The confusing, frightening jumble of images flashed behind my closed eyes at first; but then there was a castle-like building. It should have been magnificent, beautiful; instead, it had an aura of wrongness and confusion about it.

There was a woman there, whispering something I couldn't hear. Suddenly, there was an influx of feathers and then some disappeared as others attempted to help her. Except for the one that looked strongest; he had a death grip on her upper arms, sneering as she struggled futilely.

He was uglier than my mother sober, with feathers covering the greater part of his body, where his mouth should have been, there was a beak. I shuddered. He hissed something inaudible before he took his beak and slit her throat; but I had seen her face, her identity. I knew who she was.

I screamed and thrashed wildly before shooting up in my cold bed, trying to stifle my sobs in my pillow. I hated this on rare occasions; it was usually a blessing to have someone who cared enough- not that she had a choice-but sometimes, Stasia let her mind wander, and it brought me down.

But I had screamed because I knew the woman who had been murdered. She looked exactly like me; long blonde hair, pale skin, short stature, rather angular features, eyes that blazed violet-gray. I was her voice; I was Anastasia Lankford's reincarnate, special in the fact that her soul was not yet completely merged with mine. Still, though, I was grateful for her presence; if she hadn't been there, I never would have been my own person.

Don't go getting all emotional on me, Cora. Now, calm down before they hear you and come medicate you with Goddess only knows what.

Right on time she was, keeping me out of trouble while simultaneously getting me into it. Gasping out a shuddering breath, I tried to do what she said.. "They told my parents this is the last time they'll admit me here. The doctors can't find anything. They can't keep me here longer, Anastasia, it's against the moral code."

The last time in a Muggle hospital, child. Next, they'll send you to St. Mungo's, where they will find something. You'll spend the rest of your life there.

Hissing, I asked, "Speaking of lives; why would you show me that? It's bad enough listening to you mope on his birthday or on your anniversary, I don't need to relive your death!"

You're shouting. And now they're coming. Despite my snappish attitude, Stasia remained cool.

I huffed; I had been hoping she would give me an answer. Then, focusing, I realized that I could, in fact, hear the tread of footsteps on the linoleum floor. I took another deep breath, trying to calm myself.

The door to my room opened and my nurse, a friendly but strict woman with grey hair and blue eyes, turned on the light. Looking around the room suspiciously, she asked, "Is there a problem, Coranne? The guard heard you yelling about something."

I sighed, tired of the same, listless ritual. "Nope, Lise, sorry. Just another nightmare." She scowled at me, clearly another sceptic. "Look, Lise, I promise you nothing happened. I had another nightmare about my brother. That's all. Like Frank Sinatra's song. You know you love Frankie as much as I do." I gave her what I hoped was a winning smile; lying was part of the ritual.

Guess not, since she was still frowning. "I don't normally approve of medicating children, but we may need to make an exception in your case. Don't listen to you parents,

Coranne, you're not insane; in fact, you're far from it. Watching your brother die, and then laying next to him in that pit. It's untreated trauma, that's what it is," Lise mumbled as she walked out of the room.

She's calling you a child. I guess your parents do have some sense, though, if they're not telling the people that you say you have a voice in your head.

I snorted. 'No, they're saving their own skins. These doctors can't find anything wrong because they don't know what is wrong. Doesn't look good if the minister's only child hears voices in her head. And talks to them as if they were real. I'm sorry I snapped at you, by the way. I didn't mean it.'

I know you didn't , Cora. You should leave. You're of age, now, anyway. It is completely useless to sit here, idle, when you need to prepare yourself for life.

I sighed and leaned back against the cold metal of the bed. I knew what she meant. 'From what I've read, reincarnations are unusual, since there is rarely a need. Apparently, I'm the first in hundreds of years. This is, of course, assuming I am the only current reincarnate…' I trailed off, before I realized something. 'And what do you mean, I'm not a child?'

I could feel the smile on her face. That must mean you're important to Nyx I sighed. There was another question unanswered.

Still, the tears welled up in my eyes. I had never been important to anyone before. ' Do you mean that?' I sort of whispered. ' Do you really think I'm important to Nyx?'

Anastasia gave a mental sigh. You're too much like me for your own good, Coranne. Of course you're important to Nyx. Lise is coming back. Tell her you still need some time and that you'll take whatever she gives you later.

Just then, as predicted, Lise walked back through the door. She had a glass of water in one hand and a pill in the other. "Here you are, Coranne. This is a sleeping pill, to keep the nightmares away."

And so you'll quit coming back. Stasia said, clearing sneering at the nurse.

Ignoring Anastasia to the best of my ability, I took both the pill and the water from Lise and sat them on my tiny nightstand. Turning to face the strict nurse, I froze. The heat was flashing through my veins. Just remain calm, Cora. Don't think about it.

Taking a deep breath, I finally addressed Lise. "I'll take the pill in a moment, Lise, I promise. I just need another moment to collect myself. Alone." And now it was especially true, with an attack on the way.

Her eyes narrowed, and I felt the heat peak, only to be replaced by a cool sense of relief, like spring water during a summer heat wave. "I think you should take it now, Coranne. I'm not leaving until you take the pill. I worry about you, and so do your parents. They worry about your health," Lise practically whined.

And their image. Stasia all but snarled.

I arched an eyebrow at her. I wouldn't stand for this any longer. I wouldn't be pushed around by anyone anymore. They could try to keep me here if they wanted, but they wouldn't succeed, not when I knew how to sneak like a shadow in the mist. "Lise, I need you to tell me something, okay: If I'm not insane, then why do you people watch me like hawks. I've done nothing to insinuate insanity, or mental instability, then your hovering is nothing more than an annoyance toward me. I'll take the damn pill, but I still need to collect myself for a bit longer. Alone," I added forcefully.

Lise gave a huffy sound and swept out of the room, muttering about "youth" and "rudeness" and how "society is crumbling".

Anastasia gave a snort and said Alright, get out your wand and pack your things. We're getting out of here.

She didn't have to tell me; I had already retrieved my wand from its hiding place and swept it to pack my things in the bag Aunt Hermione had given me: Undetectable Extension Charm, Feather light Charm and with school things. It had been a present for my first year at Hogwarts. Since no one was ever sure how long my hospital stays would be, I used the bag to travel to the newest location every time.

Rummaging through, I found a pair of jeans and a t-shirt to wear, along with socks and running shoes. ' Why the House of Night? Are you sure they won't just bring me back here?' I asked as I pulled my coat and gloves on.

Positive. Any who fought against Kalona and Neferet in Tulsa are here in London now. And they'll help you because you need it.

I sighed. "Damn you and your ability to make me do these things," I muttered as I peered down the dimly lit hallways that the hospital staff had tried to make more cheerful by hanging Christmas lights on the ceiling and walls. The attempt seemed futile to me: There was nothing cheerful about Christmas in the Psych Ward.

You know you love me, Cora. But it's not just because I want to see how Dragon and Lenobia are doing. They can help you more than I can, because, I'm, well, a voice in your head, and a soul attached only partially to yours. They're alive, so they can do research better and help you without getting you institutionalized. Besides, Aphrodite will understand a lot of what you're going through. As I exited the hospital from the front entrance, Stasia added, Be careful, as well. It's December and the middle of the night.

I sighed again as I walked down a slightly less busy side street. I looked behind me. 'That was too easy. There should have been guards watching for patients going AWOL. Do you think they all went on break, or was someone late?'

Anastasia made a noncommittal noise, which I took to mean she didn't have a clue. 'Are you going to explain why these people are supposed to understand me? Especially this Aphrodite person, whoever she might be. Or how these Vampyres will be able to help me, at all?' I felt the familiar sweepings of sheer panic start to surface.

I felt Stasia mentally slap me on the back of the head. You, Coranne Anastasia Lupin, need to calm down. You're overreacting on a whole new level of panic. They'll be able to help you because they can't turn people down when they need help. It's a weakness of theirs. And Aphrodite will understand because she's been through this before, with her parents. It was a lot of what caused her attitude. She came to me for advice more than she should have, seeing as I wasn't her mentor when she was a Fledgling. Besides, you'll let them help you, it's as simple as that.

I frowned as I continued to walk down the street, convinced Lise had only let me leave so she could capture me when I thought I was free. 'And why, exactly, would I let them help me?'

Stasia sighed in frustration. You'll trust them. It's as simple as that; you'll trust them. I still can't believe you continue to ignore the obvious.

I stopped dead in my tracks, convinced I had heard the sound of footsteps on the pavement behind me. If someone was following me, I would prefer it be Lise or one of the guards, than one of London's many predatory prowlers. Sorry, Cora. I know you don't like it when we have this conversation, but you have nowhere else to go. Anyhow, it's going to happen eventually.

I shook my head, picking up my pace as I began to walk again. ' It's not that. I thought I heard footsteps.'

Anastasia hissed. Run! Cora you have to run! It's not someone I recognize.

I turned my body to run, like she had instructed, but a hand latched into my arm. Suddenly, I felt myself looking into the terrified blue eyes of a fledgling as I opened my mouth to scream.

He's newly Marked. Anastasia said suddenly, cutting my scream off short. She was also telling me I wasn't in any danger.

' You got all of that from looking at him? How?' I asked.

He's terrified, Cora. He probably didn't see your face, and assumed you were a Vampyre or something. You kind of do look like one when you walk, you know.

Choosing not to respond to her infuriating reminders, I got a better look at the fledgling. He had dark blond hair, blue eyes, smooth features and was a good deal taller than I was. He was also still clearly terrified of what would happen to him. " Are you okay?" I asked gently. "You're not going to die right now, are you?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so. I was just Marked about ten minutes ago, when I got off the plane from vacation. Mum and Dad made me walk to the school, and then I got lost. They're going to meet me at the school with my things. Told me I could walk because I'm strong, they did."

For a moment, I remembered a flash of someone else's anger, and then was angry at the boy's parents. Surely they knew it didn't matter how strong their son was, he could still die. When I posed this question to the kid, he shook his head and smiled bitterly.

"Tell you the truth, I don't think they care about what happens to me at all. They don't pay much attention to me anyway, so what does it matter to them if I die. So, who are you?" he asked. "I mean, you don't look like a fledgling, but I can't be sure."

I shrugged. "My name is Cora, and I'm a runaway human who worships the Goddess, much to her parents' chagrin, and needs a place to go. I was headed to the House of Night anyway, so I'll walk with you."

Suddenly, he looked less terrified as he held out his hand, which would have easily spanned my waist. "Heath Luck, at your service, young lady. Lead the way." As I accepted the hand shake, I realized that his fingers crossed over his hand as Heath grasped my forearm.

I sighed and compared myself to him, height wise; I barely made it past his waist. "Exactly how tall are you, Heath?" I asked, a little frustrated that he was so tall, and yet became slightly more relaxed about the situation I was in: On the run from my parents, and in the morning, most likely Muggle law enforcement.

Heath chuckled. "I'm 6' 7". I'm guessing your just under 5'. Am I wrong?" he asked in a mocking tone.

I felt my lower lip just out as I shook my head. "No," I allowed, "I'm just under 5'. As a matter of fact, I'm 4' 11". Don't judge me," I whispered, trying my hardest not to concentrate on Anastasia's unusual silence. It bothered me, since she would usually tell me exactly what she thought of the person. However, I wasn't getting any particularly bad vibes off of Heath, so I walked with him to the House of Night, London, England. If anyone on the slightly dingy and abandoned road had thought about coming after me, they thought twice after seeing the large fledgling with me.

We arrived shortly after, cutting through the parking lot of sleek, expensive looking cars that made me wish I knew how to drive. Heath approached the gate, pressing a small button that said, 'Ring for Entrance.'

As Heath waited, Anastasia said, in a rather off tone of voice, Cora, that's Zoey Redbird's dead human consort. Kalona killed him after he witnessed Kalona and Neferet plotting to kill Zoey. I'm not sure how much he remembers, or if he remembers anything at all. Be careful about what you say around him.

As the gates swung open, Heath ushered me in first, then slithered in quietly. He merely shook his head when I raised a questioning eyebrow in his direction. Simultaneously, we both turned to get a better look at the school. The buildings, despite being lit by gas lamps still looked rather daunting. They were all huge, and they all reminded me of castles one would read about in a fairy tale, though there was a hint of modernization to them.

Heath sighed. "It doesn't look that different from Tulsa, though I suppose they were all modelled the same way."

So he remembers at least some of his past life, though it may not be much. Anastasia murmured. I got the idea that she was speaking to herself rather than to me.

As she finished, there was a movement in the shadows, which was revealed to be a mountain, which looked suspiciously like a male Vampyre. This meant he must be a Warrior of Erebus or something of that sort.

Son of Erebus, Cora. Anastasia snorted.

"Who are the two of you?" he questioned in a rather rough sounding voice.

'Well he just sounds like a right ray of moonlight, doesn't he? Seriously, the people in the hospital are more cheerful than Mr. Mountain over here.'

"Miss, I asked you who you are." Mr. Mountain was glaring now. Regardless of the fact that Anastasia had said I could trust the Vampyres here, I wasn't too keen on this one. He seemed rude, like he wasn't too interested in a frail human.

"Darius, is something wrong, or are you overreacting again?" Another man stepped out of a building I hadn't noticed before, though the voice registered before I could actually look at him. He wasn't as tall as the first guy, who must've been close to eight foot, but he was tall enough, with dark blond hair that was pulled back into a ponytail, sparkling blue eyes I could see from here, and his Mark was two serpentine dragons that wound their way down his jaw line. He also had an exhausted look about him, like he hadn't had a decent nights sleep in a while, and he looked rather paranoid and aggravated.

It's Dragon. Oh, Cora, he looks awful, which means he must feel awful. You have to help him, Cora, please. I can't stand seeing him like this. He needs you; don't tell me your soul doesn't recognize his, because it must, and don't tell me you don't trust him. I know you do. And don't say he looks paranoid and aggravated, like you don't look that way all the bloody time.

"Miss, are you alright?" Darius, asked, now hovering in front of me (more like kneeling, really.) He looked more concerned now, rather than angry, which made me think Heath and I had interrupted something important when we arrived.

I knew I had spaced out to talk to Anastasia, knew my eyes had gone glassy as I listened to what she had to say. So I gave myself a slight shake and made a mental note to work on having two conversations at once. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I just dozed off for a moment; it's been a bit of a long day."

Heath grinned at the two men standing there, showing perfectly white teeth. "Cora's a runaway human. She worships Nyx, and needs a place to go. She was headed this way when I ran into her, and we walked here together. My parents are bringing my things by later tonight, so, just, you know, keep an eye out for two botox'd morons who look like they were born in the 1890s."

Darius looked me over, and for a reason I couldn't identify, his eyes lingered on my right arm, which had easily disappeared into his hand. Then he turned to Heath, asking, "Did Cora tell you where she had come from, or did you even ask, Heath?"

Heath shook his head. "I didn't bother to ask. I figured her parents had kicked her out for not being what they consider normal. Why, did you figure something out just by looking at her?"

Even to me, Heath's voice sounded snippy when he asked his question, which was probably why Darius didn't respond. Even so, I couldn't figure out what Darius had seen to put together the pieces so quickly.

Anastasia gasped. Oh, boy. Um, Cora, your bracelet. You know, the one from the hospital.

Suddenly, I was horrified, and I knew the emotion was reflected on my face. This was it; they were going to take me back to Lise, who would give me to my parents, who would put my in St. Mungos, where I would be put in the Long Term Patients Ward. I swallowed, trying not to let them know just how frightened I was at being returned. "Could we continue this conversation inside, please? Someone's bound to have notice I'm gone by now," I whispered.

Darius raised an eyebrow. "And they'd look for you here of all of the places you could have gone? Surely they'll check your house and friends' houses first."

He has a point, Cora. You have at least 48 hours before your parents look for you here.

"Shut up!" I screamed. Thirty seconds later, I realized I had screamed out loud and now I was definitely getting sent back home.

Smooth.

'Shut up! I mean it, you're going to get me sent to St. Mungos. I won't see the outside world until I die!'

Pay attention, Coranne. Although, I have to hand it to you, that's probably the first time Pandryl's smiled in years. Good job.

'Pandryl? What the hell is a Pandryl?'

It's Elvish for Dragon, Cora. Now you have more to explain, since you shouted out loud.

I looked up, trying to asses the actual amount of damage; Dragon was smiling, Heath was snickering, and Darius looked shocked and amused all at the same time. I sighed again. This wasn't going to be easy on me, or anyone, really, but I knew it had to be done. "Alright, let's go somewhere a little more private. There's a lot to explain, and I refuse to do it somewhere so open. It's dangerous to talk about these things where anyone can hear me. I'll explain everything, I swear," I nervously babbled. This wasn't looking like it would work for me the way I had hoped it would. In fact, it merely looked as if Heath and I were going to remain outside until I answered their questions. All of them. I could barely answer the simple ones though, so I wasn't sure how they thought I was going to answer complicated ones.

They all seemed to read my mind as I swallowed and waited for them to send me on my way back to Lise and my parents. However, all conversation and apparent train of thought ended when a woman walked past everyone and straight out the gates, never looking at anyone. It was hard to tell what she looked like, or if she was even a Vampyre, since her hair had been charred and leftover soot seemed to coat her face like a mask.

As she left, another Vampyre walked up and looked out to the street as the woman sped away in her car. "As you can all probably tell, Erce has left for the time being. Poor woman never even realized that Shaunee and Damien were listening to every word she was saying, or that when she said those things about Jack, they would take revenge," the woman said.

Lenobia. Please excuse her elusiveness about recent events. She likes answering questions so that she feels more knowledgeable than others. It's a self-esteem thing.

I nodded as though I understood, although I really didn't. It was becoming easier than I had expected to come to terms with my destiny since I had arrived at the House of Night. I was surprised to find myself wanting to tell Dragon that my parents had lied, I had never had a brother named John that died, that I was here again, that I wouldn't leave him, ever, and that he should smile more often. The only reason I was still opposed to speaking these things aloud was Anastasia's smug thoughts.

I told you so. You weren't even in his company ten minutes before you completely fell in love with him.

'Oh?' I asked. 'And how long did it take you to realize you were in love with him when you were a corporeal being?'

Until about an hour after I made the Change. Of course, I didn't have someone to tell me what was going on, but I felt something all three years I was a fledgling. It was probably a good thing I was always bollocks at Fencing. Though it was a source of amusement for Pandryl for many years.

I sighed and rubbed my temples. I was getting no where with this conversation, so I decided to focus on the others standing around me. Darius was speaking to Lenobia in a low voice, gesturing to me occasionally. I scowled at him, waggling my fingers in what I hoped was a I-am-not-amused-by-this gesture. He merely grinned and waved back, so it must not have worked. "Lenobia," he said," this is Cora. She's a runaway human who- according to Heath here- worships Nyx. Cora, this is Lenobia, she's the school's horse mistress."

I nodded to her politely, though I was still primarily focused on Dragon, who was staring at me with rapt attention, as though I might vanish into thin air at any moment. He didn't appear to be aware of the smile that was still spread across his face. I smiled back, hoping he wouldn't figure it out too quickly. I wasn't sure I could handle being a fledgling if I couldn't be with Dragon.

Lenobia broke our moment of odd serenity with a gasp. "Dragon! You're smiling," she said.

He blinked, and slowly, the smile vanished, and then reappeared. "I am. It's all thanks to Cora here. She told Darius to shut up, you know. I'm not entirely sure what caused it, though. All he did was mention her parents wouldn't look for her here for another couple of days."

Several pairs of eyes turned to me in a questioning manner, which I chose to ignore. Instead, I was going over in my head what I would do if my parents did turn up. Plan A was hex and hope no one would really see me commit the act. I didn't have

a Plan B yet, but it was going to be more stable and mature. Hopefully.

You know, Stasia said in an odd tone, I do believe Darius is going to carry you inside.

'Why would he do that?' I asked impatiently.

You were all spaced out again. You should really work on that, you know, or they may actually send you back. Anyhow, everyone keeps staring at you. It's weirding me out.

"Right, cause the whole staring thing is so new for me!"

"She's talking to herself again. Maybe we should send her back," Darius muttered, glancing my way suspiciously.

Sheer panic washed over me. "No! Don't send me back, okay, please. I'll tell you whatever, I'll cooperate. I'm sorry if my issues confuse or frighten you. I'm not going to kill anybody in their sleep, I promise. Just-just, please, please don't make me go back to that place."

'Well that was humiliating. I don't think I've ever begged like that before.'

Perhaps you haven't, but I most certainly have.

'I don't know if you can tell, but I am internally retching right now.'

You're also externally sobbing, if you didn't realize. I think you've traumatized poor Darius. And pay attention, Damien is talking to you.

I blinked and brushed the tears away. I hated crying, I really did. No matter how much I hated my parents, they had been right that crying made you feel weak. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch what it was you said. Do you mind repeating it?"

He smiled at me, lighting up his dark brown eyes. "I said, 'Hello, my name is Damien. You must be Cora. Why don't you tell me what's wrong.'"

I curled up into fetal position, fighting off more tears. "It's just humiliating for me to have to beg for things like that. I've never really admitted to being institutionalized either; not to anyone who didn't already know, anyway. In fact, if I hadn't left my bracelet on by mistake, I doubt any of you would have known about it either."

Damien looked at me with an odd expression before his face melted into a smile and he pulled me into a bear hug. "Oh, honey, it's alright. We can't all be like Aphrodite and be proud of the fact that our parents consider us in need of psychiatric help."

I smiled and leaned more into Damien's embrace, sniffing and wiping my eyes as I did so. " And it doesn't help that my parents made up some crap story about my brother dying and the reason I needed to be admitted was that I watched him die, and I never processed it properly."

Damien pulled back to look at me, eyes narrowed. "You mean he's alive?" he asked.

I shook my head and scoffed. "No, I mean I don't even have a brother. They made it up so no one would think I was really crazy."

"Are you?" Damien asked.

I turned away, not wanting to see his face when he answered. "Do you think I am? I hear a voice in my head. She never goes away. Dead helpful though, having her around all the time. She keeps me out of trouble." I deadpanned.

I could hear Damien shifting his footing on the grass. "I'd really appreciate it if you didn't mention this to anyone Damien. I'm not sure who all will believe me."

I heard him expel a breath. "I don't think you're crazy and I'm not going to tell anyone about it. But why tell me?"

I sighed. "I figured it was best just to go with the truth for now. Tell at least one person who won't completely condemn me."

"This voice of yours have a name?" He asked.

I shrugged. "Of course she does. I'm just not sure if I'm allowed to tell you. It's a very precarious situation. And very scary. She says my destiny is very set in stone and there's no use fighting it. But even though I agree with her, I don't want to jump right into this whole life path thing. I'm going to go off on my own for a bit."

Damien nodded and rose beckoning me to follow. He was very graceful, I noticed, and if I tried to run, he could easily catch up. He started walking toward the main building, where I could see the others waiting for us. "So how often do you get admitted?" he asked lightly, as though it were no big deal that he was talking to a loon.

I shivered briefly as I waited for the usual flash of heat. I sighed in relief when it didn't come. "Whenever I have an 'episode' so to speak. It happens quite frequently, so I miss a lot of school, but I catch up pretty quickly. Why?" I asked, suspicious almost immediately.

Damien shook his head, as though he knew what I meant by episode without asking. Biting his lip, he turned suddenly and plucked me up from the ground and into a fireman's lift. I spluttered indignantly, although it didn't do me any good; he completely ignored me.

By this time I had stopped wondering what Damien was doing; I realized he was taking me to the others, because he had figured it out.

Not yet! They can't know yet, not until you've made the change.

'Oh joy. A secret to keep. My favourite thing ever.' I muttered sarcastically.

I sighed. "I told you, I can't tell you what's going on, not yet. And there's nothing you or any of your friends can do about it.

Damien stopped walking, and when he put me down, I thought he was going to listen. "Oh, I know I can't. but there's someone who can. And if you really worship Nyx, you'll listen to what she tells you to do."

I was about to retort angrily when a Anastasia interrupted. There's a shovel by the temple. If they get violent- well, I'm sure you get the point.

'You want me to hit them with a shovel? Are you insane?'

Pot, kettle, Cora. Now I was kidding, but you had better be prepared to run, just in case.

'Just in case? Just in case of what? How many people here are after me in a rather violent way? Zoey? Lenobia? Dragon? Do you think he'll even let anyone think of hurting me? Whether he's allowed to or not, he has it figured out. Almost, at the least. Any weird stuff and he'll know automatically. We have to be careful around him.

Stevie Rae. You didn't meet her, but if she finds out who you are, she'll think you're after Rephaim.

'Rephaim? That disgusting bird-man that killed you? Why would she care about him at all? She was on the same side you were, right?'

Yes, that's him. And she'd care because she's Imprinted with him. She believes she may love him.

I felt my eyebrows shoot up my forehead. 'Does anyone know about this? Or is it valuable blackmail material?'

Anastasia sighed in exasperation. Dallas knows. Her boyfriend. She convinced him not to tell, and if he did tell anyone, she convinced them she and Dallas were just arguing and he got angry.

I shook my head, but my reply was cut off by a dark voice that sounded suspiciously gleeful. "I'll take her from here, Damien. Besides, there is nothing like a little fear to make a girl talk."

Anastasia gulped. In case of that. It's Rephaim. Run, Cora, now.

Suddenly, Damien grabbed my arm and was dragging me in the opposite direction of bird-man. I couldn't even make a sound, not even to tell Damien that I could keep up if he would just let go. Suddenly, Damien dragged me up a short flight of stairs and into a circular building, flopping me down on a bench before bursting out angrily, "Stevie Rae Johnson! You were told to keep that damn bird under control, although I'm still not sure why you wanted to bring him. That, my dear, is defined as not lurking in the shadows like some pedophile! He's absolutely petrified poor Cora, who has never even heard of Raven Mockers. Then that decrepit monster steps out, offering to get her to talk, using a ' little fear'!"

Wide-eyed, the female Vampyre with the red Mark stepped back, her short blonde curls bouncing as she did so. "What on Earth are you talking about, Damien? Rephaim is in my room! And why I chose to bring him doesn't concern you! Or her, as a matter of fact," she sneered, nodding at me.

Damien gave a snort as I prepared to thoroughly lash out at this Stevie Rae. But we were interrupted by Darius, Dragon and another Vampyre I didn't know dragged a bound and gagged bird-man into the room.

Darius spoke, looking at Stevie Rae, though he had glanced my way when the three of them had dragged the evil demon inside. "He has to die Stevie Rae. It is grotesque enough that you constantly defend him and insist he is treated fairly, but this has gone far enough. He wanted to torture the human girl, Cora, for information."

"Stop it!" a female Vampyre I didn't recognize burst out. "Can't you see she's panicked enough already? She doesn't need images of being tortured in her head."

The same woman turned to Stevie Rae with a look of hesitation on her face. "Darius is right Stevie Rae. I can't say I'm sorry, because I'm not. I'll sit with you if you want, though," she offered, though she didn't seem like she was really expecting an affirmative response.

Sure enough, Stevie Rae glared at the other woman frostily. "No thanks, Zoey. I'll just go back to my room. I can't believe you're choosing the safety of some pathetic, senile human over me." She turned her glare on me now. "You really have it in your head that you are, don't you. Well, I've got news for you; he doesn't want you anymore; he's moved on; he's happy. I think that's what you would've wanted, so you can scurry along back to momma and daddy."

I swallowed and on instinct had to fight to keep my magic from escaping. It was one of the downsides of missing so much school; I couldn't always control surges of powerful magic. "I don't believe you. And I know I am, not that it concerns you, of all people. So, tell me, Stevie Rae, darling, how would you know this. Does he confide in you? Did he tell you this confidentially? I doubt it. And if I went back to 'momma and daddy'," I sneered, mimicking her country accent, "I would be thrown into a hospital. So there's no chance of that. Maybe you should leave. Go back to your 'momma'."

Damien bit his lip to keep from smirking, Darius looked like he was getting ready to break up a fight-and I personally felt this might become necessary if Stevie Rae kept up her furious diatribe- but the unfamiliar Vampyre -red Mark- cleared his throat. He looked at me. "She is lying . She's just trying to get you out of the way. She doesn't want you to hurt bird-man. But, as to Damien's question; I'll answer it for you. Stevie Rae Imprinted with Rephaim. I'm not sure when it happened, I only know that it did. No one else knows, because I let her think she convinced me not to say anything.

"I was really curious. So, why we're doing this, Cora, watch out for Stevie Rae, though I'm sure her visit to the council in Venice will take some time. You should pack your things," he said to Stevie Rae.

I blinked, though this guy didn't really assure me. It seemed like he was more interested in getting rid of Stevie Rae. She seemed to think so. "You told the council too? Dallas, that's just cruel! I don't understand you anymore! You weren't always so rude."

I shook my head and turned to the footsteps I heard in the entrance to the building. I saw a harried looking Vampyre enter, who looked absolutely shell-shocked to see me standing there. I waved and as I did, I turned my attention to Dallas and Stevie Rae, and their lover's spat. I was so engrossed in the drama of affairs and lies- there wasn't much of it in my lovely little corner of the institution- I didn't hear the Tracker speak the ceremonial words. I only felt a splitting pain in my forehead and then nothing as I descended into darkness.

The world looked strange, different; yet I couldn't shake the feeling I had been here before, I just couldn't remember. It was a truly beautiful place; there was a small stream, with a few trees lining it; I could see a few animals here and there; and then there was a field, which I was standing in.

Just then, Anastasia stepped up next to me; judging by the look on her face, she was just as surprised as I was.

"What's happening?" I asked. As I did, my flustered words created a blue picture around us.

"You've been Marked. I'm guessing you have to be told the rules before you start school." Her words were a pale, pale pink.

"Ah, yes, I wondered how long it would take the Tracker to realize you had found your way to the House of Night." The woman's words were silver, majestic. I didn't need Anastasia's nudge to tell me it was Nyx. "I know," she continued, "they say there is no guarantee to make the Change, but you are special, my darling Cora. I can only hope you both understand why you cannot tell people about this just yet."

I bit my lip. "So when they do find out, they know I'm my own person. Which is weird, because Stasia and I are more alike than people know. But I'd still be her, right."

Nyx nodded, and smiled, at me. "Yes, of course. Now, Anastasia will be with you the way she is now, until after the Change. After that, when your souls are fully melded together, you may tell whomever you wish. Of course, the Change for reincarnated persons is slightly more exhausting than usual. You do have to be careful, though. If they figure it out, you may come clean, but do not instigate things so the others do notice."

I nodded, smiling. "Of course. You have my word. So tell me: Is 'exhausting' just a synonym for painful?"

Nyx, instead of answering my question, merely cocked her head to the side and frowned for a moment. "You need to get back. You've been out for several hours, and they're all starting to think something went wrong. Return my precious daughter; Simon, Maria and Heath will help you stay on the right path. Stay strong."

I just sort of drifted back to my body, waiting for them to realize I was awake, and realizing my question hadn't been answered.

"Hey! You must be Cora! Unless you want to change your name, which is totally cool. I mean, my name was Patricia before, silly parents." A girl's excited voice filled the air around me, and I knew I would have a hard time keeping up with her.

I heard a sigh that was distinctly male. "Let her breathe, Maria. You know how stressful being Marked is- and we didn't pass out."

My head spun as I sat up, looking at the two people around my hospital bed. Damn. "Are you making fun of me?" I snapped.

He grinned lazily at me, scoffing, "No!" Then he continued in a softer tone, "Um, look, I'm Simon. This is Maria. That Heath kid is pretty worried about you; Zoey and Eric, two of the professors, had to force him to leave here. Do you know him?"

I shook my head, fighting the urge to pass out as I did so. "Not well, no. We only just met when we were both taking the same route here." I pause, trying to gauge how bad my head was feeling. I winced; it felt like I had a concussion, even though it was fairly improbable for me to have gotten one. "Do you think you could get the Healer?" I asked. "Only my head feels like it's about to combust."

Maria shook her head. "Sorry, but they won't be able to help your head. Not yet, anyway. "

I raised my eyebrows, and swayed as I fought another urge to collapse. "Why not? Surely they know more about Healing than you."

Patience Cora. Being snippy will get you nowhere fast.

'You be patient!' I snapped back. 'I can barely move without feeling like I'm about to pass out.'

Simon sighed, and spoke before Maria could retort. "They can't help you because dizziness isn't a normal side effect of getting Marked. Don't worry, though, it'll pass, and if your head still hurts, then the Healers will give you something for that."

I nodded in understanding, and amazingly, there was no head rush. "I feel better now. Can I leave and get on with my life?"

Simon snickered, but managed to look sympathetic all the same. "Nope, sorry. Simone's going to want to poke and prod you for answers. But you should get dressed first; here, we'll leave and wait outside."

Simon and Maria left, and I saw my bag on the floor. Drawing the curtains around my bed, I sifted through and found an old Beatles t-shirt, and a pair of jeans and dressed. However, as I went to put my dirty clothes back in the bag, something spilled out onto the floor.

As I picked the necklace up off of the floor, Anastasia gasped. That's mine. Dragon gave it to me when we first started dating, in 1984. He said it was for good luck.

I nodded, and then realized there was something attached to the back. Then I realized how it would look if I had a dead woman's necklace. 'Stasia, how do we explain this? How am I supposed to explain to him how I have your necklace in my bag? He'll think I stole it.'

Anastasia sounded panicked and furious when she answered. Maybe that's what someone wants him to think. Stevie Rae could easily put it there before she left. I can't think of anyone else, unless Simon and Maria are working for Stevie Rae, which I doubt. They're far too nice and good willed to do something like that.

'Or, maybe,' I told her, fighting to keep the eagerness out of my voice, 'Dragon really has figured it out, and he knows we can't say anything, and he's just trying to let us know it's okay.'

I pulled the note off of the dragon pendant as Stasia thought it over.

Thought you might want this. The last time we met, I-seemed it seemed pretty important to you. See you around, olo.

There was no signature, but I could tell who it was from. I smiled to myself- Stevie Rae had been lying, and now I had proof.

'You are absolutely exhurbant. Why?'

That's Dragon's handwriting. He must suspect, at the very least. You'll have to thank him, when you can. If he has figured it out, it will hopefully be soon.

I sighed and refrained from giving a retort only to save myself from a long, gloating speech.

'You know, I still can't believe you were right about all of this; you know, the way I would feel, how I would want tell him who I am, everything. Did you feel that way?'

She sighed nostalgically. I did, in a way. I always did feel like I could go to him with anything. And when Lily and James died, he held me when I found out. I cried so hard I didn't even notice I'd made the Change.

I could feel that she was trying to tone it down for me, as though I would be upset if I listened to her stories. 'It's not upsetting me in the way you think. I'm upset because the pair of you were needlessly ripped apart, and now he has to put up with me. You can tell me more about him, if you want.'

Suddenly, Stasia perked right back up Of course! But not right now; Simone is here to ask about you. And she has Lenobia and Dragon with her. This could get interesting.

I didn't bother asking why; I assumed it had something to do with the fact that I would be in the same room with Dragon and there might possibly be a small amount of tension. However, I took my cue, and lay back on the bed and waited for everyone to enter. I was surprised when Maria, Blake and Heath all stood around my bed too. It took a few seconds for me to realize I was still holding Stasia's necklace. Trying to brush the movement off as casual, I slid it into my pocket.

Simone smiled at me, seemingly gentle. Too bad for her I could see that the smile didn't mask the cold look in her eyes. So she wasn't on my side. "Merry meet Coranne. How are you feeling?" she asked.

She's not mean, just cautious. We came from the same background, you and I. Simone just wants answers. She has to know she'll have to get them on her own, though. I think she may just want you to slip up.

'So she is on our side then?'

Yes, Cora. She's on our side.

Content, I shrugged. "I'm feeling fine," I answered aloud. "A little freaked out, I guess, but I hear that's normal. And with all due respect, my name is Ana now," I added nonchalantly.

Lenobia and Dragon exchanged knowing looks, but remained silent. Simone, however, kept up with the questions. "Any particular reason you chose that name?

I raised an eyebrow at Simone. She was suspicious, although it was hard to tell if she was going to be hostile or not. I rolled my eyes as I reverted to the story my parents had given many times before. "My twin called me Ana before he died."

Dragon raised an eyebrow this time. "I thought your birth name had two n's in it. Am I wrong?" I shook my head no, confused by his method. "How do you spell Ana?"

I huffed and stood. This was starting to get on my nerves. "A-N-A. I can't give you anymore answers, if that's the point of this." I turned to Simone. "Having those two there isn't going to get you answers any quicker, either. You're all just going to have to figure it out yourselves." I swallowed, preparing to have to run for my life after my little outburst.

Then I sighed and sat down to think about it. My mind travelled to the necklace; maybe Dragon hadn't been trying to provoke me, merely warn me to keep my mouth shut.

"Look," I began, "I'm sorry if I've offended anyone. It's a purely affectionate, sentimental nickname."

Lenobia stepped forward, and from what I could see, she was still stoic. However, one closer look into her eyes revealed amusement and confirmation. "So what you're saying is that you've chosen this name in memory of your late twin?" she asked.

I sighed, lay back and rubbed my temples. Agitated, I asked, "Haven't I just said that? An if we're going to do the whole Spanish Inquisition thing, I'm leaving this room," I added, letting my agitation seep through.

Simon, Heath and Maria both snickered at my attitude, but Simone, obviously upset at not getting her answers, rounded on them. "Why are the three of you in here? This is a private meeting between Ana and potential mentors!"

While Simone had her back turned, I mouthed to Lenobia, "Do it!", hoping she would get the hint and volunteer to be my mentor.

So, Ana, what happened to not instigating them discovering the truth?

'It's not instigating if I let them think I have a brother.'

I refocused my attention on Simone, Simon, Heath and Maria. As I heard Simone tell them they had no business being around at the moment, my temper flared to it's last possible breaking point. "Maybe you should leave," I hissed. "You seem a little too pushy for my tastes. If it's alright with her, I'd like to have Lenobia as a mentor."

I could see the shock written on everyone's faces; no one talked to a High Priestess like that, and no one usually wanted to. But Simon, Heath and Maria were three people I could consider friends without too much difficulty, and it bothered me that she talked to them like that.

While everyone else gawked, Lenobia patted me on the shoulder and ruffled my hair, which I immediately flattened back out. Damn that woman and her ability to irritate people in less than 30 seconds, I hissed mentally. I had an issue with personal spaced, as apparently if you are institutionalized, you may never be left alone when you return.

I heard Simone ask Lenobia if she was okay with being my mentor. Lenobia laughed. "Oh, Simone, why wouldn't I be? Of course I'll be little Ana's mentor. She and I will just be great friends."

My eyes widened in horror. 'Oh, please, please, tell me she isn't one of those over-protective, I'm going to mother you non-stop until you are a baby doll, types, is she?'

Anastasia snorted. Not unless she's changed, which I doubt. Lenobia is, by far, the most stubborn person I have ever met. This survey includes my husband, father, brother, James Potter the first, Sirius Black- fashionista extraordinaire, and Minerva McGonagall.

I blinked. "Hey, I'll take Miss Pushy as a mentor if you're going to attempt to make me into some sort of China Doll. I'm already emotionally scarred, I don't think I need to be a docile slave too," I muttered.

Apparently my attempt to otherwise persuade Lenobia from her current plans was amusing, because she laughed at me; her laughter also bordered on hysteria, at which point I began to get concerned for her health. When Lenobia finally stopped laughing, she beamed at me. "Congratulations!" she said, at which I raised my eyebrows in a questioning manner. "You've just passed the test. You are certainly suited to be my fledgling. Now," she stated, seeing Simone start to protest, "I'm assuming you would want to settle into your new dormitory, so I'll walk you. Maria, Simon and Dragon can tag along. Come along, dear."

As we walked out of the infirmary and through the corridors, I asked, 'Stasia, why does that insane horse woman keep acting like I'll break? And you said she wasn't the type to call people "dear".

I don't know. My best guess is that she's figured it out and is trying to make sure that you don't get hurt.

'Well,' I huffed, 'in my experience, when people try to keep me from getting injured, I only get injured quicker. She may as well give up on that silly dream right now.'

I soon found however, that I was not as fully recovered as I had originally thought, so it was harder to keep up with the others as we walked through the corridors. The building, even from the inside, was obviously made of nothing but stone-granite, it seemed- and gave off a modern aura, despite obviously being an older building.

Suddenly, something came back to me; something that made me stop dead in my tracks. I didn't know if the bird-man was still around or not. I cleared my throat, still feeling slightly odd. They all turned, but Dragon was the only one to venture closer to me.

"What happened to that thing that tried to torture me?" I asked shakily.

Dragon walked closer, until he stood right in front of me. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and I had to force myself not to flinch; he wouldn't hurt me, not intentionally, although it did look as though he were about to deliver bad news. "The Raven Mocker is dead," Dragon said softly, as though leaving room for an unknown reaction. I smiled gratefully, although I had a suspicion that Dragon was the one to do the killing. But, for some reason, it didn't bother me. "He can't hurt you anymore," he whispered.

'Is he talking to me, or to you?' I asked Stasia.

Technically, both. But, um, I think you. I could be wrong. He doesn't bite, you know, or breathe fire; ask him.

I nodded. "Thank you. I feel better now, knowing he isn't here to attack randomly." Dragon nodded once more, then we resumed walking. Surprisingly, I felt my energy peak again, as though being around Dragon was an energy boost.

It was a short walk to the dormitory after that little scene. Lenobia didn't bother with introductions, but rather just showed me around a bit before leading me to my room. I wasn't surprised to find that I only had one bed; people didn't share rooms with me for long, and I could only guess that my reputation preceded me.