“Venice is seven hours ahead of us,” Lenobia explained. She’d met us outside the VIP security checkpoint. “When you land, it’ll be late afternoon there. Try to sleep as much as you can on the plane. The High Council will convene just after dusk, and you’ll be expected to be there and be alert.”

“How’s Stark going to handle the sun?” I asked.

“I’ve apprised the High Council of Stark’s needs. They have assured me Stark will be shielded from the sun. You should know they are quite anxious to meet him and extremely curious about this new kind of vampyre.”

“Curious as in wanting to study me like a lab rat?” Stark said.

“We will not let that happen,” Darius said.

“I think you should keep in mind that the High Council is comprised of seven of the wisest and most ancient High Priestesses alive today. They do not behave inhumanly, nor are they rash,” Lenobia said.

“So they’re all kinda like Shekinah?” Jack asked.

“Shekinah was the Vampyre High Priestess, so she was unique, but each council member is elected by the body of vampyres for the position. The position is theirs for fifty years, and then a new member is elected. No member can hold the office consecutively. The council members are from all over the world, and they are known for their wisdom.”

“Which means they should be smart enough not to fall for Kalona and Neferet,” I said.

“It’s not smarts we have to worry about,” Aphrodite said. “It’s choice. There’re lots of smart vampyres at our House of Night who stood by and let Kalona and Neferet run over them.”

“Aphrodite’s point is valid,” Damien said.

“So we need to be prepared for anything,” Darius said.

“My thoughts exactly,” Stark agreed.

Lenobia nodded solemnly. “Remember the outcome of this could change the world as we know it.”

“Well, shit. No pressure there,” Aphrodite said.

Lenobia shot her a sharp look, but didn’t say anything to her. Instead she surprised me by looking at Jack. “I believe you should remain here,” she told him.

“Oh, no way! I go where Damien goes,” Jack said.

“Where Damien is going is dangerous,” Lenobia said.

“Then I’m double going with him!”

“I think he should go,” I said. “He’s part of this. Plus,” I continued, following my instincts and knowing by the sense of rightness inside me that I was voicing something Nyx wanted everyone to hear, “Jack has an affinity.”

“What? I do?”

I smiled at him. “I think you do. Your affinity is for the magick of the modern world—technology.”

Damien grinned. “It’s true! Jack understands anything audiovisual or computer. I just thought he was a tech genius, but really he’s a tech genius goddess squared.”

“Ohmigod! How cool is that?” Jack said.

“Then you’re right, Zoey. Jack should go with you. Nyx gifted him for a purpose, and that purpose could very well be of great use to you.”

“Yeah, and also—” I was getting around to telling her about our other traveler, when Heath jogged up to us, book bag over his shoulder.

“Your consort goes, too?” Lenobia finished for me, with one brow raised at Heath.

“Damn right!” Heath said, putting his arm around me. “You never know when Zo might need to bite me.”

“Okay, Heath, yeah, everyone understands that.” I could feel my cheeks getting warm and I purposely kept my gaze from meeting Stark’s.

“As a High Priestess’s consort, you will be allowed in the Council Chamber,” Lenobia told Heath. “But you will not be able to speak.”

“There’re a lot of rules about how to act in the Council Chamber, aren’t there?” Damien said.

My stomach felt even sicker. “Rules?”

“There are,” Lenobia said. “It’s an ancient system designed to prevent chaos, yet to give speakers a fair hearing. You must follow the rules, or you will be escorted from the Chamber.”

“But I don’t know the rules!”

“That is why my friend, Erce, Horse Mistress for San Clemente Island, will meet you at the airport. She will take you to your rooms on the island and brief you on Council etiquette.”

“I can’t say anything?”

“Are you impaired?” Aphrodite asked Heath. “That’s what Lenobia just told you.”

“I’m not sure you’ll be allowed within the Council Chamber at all,” Lenobia told Aphrodite.

“What? But I’m…” Her words sputtered out. The truth was that, technically, Aphrodite was a human. An abnormal human, but still.

“Erce is requesting that you be present,” Lenobia continued. “We shall see if they admit you or not.”

“Why don’t you guys go get on the plane? I gotta talk to Lenobia for a second.”

“You depart out of gate twenty-six,” Lenobia said. “Blessed be, and may Nyx stay close to you.”

“Blessed be!” everyone said, and they headed for the twisty security line.

“How’re the hurt fledglings?” I asked.

“Much improved. Thank you for what you did for them,” she said.

I shook off her thanks. “I’m just glad they’re better. What about Dragon?”

“Deep in mourning.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“Defeat Kalona. Stop Neferet. That will help Dragon.”

I ignored the skittering of panic inside me and changed the subject. “What are you going to do about the red fledglings?”

“I’ve considered that, and what I believe we should do is to honor the will of their High Priestess. I’ll speak with Stevie Rae when I return to the school and we’ll decide what she believes is best for her people.”

It felt funny to hear Lenobia call Stevie Rae a High Priestess, but good funny. “You need to know that there are more red fledglings than just the ones with Stevie Rae.”

Lenobia nodded. “Darius has informed me.”

“What are you going to do about them?”

“As with the others, that decision should include Stevie Rae. It’s a difficult situation. We don’t even know exactly what it is they’ve become—or haven’t become.” Lenobia put her hand on my shoulder. “Zoey, you must not allow what might be happening here to distract you. Focus on Kalona and Neferet and the High Council. Trust that I’ll take care of our House of Night.”

I sighed. “Okay, I will. Or at least I’ll try.”

She smiled. “I’ve informed the High Council that we consider you our High Priestess.”

I felt a little jolt of shock. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. You are, Zoey. You’ve earned it. And you’re connected to Nyx in a way no other fledgling or vampyre has ever been. Keep following the Goddess and make us proud,” she said.

“I’ll try my best.”

“And that is all we ask of you. Blessed be, Zoey Redbird.”

“Blessed be,” I said. Then I followed my gang to gate twenty-six, trying not to think too much about the fact that a High Priestess of Nyx had no business dreaming of her Goddess’s ex-Warrior.

“Grandma, hi! How are you feeling?”

“Oh, Zoeybird! I am better today. I think the storm ending has strengthened me. Ice is beautiful, but only in small doses,” said Grandma.

“Hey, don’t think that means you need to rush back out to the lavender farm. Please promise me you’ll let Sister Mary Angela take care of you for a while.”

“Oh, do not fear, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. I find I rather like the company of the good sister. Will you come see me tonight? How are things at the school?”

“Well, Grandma, that’s what I’m calling about. I’m getting ready to get on the school jet and go to Venice. Kalona and Neferet are there, and it looks like they’re messing with the High Council.”

“That is bad, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. You are not going into that battle alone, are you?”

“No way, Grandma. The whole gang’s with me, plus Heath.”

“Good. Don’t feel ashamed to use his connection to you; it is the natural order of things.”

Tears burned in the back of my throat. Grandma’s constant love, no matter how vampyre-monster—like and weird my life had become, was the foundation of my whole world. “I love you, Grandma,” I choked out.

“And I you, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya. Do not fret about an old woman. Focus on your task at hand. I’ll be here when you have won your battle.”

“You sound so sure I will.”

“I am sure of you, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya, and sure you have your Goddess’s favor.”

“Grandma, I had a really weird dream about Kalona.” I lowered my voice, even though I’d walked away from where the rest of the kids were waiting by the gate for our plane to be ready to board. “I saw that Kalona hasn’t always been evil. He used to be Nyx’s Warrior.”

Grandma was silent for several long moments. Finally she said, “This sounds more like a vision than a dream.”

I could feel the rightness of what she was saying. “A vision! So does that mean it’s true?”

“Not necessarily, though it does give what you saw more importance than a simple dream. Did it seem truthful?”

I chewed my lip, then admitted, “Yes, it felt like what I was seeing was the truth.”

“Remember to temper feelings with common sense. Listen to your heart, mind, and soul.”

“I’m trying.”

“Weigh your feelings with logic and reason through them. You are not A-ya. You are Zoey Redbird, and you have free will. If it becomes too overwhelming, look to your friends, especially Heath and Stark. They are connected to you, to Zoey, and not the ghost of an ancient Cherokee maiden.”

“You’re right, Grandma. I’ll remember. I’m me, and that’s not going to change.”

“Zo! Plane’s boarding!” Heath called.

“I gotta go, Grandma. I love you!”

“My love goes with you, u-we-tsi-a-ge-ya.

I got on the plane feeling renewed by my grandma’s love. She was right. I needed to balance what I knew about Kalona and what I thought I might know about him.

My positive attitude was reinforced by the cool jet we were getting to fly in. It was all like first class with huge leather seats that lay all the way back and super-thick window coverings, which I immediately went around and pulled down.

“The sun’s not out there right now, dork,” Aphrodite said.

“I’m just taking care of this right now in case any of you forget”—I made air quotes around the word—“to close them later.”

“I’m not going to burn up your Warrior,” Aphrodite said. “Then my Warrior would have way too much to do.”

“I will never be too busy for you,” Darius said, taking the seat beside her and lifting the arm that separated them so they could snuggle.

“Barf,” Erin said.

“Moving to the back of the plane so we don’t get Aphrodite sick,” Shaunee said.

“Is there a beverage service on this plane?” Damien asked.

“I hope so. I could use some brown pop,” I said, loving that everyone was sounding as normal as I was suddenly feeling.

“Lenobia said we’d be on our own on this flight, but I would bet you could forage around after we get airborne and find something to drink,” Darius said.

“I know where they keep the pop,” Stark said. “This is the plane that flew me from Chicago to here. I’ll get you some as soon as we take off.” Then he gestured to the empty seat next to him. “Sit by me?”

“Hey, Zo!” Heath called from farther back in the plane. “I saved you a seat back here.”

I sighed. “You know what, I think I’m going to sit over here by myself and just try to sleep. Jet lag is a killer,” I said, choosing a seat midway between Heath and Stark.

“I’m taking a Xanax. I know how to fly,” Aphrodite said. “I’ll be ready to hit the stores the second we touch down in Venetia.”

“Stores?” Shaunee called.

“Shopping?” Erin said.

“Perhaps we should reconnoiter with Aphrodikey,” Shaunee said.

“Excellent idea, Twin,” Erin agreed.

I smiled to myself as the Twins moved up to seats across from Aphrodite, who sneered at them, but launched quickly into an enthusiastic list of the shopping possibilities in Venice.

“Here.” Stark handed me a blanket and a pillow. “It gets cold in planes sometimes, especially when you’re trying to sleep.”

“Thanks,” I said. I wanted to tell him that I would like to curl up with him, but that I wouldn’t like how that would make Heath feel (who was now in a big debate with Jack over whether Macs or PCs were better).

“Hey, it’s okay. I understand,” Stark said, lowering his voice.

“You’re the best Warrior in the world.”

He smiled that cocky little grin I liked so much and kissed the top of my head. “Go to sleep. I’ll keep a psychic ear on your feelings. If things get weird, I’ll wake you up.”

“I’m counting on that,” I said.

I curled up with the blanket and pillow my Warrior had given me, and fell asleep almost before we were airborne.

If I dreamed I didn’t remember it.


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