Chapter Eight
Hunted
Author:Kristin Cast

"What made you write it?" I asked, still staring at the black words.

Kramisha had sat down heavily on her bed, all of a sudden looking almost as exhausted as Stevie Rae. She was shaking her head back and forth, back and forth, making her orange and black hair dance against her smooth cheeks. "It just come to me, like all the stuff I write do. Things just come into my head, and then I write it down."

"What did you think it meant?" Jack asked, patting her arm gently, a lot like he patted Duchess (she was curled up by his feet).

"I didn't really think 'bout it. It come to me. I write it. That's all." She paused, glanced up at the poster board, and then looked quickly away, as if what she saw scared her.

"Are these all poems you've written in the days since Stevie Rae Changed?" I shifted my attention to the other poems. There were several haiku.

Eyes watching always

Shadows in shadows they wait

A black feather falls

First accepted, loved

Then betrayed--spit in the face

Vengeance sweet like dots

"Sweet, blessed Nyx." Erik's shocked voice came from behind me, kept low for my ears alone to hear. "They're all about him."

"What does `sweet like dots' mean?" Jack was asking Kramisha.

"You know--dippin' dots. I love me some dippin' dots," she said.

Erik and I moved around Kramisha's room. The more I read, the tighter the knot my stomach curled into.

They done

Wrong

Like ink from a busted pen

Thrown away 'cause of someone else

Used up

But he come back

Dressed in night

Fine as a king

With his queen

The wrong

Made right

So right

"Kramisha, what were you thinking about when you wrote this one?" I asked her, pointing at the last one I'd read.

She shrugged that one shoulder again. "I guess I thought 'bout how we out of the House of Night, but we shouldn't be. I mean, I know it's best for us underground, but it just don't feel right that only Neferet know about us. She a wrong kind of High Priestess."

"Kramisha, would you do me a favor and copy down all of these poems?"

"You think I messed up, don't you?"

"No. I do not think you messed up," I as**sured her, hoping I was being guided correctly by my instincts and wasn't just chasing bats in the darkness again. "I think you've been given a gift from Nyx. I just want to be sure we use your gift in the right way."

"I think she's Vamp Poet Laureate material, and a major improvement over our last one," Erik said.

I looked up at him sharply, and he shrugged and grinned. "It was just a thought, that's all."

Okay, even though it made me uncomfortable to think about Loren, especially when Erik had been the one to bring him up, I felt the rightness of what he was saying down deep in my gut, which said more about Kramisha's true nature than my exhausted guessing and my apparently overactive imagination were telling me. Nyx obviously had her hand on this kid. What the hell. I'm the only High Priestess we have. I can make a proclamation. "Kramisha, I'm going to make you our first Poet Laureate."

"Whaaaaat?! Are you kiddin'? You kiddin', ain't ya?"

"I'm not kidding. We're a new kind of vamp group. We're a civilized new kind of vamp group, and that means we need a Poet Laureate. You're it."

"Um, I agree and everything with you, Z, but doesn't the council have to vote on a new Poet Laureate?" Jack said.

"Yep, and I have my Council down here with me." I realized Jack had been talking about the Council of Nyx, the one Shekinah had been head of that ruled all vampyres. But I had a Council also, a Prefect Council, acknowledged by the school, made up of me, Erik, the Twins, Damien, Aphrodite, and Stevie Rae.

"Kramisha has my vote," Erik said.

"See, it's practically official," I said.

"Yea!" Jack cheered.

"It's a crazy idea, but I like it." Kramisha beamed.

"So, write those poems down for me before you go to sleep, 'kay?"

"Yeah, I can do that."

"Come on, Jack. Our Poet Laureate needs to get her sleep," Erik said. "Hey, congratulations, Kramisha."

"Yeah, big congrats!" Jack said, giving Kramisha a hug.

"Y'all go on now. I got work to do. Then I gotta get my rest. A Poet Laureate do have to look her best," Kramisha said primly, finishing up with a couplet.

Erik and I followed Jack and Duchess out of Kramisha's room and down the tunnel.

"Was that poem really about Kalona?" Jack said.

"I think they all were," I said. "Do you?" I asked Erik.

He nodded grimly.

"Ohmigod! What's that mean?" Jack said.

"I don't have a clue. Nyx is at work, though. I can feel it. The prophecy came to us in poem form. Now this? It can't be a coincidence."

"If it's the work of the Goddess, then there must be some way we can use it to help us," Erik said. "Yeah, that's what I think, too."

"We just have to figure out how," Erik said.

"That's gonna take someone with more brains than me," I said.

There was a short pause, and then the three of us spoke together, "Damien."

Spooky shadows, bats, and my worries about the red fledglings temporarily forgotten, I hurried down the tunnel with Erik and Jack.

"The door to the depot's over here." Jack led us through the surprisingly homelike kitchen to a side room that was obviously a pantry, though I'd bet what used to be stored there was more liquid than the bags of chips and boxes of cereal it now held. All along one wall, rolled neatly, piled side by side and on top of each other, were a bunch of puffy sleeping bags and pillows.

"So is that the way into the depot?" I pointed to a wooden pull-down staircase in the corner of the storage closet that led up to an open door.

"Yeah, that's it." Jack said.

Jack went first and I followed him, poking my head up into the supposedly abandoned building. My first impression was of darkness and dust, fragmented every few minutes by what looked like a strobe-light effect of flashes of sudden brightness leaking through the boarded- up windows and door. When I heard the rumble of thunder, I understood and remembered what Erik had said about a major thunderstorm going on, which wouldn't be unusual for Tulsa, even in early January.

But this wasn't a normal day, and I couldn't help but believe this also wasn't a normal thunderstorm.

Before I did any looking around I pulled my cell phone out of my purse. I opened it. No ser vice.

"Mine hasn't worked, either. Not since we got here," Erik said.

"Mine's charging down in the kitchen, but I know Damien checked his when we got up here, and he didn't have any ser vice, either."

"You know bad weather can knock the towers out," Erik said in response to what I'm sure was my sickeningly worried expression. "Remember that big storm a month or so ago? My cell didn't work for three entire days."

"Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but I just...just don't believe this is a natural phenomenon."

"Yeah," he said quietly. "I know."

I drew a deep breath. Well, natural or not, we were going to have to deal with it, and right now there wasn't a darn thing we could do about our isolation here. There was a storm raging outside, and we weren't ready to face it yet.

So first things first. I squared my shoulders and looked around. We'd come up in a little room that had a half wall, and then bank teller?like windows cut in the real wall, complete with tarnished brass bars on the front. I decided quickly it must have been the depot ticket office. From there we entered a huge room. The floor was marble and it still looked slick and butterlike in the dimness. The walls were weird, though. All kinda rough and bare from the floor up to about a foot or so above my head, and then the decorations started. They were blurred by dust and time and inattention, and there were cobwebs hanging all over (eesh, first bats and now spiders!), but the vibrant old Art Deco colors were still visible, telling stories of Native American mosaic patterns, feather headdresses, horses, leather, and fringe. I gazed around at the corroded beauty, and thought this could make a great school. It was big and it had the same kind of grace as many of Tulsa's downtown buildings had, thanks to the oil boom and 1920s Art Deco styling. Lost in thought of what might someday be, I walked across the empty lobby, peeking around, noticing hallways that stretched off from this one big room, leading to others, wondering if there were enough of them for several classrooms. We took one of those hallways and it dead-ended at wide double glass doors. Jack bobbed his head at them. "That's the gym." We all gazed through the time-dirtied glass. In the nonlight I could just make out blobs of shapes that looked like great sleeping beasts from a dead world. "And over there's the door to the boys' locker room." Jack pointed to a closed door to the right of the gym. "And there's the girls'."

"Okay, well, I'm going to hit the showers," I said lamely. "Erik, would you and Jack let Damien know about Kramisha's poems? Tell him if he has to talk to me about it I'll be in Stevie Rae's room, hopefully sound asleep for at least a few hours. If it can wait, we'll all meet and try to figure out what it could mean after we've rested." I shifted the towels and bathrobes I'd been clutching so I could wipe sleepily at my face.

"You need to rest, Z. Not even you can go through all of this and keep functioning without sleep," Erik said.

"Yeah, if Damien wasn't staying awake with me, I'd be scared of falling asleep on watch duty," Jack said, and yawned for punctuation.

"The Twins will take over for you soon." I smiled at Jack. "Just hold on till then." My smile widened to include Erik. "I'll see you soon. Both of you."

I started to turn away and Erik's touch on my arm stopped me. "Hey, we're together again. Aren't we?"

I met Erik's eyes and saw his vulnerability through the pretend confidence of his smile. He wouldn't understand if I said I needed to talk to him about, well, sex before I agreed to get back together with him. That would hurt his ego as well as his heart and then I'd be back where I was before, with me kicking myself for being the cause of us being apart.

So I simply said, "Yeah, we're together again."

The sweet vulnerability was reflected in the kiss he bent to place on my lips. It wasn't a groping, demanding, we're-gonna-have-sex-now kiss. It was a warm, gentle, I'm-so-glad- we're-back-together kiss, and it utterly melted me.

"Get some sleep. I'll see you soon," he whispered. He kissed my forehead quickly, then he and Jack disappeared through the boys' locker room door.

I stood there for a while, just looking at the closed door and thinking. Had I been wrong about the change in Erik? Had I misunderstood what was behind his passion in the tunnel? After all, he wasn't a fledgling anymore. He was a fully Changed, adult vampyre. That made him a man, even though he was still nineteen, just like he'd been less than a week ago, before he'd Changed.

Maybe the increase in the sexual tension between us was natural, and not just because he thought I was a skank now that I'd given up my ity. Erik was a man, I repeated the thought to myself. I already knew from the disaster with Loren Blake that being with a man was different than being with a boy or a fledgling. Erik was a fully Changed vampyre, like Loren had been. The thought sent nervous skitters through my body. "Like Loren" wasn't a particularly good analogy. But Erik definitely was not Loren! Erik had never used me or lied to me. Erik was Changed, but he was still the Erik I knew and might even love. I really shouldn't be stressing myself out with worrying about this. The sex thing would work itself out. I mean, compared to an ancient immortal coming after us, Neferet having the school in her evil clutches, me freaking about whether there is or isn't something bizarre going on with the red fledglings, Grandma being in a coma, and the nasty Raven Mockers wreaking havoc in Tulsa, whether or not Erik would try to pressure me into hav**ing se**x with him should be a stress break, or at least a stress vacation. Shouldn't it? "Z! There you are. Would you come on?" Erin stuck her head out of the girls' locker room door. There was a huge cloud of steam wafting around behind her and I could see that she was wearing only her bra and pan ties (matching, of course, from Victoria's Secret).

With an effort I put Erik out of my mind. "Sorry...sorry, I'm coming," I said and hurried into the locker room.