Revealed hon-11, Page 3P. C. Cast
Neferet did not waste any more of her energy speaking to him. In a single predatory movement she knocked aside the offered jacket and slammed Charles against the wall. His breath left him in a shocked oof and he fell to the grass, gasping for air. She did not allow him time to recover. She pinned him to the ground with her knees and, making her hands into claws, ripped open his throat. As his thick, hot blood sprayed from his jugular, she fastened her lips over the gash and drank deeply. Even as he died, he did not struggle. Completely under her spell, he moaned and tried to lift his arms to more fully embrace her. His breath gurgled, ending his moans, and his legs kicked spasmodically, but Neferet’s strength grew as he moved more closely to death. She drank and drank, draining him body and spirit, until Charles LaFont, mayor of Tulsa, was no more than a bloodless, lifeless shell.
Licking her lips, Neferet stood, staring down at what was left of him. Energy surged through her. How she loved the taste of death!
“Charles, goddamn it! Do I have to do everything myself?” His wife’s voice was coming closer, as if she were moving toward them.
Neferet lifted her bloody hand. “Mist and darkness, I command thee. Shield my body. Now! Cover me!”
Instead of obeying her and hiding Neferet from seeking eyes, the deepest, darkest of the shadows only quivered restlessly. Through the night she felt more than heard their reply: Your power wanes, reborn Tsi Sgili. Command us now? We shall see … we shall see…
Rage was a luxurious emotion Neferet could not afford. She kept her anger close to her, choosing it over Charles LaFont’s crumpled suit jacket. Clothed only in blood and rage and fading power, Neferet fled. She had reached the ditch on the opposite side of Utica Street when LaFont’s wife began screaming.
Her screams made Neferet smile, and though Darkness did not obey her command and cloak her, the Tsi Sgili ran with the otherworldly litheness of an immortal. As she fled through the opulent midtown neighborhood, Neferet imagined how she must appear to any mortal who might be lucky enough to glance out her window. She was a scarlet wraith, a Banshee from ancient times. Neferet wished she could bring to life the Old Magick curse of the Banshee—that any mortal filled with hubris enough to dare to look upon her would turn to stone.
Stone … I wish … I do so wish…
The death of the mayor did not fuel her far. Too soon Neferet’s fleetness faltered. Waves of weakness broke over her body with such intensity that she stumbled over the next curb, gasping for breath.
No houses here. Where am I?
Confused, Neferet looked around, blinking at the brightness of the 1920s style streetlights that dotted the park. Instinctively, she moved away from the lights and deeper into the shrubs and winding paths in the heart of the park.
It was on the small ridge, surrounded by sleeping azalea bushes, that Neferet’s breath finally returned to her, allowing her thoughts to clear enough that she recognized her location.
Woodward Park—not far from the House of Night. Neferet looked up, searching for Tulsa’s downtown skyline. The Mayo is too far away. I’ll not make it there before dawn. And even if she could reach her penthouse before the sun lifted from the horizon and sapped her of what remained of her strength, how would she get past the humans that worked at the front desk? Darkness was not obeying her. Uncloaked, she would be a naked, blood-covered vampyre—a thing to loathe and imprison—especially on the night their mayor had been killed by a vampyre.
Perhaps she should have considered her alternatives more carefully before she’d ended LaFont’s miserable life.
Neferet felt her first sliver of panic. She had not been this alone and vulnerable since the night her father had killed her innocence.
The Tsi Sgili shuddered, remembering his large, hot hands; his thick fingers; and the stench of his fetid breath.
Neferet sobbed, remembering also the shadows that had comforted her as a young girl, and the Darkness that had soothed her broken innocence. “Have all of you deserted me? Have none of my dark children remained faithful to me?”
As if in answer, the bushes before her whispered with movement, and from within a fox emerged. The creature stared at her with no visible fear. Neferet was awed by the beauty of its amber and red fur, and the intelligence in its brilliant green eyes.
The fox is my answer—my gift—my sacrifice.
Neferet gathered the remnants of her power. Silently and swiftly, she struck, breaking the fox’s neck with a single blow. While the light faded from its eyes, Neferet laid the body across her lap and clawed open the dying creature’s throat. She lifted the fox so that its blood ran sluggishly down her arms, and her breasts, pooling around her like a warm spring rain.
“If it is a sacrifice you need, then for you doth this creature bleed! This blood only opens the door. Return to me and Tulsa will pay you more … more!”
The deepest shadows beneath the azalea bushes stirred. Slowly, almost tentatively, a few threads of Darkness slithered toward Neferet.
The Tsi Sgili blinked tears from her eyes. They hadn’t abandoned her! She bit her lip to keep from crying out in gratitude when the first of the tendrils brushed its frigid flesh against her while it sank into the warmth of the fox’s blood and began to feed. Others soon joined it, and though there didn’t come forth the hundreds, even thousands, of tendrils she had once commanded, Neferet was pleased that there were enough of them who answered her call that it seemed the ground around her had been transformed into a nest of Darkness. She inhaled the night deeply, feeling the power that pulsed through it. If she could just remain with her familiar threads she could feed them, and in turn they would hide her and nurture her until she truly regained her strength, and her purpose.
My purpose? What is my purpose?
Memories flooded her weakened mind with a cacophony of voices and visions: she was a young girl—your purpose is to be Lady of Wheiler House! She was a young High Priestess—your purpose is to follow the Path of the Goddess! She was a more mature vampyre who had begun to listen to the whispers of Darkness that seemed to drift to her on the wind—your purpose is to help me break free of my earthly jail and reign at my side! She was powerful, fed by threads fashioned from night and magick—your purpose is to amuse me and to be my Consort!
“Enough!” Neferet cried, burying her face in the soft, musty fur of the sacrificed fox. “I’ve had enough of others telling me my purpose.” Resolutely she stood, drawing the remnants of her pride and power to her. “I killed and you have fed. Now to succor and safety I will be led!”
The tendrils of Darkness rippled, wrapping around her bare legs, gently tugging, compelling her forward. Wordlessly, Neferet followed Darkness to a path that led to a wide stone stairway that meandered down a rocky ridge until she stood on the street level of the empty park, staring into an insignificant, grotto-like area tucked between landscaping and pathways. Rock and shrubs mostly obscured its mouth, which opened to a wide expanse of grass that eventually led to Twenty-first Street. The threads released their hold on her and disappeared into the cleft in the stones. Again, Neferet followed them, climbing to the maw of the grotto. She drew a deep, fortifying breath as she crawled into the utter blackness, and paused in surprise at the musty, wild scent that surrounded her within.
Her threads had led her to the fox’s den.
Neferet sank into the earth, welcoming the scent of her prey. She could almost feel the warmth of the animal’s body lingering in the nest it had so recently departed. Neferet curled there, with only blood and Darkness covering her, closed her eyes, and finally allowed sleep to claim her.
“Z, there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you. This is really not a cool time for you to be hiding out here.”
Stark’s voice startled me and I jumped, rubbing the goose bumps from my bare arms and frowning up at him. “I’m not hiding. I’m just out here…” My voice trailed off and I glanced around. What was I doing out here if I wasn’t hiding? Thanatos ha
d rushed Erin’s body from the shocked, gawking eyes of the visiting humans to the infirmary. Automatically, my circle had followed her. She’d called orders to the professors and Sons of Erebus Warriors to escort our guests from the school grounds and close down the campus. I think everyone assumed that I had been helping to guide the humans out. I’d meant to help. I’d even started to, but then I overheard what a group of the locals were saying, and I’d needed to get away. It was annoying as hell that a fledging dying in her own blood caused a bunch of PTA moms and politicians to gossip and speculate—and were they whispering about the dead kid, freaked out about the fact that she had barely turned eighteen and was dead? Nope. They’d been talking about Neferet! Whispering about how she’d been fired from the House of Night and then gone public with what they were calling her anti-vampyre opinions, and then she’d disappeared after her penthouse had been vandalized.
I’d even heard one of the Tulsa City Council members say that they wouldn’t be surprised if vampyres had been sending Neferet a message to get out of town, and that “poor Neferet” could have been a victim of House of Night violence.
That had really pissed me off, but what could I have said to the guy? We didn’t so much vandalize and threaten her as we rescued my grandma from her evil clutches and then we tossed her off the roof of her penthouse. Yeah, like that would have gone over great.
Hearing them talking about “poor Neferet” had been more than I could take. Hell, my circle and I had just kept “poor Neferet” from materializing in the middle of our open house and eating the locals! “Poor Neferet” might even have been responsible for Erin’s body rejecting the Change. It seemed too much of a coincidence to me that Erin had died right after the gross, semi-formed ex-High Priestess had passed through the fledgling’s body.
So, instead of screaming at the locals, I’d taken advantage of the chaos caused by a fledgling dying publicly, and slipped away by myself to sit on a bench at the far side of the stables; take a long, deep breath; and think. I exhaled that breath and continued to think. “Stark, I’m not out here hiding.” I reasoned through what I was feeling aloud. “I just needed a second to myself to deal with the poo storm that’s going to be caused by all of that—” I waved a hand in the direction of the main campus, and finished. “—all of that mess.”
He sat beside me on the bench and took my hand in his. “Yeah, I get it. Dealing with death is tough on me, too,” Stark said quietly.
“Yeah,” I said, and a little sob escaped with the word. Goddess, I was such a hypocrite! “You know what? I’m as bad as those gossiping humans. You were right. I am hiding out here feeling pissed and sorry for myself instead of being freaked that one of our circle just died.”
“Z, I don’t expect you to be perfect. No one does.” Stark squeezed my hand. “You know it won’t always be like this.”
My stomach clenched. “I think that’s the problem. I don’t know that it won’t always be like this.”
“This is the second time we’ve beaten Neferet—and she didn’t look so good tonight. Seriously—spiders? That’s all she’s got? She can’t keep fighting us forever.”
“She’s immortal, Stark. She can’t be killed, so she can keep fighting us forever,” I said gloomily. “And she’d changed from spiders to yucky, gooey, black crap that was starting to reform her body. Ugh. She’s back.”
“Well, at least everyone knows she’s turned bad,” he countered with.
“Nope, everyone doesn’t know she’s turned bad. Vampyres know it—and the High Council had decided to not do squat to her. Humans, local humans—hell, our own mayor and his council—think that she’s practically Glenda the Good Witch of the North. What pissed me off tonight was that I overheard some of the guys in suits and the PTA moms talking about her and wondering if we had something to do with her penthouse being vandalized last week because ‘poor Neferet,’” I air quoted, “hasn’t been seen since then.”
“Really? I can’t believe they’re saying that.”
“Believe it. Neferet’s press conference set the stage for her to look like a victim if anything happened to her.”
“Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change the fact that we had to kick her ass to get your grandma back. We were cloaked that night. No one saw us, so all that talk is just bullshit gossip. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Gossip always means something, Stark. In this case I think it means that it’s going to take some major bullpoopie hitting the fan for anyone who isn’t a vampyre to know how evil Neferet is.”
“You’re probably right about that, but that’s actually good news,” Stark said.
“Neferet has never known how to lay low and let a situation cool down. And she sure as hell has never been able to pull off being a victim. If she can manage to get herself together—literally—and manifest a body that’s more than black snot, she’s right back where she was before. She’s eventually going to realize that the local humans aren’t going to bow down and worship her. A bunch of them even feel sorry for her. That is going to piss her off big time and Neferet will mess up. Again. Then she’ll be outed with the humans, just like she was with the vamps. That’ll leave her no shit pot to stir here, and if she can’t stir up some shit, Neferet will find someplace else to haunt. Getting rid of her for good could actually be, as Stevie Rae would say, easy-peasy.”
“Stevie Rae!” I felt a flush of guilt. “Crap. I pretty much left her alone to deal with the Erin death mess.”
“Thanatos is handling it, and by it I mean Shaunee. Stevie Rae and Kramisha are getting the kids together for the bus. Everyone wanted to know where you were, which brought me out here looking for you.”
“Sorry. I guess my second to breathe is up. I’m ready to dive back into crazy. Let’s go say bye to Grandma before we get on the bus.”
“I’m with you, Z.” Stark stood, pulled me to my feet, and kissed me softly. “I’m always with you, even if that means I’m with crazy, too.”
I was still in his arms, feeling safe, when we heard the screaming start.
“Holy crap, what is that?”
I could feel the tension in Stark’s body. “Someone’s hysterical.” He took my hand again, and listened for a few seconds before he began guiding me toward the entrance to the field house. “Come on. It’s coming from around the other side of the school. Stay close to me. I have a bad feeling about this.”
Oh, Goddess! Please, don’t let it be another kid dying … was all I could think as we cut through the field house and jogged to the school’s parking lot.
We were coming from a different direction than everyone else, so no one noticed us at first, and Stark and I got to get a good look at the creepy scene. In the middle of the parking lot—surrounded by dazed locals, and a gaggle of Benedictine nuns who were herding her from her headlong run from the front gates of the school—was a tall blond woman having an absolute and utter hysterical meltdown. She was wearing meticulously tailored black slacks; a light blue, skintight cashmere sweater; and a thick strand of expensive-looking pearls. Her hair had come loose from a rich lady updo, and blond wisps were sticking out from her head like she’d been electrocuted. Even though the nuns had managed to get her to stop running in circles, she was shrieking and flailing her arms like a crazy person.
I admit that my first reaction was to feel super relieved that it was a freaked-out local and not another dying fledgling.
Sister Mary Angela stepped from the crowd and began trying to calm the woman down. “There, there, madam. I know it is distressing when a young person dies, but we all know death is never far from every fledgling. They accept it, and so must we.”
The screaming woman paused in her hysterics and blinked at Sister Mary Angela as if she’d just realized where she was. She drew a deep breath and her face twisted, changed, going from terror to anger so quickly it was scary. Later I realized that should have made me recognize her.
“You think I’m crying about a fledgling? Tha
t’s absurd!” the woman hurled the words at the nun.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand wh—”
Aphrodite rushed up, interrupting the nun and looking wide-eyed at the crying woman. “Mom? What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, shit!” Stark spoke under his breath to me. “That’s Aphrodite’s mom.”
I’d dropped his hand and was moving forward before my mind had time to catch up with my actions.
“They’ve killed him!” her mom shrieked at her.
“Your father! The mayor of Tulsa!”
The crowd gasped along with me. Aphrodite’s face went bloodless and white. Before she could speak again, Lenobia rushed up, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, some of you have already met me. I am Lenobia, Horse Mistress of this House of Night, and on behalf of our High Priestess and our faculty, I am sorry that you were witness to the tragic events of this evening. Let me help you find your vehicles so that you may make your way home in safety.”
“It’s too late for that!” Aphrodite’s mom screamed at Lenobia. “There is nothing safe about tonight. None of us will ever be safe as long as we coexist with you bloodsuckers!”
When Aphrodite just stood there staring at her mother, I stepped forward, surprised by how calm my voice sounded. “Lenobia, this is Aphrodite’s mom. She says her husband has been killed.”
“Mrs. LaFont,” Lenobia reacted instantly. “There must be some mistake. It was one of our fledglings who met an untimely death tonight.”
“The only mistake about it is that more of you didn’t die tonight.” Mrs. LaFont whirled around, pointing an accusing finger toward the school wall where it met the main entrance and the open iron gate. I could just make out what looked like someone lying on the ground. “He is still there. Where he was left dead and drained by a vampyre!” Then she dissolved once more into hysterical sobs, this time clutching brokenly at her daughter.
“I will go.” Darius’s voice was strong and steady. He touched Aphrodite’s shoulder gently before he jogged to the dark shape. Once there, he crouched. He hesitated before he returned to us, standing and taking off his jacket, and draping it over what had to be a body. Then he returned to Aphrodite. She was still holding her sobbing mother. “I am sorry,” he told her. “It is your father, and he is dead.”