Chapter 17: Out of Africa

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***Author's note: Dear Readers, I'm sorry it has taken so long to get this dang chapter out. I moved, put all 4 kids into school, got very sick (pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma, hospital 4 times...), my husband got sick, and I also developed a terrible case of writer's block with this chapter for some reason. But nevertheless, here it is, and I promise the next one won't take nearly so long! Please comment to let me know you're still out there. Thank you, to all the ones who sent me emails asking me if I was ok, pleading for an update, and even the mildly threatening ones: they got me motivated! I hope you enjoy it. JB**

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Chapter 17: Out of Africa

JPOV:

Whoa.

"This won't hurt for more than a few moments?"

My mind reeled as my traitorous body obeyed Mwanya's words, moving meekly to follow behind the other two elder vampires, and Alice fell in line behind me. But with every step my horror and rage built, battering ineffectually at the insides of my body, which had suddenly become a cage confining me, a mindless vessel bearing me to an unknown and painful fate. We slumped to the ground before Mwanya, face-down in the cool, glowing sand. I had never felt so exposed or vulnerable in my life.

Mwanya's rich chuckle filled the vastness of the cavern where he and his siblings dwelt. "Peace, Jasper Whitlock, be calm. Nothing calamitous will befall you or your lovely mate."

I lifted my head to look him in the eye, trying to project my defiance and mistrust. I felt Alice behind me, her own trepidation flowing over me: I didn't care what their intentions were, they weren't going to hurt her. Even for only a few moments.

Mwanya shook his head. "I understand your feelings, Jasper. But listen: this is nothing but a formality. It will all make sense eventually."

"Jazz, calm down." Alice's small, sharp fingers slipped around my upper arm, squeezing tightly. "There's no danger. I see that."

I took a long, unnecessary breath to try to calm down. "Then what is going on?" I hissed. I despised being face-down in the sand, helpless, trapped.

"Relax." Iwe spoke from above us. I felt hands tugging at the folds of the ridiculous red garment I was wearing, exposing my lower back. My rage and fear expanded exponentially as a cold palm pressed itself to the base of my spine. "You must simply be given something to remind you, when the time is right."

Clear as mud, as my father used to say.

Mwanya stood up and crossed the sand to stand over us, then held his strange, dark staff over us for a moment. He muttered a few words in some guttural, unintelligible tongue. Iwe's hand lifted away, and strangely I felt even more exposed with its absence. Then Mwanya touched the tip of the staff to my back. A mere brush, no more than a whisper, a breath, a feather.

Oh, my Lord, but that hurt.

I have no idea what that staff was made of, or why it burned me when it touched my skin. All I knew was that for that moment, it was as if all the fires of hell were concentrated into that small spot of pressure, and I swear I smelled the heavy, cloying scent of burning vampire.

And I was apparently the vampire that was burning.

The pain was so intense that I couldn't even scream; I froze in mute shock, suspended in an eternal moment where all there was, was pain. It was like the raging inferno of the change, distilled down and focused into that tiny point at the base of my spine.

But then it was over, and the pain was gone, as suddenly as it had come, and the void it left behind was filled with a relief so profound it ached, and I wanted to weep. Then Mwanya stepped over me, and touched the staff to the instep of Alice's right foot.

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