Hunted hon-5, Page 2P. C. Cast
“Damien, maybe you and Jack could, uh, go back to that kitchen you found and see if you can whip up something for us to eat,” I said, trying to think up things for them to do that didn’t include staring at Stevie Rae. “I’ll bet we’d all feel better if we ate something.”
“I’d probably puke,” Stevie Rae said. “That is, unless it’s blood.” She tried to shrug apologetically, but broke off the movement with a gasp and turned even whiter than her already totally pale complexion.
“Yeah, not really hungry over here, either,” Shaunee said, gawking at the arrow that was poking out of Stevie Rae’s back with the same kind of fascination that made people rubberneck at car wrecks.
“Ditto, Twin,” Erin said. She was looking everywhere but at Stevie Rae.
I was just opening my mouth to tell them I really didn’t care if they were hungry or not, I just wanted to keep them busy and away from Stevie Rae for a while when Erik Night hurried into the room.
“Got it!” he said. He was holding a really old combo CD-cassette-radio that was humongous. It was one of those things they used to call boom boxes way back in the day. Like the 1980s. Without looking at Stevie Rae, he set it on the table that was close to her and Darius and started fiddling with the ginormic, glaringly silver knobs, muttering that he hoped it could pick up something down here.
“Where’s Venus?” Stevie Rae asked Erik. It obviously hurt for her to talk, and her voice had gone all shaky.
Erik had glanced back toward the round, blanket-draped entrance to the room that served as a door, which was empty. “She was right behind me. I thought she’d come in here and—” Then he did look at Stevie Rae, and his words fell away. “Ah, man, that must really hurt,” he said softly. “You look bad, Stevie Rae.”
She tried, and failed, to smile at him. “Well, I’ve felt better. I’m glad Venus helped you out with the boom box. Sometimes we can actually get some of the radio stations down here.”
“Yeah, that’s what Venus said,” Erik said vaguely. He was staring at the arrow sticking out of Stevie Rae’s bare back.
Even through my worry about Stevie Rae I’d started to wonder about the absent Venus and tried like hell to remember what she looked like. Last time I’d gotten a really good look at the red fledglings, they hadn’t been “red” yet, which means the outline of a crescent moon in the middle of their foreheads had still been sapphire-colored like all fledglings’ tattoos are when they’re first Marked. But these fledglings died. Then un-died. And they had all been bloodsucking, crazed monsters until Stevie Rae went through a type of Change. Somehow Aphrodite’s humanity (who knew she had any?) mixed with the power of the five elements—all of which I can control—and voilà! Stevie Rae got her humanity back, along with some gorgeous adult vampyre tattoos that look like vines and flowers framing her face. But instead of the tattoo being dark blue, it had turned red. As in the color of fresh blood. When that happened to Stevie Rae, all the undead-dead kids’ fledgling tattoos had turned red, too. And they got their humanity back. In theory. I really hadn’t been around them or Stevie Rae enough since her Change to know for sure that everything was one hundred percent with all of them. Oh, and Aphrodite lost her Mark—totally. So she’s supposedly human again, even though she still has visions.
All of this explains why the last time I’d spent any time with Venus she was more than kinda disgusting looking since she was very nastily undead. But now she’d been fixed—or at least sort of—and I knew that she’d hung with Aphrodite before she died (and un-died), which means she had to have been totally gorgeous because Aphrodite didn’t believe in ugly friends.
Okay, before I sound like an über-jealous freak let me explain: Erik Night is to-die-for hot in a Superman–Clark Kent kind of way and, to carry through with the superhero analogy, he’s also talented and honestly a good guy. Er, vampyre. Recently Changed vampyre at that. He is also my boyfriend. Er, ex-boyfriend. Recently ex-boyfriend at that. Sadly, that means I’m going to be ridiculously jealous of anyone, even one of the kinda freaky red fledglings, who might be catching too much of his interest (too much = any).
Darius’s businesslike voice had, thankfully, interrupted my inner babbling.
“The radio can wait. Right now, Stevie Rae must be attended to. She will need a clean shirt and blood as soon as I get through with this.” Darius spoke as he put the first aid kit on Stevie Rae’s bedside table, opened it, and busily pulled out gauze and alcohol and some scary stuff.
That had definitely shut everybody up.
“You know I love y’all like white bread, don’t you?” Stevie Rae said, giving us a brave smile. My friends and I had nodded woodenly. “Okay, so you won’t take it the wrong way if I say that all of y’all but Zoey need to go find somethin’ to keep yourselves busy while Darius yanks this arrow outta my chest.”
“All of them except me? No no no no no. Why do you want me to stay?”
I saw humor in Stevie Rae’s pain-filled eyes. “’Cause you’re our High Priestess, Z. You gotta stay and help Darius. Plus, you’ve already seen me die once; how much worse could this be than that?” Then she paused and her eyes widened as she stared at the palms of my still dorkishly raised hands and blurted, “Holy crap, Z, look at your hands!”
I turned my hands over so I could see what the hell she was staring at, and felt my own eyes widen. Tattoos spread across my palms, the same beautiful intricate pattern of latticework swirls that decorated my face and neck and stretched down either side of my spine and around my waist. How could I have forgotten? I’d felt the familiar burning flash across my palms as we all escaped into the safety of the tunnels. I’d realized then what that burning meant. My goddess, Nyx, the personification of Night, had Marked me again as exclusively hers. Had set me apart, again, from all the other fledglings and vampyres in the world. No other fledgling had a filled-in, expanded Mark. That only happened after a kid went through the Change, and then the outline of the crescent moon on the forehead was filled in and expanded to a unique, one-of-a-kind tattoo that framed the face, proclaiming to the world that he or she was a vampyre.
So my face proclaimed that I was a vampyre, but my body said I was still a fledgling. And the rest of my tattoos? Well, that was something that had never happened before—not to a fledgling and not to a vamp, and even now I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what it meant.
“Wow, Z, they’re amazing,” Damien’s voice came from beside me. Hesitantly, he touched my palm.
I looked up from my hands to his friendly brown eyes, searching them for any trace of a change in the way he saw me. I looked for signs of hero worship or nervousness or, even worse, fear. And what I had seen was just Damien—my friend—and the warmth of his smile.
“I felt it happening before, when we first got down here. I—I guess I just forgot,” I said.
“That’s our Z,” Jack said. “Only she could forget something that’s practically a miracle.”
“More than practically,” Shaunee said.
“But it’s a Zoey miracle. They happen pretty much all the time,” Erin said matter-of-factly.
“I can’t keep a tattoo and she’s covered in them,” Aphrodite said. “Figures.” But her smile took the bite from her words.
“They are the Mark of our Goddess’s favor, showing that you are, indeed, traveling the path she would choose for you. You are our High Priestess,” Darius spoke solemnly. “The one Nyx has Chosen. And, Priestess, I need your aid with Stevie Rae.”
“Ah, hell,” I muttered, chewing my lip nervously and balling my hands into fists, hiding my exotic new tattoos.
“Oh, for crap’s sake! I’ll stay and help,” Aphrodite marched over to where Stevie Rae was sitting on the edge of her bed. “Blood and pain don’t bother me at all as long as they’re not mine.”
“I should take this closer to the entrance to the tunnels. I’d probably have more luck getting reception there,” Erik said, and without so much as a glance at me, or a word about my new tattoos, he disappea
red through the blanket door.
“You know, I think food really was a good idea,” Damien said, taking Jack’s hand and starting to follow Erik out of the room.
“Yeah, Damien and I are gay. That means that we are guaranteed to be good cooks,” Jack said.
“We’re with them,” Shaunee said.
“Yeah, we’re not as convinced about the genetics of gay good cooking. We’d better supervise,” Erin said.
“The blood. Don’t forget the blood. Laced with wine, if you have it. She’ll need it to recover,” Darius said.
“One of the refrigerators is full of blood. Then find Venus,” Steve Rae said, grimacing again as Darius took an alcohol wipe and began to clean the dried blood on her back from the skin around the protruding arrow. “She likes wine. Tell her what you need and she’ll get it for you.”
The Twins hesitated, passing a look between each other. Erin spoke for both of them. “Stevie Rae, are the red kids really okay? I mean, these are the kids who killed the Union football players and grabbed Z’s human boyfriend, aren’t they?”
“Ex-boyfriend,” I said, but they ignored me.
“Venus just helped Erik,” Stevie Rae said. “And Aphrodite stayed here for two days. She’s still in one piece,” Stevie Rae said.
“Yeah, but Erik is a big, healthy male vamp. He’d be hard to bite,” Shaunee said.
“Even though he is definitely yummy,” Erin said.
“True, Twin.” Both of them had given me apologetic shrugs before Shaunee continued. “And Aphrodite is so damn nasty that no one would want to bite her.”
“But we’re little bits of vanilla and chocolate. We’d tempt even the nicest bloodsucking monster,” Erin said.
“Your mom’s a bloodsucking monster,” Aphrodite said, smiling sweetly.
“If y’all don’t stop bickering, I’m gonna bite you!” Stevie Rae yelled, then winced again and made little panting sounds as she tried to breathe through the pain.
“Guys, you’re making her hurt herself, and you’re giving me a headache.” I said it quickly, getting more and more worried about how bad Stevie Rae looked by the second. “Stevie Rae says the red fledglings are okay. We just escaped from all hell breaking loose at the House of Night with them and they didn’t try to eat any of us on the way here. So make nice, and go find Venus, like Stevie Rae said.”
“Z, that’s not a big mark in their favor,” Damien said. “We were running for our lives. No one had time to eat anyone.”
“Stevie Rae, once and for all—are the red fledglings safe?” I asked.
“I really wish y’all would concentrate on being nicer and accepting them. You know it’s not their fault they died and then un-died.”
“See, they’re fine,” I said. It was only later that I would remember that Stevie Rae never really answered my question about whether the red fledglings were really safe.
“All right, but we’re holding Stevie Rae responsible,” Shaunee said.
“Yeah, if one of them tries to chomp on us, we’re going to have words with her about it after she’s better,” Erin said.
“Blood and wine. Now. Less talking. More doing,” Darius said bluntly.
They all scurried out of the room, leaving me with Darius, Aphrodite, and my best friend, currently en brochette.
“Seriously, Darius. Can’t we do this another way? Some other more hospital-like way. In a hospital. With doctors and waiting rooms for friends to wait in while the…the…” I’d made a semi-panicky gesture at the arrow sticking through Stevie Rae’s body. “While the stuff is fixed.”
“There may be a better way, but not under these conditions. I have limited supplies down here, and if you took a moment to think about it, Priestess, I do not believe you would want any of us to go aboveground to one of the city hospitals tonight,” Darius said.
I chewed my lip silently, thinking that he was right but still trying to come up with a less horrifying alternative.
“No. I’m not going back up there. Not only is Kalona free, along with his totally gross bird babies, but I can’t get caught aboveground when the sun rises, and I can feel that sunrise isn’t that far away. I don’t think I could survive it already hurting like this. Z, you’re just gonna have to do it,” said Stevie Rae.
“You want me to push on the arrow while you hold her still?” Aphrodite asked.
“No, watching it will probably be worse than helping with it,” I said.
“I’ll do my best not to scream too loud,” Stevie Rae said.
She’d been serious, which made my heart squeeze then, just like it did now as I thought back. “Oh, honey! Scream all you want. Hell, I’ll scream along with you.” I looked at Darius. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
“I will cut off the feathered end of the arrow that is still protruding from the front of her chest. When I do that, you take this,” he handed me a wad of gauze that was wet with alcohol, “and press it over the cutoff end. When I have a good grip on the front of the arrow I’ll tell you to push. Push hard while I pull. It shouldus said q I come out fairly easily.”
“But it might hurt just a little?” Stevie Rae said, sounding faint.
“Priestess,” Darius rested his big hand on her shoulder. “This will hurt quite a bit more than a little.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Aphrodite said. “I’ll be holding on to you so you don’t flail about as you writhe in pain and mess up Darius’s plan.” She hesitated, and then added, “But you need to know if you go all crazy from agony and bite me again, I’m going to knock the shit right out of you.”
“Aphrodite. I’m not gonna bite you. Again,” Stevie Rae said.
“Let’s just get this over with,” I said.
Before Darius ripped off what remained of Stevie Rae’s shirt he said, “Priestess, I must bare your breasts.”
“Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about that while you’ve been workin’ on my back. You’re kinda like a doctor, aren’t you?”
“All of the Sons of Erebus are trained in the medicine field so that we can care for our wounded brothers.” He relaxed his stern expression for a moment and smiled at Stevie Rae. “So, yes, you may think of me as a physician.”
“Then I’m fine with you seeing my boobies. Doctors are trained not to care about that kind of stuff.”
“Let’s hope his training hasn’t been that thorough,” Aphrodite muttered.
Darius gave her a quick wink. I made a gagging sound, which made Stevie Rae giggle and then gasp when the movement caused her pain. She tried to smile reassuringly at me, but she was way too pale and shaky to pull it off.
It was about then that I really started to worry. Back at the House of Night the undead-dead Stark followed Neferet’s pain-in-the-butt orders and shot Stevie Rae, blood had spilled out of her body at an alarming rate, so much so that it had made the ground around her look like it was bleeding, which fulfilled the stupid prophecy to free the stupid fallen angel, Kalona, from his gazillion-year imprisonment in the earth. Stevie Rae looked like all of the blood in her body had been left on the ground and even though she’d done pretty well up until then, and been walking and talking and mostly conscious, she was quickly fading into a ghostly white nothing before our eyes.
“Ready, Zoey?” Darius asked, making me jump.
Fear had made my teeth chatter so hard that I barely managed to stutter, “Y-yeah.”
“Stevie Rae?” he said gently. “Are you prepared?”
“As I’ll ever be, I guess. But I can tell you I really wish stuff like this would quit happenin’ to me.”
“Aphrodite?” He’d looked to her next.
Aphrodite moved so that she was kneeling on the floor in front of the bed and took both of Stevie Rae’s forearms in a strong handhold. “Try not to flail too much,” she told Stevie Rae.
“I’ll do my best.”
“On three,” Darius said, with the shears poised to close on the feather end of the arrow
Then everything happened fast. He’d clipped off the end of the arrow like he’d just cut through a tiny twig.
“Cover it!” He barked the command at me, and I’d pressed the gauze against the inch or so of arrow that still stuck out of the front of Stevie Rae’s chest squarely between her boobies while he moved around behind her. Stevie Rae’s eyes had been squeezed closed. She was breathing in short little panting gasps again, and sweat was beading her face. “Again on three, only this time you push against the end of the arrow,” Darius said. I’d wanted to stop everything and scream No, let’s just wrap her up and take our chances getting her to a hospital, but Darius had already begun counting. “One…two…three!”
I shoved against the hard, newly sliced end of the arrow as Darius, bracing himself with one hand against Stevie Rae’s shoulder, pulled the arrow from her body with one swift, awful-sounding, jerk.
Stevie Rae did scream. So did I. So did Aphrodite. And then Stevie Rae slumped forward into my arms.
“Keep the gauze pressed against the wound.” Darius quickly and efficiently cleaned the newly exposed hole in Stevie Rae’s back.
I remembered repeating over and over, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s out now. It’s all over now…”
Looking back, I remember that Aphrodite and I had both been sobbing. Stevie Rae’s head had been pressed against my shoulder, so I couldn’t see her face, but I could feel wetness leaking down my shirt. When Darius lifted her gently and laid her back on the bed so that he could dress the entry wound I felt a jolt of pure fear stab through me.
I’d never seen anyone look as pale as Stevie Rae—anyone who was still alive, that is. Her eyes were squeezed tight shut, but red-tinged tears made horrible tracks down her cheeks, the slight pink in stark contrast to her almost transparent colorless skin.
“Stevie Rae? Are you okay?” I could see her chest rising and falling, but she hadn’t opened her eyes and she wasn’t making any noise.
“I’m…still…here.” She whispered the words with long pauses between them. “But…kinda…floating…above…y’all.”