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“Wow, that’s incredible!”

Thanatos’s smile was beautiful. “The circle of life is, indeed, incredible.”

“Yes, it sure is—Hang on, Thanatos. That means those were human souls you helped pass on.”

“Yes,” she said serenely.

“But you’re a vampyre.”

The High Priestess’s smile widened. “I thought we had already established that.”

“Yeah.” Adam ran his hand through his perfect hair. “But one of your own kind attacked you because you were helping human souls.”

“Adam, I have lived for more than five hundred years, and in that time I have learned that humanity is defined by choice and not by genetics. Quite simply, humans and vampyres are more alike than different.”

“Obviously Neferet doesn’t think the way you do,” Adam said.

“Neferet is mad. Her thoughts are erratic and dangerous.”

“What were those things she sent after us?” Adam asked.

“Evil that has taken tangible form. They follow Neferet’s commands—as long as she sacrifices to keep them loyal to her.” Thanatos turned her gaze directly to the camera. “I cannot stress too much that it is imperative that no matter what Neferet threatens, no humans go near the Mayo. Neferet gets power from death. Stay away from the Mayo, and her power source will, eventually, end.”

Adam paused, looked shocked, and then glanced off camera. “Detective Marx, do you agree with Thanatos’s request regarding the Mayo?”

The cameraman turned toward an annoyed-looking Detective Marx. Unflappable, he answered without hesitation, “I do. TPD has set up roadblocks around the Mayo. No one, not even police or military personnel, is allowed near the building.”

“Isn’t it true that Neferet has hostages inside the Mayo?” Adam asked.

“It is, but at this time we don’t know names or numbers,” Marx said. “I understand that people will be missing their loved ones. TPD has opened a 1-800 line for inquiries and missing person calls. The public should address their questions through that line.”

“Which Fox 23 will scroll across the bottom of the screen,” Adam said.

“Thank you,” Marx said, though he didn’t look particularly thankful.

“Detective Marx, I must ask—if you won’t allow anyone near the Mayo, how will Neferet be stopped?” Adam said.

“She will be stopped by me, and by those vampyres and fledglings who fight beside me. Neferet is of our kind—and it is our kind who must defeat her,” Kalona said.

All of us, including the cameraman, focused on the winged immortal.

“Kalona, you are not a vampyre, correct?” Adam said.

“Correct.”

“Then what are you?”

He didn’t even hesitate—he said it as if he was talking about what he’d had for dinner the night before. “I am Kalona, immortal brother of Erebus. Once, when the earth was younger, I was Warrior and companion to the Goddess, Nyx, but I chose poorly and because of that I Fell from the side of my Goddess in the Otherworld to this realm.”

There was a long, breathless silence, and then Adam asked, “What are you doing here?”

Kalona’s broad shoulders straightened and he looked directly into the camera. “I am trying to atone for my past mistakes and gain the forgiveness of Nyx.”

“Well”—Adam swallowed audibly—“it seems to me like you’re doing a pretty good job of atonement. You saved your High Priestess, a bunch of vampyres and fledglings, a detective, and me. If you can manage to stop Neferet, I’ll start calling you Superman.”

Kalona’s full lips turned up. “If you see Nyx, I would appreciate you telling her that.”

“Consider it done,” Adam said. Then he turned to Thanatos. “Is there anything you’d like to add, High Priestess? Any way the public can help?”

“There is,” she said. “They can pray and send positive thoughts and energy to us. The House of Night will do its best to protect the people of Tulsa, but we appreciate divine intervention.”

“Pray? To whom, God or Goddess?” Adam said.

“Why, to either or both, of course. I like to believe prayers aren’t tethered to semantics.”

Adam smiled. “I like to believe that, too.” He turned to the camera. “Let’s all pray for an end to Neferet’s insanity and the violence that has erupted because of it in Tulsa. And that’s the latest from the standoff at the Mayo. This is Adam Paluka reminding you to stay tuned to Fox 23 for all the breaking news.”

“The brother of Erebus. Isn’t that interesting?” Grandma said as Adam shook Thanatos’s hand and thanked her and Kalona for the interview.

“Did you know he was Erebus’s brother?” Damien whispered to me.

“Well, uh, yeah,” I said. “He did mention it a few days ago.”

“But we’ve been kinda busy since then,” Stark said.

Damien rubbed his forehead. “I vaguely remember in an anthology of ancient vampyre poetry a few mentions of the Son of the Moon and Warrior of Night, along with the usual descriptions of Erebus as Son of the Sun and Consort of Nyx. Initially, I assumed they were just different names for Erebus, but in retrospect it makes more sense that they were talking about two different immortals.”

“It makes Kalona’s centuries of rage more understandable,” Grandma said.

“Yeah, to have gone from the Warrior and companion of Nyx to not even being allowed entrance to the Otherworld. That must really hurt,” Damien said, watching Kalona with big, sad eyes.

“He raped and murdered people. Who knows what he did in the Otherworld before he Fell. Don’t feel too sorry for him,” Stark said.

“Everyone deserves a second chance, Tsi-ta-ga-a-s-ha-ya,” Grandma said, using Rooster, the Cherokee nickname she’d given him. “I remember not long ago, you were given a second chance.”

Stark looked at his feet.

I drew a deep breath and said, “So was I.”

Grandma raised her brows in a question.

“Today I was given a second chance,” I explained. I looked from Grandma to my friends, one at a time, and finally my gaze found Stark’s. “We’re a whole team of people who have needed second chances. I’m glad Kalona’s getting his with us.”

Grandma touched my arm. “Someday you should tell him that, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. I think you will be surprised at what a difference your words could make.”

CHAPTER TEN

Aphrodite

“Holy crap! You will not effing believe what’s just gone viral on YouTube!” Nicole ran up the stairs from the auditorium to the stage, waving her iPad like a crazy person.

Aphrodite glared at her and brushed the iPad away. “Seriously? The assembly just ended. You were on YouTube when I was speaking?”

“Seriously.” Nicole rolled her eyes. “Get over it. Everyone was on YouTube. You have to check this out.” She shoved the iPad at Aphrodite.

“Being a teacher is a pain in the ass. Teenagers suck,” Aphrodite said, still ignoring the iPad.

“Ohmygoodness, is that Kalona? On YouTube?” Stevie Rae pushed around Aphrodite to peek at the screen.

“What? Kalona?” Lenobia hurried to join Stevie Rae, with Darius and Rephaim close behind.

“Fine. I’ll look. Now that I’m done telling the entire student body that we’re going to have to save the world. Again.” Aphrodite glanced at the screen and her eyes went huge and round. “Oh, for shit’s sake! What took you so long to tell us? Turn that damn thing up!” She grabbed the iPad, tapped the replay button, and turned the volume up all the way.

The video wasn’t professional, but the beginning of it was super clear. First, it focused on Thanatos. She was standing in front of a seriously messed-up-looking building that appeared to be covered with a slimy black curtain. They watched as the High Priestess finished her spellwork, raising her arms and cradling a bunch of beautiful glowing orbs. When they whooshed off into the sky, the video was still focused on Thanatos, but in the background they could hear Neferet yelling.

“Death’s crone, you have no dominion over my Temple!”

The video shifted so that they could see Neferet standing in front of what had to be the Mayo.

“She’s a bunch of fries short of a Happy Meal,” Stevie Rae said.

Aphrodite didn’t take her eyes off the screen. “That’s all you got, bumpkin?”

“I’d say crazier than a shit house rat,” Nicole said.

“No one asked—” Aphrodite began, but the explosion on the video cut off her words.

“Oh, Goddess, no!” Lenobia gasped as they watched Neferet blast a wave of Darkness after Thanatos and the rest of them.

“Father’s saving them!” Rephaim said.

“Look at him move.” Darius’s voice was hushed, respectful. “His speed and strength are incredible.”

Aphrodite didn’t get a chance to agree. The video ended with whoever was taking it jostling around to get inside the school’s Hummer, though he still managed to film Neferet and her bloody tentacles of Darkness slithering back inside the Mayo.

Then the interview began, and Aphrodite had to tell herself to close her unattractively gaping mouth because there sat Kalona, next to Thanatos—wings and all—on Fox 23.

“I am Kalona, immortal brother of Erebus. Once, when the earth was younger, I was Warrior and companion to the Goddess Nyx, but I chose poorly and because of that I Fell from the side of my Goddess in the Otherworld to this realm.”

“Erebus’s brother? You’ve got to f**king be kidding!” Aphrodite felt like her brain was going to explode.

“It is the truth,” Darius said quietly as the video concluded.

The screen went dark and Aphrodite stared at him. “You knew?”

“Yes, Kalona told us—Zoey, Stark, me,” Darius admitted.

“And none of you thought that was important enough to tell any of the rest of us?” Lenobia asked, looking almost as annoyed as Aphrodite felt.

Darius’s wide shoulders shrugged. “Honestly, I didn’t give the truth of it much thought. Kalona’s veracity has been more than questionable since the moment he appeared here.”

“But now you believe him,” Rephaim said.

Darius met his gaze. “I do.”

“Rephaim, did you know your daddy was Erebus’s brother?” Stevie Rae asked.

Bird Boy’s eyes looked sad. “Father never speaks of before.”

“Which means no, you did not?” Aphrodite asked.

“Correct,” Rephaim said, sounding eerily like his father.

“This changes things,” Lenobia said.

“Yeah, in an awesome way.” Nicole nodded like a bobblehead. “It means we have Nyx’s Warrior on our team.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Aphrodite said dryly. “It means we have Nyx’s ex-Warrior who screwed up so badly he got kicked out of the Otherworld on our team. And that isn’t so awesome.”

“He said he’s trying to atone,” Rephaim said.

“And he saved Thanatos and the rest of them,” Darius said.

“Sorry, but I’m not ready to jump blindly on Team Kalona,” Aphrodite said.

“I think it is blind to ignore what is in front of our eyes,” Rephaim said, gesturing at the dark iPad screen.

“And I think there’s a whole bunch of stuff about Kalona we don’t know.” She paused and gave Darius a hard look. “Or at least most of us don’t know. Now, if there isn’t something you’d rather do, I’d appreciate it if you’d round up all of the fledglings you think might have some Warrior talent. I’m pretty sure Thanatos is going to want a battle-ready head count. After watching Crazy on YouTube, I have a feeling Neferet’s not going to give a shit about Team Kalona.” Aphrodite slapped her forehead and then added sarcastically, “Wait! Effing Neferet probably already knows about the Kalona slash Erebus connection like practically everyone else except me.” She flipped back her hair and twitched away.

It wasn’t until Aphrodite got outside the auditorium that she slowed down and let her thoughts catch up with her emotions. Her heart was thundering and her stomach felt sick. She was pissed. Super pissed.

No, that’s not true. I’m not pissed. I’m freaked out and upset.

With a giant sigh, Aphrodite moved from the sidewalk to one of the benches under a budding oak. The hand that brushed the thick blond hair from her face was shaky.

Darius had kept something from her, something important. Until that moment she’d thought he was different from all the other guys on this earth. He was supposed to be honest. He was supposed to be loyal. And, most of all, he was supposed to love her enough never to lie to her or keep anything from her.

A lie count was the real gauge of how much someone loved you. Aphrodite knew that because she’d grown up watching an ongoing lie count grow and grow. Her parents had pretended to be the perfect couple, but the truth was they had hated each other almost as much as they hated her. Except for when they were in public, they’d lived totally separate lives—they hadn’t even shared a bedroom for more than a decade, let alone shared secrets.

They’d lied to each other on a daily basis.

When she’d been only eight years old, Aphrodite had sworn to herself that she’d never, ever get herself into anything like her parents’ marriage. Hell, until she’d met Darius, she hadn’t let any guy get close enough to her for it to matter whether he lied to her or not. She’d been sure she’d lied to them first. Cheated on them first. Broken up with them first.

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