"Ah, hell," I said, and then my knees gave way and I had to sit down on my bed. My ears had an odd buzzing sound in them, and it was hard for me to breathe.
"You know it doesn't mean it'll come true for sure," Stevie Rae said, patting me on the shoulder. "I mean, Aphrodite saw your grandmamma, Heath, and even me dying. Well, I mean me dying a second time. And none of those things happened. So we can stop it." She looked up at Aphrodite. "Right?"
Aphrodite fidgeted uneasily.
"Ah, hell," I said for a second time. Then I forced myself to talk around the big lump of fear that had lodged in the middle of my throat. "There's something different about the vision you had of me, isn't there?"
"It could be because I'm human," she said slowly. "It's the only vision I've had since turning back into a human, so, yeah, it doesn't seem too wrong that it would feel different than the ones I had when I was a fledgling."
"But?" I prompted.
She shrugged and finally met my eyes. "But it did feel different."
"Well, it felt more confusing--more emotional--more jumbled up. And I literally didn't understand some of what I saw. I mean, I didn't recognize the horrible things that were seething around in the darkness."
"Seething?" I shivered. "That doesn't sound good."
"It wasn't. I was seeing shadows inside shadows inside darkness. It was like ghosts were turning back into living things, but the things they were turning back into were too terrible for me to look at."
"You mean like not human or vampyre?"
"Yeah, that's what I mean."
Automatically I rubbed my hand, and a skittering of fear slithered through my body. "Ah, hell."
"What?" Stevie Rae said.
"Tonight there was something that, well, kinda attacked me when I was walking from the stables to the cafeteria. It was some kind of cold shadow thing that came from the darkness."
"That can't be good," Stevie Rae said.
"You were alone?" Aphrodite asked, her voice sounding flintlike.
"Yes," I said.
"Okay, that's the problem," Aphrodite said.
"Why? What else did you see in your vision?" "Well, you died a couple different ways, which is not something I've ever seen before."
"A--a couple different ways?" It just kept getting worse and worse.
"Maybe we should wait awhile and see if Aphrodite has another vision that'll make things clearer before we talk about this," Stevie Rae said, sitting next to me on the bed.
I didn't look away from Aphrodite's eyes, and I saw there a reflection of what I already knew. "When I ignore visions, they come true. Always," Aphrodite said with finality.
"I think some of it might already be happening," I said. My lips felt cold and stiff, and my stomach hurt.
"You're not gonna die!" Stevie Rae cried, looking upset and totally like my best friend again.
I slipped my arm through Stevie Rae's. "Go ahead, Aphrodite. Tell me."
"It was a strong vision, filled with powerful images, but it was totally confusing. Maybe because I was feeling it and seeing it from your point of view." Aphrodite paused, swallowing hard. "I saw you die two ways. Once you drowned. The water was cold and dark. Oh, and it smelled bad."
"Smelled bad? Like one of those nasty Oklahoma ponds?" I said, curious despite the horror of talking about my own death.
Aphrodite shook her head. "No, I'm almost one hundred percent sure it wasn't in Oklahoma. There was too much water for that. It's hard to explain how I can be so sure, but it just felt too big and deep to be something like a lake." Aphrodite paused again, thinking. Then her eyes widened. "I remember another thing about the vision. There was something close by the water that looked like a real palace on an island all its own, which means tasteful old money, probably European, and not some tacky upper middle class version of oooh-I-have-money-let's-go-buy-an-RV."
"You're seriously a snob, Aphrodite," Stevie Rae said.
"Thank you," Aphrodite said.
"Okay, so you saw me drown near a real palace on a real island maybe in Europe. Did you see anything else that might be in the least bit helpful?" I asked.
"Well, besides the fact that you felt isolated--I mean really alone in both of the visions, I saw a guy's face. He was with you not long before you died. Someone I've never seen before. At least not till today."
"I saw that Stark kid."
"He killed me?" I felt like I was going to throw up.
"Who's Stark?" Stevie Rae asked, taking hold of my hand.
"New kid who just transferred here today from the Chicago House of Night," I said. "He killed me?" I repeated the question to Aphrodite.
"I don't think so. I didn't get a good look at him, and it was dark. But it seemed like, even in the last glimpse you had of him, that you felt safe with him." She raised her brow at me. "Looks like you'll get over that whole Erik/Heath/Loren mess."
"I'm sorry 'bout all of that. Aphrodite told me what happened," Stevie Rae said.
I opened my mouth to say thanks to Stevie Rae, and then I realized that she and Aphrodite didn't know the depth of the Erik/Heath/Loren mess. They'd been away from the school, and the human media hadn't reported anything at all on Loren Blake's death. I took a deep breath. I'd almost rather hear about my deaths than talk about this.
"Loren's dead," I blurted.
I looked up at Aphrodite. "Two days ago. It was like Professor Nolan. Loren was beheaded and crucified and nailed to the front gate of the school with a note that quoted some terrible Bible verse about him being detestable staked through his heart." I spoke very fast, wanting to get the taste of the terrible words out of my mouth.
"Oh no!" Aphrodite turned a yucky shade of white and sat down heavily on Stevie Rae's old bed.
"Zoey, that's so awful," Stevie Rae said. I could hear the tears in her voice as she put her arm around me. "Y'all were like Romeo and Juliet."
"No!" Then because the word had come out more sharply than I'd intended, I turned to Stevie Rae and smiled. "No," I repeated in a saner voice. "He never loved me. Loren used me."
"For sex? Ah, Z, that's crappy," Stevie Rae said.
"Sadly, no, even though I did utterly mess up and have sex with him. Loren was using me for Neferet. She told him to come on to me. She was his real lover." I grimaced, remembering the heart-ripping scene I'd witnessed between Loren and Neferet. They'd been laughing about me. I'd given Loren my heart and my body and, through our Imprint, a piece of my soul. And he'd laughed at me.
"Hang on. Go back. You said Neferet had Loren come on to you?" Aphrodite said. "Why would she do that if they were lovers?"
"Neferet wanted to get me alone." My heart froze as the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together.
"Huh? That doesn't make sense. Why would Loren acting like he was your boyfriend get you alone?" Stevie Rae asked.
"Simple," Aphrodite said. "Zoey had to sneak around to see Loren, being as he was a professor and all. My guess is she didn't tell any of the nerd herd she was playing bad little schoolgirl with Professor Blake. My guess is also that Neferet had something major to do with our boy Erik finding out Zoey was doing the dirty with someone who was definitely not him."
"Uh, I'm right here. You don't have to talk about me like I left the room."
Aphrodite snorted. "If my guesses are right, I'd say your good sense left the room."
"Your guesses are right," I admitted reluctantly. "Neferet made sure Erik walked in on me being with Loren."
"Damn! No wonder he acted so pissed," Aphrodite said.
"What? When?" Stevie Rae said.
I sighed. "Erik caught me with Loren. He freaked. Then I found out that Loren was really with Neferet and he didn't care about me at all, even though we'd Imprinted."
"Imprinted! Shit!" Aphrodite said.
"So then I freaked." I ignored Aphrodite. It was already awful enough. I definitely didn't want to dwell on the details. "I was bawling when Aphrodite, the Twins, Damien, Jack, and--" "Oh, shit, and Erik. That's when we found you crying under the tree," Aphrodite interrupted.
I sighed again, realizing I couldn't ignore her. "Yeah. And Erik announced the news about Loren and me to everyone."
"In what I would call a very mean way," Aphrodite said.
"Dang," Stevie Rae said. "It must have been really hateful for Aphrodite to say it was mean."
"It was. Hateful enough for her friends to feel like her sleeping around with Loren had been a slap in the face to them. So follow Erik's 'Zoey's a slut' bomb with the 'Zoey's been keeping Stevie Rae's undeadness a secret, too' bomb, and you have a gaggle of totally pissed nerds who won't want to trust Zoey again."
"Which means then Zoey is alone, just exactly as Neferet planned," I finished for her, finding it disturbing that it was so easy to fall into talking about myself in the third person.
"That's the second death I saw for you," Aphrodite said. "You're completely alone. There's no last glimpse of a cute boy and no nerd herd. Your isolation is the overriding image I got from the second vision."
"What kills me?"
"Well, that's when it gets confusing again. I get an image of Neferet as a threat to you, but the vision gets jumbled up all weird when you're actually attacked. I know this is going to sound bizarre, but at the last moment I saw something black floating around you."
"Like a ghost or something?" I swallowed hard.
"No. Not really. If Neferet's hair was black, I'd say it was her hair blowing around you in a big wind, like she's standing behind you. You're alone and you're really, really scared. You try to call for help, but no one answers you and you're so terrified you freeze and don't fight back. She, or whatever it is, reaches around and somehow, using something dark and hooked, slashes your throat. It is so sharp, it cuts through your neck and severs your head from your shoulders." Aphrodite shuddered and then added, "Which, in case you're wondering, bleeds. A lot."
"Gross, Aphrodite! Did ya have to go into detail?" Stevie Rae said, putting her arm back around me.
"No, it's okay," I said quickly. "Aphrodite has to give all the details she can remember--like she did when she saw visions of the deaths of you and Grandma and Heath. It's the only way we can figure out how to change things. So, what else did you see about my second death?" I asked Aphrodite.
"Just that you call for help, but nothing happens. Everyone ignores you," Aphrodite said.
"I was scared today when whatever it was came at me out of the night. So scared that for a second I just froze and didn't know what to do," I said, feeling shaky just remembering.
"Could Neferet have had something to do with whatever happened to you earlier?" Stevie Rae asked.
I shrugged. "I don't know. There was nothing for me to see but some creepy blackness." "Creepy blackness is what I saw, too. As much as I hate to say it, you've got to make sure the nerd herd isn't pissed off at you anymore, because you being friendless is not a good thing," Aphrodite said.
"Easier said than done," I said.
"I don't see why," Stevie Rae said. "Just tell them the truth about Neferet being behind Loren and you, and tell them that you couldn't say anything about me being undead when I was dead because Neferet would . . ." Stevie Rae's words trailed off as she realized what she was saying.
"Yeah, that's brilliant. Tell them that Neferet is an evil bitch who's behind making a bunch of undead dead kids and the first time any of the nerd herd members get within the distance of a thought of Neferet, all shit will break loose. Which means our evil bitch of a High Priestess will not only know what we know, but she'll probably do something majorly nasty to your little buddies." Aphrodite paused and tapped her chin. "Hum, on second thought, some of that scenario doesn't sound too bad."
"Hey," Stevie Rae said. "Damien and the Twins and Jack already know something that is going to get them in major trouble with Neferet. They know about me."
"Ah, hell," I said.
"Well, shit," Aphrodite said. "I totally forgot about the 'Stevie Rae isn't dead' detail. Wonder why Neferet hasn't plucked that out of one of your friends' wee little brains and freaked about that already?"
"She's been too busy plotting war," I said. When Aphrodite and Stevie Rae blinked in confusion at me, I realized that Loren wasn't the only news they hadn't heard. "When Neferet was told about Loren's murder, she declared war against humans. Not an outright war, of course. She wants it to be a nasty, terrorist-style guerrilla war. God, she's so slimy. I just don't get why everyone can't see it."
"Blood and guts with the humans? Huh. That's interesting. Guess the buildup of the Sons of Erebus is supposed to be our weapon of mass destruction," Aphrodite said. "Yum, talk about a silver lining to a shitty situation."
"How can you be so whatever about this?" Stevie Rae said, exploding off the bed.
"First of all, I really don't like humans much." Aphrodite put up a hand to stop Stevie Rae's tirade. "Okay, yeah, I know. I am a human now. Which makes me say ugh. Second, Zoey's alive and well, so I'm not particularly worried about this scary little war."
"What in the hell are you talking about, Aphrodite?" I said.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "Would you please keep up with me? Hello--it makes perfect sense now. My vision was all about war between humans and vamps and some creepy booger-monster things. Actually, they're probably what attacked you and could very well be minions of Neferet we don't know about." She paused, looking temporarily confused, and then shrugged and continued, "But, whatever. Hopefully we won't have to find out what they are, because the war only happened after you'd been killed. Tragically and grotesquely, I might add. Anyway, I figure we keep you alive, we keep the war from happening."
Stevie Rae let out a big, long breath. "You have a point, Aphrodite." She turned to me. "We gotta keep you alive, Zoey. Not just 'cause we love you more than white bread, but 'cause you have to save the world."
"Oh, great. I'm supposed to save the world?" All I could think was, And I used to stress about geometry. Ah, hell.