Hidden (House of Night #10)(4)


by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast

Neferet looked down the long line of closed, wooden stalls. She could see only the faint, dark outlines of a few of the horses. Most were sleeping. Some were lazily grazing, already settled down for the approaching dawn and the rest the sun would bring them until it set and students arrived for their never ending classes.

She glanced back at the hay. An entire bale was engulfed in flame. The scent of smoke drifted to her, and she could hear crackling as, like a loosed beast, the fire fed and grew.

Neferet turned away from the stable, closing the thick door between it and the field house securely. It seems likely that Stevie Rae may not be the only one who will be grieving after tonight. The thought satisfied Neferet, and she left the field house and the carnage she'd caused there, not seeing the small white cat who padded to Shadowfax's motionless body, curled beside him, and closed her eyes.

Lenobia

The Horse Mistress awakened with a horrid feeling of forboding. Confused, Lenobia rubbed her hands over her face. She'd fallen asleep in the rocking chair near her window and this sudden awakening seemed more nightmare than reality.

"This is foolishness," she muttered sleepily. "I must find my center again." Meditation had helped quiet her thoughts in the past. Resolutely, Lenobia drew a deep, cleansing breath.

It was with that deep breath that Lenobia smelled it-fire. A burning stable to be specific. She clenched her teeth together. Begone, ghosts of the past! I am too old to play these games. Then an ominous cracking sound had Lenobia shaking off the last of the sleep that had clouded her mind as she moved quickly to the window and drew aside the heavy black drapes. The Horse Mistress looked down at her stables and gasped in horror.

It hadn't been a dream.

It hadn't been her imagination.

Instead it was a living nightmare.

Flames were licking the sides of the building and as she stared, the double doors just at the edge of her vision were thrown open from the inside and against a backdrop of billowing smoke and consuming flames was the silhouette of a tall cowboy leading a huge gray Percheron and a night black mare from within.

Travis let loose of the mares, shooing them into the school grounds and away from the flaming stables, and then he ran back into the flaming mouth of the building.

Everything within Lenobia came alive as the sight extinguished her fear and doubt.

"No, Goddess. Not again. I am no longer a frightened girl. This time his end will be different!"

CHAPTER TWO

Lenobia

Lenobia bolted from her chamber, raced down the short stairwell that led from her quarters to the ground floor and the stables. Smoke was seeping snake-like from under the door. She controlled her panic and pressed her palm against the wood. It wasn't warm to the touch, so she yanked open the door, assessing the situation rapidly as she moved into her stables. The fire burned most fiercely at the far end of the building in the area where the hay and feed were stored. It was also the area closest to Mujaji's stall as well as the large foaling stall the Percheron, Bonnie, and her Travis had taken up residence in.

"Travis!" she shouted, lifting her arm to shield her face from the heat of the growing flames as she raced down into the stables and began opening stalls, freeing the horses closest to her. Out, Persephone-go! Lenobia nudged the roan mare, who was frozen from fright and refusing to leave her stall. When she darted past her and through the exit, Lenobia called again, "Travis! Where are you?"

"Gettin' the horses out that are closest to the fire!" he yelled as a young gray mare bolted from the direction of Travis's voice and almost trampled over Lenobia.

"Easy! Easy, Anjo." Lenobia soothed, steering the terrified horse to the exit.

"East exit is blocked by flames and I-" Travis's words broke off as the tack room windows exploded and hot glass shards flew through the air.

"Travis! Get out of there and call 911!" Lenobia yelled as she opened the closest stall and freed a gelding, hating that she'd not grabbed her phone and made the call herself before she'd run from her room.

"I just did!" replied an unfamiliar voice. Lenobia looked through the smoke and flames to see a fledgling jogging toward her, leading an utterly panicked sorrel mare.

"All is well, Diva," Lenobia calmed the horse automatically, taking the rope from the girl. At her touch the mare quieted, and Lenobia unhooked her lead rope, encouraging her to gallop through the nearby doorway after the other escaping horses. She pulled the girl back with her, away from the increasing heat, saying, "How many more horses are-" Lenobia's words broke off as she saw that the crescent on the girl's forehead was red.