Author's Note: Ah dear, I'm going to be getting a lot of flames and complaints over this chapter.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention, it turned out my finger wasn't really broken…I think. Well, I never went to see a doctor, but since it's stopped hurting ages ago, I think it's fine. The only problem is it's a bit crooked now, which sucks like no other because that makes my notes flat on the violin. Ugh.


Chapter 19


The gun clicked, almost mockingly. Empty. It was unloaded. There was no bullet after all. Just a piece of metal.

It fell to the ground as Gale slammed Kaden against the wall and tore his grasp from his throat. Gale backed away gasping for breath, the vampire clutching the dagger in his stomach as blood started to slowly leak out. He seemed more surprised and confused now rather than in general pain.

It took me a moment to realize what had happened. Somehow, Gale had had the dagger ready and waiting all along. For who and for what reason I could only guess at, but it was lucky he had had it all the same. And lucky that we had decided to keep the guns unloaded.

All part of the plan.

Mostly.

"That's for my father," said Gale coldly. "For…what you did to him."

Kaden snarled viciously, his fangs bared. I was sure that if it had been a normal dagger it wouldn't have affected him that much. But there seemed to be something different about this dagger, something special. It looked familiar to me almost. I noticed that Raebon was looking at it strangely, and I watched as his eyes narrowed, then gradually widened in horror.

I stared at it harder, racking my tired brain to remember where I had seen it before.

Suddenly, I knew what it was. The Hunter's Bane. The one that Raebon had used to kill my mother with.

I remembered what Raebon had told me only hours before. It had come to kill him. Somehow, it had come.

At the Pylon, the knife that Gale had drawn…Raebon had dropped it before we had left. It had been the dagger, this Bane, but in the confusion and the excitement and fear, he hadn't recognized it then. It had already tried to kill him once; there really was a curse.

I opened my mouth to say something, what, I never really knew. Maybe a warning, maybe a good-bye. I don't know. Because at that moment, someone else joined the fun.

Two people, actually. In retrospect, I wondered why they had waited so long to appear. Were they hoping we would destroy each other, that someone would appear the ultimate victor of this conflict?

I don't know that, either.

But suddenly, there they were. One I knew, the other I could only guess at. But my guesses are usually right.

The vampire that must have been Louis stood not very far from us, his cold eyes surveying the scene before him with obvious disgust. I could feel the evil coming off of him; yes, this man…this creature…was dangerous. He was evil, not in the way Kaden had been, but in the way that made you know you were dealing with someone who might as well have been the devil himself.

On the other side of the room, her robes falling gracefully around her, stood the Lady Diana, her calm eyes watching the other elder vampire closely, waiting. It felt like a boxing match almost; in this corner, weighing one hundred and forty-two pounds…

I almost had to stifle a giggle. Strange how, at the worst moments, you can find something to laugh at.

"Ah, Lady Diana," the man said, speaking with a deep voice so emotionless and harsh it made me shudder. Everyone in the room—the conscious ones, of course—seemed to cower away from him. Everyone except Diana, who stood unfazed and unconcerned. "At last, we meet."

The Lady nodded. "Yes, at long last. My sire, Joseph, warned Patrick and I about you. Patrick was the one who was left to fight against you when you killed your brother, but now that he is gone, I will finish the job for them and prevent you from destroying this world."

Louis snarled, looking more animal than human. "Your sire was a fool, just like our sire before him: Joshua refused to use his powers against humans more than was necessary to survive. He was a fool, a weak fool. I am merely doing what he should have done."

"I cannot allow you to do that," sighed the Lady. "You do not understand what you are planning to do."

"I understand perfectly. It is you who does not understand."

The rest of us just watched, very much like a stunned audience in a political debate that had just gotten very heated. Even Kaden didn't seem too much of a concern right now, though over the past few days he had been the dark shadow of evil following us, always on the back of our minds as the main threat. Now Kaden was injured and outnumbered, the Hunters were due to return at any moment, and two of the oldest vampires I knew were facing off. Somehow, I knew that this meeting was important.

I glanced at Raebon, who was creeping to me slowly for a vampire, though to a regular human he was almost running. In moments he was crouching at my side, touching my arm comfortingly. I hadn't even realized that I had ended up on the floor again, next to Alex and Damon, the latter of which had consented to relax his hold on the former and was merely holding the collar of his shirt, just in case.

But he needn't have worried. Everyone's attention was on Lady Diana and Louis. The power coming off of them, surrounding us in the musty room, left no option for anything else.

"Well, my dear Diana," said Louis, his voice dripping with false courtesy. "I have finally come out into the open for you. It is why you have allowed this to go on for so long, is it not? To draw me out, to send a message. Tut, tut, and to think of all of the lives you will be needlessly sacrificing when I destroy you and your pathetic allies." His eyes flickered lazily over us all, lingering on me. I turned my gaze away, unable to look into the face so hideously twisted with evil. "What a pity."

Lady Diana opened her mouth as if to say something, but at that exact moment someone dropped in—literally—from a nearby broken window, probably the easiest means of gaining entrance with the doors barred shut. The figure stood, hesitated upon seeing the ensemble of people standing in the dim light of the ruined factory, and then started slowly forward, stepping into the light.

There was a moment of silence as everyone turned to this newcomer. It took me a moment to recognize him; it was Mitchell Thomas, one of the Hunters from before.

Suddenly, Alex leapt to his feet, taking Damon by surprise, his eyes blazing as he stared at the newcomer. "You!" he spat viciously.

The Hunter, Mitchell, took one look at Alex and blanched visibly. "Alex."

Damon managed to grab Alex just in time as he struggled to lunge at the Hunter, his face a mask of fury and hatred. Gale stepped forward, obviously worried over his father's reaction. "You!" he yelled again. "I'm going to kill you!"

"Alex, calm down! What are you—"

"He's a traitor! He's the reason I'm a vampire!"

I glanced hurriedly at Gale, who looked stunned and was staring at his father as if he could hardly believe what he was hearing. "But…but dad…Mitchell…how could this be?"

"His family was killed by demons," snapped Alex as Mitchell stared at him. "But Kaden told him that it was Hunters. He handed me over to Kaden for revenge! He's been acting as Kaden's spy since before Tia's mother was killed training him!"

Now it was my turn to be stunned. I even forgot about the watching Lady Diana and Louis, the latter of which seemed to be amused by the whole situation. Raven had suddenly materialized beside Mitchell who jumped in surprise as she grabbed his arms watchfully, her gaze emotionless.

Gale just stood there. Staring.

"What?" he asked feebly.

"Louis's men killed Mitchell's family a year before he entered Hunter training," growled Alex, who was calming down a bit now that Mitchell was being held. I glanced at the Hunter, wondering why he was so silent, only to see him staring between Kaden and Louis fearfully, seemingly only vaguely aware of what was going on. "It was the reason he became a Hunter in the first place; because Kaden made him think it was the Hunters who killed his family. He became a Hunter so he could be a spy—after Tia's mother died, when I was trying to find the vampire who did it, he led me to Kaden, making me think that he had found the demon for me. But it was a trap. He handed me over to Kaden—"

"I didn't mean this to happen to you," exclaimed Mitchell suddenly. Kaden raised his head to glare at him. "I thought he was just going to get information from you…you were much higher up than I was, you would've known more about the other Hunter bases, about the secrets. I didn't think that he would turn you, Alex! When I found out…I'm not a spy anymore, I haven't been for years! Or else they would have destroyed the Hunters years ago! I was only a rookie back then…I didn't know what I was doing…my family was dead; I didn't know what I was doing! I'm so sorry, Alex…"

"You," whispered Gale softly. "You…you're the reason my father's like this."

Mitchell didn't look at the other Hunter, but merely closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Gale…"

"I trusted you!" spat Gale coldly. "You…you trained me to be a Hunter! I considered you the father I never had the chance to know! And all along …it was you…you were the reason why I didn't have one in the first place…you…"

Mitchell said nothing, just hung his head.

Someone started laughing, a cold, piercing, maniacal laugh that held no human qualities at all. Everyone looked around, dazed, wondering who could find such a situation funny.

It was Louis. My heart flared with anger.

"Ah, it is so rewarding to see the effects of your work, isn't it?" he cackled, sending shivers up and down my spine. "So amusing, these little children. A mother dead, a father lost, a Hunter and a vampire who were not at all what they seemed to be, trying to make up for their past mistakes! What a delightful composition of misery this is! Do you see, Lady Diana? No matter how hard you try to do good, there will always be suffering!"

"How foolish you are to think that in order for good to win, there must be no sorrow," sighed Lady Diana, shaking her head slowly. "Suffering…misery, as you call it…is a necessary part of life. Without the bad, then there would be no good. Without darkness, there is no light. One cannot exist without the other. It is this that you fail to understand, even after all these years. Without Hunters, there would be no demons; we would have destroyed the humans long ago, and then destroyed ourselves. Without demons, the Hunters would not exist. It is a delicate balance that must not be disrupted. This is the way it must be, the way it has always been."

"Your sentiments are amusing, but as misguided as our predecessors," said Louis dismissively. "All the demons need is a ruler, someone to control them, to keep them from doing what you suggest they would do."

"The Hunters already do that," said Lady Diana quietly.

"Perhaps," snarled the other, "but it is because of them that our kind hides, that we shun our right and duty to rule the lesser humans!"

"If that is what you think, then there is much you still do not know. You underestimate the capability of humans, Louis. They, unlike demons, depend solely on their minds and their wills instead of magic and power. If it was not for the Hunters, then we most likely would be the ones destroyed."

Louis barked a laugh. "Now you're starting to sound just as insane as I am. Humans would never be able to destroy demon kind. They are weak, sentimental, arrogant, ignorant…unworthy of ruling this world. I will extinguish them, just as I will extinguish your pathetic light—I will prove to you once and for all that darkness is more powerful than it is. After all, that's what you want, is it not? For me to stand and fight you? To give you the chance to destroy me and what I am trying to do?"

"I will not deny it," said the Lady sadly. "And I will not claim that I am the one with the right to do it, though I will try for the sake of those lives you've hurt."

"Oh, is that your reason?" said Louis, grinning wickedly. "Well then, let's make it more interesting."

A gunshot reverberated through the air, making the rest of us, the bystanders, jump in surprise as we glanced wildly around for its source. Seemingly out of nowhere, Louis had pulled out a gun and had fired it. But at what…?

Raven's audible gasp drew everyone's attention to her. She stepped back as Mitchell's body fell limply to the ground, his lifeless, glazed eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Somehow, I knew, just knew, that Louis knew what would happen next. Because a part of me did. A part of me saw at least partway into the future, saw what few dominoes were next to fall in the chain reaction.

Before anyone else had recovered from the shock, before I could so much as utter a word of warning, Gale was rushing towards Louis, the bloody dagger in his hand after having pulled it from Kaden, who was laying on the floor, still and silent.

"You bastard!" he shouted, lunging at Louis in fury.

"Gale, no!"

I'm not sure who shouted that warning. Maybe it was his father, maybe me, maybe one of the others standing by, watching. But before I knew it, before I could react, Raebon had disappeared from my side, jumping in front of the Hunter, trying to prevent Gale from wasting his own life by going up against a vampire that could easily have destroyed us all, to save the life of the boy who had started out trying to kill him…

The dagger glinted in the moonlight, a horrible reminder, a terrifying omen…

I screamed.

Gale stepped back, staring in horror as Raebon fell to his knees with a shudder, clutching his chest, rolled over onto his side…

Before my mind had even registered what had happened, I found myself sprinting to his side, falling to my knees next to him and gently lifting his head into my trembling arms. I didn't want to believe this was happening. Raebon was invincible to me. He couldn't die. It was against whatever rules governed my mind.

I stared at his face, blank with shock and acceptance, and forced myself not to look at his wound. I didn't want to believe that the Hunter's Bane curse was real, and looking at the dagger would have confirmed its truth.

"Raebon…no…Raebon…"

Raebon looked up at me, a trickle of blood spilling from the corner of his mouth as he smiled painfully.

"Everything…is going…to be…okay…" he choked weakly, moving his arm up to cover the dagger hilt projecting from his chest.

I just knelt there, staring blankly, completely oblivious to everything else around me, unaware of the tears streaming down my cheeks.

"Forgive me?" he asked softly. "For…killing…your mother?"

The tears came harder. "Of course I do," I said in a voice harsh with emotion. "Raebon, I…"

"Don't…say anything," he breathed. "Just…smile for me…one last time…please?"

I tried. Honestly, I did. But how can you smile when your best friend lay dying in your arms? When you knew that there was nothing that you could do to help him? If only the dagger had been a normal weapon; Raebon would be able to survive a wound like this. Even if it was so close to his heart…even if…

"Raebon," I sobbed as his eyes closed. "Raebon, don't go! Stay with me. Don't close your eyes. Don't leave, please!"

He forced a small half-smile and his eyelids fluttered open again. "I won't…ever leave you…Tia…just…remember…that…I love you…"

"I know," I said shakily. It took everything I had to not lose control and start screaming and pleading with him to stay. I felt so helpless, a feeling much worse than my fear. "I love you, too."

He smiled again. And closed his eyes.