I breathed a long, ragged sigh of relief. Automatically, I turned to Damien.
"Thank you, wind. You may depart." He started to blow out his candle, but didn't need to, a little puff of wind, which felt surprisingly playful, did it for him. Damien grinned at me. And then his eyes got huge and round.
"Zoey! Your Mark!"
"What?" I lifted my hand to my forehead. It tingled, as did my shoulders and my neck (which figured, I always get shoulder/neckaches when I'm over-stressed), plus my whole body was still humming with the aftereffects of elemental power, so I hadn't even noticed it.
His shocked look changed to happiness. "Finish closing the circle. Then you can use one of Erin's many mirrors to see what's happened."
I turned to Shaunee to say good-bye to fire.
"Wow...amazing," Shaunee said, staring at me.
"Hey, how did you know I have more than one mirror in my purse?" Erin was complaining from across the circle at Damien when I turned to her and sent water away. Her eyes got big when she caught a good look at me, too. "Holy shit!" she said.
"Erin, you really shouldn't curse in a sacred circle. Y'all know it's not--" Stevie Rae was saying in her sweet Okie twang when I turned to say good-bye to earth, and her words were suddenly cut off as she gasped, "Oh, my goodness!"
I sighed. Hell, what now? I went back to the table and lifted the spirit candle.
"Thank you, spirit. You may depart," I said.
"Why?" Aphrodite stood up so abruptly that she knocked over the chair. Like everyone else, she was staring at me with a ridiculously shocked expression. "Why you? Why not me?"
"Aphrodite, what are you talking about now?"
"She's talking about this." Erin handed me a compact she pulled out of the chic leather purse she always had slung over her shoulder.
I opened it and looked. At first I didn't understand what I was seeing--it was too foreign, too surprising. Then, from my side, Stevie Rae whispered, "It's beautiful..."
And I realized she was right. It was beautiful. My Mark had been added to. A delicate swirl of lace-like sapphire tattooing framed my eyes. Not as intricate and large as an adult vamp, but unheard of in a fledgling. I let my fingers trace the curling design, thinking that it looked like something that should decorate the face of an exotic foreign princess...or maybe the High Priestess of a goddess. And I stared hard at the me that wasn't really me-- this stranger who was becoming more and more familiar.
"And that's not all Zoey. Look at your shoulder," Damien said softly.
I glanced down at the deep, off-the-shoulder neckline of my cool dress and felt a jolt of shock surge through my body. My shoulder was tattooed, too. Stretching from my neck, down my shoulder and back, were sapphire tattoos in a swirling pattern much like that on my face, only the blue marks on my body looked even more ancient, even more mysterious, because they were interspersed with letter-like symbols. My mouth opened, but words wouldn't come out.
"Z, he needs help." Erik broke through my shock and I looked up from my shoulder to see him stumbling into the gazebo, half carrying an unconscious Heath.
"Whatever. Leave him here," Aphrodite said. "Someone will find him in the morning. We need to get out of here before the guards wake up."
I whirled on her. "And you ask why me and not you? Maybe because Nyx is sick and tired of you being selfish, spoiled, indulged, hateful..." I paused, so pissed I couldn't think of any more adjectives.
"Nasty!" Erin and Shaunee added together.
"Yeah, and a nasty bully." I took a step closer to her and got all in her face. "This whole Change is hard enough without someone like you. Unless we want to be your"--I glanced up at Damien and smiled--"your sycophants, you make us feel like we don't belong--like we're nothing. That's over, Aphrodite. What you did tonight was totally, completely wrong. You almost caused Heath to die. And maybe even Erik and who knows who else, and it was all because of your selfishness."
"It wasn't my fault your boyfriend tracked you here," she yelled.
"No, Heath wasn't your fault, but that's the only thing that wasn't your fault tonight. It was your fault that your so-called friends wouldn't stand by you and keep the circle strong. And it was your fault that negative spirits found the circle to begin with." She looked confused, which pissed me off even more. "Sage, you hateful hag! You're supposed to use sage to clear out negative energy before you use sweet grass. And it's not surprising that you drew such horrid spirits."
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