I was still feeling shaky, confused, and more than a little sick to my stomach when I finally got to the dorm. Clusters of damp kids pooled around the main room watching TV and drinking hot chocolate. I grabbed a towel from a stack by the door and joined Stevie Rae, the Twins, and Damien sitting around our favorite TV watching Project Runway, and started drying a grumbling Nala. Stevie Rae didn't realize I was being uncharacteristically quiet. She was too busy gushing about how the snowball fight I'd avoided earlier had morphed into a major battle after dinner that had raged until someone had thrown a snowball that had hit one of the windows of Dragon's office. Dragon was what everyone called the fencing professor, and he was not a vamp any fledgling would want to piss off.
"Dragon ended the snow war." Stevie Rae giggled. "But it was real fun until then."
"Yeah, Z, you missed one hellacious wicked fight," Erin said. "We knocked the crap outta Damien and his boyfriend," Shaunee said.
"He's not my boyfriend!" Damien said, but his little smile seemed to add an unspoken "yet" to the end of the sentence.
"... ever," said the Twins.
"I think he's cute," Stevie Rae said.
"Me, too," Damien said, turning adorably pink.
"What do you think of him, Zoey?" Stevie Rae asked.
I blinked at Stevie Rae. It was like I was inside a fishbowl in the middle of a typhoon, and everyone else was on the outside cluelessly enjoying lovely weather.
"Is everything okay, Zoey?" Damien said.
"Damien, can you get me some eucalyptus?" I said abruptly.
I nodded. "Yeah, some strands of it, and some sage, too. I need both for the ritual tomorrow."
"Yeah, no problem," Damien said, watching me entirely too closely.
"Did you get the ritual all figured out, Z?" Stevie Rae asked.
"I think so." I paused and took a long breath. Then I met Damien's questioning gaze steadily. "Damien, has there ever been a case of a fledgling who seemed to have died, but later was found alive?"
To his credit, Damien didn't freak or ask me if I had gone insane. I could feel that the Twins and Stevie Rae were staring at me like I'd just announced I was going to be on Girls Gone Wild: Vamp Edition, but I ignored them and kept focused on Damien. We all knew he spent hours studying, and he remembered everything he read. If any of us would know the answer to my bizarre question, it would be him.
"When a fledgling's body starts rejecting the Change there is no stopping it. That's clear in all the books. It's also what Neferet has told us. Zoey," I'd never heard him sound so serious. "What is wrong?"
"Please, please, please tell me you're not feeling sick!" Stevie Rae practically sobbed.
"No! It's nothing like that," I said quickly. "I'm fine. I promise."
"What's going on?" Shaunee said.
"You're scaring us," Erin said.
"I don't mean to," I told them. "Okay, this is coming out all wrong, but I think I saw that Elliott kid."
"What!" the Twins said together.
"I don't understand," Damien said. "Elliott died last month."
Stevie Rae's eyes suddenly widened. "Like Elizabeth!" she said. Before I could say anything, she blurted, in one long, breathless sentence, "Last month Zoey thought she saw Elizabeth's ghost out by the east wall but we didn't say anything 'cause we didn't want to scare y'all."
I opened my mouth to explain about Elliott—and Neferet. And shut it again. I should have realized before I'd said one word to any of them that I absolutely could not tell them about Neferet. Vampyres were all intuitive to some degree. High Priestess Neferet was amazingly intuitive. So much so that she often seemed to be able to read actual thoughts. No way could my four friends walk around school knowing that I'd seen her letting some kind of disgusting undead Elliott creature suck her blood without Neferet knowing everything in their freaked-out minds.
What I'd witnessed tonight I would have to keep completely to myself.
"Zoey?" Stevie Rae put her hand on my arm. "You can tell us." I smiled at her and wished with all my heart that I could.
"I did think I saw Elizabeth's ghost last month. And tonight I think I saw Elliott's," I finally said.
Damien frowned. "If you saw ghosts why did you ask me about fledglings recovering from rejecting the Change?"
I looked my friend in the eye and lied my ass off. "Because it seemed easier to believe than I was seeing ghosts—or at least it did until I said it. Then it sounded crazy."
"Seeing a ghost would have freaked me right out," Shaunee said.
Erin nodded enthusiastic agreement.
"Was it like with Elizabeth?" Stevie Rae asked.
At least this I didn't have to lie about. "No. He seemed more real, but I saw them both in the same place, over by the east wall, and both of their eyes glowed a weird red color."
"I'm sure as shit staying away from the spooky east wall," Erin said.
Damien, always the scholar, tapped his chin like a professor. "Zoey, maybe you have yet another affinity. Maybe you can see dead fledglings."
I would have thought this was a possibility, even though it was a gross one, if I hadn't seen the supposed ghost, solid and totally real, drinking my mentor's blood. Still, it was a good theory, and an excellent way to keep Damien busy. "You might be right," I said.
"Ugh," Stevie Rae said. "I hope not."
"Me, too. But could you do some research on it for me, Damien?"
"Of course. I'll also check out any references to hauntings by fledglings."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
"You know, I do think I remember reading something in an old Greek history text about vampyre spirits that restlessly prowl the ancient tombs of ...."
I shut out Damien's lecture, glad that Stevie Rae and the Twins were more involved with listening to his ghost stories than asking me more specific questions. I hated lying to them, especially since I really would have liked to have told them everything. What I saw had truly frightened me. How the hell was I going to face Neferet again?
Nala rubbed her face against mine and then settled down in my lap. I stared at the TV and petted her while Damien droned on and on about old vamp ghosts. And then I realized what I was seeing and lunged across Stevie Rae for the remote that was sitting on the lamp table beside her, causing Nala to mee-uf-ow snort! in annoyance and jump from my lap. I didn't even take time to soothe her, but quickly turned up the volume.
It was Chera Kimiko again on a repeat of the evening news' lead story.
"The body of the second Union High School teenager, Brad Higeons, was found by museum security guards this evening in the stream that runs along the Philbrook Museum grounds. The cause of death is not being officially reported at this time, but sources have told Fox News that the boy died of blood loss through multiple lacerations. "
"No ..." I felt my head shaking back and forth. There was a terrible ringing in my ears.
"That's the stream we crossed over when we went to the yard of the Philbrook for the Samhain Ritual last month," Stevie Rae said.
"It's just down the street from here," Shaunee said.
"The Dark Daughters used to sneak out there all the time for rituals," Erin said.
Then Damien said what we were all thinking. "Someone is trying to make it look like vampyres are killing human kids."
"Maybe they are." I hadn't actually meant to speak my thought aloud, and pressed my lips closed, immediately sorry I'd let that slip.
"Why would you say that, Zoey?" Stevie Rae sounded utterly shocked.
"I—I don't know. I didn't really mean it," I stuttered, not sure what I really meant or why I'd said it.
"You're freaked, that's all," Erin said.
"Of course you are. You knew both those kids," Shaunee added. "And on top of all of this, you saw a damn ghost today."
Damien was studying me again. "Did you have a feeling about Brad before you heard he was dead, Zoey?" he asked quietly.
"Yes. No." I sighed. "I thought he was dead as soon as I heard he'd been taken," I admitted.
"Did any specifics come with the feeling? Do you know anything more?" Damien said.
As if Damien's questions had prodded them from my memory, the snatches of words that I'd heard Neferet speak replayed in my mind... much too dangerous ... You may not have any more ... You cannot understand ... You may not question me .. . I felt a terrible chill that had nothing to do with the snowstorm outside. "Nothing specific came with the feeling. I have to go to my room," I said, suddenly unable to look at any of them. I hated lying, and doubted I could keep it up if I stayed with them much longer. "I have to finish up the words for the ritual tomorrow," I said lamely. "And I didn't get much sleep last night. I'm really tired."
"Okay, no problem. We understand," Damien said.
They were all so obviously worried about me that I could barely meet their eyes. "Thanks, guys," I mumbled as I left the room. I was halfway up the stairs when Stevie Rae caught up with me.
"Do you mind if I come back to the room now, too? I have a really bad headache. I really just want to go to sleep. I won't bug you while you study or anything."
"No, I don't mind," I said quickly. I glanced at her. She did look kinda pale. Stevie Rae was so sensitive that even though she didn't know Chris or Brad, their deaths were clearly upsetting her. Add to that my announcement about ghosts, and the poor kid probably was scared to death. I put my arm around her and gave her a squeeze as we came to our door. "Hey, everything's gonna be okay."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just tired." She grinned up at me, but she didn't sound as perky as usual.
We didn't say much while we put on our pajamas. Nala scooted in through the cat door, jumped up on my bed, and was asleep almost as fast as Stevie Rae, which was a relief to me because I didn't have to pretend to be writing words to a ritual I'd already finished. There was something else I had to do, and I didn't want to explain any part of it to anyone, not even my best friend.
Almost reaching 100,000 words. Should I continue or no?
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