Page 31

Neferet

“Up, children! Lift me so that I may witness my plan come to fruition!” The threads of Darkness swarmed to her, swirling, lifting her high enough that she could see over the balcony to the street below while being careful to keep her far enough away from the edge not to be singed.

“How magnificent! He landed perfectly in the center of the street. Almost in the same spot from which he so recently and arrogantly mocked me, disrespected me, and stole my favorite servant from me. Well, my children, he will not do that again. No man will ever betray me again.” The girl Judson and Tony had baited Kalona with was sobbing hysterically, still collapsed where the two men had dropped her. Neferet sighed and motioned for her children to lower her. “You are safe now,” she told the crying girl. “What I did was to keep all of us protected. Kalona was my enemy, thus he was also yours. You should rejoice in my victory.”

The girl wiped at her eyes with trembling hands, but she was unable to stop crying. “Kylee!” Neferet called, and the servant hurried from inside the penthouse to her. “They simply cannot grasp the fact that what I do is to protect us all. Get rid of them. Immediately. They’re giving me a headache. Judson will help you.”

“Would you have us throw them off the balcony together?” Judson asked.

“No, no, no! There is no need to waste them. Just escort them back to their rooms.”

“Yes, Goddess,” Judson and Kylee intoned together before Judson dragged the hysterical girl from the balcony and herded the remainder of the weeping mortals from her penthouse.

“There. That is so much better,” she said as blissful silence returned to her domain. She addressed the chef who had been standing there, obediently waiting for her next command. “Tony, you may return to the kitchen. In celebration of my victory, I’d like cake. Chocolate cake with night-blooming jasmine flowers decorating it. Can you do that for me?”

“It will be as you command, Goddess,” he said woodenly. Neferet smiled. Tony’s possession had definitely improved his personality.

Still smiling, Neferet strolled leisurely back to the little bistro table to retrieve her glass of wine, and then frowned in annoyance. She’d forgotten that in her haste to shoot Kalona she’d broken the goblet. “Kylee is never here when I need her,” she said and sighed. She considered commanding one of her children to bring her a new goblet. “If only you had opposable thumbs,” she muttered, more to herself than the snake-things that were never far from her. Neferet stood, and the atmosphere of the balcony utterly changed.

The balmy wind turned frigid. The scent of the spring thunderstorm was lost in the reek of a grave. Her children swarmed to her, coiling around her body fretfully.

“You have nothing about which to worry,” she told them. Neferet moved gracefully to the middle of her balcony. Straight and proud, she waited for him to materialize.

The White Bull took form before her. She shivered as his massive body solidified. His opal horns were wet at their tips, touched ever so slightly with the scarlet of fresh blood. His coat was luminous in the predawn light. Each spike of lightning that speared the sky glistened across him. White was too simple a description for his magnificence. The longer Neferet gazed at him, the more iridescent colors she saw within him—and the more she longed to stroke him.

“My lord,” she said, curtsying ever so slightly to him. “Welcome to my Temple.”

Thank you, my heartless one. I have been watching. His voice rumbled through her mind, putting to shame the power of the impending thunderstorm. You have surprised me—twice since last we met.

“I am so glad to hear it, my lord.” Neferet moved closer to him. She reached one slender finger out and touched it to the point of a razor-tipped horn. Delicately, she took her finger into her mouth and tasted the blood. “Vampyre, old vampyre. Very old and powerful. So that is what has been keeping you from me, though I cannot believe this ancient vampyre gave himself to you as freely as do I.”

The bull’s laughter echoed around them. The Scots never give themselves easily. Though when I pluck them from the Isle of Skye, they are especially succulent and worth the effort.

Neferet showed no outward sign of the inward shock his words made her feel. She smiled and dipped her finger once more in the blood. “The Isle of Skye,” she began contemplatively, pausing to lick her finger. “If you have been hunting on Sgiach’s island, it must mean that the balance of Light and Darkness is truly shifting.”

You are as wise as you are heartless—and surprising. He licked the soft flesh inside her arm.

Neferet shivered in pleasure. “Thank you, my lord. And that is twice you have mentioned surprise. Tell me, what have I done that is worthy of your divine notice?”

The first time was at the church. I have long wondered whether you would truly embrace your nature as you embrace your immortality. Watching you do both in such a spectacular display of carnage impressed even me.

Neferet smiled seductively. “You flatter me.”

You surprise me, and so I enjoy flattering you.

“And the second of the surprises?” she coaxed when he seemed more interested in tasting her skin than continuing to flatter her.

You know very well that the second just happened.

“Kalona’s death.” Neferet said the words reverently, as if praying to herself. “I haven’t enjoyed anything so much … well, so much since last I worshipped you.”

Ah, now you flatter me, my heartless one.

“Always, my lord. I choose to always flatter you,” Neferet said.

Would you truly choose to always worship me? The voice inside her head intensified so that it was on the edge of causing her pain.

“What is it you propose?” she asked, stroking his muscular neck and enjoying the frigid feel of his coat.

I can take you from this cage in which they have imprisoned you. You could roam all of the realms with me. I would call you Consort, as you once desired.

“A tempting proposition, my lord,” Neferet said, dipping her finger in the blood on his horn again and buying time as she tasted it. Why should I be Consort when I have already proclaimed myself Goddess? Why should I be bound to serving a god when I am immortal? “Might I have time to consider?”

Of course you may, and I would like to give you a gift while you are considering my proposal. I would free you from the protective spell that entraps you.

“My lord, that is very generous of you,” Neferet said, thinking, and binding of you, as that would put me in your debt once more. “But I would rather break free myself. It would be another opportunity to surprise you.”

Instantly Neferet felt the bull’s displeasure. Ah, a third surprise.

“I hope not an unpleasant one.” Neferet stroked his neck again.

Think nothing of it, my heartless one. Throughout eternity I have found that the more something is desired, the dearer the sacrifice must be to attain it.

Then he drove his hoof into the stone balcony, causing the rooftop to shake. And with the sound of a deafening thunderclap, the White Bull disappeared into the roiling clouds, leaving his cloven imprint behind.

Thanatos

“Zoeybird?”

Thanatos heard the worry in Sylvia Redbird’s voice. She opened her eyes. Shaunee was already peering through the tent flap. The wind had increased and thunder rumbled in the distance. The women had been working to secure their makeshift shelter against the upcoming storm while she and Shaunee rested within.

“What is it?” Thanatos asked tiredly.

Erik, who hadn’t been far from Shaunee all night, called back from just outside the tent, “Zoey’s here. So’s the rest of her circle plus Stark, Darius, and Rephaim. I’d better—”

“Hurry!” Zoey shouted above the wind. “Neferet is trying to break the spell. We have to circle and channel more energy to you.”

Thanatos sat, grasping the table to steady herself. She was dizzy and weak, but she felt no new drain against the spell. “Zoey, circle if you believe you must, but I sense no disturbance in the barrier.”

“Neither do I,” Shaunee said. “Actually, it’s gotten better since it’s so late and there’s obviously a bad storm brewing. People are finally staying home.”

“We’re circling,” Zoey told Thanatos decisively. “You don’t have to cast it. I’ll take the spirit candle and channel the elements to you.” As Damien, Shaylin, and Stevie Rae took their places, Zoey entered the tent for the spirit candle. “Sorry about this, Shaunee. I know you’re tired, so sit just outside the tent. I’ll do my best to channel as much of fire as I can for you.”

“Come on, I’ll help you.” Erik offered his hand to Shaunee. She leaned on him for a few feet, and then she sank to the ground, facing the tent.

“Zoey, explain to me what has happened. Why are you so frantic?” Thanatos asked.

“Neferet’s throwing hostages from the roof of the Mayo. She’s trying to break the barrier,” Zoey explained quickly as her circle took their places and she retrieved the long wooden matches from the altar table.

Struggling to clear her thoughts, Thanatos stood, leaning heavily on the table. “No, as Shaunee said, the barrier is secure. There is no disruption within it. Neferet must have other motives. She—” Thanatos gasped with shock and fell to her knees.

“Darius! Stark! Help me! Something’s wrong with Thanatos. She passed out.”

“No,” Thanatos fought to speak. “Not me—Kalona!”

“What did she say?” Stark asked as he and Darius tried to make her comfortable.

“She said Kalona’s name.” Zoey’s voice was hushed, as if she already had guessed what Thanatos knew.

The scream of an ambulance siren drew closer and closer. “Help me stand. Help me stand!” Thanatos said. “Zoey, ready your circle. I am going to need its borrowed power, though not for the barrier.”

“I’m really sorry,” Zoey said, and grasped her hands, squeezing them briefly before she took the ritual matches and moved to stand before Damien in the east.

Thanatos grounded herself and made ready. Zoey returned to the center to face her, called spirit, and invoked, “Air, fire, water, earth, and spirit! Please fill our High Priestess, Thanatos, and lend her strength for what is to come.”

Thanatos straightened, drawing a deep breath and feeling the power of five elements flowing through her veins as if replacing her blood. She stepped free of Stark and Darius and their helping hands. The ambulance lurched to a stop in the middle of Cheyenne Avenue.

“Rephaim, come here to me, please.” The boy had been standing close to Stevie Rae, just outside the circle.

“You want me to enter the circle?”

“You must. And quickly, too.”

With a worried look at Stevie Rae, Rephaim approached the glowing silver thread that joined the elements and drew the circumference of the circle. The thread of light rippled and drew back on itself, opening just wide enough for Rephaim to step within before closing once more.

“Something is very wrong,” Rephaim said to her.

Thanatos held the boy’s gaze. “It is your father. Be strong for him.”

Rephaim’s face drained of color as the wide rear door of the ambulance opened, and police officers, led by Detective Marx, carried Kalona from within.

“Father!”

Thanatos put a restraining hand on his arm. “He needs to come to us. The circle will welcome him as it did you.” Thanatos raised her voice and called, “Detective Marx, bring my Warrior to me.”

There was a terrible crack of thunder, and lightning flashed across the sky, making the torches that Sylvia had lit throughout the park seem as insignificant as fireflies.

“I can’t carry him alone,” Marx said from just outside the glowing circumference of the circle.

“All who bear Kalona are welcome within,” Thanatos said.

Marx didn’t hesitate. He stepped forward. His men moved with him, bringing Kalona to her and laying him gently on the ground at her feet.

Rephaim was weeping. Thanatos looked from Kalona’s shattered wings to the scarlet soaked pads that did little stop the blood that seeped down the sides of his chest. Finally, her gaze rested on his colorless face. Still not looking away from her Warrior, she said, “Detective Marx, thank you for bringing him to me.”

“She shot him while he was in the air! Emptied a Glock into him. He was trying to save the people she was throwing from the balcony. There was not a damn thing I could do.”

“You have done what he needed. You were a good friend to him.”

“Wish I could have been one longer,” the detective said, wiping the tears from his face.

“He’s dying?” Rephaim’s eyes were glazed with shock and grief.

“Yes,” said Kalona, opening his eyes. “Come here, son.” His hand lifted weakly.

Rephaim dropped to his knees beside his father, clutching his hand. “No! You can’t die! You’re immortal!”

Kalona coughed, and foam flaked with blood came from his lips. His voice weakened as he spoke. “Knew this could happen. My choice, Rephaim. Remember, my choice.” Kalona’s gaze left his son for a moment to go to Stark, who stood silently beside Thanatos. “Use the piece of immortality I gave you for Light. Protect your Priestess.” His eyes seemed to be losing focus. He blinked, struggling to look around, then he found Zoey. “Forgive me—the pain I caused.”

“With my whole heart I forgive you,” Zoey said.

Kalona coughed more blood and grimaced, then he touched his son’s face. “You are the best of me. Find your brothers. Care for them. And watch over Stevie Rae. If you lose her, you will lose yourself.”

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