Tempted: A House of Night Novel, Page 3P. C. Cast
“You know, you really are incredible.” I smiled at her as we paused outside a closed door at the end of a long hall. “Thank you.”
“I am my Lady’s servant, and you are most welcome,” she said simply and held the door open for me. “This is the stairwell that leads down to the basement. I’ve been told that most of the kids are down there already.”
“Zoey! There you are. You have to come check this out. You will not believe what Stevie Rae did,” Damien said as he hurried up the stairs toward us.
I felt my stomach clench. “What?” I immediately started down to meet him. “What’s wrong?”
He grinned at me. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s incredible.” Damien took my hand and pulled me with him.
“Damien’s right about that,” said Sister Mary Angela, coming down the stairs after us. “But I think incredible is the wrong word for it.”
“Is the right word more like terrible or horrible?” I asked.
He squeezed my hand. “Stop being such a worrier. You beat Kalona and Neferet tonight; everything’s going to be okay.”
I squeezed his hand back and made myself smile and look less worried, even though I knew deep in my heart, deep in my soul, that what had happened tonight had not been an ending or even a victory. It had been a terrible, horrible beginning.
“Wow.” I stared around in shocked disbelief.
“Wow squared is more like it,” Damien said.
“Stevie Rae really did this?”
“That’s what Jack told me,” Damien said. He and I stood side by side and peered into the darkness of the newly hollowed earth.
“Okay—creepy.” I spoke my thoughts aloud.
Damien gave me an odd look. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” I paused, not entirely sure what I did mean, even though the tunnel definitely made me feel uneasy. “Um, it’s, uh . . . really dark.”
Damien laughed. “Of course it’s dark. It’s supposed to be dark. It’s a hole in the ground.”
“To me it feels more natural than a hole in the ground,” said Sister Mary Angela as she joined us at the mouth of the tunnel, peering with us down its black length. “For some reason it comforts me. Perhaps it’s the way it smells.”
The three of us sniffed. I smelled, well, dirt. But Damien said, “It smells rich and healthy.”
“Like a newly plowed field,” the nun agreed.
“See, it’s not creepy, Z. I’d definitely hide down here during a tornado,” Damien said.
Feeling overly sensitive and kinda silly, I blew out a long breath and peered into the tunnel, trying to see it with new eyes and feel it with a more accurate instinct. “Could I use your flashlight for a second, Sister?”
Sister Mary Angela handed me the big, square, heavy-duty flashlight she’d carried with us from the main basement into this little side section she’d called their root cellar. The ice storm that had encased Tulsa for the past several days had knocked out the abbey’s power—as it had most of the city’s power. They did have gas generators, so in the main part of the abbey a few electric lights were on, along with the zillions of candles the nuns liked so much, but they hadn’t wasted electricity in the root cellar, and the only illumination came from the nun’s flashlight. This I shined into the hole in the ground.
The tunnel wasn’t very big. If I spread my arms, I could easily touch both sides of it. I looked up. It only cleared my head by about a foot. I sniffed again, trying to find the sense of comfort the nun and Damien obviously felt. My nose wrinkled. The place reeked of dark and dampness, roots and things that had been stirred up from under the surface. I suspected those things slithered and crawled, which automatically made my skin shiver and crawl.
Then I mentally shook myself. Why should a tunnel in the earth seem so gross? I had an affinity for earth. I could conjure it. I shouldn’t be afraid of it.
Gritting my teeth, I took one step into the tunnel. Then another. And another.
“Hey, uh, Z, don’t go too far. You have the only light, and I wouldn’t want Sister Mary Angela to be left back here in the dark. She might get scared.”
I shook my head and, smiling, turned around, shining the flashlight toward the entrance and illuminating Damien’s worried face and Sister Mary Angela’s serene one.
“You wouldn’t want the nun to be afraid of the dark?”
Damien shifted guiltily.
Sister Mary Angela rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment. “It is kind of you to think of me, Damien, but I have no fear of the dark.”
I was giving Damien a don’t be such a sissy look when the feeling hit me. The air behind me changed. I knew I wasn’t alone in that tunnel anymore. Fear fingered its way up my spine and I had a sudden urge to run—to get out of there as fast as I could and to never, ever come back.
And I did almost run. Then I surprised myself by getting mad. I’d just faced a fallen immortal—a creature I was connected to on a soul-deep level—and I hadn’t run then.
I wasn’t going to run now.
“Zoey? What is it?” Damien’s voice sounded far away as I whirled around to face the darkness.
Suddenly a flickering light, like the glowing eye of an underground monster, materialized. The light wasn’t big, but it was bright, temporarily causing spots in my field of vision and partially blinding me so that when I looked up the monster appeared to have three heads, with a wild, waving mane, and shoulders that looked mismatched and grotesque.
Then I did what any sensible kid would do. I sucked air and let loose with my very best girl scream, which was instantly and creepily echoed by the three mouths of the single-eyed monster. I could hear Damien shrieking behind me, and I swear Sister Mary Angela even squeaked a startled gasp. I was starting to do exactly what I’d just promised myself I wouldn’t do—run like hell, when one of the heads stopped screaming and stepped forward into the beam of the flashlight.
“Shit, Zoey! What is wrong with you? It’s just the Twins and me. You scared us crapless,” said Aphrodite.
“Aphrodite?” My hand clutched my chest over my heart, trying to keep it from pounding out of my body.
“Of course it’s me,” she said, marching past me in disgust. “Goddess! Get a grip.”
The Twins were still standing in the tunnel. Erin was holding a thick pillar candle so tightly her knuckles were white. Shaunee was standing next to her, so close their shoulders were smashed together. They looked frozen and big-eyed.
“Uh, hi,” I said. “I didn’t know you guys were down here.”
Shaunee thawed first. “Ya think?” She wiped a shaking hand delicately across her forehead and turned to Erin. “Twin, did she scare me white?”
Erin blinked at her BFF. “I don’t think that’s possible.” She squinted at Shaunee. “But no, she didn’t. You’re still a gorgeous cappuccino.” Erin’s hand that wasn’t holding the candle flew up to her thick, golden hair and patted through it frantically. “Did she make my hair fall out or turn unattractively and prematurely gray?”
I frowned at the Twins. “Erin, your hair is not falling out or turning gray, and Shaunee, you cannot be scared white. Jeesh, you guys scared me first,” I said.
“Look, next time you need to chase off Neferet and Kalona, just scream like that,” Erin said.
“Yeah, it makes you sound like you lost every bit of your damn mind,” Shaunee said as they swept past me.
I followed them out into the root cellar where Damien was fanning himself and looking gayer than usual, and Sister Mary Angela had just finished crossing herself. I set the flashlight butt end down on a table crowded with stuff in glass jars that looked eerily like floating fetuses in the murky light.
“So, really, what were you guys doing down here?” I said.
“That Dallas kid told us this is how they got here from the depot,” Shaunee said.
“He said it was cool down here and that Stevie Rae had made it,” Erin said.
“So we thought
we’d come down here and see for ourselves,” Shaunee said.
“And why are you down here with the Twins?” I asked Aphrodite.
“The Dynamic Duo needed protecting. Naturally they turned to me.”
“How did you guys suddenly appear like that, anyway?” Damien asked before Twin bickering could start.
“Easy-peasy.” Erin walked quickly back down the tunnel, still carrying her candle. She turned to face us after she’d gotten just a few feet farther in than I’d been. “The tunnel makes a sharp left here.” She stepped to the side and her light disappeared, then she stepped back and reappeared. “That’s why we didn’t see each other till the last second.”
“It really is amazing that Stevie Rae somehow did this,” Damien said. I noticed he didn’t move any closer to the tunnel, but stayed by the flashlight.
Sister Mary Angela approached the entrance. She touched the side of the newly hollowed out hole with reverence and said, “Stevie Rae did this, but she did it with divine intervention.”
“By ‘divine intervention,’ are you talkin’ ’bout more of your the-Virgin-Mary-is-just-another-form-of-Nyx stuff?” Stevie Rae’s twang coming from the other side of the root cellar made us all jump.
“Yes, child. That is exactly what I mean.”
“I don’t wanna offend you, but that’s just about the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard,” Stevie Rae said. She walked over to us, and I thought she looked pale. As she got closer to me I smelled something strange, but her grin made her face change to her cute, familiar self. “Z, did that big ol’ girl scream I heard come from you?”
“Uh, yeah.” I couldn’t help grinning back at her. “I was inside the tunnel and I didn’t expect to run into the Twins and Aphrodite.”
“Well, that makes sense. Aphrodite is kinda booger monstery,” Stevie Rae said.
I laughed, and then, grabbing the opportunity to change the subject, I said, “Uh, speaking of monsters, did you find any Raven Mockers left up there?”
Stevie Rae’s eyes shifted from mine.
“It’s all safe. Nothin’ for you to worry about,” she said quickly.
“I’m so glad,” Sister Mary Angela was saying. “Those creatures were such an abomination—mixing man and beast.” She shivered. “I’m relieved we are rid of them.”
“But it wasn’t their fault,” Stevie Rae said abruptly.
“Pardon me?” The nun looked more than a little confused at Stevie Rae’s defensive tone.
“They didn’t ask to be born like they were—all mixed up because of rape and evil. They really were victims.”
“I don’t feel sorry for them,” I said, wondering why Stevie Rae sounded like she was standing up for the nasty Raven Mockers.
Damien shivered. “Do we have to talk about them?”
“Nope, we sure don’t,” Stevie Rae said quickly.
“Good, and anyway, the reason I brought Zoey down here was to show her the tunnel you made, Stevie Rae. I have to tell you—I think it’s astonishing.”
“Thanks, Damien! It was seriously cool when I figured out I could actually do it.” Stevie Rae took a few steps past me and into the mouth of the tunnel, where she was instantly surrounded by the total darkness that stretched behind her like the insides of a huge ebony snake. She raised her arms so that her palms pressed against the dirt walls of the tunnel. Suddenly she reminded me of a scene from Samson and Delilah, an old movie I’d watched with Damien a month or so ago. The image that flashed through my memory was when Delilah had led the blind Samson to stand between massive pillars that held up the stadium filled with awful people taunting him. He’d gotten his magical strength back and ended up pushing the pillars apart and destroying himself and . . .
“Isn’t that right, Zoey?”
“Huh?” I blinked, disturbed by the sad, destructive scene I’d been reliving in my mind.
“I said, Mary didn’t move the earth for me when I made the tunnel; the power Nyx gave me did. Jeesh, you’re not payin’ attention to me at all,” Stevie Rae said. She’d taken her hands from the side of the tunnel and was giving me her what’s going on inside your head now? look.
“Sorry, what were you saying about Nyx?”
“Just that I really don’t think Nyx and the dang Virgin Mary have anything to do with each other; Jesus’ mama definitely didn’t help me move the earth to make this tunnel.” She shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings or nothin’ like that, Sister, but that’s what I think.”
“You’re entitled to your own opinion, Stevie Rae,” said the nun, looking as calm as usual. “But you should know that saying you don’t believe in something doesn’t make it any less possible that it exists.”
“Well, I’ve been giving this some thought, and personally I don’t find it such an odd hypothesis,” Damien said. “You should remember that in your Fledgling Handbook 101, Mary is illustrated as one of the many faces of Nyx.”
“Huh,” I said. “Really?”
Damien gave me a stern look that clearly said you really should be a better student before he nodded, and in his best schoolteacher voice continued, “Yes. It is well documented that during the influx of Christianity into Europe, shrines to Gaea, as well as Nyx, were converted to shrines for Mary long before people converted to the new . . .”
Damien’s droning on and on was a soothing background as I peered into the tunnel. The darkness was deep and thick. Just inches behind Stevie Rae I could see nothing. Absolutely nothing. I stared, imagining forms hiding there. Someone or something could be lurking mere feet from us and we’d never know it, not if they didn’t want to be seen. And that scared me.
Okay, but that’s ridiculous! I told myself. It’s just a tunnel. Still, my irrational fear pushed at me. Which, sadly, pissed me off and made me want to push back. So, like every moronic blond extra in a horror movie, I took one step into the darkness. And then another.
The dark swallowed me.
My mind knew I was only a couple of feet from the root cellar and my friends. I could hear Damien blabbing about religion and the Goddess. But my mind wasn’t what was beating in terror against my chest. My heart, my spirit, my soul—whatever you want to call it—was screaming soundlessly for me to run! Get away! Go!
I felt the pressure of the earth as if it wasn’t a hole in the ground, but instead it had filled in, covering me . . . suffocating me . . . trapping me.
My breath was coming faster and faster. I knew I must be hyperventilating, but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to back away from the hole that snaked away from my feet into the darkness, but all I could manage was a stumbled half step back. I couldn’t make my feet do what I was telling them to do! Dots of lights sparkled in my eyes, blinding me, while everything else started to go gray. Then I was falling . . . falling . . .
The darkness was unrelieved. Blinding more than my sight, it wiped away all of my senses. I thought I was gasping for breath and flailing around, trying to find something—anything I could touch, hear, or smell—anything that would give me a handhold on reality. But I had no sensation at all. The cocoon of darkness and the fluttering of my frantic heartbeat were all I knew.
Was I dead?
No, I didn’t think so. I remembered that I’d been in the tunnel under the Benedictine Abbey, only a few feet away from my friends. I’d been freaked out by the darkness, but that couldn’t have made me drop dead.
But I’d been afraid. I remembered being very afraid.
Then there had been nothing but this darkness.
What’s happened to me? Nyx! My mind screamed. Help me, Goddess! Please show me some kind of light!
“Listen with your soul . . .”
I thought I cried aloud at the sweet, reassuring sound of the Goddess’s voice in my mind, but when her words were gone, there was only the unrelenting silence and darkness.
How in the hell was I supposed to listen with my soul?
I tried to calm myself
and hear something, but there was just silence—a soul-sucking, black, empty, utter silence like nothing I’d ever before experienced. I had no framework to guide me here, I only knew—
The realization struck me and my mind reeled with understanding.
I did have a framework to guide me. Part of me had experienced this darkness before.
I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t do anything but turn within myself, questing for the part of me that might be able to make sense of this, that might be able to guide me out of here.
Memory stirred again, this time taking me back long before the night in the tunnel under the abbey. The years fell away with my resistance until finally, finally I felt again.
My senses returned slowly. I began to hear more than my own thoughts. There was a drumbeat that pulsed around me, and within it were woven the distant voices of women. The sense of smell returned to me, and I recognized the dank scent that reminded me of the abbey tunnel. Finally, I could feel the earth against my naked back. I only had an instant to sift through the flood of my returned senses before the rest of my awareness was jolted awake. I wasn’t alone! My back was pressed against the earth, but I was being held tightly in someone’s arms.
Then he spoke.
“Oh, Goddess, no! Do not let this be!”
It was Kalona’s voice, and my immediate reaction was to cry out and struggle blindly away from him, but I wasn’t in charge of my body and the words that came from my mouth were not my own.
“Sssh, do not despair. I am with you, my love.”
“You trapped me!” Even as he cried the accusation, his arms tightened around me, and I recognized the cold passion of his immortal embrace.
“I saved you,” my strange voice responded as my body settled more intimately against his. “You were not meant to walk this world. That is why you have been so unhappy, so insatiable.”
“I had no choice! The mortals do not understand.”
My arms wrapped around his neck. My fingers twined through his soft, heavy hair. “I understand. Be at peace here with me. Lay down your sad restlessness. I will comfort you.”