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“Priestess, I advise that you do not approach the building,” Kalona said, moving swiftly to her side, gently taking her elbow and trying to guide her back to the street.

“I must help them,” she said, shaking off his hand.

“Them?” Marx asked.

“Not all of the dead have moved on. Their end was too violent, too terrifying, too far beyond the realm of anything these poor people had ever imagined. I sense spirits so panicked that they are endlessly circling, unable to find their way from this realm to the next.”

“Can you help them?” Grandma called from over by the Hummer.

“Yes, I believe I can.”

“Try to do so quickly,” Kalona said.

“Should I cast a circle?” I asked.

“No, Zoey. You and everyone except Kalona stay safely back. This is something I must do on my own. Our Goddess has gifted me with everything I need”—she paused and smiled her appreciation at Kalona—“including a mighty protector. I must trust in the strength I draw from Nyx.”

“Do like Thanatos says, move back to the Hummer,” Stark said, pulling me back with him. Marx backed up more slowly, his eyes focused on Thanatos.

“Damien! Hey, Damien!” A young, handsome human suddenly rushed up.

Damien turned in time to get caught in a giant hug.

“Adam! You shouldn’t be here, it’s too dangerous,” Damien scolded him.

“Hey, I’m a journalist. I’m all about danger,” he said, grinning.

Finally, I recognized him. It was Adam Paluka, a newsman from Fox—the guy who had interviewed us after Neferet gave her ridiculous news conference. I knew he and Damien had been dating, and from the way they smiled at each other, I guessed things were going well. Jeesh, I’d been so wrapped up in what was going on with me that I hadn’t even thought to ask Damien how he was dealing with dating someone so soon after Jack—

“You need to get back behind the barrier,” Marx said, approaching Adam with a thundercloud look.

But just then Thanatos began her spellwork, drawing all of our attention to her.

The High Priestess raised her hands and closed her eyes. When she spoke, her restlessness was gone. Her words were rhythmic, mesmerizing; her voice was calm. She was strong and wise and beautiful—and I was proud to be a fledgling in a House of Night under her reign.

Spirits who still suffer here, come to me

My voice for you let it a lifeline be

Calmly, sweetly, my Goddess Gift sooths thee

All around Thanatos, the air began to sparkle, as if someone had tossed magickal, floating snow globes filled with glitter toward her.

“Oh my God! What’s happening? What’s that vampyre doing?” I was so focused on the spell Thanatos was casting that I barely acknowledged the background noise from the pressing crowd. I felt more than saw Adam lift his iPhone and I heard the little ping that meant he was recording. Stark squeezed my hand before he whispered, “Marx looks like he’s going to kick all of the reporters out. I’m gonna see what I can do to help him. Be sure you, your circle, and Grandma stay close to the Hummer.”

I nodded and vaguely understood Stark was arguing with Damien about making Adam leave while Marx began walking purposefully toward the barricade. But I never took my eyes from the High Priestess. I couldn’t. Thanatos commanded all of my focus.

I am your guide from this world’s pain to flee

Your terror is done; love has heard your plea

Calmly, sweetly, your spirits shall now be free!

The glowing orbs completely surrounded Thanatos. When she spoke the last line of her spell, she spread her arms wide and every one of the shining things rushed to her. Laughing in absolute joy, Thanatos, face illuminated with love, tossed her arms up. The sparkling orbs shot into the night sky like Fourth of July fireworks—only instead of leaving behind a foggy smoke, the disappearing globs left behind a ripple of relief and happiness that had me forgetting the stress of the situation—the horror of the blood and stench and Darkness-covered Mayo—had me forgetting everything except the fact that human or vampyre there was one constant among us all: love. Always love.

And then Neferet burst from the front of the building totally spoiling my happy moment. I thought she’d looked like Crazy Town before, but I’d been wrong. What she was now made all the earlier Neferet craziness look no more eccentric than an old cat lady who smelled vaguely of urine and catnip. She was wearing a short green dress. For a second I was almost relieved. I mean, she wasn’t naked. Okay, she didn’t have shoes on, but I thought that wasn’t that big a deal—until I actually looked at her feet. They were resting on a writhing nest of black tendrils that coiled and pulsed around her, wrapping up her ankles and calves, and actually lifting her off the sidewalk.

But that wasn’t even the most insane thing about Neferet. It was her eyes that gave away her crazy. Something had happened to her pupils—they were gone. They were like creepy marbles, completely emerald green.

“What’s wrong with her ey—” Adam began, but Neferet’s shriek cut him off.

“Death’s crone, you have no dominion over my Temple!” Neferet pointed at Thanatos, and two of the tendrils raced toward her.

Kalona moved so fast everything blurred. Suddenly he was there, between Thanatos and the attacking creatures. He’d shrugged off his coat and pulled free the ebony spear he’d strapped across his back. His wings unfurled as he met the tendrils, skewering one, and while it writhed in a death agony, he spun and sliced the other in half.

Neferet screamed, as if she could feel the pain of the severed tendrils. “Ignore Kalona! Kill Thanatos and then the others!”

Everything exploded.

Tendrils of Darkness, like poison spewing from a viper’s mouth, shot from around Neferet’s feet, attempting to swerve around Kalona to get to Thanatos and the rest of us. Stark sprinted back to me, pushing Grandma and me behind him and yelling for Damien, Adam, Shaunee, and Shaylin to get into the Hummer.

I stumbled backward, sure that I was going to watch Thanatos be sliced apart by Neferet’s creatures, probably only seconds before they attacked Stark and then devoured the rest of us.

But none of that happened. Darkness didn’t win this battle—the winged immortal did.

Kalona was everywhere. His spear moved so fast it made a thrumming noise in the air.

“Light saber,” Damien gasped. “For real and not Star Wars make-believe.”

“Get them to safety!” Kalona shouted at Marx.

Marx rushed to the High Priestess, and as Kalona used his body, his wings, and his spear to shield us, we piled into the Hummer.

“Hang on, everyone. I’m jumping the curb and getting him out of there!” Marx told us as the Hummer roared to life.

“Wait,” Thanatos said. “He’s coming to us. Watch the tendrils. Their strength dissipates as they get farther from Neferet.”

The High Priestess was right. Kalona, battered and bleeding, was still fighting the creatures, but he was working his way to us and away from the Mayo. And the threads weren’t following him.

As Kalona reached the rear of the Hummer, Neferet lifted her arms and commanded, “Return to me, children! I will succor you!” The snake-things slithered to her, wrapping themselves around her arms and legs. She stroked them, as if to comfort them, and just before she disappeared inside the Mayo, her blazing emerald gaze focused on us. “Thank you for the lesson. Next time I will win.”

Zoey

“No, truly, I do not need to go to your hospital,” Kalona repeated for like the zillionth time to Marx. “As I already said, bring me water—or, better yet, wine. I will go to the rooftop of this building and heal myself.”

We’d driven around the back of the ONEOK building and entered through the rear to join the Tulsa task force on the third floor. I could see why Marx was stressing over Kalona—he was a bloody mess. Everyone in the room was staring while they tried not to stare at him. Seriously, if he hadn’t been immortal, he’d have been in a body bag.

Marx blew out a breath and ran his fingers through his hair. “All right, I get it, I get it. You’re fine. Carter!” he yelled at a uniformed cop, who instantly stopped pretending to study his computer screen and gave the detective his full attention. “Find the CEO’s boardroom. There’ll be booze there.” Marx looked back at Kalona. “Will whiskey do? These corporate types seem to prefer it.”

“It will do,” Kalona said.

“Get on it,” Marx told Carter. “All right, while Kalona is recouping on the roof, let’s do damage control. Paluka, give me that phone and get out of here.”

“You can’t just take my phone! That’s illegal!”

“It’s evidence in an ongoing multiple homicide investigation. I’m not taking it. I’m impounding it,” Marx said.

“A moment, please, Detective,” Grandma said.

“Ma’am?” Marx and everyone looked at Grandma, perplexed.

Grandma smiled serenely. “Adam, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you are far from the only newsman who witnessed what just happened outside.”

“You aren’t wrong,” Adam said.

“Ah, as I thought. Which means there were probably multiple camera crews filming from behind that police barricade, not to mention random cell phone recordings, much like the one you made.”

I heard Marx sigh as Adam said, “Right again, ma’am.”

Grandma and Thanatos exchanged a look, and then the High Priestess took up where Grandma had led. “Mr. Paluka, how would you like an exclusive interview with Kalona and me?”

Adam’s eyes sparkled with excitement, but otherwise he remained completely professional. “I would like that very much, High Priestess.”

“Then you shall have it.” Thanatos glanced at Marx. “Sometimes it’s easier to give up control and let fate handle whatever comes next.”

“At least clean off some of his blood first,” Marx muttered. “And get me a fistful of Tylenol.”

Zoey

Kalona did attempt to clean off the blood that had been seeping from long whip-like wounds, and smaller, deeper bite-sized gouges that crisscrossed and dotted his body. I thought he still looked pretty beat up, and he was still bleeding some, but he was acting totally normal—strong, silent, intimidating. Thanatos did make him put on the long coat. She said that his wings made a big enough appearance in the battle clip Adam was going to show during the interview. Silently, I agreed with her, but I also thought the coat was good cover for the wounded mess underneath it. For once I managed to keep my mouth shut and let others deal with the Neferet aftermath while I got to sit out of the spotlight. It was a little moment of relaxation for me as I curled up beside Stark while Grandma, Damien, Shaylin, Shaunee, and I watched what I couldn’t even have imagined a couple of months ago—Kalona being interviewed on Tulsa TV.

Adam had called in a lighting crew and a cameraman. I thought they were doing a really good job of not gawking too continuously at Kalona. Adam explained to everyone that he was going to upload and play a clip of the battle, and then he’d begin the interview. He also explained that it would be airing live as breaking news.

“Man, I’m glad that’s not us over there,” I whispered.

“Adam is doing an excellent job.” Damien spoke softly, his eyes smiling at the newsman.

“I like him,” I said.

Damien met my gaze. “Do you think Jack would like him?”

I reached past Stark and squeezed Damien’s hand. “I know he would.”

Damien nodded and blinked back tears. “Somehow that makes it easier, only a little easier, but I’m grateful for that little.”

Then our attention was on Adam as the blinking red light on the camera went solid and we watched the footage of Kalona’s battle play on the portable prompter.

“This is Adam Paluka, live, with the vampyre and the Warrior we just saw in that amazing footage taken moments ago in front of the Mayo Hotel, downtown Tulsa, when the High Priestess known as Neferet attacked several innocent citizens, including me.” Adam paused, then smiled warmly at Kalona. “I haven’t thanked you for saving my life. Thank you!”

Kalona looked surprised, almost shy. He nodded once and said, “You are welcome.”

“Kalona was doing his duty. He is my Oath Bound Warrior. Neferet, who is no longer recognized by any vampyre authority as a Priestess of Nyx, attacked me and those with me. It was Kalona’s duty to protect us,” Thanatos said.

“Thanatos, it is good to be speaking with you again. Many of our viewers will recognize you as the new High Priestess of Tulsa’s House of Night. Could you explain what you were doing in front of the Mayo?”

The High Priestess drew a deep breath and then spoke slowly and clearly, as if she wanted to be sure everyone understood her. “By now you will know what we had only suspected before now, that Neferet is utterly mad and has gone rogue. She has admitted to a killing spree. She murdered Tulsa’s mayor. She murdered two men in Woodward Park. From there her killing spread to the innocents at the Boston Avenue Church Sunday morning, and then to the Mayo Hotel, where she has barricaded herself. The deaths she caused at the Mayo have allowed her to create a protective shield over the building. I was drawn there because of my Goddess-given affinity, which is to aid souls as they pass from this world to the next.”

“Those glowing lights! They were souls?”

Thanatos nodded. “They were indeed. They had been trapped on this realm because of the violent manner of their deaths. I simply helped them to become untrapped.”

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