Found – P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast

It took a moment for Other Neferet’s vision to clear. First, she felt solid ground under her feet, and then she was aware of Lynette’s hand, still clutching her own as it had been when they left the highlands of Scotland and stepped into the portal between worlds. Neferet blinked several times. The blurriness that infected her sight made it seem as if she was trying to see underwater—were the water hazy and poorly lit. Then her gaze suddenly cleared, and Neferet realized instantly where she was. She and Lynette had materialized in Woodward Park on its north side, near a cluster of azalea bushes and porous Oklahoma dolomite boulders. Though it seemed only seconds had passed from the moonlit moment Oak opened the portal between worlds and the moment they stepped into this mirror version of their own, the sky now blushed with dawn in the east, signaling that several hours had passed. Neferet reacted without hesitation. She went on the defensive. “Come, we must conceal ourselves,” she spoke quietly to Lynette. She pulled her handmaid and friend with her as the human walked dazedly like she might topple over at any moment. Neferet led her deeper into the azalea bushes where they sat on the boulders that created a small, cliff-like structure that elevated the bulk of the park, placing it atop a man-made hill that also held the top tier of the adjacent Tulsa Rose Gardens. “Sit. Collect yourself while I reconnoiter,” she told Lynette, and while the handmaid blinked and rubbed her arms as if trying to get rid of a chill, Neferet peeked through the bushes. The well-tended, winter-brown lawn stretched before her to the sidewalk that framed Twenty-First Street.

Neferet stared at the apartment complex and the modest brick homes that faced the park. They were so much like the ones in her world, though most of these houses still had Christmas lights decorating their facades—a human frivolity she hadn’t allowed in her Tulsa. She glanced to the right, where the rocky ridge curved gently to what should have been a shallow grotto—but which was instead drastically different than the Woodward Park Neferet knew. A wall had been built with the same Oklahoma dolomite, completely concealing the grotto. It appeared to have a stone roof as well, which met the side of the ridge. Neferet’s green eyes narrowed as what she at first mistook for shadows moved when several men came together under the wan, 1920s replica park lamp. “Sons of Erebus Warriors,” she spoke softly to herself while she observed them. There were half a dozen Warriors, dressed in full military regalia, complete with swords at their sides and bows slung over their broad backs. They emerged from the concealing bushes and oaks behind them in the main part of the park to meet above the entombing grotto. “Stay here,” Neferet whispered to Lynette.

“I need to know what the Warriors are saying.” Lynette surprised her by grabbing her hand. “No! I won’t be parted from you.” The woman’s hand was cold, but her grip was strong and sure. Neferet nodded slowly. “You are wise, dearest Lynette. We must stay together. Follow me. Quietly. If the Warriors discover us I will have to order my children to kill them instantly, and that will alert the House of Night that something is amiss.

” Lynette stood, looking a little more recovered from their miraculous journey. “I understand. I’ll be quiet.” They crept closer, hugging the rock wall and staying between it and the concealing bushes, until they were close enough to hear the Warriors. It was then that Neferet recognized the Warrior who was acting as leader, though when he turned to face her, she was shocked to see his fully formed Mark proclaiming to the world he was a red vampyre. “Are all the cameras set?” Stark asked one of the Warriors. The muscular young vampyre nodded. “They are. The video’s definitely not high resolution though—not until the better cameras arrive later this week, which we’ll install right away. But these will work fine during the day, at least.

” “That’s when we need them to work. We’ll be here watching at night. Did you or any of the other Warriors notice anything strange at all around the tomb tonight?” “Quiet as the dead but for one weird incident,” said the Warrior. “Earlier, like right around midnight, a group of young human women—probably early twenties—walked down the sidewalk. They started to approach the grotto, but when they saw us they must’ve changed their minds because they kept walking, though they stared a lot and looked pretty pissed.” Stark’s voice was filled with frustration. “I don’t understand those humans. It was just over a year ago that Neferet and her tendrils of Darkness ate an entire church full of people, and then held a couple hundred more hostage at the Mayo before slaughtering them too. They were all humans. What the hell do they think she’d do if they could break her out of here? Hold hands with them and sing campfire songs? She would eat them.

She would enslave anyone left alive. How they could worship her? I’ll never get it.” The Warrior shrugged. “Seems to me humans like to be told what to do by their gods.” Stark snorted. “Obviously.” He glanced up, squinting at a sky that had gone from gray and pink to pastel oranges and blues. “Time for us to get back to the House of Night. Zoey will be glad that the cameras are up and rolling. She already has blue vamps ready to keep watch over the cameras in shifts during the day.

Good job tonight.” Stark smiled at the watching Warriors. “Good job, all of you.” They saluted before following him back into the park heading to the area that Neferet knew was a parking lot. She also now knew either Warriors or cameras would always be watching the imprisoning grotto. But that didn’t worry her. Neferet was more than prepared to deal with prying eyes. She waited until the black House of Night SUV pulled out of the park and took a right as it headed back to the sleeping school. Then she turned to Lynette. “I heard them,” said her handmaid.

“They left cameras. Do you want me to try to disconnect them?” “No, dearest. But thank you for the lovely offer. If the cameras are tampered with, vampyres will surely be here within minutes. You know how close the school is to the park.” Lynette seemed herself again and was looking around, wide-eyed. “It’s so weird. It looks like our park—our Tulsa—yet it isn’t.” “Can you feel it, too?” Lynette shifted the heavy travel satchel so that it rested more comfortably on her shoulder. “Feel it?” “That this Tulsa is not ours.

Even had there not been obvious differences, like the tacky lights on the houses and the wall around the grotto, I would know I am not home.” Lynette considered, her eyes sweeping the area. “It does feel different. I—I don’t want to offend you.” “You could not. I value your honesty.” “Well, then the difference is that this Tulsa feels somehow lighter. If that makes sense.” Neferet nodded. “It does.

It was exactly what I was thinking. They have not known war, my dear. Or at least not a human-vampyre war.” “Obviously,” Lynette agreed. “Which means they will be weaker than vampyres from our world.” Neferet’s smile was fierce. “Indeed. And oh, so surprised I am here. Though I am determined not to lose focus. I am not here for vengeance.

I am here to attain immortality and return to our world.” Lynette nodded in agreement. “Of course. You’re very wise not to get distracted. What now, my lady?” “I want to get a closer look at the prison they’ve walled this world’s version of me up in. But first I need a little help with concealment.” It was a simple spell that any mature vampyre—and many of the more adventurous fledglings—could easily cast. It was the first spell fledglings learned upon entry to the House of Night. One that kept them safe from human eyes should they get caught outside the walls of their school and surrounded by hostile humans. But Neferet was more than a century older than a newly Marked fledgling and even though she had renounced her position of High Priestess she still carried in her blood and in her spirit the magick granted to all vampyres—and she was well versed in how to use it.

Neferet could cast a conceal spell that didn’t just hide herself and Lynette from potential onlookers, Neferet could cast a conceal spell that covered all of Tulsa. She faced west, the direction from which water was conjured and also, coincidentally, the direction she would travel should she want to walk the few blocks to the Arkansas River. She drew in several deep breaths to center herself, and then spoke softly, coaxingly. “Water, I call you. Come to me in the form of mist, conceal me from spying eyes, and make me one with thee.” Neferet imagined thick, soup-like fog covering not just Lynette and her, but blanketing all of midtown and the heart of downtown Tulsa so that whomever was watching the cameras from the House of Night would be fooled into believing that there was nothing amiss—nothing at all to see but morning fog rolling in from the river. From the west gray clouds billowed over midtown. They blanketed Woodward Park in a mist so thick that within minutes the grotto was completely obscured. “Come, but stay close,” she told Lynette. “We could easily get separated in this.

” Neferet felt her way along the porous boulders until she reached the wall that jutted from the otherwise natural-looking ridge. The instant she touched it Neferet gasped and pulled her hand back. “What is it?” Lynette whispered from beside her. “It feels cold. And wrong.” The tiny hairs on Neferet’s arms prickled as they lifted, and her stomach rolled. For a moment she thought she might actually be sick. Then she shook herself. It is not me. I am not entombed there.

Then she pressed her hand firmly against the stone. It was frigid. Neferet forced herself to keep her hand on the wall. She closed her eyes and concentrated, and through the rock she sensed several things at once: rage, restlessness, and hunger. An all-consuming hunger that was like a gnawing pain pouring into her palm and spreading throughout her body with each new beat of her heart. With the rage and hunger an image began to form in Neferet’s mind. She couldn’t actually see within the tomb, but she could sense the trapped goddess. She was surrounded by darkness that seethed and moved restlessly like a nest of vipers. Neferet pressed her palm harder against the icy stone, until she felt more—the thing that kept the goddess sealed within. It was incredibly powerful, and it was causing the cold.

She sensed that the seal was round, and it covered the entire wall, extending to the top of the rock so that it pressed into the side of the ridge. It pulsed like it was alive and sent waves of ice into her body. She began to shiver. Still Neferet kept her hand there—pressed against the wall of the tomb—until her children, the loyal tendrils of Darkness that had become so precious to her, began to move in agitation. They circled her legs, crawling up to her waist. They draped around her arms and neck like living jewels. They lent her their warmth as they clung to her and Neferet felt their worry as surely as she felt their protection. “Oh!” Lynette gasped. Neferet glanced at her handmaid and was shocked that her children had become visible and were also encircling Lynette’s waist as well as hanging from her neck. “My lady, they seem upset,” Lynette said as she stroked the fat tendril that wrapped around her middle.

“Of course they are.” Neferet gestured at the wall. “I assume they are agitated because they can sense that one like me is trapped within. I imagine they, too, know something very powerful has sealed her in there—something that is not friendly to them or to me.” She caressed the tendrils decorating her neck and shoulders. “All is well, children, but Lynette and I do appreciate your concern. Do not fret. I shall break the seal and free the goddess within, who will, in return, provide us the knowledge I need to become immortal.” “And then we will go back to our world,” Lynette said, still stroking the tendril. “Indeed, we will—” A girl’s voice blasted across the fog.

“Jesus Christ! I can’t see a damn thing.” “Oh, Amber, stop bitching. At least those Sons of Erebus assholes are gone.” “Seriously,” said a third girl, her voice moving closer than the other two. “I don’t know why they get so butt hurt about us leaving offerings. Neferet is a goddess and she’s trapped in there. I mean, the least we can do is worship her.” Silently, Neferet moved away from the wall, motioning for Lynette to follow. Carefully ensuring the fog continued to cover the cameras mounted in the trees above the grotto, she concentrated on clearing a small portion of it directly before the tomb, just enough so that she could see who approached while remaining hidden herself. Five people suddenly came into view.

They were all women, young, though not as young as the fledglings at the House of Night. They were dressed in short, tight skirts, ridiculous boots with stiletto heels that kept sinking into the soft, winter grass, and fur coats. They approached the wall and stopped in front of it. Each young woman carried a large satchel from which they took velvet capes in the five colors that represented the elements: yellow for air, red for fire, blue for water, green for earth, and purple for spirit. They hastily donned the garments before they dug into their bags and brought out tea lights in colors corresponding to their capes, along with lighters and other trinkets— crystals, feathers, and even a small stone carved in the shape of a cat. Then they dropped their purses on the ground and turned to face the wall, and Lynette gasped softly beside her. She didn’t blame her handmaid. She’d never seen anything like it, either. Neferet looked more intently at the women’s faces, trying to understand what she saw there. The young women were obviously human.

They had none of the signs that bespoke vampyre. Their eyes were the muted colors of human eyes and not the more brilliant orbs of vampyre eyes, which enabled them to see so well in the dark. They were attractive, but not otherworldly so. Their fingernails were well groomed but not particularly sharp and obviously not capable of slicing skin to allow them a sip of blood. Still, Neferet sniffed the air. Yes, their scent was definitely human. But then, how had these women come to have Marks on their foreheads? Neferet peered closer. Each of them had painted on their foreheads an unusual Mark. In black, thick and dark as kohl, they had drawn the triple moon sign—a full moon in the middle flanked by two crescents. The Marks did not extend down their faces as would a true vampyre Mark.

Instead, across their eyes they’d also painted a thick line of black that made them look like they were wearing masks. The women lifted the hoods of their capes so that their faces were obscured just enough that they could be mistaken for ancient priestesses. Then they carried the tea lights and the small offerings to the wall, lighting them and tucking them into the small niches and dips in the stone. They bowed their heads and clasped their hands like they were at Saturday mass, lighting and leaving candles to the Virgin Mary. “They worship Neferet,” Lynette whispered. “Which means they are our allies and exactly what we need until I can discover how to break that seal and free her.” Neferet stroked a tendril fondly. “Darling children, cloak yourselves. Do not let these humans see you.” The tendrils disappeared.

“Lynette, stand behind me, there—in the mist—so that they see only me.” “Be careful,” Lynette murmured while she did as her mistress commanded. “Remember there are cameras around the grotto.” Neferet nodded. She smoothed her form-fitting black sweater and stood straight and proud, shoulders back, head high. Then she flicked her long, elegant fingers at the grotto. “Cover the tomb, but part before me.” The fog swirled, wafting up and over the wall of the tomb in a thick wave of gray. “This is super freaky weather,” said one of the women as all five stepped back and the mist billowed in front of them. Neferet cleared her throat and the five hooded figures turned their heads in unison.

As one, their eyes widened in shock. Neferet wished she could see herself at that moment through their eyes. She must look magnificent, seeming to materialize from the fog before them. The young woman wearing the purple cloak opened her mouth, but Neferet shook her head and pressed her finger to her lips before pointing up at the fog-shrouded cameras. Then she crooked her finger, motioning for the women to come closer. They did without hesitation. The women stopped before Neferet. The vampyre flicked her fingers again, as she imagined the fog closing behind them to conceal them more completely, which it obediently did. “Now, you may worship me,” Neferet said. The five women dropped to their knees as they stared in adoration up at her.

This world’s Stark was right, Neferet thought. All five of these humans are easy prey, and lucky that it is me they kneel before and not the ravenous goddess within the tomb.

.

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