"But what if I want to go after him?"
"To what end?"
"To make him pay for what he did to me!"
Cordelia had sighed. "Emily, we cannot imprison him any more than he can apprehend one of us."
"I don't want him imprisoned!" I'd shouted.
"What is it you want?"
I'd almost admitted the truth to her, but there was something about her serene gaze and the honesty in her beautiful face that stayed my words. I hadn't made my choice yet, but instinct told me to keep my deepest thoughts and desires to myself, and that is exactly what I did.
"I want him to admit he is a monster, and that what he did to me was wrong," I'd said instead.
"And you think that would help you heal?"
"Emily, I tell you truly that I believe you have a unique power waiting to form within you. I sensed it when first I saw you. I feel that our Goddess has great gifts prepared for you. You could be a major force for good, especially as you have been wounded so viciously by evil, but you must choose to heal and to release the evil done to you, to let it die with your old life."
"So he will never pay for what he did to me." I hadn't framed the words as a question, but she'd answered.
"Perhaps not in this lifetime. That is no longer your concern. Daughter, one thing I have learned during the past two centuries is that the need for retribution is a curse, because it is impossible to attain. No two people, human or vampyre, will ever love, hate, suffer, or forgive in the same way. So, an insatiable need for retribution and vengeance becomes a poison that will taint your life and destroy your soul." She'd touched my arm and continued more gently. "It may help if you follow the tradition of countless fledglings before you and choose a new name to symbolize your new life."
"I will consider it," I'd said. "And I will also try to forget him."
I didn't have to consider long. I knew what name I wanted to carry into my new life.
I have tried to forget him. When I look in the mirror and see the bruises that purple my white flesh, I remember him. When I ache and bleed from the most private parts of my body, I remember him. When I wake screaming, my voice hoarse from reliving the nightmare of what he did to me, I remember him.
So he had to die. If I am to be cursed by my need for retribution and vengeance, then so be it.
* * *
I waited one week. It took that long for my body to recover. And recover, I did. I had been Marked for only seven days, yet already I was stronger than a human female. My fingernails had hardened and lengthened. My hair was thicker, fuller, longer than before. Even my emerald eyes were beginning to change.
I overheard one of the Sons of Erebus, the Warriors whose sole duty it was to protect fledglings and female vampyres, say that my eyes were becoming the most fascinating emeralds he'd ever gazed upon.
I liked what I was becoming, which made me even more determined to rid myself of my past.
It hadn't been difficult to leave the House of Night. I was not a prisoner. I was a student, respected and appreciated for my beauty and for what Cordelia called my potential. As students we had access to a fleet of carriages and more bicycles than were owned by the entire membership of the Hermes Club. We could leave the campus whenever we wished. I was afforded almost unlimited freedom. The only caveat was that we use a makeup paste to cover the outlined crescent moons in the center of our foreheads, and to dress modestly as to draw as little attention to ourselves as possible.
My dress had been modest. Though it was elegantly made of fine linen, it was dove gray in color, high-necked, and unadorned. Without touching me, one would not know how expensive it was-and no one was going to be allowed to touch me.
My hooded cloak easily concealed the only immodest part of my ensemble-Alice Wheiler's pearls. My choice to restrand and wear them that night had been premeditated. The idea to do so had come to me as I sat in my new garden and waited for my body to repair itself.
The House of Night is a school, but it is an unusual one. Classes are held only at night. Students and our professors and mentors, priestesses and warriors, sleep during the day, safe behind thick marble walls, which have been heavily enforced with an otherworldly magick that draws strength from the night, the moon, and the goddess who reigns over us all.
Cordelia had explained to me that I would be excused from classes until my body was fully healed, but then I would join the other fledglings and be immersed in a fascinating curriculum, which would grow and continue over the next four years, culminating in one of two things: my Change to full vampyre or my death.
The only death that concerned me was his.
As I gained strength and wellness, I explored the palatial House of Night and the grounds that were encircled by a white marble wall. I'd thought the gardens of Wheiler House beautiful, and though I would never forget my willow, my fountain, and the comfort I found within the shadows there, after seeing the vampyres' gardens all others would pale in comparison.
The House of Night gardens had been created to be fully enjoyed only after the sun set. Night blooming jasmine, moon flowers, evening primrose, and lilies opened to the moon and released a fragrance that was sweet and satisfying, and stretched on for acres and acres. Dozens of fountains and statuary were situated throughout the grounds, each of them illustrating a different version of the Goddess, Nyx.
I'd searched and easily found a willow tree that curtained an area not far from a particularly beautiful marble statue of the Goddess, arms raised, lush body unashamedly naked. Under my new willow, I also found the familiar darkness and the shadows that soothed my battered body and spirit.
It was there that I sat, cross-legged on a carpet of moss, and poured the pearls from Alice Wheiler's broken necklace onto a dark cloth. Then, surrounded by concealing, comforting shadows, I took a wire, thin as a hair, and built a new necklace from the remains of the old one
. This one was not to be triple-stranded and elegant. This one was going to be one long circle of pearls-very much like a noose.
Cordelia had been confused when I'd asked for the wire, the stringing needle, the crimpers and scissors. When I explained I wanted to make my old mother's necklace anew, just as I was making my life anew, she had given me the supplies I needed, but I could tell by her countenance that she did not approve.
I didn't need her approval.
The night I finished the necklace, I had been cutting the wire to crimp around the emerald clasp and I'd pricked my finger with the raw, sharp edge of the wire. I'd watched, fascinated, as my blood had followed the slim thread to disappear within the pearls. It had seemed right that my blood had sealed the remaking of the necklace.
The long, single strand had been a comforting weight against my bosom as I left the House of Night and began the three-mile walk to South Prairie Avenue. The waning moon was high in the sky, but shielded by clouds it afforded little light. I'd been glad of the cloud cover. I'd felt comforted by the darkness and as one with the shadows, so much so that by the time I reached the Wheiler House it seemed as if I had become a shadow myself.
It was well past midnight when I unlatched the garden gate and, moving in silence, retraced the path that just one week ago I had left splattered with my blood.
The servants' entrance was, as usual, unbarred.
The house slept. Except for two gaslights at the base of the staircase, it was dark. I snuffed the lights as I reached the stairs. In shadow, I moved up one landing and another. I felt as if I floated with the darkness.
His door was unbarred. The only light in his room came from the cloud-shrouded moon shining through his long beveled windows.
It was light enough for me.
His room stank of him. The noxious scent of alcohol and sweat and foulness had my lip curling, but it didn't deter me.
Silently, I moved to his bedside and stood over him, just as he had stood over me one week ago.
I lifted the pearls from around my neck and held them, taut and ready in my hands.
Then I gathered phlegm in my mouth and spit in his face.
He woke, blinking in confusion, and wiping my spittle from his face.
"Awake, are you? Good. You need to be. We have things to settle between us." I'd repeated his words to him.
He'd shaken his head, as if coming inside from a rainstorm. Then, his eyes opened wide in shocked recognition. "Emily! It is you! I knew you'd come back to me. I knew what that Simpton boy had said about a vampyre Marking you and taking you away had been a lie."
As he struggled to sit up I struck. With speed and strength no human girl could have commanded, I wrapped the pearls stranded on wire around his fat throat. Then I closed the noose. As I squeezed and squeezed I locked my gaze with his and in a voice that held no hint of human softness I spoke.
"I didn't come back to you. I came back for you." His body began to convulse and his thick, hot hands beat against me, but I was no longer a sick, weak girl. His blows marked me, but they did not stop me. "Yes, hit me! Bruise me! That will only give evidence to my story. You see, I had to defend myself when you attacked me again. I'd only wanted you to admit what you did to me was wrong, but you tried to violate me again. This time you failed."
His eyes had bulged in his scarlet face until it looked as if he wept tears of blood. Just before he choked on his last breath I told him, "And I am not Emily. I am Neferet."
Afterward, I unwrapped the pearls from around his neck. They had cut deeply into his flaccid flesh and were covered in his blood. I carried them carefully as I retraced my path through the dark streets of Chicago. When I reached the metal State Street Bridge, which spanned the fetid depths of the Chicago River, I paused and dropped the necklace into the water. It seemed that it floated on the dark water for quite a long time and then black, oily tendrils lapped over it, pulling the pearls under the surface like a sacrifice accepted.
"That ends it," I vowed aloud to the darkness of the night. "With his death my new life as Neferet begins."
When I reentered the gates of the House of Night, Cordelia was, again, awaiting me. As I went to her I began to weep. My mentor opened her arms to me and, with a mother's kindness, she comforted me.
* * *
Of course I had to tell my story to the School Council. I explained that, though I can now see it was unwise, that night I had simply wanted Barrett Wheiler to admit that he had done a ghastly thing to his daughter. Instead, he had attacked me. I had only been defending myself.
It was agreed that I should leave Chicago while the local police were bribed and the bank board was silenced. It was a happy coincidence that a House of Night train was leaving the very next night and heading southwest, to the Oklahoma Territory, as they scouted a location for a future House of Night. I would join their party.
And thus I have. At this moment I sit in a lavishly furnished railcar, and complete my journal.
Cordelia tells me that Oklahoma is Native-American land-sacred and rich in ancient traditions as well as earth magic. I have decided that I will bury my journal there, deep in the land, and with it I will bury Emily Wheiler, her past, and her secrets. I will truly begin anew and accept the power and privilege and magick of my Goddess, Nyx.
No one will ever know my secrets for they will be entombed in the land, safely hidden, silent as death. I regret none of my actions and if that curses me, then my final prayer is to let that curse be entombed with this journal, to be imprisoned eternally in sacred ground.
So ends Emily Wheiler's sad story and so begins the magickal life of Neferet-not Queen of Little Egypt … Queen of the Night!