Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 3)

She's not looking so good," Kestrel said, peering over Rowan's shoulder.

Rowan said, "Oh,dear," and sat down

Great-aunt Opal was a mummy. Her skin was like leather: yellow-brown, hard, and smooth. Almost

shiny. And the skin was all there was to her, just a leathery frame stretched over bones. She didn't have

any hair. Her eye sockets were dark holes with dry tissue inside. Her nose was collapsed.

"Poor auntie," Rowan said. Her own brown eyes were wet.

"We're going to look like that when we die," Kestrel said musingly.

Jade stamped her foot. "No, look,you guys! You're both missing it completely. Look atthat!" She swung

a wild toe at the mummy's midsection. There, protruding from the blue-flowered housedress and the

leathery skin, was a gigantic splinter of wood. It was almost as long as an arrow, thick at the base and

tapered where it disappeared into Aunt Opal's chest. Flakes of white paint still clung to one side.

Several other pickets were lying on the cellar floor.

"Poor old thing," Rowan said. "She must havebeen carrying them when she fell."

Jade looked at Kestrel. Kestrel looked back withexasperated golden eyes. There were few things they

agreed on, but Rowan was one of them.

"Rowan," Kestrel said distinctly, "she wasstaked. "

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," Jade said. "Somebody killed her. And somebody who knew she was a vampire."

Rowan was shaking her head. "But who would know that?"

"Well …" Jade thought. "Another vampire."

"Or a vampirehunter,"Kestrel said.

Rowan looked up, shocked. "Those aren't real.They're just stories to frighten kids-aren't they?"

Kestrel shrugged, but her golden eyes were dark.

Jade shifted uneasily. The freedom she'd felt on the road, the peace in the living room-and now this.

Suddenly she felt empty and isolated.

Rowan sat down on the stairs, looking too tired and preoccupied to push back the lock of hair plastered

to her forehead. "Maybe I shouldn't havebrought you here," she said softly. "Maybe it's worsehere." She

didn't say it, but Jade could sense her next thought. Maybe we should go back

"Nothingcould be worse," Jade said fiercely. "And I'd die before I'd go back." She meant it. Back to

waiting on every man in sight? Back to arranged marriages and endless restrictions? Back to all those

disapproving faces, so quick to condemn anything different, anything that wasn't done the way it had

been done four hundred years ago?

"Wecan't go back," she said.

"No, we can't," Kestrel said dryly. "Literally. Unless we want to end up like Great-aunt Opal.

Or"she paused significantly-"like Great-uncle Hodge."

Rowan looked up. "Don't even say that!"

Jade's stomach felt like a clenched fist. "They wouldn't, she said, shoving back at the memory that was

trying to emerge. "Not to their own grandkids. Not to us."

"The point," Kestrel said, "is that we can't go back,so we have to go forward. We've got to

figure out what we're going to do here without Aunt Opal tohelp us–especially if there's a vampire hunter

around. But first, what are we going to do withthat?" She nodded toward the body.

Rowan just shook her head helplessly. She lookedaround the cellar as if she might find an answer in a

comer. Her gaze fell on Jade. It stopped there, and Jade could see the sisterly radar system turn on.

"Jade. What's that in your jacket?"

Jade was too wrung-out to lie. She opened thejacket and showed Rowan the kittens. "I didn't know my

suitcase would kill them."

Rowan looked too wrung-out to be angry. She glanced heavenward, sighing. Then, looking back atJade

sharply: "But why were you bringing them downhere?"

"I wasn't. I was just looking for a shovel. I was going to bury them in the backyard."

There was a pause. Jade looked at her sisters and they looked at each other. Then all three of them

looked at the kittens.

Then they looked at Great-aunt Opal.

Mary-Lynnette was crying.

It was a beautiful night, a perfect night. An inversion layer was keeping the air overhead still and warm,

and the seeing was excellent. There was very little light pollution and no direct light. The Victorian

farmhouse just below Mary-Lynnette's hill wasmostly dark. Mrs. Burdock was always very consider ate

about that.

Above, the Milky Way cut diagonally across the sky like a river. To the south, where Mary-Lynnette

had just directed her telescope, was the constellation Sagittarius, which always looked. more like a

teapot than like an archer to her. And just above the spout of the teapot was a faintly pink patch of what

looked like steam.

It wasn't steam. It was clouds of stars. A star factory called the Lagoon Nebula. The dust and gas of

dead stars was being recycled into hot young stars, just being born.

It was four thousand and five hundred light-years away. And she was looking at it, right this minute. A

seventeen-year-old kid with a second-hand Newtonian reflector telescope was watching the light of stars

being born.

Sometimes she was filled with so much awe andand-and-and longing-that she thought she might break to


Since there was nobody else around, she could let the tears roll down her cheeks without pretending it

was an allergy. After a while she had to sit back and wipe her nose and eyes on the shoulder of her


Oh, come on, give it a rest now, she told herself.You're crazy, you know.

She wished she hadn't thought of Jeremy earlier. Because now, for some reason, she kept picturinghim

the way he'd looked that night when he came to watch the eclipse with her. His level brown eyes had

held a spark of excitement, as if he really cared about what he was seeing. As if, for that moment,

anyway, he understood.

I have been one acquainted with the night, amaudlin little voice inside her chanted romantically, trying to

get her to cry again.

Yeah, right, Mary-Lynnette told the voice cynically. She reached for the bag of Cheetos she kept under

her lawn chair. It was impossible to feel romantic and overwhelmed by grandeur while eating Cheetos.

Saturn next, she thought, and wiped sticky orangecrumbs off her fingers. It was a good night for Saturn

because its rings were just passing through theiredgewise position.

She had to hurry because the moon was rising at 11:16. But before she turned her telescope toward

Saturn, she took one last look at the Lagoon. Actuallyjust to the east of the Lagoon, trying to make out

the open cluster of fainter stars she knew was there.

She couldn't see it. Her eyes just weren't good enough. If she had a bigger telescope-if she lived inChile

where the air was dry-if she could get above the earth's atmosphere . . . then she might have a chance.

But for now . . . she was limited by the human eye. Human pupils just didn't open farther than 9


Nothing to be done about that.

She was just centering Saturn in the field of viewwhen a light went on behind the farmhouse below. Not

a little porch light. A barnyard vapor lamp. Itilluminated the back property of the house like a searchlight.

Mary-Lynnette sat back, annoyed. It didn't reallymatter-she could see Saturn anyway, see the rings that

tonight were just a delicate silver line cutting across the center of the planet. But it was strange.Mrs.

Burdock never turned the back light on at night.

The girls, Mary-Lynnette thought. The nieces. Theymust have gotten there and she must be giving them a

tour. Absently she reached for her binoculars. Shewas curious.

They were good binoculars, Celestron Ultimas,sleek and lightweight. She used them for looking at

everything from deep sky objects to the craters on the moon. Right now, they magnified the back of Mrs.

Burdock's house ten times.

She didn't see Mrs. Burdock, though. She could seethe garden. She could see the shed and the

fenced-in area where Mrs. Burdock kept her goats. And shecould see three girls, all well illuminated by

the vapor lamp. One had brown hair, one had golden hair, and one had hair the color of Jupiter's rings.

That silvery.Like starlight. They were carrying something wrapped in plastic between them. Black plastic.

Hefty garbage bags, if Mary-Lynnette wasn't mistaken.

Now, what on earth were they doing with that?

Burying it.

The short one with the silvery hair had a shovel. She was a good little digger, too. In a few minutesshe

had rooted up most of Mrs. Burdock's irises. Then the medium-sized one with the golden hairtook a turn,

and last of all the tall one with the brown hair.

Then they picked up the garbage-bagged objecteven though it was probably over five feet long, it

seemed very light-and put it in the hole they'd just made.

They began to shovel dirt back into the hole.

No, Mary-Lynnette told herself. No, don't be ridiculous. Don't be insane. There's some mundane, per

fectly commonplace explanation for this.

The problem was, she couldn't think of any.

No, no, no. This is notRear Window,we are not in the Twilight Zone. They're just burying-something.

Some sort of … ordinary …

What else besides a dead body was five-feet-andsome-odd-inches long, rigid, and needed to be

wrapped in garbage bags before burial?

And, Mary-Lynnette thought, feeling a rush ofadrenaline that made her heart beat hard. And.


Where was Mrs. Burdock?

The adrenaline was tingling painfully in herpalms

and feet. It made her feel out of control, which she hated. Her hands were shaking so badly she had to

lower the binoculars.

Mrs. B.'s okay. She's all right. Things like thisdon'thappenin real life.

What would Nancy Drew do?

Suddenly, in the middle of her panic, MaryLynnette felt a tiny giggle try to escape like a burp. Nancy

Drew, of course, would hike right down there and investigate. She'd eavesdrop on the girls from behind a

bush and then dig up the garden once they went back inside the house.

But things like that didn't happen. Mary-Lynnette couldn't even imagine trying to dig up a neighbor's

garden in the dead of night. She would get caught and it would be a humiliating farce. Mrs. Burdock

would walk out of the house alive and alarmed, and Mary-Lynnette would dieof embarrassment trying to


In a book that might be amusing. In real life-she didn't even want to think about it.

One good thing, it made her realize how absurd her paranoia was. Deep down, she obviously knew

Mrs. B. was just fine. Otherwise, she wouldn't besitting here; she'd be calling the police, like any sensi ble


Somehow, though, she suddenly felt tired. Not up to more starwatching. She checked her watch by the

ruby glow of a red-filtered flashlight. Almost eleven-well, it was all over in sixteen minutes anyway. When

the moon rose it would bleach out the sky.

But before she broke down her telescope for the trip back, she picked up the binoculars again. Just one

last look.

The garden was empty. A rectangle of fresh darksoil showed where it had been violated. Even as

Mary-Lynnette watched, the vapor lamp went out.

It wouldn't do any harm to go over there tomorrow, Mary-Lynnette thought. Actually, I was goingto,

anyway. I should welcome those girls to the neighborhood. I should return those pruning shears Dad

borrowed and the knife Mrs. B. gave me to get my gas cap off. And of course I'll see Mrs. B. there, and

then I'll know everything's okay.

Ash reached the top of the winding road andstopped to admire the blazing point of light in the south.

You really could see more from these isolated

country towns. From here Jupiter, the king of the planets, looked like a UFO.

"Where have you been?" a voice nearby said. "I'vebeen waiting for you for hours."

Ash answered without turning around. "Wherehave I been? Where have you been? We were supposed

to meet onthat hill, Quinn." Hands in his pockets, he pointed with an elbow.

"Wrong. It was this hill and I've been sitting righthere waiting for you the entire time. But forget it.

Are they here or aren't they?"

Ash turned and walked unhurriedly to the open convertible that was parked just beside the road, itslights

off. He leaned one elbow on the door, looking down. "They're here. I told you they would be. It was the

only place for them to go."

"All three of them?"

"Of course, all three of them. My sisters always stick together."

Quinn's lip curled. "Lamia are so wonderfully family oriented."

"And made vampires are so wonderfully . . . short," Ash said serenely, looking at the sky again.

Quinn gave him a look like black ice. His e-mail, compact body was utterly still inside the car. "Well,

now, I never got to finish growing, did I?" he saidvery softly. "One of your ancestors took care of that."

Ash boosted himself to sit on the hood of the car,long legs dangling. "I think I may stop aging this year

myself," he said blandly, still looking down the slope. "Eighteen's not such a bad age."

"Maybe not if you have a choice," Quinn said, his voice still as soft as dead leaves falling. "Try

beingeighteen for four centuries-with no end in sight."

Ash turned to smile at him again. "Sorry. On my family's behalf."

"And I'm sorry for your family. The Redferns have been having a little trouble lately, haven't they?

Let's see if I've got it right. First your uncle Hodge breaks Night World law and is appropriately


"My great-uncle by marriage," Ash interrupted in polite tones, holding one finger up. "He was a

Burdock, not a Redfern. And that was over ten years ago."

"And then your aunt Opal-"


"Disappears completely. Breaks off all contact withthe Night World. Apparently because she prefers

living in the middle of nowhere with humans."

Ash shrugged, eyes fixed on the southern horizon. "It must be good hunting in the middle of nowhere

with humans. No competition. And no Night Worldenforcement-no Elders putting a limit on how many

you can bag."

"And no supervision," Quinn said sourly. "Itdoesn't matter so much thatshe's been living here, but

she's obviously been encouraging your sisters to join her. You should have informed on them whenyou

found out they were writing to each other secretly."

Ash shrugged, uncomfortable. "It wasn't againstthe law. I didn't know what they had in mind."

"It's not just them," Quinn said in his disturbingly soft voice. "You know there are rumors about

that cousin of yours-James Rasmussen. People are saying that he fell in love with a human girl. That she

was dying and he decided to change her withoutpermission. . . ."

Ash slid off the hood and straightened. "I never listen to rumors," he said, briskly and untruthfully.

"Besides, that's not the problem right now, is it?"

"No. The problem is your sisters and the mess they're in. And whether you can really do what's

necessary to dean it up."

"Don't worry, Quinn. I can handle it."

"ButI doworry, Ash. I don't know how I let you talk me into this."

"You didn't. You lost that game of poker."

"And you cheated." Quinn was looking off into a middle distance, his dark eyes narrowed, his

moutha straight line. "I still think we should tell the Elders ," he said abruptly. "It's the only way to

guarantee a really thorough investigation."

"I don't see why it needs to be so thorough.They've only been here a few hours."

"Your sisters have only been here a few hours.Your aunt has been here-how long? Ten years?"

"What have you got against my aunt, Quinn?"

"Her husband was a traitor. She's a traitor now for encouraging those girls to run away. And who

knowswhat she's been doing here in the last ten years? Who knows how many humans she's told about

the Night World?"

Ash shrugged, examining his nails. "Maybe she hasn't told any."

"And maybe she's told the whole town."

"Quinn," Ash said patiently, speaking as if to avery young child, "if my aunt has broken the laws

of the Night World, she has to die. For the family honor. Any blotch on that reflects onme."

"That's one thing I can count on," Quinn said halfunder his breath. ','Your self-interest. You

always look after Number One, don't you?"

"Doesn't everybody?"

"Not everybody is quite so blatant about it." There was a pause, then Quinn said, "And what

about your sisters?"

"What about them?"

"Can you kill them if it's necessary?"

Ash didn't blink. "Of course. If it's necessary. For the family honor."

"If they've let something slip about the NightWorld-"

"They're not stupid."

"They're innocent. They might get tricked. That'swhat happens when you live on an island

completely isolated from normal humans. You never learn how cunning vermin can be."

"Well, we know how cunning they can be," Ash said, smiling. "And what to do about them."

For the first time Quinn himself smiled, a charming, almost dreamy smile. "Yes, I know your views on

that. All right. I'll leave you here to take care of it. I don't need to tell you to check out every human those

girls have had contact with. Do a good job and maybe you can save your familyhonor."

"Not to mention the embarrassment of a public trial."

"I'll come back in a week. And if you haven't got things under control, I go to the Elders. I don't

mean your Redfern family Elders, either. I'm taking it all the way up to the joint Council."

"Oh, fine," Ash said. "You know, you really ought to get a hobby, Quinn. Go hunting yourself.

You're too repressed."

-252Quinn ignored that and said shortly, "Do you know where to start?"

"Sure. The girls are right … down … there." Ashturned east. With one eye shut, he zeroed in with

his finger on a patch of light in the valley below. "At Burdock Farm. I'll check things out in town, then I'll

go look up the nearest vermin."