That shining ocean of blackness reached out towards me, and I knew that if it touched me, I would die. I couldn't turn away, couldn't run, because you can't run from the dark, not really. The light does not last. That last thought wasn't mine. Wasn't Belle's.
I stared up at the darkness as it began to bend over me, and knew it lied. It's the dark that doesn't last. Dawn comes and slays the darkness, not the other way around. If I could have found enough air, I would have screamed, but I was left with only a whisper. The darkness bent towards me, and I couldn't shoot it, or hit it, and I didn't have enough personal psychic power to keep her at bay. I did the only thing I could think of, I prayed.
I whispered, "Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee . . ." the darkness hesitated, "Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb," the faintest of shivers ran through the liquid dark, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us . . ." There was suddenly light in the darkness. My cross was around my neck in the dreamscape. The metal shone like a captive star, shining and white, and unlike in real life, I could see beyond the brilliance of it. I watched that pure, white light chase back the dark.
I was suddenly aware of the car seat, the seat belt across my chest, Nathaniel's body wrapped around my legs. The cross around my neck was glowing hot white even in sunlight, so that I had to look away from it, and still the white, white light blurred my vision. The cross wouldn't have still been burning if the danger had past. I waited for the Mother of all Darkness to make her next move.
The air in the Jeep was suddenly soft, sweet, like the perfect summer night, when you can smell every blade of grass, every leaf, every flower, like a scented blanket that wraps you in air softer than cashmere, lighter than silk, a sweet blanket of air.
My throat suddenly felt cooler, as if I'd taken a sip of cold water. I could feel it coating my throat, and there was a faint under-taste, like jasmine.
Nathaniel buried his face in my lap to protect his eyes from the light. It was like wearing a white sun around my neck.
"Shit," Jason said, "I'm having trouble seeing the road. Can you tone it down?"
The world was full of white halos, and I didn't dare turn my head to look at him. The scent of night was all I could smell as if everything else had vanished. I could almost redrink the cool, perfumed water that coated my throat. So real, so overwhelmingly real. I managed to whisper, "No."
I kept waiting for words in my head, but there was nothing but silence, and the smell of a summer night, the taste of cool water, and the growing sense that something large was drawing nearer. It was like standing on the train tracks, when you feel that first vibration down the metal lines, and you know you should get off, but you can't see anything. As far as you can look, the tracks are clear, there's only that metallic vibration, like a pulse beat against your feet, to let you know that several tons of steel are hurtling towards you. People die every year on train tracks, and often their dying words are I didn't see the train.I've always thought that trains must be magical that way, or otherwise people would see them, and get the f**k off the tracks. I could feel the vibration of her rushing towards me, and I would gladly have gotten off the tracks, but the tracks were inside my head, nailed across my body, and I couldn't figure out how to run from that.
Something rubbed against my skin, like some large animal pressing its body along the length of mine. I felt Nathaniel draw back, but I couldn't see him through the white light. His voice came, breathless, frightened, "What is that?"
I opened my mouth, not even sure what I'd say, when that roll of invisible animal hit my chest, and the cross. The cross flared so bright that most of us screamed, cried out. Jason had to hit the brakes and stop the jeep in the middle of the street, blinded by the light, unable to see to drive, I think.
The light began to dim. For a second I wondered if the brilliance had fried my retinas, then my vision began to clear through a veil of spots. I could still feel it, her, pressing against me, pinning me to the seat, pressing over the cross, as if she were eating the light.
Nathaniel stared up at me, his lavender eyes gone leopard, a deep, deep gray, that had a hint of blue in the sunlight. "She's a shifter," he whispered. And I knew why. Shape-shifters could not be vampires, or vice versa. The lycanthropy virus seemed to be proof against whatever made you a vampire. You could not be both. It was a rule. But whatever pressed against me now was animal not human. I couldn't get a sense of what kind of animal, but animal it was.
How the Mother of all Darkness happened to be both a vampire and a shape-shifter at the same time was a problem for another day. Right then, I didn't care what she was, I just wanted her to leave me the f**k alone.
The cross was still glowing, but only the metal itself, as if it were hollow and candles burned inside it. The light was white and flickering now. I'd never seen a cross look so much like fire before. But it was a cold fire. The shape pushed and rolled like it was trying to climb inside me, but the cross kept glowing, acting as a metaphysical shield to keep her out of me.
"What can we do to help?" Jason asked. The Jeep was still stopped in the middle of the street. A car trapped behind us was honking its horn. There were cars parked on both sides of the residential street leaving the car with no way to get past us. The neighborhood was nothing but small neat houses, none with driveways. Jason hit the blinkers, and the car began to back away, trying to turn around.
I was almost afraid to open my links to Richard and Jean-Claude, what if the primordial dark could spill down the ties and take them, too? Jean-Claude had no faith to fall back on. Richard did, but whether he was actually wearing a cross or not was debatable. It had been a long time since I'd seen Richard wear a cross.
While I was still considering, Jason grabbed my hand. The scent of night didn't fade, it was added to, like a layer of color painted over another. The clean musk of wolves filled the night. The cool water that seemed to have passed down my throat now tasted more of loam and forest than perfume.
I had an image in my mind of a huge animal head with long teeth, like the largest fangs I'd ever seen. The fur on the head was gold and tawny, and reddish, shaded, rather than striped, more lion than tiger. Eyes like golden fire stared into mine, and that huge mouth opened wide, and screamed its frustration, in a sound like a panther's scream, but octaves lower. Pioneers were always mistaking panther screams for a woman's cries. No one would have mistaken this for a woman--a man, maybe, a man being tortured and screaming for his soul.
I screamed back, as if that head were truly right in front of me and not thousands of miles across the world. My scream was echoed by two others. Nathaniel snarled up at me from the floorboard, his mouth showing teeth that were fast becoming fangs. Caleb had slid in between the seats, and his eyes were yellow cat eyes. He started to rub his cheek against my shoulder as if he was going to scent mark me, then stopped, snarling, as if he'd touched that other phantom cat.
Jason didn't scream, he growled, that low, fur-standing-on-end sound that has nothing to do with hunting and everything to do with fighting, not for food, but for survival. It was a sound for guarding territory, chasing out interlopers, getting rid of troublemakers. The sound that says get out or die.
She screamed back, a sound that should have frozen the blood in my veins, and reminded me that my ancestors had huddled around their small fires and watched in terror for the shine of eyes outside that flame. But I wasn't thinking like a person. I wasn't even sure thinkingwas the word for what was moving through my mind. It was more like I was in the moment, completely, utterly. I could feel the leather seat cupping my body, Nathaniel pressed against my legs, his hands tracing higher, Caleb at my shoulder, his cheek against my face, his jaw straining as he snarled, Jason's hand on my arm like it had taken root, become a part of me.
I could smell Caleb's skin, the soap he'd used that morning, and the fear like something bitter under that clean skin. Nathaniel moved up on his knees, higher, so that his face was superimposed behind the saber-tooth's head for a moment. But I could smell the vanilla scent of his hair, and there was nothing from the phantom cat.
Jason moved in closer, putting his face close to mine, sniffing the air, I smelled soap, shampoo, and the smell of Jason, a scent that had begun to mean home to me, the way the vanilla scent of Nathaniel's hair, or Jean-Claude's expensive cologne, or, once, the warm bend of Richard's neck affected me. I didn't mean in a sexual way, but the way fresh baked bread or your mother's favorite cookies make you feel safe and smell like home. I turned my head to Caleb, so that my nose touched his skin, and under the fear, the soap, the soft skin, he smelled of leopard, faint in his human form, but there, a nose-wrinkling, skin-prickling smell. I turned to the weight pressing against the still-glowing cross. I looked into those yellow eyes, gazed upon those fangs that were like nothing that walked the earth today, and it had no scent.