And now, the moment you've all been waiting for - what I believe will be the final chapter in Walking the Shadows. Unless, of course, I find a deluge of begging to continue. (And I can. There are no secrets from me in the court of the Xiané and of ShadowGlade.) In fact, if you so wish, I can post the unfinished manuscript that inspired all of these. As I said, all the doors to the world of vampires and their hunters are open to me...
Oh - for all who are wondering, Xiané is pronounced Zee-ah-neh. Not shee-ah-neh.

Jao stared at the ground in utter despair for long moments, then suddenly straightened and took a step away from Gryffin, towards Duenna. The other's eyes widened, but she stood her ground.
"Duenna," said Jao very softly, "may I talk to you alone? There are some things I need to say to you."
The Xiané woman looked a little uneasy, but nodded. Jao took a long breath, closed her eyes for a moment, then turned to Crio, who had been silent, watching, and bowed. "My lord. Is there a place where we could speak alone?"
"Only if you tell her nothing about our world that she does not already know. There is a place on the edge of the courtyard; the small wooden door leads to it. It can be locked." He turned to Duenna. "Know this, Mickai - even knowing of your power and your ancestor, I will kill you if you harm just one of my subjects in my home."
"I would not be quite so stupid as that, Crio," she retorted, and looked back at Jao. "What have you to say, Jao, that can't be said out here?"
Jao took another long breath, and said, in a very low voice, "I'm going to tell you why you can lead, and how to lead the killers I once called family. And..." her voice dropped to below a whisper, "...and why I don't think I can ever speak to you again, my dearest friend."
Duenna swallowed hard, and followed Jao to the small room. She watched the vampire with her leader's blue-gray eyes lock the door and then turn to her, hands held out appealingly. She noticed how tired the young woman looked, how worn and worried. And when the copper-eyed girl made no move, how desperate - and hurt.
"Enna, please...please don't turn away from me. You need to hear what I'm going to tell you - and I want to ask you for forgiveness. Duenna, you can lead. Everyone's going to tell you that you can't, that you're a Mickai and not a Lianas. It's not true. Every Lianas that ever lived has been a Mickai, in some way. Your many-times great grandmother was a vampire. She is one of the two that the gangs will never hurt, because she has never hurt us or allied with the courts. Her name is Loki; her brother is Éroch. You know her, and now I do too. Her first daughter married a man named Lianas. He died, but she kept the name. The Lianas line and the Mickai line are descended from the same woman. You can lead. The gang is yours."
Jao paused, and roughly dashed away tears. "We're very different now, Duenna. I didn't want this to happen, but it has. And I have to accept it. But I want your forgiveness, or if you can't give it, at least a promise not to hunt me. I don't think I can ever really talk to you again, and that hurts." Then she tried to smile. "But - go to Gathering of your clan, and I will meet you there. I love you, my second-in-command. Lead well. Don't be afraid to yell at them, and do try to keep them in line. Watch out for Jinx, and take Radi as second. Tell my brother I miss him. And Duenna..." But before she could finish, the young woman with dark red hair had her arms around Jao and was holding her tightly. Then she laughed - though there were tears in it - and pulled away.
"Go well, my Jao. And good luck."
The hunter-turned-vampire smiled, a real smile, and touched Duenna's cheek gently. "Thank you."

"Jao, do you hate me for all this?" asked Gryffin quietly, as they left ShadowGlade, his eyes filled with pain and love. She looked at him for a long time before she answered, and even then her answer was hesitant. "I might have, at first. Who am I kidding - I did. I hated you with everything I possessed. Now...I dunno. I don't think so. Now I think I love you. And I think I'm ready for your world."

So ends the tale of Jao Lianas. But it begins the tale of another, of a different sort of hunter - the tale of Jaolin Nighthawk.

I know it's not long, guys, but I feel I wrapped it up better than I planned. Dragon and Byrd, I believe you saw the other, the one that stripped poor Jao of her spine. This is better, no? And to the true Jao...if you don't like the ending, let me know. After all, she is you.
Love,
Talia