The vamps' dining hall wasn't a cafeteria. It was a very cool room that was directly above the students' dining hall. It, too, had a wall of arched windows. Wrought-iron tables and chairs were set up on the balcony that overlooked the courtyard below. The rest of the room was tastefully and expensively decorated with a variety of different size tables and even a few booths made of dark cherry-wood. There were no trays here and no serve-yourself buffets. Linens, china, and crystal were set tastefully on the tables, and long, thin white tapers burned happily in crystal holders. There were a few professors eating in quiet couples or small groups. They nodded at Neferet respectfully and smiled quick welcomes to me before going back to their meals.
I tried to gawk at what they were eating without being too obvious, but all I saw was the same Vietnamese salad we'd been eating downstairs, and some fancy-looking spring rolls. There wasn't one sign of raw meat or anything that resembled blood (well, except for the red wine). And, of course, I really didn't need to bother about gawking. If they'd been feasting on bloody whatever I would have smelled it. I was intimately familiar with the delicious scent of blood ...
"Would the cool night bother you if we sat outside on the balcony?" Neferet asked.
"No, I don't think so. I don't feel the cold like I used to." I smiled brightly at her, reminding myself severely that she's an intuitive and she was probably "hearing" pieces of the stupid stuff cascading through my mind.
"Good, I prefer dining on the balcony in all seasons." She led me through the doors to a table already set for two. A server magically appeared— obviously a vampyre by her filled-in Mark and the series of slim tattoos that framed her heart-shaped face, but she looked really young. "Yes, bring me the Bun Cha Gio and a pitcher of the same red wine I had last night." She paused, and then with a secret smile to me added, "And please bring Zoey a glass of any brown pop we have, so long as it isn't diet."
"Thank you," I told her.
"Just try not to drink too much of that stuff. It's really not good for you." She winked at me, making her admonishment a little joke.
I grinned at her, happy that she remembered what I like, and I started to feel more relaxed. This was Neferet—our High Priestess. She was my mentor and my friend and in the month I'd been here she'd never been anything but kind to me. Yes, she'd sounded scary as hell when I overheard her with Aphrodite, but Neferet was a powerful Priestess, and as Stevie Rae kept reminding me, Aphrodite was a selfish bully who deserved to be in trouble. Hell! She'd probably been gossiping about me.
"Feeling better?" Neferet said.
I met her eyes. She was studying me carefully.
"Yeah, I am."
"When I heard about the missing human teenager I began to worry about you. This Chris Ford was a friend of yours, wasn't he?"
Nothing she said should surprise me. Neferet was incredibly smart and gifted by the Goddess. Add to that the weird sixth sense all the vamps had, and more than likely she knew literally everything (or at least everything important). It had probably been easy-peasy for her to know that I'd had my own intuitive feeling about Chris's disappearance.
"Well, he wasn't really a friend of mine. We've been at some of the same parties, but I don't really like to party, so I didn't know him that well."
"But something about his disappearance has upset you."
I nodded. "It's just a feeling I have. It's silly. He probably had a fight with his parents and his dad grounded him or something like that, so he took off. More than likely he's already home."
"If you really believed that you wouldn't still feel so worried." Neferet waited until the server finished giving us our drinks and food before she said more. "Humans believe that adult vampyres are all psychic. The truth is that though many of us do have a gift for precognition or clairvoyance, the vast majority of our people have simply learned to listen to their intuition—which is something most humans have been frightened out of doing." Her tone was much like it was in her classroom, and I listened to her eagerly while we ate. "Think about it, Zoey. You're a good student—I'm sure you remember from your history classes what has historically happened to humans, especially female humans, when they pay too much attention to their intuition and begin 'hearing voices in their head' or even foreseeing the future."
"They were usually thought of as in league with the devil, or whatnot, depending on what time it was in history. Bottom line was they caught hell for it." Then I blushed because I'd said the H word in front of a teacher, but she didn't seem to care, she was just nodding in agreement with me.
"Yes, exactly. They even attacked holy people, like their Joan of Arc. So you see that humans have learned to silence their instincts. Vampyres, on the other hand, have learned to listen and listen well to them. In the past, when humans attempted to hunt and destroy our kind, it was all that saved many of our foremothers and forefathers' lives."
I shivered, not liking to think about how tough it must have been to be a vampyre a hundred or so years ago.
"Oh, you don't need to worry, Zoeybird." Neferet smiled. Hearing my grandma's nickname for me made me smile, too. "The Burning Times will never come again. We may not be revered as we were in ancient days, but never again will humans be able to hunt and destroy us." For a moment her green eyes flashed dangerously. I took a big drink of my brown pop, not wanting to meet those scary eyes. When she continued, she sounded like herself again—all hint of danger was gone from her voice and she was just my mentor and friend. "So, what all this means is that I want you to be sure that you listen to your instincts. If you get bad feelings about a situation or about someone, pay attention to it. And, of course, if you need to talk with me, you may come to me at any time."
"Thanks, Neferet, that means a lot to me."
She waved away my thanks. "That's what it means to be a mentor and a High Priestess—two roles I fully expect you to take on someday."
When she talked about my future and me being a High Priestess, I always got a funny feeling. It was made up partially of hope and excitement, and partially of abject fear.
"Actually, I was surprised that you didn't come see me today after you finished in the library. Did you not decide on a new direction for the Dark Daughters?"
"Oh, uh, yeah. I did." I forced myself not to think about the library and my encounter with Loren, and the east wall and my encounter with Loren ... No way did I want Neferet and her intuition picking up anything about ... well ... him.
"I sense your hesitation, Zoey. Would you rather not share what you've decided with me?"
"Oh, no! I mean, yes. Actually, I did come by your room, but you were ..." I looked up quickly, remembering the scene I'd overheard. Her eyes seemed to see into my soul. I swallowed hard. "You were busy with Aphrodite. So I left."
"Oh, I see. Now your nervousness around me makes much more sense."
Neferet sighed sadly. "Aphrodite ... she has become a problem. It really is a pity. As I said on Samhain when I realized how far wrong she'd gone, I feel partially responsible for her behavior and her transformation into the dark creature she has become. I knew she was selfish, even when she first joined our school. I should have stepped in sooner and taken a firmer hand with her." Neferet's gaze caught mine. "How much did you overhear today?"
A warning skittered down my spine. "Not very much," I said quickly. "Aphrodite was crying really hard. I heard you tell her to look within. I knew you wouldn't want to be interrupted." I stopped, careful not to say specifically that that was all I had heard—careful not to lie outright. And I didn't look away from her sharp eyes.
Neferet sighed again and sipped her wine. "I would not normally talk about one fledging to another, but this is a unique case. You know that Aphrodite's Goddess-given affinity was to be able to foresee disastrous events?"
I nodded, noting the past tense she used when she mentioned Aphrodite's ability.
"Well, it seems that Aphrodite's behavior has caused Nyx to withdraw her gift. It's something that is highly unusual. Once the Goddess touches someone, she rarely revokes what she has given." Neferet shrugged sadly. "But who can know the mind of the Great Goddess of Night?"
"It must be awful for Aphrodite," I said, more thinking aloud than really meaning to comment.
"I appreciate your compassion, but I did not tell you this so that you would pity Aphrodite. Rather, I tell you so that you know to be on your guard. Aphrodite's visions are no longer valid. She might say or do things that are disturbing. As leader of the Dark Daughters, it will be your responsibility to be certain that she does not upset the delicate balance of harmony among the fledglings. Of course we encourage you to work out problems among yourselves. You are much more than human teenagers, and we expect more from you, but feel free to come to me if Aphrodite's behavior becomes too"— she paused, like she was considering the next word carefully—"erratic."
"I will," I said, my stomach beginning to hurt again.
"Good! Now, why don't you tell me the plans you've made for your reign as leader of the Dark Daughters."
I put Aphrodite out of my mind and outlined my new plans for the Prefect Council and the Dark Daughters. Neferet listened attentively and was openly impressed by my research and what she called a "logical reorganization."
"So, what you want from me is to lead the faculty in voting on the two new Prefects, because I agree with you that you and your four friends have more than proven your worth and are already an excellent working Council."
"Yes. The Council wants to nominate Erik Night for the first of the two open positions."
Neferet nodded her head. "Erik is a wise choice. He's popular with the fledglings, and he has an excellent future before him. Who did you have in mind for the last position?"
"Here's where my Council and I disagree. I think we need another upperclassman, and I also think that person should be one who belonged to Aphrodite's inner circle." Neferet raised her brows in surprise. "Well, including a friend of hers reinforces what I've said all along, that I didn't come into this because I'm power crazy and set out to steal what was Aphrodite's or anything stupid like that. I just wanted to do the right thing. I didn't want to start some kind of silly clique war. If one of her friends is on my Council, then the rest of them might understand that it's not about me getting over on her—it's about something more important than that."
Neferet considered for what seemed like forever. Finally she said, "You know that even her friends have turned from her."
"I realized that today in the dining hall."
"Then what is the point of putting an ex-friend of hers on your Council?"
"I'm not convinced they are ex-friends. People act different in private than they do in public."
"Again, I agree with you. I already made the announcement to the faculty that Sunday the Dark Daughters and Sons will convene a special Full Moon Ritual and meeting. I would expect that the vast majority of the old members will attend—if for no other reason than curiosity about your powers."
I gulped and nodded. I was already way too aware that I was the main attraction in a freak show.
"Sunday is the right time for you to tell the Dark Daughters about your new vision for it. Announce that there is one spot left on your Council, and that it must be filled by a sixth former. You and I will look over the applications and decide who is the best fit."
I frowned. "But I don't want it to just be our choice. I want the faculty to vote, as well as the student body."
"They will," she said smoothly. "Then we will decide."
I wanted to say more, but her green eyes had gone cold; I'm not ashamed to admit that that scared me. So instead of arguing with her (which was totally impossible) I went down a different road (as my grandma would say).
"I also want the Dark Daughters to get involved with a community charity."
This time Neferet's brows totally disappeared into her hairline. "You mean community as in the human community?"
"You think they will welcome your help? They shun us. They abhor us. They are afraid of us."
"Maybe that's because they don't know us," I said. "Maybe if we acted like part of Tulsa, we'd get treated like part of Tulsa."
"Have you read about the Greenwood riots in the 1920s? Those African- American humans were part of Tulsa, and Tulsa destroyed them."
"It's not 1920 anymore," I said. It was hard to meet her eyes, but I knew, deep inside, that I was doing the right thing. "Neferet, my intuition is telling me this is something I must do."
I watched her expression soften. "And I did tell you to follow your intuition, didn't I?"
"What charity will you choose to get involved with—providing they actually allow you to help them?"
"Oh, I think they'll let us help them. I've decided to contact Street Cats— the cat rescue charity."
Neferet threw back her head and laughed.
Street Cats ! Haha
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