I run breathlessly through the grass, my feet stirring up a magickal dust that seems to float around me with the power of the Goddess from within. My long, dark hair swings behind me, and I know I look strong and powerful and mature like a proper High Priestess of Nyx should. I run without stopping, even though my muscles ache defiantly against the movement. My shoulders are squared, and my fist is closed tightly around the sword that is a gift from my Goddess. I've finally come full circle. I'm ready for this moment, and no moment else.
For a moment, I do not worry about anything else going on in the background- the battle between Light and Darkness that rages beyond me, or the dark shadow fighting the bright shadow in the sky. All I focus on is my enemy. I narrow my eyes, lowering my head and charging at her.
I swing my sword perfectly, just as I was taught before. The sword meets hers, and we begin our battle. I look back on what Nyx told me the day I was Marked: "Darkness does not always equate to evil, just as Light does not always bring good." I know now that what she was saying is the absolute truth, the whole truth, and not part of the truth. And as I fight until my last breath, I fight with every intention of winning.
Above me, in the sky, the light cries out as it is stabbed by the darkness, and everything changes... for the worse.
I sat straight up in bed. My heart was pounding, and my skin had broken out into a cold sweat. My hair was matted and nappy against my back, and my eyelashes were wet as if I'd been crying. What type of dream had that been?
"Zoey?" Aurox murmured, his arm instantly around me. "Are you okay?"
His touch felt warm, nice, so nice that it almost distracted me from the terror I'd felt at awakening. I leaned into him, sighing. He felt so much like Heath that I wanted to just kiss him and make love to him and forget all about everything I'd experienced in my dream, using love as a shield.
And I almost did.
But then I thought about how quickly my eyes had widened when I'd seen the light in the sky stabbed. I knew the dream had been a message from Nyx, and I shouldn't hide Nyx's messages, especially important ones. Hiding them would be lying, and I didn't want to lie, especially not to Aurox.
So I sighed and turned so that I was looking in his eyes. "I had a dream. I think it was a message from the Goddess. In the dream, I was fighting someone with a sword... I can't remember who. I think it was Neferet. We fought for a while. There was a battle going on between Light and Darkness at the east wall. And in the sky, two... two things were battling. Like, a light, and a darkness. I think they could've been the black and white bulls. They were fighting as we were fighting. And then the white bull stabbed the black bull. And that's when I woke up."
Aurox gasped. "Are you saying the white bull won the battle?"
I ran a frustrated hand through my hair and sighed. "I don't know, Aurox. I don't know anything. I feel so useless. I feel like crap. I don't feel like a High Priestess of Nyx. A High Priestess shouldn't keep messing up. I'm only seventeen. My soul's been shattered and broken so many times it's not funny. Neferet's declared war on humans because I wasn't here to stop her. So many people have died because of me. I'm a crappy High Priestess, and I can't fight Darkness itself, let alone Neferet." Tears brimmed in my eyes.
"No." Aurox suddenly sounded grown and mature, and there was irritation in his voice. "Stop beating yourself up, Zo. You are the first Fledgling High Priestess, and the most beautiful High Priestess there is at that." I blushed at that part, but he ignored it and continued. "Darkness can never really be defeated, but you can fight it- you fight it every day, even if you don't realize it. If you weren't fighting it, you would be on its side right now. You have an affinity for all five of the elements, and you know how to use it. Sure, you're soul's been broken apart several times before, but each time, you healed yourself and came back, won your life back from Darkness. Sure, you may be just a kid. But I have faith in you. Stevie Rae has faith in you. Damien, Dragon, Anastasia, your mother, and Jack had and still have faith in you. Stark has faith in you. Shaunee and Lenobia and Travis and Nicole and Shaylin and Erik and Thanatos and Kalona and Aphrodite and Darius have faith in you. And most importantly, Nyx has faith in you. If it comes down to it, all you need is the Goddess. As long as you believe in her, you should be able to go on. Brush off your fear and become the High Priestess Nyx wants you to be, instead of hiding in the shadows."
Aurox's words were basically what I'd been hearing for a long time, that I basically needed to shut up and be a good High Priestess. But this time, they actually took substance in my heart, in my soul. I felt my lips turning up into a smile as I stared at him, the tears that had been brimming in my eyes welling up and spilling over. I blinked furiously against them, beyond words. When I could finally speak, my words were breathy and so low that he had to lean forward to hear me. "Thank you so much for telling me that, Aurox. You're right. I'm only what I make myself out to be- and a weak, scared High Priestess is not what I am. I refuse to let it be."
"Of course. You think I find weak, scared girls attractive?" The grin that lit up his face was what I was coming to recognize as his shameless grin, a grin that Heath used to have.
"Of course not," I agreed, and leaned forward so that I could kiss him. Our lips met, and he pulled me closer, his hands moving to my breasts. I all but welded myself to him and forgot about Neferet and Stark and everything that was bothering me as I made love to him with everything in my soul.
But just because you forget about your problems, doesn't mean they cease to exist.
Stark sat outside of Zoey's room, his eyes widened in anger. His fists were clenched, and it was taking every shred of respect he had for his Goddess not to burst into the room and choke Aurox. He tried to remember that he'd been friends with Heath, and that Heath was Aurox, but he couldn't see much past the wall of hatred and anger that had been building and building since Zoey had revealed that she thought Heath might be Aurox.
And suddenly, sharply, sadness pierced him like a naked dagger, so harshly that he fell back against the wall, closing his eyes and biting his lip to stop the sudden tears from forming. What was wrong with him? And then he realized the sadness he was feeling might not be his sadness. It wasn't exactly easy to forget that he'd Imprinted with Terri, but it was easy for it to momentarily slip his mind while he was distracted by other things, and when those things happened to include Zoey.
He was pissed, but not exactly at her. His anger wasn't exactly directed toward Aurox either. It was mostly at himself, for allowing this. He remembered when he'd told Zoey that her being with other guys wouldn't let him get pissed and jealous and selfish and leave her, and he knew he would try to stick to that commitment. He'd try his hardest to be her Guardian, to protect her from the Darkness that was only starting to become him, and to love her. But it wouldn't be easy if he knew that when he wasn't with her, he was probably in the arms of some other guy. Especially a guy that was his friend.
A sigh escaped him, full of longing and regret and hurt and pain and loss. He wanted Zoey, more than anything. She'd been the one to save him from the dark abyss that he'd leapt into when he'd awakened as a red fledgling. And he'd Changed into a Light vampyre only because of her- because of his commitment to her and how much he loved her and how much she loved him. Not for her to be just fucking every guy on the block.
Stark's eyebrows raised as the sadness within him grew, almost to the point where he was considering suicide. What is wrong with her? Ever since he'd saved the fledgling's life in battle, giving her his blood in a dire moment of need, he hadn't seen her, and for that he was glad. He knew that spending time with her would just complicate things further, and that was a complication he didn't need at the moment. He thought about how difficult it would be to be in a love triangle.
Exactly the situation Z's in, his conscience pointed out. You should really cut her some slack. She has a hard decision to make. She loves you, but she loves him, too, and it's not going to be easy for her. You should see the stress she goes through trying to make her choice. And either choice she makes, it won't be easy. There's a long road of stress and pain ahead of her.
He knew the voice within him was right, but for some reason he still felt anger. He decided to ignore it and focus on Terri's sadness. He closed his eyes and felt it, felt the center of it, and felt where it was coming from. He stood, almost entranced by the powerful magick, and followed the connection out of the room, out of the hallway, and up out of the tunnels. He didn't notice the Darkness that shivered in the air wherever he stood, easily swayed and ready to follow his command.
When he got out of the tunnels, he stared at the midday sky. The day was bright, though the sun wasn't out. It was humid and warm, but not hot enough to injure him or heed him in any way. Stark breathed a sigh of relief as he walked a little further, thinking about the first day he'd come to these tunnels. And then he ran right smack into Terri.
She was standing in front of him. As his eyes widened when he saw her, he realized how cute she was- seriously cute in a badass type of way. Her long brown hair fell gently to her shoulders. Her full lips were pursed and almost tilted up in a smile. Her electric blue eyes seemed to see into his soul. She was short, and he loved short girls. His eyes raked down her body and the T-shirt and sweatpants he was wearing, that clearly brought out her boobs and her ass. He licked his lips. "Hey."
"Hey," she said, grinning at him.
"What are you doing here?" Stark had asked an honest question, but the words sounded so cold that she grimaced.
"I came here to see you." The words were a verbal caress.
"Why would you want to see me?" He could feel her sudden happiness, her almost elated joy. Did that mean he had been the reason for her sadness?
"We Imprinted, remember?" She sighed. "To be perfectly honest, I came here to find out why you did it."
He knew his face was like a question mark when she continued. "You saved me," she reminded him. "You gave me your blood so I would survive, but we're on opposing sides in a very real battle between Light and Darkness. Why would you do that?"
He hesitated. "I... honestly don't know. I... there was something in me that couldn't just let you die. I acted before I could think."
"And your quick thinking was what brought us into this crappy situation," she said, sighing.
"Yeah," he agreed, smiling.
"But... there's something about it. I don't want to say let's just break it and forget about each other," she said softly, looking away from him and blushing.
"But you're bad. I'm good."
She laughed. "Oh, cutie. I don't have to be bad. You don't have to be good. You already know that."
"Yeah, but I want to be good, and I'm pretty sure you want to be bad." Stark's eyebrows matted together in frustration. "I don't know what I want right now, but I know what I do want is Nyx, and I'm pretty sure you don't give two rat's asses about my Goddess."
"Yeah, you're right," she said slowly. "But do you care about the Light as much as you say you do?"
He stared at her for a long moment, wanting to shout at her and tell her how wrong she was and how committed to Light and Nyx he was. But the words stuck in his throat, almost lodged there, because he couldn't say it. He couldn't lie to her. He wanted to be on the side of Light, but there were things holding him back, things in his soul that he'd doubted since the beginning of his reign as Zoey's Warrior. He could see it now, plain as day. Stark was not completely on the side of Light.
"I-" was all he could say.
"Exactly," she said, smiling. "You're not as goody-goody as you act like. You'd give up Light in a heartbeat. Only, what would it take to push you that far?" And with that, she turned, tossing her hair behind her back in a move slightly reminiscent of Aphrodite, and walked away. Stark stared after her for a long moment as she got into the car that was parked beside the tunnels, which he hadn't seen before. Then she drove off without looking back.
Stark stared in the direction the car had gone for a long moment. Eventually he sighed, turned around, and descended into the tunnels.
WELCOME TO BATTLED EVERYBODY! This is just the prologue, so bear with me. But the Light/Darkness battle theme is pretty much the theme of this book, so if you liked that, you'll probably like this book. I love the fans that have stayed with me and appreciate you guys so much, heart you! Until the next chapter.