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
"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
"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
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
(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
"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
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