Jade-wait a minutel" Mark said.
Jade, of course, didn't wait even a second. But shelost time undoing the bolts on the front door, and
Mary-Lynnette could hear the quick tap, tap, tap of somebody running away.
Jade threw the door open, darted out onto theporch-and screamed. Mary-Lynnette crowded forward
and saw that Jade had put her foot into oneof the holes where the porch was missing a board. Everybody
who didn't know the place did that. Butthat wasn't what had made her scream.
It was the goat.
"Oh, God," Mark said. "Oh, God-who would dothat?"
Mary-Lynnette took one look and felt a burning inher chest and arms-a painful, bad feeling. Her lungs
seemed to contract and her breath was forced out.
Her vision blurred.
"Let's get it inside," Rowan said. "Jade, are youall right?"
Jade was taking In ragged, whooping breaths. Shesounded the way Mary-Lynnette felt. Mark leaned
over to help pull her out of the hole.
Rowan and Kestrel were lifting the goat by its legs.Mary-Lynnette was backing into the house, teeth
clamped on her already-bitten lip. The taste of copperwas like a blood dot in her mouth.
They put the goat on an old-fashioned patternedrug in the entrance to the living room. Jade's whooping
breaths turned into gasping sobs.
"That's Ethyl," Mary-Lynnette said. She felt like sobbing too.
She knelt beside Ethyl. The goat was pure white, with a sweet face and a broad forehead. Mary
Lynnette reached out to touch one hoof gently. She'dhelped Mrs. B. trim that hoof with pruning shears.
"She's dead," Kestrel said. "You can't hurt her."Mary-Lynnette looked up quickly. Kestrel's face
was composed and distant. Shock rippled under MaryLynnette's skin.
"Let's take them out," Rowan said.
"The hide's ruined already," Kestrel said.
Mary-Lynnette stood. "Kestrel, shut up!"
There was a pause. To Mary-Lynnette's astonishment, the pause went on. Kestrel stayed shut up.
Mary-Lynnette and Rowan began to pull the little wooden stakes out of the goat's body.
Some were as small as toothpicks. Others were longer than Mary-Lynnette's finger and thicker than
a shish kebab skewer, with a dull point at one end.Somebody strong did this, Mary-Lynnette thought.
Strong enough to punch splinters of wood throughgoat hide.
Over and over again. Ethyl was pierced everywhere. Hundreds of times. She looked like a porcupine.
"There wasn't much bleeding," Rowan said softly."That means she was dead when it was done.
Andlook here." She gently touched Ethyl's neck. Thewhite coat was crimson there-just like the deer,
"Somebody either cut her throat or bit it," Rowansaid. "So it was probably quick for her and she
bledout. Not like ..."
"What?" Mary-Lynnette said.
Rowan hesitated. She looked up at Jade. Jade sniffled and wiped her nose on Mark's shoulder.
Rowan looked back at Mary-Lynnette. "Not like Uncle Hodge." She looked back down and carefully
loosened another stake, adding it to the pile theywere accumulating. "You see, they killed Unde Hodge
this way, the Elders did. Only he was alivewhen they did it."
For a moment Mary-Lynnette couldn't speak. Thenshe said, "Why?"
Rowan pulled out two more stakes, her face controlled and intent. "For telling a human about theNight
Mary-Lynnette sat back on her heels and lookedat Mark.
Mark sat down on the floor, bringing Jade withhim.
"That's why Aunt Opal left the island," Rowansaid.
"And now somebody's staked Aunt Opal," Kestrel said. "And somebody's killed a goat in the
same wayUnde Hodge was killed."
"Butwho?" Mary-Lynnette said.
Rowan shook her head. "Somebody who knowsabout vampires."
Mark's blue eyes looked darker than usual and alittle glazed. "You were talkingbefore about a vam pire
"That gets my vote," Kestrel said.
"Okay, so who around here is a vampire hunter?What's a vampire hunter?"
"That's the problem," Rowan said. "I don't knowhow you could tell who is one. I'm not even sure
Ibelieve in vampire hunters."
"They're supposed to be humans who've found out about the Night World," Jade said, pushing
tears outof her eyes with her palms. "And they can't get otherpeople to believe them-or maybe they don't
want other people to know. So they hunt us. You know, trying to kill us one by one. They're supposed
toknow as much about the Night World as Night People do."
"You mean, like knowing how your uncle was executed" Mary-Lynnette said.
"Yes, but that's not much of a secret," Rowan said."I mean, you wouldn't have to actually know
aboutUncle Hodge to think of it-It's the traditionalmethod of execution among the lamia. There aren't
many things besides staking and burning that will killa vampire."
Mary-Lynnette thought about this. It didn't getthem very far. Who would want to kill an old ladyand a
"Rowan? Why did your aunt have goats? I mean, I always thought it was for the milk, but..."
"It was for the blood, I'm sure," Rowan saidcalmly. "If she looked as old as you said, she
probablycouldn't get out into the woods to hunt."
Mary-Lynnette looked at the goat again, trying tofind other dues, trying to be a good observer detached,
methodical. When her eyes got to Ethyl's muzzle, she blinked and leaned forward.
"I-there's something in her mouth."
"Please tell me you're joking," Mark said.
Mary-Lynnette just waved a hand at him. "Ican't-I need something to...hang on a sec." Sheran into the
kitchen and opened a drawer. She snagged a richly decorated sterling silver knife and ran back to the
"Okay," she grunted as she pried Ethyl's teeth farther open. There wassomething in
there-something like a flower, but black. She worked it out with her fingers.
"Silence of the Goats," Mark muttered.
Mary-Lynnette ignored him, turning the disintegrating thing over in her hands. "It looks like aniris-but it's
Jade and Rowan exchanged grim glances. "Wellthis has somethingto do with the Night World," Rowan
said. "If we weren't sure of that before, weare now. Black flowers are the symbols of the Night World."
Mary-Lynnette put the sodden iris down. "Symbols, like ... ?"
"We wear them to identify ourselves to each other.You know, on rings or pins or clothes or
things like that. Each species has its own kind of flower, andthen there are other flowers that mean you
belongto a certain dub or family. Witches use black dahlias, werewolves use black foxglove; made
vampires use black roses ..."
"And there's a chain of dubs called the Black Iris,"Kestrel said, coming to stand by the others. "I
know because Ash belongs to one."
"Ash... " Jade said, staring at Kestrel with widegreen eyes.
Mary-Lynnette sat frozen. Something was tugginginsistently at the corner of her consciousness. Some
thing about a black design....
"Oh, God," she said. "Oh, God-I know somebody who wears a ring with a black flower on it."
Everyone looked at her.
"Who?" Mark said, at the same time as Rowansaid it. Mary-Lynnette didn't know which of them
looked more surprised.
Mary-Lynnette struggled with herself for a minute.
"It's Jeremy Lovett," she said finally. Not toosteadily.
Mark made a face. "That oddball. He lives by himself in a trailer in the woods, and last summer ..."
Mark's voice died out. His jaw dropped, and when he spoke again, it was more slowly. "And last sum
mer they found a body right out near there."
"Can you tell?" Mary-Lynnette asked Rowan qui
etly. "If somebody's a Night Person?"
"Well ..." Rowan looked dismayed. "Well-not for sure. If somebody was experienced at shielding
their mind ...Well, we might be able to startle them into revealing something. But otherwise, no. Notfor
Mark leaned back. "Oh, terrific. Well, I think Jeremy would make a great Night Person. Actually, so
would Vic Kimble and Todd Akers."
"Todd," Jade said. "Now, wait a minute." Shepicked up one of the toothpicks that had been em
bedded in the goat and stared at it.
Rowan was looking at Mary-Lynnette. "No matterwhat, we should go and see your friend Jeremy. He'll
probably turn out to be completely innocent-sometimes a human gets hold of one of our rings or pins,
and then things get reallyconfusing. Especially if they wander into one of our dubs...."
Mary-Lynnette wasn't so sure. She had a terrible, terrible sick feeling. The way Jeremy kept to himself,
the way he always seemed to be an outsider atschool--even his untamed good looks and his easy way of
moving ... No, it all seemed to lead to one conclusion. She had solved the mystery of Jeremy Lovett at
last, and it wasnot a happy ending.
Kestrel said "Okay, fine; we can go check this Jeremy guy out. But what about Ash?"
"What about Ash?" Rowan said. The last stake wasout. She gently turned one side of the rug
over the body of the goat, like a shroud.
"Well, don't you see? It's his dub flower. Somaybe somebody from his dub did it." "Urn, I know
I'm starting to sound like a brokenrecord," Mark said. "But I don't know what you're talking about.
The three sisters looked at him. Mary-Lynnette looked away. After so many missed opportunities, it
was going to sound extremely peculiar when she casually mentioned that, oh, yes, she'd met Ash. Twice.
But she didn't have a choice anymore. She had to tell.
"He's our brother," Kestrel was saying.
"He's crazy," Jade said.
"He's the only one from our family who migh.know that we're here in Briar Creek," Rowan said.
"He found megiving a letter to Crane Linden to smuggle off the island. But Idon't think he noticedAunt
Opal's address on it. He's not much good at noticing things that aren't about him."
"You can say that again," Jade said. "All Ashthinksabout is Ash. He's completely self-centered."
"All he does is chase girls and party," Kestrel said,with one of those smiles that made
Mary-Lynnette wonder if she really disapproved. "And hunt."
'He doesn't like humans,"Jade said. "If he didn't like chasing human girls and playing with them, he'd
probably be planning towipe out all the humans and take over the world."
"Sounds like a great guy," Mark said.
"Well, he's sort of conservative," Rowan said. 'Politically, I mean. Personally, he's--"
"Loose," Kestrel suggested, eyebrows up.
"To put it mildly," Jade agreed. "There's only onething he wants when he goes after human girls
besides their cars, I mean."
Mary-Lynnette's heart was pounding. With every second that passed it was getting harder to speak up.
And every time she took a breath, somebody else started talking.
0"So, wait you think he did all this stuff?" Mark asked.
"I wouldn't put it past him," Kestrel said. Jade nodded vigorously.
"But his own aunt ,"Mark said.
"He'd do it if he thought the honor of the familywas involved," Kestrel said.
"Yes, well, there's one problem with all that," Rowan said tightly. "Ash isn't here. He's in
"No, he's not," Ash said casually, from the back ofthe living room.