Jessa finally slipped from her position by the fridge, taking her orange juice and nearly falling into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. "Why?" was all she could manage.
Cameron sighed, knowing the shock and memories that still haunted Jess' mind. "I need time to think," she answered. "I need time to deal with this. It's not every day a vampire approaches you and tells you he's been searching for you for nearly two thousand years."
"Most of them know better than to approach you," Jess agreed absently. Most vampires knew their reputation. What they didn't know was that most of the people who were stalking them were vampires as well. It was a fact they often learned too late.
But Cameron wasn't a vampire. She was a witch and a damned good one at that. She had more power in her than Jessa had ever been able to accumulate, even when she was the type to go on rampages and drink with the best of them. That period had been short. She had quickly learned that humans were not always the vermin they were reputed to be.
Cameron seemed to be lost in thought, thoughts Jessa knew she probably shouldn't break into, but knowing how important it was to get this into her head, she murmured, "Don't kill him, Cameron. You'll spend the rest of your life regretting it."
Cam glanced up at her, shattered, and Jessa drew in a deep breath, wondering if she should let her friend reply or continue her lecture until she got it into her thick skull. And Cameron's skull could be as thick as they come. Then, she said, "I'm not really going to kill him, you know."
Jessa relaxed. The tension flew from her muscles and her eyes softened. "Good," she told her softly, "because you will spend the rest of your life regretting it if you do."
Cameron wondered if she realized she'd just repeated herself. "I know."
She stood then, stretching. "I'm going to bed, Cam. It's late and we have a five in the morning wakeup call tomorrow." She paused. Hesitating, she asked, "Will you do something for me?"
"Of course." Cameron didn't hesitate.
Jessa stared at her hard, searching. "Promise me you won't kill your soulmate, Cameron Aderyn."
Cameron matched Jess' look with one of her own. "I promise not to kill Kian Redfern," she pledged, but she said nothing about his twin. What Jessa didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Jessa was satisfied with that, but again, she didn't -- wouldn't -- know the difference. She smiled that beguiling smile, the one that drove men crazy, and started gliding to her bedroom. Jess never just walked. "Night," she called over her shoulder.
"Night," Cameron called back.
Jessa really should know her better, she thought. Even she knew she had responded a little too easily to the request. She must not be feeling well, she decided. She hadn't even picked up on the "his mind doesn't feel the same" comment. Just that she'd been in Kian's mind. Not that she'd been in both their minds.
And that led to another problem. Jessa was calling off Kian's assassination, but what would she do when she realized Deven's murderer had been her soulmate's twin? What would Cameron do then? She was pretty sure Jessa wouldn't like finding out she couldn't kill that one either. Although…
With two soulmates, Jessa could very well decide one was expendable. Cameron shuddered. She may be afraid of Kieran, she may know he would kill her before she had time to even draw a breath, but she also knew his death would destroy her.
It shouldn't matter. Either Kian or Kieran should be enough for her. She shouldn't need them both. Two soulmates, yes, but also two halves… Not two wholes. The reason demanded an explanation, but for some reason it eluded her.
She only knew she needed them both, as much as Kian needed Kieran and vice versa.
She rubbed a weary hand over her face and checked her watch. One. She should listen to Jessa more often. Four hours of sleep were simply not enough. Idly, she wondered where her other three roommates were. Awfully late for them to be out… Especially since they all had to get up at the same time. They were probably out terrorizing some innocent bystander.
Not that it mattered. Around those three, bystanders rarely stayed innocent. Come to think of it… Bystanders rarely stayed alive.
She nearly winced, imagining the trouble they could be causing. If Remy got his claws into any unsuspecting males out there… They could be losing more than their hearts. They could be losing all their intestines. She shook her head. It wasn't her problem. Right now, her problem consisted of trying to decide what to do about one Kian Redfern.
And honestly, it wasn't something she really wanted to think about. She'd done enough thinking in her lifetimes that she shouldn’t ever have to do it again. She only wished that excuse would hold up in real life, not just in her head.
Bedtime, she decided. Four hours of sleep weren't nearly enough to keep her bright eyed and chipper at five in the morning.
As for Remy, Xanthe, and Damie…
She shrugged. Let them have their fun.
They wouldn't have much of it after tonight.
Nightmares plagued Cameron. They always had, courtesy of one Kieran Redfern. But this dream was different. She didn't know how she knew, but she did. This dream was not a nightmare. It was a memory.
And it wasn't hers.
Wind blew strongly against her slight form, whipping her hair and clothes around her like they were being torn from her body. She couldn’t see through the tangled mass, could only hear and feel. The wind roared in her ears and she shivered. One small hand, dark like the color of rich mahogany, reached up to push that tangled mass back behind her ears.
She realized suddenly where she was. Standing at the prepice of a high, deadly cliff. The ocean clamored miles beneath her. No, not the ocean. A river. A swiftly moving, churning river. Goddess, she thought to herself, are you crazy?
But she had no control over her actions. She could only wait and see what would happen next. And less than a heartbeat later, she threw her head back and laughed. Wild and free, it battled the wind and died in the tumultuous air.
Then she was spinning, running back to the fire, where warmth beat away the cold and baked away her freedom. She was leaping and glorying in these few precious moments, lost in herself and the world around her. She was unfettered and unrestrained. The pyre loomed ahead.
Calming herself, she slowed her walk to a sedate pace, entering the circle of light where others danced and whooped wildly. The smell of burning flesh was strong. In the center, a young woman--too young to be searing under the deadly flame--was laid in stately repose. At her chest and piled around her were the scorched remains of beautiful flowers.
Death. The thought came to her so quickly she took a moment to realize it was not hers, but that of the girl whose memory she saw. And then she was swept away in the girl's tumbling thoughts.
A time of rejoicing and laughter. This was death. Why be afraid of what you could not stop? It was only a transition from one plane to the next, a step in the circle of life. And with every death came birth, with every passing of one soul, a coming of the next.
Giddy excitement skittered through her as she stretched to peek at Old Mother's tent. A birth came tonight to the one with pale skin and eyes like flame. She had arrived exhausted and broken one night. No one knew from where she came. No one dared ask questions. The answers might bring unwanted troubles.
A shiver raced down the girl's spine. The air held the taste of magic and promise. Anticipation crackled like electricity, but electricity was far less dangerous. The girl did not know this. She knew only that tonight something would change.
The vision shifted rapidly.
Smoke rose and curled in a blue mist, hanging suspended around her. It smelled of something bitter yet sweet, twining around her in its own dance, to a different beat than the flames. Yet somehow the beat was not different.
Sounds of merriment chased through her mind and pulled at her concentration. She knew somehow this was important. The words flowing from her lips in a steady chant--words she knew she shouldn't understand yet did--must continue to pour forth in an unbroken stream. She pushed the outside noise to the back of her mind. Ignoring those sounds suddenly became the most important thing in the world.
She stared down at her hands, wrinkled and old, clasped in a grasp so tight something should break.
The stone clattered to the ground, rolling to its rest in the center of the fire. The other half stayed securely captured between her palms. This wasn't supposed to happen. Fear quivered in her stomach, but she continued. She could not stop now.
The words surged forth and her tone changed, just slightly, but she could not prevent the desperation from staining those words. She tried desperately to bring her thoughts back under control. Her mind knew how much rode on these words, even if her body did not.
The flames quickened, curling and dancing in agonizing leaps. The stone buried in their midst glowed a scorching blue, the color of the pale one's eyes. Panic tumbled inside her, but she could not retrieve it from its place. Her hands could not leave the stone she still held. Fascinated, she watched the intensity brighten. The fascination only masked her fear. She knew with absolute certainty that something was wrong.
Her chanting rose until it was almost a shriek, ascending and twisting over mountains, racing over lakes and streams. And then, in one heart-wrenching moment, it stopped. A heartbeat. The words began again, flowing over and over, their death announcing their birth. Birth and death. Light and dark. She could not quell the uneasiness rising inside her weathered heart.
This time, when the words climbed to their nearly deafening crescendo, a bolt of lightning shot through the sky and spiraled downward, plummeting into the core of the fire before her. Then, shimmering, it hung in the air. She had seen this often enough. The children with destinies, those who served some greater purpose, the Pure Ones, all owned souls like this. It was nothing new to her--until it shattered in two. Two beautiful blue souls hung suspended in the air before they took flight to the pale one's tent. She stifled a whimper and continued her chant, missing only a single beat. But it was enough.
A keening wail and then silence. Deep and painful silence like the bite of a snake. Frightening, beautiful, and deadly. The stone fell to the ground. And before she could draw another breath, she was up and running as fast as her tired body could take her. Only when she reached the fire did she stop.
Carnage sprawled before her. Her tribe, her children, lay scattered among ashes. They lay still and so quiet they could not breathe. But while she stared in amazed silence, one and then two began to move until they all stirred. All of them… except the children.
No hope could be held for them. Their charred remains fell scattered around the circle of light like offerings to the gods. Not one escaped. And as the others realized this, the chanting acknowledgement of death started again. Only this time the chants were of lament.
She whirled, forcing her body to carry her to the pale one's tent. Surely those souls had not survived. Too small and weak to face a power such as this. Too fragile to battle death.
She paused at the entrance, listening for the inevitable sounds of grief. None echoed within the thin walls. Fear shot cleanly through her soul this time, but not because the children might have died. No, this fear was born because the children might have lived.
She pushed back the entrance flap slowly and eased her gnarled body inside. Pale One stared up at her, eyes shining so like the stone, so like the core of a flame. She smiled. Her gaze dropped back to the bundles in her arms.
Old Mother gasped, for cradled in her arms were not one but two babies. They were perfect mirrors of each other, each one somehow complementing the other in some wild and indescribable way. Already their heads were covered in a fine pelt of flaming hair. Hair the color of blood. They met her eyes and gurgled in unison. The windows to their souls held too much knowledge in their depths. Somehow, Old Mother sensed they were hungry. That same voice told her milk would not satisfy their thirst.
Pale One glanced at her then, her face shining with an inner radiance. Startled, Old Mother realized that she did not know. She spoke finally, her voice soft. "I shall call one Kyen, the other Kyaren."
That night, Kieran dreamed as well. His dreams, like Cameron's, were memories. But these were his. These were the memories he guarded himself from, the ones he locked away. The ones that hurt to think about. Memories that invoked coldness, like the stark brush of an icy winter wind. They doused him in a cold shock every time he thought about them. Because Kieran, for all his outward pretense, was not happy. He had been once.
The day was almost peaceful. Sun streamed to grace the water licking at the riverbank. Tiny tongues of water lapped lazily at the shore. A fish jumped, arching through the air before slicing underneath the cleansing water in a graceful dive. Then a tinkle of innocent, childish laughter pierced the air.
"Watch, Kyaren!" the voice matching that laughter cried. A pebble skittered across the murmuring surface. Another fish vaulted from the water to catch the pebble in midair.
"Let me try," he demanded, jealous that his twin--his elder by mere seconds--had learned this trick first.
His mirror dropped the fistful of pebbles abruptly. "Don't be jealous," he said quietly. "It doesn't matter. Here," he instructed, reaching out his empty hand, "You can see it, too."
Kyaren reached out his own hand, identical to the one extended toward him, the same down to the pattern of their fingerprints. He brought it to touch his twin's solemnly. With the touching of their hands, their minds fused.
We are the same, the voice that matched his said. Don't you see? We are the same, Kyaren. Always we will be together. We are One.
And in that moment, Kyaren had known that without Kyen, he would never be whole.
The air shimmered and changed.
A different scene this time, perhaps eons later. Kyaren sat hunched over a book, his eyes squinting to read the cramped lines of text. Kyen lounged carelessly beside him.
"Amazing things, these books," Kyen admitted, turning his own over in his hands. His strong fingers traced the binding absently. Without blinking an eye, he changed the subject, asking calmly, "Why did you kill her?"
Kyaren froze, forgetting too late that he could not hide anything from this brother of his. "Kill who?" he responded in the same nonchalant tone.
His twin's eyes flamed. "You know who," he stated coldly. Kyaren didn't like the tone of his voice. It was too controlled and full of barely concealed rage.
Kyaren shrugged. "Does it matter?"
Kyen sat up suddenly, his muscles tense. "You know it does. You of all people should know it does."
He stared at him with one eyebrow raised. "She was vermin." Only a tiny nudge of guilt at the back of his brain said otherwise, but the reason for the guilt was something that would be kept hidden. Forever, if he had his way.
"She was my soulmate!" his twin burst out angrily. He stood, pacing around the room as he raged. "How many times I have I lost her because of you? How many times have you killed her now, Kyaren? I've lost track!" He stopped suddenly and whipped to face his brother with all his hurt written plainly across his face.
Kyaren watched him coldly. "A thousand minus one, brother," he snapped. "Because if you remember correctly, the first time was your fault."
His twin inhaled sharply, injured by this remark as Kyaren had known he would be. His face was whiter than should be possible. "This one will be the last." His voice held a warning his twin knew he should not ignore. He stalked out of the room, away from his brother.
That time had not been the last. The rift had widened until it was a chasm that could not be breached.
Again the dream changed.
He was alone this time. The wind blew around him, whipping the smell of trash and death close to his nostrils. He didn't notice it. A body lay at his feet, eagle-spread and still. She was deathly pale--as she should be. Her body no longer contained the life force that fed her heart.
He stared down at her idly, cataloguing her features with no apparent concern. Straight nose, carefully chiseled cheekbones, sculpted mouth, the bottom lip fuller than the top. Long black hair spread around her and her blue eyes were staring. Those eyes, flat with death, had not in life held the color of the sky at breaking dawn. They were only blue. But in everything except those eyes, her resemblance to Aeshli was striking. He hadn't killed her for any other reason.
A thud sounded behind him, so soft he would have missed it if he were human. He spun, feeling his fangs lengthening and readying for battle if the need should arise. Standing before him was someone he thought he would never see again.
"Quinn," he acknowledged cordially. His eyes swept over the black clad figure beside him, but he said nothing else.
Quinn's eyebrow raised. "Kieran," he returned. "I thought someone had staked you."
Kieran's replying smile was bitter. "No luck there, I'm afraid. I know how much you'd hoped."
"You can't have everything," Quinn shrugged. Then his eyes narrowed. "I hear you've been on quite the rampage lately."
The girl beside him spoke up then. "Girls with black hair and blue eyes," she said coolly. "Humans are starting to talk about a serial killer."
He glanced carelessly down at the girl with black hair and blue eyes at his feet. "So?" he asked. "What did you intend to do about it?"
Seconds later he found himself flat on his back, the girl straddling his chest, looking at the wrong end of a very sharp stake. Surprised, his lips parted and he gasped. He hadn't thought he was among friends, but he hadn't thought he was among enemies, either.
She looked absolutely pleased with herself. "This," she answered finally.
He looked over her shoulder to meet Quinn's eyes, deliberately relaxing his body beneath her. Let her think she was really a threat. Whatever made her happy.
"So stake me," he encouraged insolently.
She would have been all too happy to oblige, but she and Quinn had their orders. She kept the stake trained over his heart while Quinn moved closer.
"Actually, Rashel and I have a proposition for you," Quinn responded. "You join Circle Daybreak…" He shrugged. "Or you die."
Then the human Rashel added, "And we will know of any contact you have with the Night World." She smiled a little too fiercely for Kieran's tastes. "We have our sources."
And that had been it. There really was not a choice between life and death. Kieran was already dead. Not the kind that walked, alive but without a soul. No, his soul had died centuries ago, when he lost his brother--his other half--and his soulmate at the same time. He no longer even thought of himself like he was alive. He was just an empty void that walked and talked, going through the motions and hoping that one day, something would work itself out.
It hadn't gone exactly like he'd told Cameron.
There was far more to it than that.
As he dreamed, remembering the train of thoughts leading to the moment he abandoned the Night World, that memory flooded into full color before him. He could have been watching it on television. Except he wasn't. He was watching his long ago self realize in horror what was going on.
He was walking through the clearing near their hut. His brother had gone out. Where, Kyaren didn't know. But that had been hours ago and he had fallen asleep waiting for him to come back. Then something had drawn him from sleep. Simple as that. He didn’t know what it had been, but when he woke, a vague longing had filled him, pulling him to this area.
He hadn't expected to find his brother with his face buried in a girl's neck. And especially not a girl he knew.
It was her. He'd met her before tonight, several times. She was beautiful. Long, black hair cascaded down her back in waves. Her eyes were blue and sparkling, like the color of the sky at breaking dawn. Her face was small and heart-shaped with a small nose and full mouth. She was gorgeous… and she was his soulmate.
He strode to his brother and pulled him away roughly. "What are you doing?" he demanded harshly.
Kyen stared up at him, his eyes shattered. "I--I don't know," he stuttered. Tears welled up and bit his lower lip. "She's my soulmate."
Kyaren crouched near her body, reaching out to check her pulse. Nothing. "She's dead." His tone was accusatory.
"I didn't--" The tears spilled over. "I didn't mean to kill her," he finished quietly. His voice shook as he kneeled over her limp body.
Kyaren shook his head sadly. "You're bleeding," he pointed out. No point in dwelling on it now, was there? He would always have his brother and that was the most important thing.
His twin glanced down at his shoulder. "She stabbed me with a branch," he said. He sat back on his heels like he was trying to get away, but her body would never disappear. It would haunt both their dreams. "I deserved it," he admitted.
Shaking his head, Kyaren leaned over and pushed at her body. It fell back with a thump. "What happened here?" he asked, tracing a scratch along the girl's breastbone.
"I don't know," Kyen answered, his eyes still wide with anguish. He leaned forward to get a better look at the mark. "I must have hit her there while she was struggling."
"Must have," his twin agreed. He watched his brother through lowered lashes. Some premonition told him this girl would always be the cause of strife between the two of them. She was better off dead.
"Maybe she's one of those souls that keeps coming back," Kyen inserted suddenly. His voice was full of hope.
Kyaren didn’t say anything. He didn’t want her coming between them in some other lifetime. If he had to, he would make sure she was dead before that happened. He kept the knowledge that she was his soulmate as well to himself. It was information his brother didn’t need to know.
"I'll take care of her body," he said. "One of us must return before Mother wakes."
Nodding, Kyen backed away from the scene and ran back to the hut. Kyaren lifted the bloody branch lying near her body and stabbed it deep into her heart.
"You will not come between us," he whispered as still warm blood seeped from the wound. He did not realize this scene would haunt him through his long lifetime. He did not know that this deed would trigger a chain of irrevocable events. He knew only that his twin must never understand what had happened here.
It was this memory that pulled him screaming from his sleep every night.
They jumped awake in rooms far from each other, as though fingers had been snapped before their faces. Both drew in heavy, deep breaths, panting in horror. Both stared into the darkness that took on the shape of their pasts and threatened to smother them under heavy arms.
Cameron felt tears rising to her eyes for the charred children; Kieran felt tears rise to his eyes for what could have been. Cameron wondered what she had just seen; Kieran wondered why he had seen. They both searched for the reason things had gone terribly wrong, even though they both knew the answer.
And both were saddened by it.
Cameron's brow furrowed and she thought about her dream. Kian and Kieran's birth had been tinged in darkness, despite its innocence. She knew the lady who Old Mother had known as Pale One was a vampire, even if Old Mother had not. With death comes birth, and with life, death. The words imprinted themselves on her mind. She puzzled over those thoughts for a moment, then shook her head to disregard them.
The dream had been startlingly clear. Not a vision, certainly. Visions were far too often muddled and confused. No, she understood perfectly what had happened at the twins' birth.
One soul, hanging in the air, waiting to be born into a cruel and unforgiving world. Then… Something had gone wrong. No explanation came to her, just this vague feeling of error, as though…
…as though the soul was never meant to split, but was roughly broken in two by some unseen hand. Without its other half, neither soul would ever be whole. Their lives, their destinies, their dreams--everything--was intertwined and inescapable.
Only one thing bothered her.
She could not distinguish between the two halves. One should be dark, stained with actions that were to come. But neither had. Both souls, in those scant moments hanging above the fire, were a clear, pure blue, as though nothing would ever stain them.
Something was wrong with this picture. She knew well enough how black Kieran's soul became and what horrendous deeds he'd done. After all, people whispered he had killed a Wild Power and Cameron had heard from someone in Daybreak itself this was true. How, then, could his soul be pure?
While Cameron marveled over these thoughts, Kieran brooded over his own. Two innocent little boys devastated by one sinister act. Repeated over and over again, the effect snowballed until nothing but destruction remained where it hit.
He was sick of it.
He was tired of killing his soulmate. Every time he felt her mind link with his before gradually fading out of existence, he died a little more. This time he tried to let things happen on their own. But Fate failed him. Despite what he had told Kian, he knew with every nerve and every cell in his body that she lived. Each day it got harder to think about killing her. It also became harder to stay away from her.
He sighed. He wanted so many things, but his actions would prevent him from getting them. He tried to redeem himself. For nearly five hundred years, the only human he had killed was Aeshli -- with the exception of those girls who looked like her. He knew that didn't make it better. He had joined Daybreak, hoping he could cleanse himself from his deeds. In the darkness, his lips twisted into a grin.
Oh, the reaction that swept through the Night World when they learned he had "killed" a Wild Power. The Witch Child, no less. How lax they became…
In reality, Daybreak converged in Thierry's mansion and laughed themselves silly. Iliana especially. Her death had been only too easy to fake. So while the Night World celebrated their victory, Daybreak waited for the battle yet to come.
He pushed his thoughts to the back of his mind and concentrated on his breathing. He saw no sense in getting himself worked up at this time of night. Rest, Kieran, he told himself. There's much to do tomorrow…
And eventually, they both slept again.