Nïx tapped her gloved finger against her chin. "I guess you couldn't throw Cade very far."

I'm going to sack her. I'm going to shove her face into the yellow snow over there.

Nïx chided, "Now, dearling, that's not nice...."

"I want to talk to Holly alone," Regin said.

With a shrug, Nïx turned for the car. Once she and Holly were alone, Regin said, "There are four reasons why you should come with me now. Firstly, there's food in the car, and apparently, you're still a masticator. Second, a warm shower and a clean bed can be had in less than two hours. Thirdly, Nïx is bat-shit crazy, and you're not the first one of us that she's sent on a freaky vision quest. And the last reason you should come with me? I didn't f**k you over."

Holly kind of liked this Regin. After all the duplicity she'd dealt with, a straight shooter might be nice to be around.

Yet then, even Regin resorted to trickery. "Very well. I didn't want to have to do this, Holly." She sighed. "But you're leaving me no choice." From her pocket, she pulled out a cache of antibacterial wipes, waving them enticingly. "Look what Auntie Reege has. Who's your buddy? Who's your favorite Valkyrie?"

When Holly somehow resisted, Regin sighed, "Fuck this noiseage," then swooped Holly up under her arm, pinning her to her side. Though Holly fought, she carried her to the truck. Once Nïx reached back to open the door, Regin tossed Holly in the backseat.

Holly was still sputtering, dragging her matted hair from her eyes when the truck took off, heading out of the city.

Nïx turned to face her. "Well, did you have fun on your adventure?"

I'm delirious. This is what it feels like to be in delirium. "Oodles of."

"Good." Nïx handed her granola bars. Holly gorged on them without even taking off her filthy gloves.

"Soon we'll be in New Orleans, where you can meet your coven. We have your room all set up - you're to live with us at Val Hall now."

"New Orleans?" Holly sputtered, choking on granola. "You sent me across the entire continent when I'd been in the same city as my own kind?"

At her nod, Holly gave a weird, high giggle. She started laughing outright and couldn't seem to stop, even after she'd also begun crying.

"There, there," Nïx said. "If I hadn't sent you on this trip, then you wouldn't have your own page in The Book of Warriors!"

"We're here," Regin said, turning into what looked like an airfield.

"Seriously, dearling, you need to chillax."

"Why, Auntie Nïx? Why do I need to do anything?"

"Because in minutes, you're going to see the demon at the chopper pad."

Two things registered in Holly's addled brain. She was about to ride in a helicopter.

And she'd be damned before Cadeon saw her crying. She ran her crusty sleeve over her face.

"Why is he coming here?" she asked as they parked next to a sleek, silver helicopter with blackened windows.

"Because he's after you," Nïx said, hopping out of the car.

When her aunts jogged toward the chopper, Holly followed. "Why is he after me?" she asked Nïx, having to yell over the rotors.

Regin got there first and slid open the door. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" She ushered Nïx in, shoved Holly up, then climbed inside behind her. A female pilot began pressing buttons and flipping switches. The rotors sped up, growing louder.

Holly cried, "Nïx!"

"Oh, yes, of course. What was I thinking? Holly, this is your aunt Cara the Fair."

The pilot gave her a two-finger salute against a helmet that read Fly Me Friendly.

Nïx continued, "She's part Fury, as well. She's flying us all legs on the way home, and then she's off to..."

"Colombia," Cara finished for her.

"Nïx, damn it! Tell me!"

Her brows drew together. "Tell you what, dearling?"

"Let it go for now," Regin said. "She's spaced."

They'd just lifted off when a truck skidded to a stop, and Cadeon jumped from the cab.

She frowned when he charged for them, with his eyes black, pumping his arms for speed, looking more determined than she'd ever seen him. But why? Seller's remorse?

Or worse?

What did he think the Vessel would get him now? A magickal bow and arrow? An enchanted shield?

Regin slapped her knees. "Oh, my gods, look at him running like his life depended on catching us." She slid open the door. "Is this straight outta Platoon, or what? Willem!" she cried, holding out one hand. "Run, Willem!" Then she choked on her laughter.

"Why would he be doing this?" Holly whispered to herself, but even over the clamoring rotors, Regin heard her.

"Why do you care? Historically, whenever a prick serves me up to a skeevy sorcerer to use like a brood mare, I stop analyzing his motives. Historically. Now give him a nice New York State bird, and get him out of your head."


Val Hall - home of the New Orleans coven of Valkyrie - was a nightmare.

Wraiths clad in ragged red cloaks circled the old antebellum mansion, the yard was filled with lightning rods and charred trees, and dense fog wafted with no deference to the breeze, as if it were alive.

At Holly's first sight of the place, she was tempted to turn on her heel and get back into the car, heading for snow country. Except she couldn't because Nïx had dropped off her and Regin, chirping that she'd be back in a week, but there were "snacks in the fridge."

On the flight to New Orleans, Holly had learned little about Cadeon's actions from her aunt. All she'd been able to glean from Nïx's ramblings was that Cadeon had had pressing reasons for what he'd done. Not what those reasons were, or how he could so callously abandon Holly. She'd thought she'd have all the time in the world to question Nïx. Now Holly was left just as confused as before with no relief in sight.

As Regin led her inside, Holly saw some Valkyrie were sitting on the roof, while others rocked in wicker chairs on the second-story gallery with a TV in front of them and what looked like Wii controllers in their hands.

Inside the manor, Regin pushed even more Valkyrie out of the way. "Make a hole, clear out. She's new."

Most of them eyed Holly with curiosity, some with suspicion. And then the mass questions for Regin began:

- "You sure she's fully one of us?"

- "Is this the one we get to haze? Dibs on her clothes!"

- "Can she play pool?"

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