Home > Kristin Cast > Hunted for Chapter Nine      Page
Okay, taking a group shower with girls who had affinities for water and fire was an experience thaZ! Th vityt went from awkward to interesting to pretty darn funny.
 
 
At first it was awkward because, well, even though we're all girls, we're not exactly used to communal showers. These weren't horribly barbaric. There were about half a dozen shower heads (which were all bright and shiny and new looking--I'm sure thanks to either Kramisha or Dallas or both, with help from Aphrodite's popular gold card). Each of them had a separate shower stall one right after another. No, there weren't any doors or shower curtains or anything. Actually, there was a rail at the top of each one, so my guess was that there used to be shower curtains back in the day, but they were long gone. Oh, the stalls for the toilets did have doors, even if they didn't want to stay latched. So it was awkward to be naked with my friends at first. But we are all girls, hetero girls at that, so we really weren't interested in each other's boobies and such, no matter how hard that is for guys to comprehend, so the awkward part didn't last long. Plus, the entire locker room was filled with dense steam, which gave the illusion of privacy.
 
 
Then, after I picked my shower stall, chose from the lovely assortment of bath and hair products, and started to soap up, it hit me that it was really steamy. As in unnaturally so. And that the "unnaturally so" was happening because all of the shower heads, even in the unoccupied stalls, were shooting jets of hot water from them, causing warm mist to rise and swirl, almost as thick as smoke.
 
 
Hmm...
 
 
"Hey!" I stuck my head over my stall trying to see the Twins in their showers. "Are you guys doing something to the water?"
 
 
"Huh?" Shaunee said, wiping shampoo bubbles out of her eyes. "What?"
 
 
"This," I flailed my arms causing the thick mist to billow around me dreamily. "All of this doesn't seem like it's happening without some help from certain someones who know how to manipulate fire and water."
 
 
"Us? Miss Fire and Miss Water?" Erin said. I could barely see the top of her bright blond head through the steam. "What ever could she mean, Twin?"
 
 
"I do believe our Z is implying we'd use our goddess-given affinities for something as selfish as making thick, warm, sweet-smelling mist to help relax all of us after we've just had a day that was ever so horrible," Shaunee said with mock Southern Belle innocence.
 
 
"Would we do that, Twin?" Erin asked.
 
 
"We absolutely would, Twin," Shaunee said.
 
 
"For shame, Twin. For shame," Erin said with mock severity. And then they dissolved into twin giggles.
 
 
I rolled my eyes at them, but realized Shaunee had been right. The mist was sweet-smelling. It reminded me of spring rain, filled with the fresh scents of flowers and grass, and it was warm--no, the water was hot, like a lazy summer day at the beach. The truth was even though the room was occasionally semi-illuminated by flashes of lightning from the storm that was raging outside, and even though booming thunder was uncomfortably loud, the atmosphere the Twins had created was utterly soothing.
 
 
So here's where the interesting part came in. I decided th4 t="0%">
 
 
"Hey, are you sending any of this over to the guys' locker room?" I asked as I scrubbed my hair.
 
 
"Nope," Shaunee said happily.
 
 
"Nada." Erin grinned.
 
 
I smiled back at them. "It's good to be a girl."
 
 
"Yeah, even if we do have to get butt-ass naked together and shower in what looks like a line of horse stalls," Erin said.
 
 
I giggled. "Horse stalls. I think that makes you guys nags."
 
 
"Nags! Us?" Erin said.
 
 
"Oh no, she did not just call us nags," Shaunee said.
 
 
"Get her!" Erin yelled, and she flung her hands at me, causing water to pelt me from all sides.
 
 
Of course it didn't really hurt, so it made me giggle even more.
 
 
"I'm heating her up, Twin!" Shaunee said, flicking her fingers at me, and my skin was suddenly very, very warm. So much so that the steam in my stall doubled.
 
 
In between giggles I whispered, "Wind, come to me," and instantly felt the brush of power surround me. Swirling my fingers in the steamy mist that engulfed me, I said, "Wind, send all this back to the Twins!" Then I pursed my lips and blew gently in their direction. With a mighty whoosh the mist and heat and water whirled around me once, twice, and then blew directly at the Twins, who screeched and laughed and tried to fight back. Of course they couldn't win. I mean, come on! I can call on all five elements, but it was a hilarious version of a pillow fight? water fight that left all of us drenched and breathless with laughter.
 
 
We finally called a truce. Okay, more accurately, I made the Twins yell, "We give! We give!" several times, and then I graciously accepted their surrender. It was wonderful to slip into soft terry-cloth robes and feel all squeaky clean and sleepy. We draped our clothes around the shower stalls and called water and mist once more to steam them, and then I commanded fire and air to blow them dry. Then the three of us drifted back down to the tunnels, ignoring the crack-and-boom show that was playing outside, secure in that fact that we were surrounded by the earth and protected by male vampyres who would no way let anyone sneak up on us.
 
 
I'd say Stevie Rae had been dead to the world when I got back to her room, but the phrasing scared me. She'd been dead, or almost dead, too many times for my nerves. I will admit I tiptoed over to her and stood there staring to make sure she was breathing before going to my side of the bed and easing myself in under the covers. Nala put her head up and sneezed at me, clearly unhappy at being disturbed, but she padded sleepily over to me and curled up on my pillow, resting one little white paw on my cheeht tharobes ank. I smiled at her and, clean and warm and very, very tired, fell instantly to sleep.
 
 
 
Then I'd had that horrible dream, which brought me back to current time. I'd hoped replaying everything that had happened in the past several hours would be like counting sheep and maybe help me drift back into a hopefully dreamless sleep. But it was no use. I was too freaked about Kalona and too worried about what I was supposed to do next.
 
 
My cell phone was on the bedside table and I picked it up, checking the time: 2:05 P.M. So, great, I'd gotten a whopping three hours of sleep. No wonder I felt like my eyes had sand in them. Brown pop. I needed some brown pop in the worst way. I checked Stevie Rae again before I left the room, this time being careful not to wake her up. She was curled up on her side, snoring softly and looking about twelve years old. It was hard to imagine her ever having blood red eyes, snarling dangerously, and chomping on Aphrodite with such intensity that the two of them had Imprinted. I sighed, feeling like the entire world was pressing down on me. How was I supposed to deal with all of this, especially when the good guys sometimes seemed bad, and the bad guys were so...so...Images of Stark and Kalona passed through my mind, making me feel terribly confused and stressed out.
 
 
No, I told myself firmly, you shared a kiss with Stark as he was dying. He was a different kid before Neferet messed with him, but now she has messed with him and you have to remember that. You shared a nightmare with Kalona. Period. That's all there was to it.
 
 
The fact that in my nightmare Kalona had insisted I was A-ya was just crazy. It wasn't true. Sure, I'd felt drawn to him, but so had practically everyone else. Plus, I was me, and A-ya had been, well, dirt until the Ghigua women had breathed life and special gifts into her. I must look like her, weird as that is, I told myself. Or maybe he'd called me A-ya just to mess with my head. That seemed more than possible, especially if Neferet had told him stuff about me.
 
 
Nala had settled back down on the pillow beside Stevie Rae and was purring again with her eyes shut. Obviously there were no nightmare monsters lurking about because Nala would have been freaked. Glad at least of that, I gave her head and Stevie Rae's a little pat--neither opened her eyes--and then ducked through the blanket door and into the hallway.
 
 
The tunnels were absolutely silent. I was glad that the oil lanterns were still lit; darkness and I weren't exactly on good terms right then. I'll also admit that, even though I kept a wary eye on the shadows between lights for bats and whatnot, it did feel reassuring to be snuggly underground and not anywhere near open, moonlit meadows or trees with ghostly shadows perched in them. I shivered. No. Don't think about it.
 
 
On the way to the kitchen I paused by Kramisha's doorway and peeked quietly in. I could just make out her head in the middle of her bed under mounds of purple comforter and pink pillows. The Twins were zonked out on sleeping bags with their hateful cat, Beelzebub, curled up on the floor between them.
 
 
I closed the blanket flap quietly, not wanting to wake up the Twins before it was their turn to be on watch. Actually, I should grab my brown pop and relieve Damien and Jack and te6 Awould havell them to let the Twins sleep. I definitely wouldn't be doing any more sleeping for a while--like years. Okay, just kidding. Sort of.
 
 
No one was in the kitchen. The only sound was the small, homelike hum of the refrigerators. The first one I opened caused me to take a little step back in shock. The entire fridge was filled with sealed baggies full of blood. Seriously. And, of course, my mouth started to water.
 
 
I slammed the door shut.
 
 
And then reconsidered and opened it again. Resolutely, I grabbed a baggie. I'd had next to no sleep. I was under major stress. A stupid immortal fallen angel bad guy was after me and calling me some dead dirt girl's name. Let's face it, I needed a lot more than brown pop to get through the day.
 
 
I found the scissors in the top drawer of the butcher block island and, before I could guilt or gross myself out of it, snipped open the bag and upended it.
 
 
I know, I know. My slurping down blood like it was from a collapsible juice box sounds completely nasty, but it was delicious. It didn't taste like blood, or at least not that coppery, salty way blood used to taste to me before I was Marked. It was delicious and electrifying, like drinking rare gourmet honey mixed with wine (if you like wine) mixed with Red Bull (but better tasting). I could feel it spreading through my body, giving me a jolt of energy that chased away the lingering terror of my nightmare.
 
 
I crumpled up the empty baggie and tossed it in the big garbage can in the corner of the room. Then I grabbed a bottle of brown pop and a bag of nacho cheese Doritos. I mean, my breath already smelled gross from the blood. Might as well have Doritos for breakfast.
 
 
Then I realized: one, I didn't know where Damien and Jack were, and two, I really needed to call Sister Mary Angela and find out how Grandma was doing.
 
 
Yeah, I know it sounds weird that I was calling a nun. It sounds even weirder that I trusted said nun with my grandma's life. Literally. But all the weirdness stopped the moment I met Sister Mary Angela, prioress of the Benedictine nuns of Tulsa. Besides doing nun stuff (praying and whatnot), Sister Mary Angela and the nuns from the abbey run Tulsa Street Cats, which is how I met her. I'd decided that House of Night fledglings needed to get more active in the community. I mean, the House of Night had been in Tulsa for upward of five years, but it was like we were a little island of our own. Everyone with any sense knows isolation and ignorance equal prejudice--hello, I read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" the beginning of my sophomore year. Anyway, what with two vampyre professors being nastily murdered, Shekinah had agreed with my idea of helping a community charity, as long as I was well protected. Which was how Darius had gotten so involved with me and my group. So, I'd chosen Street Cats, well, 'cause what with all the cats at the House of Night, it just made sense.
 
 
Sister Mary Angela and I had hit it off from the moment we met. She's cool and spiritual, and wise and nonjudgmental. She even thinks that Nyx is just another version of the Virgin Mary (and Mary is majorly important to the Benedictine Sisters). So I guess you could say Sister Mary Angela and I became friends, and when Grandma was attacked by the Raven Mockers and ended up in St. John's Hospital in a coma, it was Sister Mary Angela I called to sit with her and protect her from the Raven Mockers hurting her again. When all hell broke loose at the House of Night irit Zand Neferet killed Shekinah and had Stark shoot Stevie Rae, Kalona rose, and the Raven Mockers became substantial, it was Sister Mary Angela who got Grandma safely belowground.
 
 
Or at least in theory she was supposed to have gotten Grandma, and the rest of the sisters, underground. I hadn't talked to her since last night, just before our cell ser vice was cut off.
 
 
So, in order of importance, I needed to call Sister Mary Angela--assuming my phone was working again--and then get directions to Damien and Jack so I could relieve them. Figuring I could kill two birds at once, I retraced my path back down the tunnel, heading for the basement entrance and Darius. He'd know how to get to the boys, and I could probably get cell ser vice in the basement--unless the aboveground world had gone all postapocalypse and cell service was out forever. Thankfully, being filled with blood made me feel slightly optimistic, and even the possibility of a disgusting (and unattractive) I Am Legend?type world didn't seem utterly hopeless.
 
 
One thing at a time. I'd just take it one thing at a time. First, I'd find out how Grandma was. Then I'd relieve Damien and Jack. Then I'd try to think my way through that awful nightmare.
 
 
I remembered the dark angel's voice and the way pain and pleasure had somehow melded into one when he touched me and called me his love. I jerked my mind from those kinds of thoughts. Pain couldn't equal plea sure. What I had felt in the dream was just that, a dream, and by the definition of "dream" (or nightmare) that meant it wasn't real. And I was definitely not Kalona's love.
 
 
It was about then that I also realized some of the nerves skittering through my body were fearful, and that had nothing to do with Kalona. While I'd been preoccupied with thinking about him I'd been pretty much ignoring the subconscious tightening in my body. My heartbeat had sped up again. My stomach rolled. I had the distinct and terrifying feeling that I was being watched.
 
 
I spun around, expecting to see--at the very least--bats flapping nastily around. But there was nothing except the dead silence of the deserted, lantern-lit tunnel stretching behind me.
 
 
"You are utterly freaking out," I said aloud to myself.
 
 
As if my words had caused it, the lantern closest to me went out. Dread filled me, and I started backing down the tunnel, keeping my eyes open for anything that might be more than my imagination. And I backed into the metal ladder that had been welded to the wall and led up into the basement of the depot. Giddy with relief at finding the end of the tunnels, I balanced my can of brown pop in one hand and smooshed the big bag of my breakfast Doritos noisily in the other. I had just started to climb when a strong male arm appeared from above, scaring the bejeezus out of me.
 
 
"Here, give me the pop and chips. You're going to fall right on your butt trying to hold on to them and the ladder."
 
 
My gaze flew up to see Erik smiling down at me. I swallowed quickly and gave him a perky "Thanks!" Handing him the pop and chips, I made my way more easily up the rest of the ladder.
 
 
The basement was several degrees colder than it was in the tunnels, which felt good on my fear-flushed face.
 
 
"I like that I can still make you blush," Erik told me, stroking my hot cheek.
 
 
I almost blurted that I was freaked by shadows and unseen crap down in the tunnels, but I could imagine him laughing and accusing me of jumping at bats again. And what if I was just ultrasensitive because of the dream? Did I really want to talk to Erik, or anybody, about Kalona right then?
 
 
No.
 
 
Instead I said, "It's cold up here, and you know I hate it when I blush."
 
 
"Yeah, the temperature's dropped like crazy in the past few hours. It's going to be an icy mess out there. You know, I think you're adorable with those pink cheeks."
 
 
"You and my grandma are the only two people in the world who think that," I said, smiling begrudgingly at him.
 
 
"Well, that puts me in good company." Erik chuckled, reaching for a chip while I glanced around the basement. Everything was quiet up here, too, but not scary quiet like the stupid tunnels. Erik had a chair pulled over near the entrance to below and beside it were a couple oil lanterns (brightly burning), a half-empty liter bottle of Mountain Dew (eesh!), and, surprise, surprise, Bram Stoker's Dracula with a bookmark stuck in it at about the halfway point. I waggled my brows at him.
 
 
"What? I borrowed it from Kramisha." He was smiling kinda guiltily, which made him look like an adorable little boy. "So, I admit it. I've been curious about the book ever since you told me a while ago that it's one of your favorites. I'm only about halfway through, so do not tell me what happens."
 
 
I grinned at him, flattered that he was reading Dracula just because of me. "Oh, please," I teased. "You know how the book ends. Everybody knows how the book ends." I really loved that Erik was this big, tall, hot, studly guy who reads all sorts of books and watches old Star Wars movies. My grin got wider. "Sooooo, you're liking it?"
 
 
"Yeah, I am. Even though I didn't really expect to." His grin mirrored mine. "I mean, come on. It is a little old school, what with the vamps being monsters and all."
 
 
My mind instantly went to Neferet, whom I considered a monster in a beautiful disguise, and to my unanswered questions about the red fledglings, but I pulled my thoughts away from all that, not wanting darkness to intrude on this moment with Erik. Refocusing on Dracula, I said, "Well, yeah, Dracula is supposed to be a monster and all, but I always feel sorry for him."
 
 
"You feel sorry for him?" Erik was obviously surprised. "Z, he's pure evil."
 
 
"I know, but he loves Mina. How can something that's pure evil know love?" "Hey, I'm not that far in it yet! Don't give it away."
 
 
I rolled my eyes at him. "Erik, you have to know Dracula goes after Mina. He bites her and she starts to change. It's through Mina that the Count is tracked and eventually--"
 
 
"Stop!" Erik said, laughing as he grabbed me and covered my mouth. "I wasn't kidding. I don't want you to tm and a="0ell me how it ends."
 
 
My mouth was covered by his hand, but I knew my eyes were smiling at him.
 
 
"If I take my hand away, do you promise to be good?"
 
 
I nodded.
 
 
Slowly, he uncovered my mouth, but he made no move to step away from me. It felt nice to be close to him. He was gazing down at me, with a small smile still tugging at the corners of his mouth. I thought about how hot he was and how glad I was that we were together again, and I said, "Want me to tell you how I wish the book ended?"
 
 
His brows lifted. "How you wish? Which means you won't really be telling me the ending?"
 
 
"Cross my heart." Automatically, I crossed my heart. We were standing so close that the back of my hand brushed his chest.
 
 
"Tell me." His voice had gone deep and intimate.
 
 
"I wish Dracula hadn't let everyone come between him and Mina. He should have bitten Mina, made her like him, and then taken her away so they could be together forever--and lived happily ever after."
 
 
"Because they're the same and they belong together," he said.
 
 
I looked up into Erik's amazing blue eyes and saw that all the kidding had gone out of them.
 
 
"Yeah, even if bad things happened in their past. They'd have to forgive each other for the bad stuff, but I think they could have."
 
 
"I know they could have. I think when two people care about each other enough, anything can be forgiven."
 
 
Obviously Erik and I weren't talking about fictional characters from an old book. We were talking about ourselves, testing each other to see if we could actually make it work between us.
 
 
I had to forgive Erik for being so awful to me after he'd caught me with Loren. And he had been horrible, but the truth was I'd hurt Erik a lot more than he'd hurt me--and not just with Loren. When I'd first started dating Erik, I'd still had a relationship with Heath, my human boyfriend. It had pissed Erik off that I had been seeing him and Heath at the same time, but he'd believed that I would come to my senses eventually and understand that Heath was a part of my old world, my old life, and that he wouldn't fit into my future like Erik would.
 
 
And Erik had a point. Now that the Imprint with Heath had been broken, which I knew for sure because he and I had had a very ugly scene when I ran into him just a couple of days ago at Charlie's Chicken (of all places). My ridiculous mistake in having sex with Loren had had a domino effect of messing up lots of things in my life. One very big mess-up was the painful way it had broken my Imprint with Heath, and he'd made it clear he didn't ever want to see me again. Sure, I'd warned Heath about the Raven Mockers and Kalona being loose, told him to get himself and his family to safety, but it was over between Heath and me, just like it had been over between Loren and me (even before he'd been killed), which is really how it should be.
 
 
I continued to meet Erik's gaze. "So you like my version of Dracula?" "I like your ending--the one where the two of them are vampyres and they have a happily- ever-after, especially because they care enough to get over their past mistakes."
 
 
Still smiling, Erik bent to kiss me. His lips were soft and warm, and he tasted like Doritos and Mountain Dew, which wasn't as nasty as you might think. His arms went around me, and he pulled me close, deepening the kiss. It felt good to be in his arms. So good that at first I managed to tune out the little alarm bells that were ringing in the rational part of my mind as Erik's hands slid down my back to cup my butt. But when he pressed me hard against him, grinding intimately into me, the lovely warm fog he'd started inside me began to clear. I liked him touching me. But what I didn't like was the feeling that his touch had suddenly become too aggressive, too insistent, too she is mine, I want her, and I'm going to have her now.
 
 
He must have felt me stiffen because he pulled back, gave me an easy smile, and then said, "So, what are you doing up here?"
 
 
I blinked, disoriented at the instant change in him. I took a little step away from him and grabbed my pop from where he'd put it on his chair, taking a big gulp and pulling myself together. Finally I managed to say, "Oh, I, uh, came to talk to Darius and see if my cell would work." I fished into my pocket for it and then held it up like a dork. Glancing at it, I could see three bars lit up. "Yea! It looks like it might!"
 
 
"Well, the rain changing to ice stopped not too long ago, and I haven't heard any thunder for a while, either. If we don't get another wave of this crappy weather, ser vice might actually stay up. Hope that's a good sign."
 
 
"Yeah, me, too, I'll try to call Sister Mary Angela in a sec and check on Grandma." My words were coming easier now. I studied Erik as we talked. He seemed so nice and normal, just his usual good-guy self. Had I been overreacting about his kiss? Had what happened with Loren made me too sensitive? Realizing there was a bunch of dead air between us and Erik was starting to give me a questioning look, I said quickly, "So, where is Darius?"
 
 
"I relieved him early. I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, and I figured he's going to need the extra rest since he's basically our entire army."
 
 
"Was Aphrodite still trashed?"
 
 
"She was passed out. Darius carried her out of here. She's going to have a killer hangover when she wakes up." He sounded pleased at the prospect. "He was going to Dallas's room to sleep. He hasn't been gone long, so maybe you won't even have to wake him up."
 
 
"Well, I really just wanted directions to Damien and Jack. I couldn't sleep, either, so I thought I'd relieve them and let the Twins rest."
 
 
"Oh, that's easy. I can tell you how to find them. They're not far from the entrance up into the depot we took before."
 
 
"Good, I don't really want to bother Darius if he's actually resting. You're right. Our army needs to get some sleep." I paused and then added, in a way-too-nonchalant tone, "Hey, you didn't notice anything, uh, weird in the tunnels on the way up here, did you?"
 
 
QSuo;<"Weird? Like what?"
 
 
I didn't want to say blackness, because, well, they were tunnels and for them to be dark wasn't weird. Plus, as I'd already imagined, I could hear Erik reminding me of how much the bats had freaked me out. So I blurted, "Like the lanterns suddenly going out."
 
 
He shrugged and shook his head. "Nope, but that's really not all that weird. I'm sure the red fledglings have to refill their oil pretty often, and I would bet that recent events have messed up their schedule for that."
 
 
"Yeah, that makes sense." And it did. So, just for that little moment I let myself feel a sense of relief that even then I knew deep down wasn't real, and grinned at Erik. He smiled back at me and there we were, grinning at each other. I reminded myself that Erik really was a great boyfriend. I'd been glad that he and I were back together. I was still glad we were back together, wasn't I? Couldn't I just stay glad and not let the good things we had between us be messed up because I was freaked that he was going to want more from me than I could give him right now?
 
 
Farther to the back of my mind I shoved the memory of the kiss Stark and I had shared and Kalona's nightmare visit and how he'd made me feel things no guy had ever come close to making me feel.
 
 
I stood up so abruptly I almost knocked the chair over. "I gotta call Sister Mary Angela!"
 
 
Erik gave me an odd look, but only said, "Okay, walk a little way over there, but don't get too close to the door. If anyone's hanging around outside I don't want them to hear you."
 
 
I nodded and gave him what I hoped didn't look like a guilty smile. Then I walked a little ways through the basement, which, I noticed, also wasn't as disgusting now as it had been last time I'd been down here. Stevie Rae and her group had obviously done a lot of cleaning and throwing away of the street people's stuff that had been littering the place before. And, happily, it didn't smell like urine anymore, which was a definite improvement.
 
 
I pressed Sister Mary Angela's number and mentally crossed my fingers while it said it was calling...calling...and then it actually rang, once, twice, three times...My stomach was just starting to hurt when she answered. The connection was really crappy, but at least I could understand her.
 
 
"Oh, Zoey! I'm so glad you called," said Sister Mary Angela.
 
 
"Sister, are you okay? Is Grandma?"
 
 
"She's fine...all fine. We're..." She was definitely breaking up now.
 
 
"Sister, I can't hear you very well. Where are you? Is Grandma conscious?"
 
 
"Grand...is conscious. We're under the abbey, but..." There was static and then suddenly I could hear her clearly. "Are you influencing the weather, Zoey?"
 
 
"Me? No! What about Grandma? Are you guys safe in the abbey basement?"
 
 
"...fine. Not to worry, we..."
 
 
And the line went dead.
 
 
"Hell! This connection suc eight="0% xks so much!" I paced a short path of frustration while I tried to call her back. Nothing. I had ser vice, but the screen kept saying that it was a lost call. I tried several more times before I saw that, not only was I not getting her back, but my phone was getting ready to die. "Hell!" I repeated.
 
 
"What did she say?" Erik had come up behind me.
 
 
"Not much, 'cause I lost the connection and can't get it back. But I did manage to hear her say that she's okay and Grandma's okay. I even think she's finally conscious."
 
 
"That's really good news! Don't worry; everything's going to be fine. The nuns have your grandma safe underground, right?"
 
 
I nodded, feeling stupidly close to tears that were really more because of frustration than fear for Grandma. I completely trusted Sister Mary Angela, so if she said Grandma was okay, then I believed her. "It's hard not knowing what's going on. Not just with Grandma, but with everything out there." I jerked my thumb up at the outside world.
 
 
Erik stepped up beside me and his warm hand closed over mine. He turned me so that I was facing him, and then with his thumb he gently traced the new tattoos that covered my palm. "Hey, we'll get through this. Nyx is at work here, remember? Just look at your hands to see proof of her favor. Yeah, our group is small, but we're strong and we know we're on the right side."
 
 
Just then my phone made the little chime that said I had a text message. "Oh, good. Maybe this is Sister Mary Angela." I flipped open the phone and stared at the message, not really getting it.
 
 
All fledglings and vampyres are to return
 
 
to the House of Night immediately.
 
 
"What the hell?" I said, still staring at my phone's screen.
 
 
"Let me see," Erik said. I flipped the phone so he could read it. He nodded slowly, as if the text confirmed something he'd already thought about. "It's Neferet. And even though it's sounding like one of those schoolwide text broadcasts, I'd bet she's talking directly to us."
 
 
"Are you sure it's her?"
 
 
"Yeah, I recognize her number."
 
 
"She gave you her phone number?" I tried not to sound as annoyed as that made me feel, but I doubt I was very successful.
 
 
Erik shrugged. "Yeah, she gave it to me before I left for Europe. Said if I ever needed anything I could call her."
 
 
I snorted.
 
 
Erik smiled. "Are you jealous?"
 
 
"No!" I lied. "She's just such a manipulative bitch that it makes me mad."
 
 
"Well, she's definitely into some bad shit with Kalona."
 
 
"Yeah, that's for sure, and we're not going back to the House of Night. At least not right now."
 
 
"I think you're right about that. We need to find out more about what's happened above before we make our next move. Plus, if your instincts are telling you we need to stay clear of the school, then that's what we should do."
 
 
I looked up at him. He smiled reassuringly down at me and brushed a strand of my hair back from my face. His eyes were warm and kind, not sex crazed and possessive. Jeesh, I had to get a grip on myself. Erik made me feel safe. He believed what he was saying. He believed in me.
 
 
"Thank you," I said. "Thanks for still believing in me."
 
 
"I'll always believe in you, Zoey," he said. "Always." Erik wrapped me in his arms and kissed me.
 
 
The door to the outside was wrenched open, letting in the murky light of a stormy afternoon and a blast of frigid air. Erik whirled, pushing me behind him. I felt a heart-thundering rush of pure fear.
 
 
"Get below! Get Darius!" Erik shouted as he moved forward to face the figure silhouetted against the gray upper world.
 
 
I had started to run back to the basement ladder when Heath's voice stopped me.
 
 
"Hey, is that you, Zo?" 
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