Revealed hon-11, Page 2P. C. Cast
“Neferet seriously makes my ass hurt,” Aphrodite said, grimacing at the spiders.
“We need to get all the elements here and have them kick these spiders off campus,” I said. “But we can’t make a scene.”
“Yeah, ’cause Neferet would want to F everything up by causing a big ol’ scary scene and freaking out the humans,” Shaunee said. “No worries, Z. I’ll keep it on the back burner.” She walked purposefully over to Damien, who held his hand out to her. She took it and, staring at the mass of dark legs and pulsing bodies, “Fire, come to me.” The air around us warmed. The beautiful black girl smiled and continued, “Heat ’em up, but don’t make ’em fry.”
Fire did exactly as she asked. There was no smoke or flames or fireworks, but the air around us got really warm and the mass of spiders twitched in obvious discomfort.
I looked around, just then noticing that Shaylin hadn’t joined us. “Where’s water? We need Shaylin for the circle.”
“She’s not back from the parking lot,” Stevie Rae said. “I called her phone, but she’s not answering.”
“Probably can’t hear it,” Damien said. “There’s a lot going on out there.”
“Okay, no problem. I’ll stand in for water,” Aphrodite said. “It won’t be as strong, but at least it’ll be a complete circle.”
Aphrodite started to move to take Shaunee’s hand when Erin stepped through the nun barrier.
“I knew a circle was going on! I could feel it,” Erin said, then she curled her lip at Aphrodite. “You’re going to call water? Ha! You’re a piss poor substitute for me—the real deal.”
“You’re a real something, that’s for sure,” Aphrodite told her. “But a deal isn’t it.”
“I told you not to have anything to do with these pussies,” Dallas said, sneering at a nun who tried to keep him outside their barrier.
“I know what you said, baby.” Erin sent him a flirty smile. “But you know I gotta do what I gotta do. And I’m not cool with water being left out of a circle.”
Dallas shrugged. “Whatever. Seems like a waste of time to me. Plus, why the hell are your idiot ex-friends circling during the open house?” His mean, sharp gaze narrowed, as if he just realized what the nun barrier meant. “Hey, what’s going on in here?”
“We don’t have time for this,” I snapped. “Stark, get rid of Dallas, and be sure he stays shut up until the open house is over.”
“Gladly!” Smiling, Stark picked Dallas up by the back of his shirt and pulled him away from us and from the center of campus. Dallas was struggling and cussing, but he was little more than a buzzing mosquito to Stark’s strength. I turned to Erin. “No matter what else has happened, you’re water and your element is welcome in our circle, but we don’t need any negative energy here—this is too important.” I nodded to the spiders. Erin’s gaze followed mine and she gasped.
“What the hell is that?”
I opened my mouth to evade her question, but my gut stopped me. I met Erin’s blue eyes. “I think it’s what’s left of Neferet. I know it’s evil and it doesn’t belong at our school. Will you help us kick it out?”
“Spiders are disgusting,” she began, but her voice faltered as she glanced at Shaunee. She lifted her chin and cleared her throat. “Disgusting things should go.” Resolutely, she walked to Shaunee and paused. “This is my school, too.”
I thought Erin’s voice sounded weird and kinda raspy. I hoped that meant that her emotions were unfreezing and that, maybe, she was coming back around to being the kid we used to know.
Shaunee held out her hand. Erin took it. “I’m glad you’re here,” I heard Shaunee whisper.
Erin said nothing.
“Be discreet,” I told her.
Erin nodded tightly. “Water, come to me.” I could smell the sea and spring rains. “Make them wet,” she continued.
Water beaded the cages and a puddle began to form under them. A fist-sized clump of spiders lost their hold on the metal and splashed into the waiting wetness.
“Stevie Rae.” I held my hand out to her. She took mine, then Erin’s, completing the circle.
“Earth, come to me,” she said. The scents and sounds of a meadow surrounded us. “Don’t let this pollute our campus.”
Ever so slightly, the earth beneath us trembled. More spiders tumbled from the cages and fell into the pooling water, making it churn.
Finally, it was my turn. “Spirit, come to me. Support the elements in expelling this Darkness that does not belong at our school.”
There was a whooshing sound and all of the spiders dropped from the cages, falling into the waiting pool of water. The water quivered and began to change form, elongating—expanding.
I focused, feeling the indwelling of spirit, the element for which I had the greatest affinity, and in my mind I pictured the pool of spiders being thrown out of our campus, like someone had emptied a pot of disgusting toilet water. Keeping that image in mind, I commanded: “Now get out!”
“Out!” Damien echoed.
“Go!” Shaunee said.
“Leave!” Erin said.
“Bye-bye now!” Stevie Rae said.
Then, just like in my imagination, the pool of spiders lifted up, like they were going to be hurled from the earth. But in the space of a single breath the dark image reformed again into a familiar silhouette—curvaceous, beautiful, deadly. Neferet! Her features weren’t fully formed, but I recognized her and the malicious energy she radiated.
“No!” I shouted. “Spirit! Strengthen each of the elements with the power of our love and loyalty! Air! Fire! Water! Earth! I call on thee, so mote it be!”
There was a terrible shriek, and the Neferet apparition rushed forward. It surged from our circle, breaking over Erin like a black tide. With the sound of a thousand skittering spiders, the specter fled through the main entrance of the school and then disappeared completely.
“Holy shit. That was seriously gross,” Aphrodite said.
I was going to agree with Aphrodite when I heard the first, terrible cough.
I felt the circle break before I saw her fall to her knees. She looked up at me and coughed again. Blood sprayed from her lips. “Didn’t think it would end like this,” she rasped.
“I’m getting Thanatos!” Aphrodite called as she sprinted away.
“No! This can’t be happening,” Shaunee said, dropping to her knees beside the already blood-soaked Erin. “Twin! Please. You’ll be fine!”
Erin fell into her arms. Damien, Stevie Rae, and I shared a look, and then as one, we joined Shaunee while she held her friend.
“I’m so sorry,” Shaunee sobbed. “I didn’t mean anything bad that I said to you.”
“It’s—it’s okay, Twin.” Erin spoke slowly between wracking coughs as the blood bubbled in her throat and streamed crimson from her eyes and ears and nose. “It was my fault. I—I forgot how to feel.”
“We’re here with you,” I said, touching Erin’s hair. “Spirit, calm her.”
“Earth, soothe her,” Stevie Rae said.
“Air, envelop her,” Damien said.
“Fire, warm her,” Shaunee spoke through her tears.
Erin smiled and touched Shaunee’s face. “It already has warmed me. I—I don’t feel cold and alone anymore. Don’t feel anything except tired…”
“Just rest,” Shaunee said. “I’ll stay with you while you sleep.”
“We all will,” I said, wiping tears from my face with the back of my sleeve.
Erin smiled one more time at Shaunee, and then she closed her eyes and died in her Twin’s arms.
The reflection from the past that had suddenly manifested in Zoey Redbird’s mystical mirror had been a terrible reminder of the death of Neferet’s innocence. It had been so unexpected for Neferet to see herself again as a broken, beaten girl that the memory had shattered her, leaving her vulnerable to the mutinous attack from the creature that had been her vessel. Aurox had ove
rcome her, gored her, and hurled her from the penthouse balcony. When she had hit the pavement below, Neferet, former High Priestess of Nyx, had, indeed, died. As her mortal heart had ceased beating, the spirit within her, the immortal energy that had made her Queen Tsi Sgili, had taken over, dissolving her broken shell of a body and living … living.
The mass of Darkness and spirit nested together, going to ground, waiting, waiting, surviving, while the Tsi Sgili’s consciousness struggled to continue to exist.
The violated girl in the mirror had resurrected a memory that Neferet believed had long ago been dead … buried … forgotten. That past had risen with a force that she had been utterly unprepared to battle.
Alive again, the past had killed Neferet.
Neferet remembered. She had once been a daughter. She had once been Emily Wheiler. She had once been a vulnerable, desperate child, and the human male who should have been her most vigilant protector had molested, abused, and violated her.
The instant Emily’s reflection had flashed within the magickal mirror, all the decades of power and strength that Neferet had fashioned into a barrier she had used to repress that violation, that murdered innocence, evaporated.
Gone was the mighty vampyre High Priestess. Only Emily remained, staring at the ruin of her young life. It was Emily who Aurox gored and hurled onto the lonely pavement at the base of the Mayo Hotel. It was Emily who took Neferet with her in death.
But it was the spirit of Queen Tsi Sgili that survived.
True, her body had been broken, her mind shattered, but the energy that was Neferet’s immortality lived, though her consciousness hovered on the edge of dissolution. The comforting threads of Darkness welcomed and strengthened her, allowing her to first borrow the likeness of insects, then of shadows, then of mist. The spirit of the Tsi Sgili drank the night and vomited the day—sinking into the sewer system of downtown Tulsa and moving slowly, but inexorably in one direction—what remained of Neferet had a never resting compulsion to seek the familiar—to find that which would make her whole again.
The Tsi Sgili was aware when she crossed the boundary between the city and the place she knew best. The place that, even disembodied, her spirit recognized because it had drawn her to it for so many years. She entered the House of Night in the form of fog, thick and gray. She drifted from shadow to shadow, absorbing the familiar.
When she reached the temple at the heart of the school, the specter recoiled, though smoke and shadow, energy and darkness, cannot feel pain, just as they cannot feel pleasure. The malevolent energy of the Tsi Sgili recoiled in reflex, much like the severed leg of a frog twitches in response to a hot skillet.
It was that inadvertent twitch that changed her course, causing her to drift close enough to the place of power that she did feel. The Tsi Sgili could not recognize pain or pleasure, but what remained of Neferet knew power. She would always know power.
In sticky drops of oily wetness, she sank into the hole in the earth. She absorbed the energy buried around her, and through it she drew to her the ghostly residue of what was happening above her.
The Tsi Sgili might have remained like that—formless, faceless, simply existing—had death not chosen that moment to approach.
Like wind that blows clouds to shroud the sun, death’s approach was invisible, but the Tsi Sgili felt the brush of it before the fledgling began to cough.
Death was even more familiar to the specter than was the school or the place of power. Death drew her up from the pit in the ground. In a rush of excitement the Tsi Sgili’s spirit manifested in the first form that had come to her near the beginnings of her power—that of the ever-questing, ever-curious, ever-resilient eight-legged insect.
The black spiders, moving as one, materialized to seek out and to feed from death.
Ironically, it was the fledglings’ circle that opened the energy conduit which enabled Neferet to gain enough consciousness so that she was able to focus and borrow the ancient power of death and, ultimately, to find herself once more.
I am she who was Emily Wheiler, and then Neferet, and then Tsi Sgili—queen, goddess, immortal being!
Until that moment, finding the familiar had been her focus. As death descended upon the fledgling, the Tsi Sgili’s spirit fed from it, gathering energy so that finally her memories coalesced from fragments of past and present to one true knowing.
The shock of that knowing caused raw energy to surge through her spirit, fragmenting the threads of Darkness and fueling the refashioning of her body. She had been almost fully formed when the elements had expelled her. Exploding from the circle, Neferet fled.
She made it only as far as the iron gate that served as barrier between the human street and the vampyre school grounds. There, her body solidified, and she had burned through all of her siphoned power until she’d been left gasping, weak as a newborn, barely clinging to consciousness. Neferet crumpled against the wall that was boundary to the House of Night.
She must feed!
Hunger was all she knew until she heard his raised voice, spiteful and sarcastic, quipping, “Yes, dear. Of course you’re right. You’re always right. I don’t want to stay for the ridiculous raffle either—I’m absolutely not interested in the five hundred dollars worth of tickets I bought on a chance to win that 1966 T-Bird the vampyres are giving away. No, no problem! And, as you said so many times, we should have called a driver and taken a limo. So, so sorry you’re inconvenienced by waiting for me to walk all the way to where we parked, get our car, and drive it back to pick you up while you sit on a bench and rest yourself. Oh, and I’m so, so glad you were able to allow those two City Council assholes to stare at your boobs while you whispered to them and spread your crazy gossip about Neferet. Ha! Ha! Ha!” His sarcastic laughter drifted to her through the night. “If you actually paid attention to anyone but yourself you would know that Neferet can take care of herself. Penthouse vandals no one so much as got a peek at? Not hardly. That mess looked like the result of a female temper tantrum. I feel sorry for whoever caused Neferet’s temper to explode, but I don’t feel sorry for Neferet.”
Neferet forced herself to sit up, listening with all her being. The human had said her name. It must be a sign that he was a gift from the gods.
The Lexus not ten feet from where she crouched lit up as he touched the key fob and muttered, “Damned woman. All she does is gossip and manipulate, manipulate and gossip. I should have listened to my father and never married her. All I’ve gotten from my twenty-five years with her is high blood pressure, GERD, and an ungrateful daughter. I could’ve been the first single mayor Tulsa’s had in fifty years and had my pick of the young daughters of old oil money if I hadn’t already been chained to her…”
His grumbling trailed off into unintelligible background noise when her supersensitive hearing honed in to his heartbeat.
She sighed gratefully. He did, indeed, sound like dinner. She would not thank the gods of fate who had sent him to her. She would accept their aid as no more than what she deserved—an acknowledgment that they were pleased to have her return to their immortal ranks.
He was opening the door to the sedan when she stood. Neferet put all of her longing and hunger into the one word that was his name: “Charles!”
He paused, straightened, and peered her way, trying to see through the darkness. “Hello? Is someone there?”
Neferet did not need light to see. Her vision moved through the Darkness easily, comfortably. She saw his carefully combed hair, the well-tailored lines of his expensive suit, the sweat on his upper lip, and the pulse in his neck that beat steadily with his life’s blood.
She stepped forward and shook back her long auburn hair, exposing the lushness of her naked body. Then, as if it were an afterthought, she raised her hands in an unsuccessful attempt to shield her most private parts from his widening eyes. “Charles!” Neferet repeated his name. This time she added with a sob, “They’ve hurt me!”
“Neferet?” Obviously confused, Charl
es took one step toward her before halting. “Is it really you?”
“It is! It is! Oh, Goddess, that it would be you who discovered me out here, naked, wounded, and all alone. It is so terrible! So much more than I can bear!” Neferet wept as she covered her face with her hands, allowing him to get a more thorough look at her body.
“I don’t understand. What has happened to you?”
“Charles!” his name shrilled behind them from the school grounds, making them both pause. “What is taking you so long?”
“Dear, I’ve found—” Charles began to call back to his wife, but Neferet moved quickly toward him. She clutched his hand, cutting off his words. “No! Don’t tell her it’s me. I couldn’t stand for her to know what they’ve done to me,” she whispered desperately.
His gaze was completely focused on Neferet’s bare breasts when he cleared his throat and continued, “Frances, dear, be patient. I dropped the car fob, and just now found it. I’ll have the car there in another minute or two.”
“Of course you dropped it! You’re so damn clumsy!” came the venom-filled retort.
“Go to her! Forget that you ever saw me.” Neferet whimpered as she scrambled back within the shadows beside the school wall. “I can care for myself.”
“What are you talking about? Of course I won’t go and leave you out here naked and hurt. Here, put on my coat. Tell me what has happened to you. I know your penthouse was vandalized. Were you kidnapped?” Charles spoke as he moved to her. Taking off his suit jacket, he held it out to her.
Neferet’s gaze went to his hands where they gripped the jacket, offering it.
“Your hands are so large.” Overwhelmed by images from the past, Neferet found it hard to speak through lips that had gone cold and numb. “Your fingers. So, so thick.”
Charles blinked in confusion. “I suppose they are. Neferet, are you in your right mind? You seem very out of sorts. How can I help you?”
“Help me?” Her ravenous mind thrust Neferet forward from Emily’s past. “I shall show you the only way you may help me.”