Authors: P. C. Cast
“Makes sense,” Aphrodite said. “We already know Neferet has something to do with fledglings un-dying. Obviously she wanted to use him, and her plan worked because he's definitely undead and under her control.” She looked pleased at her powers of deduction and upended the bottle of wine for another long drink.
“Guess I'm just lucky his aim wasn't so good now that he died and then came back,” Stevie Rae said.
“That's not it.” My mouth spoke before I could shut myself up. “He missed your heart on purpose.”
“What do ya mean?” Stevie Rae asked.
“Before Stark died, he told me about his gift from Nyx. He never misses. He can't. He always hits the mark he aims at.”
“Then if he missed killing Stevie Rae on purpose, that must mean he's not totally under Neferet's influence,” Damien said.
“He did say your name,” Erik said. His piercing blue eyes seemed to see deep inside me. “I remember that distinctly. Before he shot Stevie Rae he definitely recognized you. He even said he'd come back to you.”
“I was with him when he died,” I said, returning Erik's questioning gaze and trying not to look as guilty as I felt for being attracted to yet another guy besides him. “Right before he died I told Stark that fledglings at our House of Night were coming back from the dead. That's what he was talking about.”
“Well, there was obviously a connection between the two of you,” Darius said. “And it probably saved Stevie Rae's life.”
“But Stark definitely wasn't himself,” I said, looking away from Erik. It had just been a few days ago that I'd kissed Stark and he'd
died in my arms, but it seemed like forever had passed. “He was obviously under Neferet's influence, even if he was trying to resist her.”
“Yeah, it's like she put a spell on him or something,” Jack said.
“Hang on, that reminds me,” Damien said. “I definitely noticed how almost everyone acted awestruck and even a little disoriented when Kalona appeared.”
Venus snorted, sounding very much like Aphrodite at her most sarcastic (and least attractive). “Everyone except us.” She made a gesture that took in all of the red fledglings. “We knew he was evil and totally full of bullshit from the second we saw him.”
“How?” I asked abruptly. “How did you guys know? All the other fledglings, well, except us, actually fell to their knees at the sight of him. Even the Sons of Erebus warriors didn't move against him.” I'd felt drawn to him, too, but I didn't want to admit that in front of Venus.
Venus shrugged. “It was just obvious. Yeah, he was hot and all, but come on! He exploded from the ground after Stevie Rae bled all over it.”
I watched her closely, thinking that maybe the reason she recognized Kalona's evil was that she was too darn familiar with evil.
“Look, he had wings. That ain't right,” Kramisha added, fragmenting my attention. “My mama told me don't trust no white boy, even a pretty one. I'm thinkin' a pretty white boy with wings explodin' up from the ground in a mess of blood and ugly-ass bird things is double trouble.”
“She has a point,” said Jack, obviously forgetting he was a pretty white boy.
“I have to share something,” Damien said. We managed to pull our attention from Kramisha to him. “If I hadn't been in the middle of a fully cast circle, surrounded by you guys with Aphrodite yelling at us to stay together and get out of there, I might have fallen to my knees, too.”
I felt a prickle of unease. “What about you guys?” I asked the Twins.
“He was hot,” Shaunee said.
“Majorly,” Erin said. She looked at Shaunee. Her Twin nodded, so she continued, “He would've gotten to us, too. If Aphrodite hadn't been shrieking unattractively at us to keep the circle together, we'd still be back there in the middle of that mess.”
“Which would not be good,” Shaunee said.
“That's all I'm sayin',” Kramisha added.
“Again I save members of the nerd herd,” Aphrodite slurred.
“Just eat your sandwich,” I told her. Then I turned to Erik. “How about you? Did he make you want to .Â .Â . ?” I trailed off, not sure how to put it.
“Stay and worship him?” Erik inserted, and I nodded. “Well, I did feel his power. But, remember, I already knew something was up with Neferet. If she was into him, I figured I didn't want anything to do with him. So I just kept myself focused on other things.”
Our eyes met and held. Of course Erik had known it wasn't all good with Neferet, because he'd witnessed me confronting her. Plus, by then he'd realized I'd only cheated on him and been with the Vamp Poet Laureate, Loren Blake, because Neferet had set him up to seduce me and isolate me from my friends.
“So the red fledglings aren't affected by Kalona like regular fledglings are,” Darius was saying. “Although it seems regular fledglings can control the effect he has on them if they have to. And what Erik is describing, coupled with my reaction to him, tells me that perhaps vampyres are less susceptible to him than fledglings.” He paused and looked at Jack. “Did you want to stay and worship Kalona?”
Jack shook his head. “Nope. But I didn't really look at him that much. I mean, I was real worried about Stevie Rae, and then I was just thinking about staying with Damien. Plus, Duchess was upset about S-T-A-R-K.” He spelled the name while he petted Duchess. “And I had to take care of her.”
“Why weren't you affected by him?” I asked Darius.
I saw his eyes flit to Aphrodite, who was tipsily nibbling on a sandwich.
“I had other things on my mind.” He paused. “Although I did feel
his draw. And remember I'm in a slightly different position than my brother warriors. None of them have been as intimate with your group. When a Son of Erebus takes on an assignment of protection, as I did when I began escorting you and Aphrodite, it becomes a strong bond.” He gave me a warm smile. “Often a High Priestess is protected by the same group of warriors for her entire life. It is no accident that we are named after our Goddess's faithful consort, Erebus.”
I smiled back at him and hoped that Aphrodite wouldn't be a butt and break his honorable heart.
“What do you think is happening up there right now?” Jack asked suddenly.
Everyone looked at the curved ceiling of the little tunnel room, and I knew I wasn't the only one glad of the thickness of the earth between us and “up there.”
“I don't know,” I said, using the truthful answer instead of something meaningless like
I'm sure everything's going to be okay
. I thought hard, choosing my words carefully. “We know that an ancient immortal has broken free of the earth's imprisonment. We know that he brings with him creatures that are like demons, and that the last time he walked the earth he raped women and made men his slaves. We know that our High Priestess and maybe even what's left of the House of Night have, well, for lack of a better description, gone over to the Dark Side.”
Into the silent pause that followed my words Erik said, “A
analogy always works.”
I grinned at him, then sobered as I continued. “What we don't know is how much damage Kalona and the Raven Mockers have done in the community. Erik said there was some kind of electrical storm going on along with the rain and ice, but that might not have been caused by supernatural means. This is Oklahoma, and the weather can be totally bizarre.”
Home of dustnadoes and ice storms that kick ass,” Aphrodite said.
I stifled a sigh and ignored Imprinted Drunk Vision Girl. “But
then again, on the âwhat we do know' side is the fact that we're pretty safe down here. We have food and shelter and whatnot.”
At least I hoped we were okay down here
. I patted the bed I was sitting on, which really did have some cute light green linens on it. “Hey, speaking of the âand whatnot.' How did you guys get this stuff down here?” I asked Stevie Rae. “Not that I'm trying to be mean, but this bed and your table and fridges and other things are a serious improvement over the dirty rags and other grossness I saw down here a month or so ago.”
She gave me her cute Stevie Rae smile and said, “That's mostly thanks to Aphrodite.”
“Aphrodite?” I asked, lifting my brows and staring at her along with everyone else.
“What can I say? I've become the poster child for do-gooders. Thank god I'm attractive,” Aphrodite said and then belched like a guy. “Oops,
,” she slurred.
“Scusa?” Jack said.
“Italian, dork,” Aphrodite said. “Broaden your gay horizons.”
“So what does Aphrodite have to do with the stuff you have down here?” I interrupted what was sure to become some serious bickering.
“She bought this stuff. Actually, it was her idea,” Stevie Rae said.
“Scusa?” I said, not even trying to stifle my grin.
“I stayed down here for two days. Did you expect me to live in a hovel? Not hardly. Have credit cards, will decorate. I think that's on my family crest along with a very dry martini,” she said. “There's a Pottery Barn in Utica Square right down the street. They deliver. So does Home Depot, which is also not far from here, although I wasn't aware of that until one of the red freaks enlightened me because I do not shop at appliance stores.”
“They're not freaks,” Stevie Rae said.
“Oh, bite me,” Aphrodite said.
“She already has,” Venus said.
Aphrodite glared woozily in her direction, but before she could get out a drunken retort, the kid called Dallas said, “I knew the Home
Depot was there.” My friends and I looked at him. He shrugged. “I'm good at building things.”
“Home Depot and Pottery Barn delivered down here?” Erik said.
“Well, not technically,” Stevie Rae said. “But they do deliver to the Tribune Lofts which are practically next door. And with a little, uh, friendly persuasion they brought the stuff here and then totally forgot once they left. So, ta-da! New stuff.”
“I still don't understand. How could the humans have been persuaded to come down here?” Darius said.
I sighed. “Something you should know about red vampyresâ”
“And red fledglings, too, only it's not quite as strong with them,” Stevie Rae interrupted me.
“And red fledglings,” I corrected. “They have a mind-control thing they can do with humans.”
“That sounds a lot meaner than it is,” Stevie Rae assured Darius quickly. “I just tweaked the delivery guys' memories. I didn't mind-control them. We don't go in for using our powers to be all hateful and stuff.” She gave the group of red fledglings a look. “Right?”
The group muttered “Right,” but I noticed Venus didn't say anything, and Kramisha glanced around the room guiltily.
“They can control the minds of humans. They cannot bear direct sunlight. Their powers of recovery are excellent. They need to commune with the earth to feel truly comfortable,” Darius said. “Am I leaving anything else out?”
“Yeah,” Aphrodite said. “They bite.”
“That's it. I'm cutting you off,” I told Aphrodite as the red fledglings erupted into laughter.
“Aphroditeâshe crazy even when she not drunk and Imprinted,” Kramisha said. “We all used to her, though.”
“But, yes,” I continued, answering Darius through the laughter of the masses. “All of those things are true about the red fledglings.”
“And the one red vampyre.” Stevie Rae sounded tired but proud. “Oh, and I can also tell you that sunrise was exactly” âshe paused, cocking her head like she was listening to cricketsâ“sixty-three minutes ago.”
“All adult vampyres know when the sun rises,” Darius said.
“I'll bet it doesn't make all vamps as sleepy as it makes me.” Stevie Rae punctuated her words with a big yawn.
“No, it usually doesn't,” Darius said.
“Well, it makes me real sleepy,” she said. “Especially today, which I bet has somethin' to do with that stupid arrow that used to be stickin' through me.”
Since Stevie Rae had mentioned it, I was feeling majorly exhausted again now that my jolt o' blood had worn off. I looked around at our mixed group of red and blue and saw dark circles under eyes and lots of stifled yawns. Kalona and the problems at the House of Night nagged at my mind, as well as my increasingly strong feeling that everything was not as it seemed with the red fledglings, but I was too tired to deal with all of it.
Wishing I could burst into tears, I cleared my throat, refocused, and said, “How about we all get some sleep? We're fairly safe here, and there's really nothing any of us can do about what's going on upstairs when we're so tired we're all practically asleep on our feet.”
“Agreed,” Darius said. “But I think we should set watches at the entrances to the tunnelsâwith your approval, Priestess, just in case.”
“Yeah, that's probably smart,” I said. “Stevie Rae, are there any other entrances to the tunnels besides the one through the depot?”
“Z, I thought you knew that there're tunnels that connect to a bunch of the old downtown buildings,” Stevie Rae said. “This section is part of that system.”
“But no one comes down here and uses these particular tunnels except you guys, do they?”
“Well, no, not this part of them, 'cause everyone thinks they're old and nasty and abandoned.”
“Could be because they are old and nasty and abandoned,” Aphrodite slurred sarcastically. I noticed she'd ignored the fact that I'd cut her off and started on her second bottle of wine.
“That's not right. They ain't nasty and abandoned,” Kramisha spoke up, frowning at Aphrodite. “We're here and we been decorating. You should know 'cause we used your got-no-limit gold card to buy the stuff.”