Neferet's Curse

Page 16

I was still alone when I made it to my bedchamber, pulled the cord that would ring the summoning bell in Mary's small, basement room, and collapsed on my bed. I have no idea how long I lay there, struggling to breathe. It seemed a very long time. I'd felt like sobbing. Where was Mary? Why had I been left alone? I'd tried to unhook the tight little buttons that ran from the back of my neck all the way down to my waist and to take off the green silk gown that was so restrictive, but even feeling completely well that would have been nearly impossible. That night I hadn't even been able to manage unclasping Mother's pearls.
Fully dressed, I lay on my bed, gasping for breath between coughs, in a state that was more dreamlike than awake. A wave of weakness washed through me, closing my eyes. I believe I might have slept then because when next my senses registered the world around me, I thought I was in the grip of a hideous nightmare.
I'd smelled him before I'd been able to open my eyes. The scent of brandy, sour breath, sweat, and cigars filled my bedchamber.
I'd forced my eyes open. He had been a hulking shadow over my bed.
"Mary?" I'd spoken her name because I hadn't wanted to believe what my senses told me.
"Awake, are you?" Father's voice was thick with alcohol and anger. "Good. You need to be. We have things to settle between us."
"Father, I am ill. Let's wait and talk tomorrow when I am better." I'd pushed myself farther back against my bed pillows, trying to put more space between us.
"Wait? I've waited long enough!"
"Father, I need to call Mary. As the doctor said, she must make me a hot toddy so that I can rest."
"Call Mary all you like-she won't come. Neither will Carson or Cook. I sent them all to the fair. Told them to take the whole night off. There is no one here except the two of us."
That's when I became afraid. Summoning all the strength I could, I slid to the other side of the bed, away from him, and stood. Father was old and drunk. I was young and fleet footed. If I could just slip around him, he would not be able to catch me.
But that night I had not been a fleet-footed girl. I had been dizzy with fever and weak with a cough that would not let me catch my breath. As I'd tried to dart around him, my legs had felt as if they were made of stone and I'd stumbled.
"Not this time. This time we settle it!" Father grabbed my wrist and pulled me back.
"We have nothing to settle! I am going to marry Arthur Simpton and have a good and happy life away from you and your perversions! Do you think I don't know how you look at me?" I'd shouted at him. "You disgust me!"
"I disgust you? You whore! You are the one who tempts me. I see how you watch me-how you flaunt yourself to me. I know your true nature, and by the end of this night you will know it, too!" he'd roared, sending spittle flying into my face.
He struck me then. Not on my face. Not once that night did he strike my face. One of his hot hands held both my wrists together in a viselike grip, pulling my arms over my head, while his other hand, curled into a fist, battered my body.
I'd fought him with all my might. But the more I fought, the harder he beat me. I had been propelled by terror, like a feral creature cornered by a huntsman, until he grasped the front of my silk dress and ripped it downward, tearing Mother's pearls with the delicate fabric so that they rained around us as my br**sts were fully exposed.
My body betrayed me then. It could no longer fight. I went cold and limp. When, with an animalistic growl, he'd pinned me on my bed, lifted my skirts, and rammed himself within the most intimate part of me as he bit and groped my br**sts, I'd not moved. I'd only screamed and screamed until my throat had gone raw and my voice was lost.
It had not taken him long to finish. Once spent he'd collapsed, his great, sweating weight pressing me down.
I'd thought I would die, bleeding and broken beneath him, and smothered by pain and loss and despair.
I had been wrong.
He'd begun to snore, great snorting breaths, and I realized he was fully asleep. I dared to prod his shoulder and, with a grunt, he'd rolled off me.
I hadn't moved. I'd waited until his snoring resumed. Only then did I begin inching away. I'd had to stop frequently and press my hand against my lips to contain the wet coughs, but finally I was free of the bed.
The numbness of my body was gone, though I'd wished mightily that it would return. But I did not allow the pain to make me hesitate. I moved as quickly as my battered body would allow and pulled my cloak from the armoire. Then slowly, quietly, I gathered up the loose pearls, as well as the emerald clasp, and secreted them, and this, my journal, within the deep pockets of the cloak.
I left through the rear door. Though I couldn't chance pausing beneath my willow, I walked my dark path one last time, calling the concealing shadows to me and drawing comfort from the familiar darkness. When I reached the garden gate, I paused and looked back. The full moon had illuminated the fountain again. Europa's marble face was turned toward me and through my blurred vision it seemed as if the water from the fountain had turned to tears, washing her cheeks as she wept for my loss. My gaze went from the fountain to my pathway and I realized that behind me I had left a trail of blood.
I went out the garden gate that had allowed Arthur, and what I believed to be salvation, into my life. I would retrace Arthur's steps. He would still be my salvation-he must still be my salvation.
The Simpton Mansion was not far down South Prairie Avenue. I'd been grateful for the lateness of the hour. I met very few people as I stumbled along the walkway, enveloped in the cloak I clutched tightly about me.
You might think that during that painful journey I would have been imagining what I should say to Arthur. I had not. My mind hadn't seemed my own, just as, earlier, my body had stopped obeying me. My only thoughts were that I must keep moving forward, toward safety, kindness, and Arthur.
It had been Arthur who found me. I'd paused in front of the Simpton Mansion, leaning on the cold wrought-iron fence that decorated the boundary around it. I'd been trying to catch my breath and to order my thoughts into finding the latch to the gate, and Arthur, leading his bicycle, had burst from the very gate I had been approaching.
He'd seen me, and paused, in the darkness not recognizing my cloaked and hooded form.
"May I help you?" His voice, kind and familiar, had broken me.
I'd shrugged off the hood and, in a voice so damaged I barely recognized it as my own, I cried, "Arthur! It's me! Help me!" Then a coughing seizure, more severe than all the rest, took my body over and I began to crumble to the ground.
"Oh, God! Emily!" He'd thrown his bicycle aside and caught me in his arms as I fell. My cloak had opened then, and he'd gasped in horror at the sight of my torn dress, and my broken and bloody body . "What has happened to you?"
"Father," I sobbed, trying desperately to speak as I struggled to breathe. "He attacked me!"
"No! How could this be?" I watched his gaze go from my untouched face down to the wounds on my exposed br**sts, and to my ripped skirt and my blood-coated thighs. "He-he has completely abused you!"
I'd been staring into his blue eyes, waiting for him to comfort me and take me within to his family where I could be healed and where Father would, eventually, be made to pay for what he had done.
But instead of love or compassion or even kindness, I saw shock and horror in his eyes.
I'd shifted my body, covering myself with my cloak. Arthur made no move to keep me in his arms.
"Emily," he'd begun, in a voice that sounded strange, and stilted. "It is clear that you have been violated, and I-"
I will never know what Arthur was going to say because at that moment a tall, elegant figure stepped from the shadows and pointed a long, pale finger at me, saying, "Emily Wheiler! Night has Chosen thee; thy death will be thy birth! Night calls to thee; hearken to Her sweet voice. Your destiny awaits you at the House of Night!"
My forehead exploded in blinding pain and I covered my head with my hands, as I trembled violently and waited to die.
Remarkably, with the next breath I drew, my chest loosened and sweet air flowed freely within me. I opened my eyes to see that Arthur was standing several feet from where I'd crouched, as if he'd begun to run away. The dark figure was a tall man. The first thing I noticed about him was that he had a sapphire-colored tattoo on his face that was made of bold lines spiraling from the crescent moon in the center of his forehead, across his brow and down his cheeks.
"My God! You're a vampyre!" Arthur had blurted.
"Yes," he'd answered Arthur, but had barely spared him a glance. All of his attention was focused on me. "Emily, do you understand what has happened to you?" the vampyre asked me.
"My father has beaten and raped me." As I spoke the words, clearly and plainly, I felt the last of the sickness leave my body.
"And the Goddess, Nyx, has Marked you as her own. Tonight you leave the life of humans behind. From here on you answer only to our Goddess, our High Council, and to your own conscience."
I'd shaken my head, not truly understanding. "But, Arthur and I-"
"Emily, I wish you well, but this is all too much for me. I cannot, will not, have such things in my life." And Arthur Simpton had turned and fled back to his parents' house.
The vampyre moved to me and with grace and preternatural strength, he lifted me in his arms and said, "Leave him and the pain of your old life behind you, Emily. There is healing and acceptance waiting for you at the House of Night."
That is how I came to finish the record of what happened to me this horrible, wonderful night. The vampyre carried me to a black carriage, drawn by four perfectly matched black mares. The seats inside were black velvet. There were no lights at all, and I welcomed the darkness, finding comfort in it.
The carriage took us to a palace made truly of marble, and not the weak pretence of stone that the humans of Chicago had created for their fair.
As we drove through the gate in the thick, high walls, a woman met me on the front stairs. She, too, had a sapphire crescent tattoo in the middle of her forehead, and markings surrounding it. She waved joyously, but when the carriage stopped and the vampyre Tracker had to lift me from within, she hurried to me. She shared a long look with the other vampyre before turning her mesmerizing gaze on me. She touched my face gently and said, "Emily, I am your mentor, Cordelia. You are safe here. No man will ever harm you again."
Then she took me to a sumptuous private infirmary, bathed and bandaged my body, and bade me to drink wine laced with something warm and metallic tasting.
I still sip on the dark drink as I write. My body aches, but my mind is my own again. And I find, as always, I am learning …
May 8th, 1893
Emily Wheiler's Journal
Neferet's Journal
Entry the first and last
I have decided. I have made my choice. This will be my last journal entry. In my retelling of the end of Emily Wheiler's story and the beginning of Neferet's wondrous new life, I complete what I began here in these pages six months ago.
I am not mad.
The horrible events that befell me and that are recorded in these pages did not happen because of hysteria or paranoia.
The horrible events that befell me happened because, as a young human girl, I had no control over my own life. Envious women condemned me. A weak man rejected me. A monster abused me. All because I lacked the power to affect my own fate.
Whatever this new life as a fledgling and, I can only hope, a fully Changed vampyre brings me, I make one promise to myself: I will never allow anyone to gain control over me again. No matter the cost-I will choose my own fate.
That is why last night I killed him. He used and abused me. When he did that he had full control over me. I had to kill him to regain that control. No one will ever harm me without suffering equal or more in return. I pretend to Cordelia and the School Council that I hadn't intended to kill him, that he had forced me into it, but that is not the truth. Here in these final pages of my journal, I will tell only the truth.
And then the truth will be buried with this book, and with it I bury my past.
Even my mentor, Cordelia, a High Priestess who has power and beauty in equal measure, and who has been in the service of the Goddess of Night, Nyx, for almost two centuries, does not understand my need to balance the scales of my life. The night after I'd been Marked and entered the House of Night, I'd left the infirmary and she'd shown me to my new bedchamber-a beautiful, spacious room that, because of my wounded body, I had to myself. There she tried to talk with me about him.
"Emily, what that man did to you was abominable. I want you to listen closely to me. You are in no way to blame for the violence he did to you," she'd said.
"I don't believe that's how he and his friends would see it," I'd said.
"Human law and vampyre law are not one in the same. Humans have no jurisdiction over us."
"Why?" I'd asked.
"Because humans and vampyres are not the same. There are, indeed, more of them than us, but we few hold greater wealth and power as individuals than they can ever hope to attain. We are stronger, smarter, more talented, and more beautiful. Without vampyres, their world would be nothing more than a snuffed candle."
"But, what if he comes after me?"
"He will be stopped. That man will never harm you again. You have my oath on that." Cordelia hadn't raised her voice, but I could feel the power of the anger in her words brush across my skin, and I believed her.

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