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Chapter 1


Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

I remember how you used to braid Raven's dark hair for Guild meetings as I sat watching from the edge of our bed. How you used to brush each strand a hundred times until it shone like a ribbon of night, then deftly plaited it. You'd fasten it then with a white ribbon, humming a sweet, wordless tune in your rich contralto. I'd tell her very seriously then that she was as beautiful as her mother. As Belladonna LeBeau, twice-named for that selfsame characteristic.

That small, domestic ceremony seems important now, although logic dictates that it is not, in the face of all that has happened to us. Memory is tricky that way, you would tell me with that knock-out smile of yours. After all, we were only married because we could forget the ancient, pointless feud between our families. Our union was also that of the Guilds, which we ruled together, despite appearances and public perception. I wonder if the patriarchs ever realised exactly why I insisted you be there - probably thought that you were a reminder of how much I was prepared to gamble - or why I looked to you before speaking. They probably dismissed the subtle movement of your fingers as fidgeting, impatience at matters which a woman couldn't hope to understand. They certainly would never have guessed it was a complex code that you had invented to say your piece through me. Knowing that openly defying the ancient traditions would cause resentment of the new order, of us, you quietly set about subverting them. You were an amazing woman, Belle, in more ways than one. Most of all, because you could love a vampire.

Do you know I wanted to step out into the light this morning? I wanted to stand in the middle of the street and watch the sun rise, see the stars fade to crimson, painting the streets in shades of gold after the rain last night. More than that, I wanted to feel its warmth on my skin, growing until it consumed me and I was nothing more than ash. I was halfway up the stairs that lead from the council chambers to the surface, halfway to seeking the final peace a vampire can know, when I remembered your final request that I protect our daughter, our little Raven. Remembered you braiding her hair for council meetings. Remembered my duty to family above all. Besides, the sunlight will still be there, behind any curtain or door, once I've saved her from Bastion's clutches.

They have her, Belladonna, after Julien betrayed us to them. I don't know whether it was out of spite at my automatic ascension to Guild Master or because he knew what Raven truly was and feared her. I suppose I should have known it was inevitable, that our best efforts could never be enough to protect the child I had freed from that obscene project so many years ago. Vampires cannot sire children, yet we loved her like our own. Nonetheless, behind the mundanity of domestic life was always the knowledge, that, like her 'brother', Raven was created to be either the salvation or the doom of the mutant-race. Unless I can get her back, it will be the latter.

That is why I am leaving New Orleans, my family and high position, for the hunt. Why I am prepared to risk the peace we so carefully cultivated between Assassin and Thief for one small, well-loved girl-child. A race, even if it is one to which I renounced all claims with Bloodstorm's bite, is more important than playing den-mother to our two clans, breaking up the petty squabbles of a thousand year feud. Henri says that he will do what he can to patch together the tatters and rags of a peace we thought were permanent. It is his job, his duty now that I have a greater one. Once having fulfilled that, having ensured Raven is safe and that the future is certain, I think I would like to watch the sun rise.


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