Page 29

No, she thought as the mind she’d inhabited lost consciousness. Not my body. Kalona’s body!

Warn him, so that he may choose freely … The Goddess’s voice pulled her from Kalona’s dying body and was her conduit to return to herself.

“Aphrodite! Talk to us! Aphrodite!” Zoey was holding her hand. She couldn’t see her, of course, because her eyes were filled with blood, but she knew Z was there. Just like she knew Darius’s arms were around her and Stark was standing protectively over them.

“Kalona,” she gasped. “You have to take me to Kalona.”

“You need water and your bed,” Zoey said, her voice sounding shaky. “And we need to get all this blood cleaned up.”

Aphrodite knew it was bad. She could feel the warm wetness that had washed down her face and soaked through her shirt. She ignored it and squeezed Z’s hand—hard. “Afterward. Get me to Kalona now.”

“He’s somewhere walking the perimeter. I’ll find him,” Stark said.

“I’ll carry her to Nyx’s Temple. That’s the closest building to here,” Darius said.

“And I’ll stay with her,” Z said, still holding her hand even though Darius had stood and was already moving.

“And I’ll just lay here and dream about the Xanax and wine that wait for me,” Aphrodite said, resting her head against Darius’s strong shoulder, keeping her eyes shut tightly against the pounding pain.

Kalona

“Kalona! You have to come with me. Aphrodite needs you right now!” Shouting, Stark ran up to Kalona as he and Detective Marx were making a perimeter sweep and discussing options for housing the increasing number of humans who were seeking sanctuary at the House of Night. Kalona had been enjoying Marx’s company and his sense of humor, and feeling renewed and well-rested after spending time on the roof of Nyx’s Temple. Stark’s appearance changed everything.

“Has there been a breach in campus security?” Marx shot out the question.

“No, Aphrodite’s had a vision. She says she has to talk to Kalona.”

“I will go to her.” Kalona sprinted off.

“Wait!” Stark called after him. “She’s not in her dorm. She’s in Nyx’s Temple.”

That news didn’t serve to dissipate the foreboding Kalona was beginning to feel, though he changed direction and raced toward Nyx’s Temple, with Stark and the detective doing their best to follow.

He tried not to hesitate at the door of the Goddess’s Temple. He wanted to stride in, confident that Nyx would allow him, but his hand trembled as he touched the handle of the arched wooden door. He paused.

Stark almost ran over the top of him. “What’re you waiting for?” The boy flung the door wide and hurried within. Kalona held his breath and followed him.

The opening did not turn to stone, nor did the door close against him. Nyx allowed him entrance.

Now on Stark’s heels, Kalona passed through the foyer and entered the heart of the Goddess’s Temple. The sweetness of vanilla and lavender candles mixed with the metallic scent of fresh blood. Aphrodite lay on the ancient table that held an exquisite statue of Nyx. Darius sat on the table, cradling her head in his lap. Zoey was arranging a wet T-shirt over Aphrodite’s eyes, which still wept blood.

“Oh my God!” Marx rushed into the room. “She’s crying blood tears.”

“I’m not crying. I’m visioning. Big difference.” Blind Aphrodite turned her head as if she were listening. “Kalona? Are you in here?”

Aphrodite tended to alternately amuse and annoy Kalona. He’d never understood why Nyx tolerated her attitude, which always seemed to border on blaspheming. But as he approached her, a profound sense of reverence came over him. This girl is a true Prophetess of Nyx and thus worthy of my respect.

“Yes, Prophetess, I am here in answer to your summons,” he said, kneeling beside the table.

“Good. My vision was about you. Actually, in my vision I was you. And you died,” she said, wincing and rearranging the wet shirt that covered her bloody eyes.

“Kalona is immortal. He cannot die,” Darius said.

“I know you hate this kind of stuff, but could this vision be one of your symbolic ones?” Zoey asked.

“It didn’t feel symbolic. It felt dead. Real dead,” Aphrodite said.

“How was I killed?” Kalona asked.

“You fell from the sky and you had a big bloody hole where your heart should have been. I’m not sure which killed you—the hole or the fall. Your wings were all broken up, too. Either way, you were totally, not symbolically, dead.”

“Man, that sounds bad,” Marx said. “Do her visions always come true?”

“She’s right here, and no, they don’t,” Aphrodite said. “Which brings me to the rest of the vision. Nyx told me to tell you”—she paused—“the you being Kalona and not you, Marx, that I was supposed to warn you about what I saw so that you could choose freely.”

Kalona’s gaze went from Aphrodite to the statue of Nyx. “You are sure it was the Goddess who spoke to you of me?”

“That’s what I said.”

“And you are certain Nyx said that you were given the vision so that I might choose freely?”

“One hundred percent. It’s not like this is the first time. I do know a little something about Nyx,” Aphrodite said with her usual sarcasm.

“Do you know why there are always vanilla and lavender candles burning in Nyx’s Temples?” Kalona asked the Prophetess.

Aphrodite shrugged. “My guess is because they smell good.”

“It is because they carry the same scent as her skin,” Kalona told her. “You see, Prophetess, I know a little something about Nyx, too.”

“Fine, you trump me. But I do know her voice, and I’m sure it was Nyx who said to tell you about my vision so that you could choose freely.”

Kalona stared at the statue as the most painful of his memories flashed through his mind. For the first time in uncountable eons he embraced the memory and relived it honestly.

He was on his knees before Nyx, and he was weeping. His Goddess watched him, not with a stone-like expression that lacked compassion but with equal measures of sadness and resignation.

Don’t do this! You are mine!

I do nothing, Kalona. You have a choice in this. I have given even my Warriors free will, though I don’t require them to use it wisely.

Instead of painting Nyx as the villain, as he had in his memory for so many self-deluded centuries, Kalona forced himself to relive the scene truthfully. This time, he acknowledged the tears that had begun to spill down Nyx’s face—and the fact that it was his own expression that had hardened, his own voice that had become spiteful, and not hers.

I cannot help myself. I was created to feel this. It is not free will. It is preordination.

Yet as your Goddess I tell you what you are is not preordained. Your will has fashioned you.

I cannot help how I feel! I cannot help what I am! Remembering the scene honestly, Kalona cringed at how like a petulant child he had sounded.

He had stopped weeping, but Nyx’s sadness could not be contained. Tears spilled from her eyes to wash down her cheeks. In a choked voice, his Goddess had said, You, my Warrior, are mistaken; therefore, you must pay the consequences of your mistake. Then it was not with a thoughtless flick of her fingers that she cast him from her; it was with regret and tears and despair that she gathered her divine energy and hurled the consequences of his own choice at him.

The memory faded, leaving him in the present, looking up at the beautiful statue of Nyx.

“I believe you, Aphrodite. This is not the first time Nyx has bade me make a choice,” he said as the finality of her vision settled within him.

“Was there anything else in your vision that might help us figure out how Kalona is going to be attacked?” Darius asked her.

Aphrodite hesitated, then said, “It’s always harder when I’m inside the person the awful thing is happening to. Everything gets jumbled because time is passing so fast and, well, awful things are happening. I know he was in Tulsa. I think downtown because I remember seeing the skyline below me. Oh, and a big storm was rolling into town.”

In the distance thunder rumbled and the stained-glass windows of Nyx’s Temple quivered as the wind shifted and increased.

“Ah, hell!” Zoey said.

Kalona’s newly awakened memory flashed several other scenes through his mind: his trespass into the Otherworld … his battle with Stark … Stark’s death in the pit … Nyx’s intervention and that the price of her intervention had been a piece of his immortality.

Kalona silently agreed with Zoey.

CHAPTER TWENTY

Neferet

“Thank you, Judson. I knew you would find exactly what I needed. You may leave it on the table there, beside the door to the balcony. Oh, but please don’t go. My need for you is not finished. As you can see, here comes Kylee, right on time with the little group I asked her to fetch for me.” Neferet’s smile included the frightened-looking group of humans who were reluctantly entering her penthouse, as well as her male staff members, though she truly smiled only at her children who possessed the men. “I do appreciate punctuality, Kylee. Pour me a glass of wine.”

Neferet counted the humans. Twelve of them. Out of more than two hundred worshippers, twelve were genuinely kind enough for Lynette to make note of them. The Goddess wasn’t upset by that low number, she simply had to be sure her math was accurate and that there were enough of them. “Yes,” she spoke aloud as she ran the numbers in her head. “One every five minutes should suffice. It’s a short distance from here to the House of Night. That will give him plenty of time and incentive.”

“Goddess? Is there something you’d like us to do? A dance you’d like us to learn?” an attractive young woman asked, curtsying gracefully.

“You were one of the waltzers, were you not?” Neferet said.

“Yes, Goddess. My name is Taylor.”

Neferet sighed in disgust. “Oh, no matter. I’ll let you keep that name.”

“Th-thank you, Goddess,” Taylor said hesitantly.

“And yes, Taylor, there is something monumental I want the twelve of you to do before sunrise, which is only a little more than an hour away. In celebration of such an extraordinary event, I shall break my own decree and speak her name. Lynette”—Neferet spoke the name carefully; to her it tasted of betrayal—“noted that each of you is especially kind.”

Taylor’s smile was hesitant but genuine. “That was nice of her.” The woman glanced around the penthouse. “Where is Lynette?”

Reminding herself that she might need all twelve of them, Neferet did not strike Taylor down. Instead, with enormous patience she said, “Taylor, I said that I shall break my decree and speak her name. I did not say anyone else could.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Goddess,” Taylor said quickly, bobbing another curtsy.

“That is quite all right, and quite understandable. I should have made myself clearer. Think nothing of it, Taylor. So, as I was saying, Lynette made note of each of you. I wanted to be sure you understood that you are here because of her.” A shiver of fear began to move through the group. Neferet felt it with them and smiled. “Why don’t you sit in the living room? I prefer you to be comfortable. Kylee, would you pour champagne for my supplicants, please. Judson, go to that clever little writing desk that is in my bedchamber and bring me one of those lovely Tulsa postcards and a pen.”

While her servants did her bidding, Neferet opened the glass door that led to the balcony. Wind whipped inside, carrying the scent of rain with it. Neferet opened her arms, reveling in the power in the atmosphere that foretold a storm. As if she’d drawn it through her desire, thunder rolled in the distance and lightning followed it, gleeful and bright, across the sky. “This is a truly magnificent night! A predawn storm is my absolute favorite. I do adore Oklahoma in the springtime.”

“Goddess, your postcard and pen.”

“Thank you, Judson.” Neferet took the card, and in her flowing script she wrote four words on it. When she was finished, she looked up, smiling at the frightened group. “Now, who shall be first?” Neferet tapped her chin, as if considering. “Taylor! It will be you!”

“What can I do for you, Goddess?” Taylor asked nervously, though she added her honest, kindhearted smile to the question.

“Come here, my dear. First I want to give you this.”

Taylor trembled as she approached Neferet. “Let’s see, yes, I think the front pocket of those slacks will do. They are made of such a fine-quality material with nice deep pockets. Lynette was right, I am going to ban the wearing of jeans. Let us hope she was just as right about this little group.” She smiled at Taylor and handed her the postcard. “Put this in your pocket, please.”

Taylor glanced at the card, put it in her pocket, and asked, “What does ‘one every five minutes’ mean?”

“Well, Taylor, if my calculations are correct, it means one of you is going to die every five minutes. Judson and Tony, bring Taylor along.”

Neferet strode onto the balcony, glad the wind carried away Taylor’s pathetic screams. “There”—she pointed to the front of the balcony—“throw her from there. Swing her several times so that you give her a good toss. If I understand the intent behind the wretched spell that binds me here, kindhearted Taylor should pass through the barrier untouched so that she can fall, shrieking, to the pavement below.”

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***