The next day started with what I looked back on later as suspicious normalcy. Stevie Rae and I ate breakfast, still whispering good gossip about how hot Erik was and trying to figure out what I'd wear on our date Saturday. We didn't even see Aphrodite or the hag triplets, Warlike, Terrible, and Wasp.
Vamp Soc class was so interesting—we'd moved from the Amazons to learning about an ancient Greek vampyre festival called Correia—that I'd stopped thinking about the Dark Daughters ritual planned for that evening, and for a little while I'd actually quit worrying about what I was going to do about Aphrodite. Drama class was good, too. I decided to do one of Kate's soliloquies from The Taming of the Shrew (I've loved that play ever since I saw the old movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton). Then as I was leaving class Neferet snagged me in the hall and asked how far I'd read in the upper level Vamp Soc book. I'd had to tell her that I really hadn't read much (translation: I hadn't read any) yet, and I was totally distracted by her obvious disappointment in me when I hurried into English class. I'd just taken my seat between Damien and Stevie Rae when all hell broke loose, and everything vaguely resembling anything normal about the day ended.
Penthesilea was reading "You Go and I'll Stay a While Chapter Four" of A Night to Remember. It's a really good book, and we were all listening, as usual, then that stupid Elliott kid started coughing. Jeesh, the kid was totally and completely annoying.
Somewhere in the middle of the chapter and the obnoxious coughing I started to smell something. It was rich and sweet, delicious, and elusive. Automatically, I inhaled deeply, still trying to concentrate on the book.
Elliott's coughing got worse, and with the rest of the class, I turned to give him a dirty look. I mean, please. Could he not get a cough drop or a drink or whatever?
And then I saw the blood.
Elliott wasn't in his usual slouched and sleeping position. He was sitting straight up, staring at his hand, which was covered with fresh blood. As I watched him, he coughed again, making a nasty, wet sound that reminded me of the day I'd been Marked. Only when Elliott coughed, bright scarlet blood spewed from his mouth.
"Wh—?" he gurgled.
"Get Neferet!" Penthesilea snapped the command as she jerked open one of her desk drawers, yanked out a neatly folded towel, and moved quickly down the aisle to Elliott. The kid who was sitting closest to the door took off.
In utter silence we watched Penthesilea make it to Elliott just in time for his next bloody cough, which she caught in the towel. He clutched the towel to his face, hacking and spitting and gagging. When he finally looked up, bloody tears were running down his pale, round face, and blood was running from his nose like it was a faucet someone had left on. When he turned his head to look up at Penthesilea, I could see that there was a red stream coming from his ear, too.
"No!" Elliott said with more emotion than I'd ever heard him show. "No! I don't want to die!"
"Sssh," Penthesilea soothed, smoothing his orange hair back from his sweaty face. "Your pain will end soon."
"But—but, no I—" He started to protest again, in a whiny voice that sounded more like his own, then he was interrupted by another round of hacking coughs. He gagged again, this time puking blood into the already soaked towel.
Neferet entered the room with two tall, powerful-looking vampyre men close behind her. They carried a flat stretcher and a blanket; Neferet was carrying only a vial filled with milky-colored liquid. Not two breaths behind them, Dragon Lankford burst into the room.
"That's his mentor," Stevie Rae whispered almost soundlessly. I nodded, remembering when Penthesilea had chastised Elliott for letting Dragon down.
Neferet handed Dragon the vial she'd been holding. Then she stood behind Elliott. She put her hands on his shoulders. Instantly, his gagging and coughing subsided.
"Drink this quickly, Elliott," Dragon told him. When he started to weakly shake his head no, he added gently, "It will make your pain end."
"Will—will you stay with me?" Elliott gasped.
"Of course," Dragon said. "I won't let you be alone for even a moment."
"Will you call my mom?" Elliott whispered.
Elliott closed his eyes for a second, and then, with shaking hands he held the vial to his lips and drank. Neferet nodded to the two men, and they picked him up and lay him on the stretcher as if he was a doll and not a dying kid. With Dragon by his side, they hurried from the room. Before Neferet followed them she turned to face the shocked classroom of third formers.
"I could tell you that Elliott will be fine—that he will recover, but that would be a lie." Her voice was serene, but filled with commanding strength. "The truth is his body has rejected the Change. In minutes he will die the permanent death and will not mature into a vampyre. I could tell you not to worry, that it won't happen to you. But this would be a lie, too. On average, one out of every ten of you will not make the Change. Some fledglings die early in their third former year, as is Elliott. Some of you will be stronger and last until your sixth former year, and then sicken and die suddenly. I tell you this not so that you will live in fear. I tell you for two reasons. First, I want you to know that as your High Priestess I will not lie to you, but will help ease your passing into the next world if that time comes. And second, I want you to live as you would be remembered if you would die tomorrow, because you might. Then if you do die your spirit can rest peacefully knowing that you leave behind an honorable memory. If you do not die, then you will have set the foundation for a long life rich with integrity." She looked straight into my eyes as she finished, saying, "I ask that Nyx's blessing comfort you today, and that you remember death is a natural part of life, even a vampyre life. For someday we all must return to the bosom of the Goddess." She closed the door behind her with a sound that seemed to echo finality.
Penthesilea worked quickly and efficiently. Matter-of-factly she cleaned up the spatters of blood that stained Elliot's desk. When all evidence of the dying kid was gone, she returned to the front of the class and led us in a moment of silence for Elliott. Then she picked up the book and began reading where she'd left off. I tried to listen. I tried to block out the vision of Elliott bleeding out through his eyes and ears and nose and mouth. And I also tried not to think about the fact that the delicious smell I'd noticed had been, without a doubt, Elliott's lifeblood pouring from his dying body.
* * *
I know things are supposed to go on as usual after a fledgling dies, but apparently it was unusual for two kids to die so close together, and everyone was unnaturally quiet for the rest of the day. Lunch was silent and depressing, and I noticed that most of the food was picked at rather than eaten. The Twins didn't even bicker with Damien, which might have been a nice change if I hadn't known the awful reason behind it. When Stevie Rae made some lame excuse to leave lunch early and go back to the room before fifth hour started, I was more than happy to say I'd go with her.
We walked along the sidewalk in the thick dark of another cloudy night. Tonight the gaslights didn't feel cheerful and warm. Instead they seemed cold and not bright enough.
"No one liked Elliott, and somehow I think that makes it worse," Stevie Rae said. "It was weirdly easier with Elizabeth. At least we could feel honestly sorry she was gone."
"I know what you mean. I feel upset, but I know I'm really upset that I saw what can happen to us and now I can't get it out of my mind, and not upset that the kid's dead."
"At least it happens fast," she said softly.
I shivered. "I wonder if it hurts."
"They give you something—that white stuff Elliott drank. It makes it stop hurting, but it lets you be conscious till the end. And Neferet always helps with the actual dying."
"It's scary, isn't it?" I said.
We didn't say anything for a while. Then the moon peeped through the clouds, painting the leaves of the tree with an eerie silver watercolor, and reminding me suddenly of Aphrodite and her ritual.
"Any chance Aphrodite will cancel the Samhain ritual tonight?"
"No way. The Dark Daughters' rituals are never cancelled."
"Well, hell," I said. Then I glanced at Stevie Rae. "He was their refrigerator."
She gave me a startled look. "Elliott?"
"Yeah, it was really gross, and he acted all drugged and weird. He must have been starting to reject the Change even then." There was an uncomfortable silence, and then I added, "I didn't want to say anything to you before, especially after you told me about...well...you know. Are you sure Aphrodite won't cancel tonight? I mean, what with Elizabeth and now Elliott."
"It won't matter. And the Dark Daughters don't care about the kid they use as a refrigerator. They'll just get someone else."
She hesitated. "Zoey, I've been thinking. Maybe you shouldn't go tonight. I heard what Aphrodite said to you yesterday. She's going to make sure no one accepts you. She'll be really, really mean."
"I'll be okay, Stevie Rae."
"No, I have a bad feeling about it. You don't have a plan yet, do you?"
"Well, no. I'm still in the reconnoitering stage I said, trying to lighten up the conversation.
"Reconnoiter later. Today's been too awful. Everyone's upset. I think you should wait."
"I can't just not show up, especially after what Aphrodite said to me yesterday. She'll think she told me and now she can intimidate me."
Stevie Rae took a deep breath. "Well, then I think you should take me with you." I started to shake my head but she kept right on talking. "You're a Dark Daughter now. Technically, you can invite people to the rituals. So invite me. I'll go and watch your back."
I thought about drinking blood and liking it so much that it was obvious, even to Warlike and Terrible. And I tried, and failed, not to think about the scent of blood—Heath's and Erik's and even Elliott's. Stevie Rae would find out someday how blood affected me, but it wouldn't be tonight. Actually, if I could help it, it wouldn't be anytime soon. I didn't want to chance losing her or the Twins or Damien—and I was afraid I would. Yes, they knew I was "special," and they accepted me because that uniqueness meant High Priestess to them, and that was good. My bloodlust was not so good. Would they accept it as easily?
"No way, Stevie Rae."
"But, Zoey, you shouldn't go into that hag pack alone."
"I won't be alone. Erik will be there."
"Yeah, but he used to be Aphrodite's boyfriend. Who knows how good he'll be at standing up to her if she gets real hateful with you."
"Honey, I can stand up for myself."
"I know, but—" She broke off and gave me a funny look. "Z, are you vibrating?"
"Huh? Am I what?" And then I heard it, too, and started laughing. "It's my cell phone. I stuck it in my purse after it charged up last night." I pulled it out of my purse, glancing at the time on the face dial. "It's past midnight, who the heck..." Flipping the phone open I was shocked to see that I had fifteen new text messages and five missed calls. "Jeesh, someone's been calling and calling, and I didn't even notice." I checked the text messages first, and felt my stomach start to clench as I read them.
- Zo call me I stl luv u Zo call me plz Got 2 see u U & Me Will u call?
- I wnt 2 talk 2 u Zo!
- Call me back
I didn't need to read any more of them. They were all basically the same. "Ah, crap. They're all from Heath."
I sighed. "Yeah."
"What does he want?"
"Apparently, me." Reluctantly, I keyed in the code to access my voice messages, and Heath's cute, dopey voice shocked me with how loud and animated he sounded.
- "Zo! Call me. Like, I know it's late, but...wait. It's not late to you, but it's late to me. But that's okay 'cause I don't care. I just want you to call me. Okay. So. Bye. Call me."
I groaned and deleted it. The next one sounded even more manic.
- "Zoey! Okay. You need to call me. Really. And don't be mad. Hey, I don't even like Kayla. She's lame. I still love you, Zo, only you. So call me. I don't care when. I'll just wake up."
"Man oh man," Stevie Rae said, easily overhearing Heath's gushing. "The boy's obsessed. No wonder you dumped him."
"Yeah," I mumbled, quickly deleting the second message. The third was much like the first two, only more desperate. I turned the volume down and tapped my foot impatiently while I went through all five messages, not listening except to see when I could delete and move on to the next one. "I gotta go see Neferet," I said, more to myself than to Stevie Rae.
"How come? You need to block him from calling or something?"
"No. Yeah. Something like that. I just need to talk to her about, well, about what I should do." I avoided Stevie Rae's curious gaze.
"I mean, he's already showed up here once. I don't want him to come by again and cause any trouble."
"Oh, yeah, that's true. It'd be bad if he ran into Erik."
"It'd be awful. Okay, I better hurry and try to catch Neferet before fifth hour. I'll see you after school."
I didn't wait for Stevie Rae's good-bye, but took off in the direction of Neferet's room. Could this day get any worse? Elliott dies and I'm attracted to his blood. I have to go to the Samhain ritual tonight with a bunch of kids who hate me and want to make sure I know it, and I've probably Imprinted my ex-almost- boyfriend.
Yep. Today really, really sucked.
I imagined heath like a puppy. It's cute.
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