CHAPTER 23

Zoey

The school’s infirmary wasn’t very big. Actually, it was only three little hospital-like rooms on one of the floors of the professors’ building. So it was no surprise that there were hurt kids spilling out of the rooms. Not that it wasn’t shocking to see an additional three pallets, each filled with a hurt fledgling, scattered in the hallway. The wounded kids blinked in surprise as my group and I paused in the entrance.

“Zoey?” I looked up from trying not to stare at the hurt kids—and not to smell the blood that seemed to hang in the air around us—to see two vampyres hurrying toward me. I recognized them as Neferet’s assistants, kinda like the equivalent of nurses, and had to think hard to remember that the tall blonde called herself Sapphire, and the short, Asian one was Margareta. “Were you injured, too?” Sapphire asked, looking me over quickly.

“No, I’m fine. We’re all fine,” I assured her. “Actually, we’re here to help.”

“Without a healer we’ve done all that can be done for them,” said Margareta bluntly. “None of the fledglings are in immediate danger of dying, though one never knows how an injury will affect the Change, so it is always possible that several of them might—”

“Okay, yeah, we get it.” I cut her off before she could say “die” all loud and obvious in front of the group of kids who might very well die. Jeesh, talk about bad bedside manner.

“We aren’t here because of our medical skills,” Damien explained. “We’re here because our circle is powerful, and within it we might be able to soothe those who have been injured.”

“None of the other uninjured fledglings are here,” said Sapphire, as if that was a reason for us to not be here, too.

“None of the other fledglings have affinities for the elements,” I said.

“Really, we have done all that can be done,” Margareta repeated coolly. “Without a High Priestess—”

This time Stark cut her off. “We have a High Priestess, so it’s time for you to step aside and let her, and her circle, help these kids.”

“Yeah, back off,” Aphrodite said, literally getting in the vamp’s face.

The two vampyres backed off, though I could feel their icy, disapproving stares.

“What the hell is their problem?” Aphrodite asked in a low voice as we walked into the hallway.

“I don’t have a clue,” I said. “I don’t really even know them.”

“I do,” Damien said softly. “I volunteered in the infirmary my third-former year. They’ve always been dour. I thought it was because they had to deal with fledglings dying.”

“ ‘Dour’?” Shaunee said.

“Translate him, will ya, Stevie Rae?” Erin said.

“Dour means ‘stern and kinda gloomy.’ You know, y’all really should read more.”

“I was just gonna say that,” Stark said.

Damien sighed.

Unbelievably, I had to stifle a smile. The circumstances were bad, but my friends being their normal selves made everything seem just a teensy bit better.

“Nerd herd, focus. You’re here to help the fledglings. Dour One and Dour Two aren’t important,” said Aphrodite.

“Dr. Seuss reference. I like it,” Stark said, giving me a check-meout-I’ve-always-read-books hottie grin.

Aphrodite frowned at him. “I said ‘focus,’ not ‘flirt.’”

“Stevie Rae?” A guy called from a pallet halfway down the hall, interrupting all of us.

“Drew?” Stevie Rae said, and then she hurried to his side. “Drew, are you okay? What happened? Is your arm broke?”

The kid’s arm was in a sling. One of his eyes was all bruised and puffy, and his lip was split, but he managed to smile at Stevie Rae. “I’m really glad you’re not dead anymore.”

She grinned. “Hey, me, too. And I can tell you I don’t so much recommend the dying and un-dying stuff, so you gotta rest and get well.” Then she sobered as her eyes went back to his wounds, and she added quickly, “But you’re gonna be okay. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“It’s no biggie. I didn’t break my arm. It just got dislocated when I was wrestling with a Raven Mocker.”

“He tried to save Anastasia.” My gaze followed the girl’s voice into a hospital room beside where Drew was lying. The door was open and I could see a fledgling half reclined in bed with one arm propped on one of those aluminum side tray things that fit on hospital beds. Her entire forearm was wrapped in thick gauze. There was also a nasty cut that ran down the side of her neck and disappeared into her hospital gown. “He almost did it, too. Drew almost saved her.”

“Almost isn’t good enough,” Drew said tightly.

“Almost is better than what lots of kids did,” said the girl. “At least you tried.”

“What the hell happened, Denio?” Aphrodite asked, moving past me and into the girl’s room. I suddenly realized who the girl was. She and her two buddies, Enyo and Pemphredo (named after the three sisters of the Gorgon and Scylla), had been part of Aphrodite’s bitchy inner circle before I came to the House of Night and, as Aphrodite herself has said, her life imploded. I braced myself for Denio to make some haggish comment to Aphrodite, since none of her “friends” had actually stayed her friends once she’d fallen from Neferet’s good graces and I’d replaced her as Leader of the Dark Daughters. Thankfully, the girl’s response wasn’t hateful at all, though she sounded frustrated and more than a little pissed.

“Nothing happened. Well, that is, unless you stood up to the damn bird things. Then they attacked you. We”—she gestured with her good arm out at the infirmary—“stood up to them. So did Dragon and Anastasia.”

“They attacked Professor Anastasia while Dragon was fighting a bunch of them down the lane. He wasn’t close enough to help her. He didn’t even see it happening,” Drew said. “I grabbed one of them and pulled it off her, but another one came up behind me.”

“I grabbed that one,” Denio said. She pointed across the hall. “Ian tried to help when the thing turned on me. The Raven Mocker snapped his leg like a twig.”

“Ian Bowser?” I asked, sticking my head through the open doorway of the room Denio had pointed to.

“Yeah, it’s me,” said the scrawny, but kinda cute kid who had one leg propped up and wrapped all the way to his thigh in a cast. He looked way too white against the bleached sheets.

“That looks like it hurts,” I said. I knew him from drama class. He’d had a massive crush on our teacher, Professor Nolan—before she was murdered a month or so ago.

“I’ve felt better,” he said, trying to smile.

“Yeah, we’ve all felt better,” said a girl on a pallet farther down the hallway.

“Hanna Honeyyeager! I didn’t see you over there,” Damien said, moving around me to go to the girl’s side. I could understand why he hadn’t noticed her before she said something. She was covered by a big white comforter, which she disappeared against because she was seriously the whitest kid I think I’ve ever seen. You know, one of those blondes who had skin so fair it never tanned and she always looked pink-cheeked and either embarrassed or surprised. I only knew her through Damien. I’d heard him talking to her about flowers—apparently the girl was a genius with anything that bloomed. I remembered that about her, and the fact that everyone always called her by her first and last names, kinda like Shannoncompton, only they didn’t run the two together.

“What happened to you, sweetie?” Damien crouched down beside her and took her hand. Her little blond head was wrapped in a gauze bandage that had a bloody spot near the forehead.

“When Professor Anastasia was attacked, I screamed at the Raven Mockers. A lot,” she said.

“She has a seriously shrill voice,” said a kid from the last hospital room, who I couldn’t even see.

“Well, apparently Raven Mockers don’t like shrill voices,” said Hanna Honeyyeager. “One of them knocked me out.”

“Hang on.” Erin marched down the hall toward the room of the kid I couldn’t see. “Is that you, T.J.?”

“Erin!”

“Oh. My. Goddess!” Erin squealed and rushed into his room.

Right behind her, Shaunee yelled, “Cole? What about Cole?”

“He didn’t stand up to them,” T.J. answered in a strained voice, which made Shaunee stop at the open door to his room like she’d been smacked in the face.

“Didn’t stand up? But…” Shaunee’s voice faded, like she was utterly confused.

“Oh, shit, boy! Look at your hands!” Erin’s exclamation drifted from T.J.’s room.

“Hands?” I repeated.

“T.J.’s a boxer. He even placed in the last Summer Games, against vampyres,” Drew explained. “He tried to knock out Rephaim. It didn’t quite work out like he expected, and the bird guy tore up his hands.”

Oh, Goddess, no.” I heard Stevie Rae say softly, her words filled with horror.

I was watching Shaunee as she stood outside T.J.’s room, looking like she didn’t know what to do with herself, which gave me a really bad feeling. Cole and T.J. had been best friends, and they’d been dating the Twins. T.J. was seeing Erin; Cole was seeing Shaunee. The two couples had done a lot of hanging out together. All I could think was, “How could one stand up to the Raven Mockers and not the other?”

“Exactly what I’d like explained to me.” I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud until Darius commented.

The last kid in the hall answered him. “It just happened. The stables caught on fire, then Neferet and Kalona freaked. The Raven Mockers went crazy. If you stayed out of their way they didn’t mess with you, which is what we were doing until one of them grabbed Professor Anastasia. Then some of us tried to help her, but most of the fledglings just ran for the dorms.”

I looked at the kid. She had really pretty red hair and eyes that were bright, gorgeous blue. Both of her biceps were wrapped in gauze, and one side of her face was all bruised and swollen. I swear I’d never seen her before in my life.

“Who the heck are you?” I asked.

“I’m Red.” She smiled shyly and shrugged. “Yeah, my name’s obvious, but that’s me. Um, you guys don’t know me because I just got Marked. Right before the ice storm hit. Professor Anastasia was my mentor.” She swallowed hard and blinked back tears.

“I’m really sorry,” I said, thinking how awful it must be for her to be newly Marked, newly uprooted from her family and everything she’d ever known, and plopped down in the middle of this mess.

“I tried to help her, too,” Red said. A tear escaped and slid down her face. She brushed it away, wincing as the movement caused pain in her arm. “But that huge Raven Mocker slashed my arms and then threw me against a tree. I couldn’t do anything but watch when he—” Her voice broke on a sob.

“Did none of the professors stand with you?” Darius asked, his voice sounding harsh, though it was obvious his anger wasn’t directed at Red.

“The professors knew the Raven Mockers had simply become overexcited because Neferet and her consort were highly upset. We knew better than to further agitate them,” said Sapphire in a clipped voice from where she and Margareta still stood in the entrance to the infirmary hallway.

Incredulous, I turned to face her. “They simply became overex-cited? Are you kidding me? Those creatures were attacking House of Night fledglings and none of you did anything about it because you didn’t want to agitate them?”

“Unforgivable!” Darius almost spat the word out.

“And what about Dragon and Professor Anastasia? They obviously didn’t buy into your whole don’t-agitate-them theory,” Stark said.

“Wouldn’t you know more about what happened than anyone, James Stark? I recall that you were very close to Neferet and Kalona. I even remember seeing you leave the school with them,” said Margareta smoothly.

Stark took a step toward her, his eyes beginning to glow a dangerous red. I grabbed his wrist. “No! Fighting our own isn’t how we win this,” I said to him before I rounded on the two vampyres. “Stark went with Neferet and Kalona because he knew they were attacking me and Aphrodite and Damien and Shaunee and Erin and a whole abbey full of nuns.” With every and I’d taken a step toward Sapphire and Margareta. I could feel the elemental force of spirit, which I’d so recently called on to soothe Dragon, swirling dangerously around me. The vampyres felt it too, because they’d both stumbled several steps away from me. I stopped and got a handle on my temper, lowering my voice and my blood pressure. “He stood with us against them. Neferet and Kalona are not who you think they were. They’re a danger to everyone. But right now I don’t have time to try to convince you of something that should have been obvious to you when the winged guy exploded from the ground in a shower of blood. Right now I’m here to help these kids, and since you seem to have a problem with that, I think it would be a good idea if you scuttled to your rooms like the rest of the House of Night.”

Looking shocked and offended, the two vampyres backed from the entryway and hurried up the stairwell that led to the professors’ rooms. I sighed. I’d told Stark we couldn’t win this by fighting our own, and then I’d threatened them. But when I turned to our little infirmary group, I was met with grins, cheers, and clapping.

“I’ve wanted to tell those cows off since we got here,” called Denio from her room as she beamed a smile at me.

“And they call her Terrible,” Aphrodite said, obviously referring to the fact that Denio, in Greek, means terrible.

“I’m just good at sensing what people are feeling. I can’t smack them around with an element or five,” Denio said. She rubbed her wounded arm absently then turned her attention from me to Aphrodite. “Hey, I shouldn’t have been such a bitch to you the last couple months. Sorry about that.”

I expected Aphrodite to puff up and tell her about herself. I mean, Denio had been awful to her—as had all of Aphrodite’s supposed friends.

“Yeah, well, all of us screw up now and then. Forget about it,” Aphrodite said, totally surprising me.

“You sound all grown,” I said to her.

“Don’t you have a circle to cast?” she said.

I grinned at her because I swear her cheeks looked pink. “Actually, I do.” I looked from Stevie Rae to Damien and Shaunee, then called, “Erin, can you quit playing nurse long enough to get in on this circle?”

She popped out of T.J.’s room like one of those old jack-in-the-boxes. “Yep, easy-peasy.”

I noticed she and Shaunee didn’t look at each other, but no way did I have the time or the energy to get into Twin problems just then.

“Okay, so, which way’s north, earth girl?” I asked Stevie Rae.

She marched over to stand opposite the entrance to the hallway. “This is definitely north.”

“All right. The rest of you guys know what to do,” I said.

Like pros they moved into place: Damien taking the position in the east for air, Shaunee south for fire, Erin west for water, and Stevie Rae firmly stationed in the north for earth. When they were ready I took my place in the center of the circle. Beginning with Damien in the east, I called each element into our circle, moving deasil, or clockwise, until I finished by calling spirit to me.

I’d closed my eyes during the casting, and when the circle was complete, I opened them to see a glowing silver thread binding the five of us. I threw back my head, raised my arms, and shouted with the joy of being touched by all five elements. “It’s good to be home!”

My friends laughed, happy and whole, fulfilled by their elements and, even if just for a moment, able to forget the chaos and hardship that surrounded us.

But not the pain. I wouldn’t forget the reason I’d cast the circle, even though it was easy to get caught up in the thrill of the elements.

I centered and calmed myself. In a strong, confident voice, I began to speak. “Air, fire, water, earth, and spirit—I have called you here to our circle for one specific reason. Our fledgling friends at the House of Night have been hurt. I’m not a healer. I’m really not even technically a High Priestess.” I paused and glanced out of the circle, meeting Stark’s gaze. He winked at me. I smiled and continued. “But my purpose is clear. I would like you to please touch these hurt kids. I can’t heal them, but I can ask that you soothe and strengthen them, so that they can heal themselves. Actually, I think that’s what all of us want—a chance to fix ourselves. In the name of Nyx, and through the power of your elements, fill these fledglings!” Concentrating with my mind, body, and soul, I tossed out my hands, imagining I was hurling the elements through me and out at the wounded kids.

I heard the exclamations of surprise and pleasure, and even some gasps of pain as the five elements swirled around the infirmary, infilling the fledglings. I stayed there, being a living conduit for the elements until my arms ached and sweat poured down my body.

“Zoey! I said, ‘Enough!’ You’ve helped them. Close the circle.”

I heard Stark, and realized that he had been talking to me for a while, but I’d been concentrating so hard and for so long that he literally had to shout to finally break through to me.

Wearily, I dropped my hands and whispered sincere thanks and goodbyes to the five elements, and then I somehow lost my legs and fell to the floor smack on my butt.

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