Redeemed: A House of Night Novel, Page 3P. C. Cast
I followed Stark to the door, feeling like an ice cube was making a trail down my spine.
“Where downtown? What’s going on?” I asked.
“All hell’s broken loose at the Mayo, and they need every cop the city can spare there.”
The door to my cell slammed closed, leaving Stark and me to stare at each other through the bars.
“Neferet,” Stark said.
“Ah, hell,” I said in complete agreement.
It had been midmorning on a sleepy Sunday when Neferet commanded her threads of Darkness to open their embrace and allow her to drift from their thick cloud of blood and death to the sidewalk in front of the Mayo. She straightened her white Armani suit and swept back her long auburn hair. Neferet was ready for her glorious return to the penthouse that awaited her amid marble and stone and velvet on the rooftop. She opened the vintage brass and glass door and then paused just inside the entrance, sighing happily at the vast ballroom that opened before her, resplendent in white marble, statuesque columns, grand 1920s fixtures, and a double staircase that curved up to the promenade with the grace of a goddess’s satisfied smile.
Her dark brows lifted. Her emerald gaze sharpened. Neferet studied her surroundings with renewed interest.
“It is, indeed, a building exquisite enough to be the temple of a goddess.” Neferet smiled. “My temple. My home.”
“Miss Neferet! Is it really you? We have been so worried that something terrible happened to you when your penthouse was vandalized.”
Neferet looked from the grand ballroom to the young woman who beamed at her from behind the reception desk.
“My temple. My home. My supplicants.” She knew what she must do. Why had it taken her so long to think of it? Possibly because she had never absorbed as many deaths at once as she had just moments before arriving at the Mayo. Like her faithful tendrils, Neferet was pulsing with power, and that power focused and clarified her thinking. “Yes, that is exactly how it must be. Every human in this building must worship me.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Oh, you will. Very shortly you will.” The receptionist’s beaming smile had begun to fade. With preternatural movement, Neferet glided toward her. She glanced at the girl’s golden name tag. “Yes, Kylee, my dear. Very shortly you will understand me completely. But first you are going to tell me how many guests are currently staying in the hotel.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Kylee said, looking thoroughly uncomfortable. “I can’t give out that information. Maybe if you told me what you need I—”
Neferet leaned forward, stroking her hand along the rich marble top of the reception counter, cutting her off and capturing the girl’s gaze. “You will not question me. You will never question me. You will do as I command.”
Even had Neferet not been psychic, she would have known the extent of the girl’s fear—little Kylee reeked of it.
“Excellent! Now that you are going to be following my commands, I will expect you to be even more vigilant about privacy—my privacy.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Do you mean that you have purchased the Mayo Hotel?” Kylee’s confusion intensified along with her fear.
“Oh, much better than that, and much more permanent. I have decided to make this lovely building my first Temple. But did I not just command you not to ever question me?” Neferet sighed and made a tsking sound. “Kylee, you are going to have to do much better in the future. But do not worry your little blond head. I am a benevolent Goddess. I intend to be certain you get the help you need to be my perfect supplicant.”
As Kylee gasped like a fish bereft of water, Neferet turned her back to her and faced the sea of tendrils that, unseen by the doltish Kylee, lapped over the marble floor and washed caressingly against her legs. “Children, you have fed exceedingly well. Now it is time you repaid me for the bounty I provided.” They writhed excitedly, a nest of mating adders, and Neferet smiled fondly at them. “Yes, I have given you my oath. That was only the beginning of our feasting. But you must work for your food. I refuse to have children who are miscreants.” She laughed gaily. “Now, I shall need one of you to possess this human. No! You may not kill her,” Neferet clarified when a dozen or so tendrils began to slither with excited and obvious purpose toward Kylee. “Follow my mind into hers. Use my pathway to her innermost thoughts, wishes, desires, then coil there, around her will, and squeeze. Not enough to kill her, or rob her of whatever she has that passes for reason. I won’t have a Temple full of gibbering idiots. I will have a Temple full of obedient servants. Possess her, so that I may be certain of her obedience!”
Neferet whirled around to face the girl, whose face had paled so dramatically that her brown eyes looked like dark bruises within it.
“Miss Neferet, please don’t hurt me!” she said, beginning to cry.
“Kylee, my dear, my first human supplicant, this really is for the best. Free will is a terrible burden. I had free will when I was a girl, not much younger than you, and yet I was trapped in a life not of my choosing and abused. Too often that happens to humans. Look at yourself—this menial job, that substandard clothing. Do you not want more from your life?”
“Y-yes,” Kylee said.
“Well, then, it is settled. If I take away your free will, I also take away the unexpected terrors life can bring. From this moment on, Kylee, I will protect you from unexpected terrors.” Neferet captured the girl’s wide-eyed gaze and bored into her mind. She was too focused on Kylee to look down, but she knew a strong, faithful tendril had obeyed her and was slithering up the girl’s body. Though she couldn’t see what was crawling up her leg, Kylee could definitely feel it. She opened her mouth and began to scream. “End her terror and enter her!” Neferet commanded, and the tendril shot up and into her open mouth.
Kylee gagged convulsively, and only Neferet’s grip on her mind kept her from fainting. “So very human. So very weak,” the Goddess muttered as she probed the girl’s mind, feeling the familiar presence of Darkness following. When she found the center of Kylee’s will—her soul, her consciousness—Neferet commanded, “Encase it!” With that extra sense—the one gifted to her by another Goddess more than a century before—Neferet witnessed Darkness imprisoning Kylee’s will.
The girl slumped, her body twitching spasmodically. “Remember well the pathway I just showed you, children. Kylee is only the first of many.” Neferet clapped her hands together quickly. “Come now, Kylee. Pull yourself together, my dear. Your life has just become so much more, and I have other commands you must obey.”
Kylee jerked upright as if she were a puppet on a string.
“There, that is so much better. Now, tell me how many guests are in the hotel, and remember, no more of that irritating screaming.”
“Yes ma’am,” Kylee responded instantly and mechanically.
Neferet’s smile returned. She was filled to overflowing with power! Humans must worship her—with their feeble wills and their easily manipulated minds, they really had no choice. “And stop calling me ma’am. Call me Goddess.”
“Yes, Goddess,” Kylee repeated automatically, her voice utterly devoid of emotion. Then she began tapping at her keyboard while she stared, stone-faced, at her computer screen. “We currently have seventy-two guests, Goddess.”
“Well done, Kylee. And how many residents are living here?”
Neferet took one long finger and turned Kylee’s chin so that she had to meet her gaze again. “Fifty, what?”
Kylee shivered, as a horse would to dislodge clinging insects, but her gaze remained open, blank, and she
corrected herself immediately by saying, “Fifty, Goddess.”
“Very well done, Kylee. I am going to retire to my penthouse. Remember, this building is now my Temple, and I insist on having my privacy, as well as my divine body, protected. Do you understand?”
“You understand that means that if anyone comes looking for me, you tell them that you are absolutely certain I am not here, and then you send them on their way.”
“I understand, Goddess.”
“Kylee, you have been exceedingly helpful. I am going to allow you to live long enough to worship me properly.”
“Thank you, Goddess.”
“You are most welcome, my dear.”
Neferet began to glide toward the gleaming elevator. She lifted her hand, beckoning. “Come, my children. I have a feeling we are going to need to redecorate.”
Bloated and pulsating with the blood on which they had so recently fed, the tendrils of Darkness slithered eagerly after their mistress.
* * *
“Just as I thought. It has been left in ruins! This is utterly unacceptable.” Neferet stalked around the overturned chairs and stained rugs of the living room that had once been a meticulously kept luxury penthouse apartment. “Stale blood! The room reeks of it. Clean it!” she commanded. The tendrils obeyed her, albeit more slowly than they did when the meal she provided was fresh. “Oh, don’t be so picky. Some of that blood is from Kalona. Even stale, immortal blood carries power.” That seemed to perk up the tendrils, and they slithered with more enthusiasm.
While they worked, Neferet went to her wine bar, only to find it empty. Not one bottle of the dark, expensive cabernet she preferred remained. “This is what happens when I am not here to oversee those lazy humans—they neglect their duties. I have no wine and my penthouse is left in a shambles!” Neferet’s annoyed gaze found the scattered pile of turquoise dust that had sifted from the cage of Darkness in which her tendrils had encased the tediously stubborn Sylvia Redbird. “And that! Get rid of that horrible blue dust. It mars the beauty of the onyx marble floor even more than those stained Persian rugs.” Several tendrils attempted to obey her command, but they shied away from the blue rubble, as if it still had the power to repel them. The boldest of the slithering threads scooped into the rock dust, only to shiver and cringe away, its slick, rubbery flesh smoking and oozing dark, fetid liquid. Neferet frowned, beckoning to the tendril. With one sharp fingernail, she pierced the flesh of her palm. “Come, feed from me and heal yourself,” she murmured, welcoming the cold, painful touch of the tendril’s mouth, stroking it fondly as it fed from her, quivering beneath her touch.
“This will never do. Cleaning up after a human’s mess is a job too menial for my loyal children. Human supplicants to clean up after human messes—that is what I need surrounding me, doing my bidding, easing my workload. And, happily, we have more than one hundred of them beneath this very roof. All of them, except the ever so helpful Kylee, are as yet unaware of how busy they will be quite soon. Hmm … how best to go about initiating my new subjects?”
Neferet shook off the feeding tendril. “Not so greedy. You are healed.” The tendril slunk away. Neferet stroked her long, slender neck, thinking. She must weigh the best way to move forward, and she must act quickly.
She had left no one alive at the Boston Avenue Church, but what she had left were several hundred mutilated, bloodless corpses.
“The authorities will go to the House of Night first, of course. Thanatos will insist none of her pristine flock would ever so such a thing. The crone will blame me. Whether they believe her or not, even the inept local police will eventually come here looking for me.” Neferet drummed her long, pointed fingernails on the black marble countertop of her disappointingly empty bar. She didn’t have the luxury of time, unless she chose to go into hiding.
“No. I will never hide again. I am a Goddess, an immortal, gifted with the ability to command Darkness. Nyx never understood me. Kalona never understood me. No one ever understood me. Now I will make them understand—I will make them all understand! The residents of Tulsa should hide from me, and not me from them.”
She must move quickly and decisively, before the police arrived to attempt, unsuccessfully, to arrest her—or before her feast at the church hit the news and began scaring away the Mayo guests: her future supplicants.
Neferet found the remote and clicked on the large flat-screen television that was wall mounted and had, luckily, come through the battle unscathed. Turning it to a local station, she muted the babble and began to pace, thinking aloud, as she kept her eyes on the screen.
“It is a shame that I cannot encage the humans as I did that old woman and release them when I require their worship or their services. It would be so much easier on them and, ultimately and more important, on me. I would wager a great deal on the fact that none of them would put up the fight Sylvia Redbird did. Normal humans could never enter or leave a cage of Darkness created by you, my darlings. And, from what I have seen thus far, my humans are exceedingly normal.” Neferet stopped abruptly, considering. “My supplicants are normal humans. Tulsa is filled with normal humans. And I have become so much more than a normal human or vampyre.”
Absently, Neferet stroked a tendril that had wrapped itself around her arm. “I wouldn’t be imprisoning the humans here. I would be protecting them, allowing them to exchange the tedium of their lives for the fulfillment of worshipping me, just as I have done for Kylee.” She fondled the smooth tendril while it wriggled in pleasure. “I don’t need to encage them. I need to cherish them!”
Throwing her arms wide, she beamed a smile at her Dark minions that was both exquisitely beautiful and terrifying. “I have an answer to our dilemma, children! The cage we created to hold Redbird was a weak, pathetic attempt at imprisonment. I have learned so much since that night. I have gained so much power—we have gained so much power. We will not cage people, as if I am a gaoler instead of a goddess. My children, we are going to blanket the very walls of my Temple with your magickal, unbreachable threads so that my new supplicants will be able to worship me unhindered. And that will only be the beginning. As I absorb more and more power, why not encase the entire city? I know it now—I know my destiny. I begin my reign as Goddess of Darkness by making Tulsa my Olympus! Only this is not a weak myth passed down as trite stories from schoolchildren to schoolchildren. This will be reality—a Dark Otherworld come to earth! And in my Dark Otherworld, there will be no innocents being abused by predators. All will be under my protection. I hold their fates in my hands—they have only to look to my welfare to be fulfilled. Ah, how they will worship me!”
Around her, the tendrils writhed in response to her excitement. She smiled and stroked those nearest to her. “Yes, yes, I know. It will be glorious, but what I require first, my children, is room service. Let us summon my new minions. Some of them will clean and set my chambers to right. Some of them will replenish my wine. All of them will obey me without question. Ready yourselves. The time of Neferet, Goddess of Darkness, is here!”
* * *
It went smoother than even Neferet had imagined. Not only were humans ridiculously easy to control, they were also all as utterly defenseless as little Kylee against the infestation of a single tendril of Darkness. She had been absolutely correct. They needed her to order their lives as a babe needs its mother.
The only problem in her plan was that Neferet did not have access to an infinite number of tendrils. Only the most loyal, her true children, had remained at her side after she had shattered.
She briefly considered sending out a call for more threads of Darkness, but just as quickly rejected the notion. She would not reward betrayal—and the threads that had abandoned her in her time of need had betrayed her at her deepest level.
Neferet sipped her favorite cabernet from a crystal goblet as she paced around her penthouse, counting the humans who were laboriously cleaning and setting to right the mess Zoey and her friends had le
ft. Six. There were four women from housekeeping and two men from room service. Neferet’s lips tilted up. Actually, they were little more than boys—both blond and eager to answer her room service request. Stepping off her elevator, their expressions had given away their thoughts so clearly she hadn’t bothered probing their minds. They wanted her. Very badly. They had obviously been hoping she wanted a little blood and sex with her wine. Fools! Now they moved mechanically, completing the commands she had issued with no complaints, no worries, and no irritating flirtatious glances. They were, as she preferred her human men, silent and biddable and young.
“Gentlemen, life is glorious. Don’t you agree?”
The two blond heads lifted and turned in her direction. “Yes, Goddess,” they spoke together, as if by rote.
Neferet smiled. “As I often say, free will is a terrible burden. You are welcome for relieving you of it.” Then she commanded, “Get back to work.”
“Thank you, Goddess. Yes, Goddess,” they repeated, and obeyed.
So, she had used six threads already. No, seven, counting little Kylee at the front desk. Neferet glanced contemplatively at the nest of tendrils where they swarmed around the broken doors that led to the rooftop balcony, absorbing the last of Kalona’s dried blood. How many were there? She tried to count, but it was impossible. They moved too quickly and too often, and they tended to merge together and then separate at will. There did appear to be many of them remaining, though. And they had all grown larger, thicker, markedly stronger, after feasting.
I must make sure they remain well-fed. They cannot waste away—thus will my absolute control over the humans waste away.
Decisively, Neferet lifted the phone and punched zero for the receptionist.
“Front desk. How may I help you, Neferet?” Kylee’s perky voice answered on the first ring.
“Kylee, when I call you, the correct way to answer the telephone is to say, ‘How may I serve you, my Goddess?’”
Kylee’s voice flattened out, and with no emotion at all she said, “How may I serve you, my Goddess?”