Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to someone else.
Seth Knightlord, also known as Empress Augusta Vradica of the New Human Empire, gazed down at two of her most devoted subjects. She stood, dressed in an ornate green dress, at the top of a small set of stairs in front of a curtain of the same color with the symbol of her empire emblazoned upon it. Merely weeks ago she would have hidden behind that curtain and covered her face with voice-modifying veils. For nearly a thousand years she ruled like that, a mysterious woman called mother by her people. Now she bared her face and reveled in the unexpected sense of freedom it brought her. That sense of freedom had inspired her to create the plan she was currently enacting. Well, she might have come up with the plan and done the preliminary work, but most of it was in the hands of the two people who knelt before her.
She smiled fondly at the two blondes and spoke, "Raise thy heads and approach. Let us speak informally." They exchanged a quick glance and did so, stopping at the foot of the stairs. "Ion Fortuna and Astharoshe Asran. Both of you have faced considerable challenges lately, and overcome them in a manner that has exceeded my expectations." She paused, and her subjects spoke in unison, "Thank you, Empress, for your kind words." Astharoshe continued, "However, I must admit we could not have achieved what we did without the assistance of the Vatican messengers." Seth thought she heard the woman mutter "that turnip-head,' under her breath, and she smiled. Wouldn't it be amusing if Astharoshe were to discover the 'turnip-head's' true identity as a Crusnik and Seth's older brother? But that was not the issue here and now. So Seth wiped the grin from her face and replied to Astharoshe's statement. "Exactly. It is because you two have shown remarkable ability to work with 'outsiders' that I have summoned you." Seth paused again. "For nearly a thousand years I have ruled from behind a curtain and Methuselah have remained mostly within the borders of my Empire, isolated from the outside world. But things are changing. Soon I will no longer hide my face, and I wish my children to be connected to the 'outside' world. I would like you two to be my ambassadors to the 'outside'."
"Empress," said Ion, "we have learned these weeks that Terran are not the detestable creatures we thought them to be. However, many still may fear us Methuselah, if they are even aware of our existence. How will we be received?" I bet you've learned a lot about one Terran in particular, thought Seth. Aloud, she replied, "That is why your first visit 'outside' will not be to the Terran but to the other 'outer' race – the vampyres."
As usual, Zoey Redbird didn't realize class was over until the bell rang. The Vampyre Sociology teacher at the Tulsa, Oklahoma House of Night, Neferet, was an amazing lecturer. Actually, she was just plain amazing. Beautiful, blessed with a gift for healing and an affinity for cats (not to mention the scary intuition all vampyres had), and High Priestess of Nyx, she was the sort of woman every girl wished they could be. At least, on the surface she was. But as Nxy, goddess of the children of the night, had once told Zoey, darkness does not always equate evil, just as light does not always bring good. Neferet was not dark, but she was evil as can be. Of course, it helped that everyone besides a select few believed the kind façade she put up to be her true face. And those few who knew the truth could not speak out.
One was Zoey, and Neferet had already threatened her. "If you speak against me I will make sure no human or fledgling or vampyre believes you." This wouldn't be hard for Neferet to do. As High Priestess she had a lot of power and influence.
The second was girl named Aphrodite, and no one would believe her either. Mainly because she had a reputation for being the school's biggest bitch. If she spoke out against Neferet, people would automatically assume she was doing so because of the way Neferet had publicly embarrassed her by taking away her leadership of the Dark Daughters. Zoey knew better. Yes, Aphrodite was a bitch (or a hag from hell, according to Zoey's friends), but that was mostly because she had been raised by horror parents who demanded nothing less than perfection. Right now she was a girl whose 'friends' had deserted her, who had been exposed to the nastiness that was Neferet's true personality, and had no one to turn to.
The last? A group of fledglings who had died during the Change only to be revived by Neferet. Now normally having her best friend Stevie Rae back would be a great thing for Zoey. Except the thing that Neferet had brought back wasn't Stevie Rae. It was a cold creature that felt no remorse at killing humans for their blood, even enjoyed it. And had terrible hygiene to boot. These strangely undead fledglings couldn't speak out because they were being kept a secret by Neferet, and who would believe a smelly undead creature anyway?
With the secret of Stevie Rae's continued existence and Neferet's true character weighing her down, Zoey was feeling a little out of it, and moving on autopilot. She went through school and meals without caring, until her friend Damien told her, "Zoey, you've been seeming a little out of it. Do you want to talk?" Damien was gay, and therefore sensitive as any girl to these kinds of things. Friends Erin and Shaunee chimed in, saying in unison, "Yeah, girl." There was a reason they were called the Twins, even though they were in no way related. Erik, Zoey's boyfriend, said nothing, only looked concerned.
Zoey wanted to scream, "Yes, Stevie Rae's still out there! Neferet is evil! Aphrodite needs help!' but couldn't. They'd think she was crazy. Well, they'd accept the 'Aphrodite needs help' bit, but not the rest. So instead Zoey told them, half-truthfully, "I was just thinking about Stevie Rae." Immediately the girls' and Damien's eyes filled with tears. Erik put on a stoic face and took Zoey's had in his own. "Z, I'm sorry. I know none of us can ever replace her, but is there anything we can do for you?"
"Not really. I just need time to think. Do you guys mind if I go groom Persephone? That always calms me down."
"Go ahead. Just know that we'll be here whenever you need us."
"Thanks guys," said Zoey with a smile, perhaps the first true one she given in days.
The stables were warm and quiet. Zoey was brushing Persephone's sorrel coat when she heard the voice. Greetings, U-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa.
"Nyx!" Zoey's eyes filled with tears of relief. Surely the vampyre goddess would be able to help her. Yes, it is I, Daughter.
"Are you here to help me with Neferet?"
I am always here, Zoey Redbird, and no, that is not why I speak to you today.
"Umm, no offence, but why not? I'm not sure I can handle this alone."
Then do not be alone. You have chosen your friends well, U-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa. They will help you. Do not worry. Their belief in you is stronger than their belief in her. Immediately Zoey felt sorry for doubting her friends. She covered it up with another question. "Why have you chosen to speak to me today, if it's not about Neferet?"
From the Darklands the Methuselah are coming to the Houses of Night. I warn you, Zoey, powerful enemies or powerful allies will come to you, and it is your choice which they will be. The children of night are coming.
"What do you mean? Nyx…" Zoey's voice trailed off. The goddess was gone. Or done speaking, which amounted to pretty much the same thing. She pondered what Nyx had said. People – or Methuselah, whatever they were, were coming to the Houses of Night from the Darklands. The Darklands she'd heard of before. What geography student hadn't? They were the area surrounding the Black Sea, called the 'Darklands' because no one who went in ever returned, and when pictures were taken from the air, the entire area was black.
But Methuselah? She knew she'd heard that name before, but couldn't think of where. It was like an itch she couldn't scratch. Zoey sighed and put down the curry comb. There was only one thing to do. Go to the library.
Sappho, the media center specialist, was very helpful, though she seemed confused when Zoey said she was looking for a book on Methuselah. It was Zoey's turn to be confused when Sappho brought out a Bible. So I probably learned the name from the step-loser, she thought.
After learning that Methuselah was a man who had lived 969 years, Zoey discarded the Bible and began looking for references to anything long-lived. She found a book about trees, but it wasn't until she came across a book with pages yellowed by age that she found anything useful.
Titled Children of the Night, it reminded Zoey of Nyx's warning, so she took it off the shelf and opened it. She had hit the jackpot. The first chapter was titled 'History of the Darklands'. The second? 'Methuselah'. Zoey sat down to read, and was quickly drawn in by the author's words.
"Ohmygod Z! What are you doing here?" Shaunee entered the library screaming at the top of her lungs. "You were supposed to be in the stables!"
"I felt like getting book."
"Who cares about books? We're going to be late!" Shaunee took out her phone and began texting furiously. "There, I've told everyone I've found you. Now move your butt!" Confused was too mild a word to describe Zoey's feelings as she followed Shaunee down the halls, clutching Children of the Night to her chest, toward the …auditorium? "Shaunee, why are we going to the auditorium?"
"You mean you didn't hear? Neferet was on the intercom asking all students and staff to go directly to there."
"No, I didn't. Did she say why?'
"Nope. That's why everyone is in such a hurry- we can't wait to find out." The two girls reached their destination along with a few stragglers. Shaunee pushed Zoey up to the front of the room, where her group of friends was waiting, surrounding two empty seats. Shaunee took the seat next to Erin, Zoey the one next to Erik.
Up on the stage Neferet stood behind the podium. A minute or so after Shaunee and Zoey seated themselves, she began to speak. "Greetings, fledglings and vampyres. I apologize for disturbing your morning like this, but I have just received the most curious message. It comes from Shekinah, High Priestess of us all. She sent me this," Here Neferet held up a small, black box, "and bid me show it to all of you." Nefeeret placed the box on the podium and stepped back. What happened next, no one could have predicted.
The box began to glow, and emitted a beam of multicolored light. Slowly, the beam widened and gained shape. It was projecting a 3-D image! A hologram! Gasps could be heard from the crowd, murmurs of awe.
The hologram was of a pale girl in her early teens, dressed in an ornate green gown. On her head was a large hat, and coming from it, veils that covered her face. She sat on a throne like chair of green and gold. As if that was not magnificent enough, the girl began to speak.
"Greetings Shekinah, High Priestess of all vampyres. I am Augusta Vradica, Empress of the New Human Empire. You know it as the Darklands, for my lands have long been hidden from the rest of humanity. Today, with your assistance, I wish to change that.
With your permission, High Priestess, I would like to send to ambassadors to your Houses of Night. Why, you ask? Why not a human country? The answer is simple. My children, the Methuselah, are not human as your kind defines the term. They are stronger, faster, longer-lived, but above all, they too rely on blood to survive. Though they bear no Mark, my children are much like your people. I fear they would not be well received in human embassies, so I ask this favor of you.
Please, take all the time you need to consider. After all, people like us have all the time we need. When you are ready to reply, there are directions for recording a message written on this device."
The girl winked out of existence. There was complete silence. And then the hall exploded with noise. Zoey was peripherally aware of her friends talking excitedly, Erik especially. He was saying, "A hologram! Like Star Wars, only better! This one had full color!"
"SILENCE!" Neferet's voice rang out through the auditorium. When silence had been achieved, she said, "Thank you. Now, in Shekinah's letter, she says that she did send a reply…a positive reply. If she had any thoughts that this might be a hoax, they were dispelled when two ambassadors showed up at her home a day later. Venice's House of Night is hosting them now, but Shekinah has requested that we be the next to host the Methuselah, and I have agreed."
AN: This is set between Betrayed and Chosen. If you have any questions or comments, please review. I do my best to answer every review I get. I love reviewers!