She stepped carefully out onto the balcony, sliding the glass door closed behind her. The air was chill, and she pulled the blanket tight over her bare shoulders. Stepping to the edge, she looked down over the railing, on tiptoe to reach. There was someone there. She squinted to see better, for she had taken out her contacts, but it just made her vision go blurry. She blinked, closing her eyes for a long moment. When she re-opened them her vision was cleared, but the person was gone. Puzzled as to where he could have disappeared to so quickly, she put her weight on the rail and leaned out as far as she could. He wasn’t there.
“What are you looking for?” Startled, she practically fell off the rail and spun around. A tall boy with curly black hair and deep brown eyes so dark they looked black stood in front of her, looking amused, but not actually smiling. It was the person who had been below her, she was certain of it.
“You, actually. Why are you up here?”He almost, but not quite, smiled.
“Why, not how? You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’m used to the supernatural. My b- my friend in the US is a werewolf.”
“Oh really?” He arched an eyebrow.
“Then you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a vampire.”He smiled then, revealing sharp white fangs. She smiled at him.
“Not particularly. Not only do I know a werewolf, but-” Lifting her wrist to her mouth, she bit down just hard enough so that two small drops of blood showed dark red against her pale white skin. She licked them off, then smiled again. She had fangs.
“Retractable, huh? You aren’t full vampire. That explains a lot. What’s your name?”
“My name for yours, fair trade.”
“Ah, that’s the vampire in you. I’m Javeth, but I go by Jave.”
“Liss. Nice to meet you, Jave.”
“Is it?”He laughed. “I don’t get that a lot.”
“No, I guess you don’t.” A wind sprang up and she shivered, drawing the blanket closer.
“Why are you wearing that?”
“Because I’m cold.”
“And you don’t want to be?”
“Uh, no. You do?”He just smiled.
“So, what’s the rest of you?” Puzzled, she looked down at herself. Jave laughed again.
“No, I mean, you’re part vampire, what about the rest?”
“Oh, right. I don’t know yet, actually. I don’t think it’s human though.”
“You don’t know? Hm…” He had a thoughtful expression.
“Oh, nothing. Do you like Colombia?”
“Well, I haven’t been able to see much yet. The bats in Cali were amusing though.”
“Want me to show you around? There’s tons to see.”
“There isn’t much time. It’s already pretty late.”
“There’ll be time. Full-blooded vampires can fly faster than Partias.”
“Part vampire, part something else. Mixed bloods.”
“Ah. Well… ok.” Reaching over, he yanked the blanket off her. She looked as if she was about to say something indignant, but he spoke before she could.
“That’ll just hamper you.”
“But I’m only wearing a tanktop! I’ll be cold.”
“You’ll like it.” Grabbing her hand, he pulled her up to stand on the railing.
“I’ll get sick.”
“You won’t. If you have fangs, you won’t get sick from cold. Now come!”He sprang into the air and, after hesitating a moment, she followed. They flew straight up, ‘til they were above the clouds, and the moon shone bright. Seeing the moon reminded her, and she murmured to herself.
“Oh, it’s almost full.”
“That should make your boyfriend happy.” Jave called back. She reddened, for she hadn’t meant him to hear.
“His name is Leenc and he isn’t my boyfriend. We’re just… friends.” They flew through a high cloud, and she lost sight of him for a moment. When they emerged, he had disappeared.
“So… does that mean you’re available then?”He was behind her again, and she started in surprise. Then she answered quenchingly.
“No.”He smiled to himself, shrugged, and shot forward.
“Jave, wait! I can’t go that fast.” He zoomed back again and took hold of her wrist. Then he stopped, and examined it in surprise. It was so thin and tiny that his fingers easily could have wrapped twice around it.
“What?”Jave did not answer, but took her other wrist and held them both in one hand. They fit easily.
“Jave, c’mon, let go.” She tried to pull away, but his grip was like iron. He held her a moment longer, just to let her know he could, and then let go of one wrist. Then he took off at an alarming speed. Below them in the clouds, she heard the sound of an airplane, but they soon left it behind.
The night air, their high altitude, and extreme speed all made Liss cold, but she soon stopped shivering. A pleasant sort of numbness spread through her and, because she was tired anyway, she sped along in a delicious state of half-consciousness, aware only of the wind in her hair and Jave’s cold hand on her wrist. At last, they landed. The numbness still held her body, and it wasn’t so pleasant any more. Her feet must have touched the ground, but she couldn’t feel them. As soon as the fiery cold of Jave’s hand disappeared from her wrist, she crumpled to the floor.
“Oh yes, you’re a partia. I nearly forgot.” Kneeling, he gathered her into his arms and brought her into a dark cave, setting her on a cold stone ledge. She sat there, shivering, huddled against the wall, but her eyes followed him as he moved about the cave. A few moments later, Jave was striking flints and had started a small fire, which he fed carefully. The flickering light cast eerie shadows on the cave walls, and shadowed his face in mystery.
When the fire had grown enough to offer some warmth, he lifted her again and brought her over to it. Liss tried to stretch out some, to allow the warmth in, but pain stabbed through her body, sharp as a dagger. She did not cry out, but a slight gasp escaped her lips, and she winced. He shook his head at her helplessness, as if he thought her somewhat pathetic, but when he took her small hands in his large ones, he was surprisingly gentle. He began to rub them, to help restore circulation. When she could move her fingers, he continued up to her arms, first one then the other, massaging gently. Finally, she could feel them, She stretched them out experimentally as if they were new limbs, and they were free of pain.
“Thank you. I didn’t know that would happen.”
“I did. You’ve never flown for that long before, nor, I guess, been so cold. But you felt it, didn’t you?” His voice was low and eager.
“I-I think I did. It was…” She trailed off. “Great” or “cool” were insufficient. She couldn’t describe the exhilaration of the speed of the flight, the sense of belonging that she had, flying in the cold night with the only warmth flowing through her channeled from Jave’s hand; that freezing warmth that felt so much more real than life. To try to describe those feelings with everyday words would be so wrong. But it was more than that. It was the aversion to the chill, the knowledge of what was sitting next to her, and the feeling that this wasn’t supposed to be, that is was somehow wrong.
“You feel torn.” She looked into his eyes, startled at his ability to know and voice her thoughts. He was gazing back at her intently, as though he could see into her mind.
“I know why. Liss, you’re a partia, a born contradiction. You’ll always feel the pull. You live for night and long for day. You prefer warmth but desire cold. Don’t even bother trying to be consistent. Anyone who doesn’t know the ways of a partia will never be able to understand you. Don’t expect him to.”
“What? Him? Who?”
“Who do you think I’m talking about? You’ll never be happy with that werewolf, Leenc. He can’t give you the understanding that I have and he can’t make you feel what you’ve felt with me. Feel what it is to be a pure vampire.”
“How is Leenc even any of your business? You don’t know him, how can you know anything!? Has it occurred to you that I’d rather feel what he makes me feel than what it is to be a ‘pure vampire’?” She jumped angrily to her feet, ready to storm away. The pain actually made her scream. Fire was searing her legs, claws were raking them, needles were piercing them. The circulation had only begun, and the skin was still cold as ice. She tried to sit back down, but her legs wouldn’t obey her. They wouldn’t hold her weight, either. She began to fall, but Jave caught her. He sat in front of the fire, settling her gently in his lap. He didn’t let go of her. She was trembling, both from apprehension and from the unexpected intensity of the pain. She did not turn her face to his; sensing that would be a bad idea, she kept her eyes on the fire. But she felt his eyes on her. She jerked slightly as she felt his hand on the back of her head, but she knew the danger of presenting a challenge to him. Alerting his hunting instincts was the worst thing she could do, so she held very still and fumed inwardly as he ran his fingers through her long hair.
“I heard a rumor among mortals that vampires hate the sun. Have you heard that?”
“Yes.” Fear closed Liss’s throat so her voice was a whisper.
“It is not a true rumor. All vampires love the sun. The reason we fly only at night is because it harms us. I don’t hate the sunlight, it hates me. I long for its golden light, but it spits acid in my face. Your hair is the beauty of the daystar without the pain.” He lifted a lock of her hair to his lips. Liss instinctively half-turned, enough to see his eyes. They were a dancing, flickering smoldering red, like a fire of blood. It frightened her. She tried to pull away, but he had twined his hands in her hair, close to her head, and he held her firmly. She couldn’t move.
“Jave, let me go.” She tried to speak calmly, but her voice shook with fear. He brought his hand slowly to the side, forcing her to tilt her head. Then he pulled her back so her head rested on his shoulder. She could not see his face. He lowered his eyes to her neck, an enticing, perfect white arch. With his free hand he ran one finger over that arch, reveling in the soft smoothness. Then she was struggling, trying to hit him in the face, catch him off guard, just enough to make him loose her. He caught her wrists together in his free hand and pulled them firmly behind her. She was trapped and she knew it.
Lowering his mouth to her neck, he ran his tongue over the muscle, feeling out the best place to bite. Liss was trembling no longer. She was completely motionless, her body rigid in his grasp. Jave found the spot, but couldn’t resist just a moment more of suspense. He rested his fangs lightly on the skin, just enough for her to feel the sharp points, but not piercing the skin. His few gloating moments were like an eternity to Liss.
She was aware of his warm breath on her neck, the cold hand in her hair, the warmth of the fire on her body, and the coldness of the floor beneath her. The contrasts, the pull. The resistance to what he was doing to her, and the tiny spark of another slowly growing urge- the urge to surrender. If Jave had known that battle was being fought then, he probably would not have bitten. But he drove the sharp points deep into her neck, and she gasped and threw herself backwards into him. Then all the struggle went out of her. She lay limp as he drank greedily of her blood, and she felt the strength draining from her. But suddenly, he stopped. He freed his fangs from her neck, and the blood continued to spill out. It flowed down her shoulder, covering her arm. He shuddered in pleasure, but restrained himself. Releasing Liss’s hands, he put his fingers over the bite and pressed firmly. The bleeding finally stopped, and Liss gathered enough strength to sit, so that she wasn’t leaning on Jave. A little bit at a time, she scooted herself away from him. He did not interfere, just watched.
At last she was completely free of him, and sat with her back to the fire, her face toward Jave. Then she looked down. Her eyes widened at the gore covering herself. Jave laughed, an unpleasant yet pleasing sound. Then, taking her hand, he began to lick off the blood. She could not pull away; the fire was directly behind her, and she had no strength left anyway. He cleaned off her arm, all the way up to her shoulder, and then carefully around the bite. Then he leaned back, just enough to look at her eyes. They whirled furiously, shifting colors and emotions warring for supremacy. Red looked dominant. She stared back at him, saying nothing. He gave another low laugh.
“If this is how we ended up on the way here, I think I may need to find another way to transport you home.”
“You bit me.”
“You don’t really mind.”
“Stop! Stop trying to tell me what I want and think! You don’t know!”
“You didn’t try very hard to stop me. I can read you, Liss. I see the struggle in your eyes.”
“Well that makes you special. Good to know you aren’t colorblind.” Her voice was laden with sarcasm. “What you don’t know is what the emotions mean.”
“I can guess. Something tells me they aren’t usually red.” He traced her cheekbone just below her eye. She jerked back, but there was a moment’s hesitation. “I can interpret from little things.”
“You’re arrogant and overconfident.” She hissed angrily.
“Can you honestly tell me you don’t, in the tiniest measure, want to be a full vampire?” She lifted her eyes defiantly to his red ones, now subdued to almost brown again. Then she dropped her gaze to her hands in her lap.
“That’s how I know you didn’t really mind being bitten. I understand partias.”
“I just love being generalized. May I point out that just because a small corner of my mind rebels against my reason, that doesn’t mean I’ve made the decision to become a full vampire! Your logic is false- you’re only trying to manipulate me to get what you want.”
“Am I? And what is it that you think I want, Liss?” She started to speak, stopped, and blushed bright red.
“I don’t know.”
“But you must have some idea, or you wouldn’t have said that.”
“I’m beginning to think all you want is to plague me.” She stood, turned on her heel, and stepped haughtily to the entrance of the cave. The sun was rising, coloring the sky with soft pastels as though this were a morning like any other. Liss turned her eyes back to the cave, then flinched back a little. Jave had risen and silently moved so that he was standing just behind her, almost touching.
“You have no sense of personal space at all, do you?”
“Not of yours.” He was back to sounding amused, as if he were laughing at her. A growl of irritation rose in her throat, and then her eyes widened in shock.
“I’m changing already!”
“Well how long did you expect it to take? Years?”
“Jave! It’s not-”
“Hm, the sun is starting to come up. I’d better get you back, while I can still bear to fly. Come.” Seizing her wrist, he sprang into the air. Liss bit her lip as he jerked her upwards. The journey home was uneventful; Jave flew lower to avoid the cold, and the sun was already warming the sky, so Liss kept feeling in her limbs. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the vampiristic pleasure in the speed of the flight, but she was still exhilarated when they reached the hotel. She was shaking with energy as Jave lowered her to the balcony. He felt the movement and laughed.
“You’d better get inside and try to sleep. I’ll see you again tonight.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“You really think sliding glass doors can keep me out?” He tapped the glass lightly with his claw. Liss angrily slid the door open.
“Goodbye, Javeth. I don’t want to see you again.”
“Maybe it isn’t up to you.” He dipped his head to her, then sprang into the air. Liss shut the door, not watching as he disappeared into the sky.
“Cappy!” The barking continued. With an annoyed sigh, Liss stepped out onto the front porch, shutting the door carefully behind her. She moved out onto the sidewalk and called again. The barking stopped, and her little white puppy sped up, cocked his head impertinently, and ran away again. Grumbling under her breath, Liss pulled off her socks, shivering at the cold, and started to follow him.
“And then I’m going to chop you into tiny pieces, and feed those pieces to a spider. Then I’ll eat all the food, and you don’t get any. And I’ll give Mocha all the treats. Cappy!” Whether from obstinacy or ignorance, Cappy continued to disregard the dire threats hurled at him and evade his owner. Finally, sweet talking him into holding still, she made a dive and caught his collar.
“Oh, you have NO idea what I have in store for you.”
“I had no idea you were so bloodthirsty. Pardon the pun.” Liss spun around to see Jave, leaning against a tree in the shadows, looking amused.
“What are you doing here?”
“Still not surprised? I can never seem to catch you off guard.”
“There’s only one person who can do that. And he isn’t a vampire.”
“Well, you already know what I’m doing here. Watching you. I told you, you can’t lose me that easily.”
“What if I don’t want you watching me?”
“Pretend I’m not.”
“I can feel you watching me through every open window I pass. I knew when you came.”
“I thought you did. Don’t worry, I credit you with at least that much intelligence.”
“I told Leenc you tried to bite me.”
“Did you? That probably wasn’t a good idea, since I’m already planning to kill him if I get a chance. If you left me unconnected, he might’ve been able to beg for his life. Now, of course, his pride and… attachments, won’t let him do that.”
“He wouldn’t beg for his life anyway. First he wouldn’t need to, and even if, by some foul play, he did, he wouldn’t still.”
“Oh, that’s beautiful.” Liss breathed reverently. The stars twinkled merrily at her, and she settled comfortably back into the gentle curve of the moon. Then she laughed as she lost her balance and nearly fell off of it. Shael steadied her with a gentle hand, smiling at her quirkiness.
“Should we return? It’s getting late.”
“You mean it’s getting early.” She gave a silvery laugh. “But yes, we probably should.” Lifting her easily into his arms, he stepped into the air. He flew slowly, as usual, and the warm breeze blew her long golden hair over his shoulder. She closed her eyes to absorb the delicious sensation and let her head fall back so her hair was flying out behind them. Suddenly they stopped. Liss opened her eyes to see a darkly foreboding figure in front of them. She couldn’t see his face, but she recognized that arrogant stance. Jave. She caught her breath in fear. Then Shael spoke.
“Do you want something, or do you simply stand scowling in the sky for your own amusement?” Liss giggled- it did sound rather ridiculous, and Shael’s mockery eased her fear. Jave scowled ferociously.
“What are you doing with Liss?” He growled.
“Oh, do you know this-” He stopped and sniffed. “Aah. -this vampire, Liss?” He looked down and met her wide eyes, black as his own with apprehension. She gave the faintest nod.
“I see. Well, master…?”
“Master Javeth, I do not know you, and I find that rather a rude greeting. I do not believe that what I am doing with Liss is any of you business.”
“One vampire’s business is another’s.” Liss stiffened in anger, but Shael responded calmly.
“How interesting! You mean that vampires have a community interest like so many squirrels?” Liss stifled a nervous laugh- it came out as a strangled snort- and Jave glowered yet more, if that were possible.
“Do not mock me, nightwalker.”
“Do not interfere in my affairs, vampire.” Shael was suddenly serious, and he set Liss down into the air, freeing his hands.
“Shael, no! Please.” Liss put a pleading hand on his arm. He took it in his own, kissing it softly.
“I must, Lady.” Then he released it, moving her gently to the side, and Jave sprang at him.
Trembling, Liss shut the door behind her as quietly as she could, then took a few steps into the shadows. She was not startled by the icy fingers that closed on her bare arm; she had been expecting it.
“Javeth.” Her voice was a whisper, hoarse with fear.
“What brings you out into the moonless dark?” His words held a note of evil glee which she tried to ignore.
“I won’t let anyone else get hurt defending me. I’m tired of this, and I’m not worth the sacrifice. I give up.”
“Excellent. I knew you would come around eventually.” Without further ado, he sprang into the air, dragging her behind him. Clouds covered even the slight illumination the stars would have provided, and they were enveloped in the pitch black.
Leenc moved the mouse, bringing the sleeping computer to attention. He typed in his password, then grinned at his background- the picture of him and Liss dancing. He logged into AIM, then frowned at his friends list. She wasn’t on. Suddenly a window popped up- offline messages she had left him. He smirked to himself and started scanning the words. A chill of horror overtook him as the meaning sank in. Checking his clock against when she left the messages, he leapt out of his chair and bolted to the door. The last words she had written were still on the screen: Please forgive me. I love you.
Outside, he stared at the sky in frustration. The cloudy moonlessness was obviously not coincidental- he was at his weakest, and it was the one night of the month that he would be unable to transform. He howled in frustration, wondering just how long she had had this idiotic idea. But he wasn’t ready to give up. Rallying his strength, he took off for the vampire’s cave, running as fast as he could.
After several eternities of freezing darkness, they landed. Liss expected the numbness this time, but Jave lifted her in his arms before she could begin to fall. He carried her to the fire, already lit in the center of the cave, and sat her carefully before it. Then he disappeared into the gloom without a word. The feeling returned so slowly she didn’t notice it, ’til Jave re-entered. Then the chill that rushed over her warned her that the numbness was gone.
“Come with me.” He dragged her to her feet and back into the darkness. Going from the light to the dark effectively blinded her- just for a few moments. It was long enough for Jave to slip a rope onto her wrists. Liss cried out when she realized what he had done. She tried to free herself, but he gave her a hard shove backwards and she hit her head against something hard. Dazed, she was unable to offer resistance as he reached behind her and bound her wrists together behind a large stalagmite. After a moment she recovered herself, and her head came up, eyes blazing defiance at him. Giving an ugly leer, he moved his face close to hers.
“You are mine, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It will be interesting, though, to see how long a mixed breed can survive the pleasure of a vampire.” Without warning, he reached down and bit her shoulder, hard. She gave a small gasp, then pressed her lips together in determination not to make another sound. “I won’t drink your blood til you have one wound for every wound your werewolf gave me. It will taste all the better for the waiting.” His eyes glowed eerily red in the darkness, and he began to bite her; shallow wounds on her neck, deeper ones on her arms and legs, and, sinking his teeth into the soft flesh of her side, he carved a long, jagged line to her hip. Her resolve broke and she let out a scream, slumping against the hard rock. She was soaked in her own blood, and close to passing out. The world spun around her, and she welcomed the merciful darkness. But it wouldn’t enfold her. After a few moments she opened her eyes, knowing it was useless. Jave brought his face to hers again, and he tangled his bloody hands in her hair. Then he claimed her lips in a relentless, bruising kiss. She could taste her own blood in her mouth, smell it on the air, feel it wet all over her. She couldn’t breathe, had no air, and he wouldn’t release her. She really was going to pass out now, she thought in relief.
And then something tore him off her, and she fell limply back against the pillar, her eyes closing in exhaustion. She could hear the sounds of fighting, but she lacked the strength to even open her eyes, and the sounds seemed strangely removed, almost unreal. Then a sound broke through- the sound of Leenc’s voice. She opened her eyes without realizing it and stared, aghast, at the sight before her. Jave pinned Leenc to the cave wall, his fangs hovering close to the unprotected human neck.
“You know that won’t kill me, vampire.”
“It will, however, incapacitate you long enough for me to return with silver. But I’ve no appetite for this. I know the taste of werewolf blood; more animal than human. So-” Jave drove his knee into Leenc’s stomach, knocking the breath out of him. Then he shoved him against the far side of Liss’s stalagmite and secured the werewolf’s hands behind it. “-I’ll leave you two to exchange last words, while I get the right tool for the job.” He exited. Liss felt the warmth of Leenc’s hands against the small of her back, the only shred of reality in this dream world of pain that held her in its clutches, and she clung to consciousness with every particle of her strength. He slid around the rock so that he stood next to her.
“I think I can reach your hands. Can you stand if I get you free?” The calmness in his voice surprised her.
“I think I’d better try you first- I don’t know if it’ll make any difference to me, now.”
“Don’t you say that. Don’t you dare give up, Liss.” The façade of cool control had fallen for a moment, and then it was securely back in place. “Ok, I have an idea. Can you reach my hands?” She felt about for a moment.
“No, and I wouldn’t be able to undo the knot anyway. But here-” She painfully scooted around the rock, away from him, then slid downwards. Turning her head to a nearly impossible angle, she felt his wrist against her cheek. “Push your hands out, if you can.” She ordered. Leenc complied, and she started biting at the ropes. She continued her desperate gnawing as her jaw cramped and her neck ached, and her sharp fangs did their work. She strands began to part.
“Stand away, now.” Came Leenc’s voice. She obeyed, sliding back so they were opposite.
“Leenc…I don’t know how much longer I can stay conscious.”
“Alright. Do you trust me, Liss?”
“Yes. I always have.”
“Ok. I love you.”
“I love you too, Leenc.” She bit back a sob. The vampire materialized a moment later.
“Have fun together? I hope so- it would be such a shame to waste your last words. I set you a good example, putting my time to use, and did some thinking. So-” He stepped around the pillar, out of Leenc’s vision. “-I think if will be amusing, to finish you, first. It’s criminal to waste your blood like this.” He leaned in close to Liss, inhaling in appreciation. “You smell delicious.” She felt Leenc’s hands strain back against the stone, trying to break the ropes. In panic, she realized Jave would hear it. She had to distract him. Her thoughts raced wildly. She hadn’t the strength to struggle, and he’d be suspicious if she screamed. She focused on the dark behind him. If only a distraction would appear. Suddenly, an echoing sound of footsteps sounded through the cave. A light flickered, growing closer, and Jave spun around in surprise. Liss only caught the sound of Leenc’s bonds breaking because she was listening for it. Jave took a few steps toward the entrance, and Leenc took his chance, lunging at the vampire with a yell. Jave turned, saw Leenc, and half raised the silver dagger in his hand before Leenc’s stake plunged deep into his heart. With a terrible scream, Jave sank to his knees, then burst suddenly into an unnaturally crimson flame. He shriveled quickly into a gruesome black disfigure on the cave floor. Leenc gritted his teeth and drew the silver dagger out of his side in a quick motion. Then he used it to free Liss. Loosed, she fell forward, but Leenc anticipated that and caught her in his arms.
“You’re hurt!” Liss cried as she felt the warmth soaking through his shirt.
“I’m hurt?” He gave a bitter laugh. “Look at you. I was almost too late. This is all my fault.”
“It is not! You’re hurt again- this is exactly what I was trying to avoid. This is all my fault.”
“Do you imagine for one moment that my well-being is more important to me than your life?”
“No. But it is to me.”
“I shouldn’t have just let him go, before. If I had killed him when I had a chance-”
“Leenc, you can’t blame yourself for that. It isn’t your job to kill people just because…”
“Just because they’re trying to kill you? It isn’t my job to defend you?”
“I just don’t want you to get hurt, Leenc.”
“Well I don’t want you to get hurt either, Liss. And dying is included in that.”
“I’m not worth this.”
“And I say you are.” Leenc retorted. Liss’s eyes filled with tears, and he sighed. “Look, we can talk about this later. Right now we have to do something about you. You’re hurt.”
“So are you!”
“I’ve had worse than this. And don’t even try to say you have too, ‘cause I know you haven’t.” She could tell by his tone that that was final, so she let herself go limp, her head resting on his shoulder. Walking carefully so as not to jarr her, he stepped into the darkness, bringing them home.