I wanted to tell Stevie Rae about what had happened with Loren, and about Aphrodite busting in on us, but I wasn't up to going into it in front of Damien and the Twins. Not that they weren't my friends, too, but I had hardly had time to process what had happened, and the thought of the three of them chattering like crazy about it made me cringe. Especially since the Twins had rearranged their school schedules to get into Loren's poetry elective, where they freely admitted they spent the entire hour every day just staring at him. They would totally lose their minds when I told them what had happened. (Plus, had anything happened? I mean, the guy had just touched my face.)
"What's wrong with you?" Stevie Rae asked.
The attention that the four of them had been focusing on trying to figure out if there was a hair in Erin's salad or if it was just one of those weird string things from a piece of celery shifted instantly to me.
"Nothin', I'm just thinking about the Full Moon Ritual Sunday." I looked at my friends. They were watching me with eyes that said that they totally believed I'd come up with something and not make an ass out of myself. I wish I had their confidence in me.
"So what are you going to do? Have you decided?" Damien asked.
"I think so. Actually, what do you guys think of this idea ..." I launched into the whole Council and Prefect idea, and realized about halfway through explaining it to them that it really was a pretty good plan. I finished with the five ideals that were each allied with an element.
No one said anything. I was just starting to worry when Stevie Rae threw her arm around me and hugged me hard.
"Oh, Zoey! You're going to be an awesome High Priestess." Damien was all misty-eyed and his voice cracked adorably. "I feel like I'm in the court of a great queen."
"Or you could just be a great queen," Shaunee said.
"Her Majesty Damien ... hee hee," Erin said, giggling.
"Y'all ..." Stevie Rae warned.
"Sorry," the Twins said together.
"It was just so hard to resist," Shaunee said. "But seriously, we love the idea."
"Yeah, sounds like an excellent way to keep the hags out," Erin said.
"Well, that's another thing I needed to talk to you guys about." I took a deep breath. "I think seven is a good number for the Council. That way it's a decent size, and it's impossible to have a tie vote." They nodded. "So, everything I've been reading—not just about the Dark Daughters, but about student leadership groups in general—says that the Council members are upperclassmen. Actually the Senior Prefect, which would be me, is a, well, senior, and not a freshman."
"I like the title third former better. It sounds older," Damien said.
"Whatever we call it, it's still abnormal that we're so young. Which means we need two older kids on the Council with us."
There was a pause, and then Damien said, "I nominate Erik Night."
Shaunee rolled her eyes.
Erin said, "Okay, how many times do we have to explain this to you—the boy is not on your team. He likes breasts and vaginas, not penises and anu—"
"Stop!" I absolutely did not want to get off on this subject. "I think Erik Night is a good choice, and not because he likes me or, well..."
"Girl parts?" Stevie Rae offered.
"Yes, girl parts versus boy parts. I think he has the qualities we're looking for. He's talented, well liked, and he's really a good guy."
"And he's totally drop dead ." Erin said.
". gorgeous," Shaunee finished.
"It's true; he is. But we're absolutely not basing membership on appearance."
Shaunee and Erin frowned, but didn't argue with me. They're actually not real shallow; they're just kinda shallow.
I drew a deep breath. "And I think the seventh member of the Council needs to be one of the seniors who was part of Aphrodite's inside group. That is, if one of them petitions to join our Council."
This time there was no bedazzled silence. Erin and Shaunee, as usual, spoke at the same time.
"One of the hags from hell!"
...... "No f-ing way!"
Damien spoke while the Twins were taking breaths so they could shriek again. "I don't see how that could be a good idea." Stevie Rae just looked upset and picked at her lip.
I held up my hand, and was pleased (and surprised) when they actually shut up.
"I didn't take over the Dark Daughters to start a war at school. I took over because Aphrodite was a bully, and she had to be stopped. Now that I'm in charge I want the Dark Daughters to be a group kids are honored to belong to. And I don't mean just a little select clique of kids, like when Aphrodite was the leader. The Dark Daughters and Sons should be hard to get into and it should be select. But not because only the current leader's friends have a chance to get in. I want the Dark Daughters and Sons to be something everyone is proud of, and I think by allowing one of the old group on my Council I'll be sending the right message."
"Or you'll be letting a viper into our midst," Damien said quietly.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Damien, but aren't snakes closely allied with Nyx?" I spoke quickly, following the intuitive feeling that was prompting me. "Haven't they gotten a bad reputation because historically they've been symbols of female power, and men wanted to take that power away from women and make it something disgusting and scary instead?"
"No, you're right," he said reluctantly, "but that doesn't mean letting one of Aphrodite's gang into our Council is a good idea."
"See, that's the point. I don't want it to just be our Council. I want it to be something that becomes a tradition with the school. Something that lasts beyond us."
"So you mean if any of us don't make it through the Change, founding this new kind of Dark Daughters will be like we've lived on," Stevie Rae said, and I could see that she'd captured the interest of the rest of them.
"That's exactly what I meant—even though I don't think I realized it until this second," I said in a rush.
"Well, I like that part of it, even though I have no intention of drowning in my own bloody lungs," Erin said.
"Of course you won't, Twin: It's a much too unattractive way to die."
"I don't want to even think about not making it through the Change," Damien said, "but if—if something awful were to happen to me, I would want something about me to live on here at the school."
"Could we have plaques?" Stevie Rae asked, and I noticed she was suddenly looking unusually pale.
"Plaques?" I had no clue what she was talking about.
"Yeah. I think we should have a plaque or something that records the names of the ... the ... what did you call them?"
"Prefects," Damien said.
"Yeah, Prefects. The plaque, or whatever, could have the names of each year's Prefect Council, and it'll be displayed for ever and ever.
"Yeah," said Shaunee, warming to the idea. "But not just a plaque. We need something cooler than just a plain old plaque."
"Something that's unique—like us," Erin said.
"Handprints," Damien said.
"Huh?" I asked.
"Our handprints are unique. What if we made cement casts of each of our handprints, then signed our names below them," Damien said.
"Like the stars do in Hollywood!" Stevie Rae said.
Okay, it seemed kinda cheesy, which meant I couldn't help but like it. The idea was like us—unique—cool—and bordering on tacky.
"I think handprints are an excellent idea. And you know where the perfect place for them is?" They looked at me with bright, happy eyes, their worry about one of Aphrodite's friends joining us, as well as the pretty much constant fear of sudden death we all carried around with us, temporarily forgotten. "The courtyard is the perfect place."
The bell rang, calling us back to class. I asked Stevie Rae to tell our Spanish teacher, Professor Garmy, that I had gone to see Neferet, so I'd be late. I really wanted to tell her about my ideas while they were still fresh in my mind. It wouldn't take long—I'd just give her a basic outline and see if she liked the direction I was heading. Maybe ... maybe I'd even ask her to come to the Full Moon Ritual Sunday, and be there when I announced the new selection process for membership to the Dark Daughters and Sons. I was thinking about how nervous I'd be if Neferet was there, watching me cast a circle and lead my own ritual, and was telling myself sternly that I'd have to get rid of my nerves . that it was the best thing for the Dark Daughters if Neferet was there showing her support of my new ideas and—
"But that's what I saw!" Aphrodite's voice, carrying from the cracked door of Neferet's classroom, jarred my thoughts and made me stop short. She sounded awful—totally upset and maybe even scared.
"If your sight is no better than that, then perhaps it's time you quit sharing what you see with others." Neferet's voice was ice, terrifying, cold, and hard.
"But, Neferet, you asked! All I did was tell you what I saw."
What was Aphrodite talking about? Ah, hell. Could she have run to Neferet about seeing Loren touch my face? I looked around the deserted hall. I should get out of here, but no damn way I was going to leave if that hag was talking about me— even if it seemed Neferet wasn't believing anything she was saying. So instead of leaving (like a smart girl), I walked quickly and quietly into the shadowed corner near the partially opened door. And then, thinking fast, I took off one of my silver hoop earrings and tossed it into the corner. I come and go from Neferet's classroom a lot—it's not beyond all reason that I'd be looking for a lost earring outside her door.
"You know what I want you to do?" Neferet's words were so filled with anger and power that I could feel them crawl across my skin. "I want you to learn to not speak of things that are questionable. " She drew the word out. Was she talking about gossiping about Loren and me?
"I—I just wanted you to know." Aphrodite had started crying, and she choked the words between sobs. "I th-thought there might be something you could do to stop it."
"Perhaps it would be wiser for you to think that because of your selfish actions in the past, Nyx is withholding her power from you because you are no longer in her favor and that what you are now seeing are false images."
I'd never heard the kind of cruelty that filled Neferet's voice. It didn't even sound like her, and it scared me in a way that was hard for me to define. The day I'd been Marked, I'd had an accident before I got to the House of Night. When I was unconscious I'd had an out-of-body experience, which ended with me meeting Nyx. The Goddess told me that she had special plans for me, and then she kissed my forehead. When I woke up my Mark had been filled in. I had a powerful connection with the elements (although I didn't realize that till much later), and I also had a weird new gut feeling that sometimes told me to say or do certain things—and sometimes told me very clearly to keep my mouth shut. Right now my gut feeling was telling me that Neferet's anger was all wrong, even if it was in response to Aphrodite's malicious gossip about me.
"Please don't say that, Neferet!" Aphrodite sobbed. "Please don't tell me that Nyx has rejected me!"
"I don't have to tell you anything. Search within your soul. What is it telling you?"
If Neferet had spoken the words gently, they might have been nothing more than a wise teacher, or priestess, giving someone who was troubled some direction—as in look inside yourself to find, and fix, the problem. But Neferet's voice was cold and sneering and cruel.
"It's—it's telling me that I've—I've, uh, made m-mistakes, but not that the Goddess hates me."
Aphrodite was crying so much that she was getting harder and harder to understand.
"Then you should look closer."
Aphrodite's sobs were wrenching. I couldn't listen anymore. Leaving my earring, I followed my gut and got the hell out of there.
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