Lenobia nodded in approval as the mare and I got to know each other.
"There are only about five minutes left before the bell rings for school to end, so it is not necessary that you stay as part of today's class, but if you'd like, I believe you have earned the privilege of brushing Persephone."
Surprised, I looked up from patting the horse's neck. "No problem, I'll stay," I heard myself saying.
"Excellent. You can return the brush to the tack room when you've finished. I'll see you tomorrow, Zoey." Lenobia handed me the brush, patted the mare, and left us alone in the stall.
Persephone stuck her head in the metal rack that held fresh hay, and got to work chewing, while I got to work brushing. I'd forgotten how relaxing it was to groom a horse. Bunny had died of a sudden and very scary heart attack two years ago, and Grandma had been too upset to get another horse. She'd said that "the rabbit" (which is what she used to call him) couldn't be replaced. So it had been two years since I'd been around a horse, but it came back to me instantly--all of it. The smells, the warm, soothing sound of a horse eating, and the gentle shoosh the curry brush made as it slid over the mare's slick coat.
At the edge of my attention I vaguely heard Lenobia's voice, sharp and angry, as she totally chewed out a student I guessed was the annoying redheaded kid. I peeked over Persephone's shoulder and took a quick look down the stall line. Sure enough, the redheaded kid was slouched in front of his stall. Lenobia stood beside him, hands on her hips. Even from the side view I could see she was mad as hell. Was it that kid's mission to piss off every teacher here? And his mentor was Dragon? Okay, the guy looked nice, until he picked up a sword--uh, I mean foil--then he shifted from nice guy to deadly-dangerous-vampyre-warrior-guy.
"That redheaded slug kid must have a death wish," I told Persephone as I returned to her grooming. The mare twitched an ear back at me and blew through her nose. "Yep, I knew you'd agree. Wanta hear my theory about how my generation could single-handedly wipe out slugs and loser kids from America?" She seemed receptive, so I launched into my Don't Procreate with Losers speech....
"Zoey! There you are!"
"Ohmygod! Stevie Rae! You scared the poo out of me!" I patted and reassured Persephone, who had shied when I'd squealed. "What in the world are ya doin'?"
I waggled the curry brush in her direction. "What does it look like I'm doing, Stevie Rae, getting a pedicure?"
"Stop messing around. The Full Moon Ritual is gonna start in like two minutes?"
"Ah, hell!" I gave Persephone one more pat and hurried out of the stall to the tack room.
"You forgot all about it, didn't you?" Stevie Rae said, holding my hand to help me balance while I kicked my feet out of the rubber boots and put my cute little ballet slippers back on.
"No," I lied.
Then I realized that I'd also forgotten all about the Dark Daughters' ritual afterward.
About halfway to Nyx's Temple I realized that Stevie Rae was being unusually quiet. I glanced sideways at her. Was she also looking pale? I got a creepy walk-over- your-grave feeling.
"Stevie Rae, is something wrong?"
"Yeah, well, it's sad and kinda scary."
"What is? The Full Moon Ritual?" My stomach started to hurt.
"No, you'll like that--or at least you'll like this one." I knew she meant, versus the Dark Daughters' ritual I had to go to afterward, but I didn't want to talk about that. Stevie Rae's next words made the whole issue of the Dark Daughters seem like a small, secondary problem. "A girl died last hour."
"How they all die. She didn't make the Change, and her body just..." Stevie Rae paused, shuddering. "It happened near the end of Tae Kwan Do class. She'd been coughing, like she was short of breath at the beginning of our warm-up exercises. I didn't think anything of it. Or maybe I did, but I put it out of my mind."
Stevie Rae gave me a small, sad smile and she looked ashamed of herself.
"Is there any way to save a kid? After, you know, they start--" I broke off and made a vague, uncomfortable gesture.
"No. There's no way you can be saved if your body starts to reject the Change."
"Then don't feel bad about not wanting to think about the girl who was coughing. There's nothing you could have done anyway."
"I know. I just...it was awful. And Elizabeth was so nice."
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