Found, Page 2P. C. Cast
The women stopped before Neferet. The vampyre flicked her fingers again, as she imagined the fog closing behind them to conceal them more completely, which it obediently did.
“Now, you may worship me,” Neferet said.
The five women dropped to their knees as they stared in adoration up at her.
This world’s Stark was right, Neferet thought. All five of these humans are easy prey, and lucky that it is me they kneel before and not the ravenous goddess within the tomb.
“How quaint! You’re cloaked and kneeling. What an unexpected, lovely welcome.” Neferet spoke magnanimously to the five young women, though Lynette noted that she paused for several silent minutes before she continued. “You may rise. And remove your cowls. I wish to see those who worship me.”
The five women stood and hastily swept back the hoods of their velvet cloaks. Lynette was behind and to the side of Neferet. None of them so much as glanced her way. Completely unnoticed, she studied the first humans she’d seen from this new world.
They were young—probably very early twenties at most—and pretty in the Oklahoma/Texas variety of beauty pageant attractive. They were all blond, though Lynette’s keen observation told her that at most only two of the five had been born that way.
Before they’d cloaked themselves, Lynette had already noticed their clothes—expensive, and tiptoeing that fine line between overtly sexual and tasteful. Had she dressed them, the only thing she would’ve changed was their stiletto boots. Too inconvenient for walking in grass. Each of them wore their hair long and big, bringing to mind the saying that must be the same in both worlds, the bigger the hair—the closer to God, and Okies definitely liked to be close to God. Or in this case Goddess.
The one wearing the purple spirit cape spoke first. “Neferet, our Goddess of Tulsa, we—your Dark Sisters—are honored that you have appeared to us. Blessed be!” She fisted her hand over her heart, mimicking a vampyre saluting a High Priestess.
“What is your name?” Neferet asked.
“I am Vanessa, leader of the Dark Sisters,” she said.
“Tell me, Vanessa, what is a Dark Sister?”
“Us!” Vanessa said with a smile that exposed perfect teeth that must have cost her father a fortune. “I started our coven a year ago. You know. After what they did to you.” She ended the sentence in an affected whisper.
“Yes, well, that does not actually answer my question, but I shall set it aside for now. Introduce the rest of your sisters.”
Vanessa gestured to each young woman in turn. “Jenna is air. Amber is fire. Kelsey is water. Jordan is earth. And I, of course, am spirit.”
Neferet cocked her head to the side. “Do any of you truly have an affinity for your element?”
They looked confused, and then Amber, wearing the red cloak that signified fire, spoke up. “Well, uh, yeah. I mean, I’ve always felt, like, seriously connected to fire.”
Vanessa nodded. “It’s true. Each of us chose the element we’re closest to. I’ve always been the leader. So, naturally, I am spirit.”
“Oh,” Neferet said. “Naturally.”
Lynette had to press her lips together so that she didn’t laugh. These girls had no clue what Neferet was really asking. Unlike the clueless girls, she’d spent enough time in the employ of vampyres to know the difference between a true affinity and OMG I love fire.
Completely missing the sarcasm in Neferet’s voice, Vanessa continued. “The five of us have pledged ourselves to your service.”
Neferet’s one-word question seemed to suspend in the fog that surrounded them. The girls blinked in confusion, sharing glances. Lynette was sure she saw the earth girl and the water girl roll their eyes, but when Vanessa spoke it was with complete sincerity.
“Because vampyres are the most beautiful, talented, richest beings on earth. And out of all of the vampyres you are the only one who has ever wanted to be our goddess.”
Amber, the fire girl, added, “Yeah, and even though we weren’t Marked we want part of that.”
Vanessa nodded and the other four mirrored her. “Seriously. We deserve part of that.”
“Why?” Neferet repeated her question. This time she sounded truly curious.
“Because we’re the same,” Vanessa said.
In the green earth cloak, Jordan said, “Uh-huh, we’re beautiful and talented and rich. Like you.”
“That’s right,” Vanessa said. “And we’re tired of people who clutter up our world and whine about everything.”
“Right?” said the girl wearing water blue. “It’s the twenty-first century. Stop whining about your issues. Racism is, like, over. If you can’t get a clue, go back to where you came from and get a friggin’ life.”
Lynette did smile then, though she made no sound. She knew exactly what kind of women they were. Had they been from her Tulsa she probably would have recognized several of them. She would’ve definitely known their mothers—and/or their replacement younger-model stepmothers.
“Tell me, Vanessa, are there more of you?” Neferet asked.
“You mean Dark Sisters?” Vanessa said.
“Yes, of course that is what I mean.”
Vanessa shook her head and looked smug. “Oh. No. We wanted our group to be exclusive.”
Jenna in the yellow air cloak added, “But we have friends who would love to join our group. As soon as we tell them that you’ve escaped and—”
Neferet’s lifted hand silenced her. “But you are incorrect. I am Neferet—sacred and powerful.”
Lynette noted she didn’t name herself goddess to them.
She continued. “But I am not the Neferet of your world. I crossed the veil between worlds to be here, before you.”
“Oh, my goddess !” Vanessa gasped. “You’re here to break our Neferet out of jail.”
“I am, indeed. Will you help me?” As they sputtered to answer her, Neferet lifted her hand, silencing them again. “You should first know what I will ask of you before you agree, and if you cannot give it to me, then we shall simply part ways here.”
Lynette readied herself. There was absolutely no way Neferet was going to allow those girls to walk away and spread rumors about her. The moment she told them that she was from another world and here to help their Neferet escape, their death warrants had been signed and sealed.
Lynette tried to tell herself it didn’t matter. That the lives of five frivolous, entitled young women weren’t worth risking their mission, but she couldn’t help wishing that she and Neferet were back at Balmacara Mains, sitting before the fireplace, with the aroma of Mrs. Muir’s freshly baked bread wafting around them.
The five women were watching Neferet with expressions so eager that Lynette almost began to relax. Almost.
Neferet continued. “I will need you to swear to absolute secrecy about my presence in your world. By speaking you could upset the very nature of the universe.”
The five started to nod, but once again Neferet cut them off.
“My handmaid and I will need somewhere close to stay. I would prefer that the facility befit my status. I will need money and transportation as well as other things—elements for the spell I will cast to break the seal that entombs your goddess. I will need willing, attractive feeders who also must be sworn to secrecy, or are disposable.” Neferet’s voice changed as she spoke the end of the sentence, leaving no doubt that disposable was synonymous with killable. “And, finally, I will need information. As I said, I am not from your world. In order to create the perfect spell to loose your goddess, I must learn everything I can about how she was able to be imprisoned.”
“Vampyres did it—not us!” the air girl, Jenna blurted.
“Well, yes, of course,” said Neferet. “But I need details.”
“Details are e
asy to get,” said Vanessa. “The House of Night’s new High Priestess, Zoey Redbird, is super open about everything.”
Amber nodded and her long, blond hair bounced around her shoulders. “Yeah, she even lets humans roam around on the House of Night campus. If we can’t answer your questions, it’ll be real easy for us to get the answers for you.”
“Then, do you agree to my terms?” Neferet asked.
The five girls shared a look, then Vanessa turned back to Neferet. She cleared her throat and said, “Um, if we say yes, do you promise that you really are here to release our Neferet?”
Lynette didn’t have to see the dark tendrils that were Neferet’s children to feel them reflecting their mistress’s irritation, but the vampyre appeared calm when she answered the girl.
“Vanessa, I give you my oath that I am here to release your Neferet from the vile prison that is trapping her.”
“Ohmygod, yeah!” Vanessa almost squealed as she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet like an overgrown cheerleader. “Then, hell yes, we promise to help you! You’re gonna love our house. We’re all seniors at TU, but our place is closer to here than campus—like, within walking distance of here.”
Jenna’s face scrunched unattractively. “The neighborhood around TU isn’t the greatest.”
“Right, so my dad bought us a house in Maple Ridge,” said Vanessa. “It’s practically our own House of Night.”
Neferet glanced at Lynette and, for the first time, the girls noticed her. “Maple Ridge—do you know it?”
“Of course. It’s a historic neighborhood not far from here,” she said.
“Wait. Who is that?” Vanessa asked, staring at Lynette.
“This is Lynette. She is my handmaid,” Neferet said, gesturing gracefully to Lynette, who nodded slightly at the girls.
Vanessa was already looking away from Lynette dismissively as she spoke. “You mean maid, like servant?”
“Servant?” Neferet said. “No. A handmaid is …” the vampyre paused, searching for the correct analogy. “A high-level assistant.” As she spoke she turned to Lynette and winked. Quickly.
“Yes, my lady. Exactly,” Lynette said, curtsying low.
“Oh. I get it,” Vanessa said without looking at Lynette.
“And the five of you live in this home alone?” Neferet asked.
Vanessa nodded. “Totally! Well, I mean, Juanita comes in to clean twice a week—or more often if we, like, have a party and need her.”
“You will suspend her services for as long as I am staying with you,” said Neferet.
Lynette could see that didn’t go over well with Vanessa, but the girl didn’t comment.
“Now I need two things—suitable rooms where my handmaid and I may rest and refresh, and a feeder.” Neferet’s emerald eyes scanned the small group of girls hungrily.
Lynette enjoyed watching them squirm.
“Well, um, there’s a whole feeder registry,” Vanessa said.
“Yes, but none of them will do, as they are registered and therefore not disposable. No matter.” Neferet made a dismissive gesture with her long, elegant fingers. “Show me to your house and I shall find a feeder myself while my fog still blankets the city.”
Kelsey, the girl wearing the blue robe of water, stared at Neferet in starstruck wonder. “You brought this fog here?”
“Yes, child.” Neferet waved her hand around the concealing mist that encircled the group, shrouding it from the cameras that watched the grotto. “This is but a parlor trick.”
“Wow,” Kelsey said.
“This is gonna be awesome,” said Vanessa. “Come this way, please, um, Neferet.”
“You five may call me ‘my lady,’ ” Neferet corrected her.
“Uh, yeah. My lady. The house is just down the street off Norfolk and Twentieth.”
“Lovely. You lead. My handmaid and I shall follow,” said Neferet.
The young women headed for the sidewalk that ran along Twenty-First Street, heading west, toward the river and into the thickest part of the fog. Neferet followed with Lynette at her side.
“They’re very naive and not particularly bright,” Lynette said, keeping her voice pitched for Neferet’s ears alone.
“Yes. They’re absolutely perfect,” agreed Neferet.
Other Kevin yawned enormously and stretched so hard that his hands brushed the top of the limo and his spine cracked. “You think Sgiach is actually gonna let us on the island?”
Other Stark looked up from the Dean Koontz book he was reading. “Oh, you’re alive again.”
“Dude, I don’t actually die when the sun’s up. You know that, right?”
“Of course I know that. Doesn’t change the fact that you red vamps look dead while you sleep. You mind if I roll down the window now that the sun’s set? Some fresh air would be good.”
Stark hit the down button and the back of their limo filled with cold, wet air that smelled of earth.
Kevin stared out at the gray world as it sped by. “Wow. That’s a lot of mountains. Where are we?”
“Only about thirty minutes from the bridge to Skye.”
“So, do you think the queen’s gonna let us on the island?” Kevin repeated as he stared out the half-open window.
Stark shrugged. “Anastasia seems to think she will. She said Sgiach was pleased we’d kicked Neferet out of power.”
“Yeah, there’s definitely no love lost between Neferet and Sgiach, which is why I was surprised she’d go to Skye.”
Stark ran his hand through his shaggy hair. “Well, it’s not like Neferet went to Skye for the queen’s help. It’s more like if she’s here—or was here—she’s sneaking around trying to use Old Magick.”
Kevin grimaced. “Old Magick. That stuff is bad news. I am not looking forward to using it again.”
Stark studied him. He understood the pain that crossed his face. Kevin had lost Aphrodite to Old Magick—just days before—and the kid was definitely not over it.
“Maybe we won’t have to. She might still be here.”
Kevin snorted. “Not likely. If Neferet had planned on hanging around, she wouldn’t have taunted us in the elevator video after she killed Blake. And you heard what the London House of Night Warriors found out—that she’d ordered and eaten an entire dinner at a restaurant right down the street just minutes after she killed him. Let’s hope that douchebag’s last written words weren’t meant to throw us off.”
“I don’t think he was smart enough for that. Plus, Neferet killed him. Pretty gruesomely too. That’s fact. The video shows that the two of them were alone in that hotel room. They both went in. Only Neferet came out.”
“While I was sleeping was there any word from Dragon about a Neferet sighting around Skye?” Kevin asked.
Stark shook his head. “No word on a sighting, but the pilot finally opened his mouth.”
Kevin barked a laugh. “Did Dragon persuade him with his fists?”
“Actually, no. Anastasia got to him. Dragon said less than ten minutes alone with the guy and he told her everything. Neferet and Lynette Witherspoon, the human who was the flight coordinator at the private airport in Tulsa, had him fly them to London, where they deplaned. Neferet sent the jet on to Venice to await further instructions, which never came. He said he overheard the two of them talking about hiring a car to drive them to Skye. The human planned everything while Neferet slept for most of the flight. He heard her booking an entire B&B somewhere close to Skye, but she didn’t say the name of the place—or at least not so that he could hear it.”
“Yeah, Neferet was definitely lurking around Skye. She had to be messing with Old Magick.”
“Dragon said the pilot told Anastasia that not only was Lynette obviously with Neferet willingly, but she
called her ‘goddess’ several times.”
Kevin’s gaze went from the darkening scenery to Stark. “Shit. That’s bad. The Neferet in Zo’s world became immortal.”
“Yeah, Anastasia’s guess is that’s Neferet’s goal—to become immortal too, and then return to Tulsa when she’s so powerful we won’t be able to stop her. And there are plenty of assholes like Loren Blake—”
“And your buddy, Dallas,” Kevin added.
“He’s not my damn buddy. But, yeah, there are plenty of assholes like him who would flock to an immortal Neferet so they’d be back in power.” Stark hesitated. The subject made him feel sick. When he supported Neferet and her war against humans he’d been doing what he thought was right—at first. But if he was honest with himself, he’d been questioning Neferet’s methods for quite a while. “I shoulda spoken against her. I shoulda stood up to her.”
“You did when it counted most. You were part of the reason all of the red vamps and fledglings got their humanity back. If you’d stood up to Neferet before then, I don’t know how we woulda stopped her,” Kevin said.
Stark picked at the jacket of the Koontz book. “I know that, but it still makes me feel like shit. Looking back, I don’t know how I let it go on for so long.”
“What could you have done?”
“Stood up to her,” said Stark, his voice grim with self-loathing.
“She would have killed you.”
“I could’ve joined the Resistance like Dragon and the rest of you.”
“Like I said, if you had, who woulda stopped Neferet from giving the order to the Red Army to kill the humans at the TU stadium?”
Stark moved restlessly in the cushy leather seat. “I hear ya, but I still hate that it took me so long to get it right.”
“Dude, forgive yourself and move on.”
One corner of Stark’s mouth lifted in the ghost of his cocky smile. “Except for the dude part, you sound a lot like your grandma.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”