Yes," Gillian said simply. Her heart rate had picked up a little, but with anticipation rather than fear.

Angel was looking very mysterious.

He struck a looking-into-the-distance pose, then said, "Have you ever had the feeling that you don't

really know reality?"

"Frequently," Gillian said dryly. "Ever since I met you."

He grinned. "I mean even before that. Someone wrote about the 'inconsolable secret' that's in each of us.

The desire for our own far-off country, for something we've never actually experienced. About how we

all long 'to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality ... to be reunited with something in the

universe from which we now feel cut off...' "

Gillian sat bolt upright. "Yes. I never heard anybody say it that well before. About the chasm- you

always feel that there's something else, somewhere, and that you're being left out. I thought it was

something the popular people would be in on-but it hasn't got anything to do with them at all."

"As if the world has some secret, if you could only get on the inside."

"Yes. Yes." She looked at him in fascination. "This is about being a witch, isn't it? You're saying that I've

always felt that way because it's true. Because for me there is a different reality..."

"Nah." Angel grimaced. "Actually everybody feels exactly the same. Doesn't mean a thing."

Gillian collapsed. "What?"

"For them. For them, there is no secret place. As for you... well, it's not what you're thinking; it's not

some higher reality of astral planes or anything. It's as real as those socks. As real as that girl, Melusine,

in the store in Woodbridge. And it's where you were meant to be. A place where you'll be welcomed

into the heart of things."

Gillian's heart was racing wildly. "Where is it?"

"It's called the Night World."

Gray-blue shadows were gliding up the hills. Gillian drove in the twilight, heading toward the darkness in

the east.

"Explain again," she said, and she said it out loud, even though she couldn't see Angel. There

was a slight disturbance of air above the seat to her right, a hint of mist, but that was all. "You're saying

it's not just witches."

"Not by a long shot. Witches are just one race; there are all sorts of other creatures of the night. All the

sorts that you've been taught to think are legends."

"And they're real. And they're just living alongside normal humans. And they always have been."

"Yes. But it's easy, you see. They look like humans, at least at first glance. As much as you look like a


"But I am a human. I mean, mostly, right? My great-grandma was a witch, but she married a human and

so did my grandma and my mom. So I'm all ... diluted."

"It doesn't matter to them. You can claim witch blood. And your powers are beyond dispute. Trust me,

they'll welcome you."

"Besides, I've got you," Gillian said cheerfully. "I mean, ordinary humans don't have their own invisible

guardians, do they?"

"Well." Angel seemed to coalesce dimly beside her. From what she could see of his face, he was

frowning. "You can't actually tell them about me. Don't ask why; I'm not allowed to explain. But I'll be

with you, the way I always am. I'll help you out with what to say. Don't worry; you'll do fine."

Gillian wasn't worried. She felt steeped in mystery and a sort of forbidden excitement. The whole world

seemed magical and unfamiliar.

Even the snow looked different, blue and almost phosphorescent. As Gillian drove through rolling

farmlands, a glow appeared above the eastern hills, and then the full moon rose, huge and throbbing with


Deeper and deeper, she thought. She seemed to have left everything ordinary behind and to be sliding

more and more quickly into an enchanted place where anything-anything at all-could happen.

She wouldn't have been surprised if Angel had directed her to pull off into some snowy clearing and look

for a fairy ring. But when he said, "Turn here," it was at a main road that led to the straggling outskirts of

a town.

"Where are we?"

"Sterback. Little hole-in-the-wall place-except for where we're going. Stop here."

"Here" was a nondescript building, which looked as if it had originally been Victorian. It wasn't in very

good repair.

Gillian got out and looked at the moon shining on the windows. The building might have been a lodge. It

was set apart from the rest of the dark and silent town. A wind had started up and she shivered.

(Uh, it doesn't look like anybody's in there.)

(Go to the door.) Angel's voice in her mind was comforting, as always.

There was no sign at the door, nothing to indicate that this was a public building. But the stained glass

window above the door was faintly illuminated from the inside. The pattern seemed to be a flower. A

black iris.

(The Black Iris is the name of this place. It's a dub-)

Angel was interrupted by a sudden explosion. That was Gillian's impression. For the first instant she had

no idea what it was-just a dark shape flying at her and a violent noise-and she almost fell off the porch.

Then she realized that the noise was barking. A chained dog was yammering and foaming, trying to get at


(I'll take care of it.) Angel sounded grim, and an instant later Gillian felt something like a wave in the air.

The dog dropped flat as if it had been shot. It rolled its eyes.

The porch was dead silent again. Everything was silent. Gillian stood and breathed, feeling adrenaline run

through her. But before she could say anything, the door opened behind her.

A face looked out of the dimness inside the house. Gillian couldn't make out the features, but she could

see the gleam of eyes.

"Who're you?" The voice was slow and flat, not friendly. "What do you want?"

Gillian followed Angel's whispered words. "I'm Gillian of the Harman clan, and I want in. It's cold out


"A Harman?"

"I'm a Hearth-Woman, a daughter of Hellewise, and if you don't let me in, you stupid werewolf, I'm

going to do to you what I did to your cousin there." She stuck out a gloved finger toward the cringing

dog. (Werewolf? Angel, there are real werewolves?)

(I told you. All the legendary creatures.) Gillian felt an odd sinking. She had no idea why, and she

continued to do just as Angel said. But somehow her stomach was knotting tighter and tighter.

The door opened slowly. Gillian stepped into a dim hall and the door slammed shut again with a

curiously final sound.

"Didn't recognize you," the figure beside her said. "Thought you might be vermin."

"I forgive you," Gillian said, and pulled off her gloves at Angel's direction. "Downstairs?"

He nodded and she followed him to a door which led to a stairway. As soon as the door opened, Gillian

heard music.

She descended, feeling extremely... subterranean. The basement was deeper than most basements.

And bigger. It was like a whole new world down there.

It wasn't much brighter than upstairs, and there were no windows. It seemed like an old place; there was

a shuffleboard pattern on the cold tile floor and a faint smell of mildew and moisture. But it was alive with

people. There were figures sitting on chairs dumped around the borders of

the room and more gathered around a pool table at one end. There were figures in front of a couple of

ancient looking pinball machines and figures clustered at what looked like a home bar.

Gillian headed for the bar. She could feel eyes on her every step of the way.

She felt too small and too young as she perched precariously on one of the bar stools. She rested her

elbows on the counter and tried to slow her heart down.

The figure behind the bar turned toward her. It was a guy, maybe in his twenties. He stepped forward

and Gillian saw his face.

Shock rippled through her. There was something... wrong with him. Not that he was hideously ugly or

that he would have caused a commotion if he got on a bus. Maybe it was something Gillian sensed

through her new powers and not through her eyes at all. But the impression she got was that his face

looked wrong. Tainted by cold dark thoughts that made Tanya's scheming mind look like a sunlit garden.

Gillian couldn't help her recoil. And the bar guy saw it.

"You're new," he said. The dark and cold seemed to grow in him and she realized he was enjoying her

fear. "Where are you from?"

Angel was shouting instructions at her. "I'm a Harman," Gillian said as steadily as she could. "And-you're

right. I'm new."

(Good, kid. Don't let him bully you! Now you're

going to explain to them just exactly who you are-)

(In a minute, Angel. Just let me get-settled.) The truth was that Gillian was completely unsettled. The

sense of dread that had been growing ever since she walked in was reaching an unbearable pitch. This

place was... she groped for adjectives. Unwholesome. Corrupt. Scary.

And then she realized something else. Up until now she hadn't been able to make out the faces of the

other figures properly. Only eyes and the occasional flash of teeth.

But now-they were moving in around her. It reminded her of sharks, swimming almost aimlessly but

ending up in a purposeful gathering. There were people directly behind her-she could feel that with the

back of her neck-and there were people on either side of her. When she looked, she could see their


Cold-dark-wrong. Not just wrong, but almost diabolic. These were people who might do anything and

enjoy it. Their eyes glittered at her. More than glittered. Some of the eyes were shining... like an

animal's at night... and now they were smiling and she could see teeth. Long delicate canine teeth that

came to a point. Fangs...

All the legendary creatures...

Sheer panic surged through her. And at the same instant, she felt strong hands on her elbows.

"Why don't you come outside with me?" a voice behind her said.

Then things were confused. Angel was yelling again, but Gillian couldn't really hear him over the

pounding of her own heart. The hands were exerting pressure, forcing her away from the bar. And the

figures with their diabolical faces were settling back, most of them wearing conspiratorial grins.

"Have fun," somebody called.

Gillian was being hurried up the stairs, whisked through the dim building. A blast of cold air hit her as the

door opened and she suddenly felt dearer. She tried to break out of the iron grip that was holding her. It

didn't do any good.

She was out in the snow, leaving the house behind. The street was completely deserted.

"Is that your car?"

The hands on her arms eased their pressure. Gillian gave one desperate wrench and turned around.

Moonlight was shining on the snow around her, giving it the texture of white satin. Every shadow was

like an indigo stain on the sparkling coverlet.

The person who'd been holding her was a boy a few years older than Gillian. He was lanky and elegant,

with ash-blond hair and slightly tilted eyes. Something about the way he held himself made her think of

lazy predatory animals.

But his face wasn't wrong, the way the other

faces had been. It was set and grim, maybe even a little scary, but it wasn't evil.

"Now, look," he said, and his voice wasn't evil, either, just rapid and short. "I don't know who you are,

or how you managed to get in there, but you'd better turn around and go home right now. Because

whatever you are, you're not a Harman."

"How do you know?" Gillian blurted before Angel could tell her what to say.

"Because I'm related to the Harmans. I'm Ash Redfern. You don't even know what that means, do you?

If you were a Harman you'd know that our families are kin."

(You are a Harman, and you are a witch!) Angel was actually raging. (Tell him! Tell him!)

But the ash-blond boy was going on. "They'll eat you alive in there if they find out for sure. They're not

as-tolerant-of humans as I am. So my advice is, get in your car, drive away, and never come back. And

never mention this place to anybody else."

(You're a lost witch! You're not a human. Tell him!)

"How come you're so tolerant?" Gillian was staring at the boy. His eyes... she'd thought they were

amber colored originally, like Steffi's, but now they were emerald green.

He gave her an odd look. Then he smiled. It was a lazy smile, but with something heart-wrenching

behind it.

"I met a human girl last summer," he said quietly, and that seemed to explain everything.

Then he nodded at her car. "Get out of here. Never come back. I'm just passing through; I won't be

around to save you again."

(Don't get in the car. Don't go. Tell him. You're a witch; you belong to Circle Midnight. Don't go!)

For the first time, Gillian deliberately disobeyed an order of Angel's. She unlocked the car with shaky

hands. As she got in, she looked back at the boy. Ash.

"Thank you," she said.

"Bye." He wiggled his fingers. He watched as she drove away.

(Go back there right now! You belong there, just as much as any of them. You're one of them. They

can't keep you out. Turn around and go back!)

"Angel, stop it!" She said it out loud. "I can't! Don't you see that? I can't. They were horrible. They


Now that she was alone, reaction was setting in. Her whole body began to shake. She was suddenly

blind with tears, her breath catching in her throat.

"Not evil!" Angel shimmered into the seat beside her. He had never sounded so agitated. "Just


"They were evil. They wanted to hurt me. I saw their eyes!" She was lapsing into hysteria. "Why did you

take me there? When you wouldn't even let me talk to Melusine? Melusine wasn't like them."

A violent shiver overtook her. The car veered and she struggled with it, barely getting control. All at

once everything seemed alien and terrifying; she was out on a long and lonely road, and it was night, and

there was an uncanny being in the seat beside her.

She didn't know who he was anymore. All she knew was that he wasn't any kind of an angel. The logical

alternative sprang immediately to her mind. She was alone in the middle of nowhere with a demon...

"Gillian, stop it!"

"Who are you? What are you, really? Who are you?"

"What do you mean? You know who I am."

"No, I don't!" She was screaming it. "I don't know anything about you! Why did you take me there?

Why did you want them to hurt me? Why?"

"Gillian, stop the car. Stop. The. Car."

His voice was so commanding, so urgent and imperative, that she actually obeyed. She was sobbing

anyway. She couldn't drive or see. She felt, literally and honestly, that she was losing her mind at that

exact moment.

"Now look at me. Wipe your face off and look at me."

After a moment she managed. He was shining. Light seemed to radiate from every inch, of him, from the

gold filaments of his hair, to his classic features, to the lines of his perfect body. And he'd

calmed down. His expression was rapt and uplifted, the serenity only marred by what looked like

concern for her.

"Now," he said. "I'm sorry if all this scared you. New things are like that sometimes-they seem repulsive

just because they're different. But we won't talk about that now," he added, as Gillian caught a

shuddering breath. "The important thing is that I wasn't trying to hurt you." His eyes seemed to grow even

more intense, pure violet flame.

Gillian hiccupped. "But-you-"

"I could never hurt you, Gillian. Because, you see, we're soulmates."

He said it with the weight of a monumental revelation. And although Gillian had no idea what it meant,

she felt an odd quiver inside, almost of recognition.

"What's that?"

"It's something that happens with people who belong to the Night World. It means that there's only one

love for everyone who exists. And when you meet that love, you know them. You know you were meant

to be together, and nothing can keep you apart."

It was true. Every word seemed to resonate inside Gillian, touching off ancient, hidden memories. This

was something her ancestors had known.

Her cheeks had dried. Her hysteria was gone. But she felt very tired and very bewildered.

"But ... if that's true..." She couldn't put the thought together.

"Don't worry about it right now." Angel's voice was soothing. "We'll talk about it later. I'll explain what it

all means. I just wanted you to know that I would never hurt you. I love you, Gillian. Don't you realize


"Yes," Gillian whispered. Everything was very foggy. She didn't want to think, didn't want to consider

the implications of what Angel was saying.

She just wanted to get home.

"Relax and I'll help you drive," Angel said. "Don't worry about anything. It's all going to be all right." Copyright 2016 - 2023