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Revealed hon-11, Page 4

P. C. Cast

  Mrs. LaFont’s sobs became a horrible, keening wail. The rest of the crowd had begun to whisper with a restlessness that felt like anger and fear combined. The panic that was building was almost a tangible thing. I knew if someone didn’t say or do something quickly, an already awful night could potentially turn dangerous. I raised my voice, glad I still sounded way calmer than I felt.

  “Aphrodite, you need to take your mom into the school. Darius, call 911 and tell them that the mayor is dead. Lenobia, Stark, Sister Mary Angela, and the Benedictine nuns, please help these people to their cars. I’ll help get Aphrodite and her mom settled and then go find Thanatos. She’ll know what to do.”

  People had actually started to move and do what I’d told them to do when Aphrodite’s mom suddenly pulled away from her daughter. “No!” she shrieked, shaking her head and causing the last of her bound hair to fly loose around her shoulders. “I won’t go inside that building ever again. They killed my husband!”

  “Mother,” Aphrodite tried to reason with her. “We don’t know how Dad died. He had high blood pressure. He might have had a heart attack.”

  “His throat was ripped open and his blood was sucked from his body. That is not a heart attack. That is a vampyre attack!” her mother shouted at her.

  I glanced at Darius for confirmation. He nodded slightly and continued to speak into his phone.

  Ah, hell.

  “Mrs. LaFont, if it was a vampyre attack I promise you that we will find the killer and bring him or her to justice,” Lenobia said solemnly.

  “It’s just like your ex-High Priestess said—you are violent! That’s why she broke with you. We should have listened to her. We should have all listened to her. Poor Neferet was only your first victim…” Mrs. LaFont sobbed.

  “I’m going to make sure the humans continue to leave. Zoey, get that woman’s mouth under control,” Lenobia whispered to us as she hurried past Stark and me. Then she raised her voice. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, again I apologize for the tragedies tonight. Let the good sisters and me help you to your cars. The Tulsa police will be here soon, and the last thing they need is to have their crime scene polluted.”

  “I better help her,” Stark murmured.

  “No, you better help me.” I grabbed his hand. He gave me a question mark look. I lowered my voice and leaned into him. “You heard Lenobia. Her mouth needs to be shut. I need some of your red vampyre mojo,” I explained.

  His eyes got big, but he nodded and whispered back, “What do you want me to do?”

  “Let her cry, but no more screaming or shouting,” I said quietly.

  He nodded again, and we went to Aphrodite, who was staring helplessly at her sobbing mom.

  I met Aphrodite’s gaze, willing her to understand the true meaning of my words. “Stark’s going to talk to your mom. Is that okay with you?”

  Aphrodite’s eyes flicked to Stark, then to her mom, before coming back to me. “Yeah. Actually, I think that’s a really good idea.” She took her mom’s elbow and, speaking to her quietly, said, “Mom, you’re right. We don’t need to go inside the school. But there’s a pretty courtyard right over there, away from the vampyres. Why don’t you and I sit at one of the benches while we wait for the police to get here? Okay?”

  “The human police! I want the human police to find your father’s vampyre killer!”

  “Like Lenobia said, the human police are on their way. Right now Stark and Zoey are going to come with us while we wait. You know, Stark’s not a normal vampyre. He’s a Guardian. He’s, uh, worked with the police before—the human police,” Aphrodite fictionalized as she guided her mom away from the crowd and toward the small, dark courtyard just outside the professors’ quarters. “So, Mom, I want you to let Stark ask you some questions while we wait for the human policemen to get here.”

  Stark stepped up, nodded at Aphrodite, and then took her place beside Mrs. LaFont. “Ma’am, I’m really sorry about your husband,” he said in a soft, charming voice. Even I could hear the mesmerizing red vampyre magick within it as he continued. “I’m going to make sure you’re safe and all I want you to do right now is to go with me to the courtyard and cry quietly there. It would really be helpful if you didn’t scream or shout anymore.”

  Aphrodite and I let out twin sighs of relief when we heard her echo back to him, “I’ll go with you to the courtyard and cry quietly there. No screaming or shouting.”

  “Are you okay?” I asked Aphrodite while we followed Stark and her mom.

  She moved her shoulders. “I don’t know. They—I mean my parents—they have never liked me. Actually, they’ve been mean to me for as long as I can remember. Seriously, it was a relief to have them out of my life. But it feels weird and sad to know my dad’s body is over there by the wall.”

  I nodded and linked my arm with hers, wanting to reassure her with touch, even though I knew she wasn’t usually a toucher. “I totally understand what you mean. When my mom died it hadn’t mattered that she’d been mean to me for years, and picked the step-loser over me. All that mattered was that I’d lost my mom.”

  “She was hugging me while she cried,” Aphrodite said, sounding young and broken. “I can’t remember the last time she hugged me.”

  I couldn’t think of anything to say in response to that, so I just stood there with Aphrodite, holding tightly to her, and listening to her mom’s sobs while the sound of police sirens got closer and closer.

  I was glad to see Detective Marx again, even though the circumstances were what Stark later called a complete and total cat herd. Marx, at least, wasn’t a vampyre-hating human. He had nice brown eyes, and I remembered how they lit up when he’d told me about his twin sister and how even after she’d been Marked and gone through the Change, the two of them had still kept in contact. It was nice to know that at least one cop in Tulsa wasn’t going to open the doors to a human lynch mob because Stark’s red vamp mojo ran out super fast, and Aphrodite’s mom was definitely in a pro-lynch mob state of mind.

  “Arrest them!” Mrs. LaFont hurled the words at the detective. “Arrest all of them! A vampyre did this, and a vampyre should pay for it.”

  “Ma’am, whoever is responsible should pay for this crime, which is why I’m going to thoroughly and carefully investigate your husband’s murder. I will find who did this. I give you my word on it. But I cannot, and will not, arrest every vampyre at this school.”

  “Thank you, Detective. As High Priestess here I agree with and appreciate your professionalism, as well as your integrity.” I was super relieved to hear Thanatos’s authoritative voice. “Please be assured we will cooperate fully with your investigation. We, too, want the mayor’s killer to be found and brought to justice, as we do not believe a vampyre to be responsible for this tragedy.”

  “My husband’s throat was ripped out and his blood was sucked from his body! That is a vampyre attack.” Mrs. LaFont’s eyes slitted at Thanatos. Her voice was filled with venom.

  “It certainly looks like a vampyre attack,” Thanatos agreed. “Which is the first reason to doubt that a vampyre committed this crime. Why would a vampyre kill the mayor of Tulsa at the House of Night during one of our open houses, and leave his body at our front gate to be discovered by humans as well as vampyres? It makes no sense.”

  “You prey on humans. That makes no sense!”

  “Ladies, please, arguing does not help,” Detective Marx tried to intercede, but Mrs. LaFont ignored him.

  “Do you deny that you are intimately allied with Death?” She snapped the question at Thanatos.

  “My Goddess-given affinity is, indeed, an affinity for death. I have a gift that enables me to help the spirits of the dead find their way to the Otherworld.”

  “Is that what you were doing with my husband? Seducing and trapping him? Helping him find his way to a fictitious vampyre otherworld?” Her voice got louder and louder with each question she hurled at Thanatos.

  “Of course not, Mrs. LaFont. I had nothing to do with your
husband’s death.” Thanatos turned to Detective Marx. “You may question any of the people who were at the open house tonight. I was always in view of the public. Even when tragedy struck and one of our fledglings rejected the Change and died, I remained accessible to our faculty and our students.”

  “A fledgling died here tonight as well?” the detective asked.

  Thanatos nodded. “She will be missed.”

  “Why are you asking her about the fledgling? Everyone knows they could drop dead at any second. That’s normal for their kind. My husband was killed by a vampyre. That is not normal!”

  “If a vampyre did kill my father, I can promise you that vampyre isn’t part of this school!” Aphrodite suddenly said. Then, when everyone was staring at her, she bit her lip and looked away uncomfortably.

  “Are you saying you know who killed your father?” Aphrodite’s mom sounded like she was entering Crazy Town again.

  Aphrodite swallowed hard and then surprised me by blurting: “The only vampyre I know who would do something like this is one who would want to set up the House of Night to take the blame.” She paused, and I tried to catch her gaze and telegraph a big DON’T SAY IT look, but Aphrodite was staring at her mom, like she could actually make Frances LaFont believe her. “Mom, our old High Priestess, Neferet, has a big grudge against us, all of us. She’s mean, Mom. Worse, she’s evil. She’d do something like this.”

  “That’s ludicrous, Aphrodite! Neferet was a friend of your father’s. He appointed her to be a liaison between vampyres and the city. She wouldn’t have killed him!”

  “Neferet was just using Dad and the city,” Aphrodite insisted. “She’s never wanted to make friends with humans. She hates humans. Actually, the only thing she hates more than a human is our House of Night, especially after she was kicked out of here. So it makes perfect sense that she’d kill Tulsa’s mayor at the House of Night during our open house. She knows it’ll make major problems between humans and vampyres.”

  “High Priestess?” Marx turned to Thanatos before Mrs. LaFont could chime in. “What do you know about Neferet and her motives?”

  “As I said in an interview for Fox News more than a week ago, Neferet has been let go by our House of Night. I believe what Aphrodite is saying does make sense. Neferet was very angry with us.”

  “Angry enough to kill?” the detective asked.

  Thanatos sighed. “I’m afraid she is capable of great violence. That is one of the reasons the High Council stripped her of her position here and her title of High Priestess of Nyx. Despite what she said to the mayor and the City Council members, Neferet was the one who advocated violence against humans, and not us.”

  “If you knew she was violent, you should have come to us with your concerns,” said Marx grimly.

  “They didn’t come to you because what they’re saying is a bunch of lies!” Mrs. LaFont exploded. “Just tonight some of the City Council members, Charles, and I were talking about how odd it is that Neferet’s penthouse had been vandalized, and that she then disappeared, all after she took a public stand against what has been going on here at the House of Night. Charles himself said he suspected foul play.”

  Aphrodite looked totally shocked. “Mom, you can’t really believe that.”

  “Of course I do! Neferet had the strength to speak out against vampyre killers. Your father took her side. And now she is missing and your father is dead.” She turned her blazing gaze on the detective. “And just exactly what are you going to do about these heinous crimes?”

  “Mrs. LaFont, please—” the detective began, but LaFont interrupted him. “No, I’ve had enough of this. My husband is dead, and I will not sit passively by with his murder and allow blame to be cast onto the blameless. I’m going home. I’m calling my attorney. None of you have heard the last of me.” Her spiteful blue eyes found Aphrodite. “And you’re coming with me. Let’s go. Now.”

  Mrs. LaFont had walked several steps from us before she realized her daughter wasn’t following her. She stopped, turned, and lifted her lip in a sneer that looked so like Aphrodite at her very worst that I know I must have gawked like a tourist. “Aphrodite, I said you’re coming home with me. Now. And I meant it.”

  “No,” Aphrodite said simply. I thought she sounded really tired, but her voice was steady. “I am home, and this is where I’m staying.”

  “Your father’s killer is one of them!”

  “Mom, I already told you, if a vampyre killed Dad, it’s not one of these guys.”

  “Aphrodite, I’m not going to tell you to come with me again.”

  “Good. That means I won’t have to tell you no again. I’m sorry Dad is dead, and that means you’re alone. But I haven’t lived with you for almost four years. You’re really not my family anymore.”

  “Detective, can I force her to come with me?” Mrs. LaFont asked him.

  “Actually, that’s a good question.” The detective looked from Aphrodite to Thanatos. “I don’t see a crescent on her forehead. Is her Mark covered for some reason?”

  “No. Aphrodite is an unusual member of the House of Night. She was once Marked, but her crescent disappeared, though the gifts Nyx gave her when she was a fledgling did not disappear, hence the fact that our High Council has named her a Prophetess of Nyx. So, though Aphrodite is not fledgling nor vampyre, she has been Chosen by our Goddess, and will always have a home at the House of Night.”

  Detective Marx blew out a long breath. “Well, being Marked and Chosen by Nyx means that Aphrodite was emancipated from her human parents. Though the circumstances are odd, I’d say that with the ruling of the Vampyre High Council, her emancipation remains valid. Mrs. LaFont, I believe the answer to your questions is no, I cannot force your daughter to go with you.”

  “Aphrodite.” Mrs. LaFont’s voice was frigid. “Will you do as I say and come home with me, or will you choose to remain with your father’s murderers?”

  “I choose my real family and my real home,” Aphrodite said with no hesitation, sliding her hand into Darius’s and holding tightly to him as her mother spewed venom at her.

  “Then I wish I’d never given birth to you. Don’t ever call me your mother again. Don’t ever speak to me again. I deny your existence completely. You are as dead to me as is your father.” Mrs. LaFont turned her back to her daughter and walked quickly away.

  In the silence her mother had left behind, Aphrodite’s voice seemed very small when she said, “I’d like to really go home now. I’ll be on the bus, waiting for you guys to get done here.”

  “Bus?” Detective Marx asked.

  “Yes,” Thanatos spoke wearily. “Some of our students and vampyres have chosen to live together off campus. Dawn is nearing. They really should be returning to their home.”

  “Is this new off-campus housing because there is a new kind of vampyre?” He glanced at Stark’s red tattoos. “A red vampyre?”

  “There is, indeed, as Neferet announced in her public interview, a new type of vampyre among us, and some of them are among the fledglings and vampyres who have chosen to live off campus,” Thanatos said, her voice growing wary.

  “And is what Neferet said about these new vampyres also true?”

  “If you mean the part about us being violent and dangerous—no. That’s not true,” Stark said, meeting the detective’s gaze.

  The detective hesitated, and then, with terrible finality, he said, “High Priestess, I am going to have to insist none of your fledglings or vampyres be allowed to leave campus until we have investigated tonight’s crime more thoroughly and are able to rule out a killer being from your House of Night. If you require one, I’m positive I can wake up a judge and get an injunction ordering your campus to remain closed, but I have to tell you I think it would look better if an official order wasn’t necessary.”

  With no visible hesitation, Thanatos said, “There is no need for an injunction. I will voluntarily comply with your request. Zoey, tell the students to get off the bus. Until further notice, e
veryone will be living on campus.”



  “I don’t know which is worse, the fact that the asshole police aren’t letting us go home to the depot tunnels, or the fact that I’ve actually started thinking of those shitty tunnels as home,” Aphrodite muttered as she dug through her purse. “Where the hell is my bottle of Xanax?”

  “Let me help you, my beauty.” Darius gently took the Red Valentino purse from Aphrodite, unzipped a little side pocket within, and pulled out the pill bottle. “Xanax or wine, not both,” he said, holding the bottle just out of her reach.

  “My dad is dead,” she said flatly.

  “I think the point is, Darius doesn’t want to see you dead, too,” Zoey said, plopping heavily down on the couch next to her in the little infirmary waiting room. “I get what you’re feeling, and I know it might seem like a good idea to make yourself totally numb tonight, but there’s no way to escape the death of a parent.”

  “Even a shitty parent?” Aphrodite asked Z.

  “Yeah, even one of those,” Zoey nodded knowingly. “You’re going to have to deal with it sometime. From my experience I’d say that it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.”

  Aphrodite frowned, but put down the bottle of red wine she’d been drinking straight out of. “Fine. I choose Xanax.”

  “But only one,” Darius insisted.

  “Again, fine. Just give it to me. Even semi-numb sounds really good right now.”

  Darius was putting the little blue pill in Aphrodite’s palm when Shaunee’s voice caused her to look up in surprise. “I don’t want to be numb. Not even semi-numb.” Shaunee entered the waiting room, followed by Stevie Rae, Rephaim, Damien, and Thanatos. “If I’m numb I might forget what happened tonight, and that means I’ll forget the last night of Erin’s life. Her life deserves to be remembered. And, Aphrodite, your dad’s life deserves to be remembered, too.”