a muscle.

Rita felt her eyes fill with irrational tears. It was not the physical pain, for she felt there had too much to think about other than a silly little slap, but the body lying at her feet. For the past few minutes, Verity had been trying surreptitiously to feel their connection, or to search any signs of life in him. But Adrian was very still, and unresponsive to Calida's movements around his body.

"Look at you," Calida said disgustedly. "Pitiful. How in Goddess' name could he prefer you?"

Verity didn't bother to see herself, for she knew quite well what a mess she was. "Look at me? Look at you." All the animosity broiled up furiously inside her, spilling forth when she remembered the people she loved and died. "All these years of chasing a man not worth your time and you've amounted to nothing but a lonely, psychotic bitch. Get a life, Calida. Get a tan."

The woman gave a chilling smile. With a casual shrug, "I suppose becoming the leader of the Night World new council is nothing." Verity, immune to the political importance of the fact, merely rolled her eyes and attempted to step closer to Adrian without her notice.

"You're almost cute when you're trying to be sneaky." With surprisingly civility for a heartless, insane murderer, Calida handed her a small card. "Read it," she encouraged. "Unless you have trouble with big words."

Once again, Rita ignored her. Instead, she read the slip of thick paper.

Love seeketh only Self to please,

To bind another to Its delight,

Joys in another's lose of ease,

And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite.

"The dance," she murmured softly to herself.

"Yes." Calida's voice was heavy with triumph. "It was convenient of your friends to throw them on the food. And, in the slim chance of you leaving this castle alive, you will die in a few weeks now that you've touched that."

The hand holding the card shook uncontrollably as Rita remembered the most important loss that night. Calida read her thoughts.

"The deaths of the students were necessary, of course, to ensure that Adrian got what he wanted. But your friend…" The beautiful smile was malicious. "That was just fun."

Rita couldn't help it. It wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do, but with death presumably at hand, she was not going to spend her last minutes regretting things she should have done. Her hand throbbed after she had slapped Calida's perfect porcelain face. But she suspected with pleasure that her palm did not hurt half as much as the witch's face.

There was no need to explain her actions, nor her emotions concerning Jared. Her roaring emerald eyes said enough and, with one look, Calida understood.

"That pain your feeling?" Now the woman was not so sure of herself, and her silvery voice held tremors in it. "That burning frustration for what happened? That's what I've been feeling for thousands of years."

"No," Verity denied vehemently, for she refused to have any more similarities with this creature. "No, there's a difference. You felt what you felt because you wanted to win. I felt what I felt because I genuinely loved him."

Calida gazed down at Adrian's body. "You're wrong. I truly loved him…Adri had a way of making me feel better just by being sure of himself." For a split second, the sapphire eyes were lost in memories. Then they hardened to an icy shade, signaling the end of this sharing session. "And if you never appreciated that then it's your fault." For a woman in a formal gown, she moved very quickly. Verity instinctively evaded as Calida advanced angrily.

"My fault?"

"Yes, it's your fault he's morphed into whatever he is now. A pathetic shadow compared to what he was before you. All those years with you, how you constantly pouted no matter how he protected you, how you cheerfully reminded him of his shortcomings, how nothing was ever enough for you—you changed him. You ruined him."

Whether or not it was the truth—for Tana was terribly oblivious and blunt with her words at times—Rita did not like the guilty sinking in her stomach. She plowed on, however, because no matter what she had done in the past, this woman had done more and with a clearer presence of mind.

"I'm not guilty of killing innocent families, of manipulating thousands of lives for just one man—"

"Killing your mother and your sister was a favor to both of you," Calida corrected coldly. "Your presence was distracting to Adri and you know you hated having them around any way."

She hated being reminded of that. Instead of admitting the truth, Verity rounded on her, even as she continued to back away. "You left him, Calida. My soul mate was alone when he woke up. I don't think you loved him at all."

"That wasn't my fault!" Verity suspected nobody had ever seen Calida so vulnerable. With an expression of wide eyed angst, Rita suddenly realized how young the witch was. No more than eighteen. "I was awoken as the vampires took power, and the purists didn't believe that a dragon and a witch should…" Calida spied Verity's pitying eyes and frowned immediately. "I don't need to explain myself to you."

Verity, momentarily forgetting her fear, stopped her evasive steps and stared at her in silent amazement. "Yes," she said, surprised by the woman's stupidity, "you do. After everything you've done to me and the one I love…of course you do!"

The stunning face twisted into disgust. "You don't understand. You never will." Calida began her murderous steps again, soft eyes deceptively gentle. "You never will."

Verity regained her senses and also continued her steps backward. With a subtle turn, she had managed to avoid being backed into a dank corner. Despite her earlier words of apathy, Verity did care very much to live and to continue living. After all the people she had met in the past year, to meet death without a fight was cowardly compared to what she had seen. "Do you think," she attempted in a sensible tone, "that kidnapping and killing me would have earned his love? Do you think killing me now will change anything?"

"You must be punished," the woman responded, terrifyingly decisive. "Think about what you've done, Verity Glisscielle. Think of what you've prevented. Adri and I came from a world you could never imagine, experienced events you've never dreamed of, upheld traditions that would shatter your tiny mind. And we would have continued what we were meant to continue had you not danced along." Calida shook her head ruefully. "Now look at him. The Amaros were once a respected and feared family. Now Adrian is a wanderer, who spends his time trying to please you or escape his guilt. Look at what you've done."

Oh god, how she wished he was here. Verity's need for him was intense to the point of physical pain. She needed him, or anybody else for that matter, to help her ignore the truth in her words. This stranger was so confident, so assured of her arguments…But Adrian would not come. And neither would the others. Verity steeled herself, and knew she had to win this one by herself.

They were near the door now, and Rita was faced by two choices. By the pitiful condition the blackened door was in, she could easily push through it to escape. But, surviving by her own wits and, if need be, physical abilities were one thing. To survive by fleeing was to die another death altogether. She stopped her trembling steps, and drew herself to full height.

"Adrian Amaro was my soul mate, Calida Solanum. And I know that in those aspects you two are perfect for each other. I would give you my blessing myself," she added with a mirthless smile. Calida appeared to be only half listening, wide eyes watching her every movement. "But I think—I know with my entire being that Adrian would have been better with me. Not because he's my soul mate. Because, the way he was now…you think he's broken. I think he's better. You've spent all your life trying to revert him to the way he was. I have, and would have continued to, accept his changes

And that's why you deserve whatever you had in mind for me. I don't want to hurt you, but I will, if you force me."

Calida's blue gaze dropped to the ground as she digested Verity's shaky words. Finally, after an eternity of storming emotions in both women, the witch spoke again.

"I will not use magic. And you drop your knife."

~*~*~*~

The dragon stood anxiously outside the front door. Most of the fire had moved to the back of his castle, and the front looked like nothing more but the gnarled, black gates of hell. Luckily, Verity was assisted by an intelligent witch and a guard dog.

"What the hell are you doing here?" a strained New York accent called in surprise. Adrian whirled in the deep ditched he had created with his pacing. It was that repugnant shifter, a freezing witch and…

"Elder Thierry?"

"Well," Winnie said dryly, "Somebody hasn't been keeping up with current events. Nobody has called you that since—"

"She went back for you," Thierry interrupted loudly in an attempt to override the howling wind. "Your soul mate. I believe she heard your thoughts."

"Impossible," Adrian contradicted, his own fear rising as he studied the three. They seemed perfectly serious of the fact. "I never called out to her. We don't even have that capability."

"What kind of screwed up soul mate ship do you guys have?" Kyros asked. All ignored him.

"Look," Adrian said roughly, trying not to envision Verity running back into the fire for his sake. Hadn't he told her to run? Hadn't he? "She made me promise I would wait out here for her and you two. She said she'd meet me. She said…" Adrian trailed off as his throat tightened uncontrollably.

"She heard something," Thierry insisted. "And she returned." Upon observing the dark horror on Amaro's face, he frowned with another potential loss. It seemed as soon as one person was rescued another went missing. "Winnie, you stay here and find her with him."

"With him?" Winnie repeated in shock. "Him, the mass murderer?"

"I didn't kill them!" Adrian denied vehemently. "Stay here if you want." And with those terse words, he turned away swiftly and darted back into the gigantic palace.

"Go with him," Thierry commanded to Winnie. "He'll know his way around and I don't want two lost girls under my care." Unable to argue, the Arlin grit her teeth and scurried after the irate dragon. Kyros was left to sullenly follow his boss back to the boat.

"Amaro," Winnie called out. Nothing but echoing, quick foot steps in response. "Amaro!"

Adrian had no time to wait for Rita's friend. He was heedless of planning his steps, careless what noises he made. Rita wouldn't return to Gitana's chamber, he was fairly certain of that. Nothing lay there except for more dead bodies, the men and Calida's. He was sorry to kill Calida but it had to be done. But now Rita's only danger was the house itself, which was collapsing by the second. It had been decaying over the years, a fact Adrian chose to swallow without an desire of reform, and now the process was expedited by the fire. He had to find Rita before she hurt herself. He had to find Rita before she thought he had broken yet another promise.

"Verity!" he hollered as he raced from room to room. Sweat quickly resurfaced. He was exhausted, and his body moved clumsily, an aftereffect of his colossal transformation. Every movement brought thousands of paralyzing jolts of pain, and his mind, out of sheer fatigue or desperate hope, refused to believe Rita's possible death. She could not be dead. Not after everything, and everyone, they had survived. She simply couldn't. "Verity, where are you?"

Half way down the great corridor he collided with something soft and cold. "She's not on that side," Winnie panted. "I've checked everything. Have you checked all the rooms over there?"

"No," he answered breathlessly. "Not Tana's, but Verity would not—"

A piercing female cry.

"Shit, Amaro," Winnie ground out as she brusquely brushed past him. "When will you learn that you do not know your soul mate at all?" They outside the locked door in an instant. And, impatient of Winnie's silly words and incantations, Adrian simply used brute force to break it open.

They were not five steps in the dim chamber before both stopped short. The world had suddenly turned to the surreal, and Adrian wasn't sure if this was puzzling reality or a horrible nightmare. Winnie was the first to speak.

"Damn."

They had searched until they were near collapse to save Verity. Now, so close, they had another obstacle. They had to decide which Verity to save.

Two. Two girls, exactly identical in every way, shape, and form. Except for the wounds. One had a darkening left eye, and the other had a cut lip. One limped from an injured right heel, and the other held her wrist at an odd angle.

Winnie and Adrian approached them cautiously. It appeared that they arrived during a brief break of a lengthy struggle. At the sight of them, both girls brightened considerably, and both called out for Adrian, and then Winnie.

"I thought you were dead," one said wonderingly. "She said that she killed you."

"I saw," the other said at the same time, "I could have sworn I saw your body at her feet." At that moment, they turned to each other, two pairs of emeralds burning with hatred and realization.

"We agreed no magic and no weapons."

"So we did. Now stop your silly illusions."

"That is not me, as you very well know. Calida," Verity attempted in a sensible tone. "What do you plan to do? Even if you use your magic to kill me, you will not fool Adrian forever."

"I'm glad you've thought that through. It should be easier for you to stop manipulating every one."

"You are such a lying, delusional, evil little witch."

"Is that what you say when you look in the mirror?" Distracted by the exchange, neither Winnie nor Adrian noticed their closing distance until the girls were at each other throats again. They did not fight like half crazed, vicious cats, but calculating assassins. Their moves, such as throttling and head bashing, were not designed to disorient but to kill. In the short time they spent together, the two absolutely hated each other. Now that somebody had broken the rule of no magic, the other decided to introduce weaponry, producing an iron knife out of seemingly no where. Her counterpart had the exact same weapon as well.

Terrified by the prospect of more blood being shed, Adrian swiftly approached the two, but far too late. They paused as well as the dragon stalked nearer, the Arlin trailing not far behind. But by that point they were at a stand still. Both daggers aimed at each other's belly, both girl's eyes flashing murderously.

A single movement of one meant death for the other.

Adrian barely breathed, and in the tense silence, he thought he heard his heart beating wildly. "Verity—Calida…don't."

"Which one are you talking to?" one asked, apparently irked he couldn't discern the true Glisscielle.

"I don't know."

"You know," the other began, terribly patronizing, "I pity you Calida. Part of me cheers you on for being so devoted—the other is terribly disgusted."

"What's more disgusting," Rita shot back in the same tone, "is the fact that you can't let go. He's not interested."

"How about you practice what you preach?"

"Then let Adrian touch our hands," the other challenged, chin raising lethally. "Then he'll know who's been lying."

"The second I move away," Verity replied through clenched teeth, "you'll stab me. I don't care if you promise. You broke your oath about not using magic, you'll break your oath about not stabbing me."

"Coward," she jeered, in just about the same way she had jeered him in the dungeon. "That's your excuse. You know the truth," she continued, voice softening. "You know he doesn't love you."

"Right," Rita retorted, surprisingly harsh, "like he loves you."

The mirror image maintained her lethal position, one arm back and the other poised for a strike. But her martial expression relaxed by imperceptible degrees. The green eyes slid from Rita's muscle movement's to Adrian's face. There was a slight, wistful smile on her lips. "No," she agreed faintly. "We almost did…but, neither of us need a relationship right now."

The other Verity appeared confused and, still in stabbing stance, looked at Adrian as well. The first continued, not noticing that her twin was distracted.

"We're soul mates…but we're not meant to be together, Adrian. You know that. After all we've shared…" Now she blushed, and Adrian warmly remembered their kiss. Their long, drugging kiss. "We still don't belong together." Then Verity gave a sweet, sad, and wider smile. Adrian knew it well. The kind of smile he gave when he silently relived the memories of Tana.

The other Verity's eyes became small slits of green when she saw his lips quirk up in response. The irritation she felt with her adversary was now galloping to full force fury. And that vulnerability to the other girl's gut was simply too tempting.

Adrian saw her hand lunge forward, observed the wrathful expression, and tried to jump between them. Oh god he tried. If there was anything that tore the most effort from him, this was it. Fear possessed him as he fell between the two, dragging the girl's arm beneath him. But it wasn't enough. Adrian heard the pained gasp, and just as quickly as the fear came, it left. Sheer anger bubbled under his skin when he shot up, barely taking in the hilt buried in his soul mate's side, and snatched the knife out of her enfeebled hand. The other hand gripped the murderess's arm. Then he spun, ignoring Winnie's cries, and slid it into Calida's ribs.

Her green eyes—which, Adrian knew without a doubt were an icy blue—widened, and her mouth gaped in shock. A hand, wet with blood and sweat, slowly rose to touch his cheek, leaving crimson finger prints. He would have shaken it off until he realized the terrible truth.

He hadn't stabbed Calida.

His hand—god, bruising her arm again—let go. Verity limply slid to the ground, but caught by the last second by Winnie.

It was very hard to breathe when he turned around again. Damn near suffocating when he saw Calida lying dead on the ground, with the dagger Verity yielded protruding triumphantly in her gut.

"Adrian."

She was still alive. But his lungs still didn't exhale properly when he turned to her. On her knees, blood running down the sweater. In the heart of all places. He stabbed her in the heart.

But, although he had never seen proof, although she had always tried to prove it to him, Verity was strong. Blood exchanges or no, she had always been strong. And she would fight death as long as she could.

He backed away. The one step hurt her, and she flinched as if his withdrawal stung more than the knife in her heart. Not wood, but she wasn't a vampire any way. She was human. She made mistakes. And he killed her for one.

One hand reached for him. It waited tremulously for his own.

Rita didn't like what this wound did to her eyes. Dimming the world, just when there was something to see. Adrian's touch would help; Adrian's touch meant that brilliant warmth would come to both of them.

In a spit second, he clasped it firmly, and took Verity's weight off of Winnie and into his own arms. He held her tightly, sharing her pain, biting his lip so hard that it bled, trying like hell to take away the agony he had caused. Vaguely, he was aware his viselike grip hurt her more than it helped. But if she was leaving, he would try as hard as he could to keep her with him.

"Adrian," she said again. Her could read her eyes so perfectly. Verity's expressions had always been crystal clear. Why did you do that? Why did you hurt me again? And he couldn't answer. "Adrian, please…I understand."

She was speaking. He could always hope if she still spoke. Maybe she wouldn't die…Adrian didn't know what to do if she died.

By his own hand.

What? He wanted to ask, but didn't have the courage to. Just…he had to get away, but stay with her. He couldn't bear it.

By his own hand.

"I understand, Adrian," she murmured, leaning back against the dragon's arms. She lost track of her thoughts, eyes fluttering shut for a few dangerous heart beats. "You know, Adrian…it was the thought that counts. Killing your only child hood friend…that means a lot."

"What do you understand?" he asked in a panicked whisper. Adrian told himself not to feel any fear. Rita would not die, and she would have time later, after recovery, to tell him. But the throbbing need to know inside could not go ignored. "What do you understand?"

"Why is it taking so long to die?" Verity asked sobbingly, in the voice of a child. "It hurts so much, I don't want it to last long…can't you stop it?" Her eyes slid to her soul mate.

"Don't say that!" Adrian grated with a teary smile. "Don't be silly. You're not going to die. Winnie's going to help you, aren't you, Winnie?" The dragon didn't bother to look up as he proposed this. Inside, he knew denial would shine through the witch's tears. "You're not going to die, Verity."

Winnie also bent slowly to murmur something. When he realized it was a prayer of death he roughly shoved her away, and hugged Verity to himself as a terrified child would cling to his mother. "She is not dying," he snarled. "Call Thierry. Tell him Verity's been injured."

"Adrian," Verity rasped in a tiny voice. "I understand now. I can't keep denying things that I don't like, just like you can't deny what's happening right now—"

"And try to find a medical kit in your tents," Adrian continued breathlessly.

It was strange how she could see him so clearly. Every line, every color, every truth in his eyes. Darkness dominated the hall and death tore at her eyes but Adrian Amaro was instantly and completely visible to her.

One last breath. One last smile. That was all he wanted. And, after that one last breath and one last smile, he would ask for more. Just one more.

Then came more words that pierced his heart. It hurts, she would beg. God, please do something. It hurts so much, just please somebody…

An overwhelming need to beg her to stop. To stop pleading, to stop twisting his soul with every anguished word. It hurt him more than it hurt her. Her heart hurt her, yes, but his whole being ached.

Verity continued to whisper what was, to Adrian's ears, delirious nonsense. "This is my time, Adrian, don't take it away. This is my chance…"

But he had no right to ask her anything. He wanted to take her place, but he couldn't ask her anything.

Ignoring Winnie's desperate words, his soul mate could no longer stand it. Verity threw aside the achingly slow gasps and purposely inhaled deeply. She exhaled just as quickly, wincing with every movement. As if she knew her breaths were numbered and she was dwindling them as soon as possible.

Winnie was frantic. It was heart breaking to see her capable hands try and stop the rapid rise and fall of her chest. But she had no idea who she was dealing with.

Adrian held her closer. Verity was his soul mate. Rita was strong, amazingly strong—it was just that he was too stupid to realize it. Depending on everybody…but then again, nobody but herself. She had to have things her way, and death was one of them. Her beautiful face growing paler, the eyes brightening then darkening until the fatal breaths jerked for the last time.

"We've been denying everything for so long, Adrian. Hiding the truth, pushing it away. I won't any more, I promise, I promise, I promise I loved being your wife for some time and I wouldn't have anybody else as—"

Losing—or winning—the battle with death, her head lolled limply to the side. Staring straight at her soul mate. No strength to do anything but wait for her end. No strength to do anything but—

"My soul mate," she mouthed with the faintest smile. Those perfectly imperfect lips forming the praise. And, though he thought he would die doing so, he smiled back. Because it would have hurt her to see him frown. Adrian didn't want to hurt her any more.

The last words.

She stopped speaking. That didn't matter. Adrian knew, he believed so desperately…as long as the eyes were alive, that untamed emerald flame roared…she'd live. She had to. She couldn't die without knowing how sorry he was, how much he wanted to make it up to her. The witch would save her. The witch had to save her. As long as those emerald jewels glittered, he would hope.

The green eyes faded.

~*~*~*~

They left the castle, Adrian and Winnie. But not before he had mechanically and unseeingly set everything that survived the earlier catastrophe on fire. And left everybody to burn.

Everybody.

And they left as they came. The employer, not acquainted with Verity—a fact that caused Adrian to pity him—did not react to the knew violently as the fox shifter did. The elder was forced to hold him back as Adrian told them the news tonelessly. There was no need, for Adrian would have accepted and survived any beating the Daybreaker had intended. Perhaps it was Thierry's own past that caused the pity Adrian had spied in the vampire's eyes.

They left him with minimal encouragement for his accompaniment. Kyros and Winnie soared furiously over his head as he watched Descouedres glide over the water.

He didn't know what she understood, not fully. Maybe she understood his version of the truth. True, Verity suffered. She suffered more than any girl should have suffered. And true, somebody had instilled a good soul in her.

But the heroines were not without flaws. They struggled with consciences. Sometimes they even wanted to kill others. Sometimes they saw things the way they wanted to; not how it really was.

And villains were not without admirable motivations. They struggled with consciences. Sometimes they gave up the world for others. Sometimes they lived in a rosy dream, guilty of the same crime of their nemesis.

It didn't matter if some people thought it was unfair. It didn't matter if a few thought that, because of all her struggles, she didn't deserve to die.

But everybody deserves to die. Fair in one light, unfair in another. But unchangeable.

Squatting in the abandoned tent, Adrian sighed and pulled the journal from his pocket. Delicately he peeled the pages apart, reading Tana's dainty words. He had bought the diary in England as a gift for her; and she had written it addressed to him.

Dear Soul Mate,

I'm in love with you, when I shouldn't be. I hurt you sometimes, and I don't mean to. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm—

He snapped the book shut. For a hundred pages, she went on apologizing. For hurting when she didn't mean to. They were even now.

Yet she understood something that he didn't. She was trying to tell him…he didn't want to listen. And it would be a question left unanswered. If she was reborn, he wouldn't contact her. He was sorry—so sorry—but…he just wouldn't. She wanted it that way, after she had found out everything.

From a certain perspective, they didn't really fail the mission. The truth, or the one they wanted, could always be found from a certain stand point, just as it had been found at Anomina. The pair did everything they could to reach their goal. No Daybreak mission had ever failed. Their goal was to let Rita out of the castle. And Verity Catalina Glisscielle…or Gitana Benevita Amaro…did leave the castle.

Her soul had escaped. In the end, teaching the truth to others, and, above all, herself.

~*~*~*~

Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,

Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Yeats

Yes, well, I'm sure whether or not to add an epilogue…if you have a suggestion as to yes or no, you can email or review, but try to have a reason, not just a "yes" and not just a "no"…any way, thanks for sticking with me for so long and love ya lots! Review!