By unspoken consent, Jay and I didn't mention anything about the woods. We stayed in the city overnight, using the day to plan our assault on the Council, just half an evening's run away. I knew enough about Zelthar's habits to be able to say where Jessica would be held and how to get us there with minimal risk.
"This place is crawling with vampires, including more or less all of the Council members." I said, sketching out a rough plan for Jay. "The guards all wear a uniform and are easy to spot. If they aren't a guard, just get out of there. Don't fight them. There's a lot of people on the Council and they're all more powerful than you can imagine." I suppressed a shudder at what I had seen of Zelthar's power. He was by no means the strongest member of the Council and all of the members would be roaming freely and at random when we were due to attack.
"The guards and Hunters aren't what we need to worry about. I'll keep a link open between us but only use it if you're in serious danger. I'll bet anything there's a few psychic vampires working for the Council and they'll be keeping watch for anything like that going on. "
I spoke business-like, keeping a distance between us that hadn't been there a couple of days ago. I knew it was hurting Jay, but the raw memories of Jake that had been stirred up by what I'd seen in the Hunter's mind had been a harsh reminder of what I'd lost when Lee attacked him. Jay had just filled the hole temporarily, but he could never be a replacement, especially when we had a dangerous job to do. I vowed that once I'd returned Jessica to him, I would part ways with Jay. Getting attached was too risky in my line of work.
"Remind me again why we're separating?" Jay was trying to maintain a relaxed air but I could hear the anxious undercurrent in his voice.
"There's something I need to check. Its too risky to have you come with me since I'll be going right into Zelthar's quarters. If you come with me, my cover will be blown and we'll both be dead."
Jay nodded though I felt a pang of guilt. I could have easily got Jay in and out of the area, but in truth, I didn't want him to know that Zelthar's ploy had worked and that I was going to check to see if Jake had really survived, as I saw in the Hunter's mind. I hated that Zelthar had been able to play me so well but if there was even the slightest chance that Jake hadn't been killed that night, I couldn't risk leaving him in the clutches of the Council. I couldn't bear the thought of what Lee would do to him, let alone anyone else there.
"Don't let them catch you." I murmured eventually, after a long silence. I fixed my gaze on the small patch of faux-wood between my hand and the paper as I saw Jay's head flick up to look at me. "Just...be careful Jay."
He murmured his assent before making an excuse to leave. I paced the room restlessly, checking all of my equipment a hundred times over. Just as the sun was touching the horizon, Jay returned, clearly fed.
Ready? I asked him mentally, not trusting my voice.
He merely nodded, the fear only just off his face.
Remember, just because you can't see me, doesn't mean I won't be there. Meet back here. If one of us isn't back by sunrise, assume the worst and run. Don't look back.
Jay nodded again, looking pale even for a vampire.
I left, hugging the shadows as soon as I could. I was dressed in full Shadow regalia, all trace of Asha hidden under the uniform. I caught snatches of Jay as he flitted through the streets and fields with me, though I was focused on our destination. I paused long enough to see him slip the catch on a back door before I sprinted to my usual entrance point. Satisfied that nothing had been done to trap me there, I leapt at the wall, scaling it in half my usual time. The window, as usual, was wide open. True to my name, I slipped soundlessly into the room. It took a moment before I could look up to scan it, my heart thudding wildly in my ears.
Nothing had changed.
I felt the hot-cold rush of disappointment that stilled my pulse as I crossed to the door to rejoin Jay. My palm closed on the doorknob the same instant it seared white-hot, agonising seals right across it. I leapt back, drawing blood as I bit my tongue to suppress my screams. The small whimper that escaped was enough.
"Ah, my dear Shadow. Long time, no see."
Exposed, in the centre of the room, my hand dripping blood onto his expensive, plus carpet, I could only watch helplessly as the far wall melted away to reveal Zelthar, looking indulgently pleased. Flanking him was Lee, looking insufferably smug. Then, I froze completely, winded by the sight of the third person, looking as though nothing had happened, though the bruise high on his cheekbone spoke of what he had suffered here.
"No." Jake whispered, horrified.
His thoughts reached out to me, screaming. Why did you come for me?! You've just committed suicide!
I had to, Jake, I had to! Though nothing showed on my face, my mental anguish rang loud and clear for Jake. I couldn't stand it..
Jake, don't. I'll get us out of this.
I severed the link, bringing a tortured look to Jake's face. I set aside the agony in my hand and drew my swords slowly, without flinching.
Zelthar tsked as though I'd just spilled tea at an important function. "Now, now my dear, there's no need for that."
"Since when did you hold innocents, Zelthar?" My voice was that of the Shadow, cold and detached.
Zelthar shrugged callously. "Wouldn't you rather hear of how I pulled this off, my darling?"
My skin crawled at his endearments.
I love you Jake. Just remember that.