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Lynette stood and did exactly as her Goddess commanded.

CHAPTER SIX

Detective Marx

Ever since that dark, snowy night Zoey Redbird had called him to the old depot, where she and a teenage boy had narrowly escaped being killed, Detective Marx had had questions about Neferet, who was then High Priestess of the Tulsa House of Night. The vampyre has seemed off to him. Zoey had obviously been leery of her when he’d returned the fledgling to the House of Night and Neferet had welcomed her with what seemed like real warmth. Zoey had remained guarded. She’d even made a show of revealing new tattooing their Goddess had gifted her with that night, which, to the Detective’s trained eye, said the fledgling had successfully told the high-ranking, most powerful vampyre at the school to back off.

Marx supposed he should have taken the vampyre’s side and questioned the fledgling’s veracity. But instead Marx had felt an itch under his skin around Neferet, the same itch that had saved his ass more times than he could count out on the street. He’d liked Zoey just fine. There’d been no itch under his skin around her. Neferet, he hadn’t liked at all.

He’d asked his sister, who had been Marked almost two decades ago, about Neferet. Anne had been unusually short in her response to him: Neferet is a powerful High Priestess. Steer clear of her. When he’d asked her for details, Anne had totally shut down the conversation. She’d even avoided his calls for almost a week. That had been more than weird. He and Anne were twins, and they’d stayed close even after she’d been Marked and then Changed. Currently, she taught Spells and Rituals at the San Francisco House of Night. Marx vacationed there at least once a year. He’d even stayed on the school grounds as her guest several times. Anne was usually open and honest with him about her vampyre world. She knew she could trust her brother. But one mention of Neferet, and Anne had thrown up a wall between them.

Marx had hated that, hated not having his sister’s confidence. So he’d never asked about Neferet again.

Not even when the High Priestess had left the Tulsa House of Night and given a press conference, condemning mainstream vampyres in general and her old House of Night in particular.

Not even when Neferet had disappeared after her penthouse had been vandalized.

Not even when the Tulsa House of Night’s new High Priestess, Thanatos, had accused Neferet of the murder of Mayor LaFont.

Not even when an anonymous tip had come in through their Crime Stoppers line saying that a na**d vampyre fitting Neferet’s description had been seen entering the Boston Avenue Church.

The last twenty-plus minutes had changed his mind about not questioning his sister.

“Here! Officer, down over here!” Marx waved his arms at the ambulance that had screamed up to the makeshift blockade he and the other officers were crouched behind. He glanced at Jamison. The guy was obviously a goner. The six bullets that had ricocheted from the invisible shield Neferet had erected had somehow conveniently hit him everywhere except the parts of his body covered by his Kevlar vest. How the hell had she done that? Marx added another to the long list of questions he was absolutely going to ask his sister.

More marked cars than he could count skidded up, parking in the middle of the streets surrounding the Mayo. The officers not running to back up Marx’s ground were hurrying to evacuate all the buildings adjacent to them. Marx had radioed officer down and a major hostage situation.

It was with a mixture of relief and regret that he saw Chief Connors leading the group of SWAT officers.

Chief Connors was not known for his diplomatic skills.

“Detective, bring me up to speed,” the chief said.

“Neferet confessed to the Boston Avenue killing. She’s in there with hostages. She has them under her control. I can’t tell if it’s a spell, or if she’s just got them so damn scared they’re willing to do anything for her. But you wouldn’t believe the terrible things she’s got those people doing.”

“After seeing what she did at Boston Avenue, I don’t think there’s anything she can do that’ll surprise me,” the chief said grimly.

“See that body? That girl ripped her own throat open for Neferet while she said, ‘Thank you, Goddess.’” Marx nodded at the bloody mess that used to be a young woman.

“Any idea how many people are in there with her?”

Marx shook his head. “It has to be around a hundred, but best guess is all we have. She’s closed the restaurant and locked the building up tight. As far as we can tell, she’s not letting anyone out.”

“Well, she’s going to have to let us in.”

“Chief, I think we’d better get some kind of intel on the hostage situation. We don’t want a repeat of what happened at the church. She slaughtered those people, but the bodies didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen a vampyre do before. They were sliced up and chewed up and drained. Neferet’s power is like nothing we’ve ever dealt with.”

“Yeah, I saw them.” The chief shook his head. “How the f**k could a vampyre do that? I’ve heard of High Priestesses who can mess with people’s minds—do some control and even memory wiping. And I know they’re physically powerful, though not as powerful as their Warriors. But the slaughter in the church…” He shook his head. “That I’ve never heard of. What about you? Isn’t your sister a vampyre?”

“She is, and I’ll give her a call, but there’s something you should know. Neferet isn’t saying she’s a vampyre. She’s calling herself a goddess, specifically the Goddess of Darkness and Queen Tsi Sgili, whatever that is. She said she’s made the Mayo her Temple and she wants Tulsa to worship her.”

The chief made a derisive grunt. “Fat f**king chance. As soon as we’ve got the hostage situation pinpointed, we’re going in. Let’s see what our sniper’s fifty-caliber can do against her delusions of divinity.”

Marx nodded in agreement, but the familiar warning itch was back under his skin, giving him a bad feeling about how this thing was going to play out.

“Goddamned vampyres have lost their heathen minds lately. First killing the mayor, then those two men in the park, the church slaughter, and now this. I’m thinking we need to do more than just lock down the House of Night. I think we need to round them up and kick them the hell outta Tulsa!”

“Chief, about those two men in the park.” Marx frowned. He knew the anti-vampyre sentiment was running high, but he hated to hear such racist crap coming from the chief of police.

“Yeah, what about them? Wasn’t it you who brought in that fledgling who confessed to their killing? Hell, she could’ve killed LaFont, too!”

“Actually, sir, Neferet just confessed to the killing of the mayor and those two men. She bragged of it, as well as the massacre at the church.”

The chief blinked in surprise. “Well, then, what the hell was that fledgling doing giving herself up as a killer? Is she in league with Neferet?”

“I sincerely doubt it. Zoey Redbird and Neferet have a history of bad blood between them. It’s more likely that Zoey had a run-in with the men, she protected herself, and when she heard they were dead thought she must have killed them. She’s a good kid, Chief. I think she turned herself in because she was consumed by remorse. She didn’t even want any adult vampyre near her.”

The chief gave him a blank look. Marx stifled a sigh and explained. “If a fledgling isn’t around adult vampyres, there’s a one hundred percent chance her body will reject the Change and she’ll die. Zoey had tried and judged herself—and decided her sentence was death.”

“I forget how much you know about vampyres.” The chief shook his head in disgust. “Guess it doesn’t matter whether they’re human or fledgling—teenagers have no damn sense.”

Marx had opened his mouth to protest—respectfully—that he actually knew some teenagers who had some damn sense, and that would include Zoey Redbird, when the cry of a uniformed cop interrupted him.

“Oh my God! Look up!”

Marx’s head jerked and his gaze shot skyward in time to see creatures, grotesque black creatures that appeared to be snakelike, except they had no eyes—only gaping mouths framed with teeth that glistened wet and red—being hurled by some invisible force over the stone railing of the Mayo’s penthouse. The creatures carried with them an explosion of blood and guts, body fragments and gore. And as they fell, they expanded, changing from eyeless snakes to a dark, pulsing curtain, stained scarlet. The curtain clung to the stone façade of the Mayo, swathing it in darkness and blood as it unfurled downward.

“Fire! Kill them!” shouted the chief of police.

Marx tried to stop him. Tried to remind him that there were innocent citizens inside who could easily be wounded or even killed. Tried to tell him that the attack would only serve to antagonize the vampyre who held those citizens hostage and who was already so insane she believed she’d become immortal. But panicked gunfire erupted all around him, and his words were lost in the frenzy.

At first Marx didn’t want to look up. He didn’t want to see the gunfire-ravaged Mayo and start dealing with the aftermath of the chief’s rash command. But Marx wasn’t the kind of man who avoided the hard things in life; he’d made a career out of dealing with them. Resolutely, he looked up.

The snakes-turned-curtain had expanded so that it looked like the building had grown a crimson and black skin, a skin so tough that not even the Glocks the uniforms carried had penetrated it.

They all watched the darkness continue to spread down the building to street level and pool there with a rustling sound that reminded Marx of the time he’d visited New York City and stayed at the Plaza—and made the mistake of going out for a smoke at 3:00 A.M. Rats. He’d walked to a row of neatly trimmed hedges in front of the Plaza’s grand entrance and heard a rustling. He’d looked down, shocked to see dozens of fat rats scurrying among the hedges. That’s what the shroud of darkness Neferet had created sounded like as it settled where the building met the ground and washed, restlessly, against the 1920s stone.

“Fire on the doors. Break through that damn thing and get ready to rush inside!” the chief shouted.

“No!” Marx cried as the uniforms around them jumped to obey their chief.

Determined to survive to fight another day, Marx ducked down behind a squad car.

It was over in seconds. The officers ran toward the double doors, firing at the glass that now was covered in slick gore-stained black. His heart broke when the screams began. Marx was already calling into his radio, “Multiple officers down! We need more buses at the Mayo! And backup! More backup! Get every uniform in Tulsa here now!”

When the chief staggered back and fell heavily to the pavement, a friendly fire bullet causing a bloom of red in the middle of his forehead, eyes rolled back, milky, sightless, and undoubtedly dead, Marx did the only thing he knew to do—he took charge.

“Cease fire and fall back! Fall back!” he shouted, and the men responded with obvious relief.

A young uniformed cop crouched down next to him, breathing heavily, his hands trembling. Marx thought the kid couldn’t be much older than twenty-one.

“Mother of God, that black stuff didn’t even chip! It ricocheted the bullets back at us, like it was actually aiming. What the hell is that?” he said, voice shaking as hard as his hands.

“Magick,” Marx said. “Dark, evil magick.”

“How the hell do we fight it?”

Marx met the young man’s eyes. “We don’t. We need help. Thankfully, I know where to get it.”

Zoey

“I wish I knew what the hell was going on!” Stark paced back and forth in front of her cell.

“Go see if Grandma’s still in the waiting room. She can find out what’s happening. She brought cookies. No one can resist Grandma’s cookies,” I said.

“Good idea. I’ll be back in a sec.”

Stark shot down the hall, leaving me to take up his pacing for him.

Neferet. If something crazy was happening at the Mayo, Neferet had to be responsible. I wanted to grab the bars of my cell and shake them like a hysterical person and scream, Let me out let me out let me out! If Neferet was out there causing goddess only knew what, I should be out there, too, trying to figure out how to stop her.

And I would be if I hadn’t lost my mind and killed two men.

Stark jogged back to me and wrapped his hands over mine, which really had been holding onto the bars of my cell like I could bend the stupid things.

“They must have kicked your grandma out with Thanatos and the rest of them. No one’s here except a front desk cop. The f**king place is deserted! If I had a key I could break you outta here with no problem.” His brows raised and, with his hands still pressed over mine, he gave a little shake to the metal bars (which did not budge). Then he smiled his cute cocky grin. “But since I don’t have a key, do you happen to know someone who could, say, summon a few elements to, I dunno, blow this door down?”

“Stark, I’m in here for a reason. I did something really, really bad. Breaking out is not going to help anything.”

“It might help if Neferet is on the rampage, eating the unsuspecting citizens of Tulsa. Actually, they might forget about your accident at the park and thank you if you help bring down Ms. Batshit Crazy.”

I smiled sadly. “They might forget about it, but I wouldn’t. And Stark, I can’t stop Neferet.”

“You have before.”

“Not for good, and not without help.”

“Well…” He threw his arms wide. “You have help!”

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