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Home > Witchlight (Night World #9)

Witchlight (Night World #9)
Author: L.J. Smith

Chapter 1

The mall was so peaceful. There was no hint of the terrible thing that was about to happen. It looked like any other shopping mall inNorth Carolina on a Sunday afternoon in December. Modern. Brightly decorated. Crowded with customers who knew there were only ten shopping days until Christmas. Warm, despite the chilly gray skies outside. Safe.

Not the kind of place where a monster would appear.

Keller walked past a display of "Santa Claus Through the Ages" with all her senses alert and open. And that meant a lot of senses. The glimpses she caught of herself in darkened store windows showed a high-school-aged girl in a sleek jumpsuit, with straight black hair that fell past her hips and cool gray eyes. But she knew that anybody who watched her closely was likely to see something else-a sort of prowling grace in the way she walked and an inner glow when the gray eyes focused on anything.

Raksha Keller didn't look quite human. Which was hardly surprising, because she wasn't. She was a shapeshifter, and if people looking at her got the impression of a half-tamed panther on the loose, they were getting it exactly right.

"Okay, everybody." Keller touched the pin on her collar, then pressed a finger to the nearly invisible receiver in her ear, trying to tune out the Christmas music that filled the mall. "Report in."

"Winnie here." The voice that spoke through the receiver was light, almost lilting, but professional. "I'm over by Sears. Haven't seen anything yet. Maybe she's not here."

"Maybe," Keller said shortly into the pin-which wasn't a pin at all but an extremely expensive transmission device. "But she's supposed to love shopping, and her parents said she was headed this way. It's the best lead we've got. Keep looking."

"Nissa here." This voice was cooler and softer, emotionless. "I'm in the parking lot, driving by theBingham Street entrance. Nothing to report- wait." A pause, then the ghostly voice came back with a new tension: "Keller, we've got trouble. A black limo just pulled up outside Brody's. They know she's here."

Keller's stomach tightened, but she kept her voice level. "You're sure it's them?"

"I'm sure. They're getting out-a couple of vampires and... something else. A young guy, just a boy really. Maybe a shapeshifter. I don't know for sure; he isn't like anything I've seen before." The voice was troubled, and that troubled Keller. Nissa Johnson was a vampire with a brain like the library of Congress. Something she didn't recognize?

"Should I park and come help you?" Nissa asked.

"No," Keller said sharply. "Stay with the car; we're going to need it for a fast getaway. Winnie and I will take care of it. Right, Winnie?"

"Oh, right, Boss. In fact, I can take 'em all on myself; you just watch."

'You watch your mouth, girl." But Keller had to fight the grim smile that was tugging at her lips. Winfrith Arlin was Nissa's opposite-a witch and inclined to be emotional. Her odd sense of humor had lightened some black moments.

"Both of you stay alert," Keller said, completely serious now. "You know what's at stake."

"Right, Boss." This time, both voices were subdued.

They did know.

The world.

The girl they were looking for could save the world-or destroy it. Not that she knew that... yet Her name was Iliana Harman, and she had grown up as a human child. She didn't realize that she had the blood of witches in her and that she was one of the four Wild Powers destined to fight against the time of darkness that was coming.

She's about to get quite a surprise when we tell her, Keller thought That was assuming that Keller's team got to her before the bad guys did. But they would. They had to. There was a reason they'd been chosen to come here, when every agent of Circle Daybreak in North America would have been glad to do this job.

They were the best. It was that simple.

They were an odd team-vampire, witch, and shapeshifter-but they were unbeatable. And Keller was only seventeen, but she already had a reputation for never losing.

And I'm not about to blow that now, she thought. "This is it, kiddies," she said. "No more talking until we ID the girl. Good luck." Their transmissions were scrambled, of course, but there was no point in taking chances. The bad guys were extremely well organized.

Doesn't matter. Well still win, Keller thought, and she paused in her walking long enough really to expand her senses.

It was like stepping into a different world. They were senses that a human couldn't even imagine. Infrared. She saw body heat. Smell. Humans didn't have any sense of smell, not really. Keller could distinguish Coke from Pepsi from across a room. Touch. As a panther, Keller had exquisitely sensitive hairs all over her body, especially on her face. Even in human form, she could feel things with ten times the intensity of a real human. She could feel her way in total darkness by the air pressure on her skin. Hearing. She could hear both higher and lower pitches than a human, and she could pinpoint an individual cough in a crowd. Sight. She had night vision like-well, like a cat's.

Not to mention more than five hundred muscles that she could move voluntarily.

And just now, all her resources were attuned to finding one teenage girl in this swarming mall. Her eyes roved over faces; her ears pricked at the sound of every young voice; her nose sorted through thousands of smells for the one that would match the T-shirt she'd taken from Iliana's room.

Then, just as she froze, catching a whiff of something familiar, the receiver in her ear came to life. "Keller-I spotted her! Hallmark, second floor. But they're here, too."

They'd found her first.

Keller cursed soundlessly. Aloud, she said, "Nissa, bring the car around to the west side of the mall. Winnie, don't do anything. I'm coming."

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