"Where did you get this?" Neferet asked. I could tell she was trying to keep her voice under control, but there was a powerful, angry edge to it that was impossible to hide.
"This necklace was found near Chris Ford's body."
My mouth opened, but I couldn't seem to say anything. I knew my face had gone pale, and my stomach clenched painfully.
"Do you recognize the necklace, Miss Redbird?" Detective Marx repeated his question.
I swallowed and cleared my throat. "Yes. It's the leadership pendant of the Dark Daughters."
"The Dark Daughters and Sons is an exclusive school organization, made up of our finest students," Neferet said.
"And you belong to this organization?" he asked.
"I'm its leader."
"So you wouldn't mind showing us your necklace?"
"I—I don't have it with me. It's in my room." Shock was making my head feel woozy.
"Gentlemen, are you accusing Zoey of something?" Neferet said. Her voice was quiet, but the thread of outraged anger that ran through it brushed against my skin, causing my flesh to prickle and rise. I could see from the nervous glance the detectives shared that they felt it, too.
"Ma'am, we're simply questioning her."
"How did he die?" My voice was faint, but it sounded abnormally loud in the tense silence that surrounded Neferet.
"From multiple lacerations and loss of blood," Marx said.
"Someone cut him with a switchblade or something?" On the news they'd said that Chris had been mauled by an animal, so I already knew the answer to the question, but I felt compelled to ask.
Marx shook his head. "The wounds were like nothing a knife would leave.
They were more like animal scratches and bites."
"His body was almost entirely drained of blood," Martin added.
"And you're here because this appears to be a vampyre attack," Neferet said grimly.
"We're here looking for answers, ma'am," Marx said.
"Then I suggest you do a blood alcohol content test on the human boy. Just from the little I know about the group of teenagers the boy had as friends, they are habitual drunks. He probably got intoxicated and fell into the river. The lacerations were more than likely made by rocks, or perhaps even animals. It's not uncommon for coyotes to be found along the river, even within Tulsa city limits," Neferet said.
"Yes, ma'am. Tests are being performed on the body. Even drained of blood, it will still tell us many things."
"Good. I'm sure one of the many things it will tell you is that the human boy was drunk, perhaps even high. I think you should look to more reasonable causes for this death than a vampyre attack. Now, I assume you're done here?"
"One more question, Miss Redbird," Detective Marx asked me without looking at Neferet. "Where were you Thursday between eight and ten o'clock?"
"In the evening?" I asked.
"I was at school. Here. In class."
Martin gave me a blank look. "School? At that time?"
"Perhaps you should do your own homework before questioning my students. Classes at the House of Night begin at eight P.M. and go till three A.M. Vampyres have long preferred the night." The dangerous edge was still in Neferet's voice. "Zoey was in class when the boy died. Now are we finished?"
"For the time being we are finished with Miss Redbird." Marx flipped a couple pages back in the little notebook he'd been writing in before he added, "We do need to speak with Loren Blake."
I tried not to react to Loren's name, but I know my body jumped and I felt my face heat up.
"I'm sorry, Loren left yesterday before dawn on the school's private jet. He has gone to our East Coast school to support our students who are in the final round of our international Shakespearean monologue contest. But I can certainly give him a message to call you when he returns Sunday," Neferet said while she walked toward the door, clearly dismissing the two men.
But Marx hadn't moved. He was still watching me. Slowly he reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to me he said, "If you think of anything—anything at all—that you believe might help us find who did this to Chris, call me." Then he nodded at Neferet. "Thank you for your time, ma'am. We'll be back Sunday to talk with Mr. Blake."
"I'll see you out," Neferet said. She squeezed my shoulder, and breezed by the two detectives, leading them from the room.
I sat there trying to collect my tumbling thoughts. Neferet had lied, and not just by omission about me drinking Heath's blood and Heath almost getting killed during the Samhain ritual. She'd lied about Loren. He hadn't left the school yesterday before dawn. At dawn he'd been at the east wall with me.
I clutched my hands together to try to keep them from shaking.
I didn't get to sleep until almost 10:00 (as in the A.M.). Damien, the Twins, and Stevie Rae wanted to know everything about the detectives' visit, and telling them was cool with me. I thought going back over the details might give me a clue about what the hell was going on. I was wrong. No one could figure out why a Dark Daughters' leadership necklace had been with a human kid's dead body. Yes, I checked and mine was still safely in my jewelry box. Erin, Shaunee, and Stevie Rae all thought that somehow Aphrodite was behind the cops getting the necklace and maybe even the killing. Damien and I weren't so sure. Aphrodite couldn't stand humans, but to me that didn't equate to kidnapping and killing a very built football player who couldn't exactly be hidden in her lovely Coach purse. She definitely didn't hang out with humans. And, yes, she used to have a Dark Daughters leadership necklace, but Neferet had taken it from her and given it to me the night I became the leader of the Dark Daughters and Sons.
Besides the mystery of the necklace, all we could figure was that "Stank Bitch Kayla" (as the Twins called her) had basically told the cops that I was the killer because she was jealous that Heath was still crazy about me. Obviously the cops didn't have any real suspects if they rushed over here on the word of a jealous teenager. Of course my friends didn't know anything about the blood-drinking issue. I still couldn't bring myself to tell them that I drank (lapped, whatever) Heath's blood. So I'd given them the same edited version I'd told the detectives. The only people who knew the real story about the blood thing (besides Heath and Stank Bitch Kayla) were Neferet and Erik. I'd told Neferet, and Erik had found me right after I'd had the big scene with Heath, so he knew the truth. Speaking of—I suddenly wanted Erik to hurry and get back to school. I'd been so busy lately that I hadn't actually had time to miss him, or at least I hadn't until today when I wished that there was someone who wasn't High Priestess I could talk to about what was going on.
Sunday, I reminded myself as I tried to fall asleep. Erik would be back Sunday. The same day Loren would be back. (No, I wouldn't think about the stuff that might be going on between Loren and me, and how that was part of the "busyness" that had kept me from missing Erik.) And why the hell did the detectives need to talk to Loren anyway? None of us could figure that out.
I sighed and tried to relax. I really hated needing to fall asleep and not being able to. But I couldn't shut off my mind. Not only was the Chris Ford/Brad Higeons mess going round and round in my head, but pretty soon I'd have to call the FBI and pretend to be a terrorist. Add to that the fact that I'd hardly thought about the circle I needed to cast and the Full Moon Ritual I was supposed to lead, and it was no wonder I had a horrible tension headache.
I glanced at the alarm clock. It was 10:30 A.M. Four more hours before I needed to get up and call the FBI, and then try to figure out how to get through the day while I waited to hear news about the bridge accident (hopefully that it was averted), and news about the Higeons kid being found (hopefully alive), and tried to figure out how I'd lead the Full Moon Ritual (hopefully without totally embarrassing myself ).
Stevie Rae, who I swear could fall asleep standing on her head in the middle of a blizzard, snored softly across the room. Nala was curled up beside my head on my pillow. Even she'd stopped complaining at me and was breathing deeply with her weird cat snores. I worried briefly if I should have her checked out for allergies. She did sneeze an awful lot. But I decided I was just obsessively adding to my stress level. The cat was as fat as a Butterball turkey. I mean, her tummy looked like she had a pouch and could hide a herd of baby kangaroos in there. That's probably why she wheezed. Carrying around all that cat fat couldn't be easy.
I closed my eyes and started counting sheep. Literally. It was supposed to work. Right? So I made up a field in my head with a gate and had cute fuzzy white sheep start jumping over the gate. (I think that's the proper way to count sleep sheep. Sleep sheep ... hee hee.) After sheep number 56 the numbers started to blur in my mind and I finally slipped into a fitful dream where I noticed the sheep were wearing Union's red and white football uniform. They had a shepherdess directing them over the gate they were jumping (which now looked like a mini-goalpost). My dreaming self was floating gently above the sheep scene like I was a superhero. I couldn't see the shepherdess's face, but even from the back I could tell she was tall and beautiful. Her auburn hair was waist length. As if she could feel me watching, she turned toward me and her moss green eyes looked up at me. I grinned. Of course Neferet was in charge, even if it was just a dream. I waved at her, but instead of responding, Neferet's eyes narrowed dangerously and she suddenly spun around. Snarling like a wild animal, she grabbed a football-playing sheep, lifted it, and in one practiced motion slashed its throat with her abnormally strong, talonlike fingernails, burying her face in the animal's bleeding throat. My dreaming self was horrified as well as freakishly drawn to what Neferet was doing. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't ... wouldn't ... then the sheep's body began to shimmer, like heat waves rising from a boiling pot. I blinked and it wasn't a sheep anymore. It was Chris Ford, and his dead eyes were wide open, set and staring at me accusingly.
I gasped in horror and tore my gaze from his blood, meaning to look away from the gory dream scene, but my vision got trapped because it was no longer Neferet who was feeding at Chris's throat. It was Loren Blake, and his eyes were smiling up at me over the river of red. I couldn't look away. I stared and stared and....
My dreaming body shivered as a familiar voice drifted in the air around me. At first the whisper was so soft I couldn't hear it, but as Loren drank the last drop of Chris's blood the words became audible as well as visible. They danced in the air around me with a silver light that was as familiar as the voice.
... Remember, darkness does not always equate to evil, just as light does not always bring good.
My eyelids jerked open and I sat up, breathing hard. Feeling shaky and slightly sick to my stomach, I looked at my clock: 12:30. I stifled a groan. I'd only slept for two hours. No wonder I felt so crappy. Quietly I went into the bathroom I shared with Stevie Rae to splash water on my face and try to wash away my grogginess. Too bad washing away the awful foreboding feeling the bizarre dream had given me wasn't as easy.
No way was I going to be able to sleep now. I walked listlessly over to our heavily curtained window and peeked out. It was a gray day. Low clouds obscured the sun and a light, constant drizzle made everything look blurred. It matched my mood perfectly, and it also made the daylight bearable. How long had it been since I'd gone outside during the day anyway? I thought about it and realized that I hadn't seen more than an occasional dawn in a good month. I shivered. And suddenly I couldn't stay inside for another instant. It felt claustrophobic, tomblike, coffinlike.
I went into the bathroom and opened the little glass jar that held the concealer that completely covered fledgling tattoos. When I'd first arrived at the House of Night I'd had a mini-panic attack when I'd realized that until I entered the school grounds, I'd never seen a fledgling. I mean ever. Naturally, I thought that meant that the vamps kept fledglings locked inside the walls of the school for four years. It didn't take long to find out the truth: fledglings had quite a bit of freedom, but if they chose to go outside the school walls they needed to follow two very important rules. First, they had to cover their Mark and not wear anything that bore any of the distinctive class insignias.
Second (and, to me, most important), once a fledgling entered the House of Night, he or she must stay in close proximity with adult vamps. The Change from human to vampyre was a bizarre and complex one—not even today's cutting-edge science completely understood it. But one thing was certain about the Change, if a fledgling was cut off from contact with adult vampyres, the process escalated and the teenager died. Every time. So, we could leave the school for shopping and whatnot, but if we stayed away from the vamps for more than a few hours our bodies would begin the rejection process and we'd die. It was no wonder that before I'd been Marked I thought I'd never seen a fledgling. I probably had, but (a) he/she/they had had all Marks covered, and (b) he/she/they understood that they couldn't just loiter about like typical teenagers. They'd been there, but they'd just been busy and disguised.
The reason for the disguise made sense, too. It wasn't about wanting to hide amid humans and spy or whatever ridiculous things humans would assume. The truth was that humans and vampyres coexisted in an uneasy state of peace. Broadcasting that fledglings actually left the school and went shopping and to the movies like normal kids was asking for trouble and exaggeration. I could just imagine what people like my horrid step-loser would say. Probably that vamp teenagers were hanging out in gangs, engaging in all sorts of sinful juvenile delinquent behavior. He was such an ass. But he wouldn't be the only human adult who freaked. Clearly the vamp rules made sense.
Resolutely, I stared, patting the concealer on the sapphire Marks that told the world what I was. It was amazing how well the stuff covered up Marks. As my darkened-in crescent moon disappeared, along with the small network of blue spirals that framed my eyes, I watched the old Zoey reappear and wasn't quite sure how I felt about her. Okay, I knew there'd been a lot more changed within me than a few tattoos could represent, but the absence of Nyx's Mark was shocking. It gave me a weird, unexpected sense of loss.
Looking back, I should have listened to my internal hesitation, scrubbed my face, grabbed a good book, and gone directly back to bed.
Instead, I whispered, "You look really young," to my reflection, and pulled on my jeans and a black sweater. Then I rummaged (quietly—if I woke up Stevie Rae or Nala no way would I get out of there alone) through my dresser drawers until I found my old Borg Invasion 4D hoodie and put it on, along with my comfy black Pumas, and with my OSU trucker's hat securely on my head and my cool Maui Jim sunglasses I was ready. Before I could (wisely) change my mind, I grabbed my purse and tiptoed out of the room.
No one was in the main room of the dorm. I opened the door and took a deep breath to steady myself before I walked outside. The whole vampyres- burst-into-flames-if-sun-touches-them thing was a ridiculous lie, but it is true that daylight causes adult vamps pain. As a fledgling who was weirdly "advanced" in the Change process, it's definitely uncomfortable for me, but I gritted my teeth and stepped out into the drizzle.
The campus looked totally deserted. It was weird not to pass one student or vamp all along the sidewalk that wound around behind the main building (which still reminded me of a castle) to the parking lot. My vintage 1966 VW Bug was easy to find amid the slick, expensive cars the vamps preferred. Its dependable engine sputtered for only a second, then it turned over and hummed like it was brand-new.
I tapped the garage door opener-like keypad that Neferet had given me after Grandma had brought my car to me. The wrought-iron gate to the school swung open silently.
Despite the fact that even the weak, foggy daylight bothered my eyes and made my skin feel twitchy, my mood lightened as soon as I was outside the school gates. It's not that I hated the House of Night or anything like that. Actually, the school and my friends there had become my home and family. It was just that today I needed something more. I needed to feel normal again— normal as in pre-Marked Zoey, when my biggest worry was geometry class and the only "power" I had was the eerie ability to find cute shoes on sale.
Actually, shopping sounded like a good idea. Utica Square was less than a mile down the street from the House of Night, and I loved the American Eagle store there. My wardrobe had, tragically, become overstocked in dark colors like purple, black, and navy since I'd been Marked. A bright red sweater was exactly what I needed.
I parked in the less used lot behind the row of stores that American Eagle sat in the middle of. The trees in this lot were bigger, so I liked the shade, along with the fact that there were fewer people in the back lot. I know my reflection showed a normal teenage kid, but inside I was still Marked, and more than a little nervous about my first daylight trip into my old world.
Not that I expected to run into anyone I knew. I was the one my high school friends had called "weird" and "out there" because I liked to shop in the chic midtown stores versus the loud, boring, food court-smelling mall. Grandma Redbird was responsible for my out-of-the-ordinary tastes. She used to call it "field-tripping" when she'd take me all over Tulsa on fun day trips. No way was I going to run into Kayla and the Broken Arrow crowd at Utica, and pretty soon the familiar smells and sights of American Eagle were working their retail magic on me. By the time I paid for the totally cute red knit sweater my stomach had quit hurting, and despite the fact that it was the middle of the day and I was sleep-deprived, my headache was gone, too.
But I was starving. There was a Starbucks across the street from American Eagle. It was on the corner that framed a pretty, shady courtyard in the middle of the square. With the wet, dreary day I would bet no one would be sitting at the little iron tables on the wide, tree-lined sidewalk. I could get a yummy cappuccino, one of their mega-big blueberry muffins, a copy of the Tulsa World, and sit outside and pretend like I was a college kid.
It seemed like a seriously good plan. I was totally right—there was no one sitting in the outside tables, and I snagged the one closest to the big magnolia tree and set about putting the proper amount of raw sugar in my cappuccino as I nibbled at my mountain-sized muffin.
I don't remember when I first felt his presence. It started subtly, like a weird itch under my skin. I moved restlessly in my chair, trying to concentrate on the movie page and thinking that maybe I could talk Erik into checking out the latest chick flick next weekend ... But I couldn't pay attention to the movie reviews. The annoying, under-my-skin feeling wouldn't go away. Completely irritated I glanced up and froze.
Heath was standing under a streetlight not fifteen feet away from me.
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