Authors: Cecily White
I had read it, actually. That handbook was where I got my best ideas.
“Well, technically, we didn’t channel anything. And
,” I said, pointing at the Rangor pieces, “is not a ‘fist of damnation.’ That’s just an obese demon. There’s no law against killing obese demons.”
“There is, actually,” Lisa noted, “for trainees. Which we aren’t going to be anymore, unless we get this mess cleaned up and get to class.”
I grudgingly gathered the weapons and spread some fallen leaves over the sticky, tar-like substance that had oozed out of the Rangor demon. Gulls flew in slow, lazy circles overhead, pastel light glinting off their wings.
Lisa called open the Crossworld channel. “
As soon as the word was spoken, yellow flickers appeared and a narrow gash of light tore through the air. Chill winds swirled around the rift, spits of black fire lapping at the demon body.
Lisa sank to her knees, out of breath. “I’m done. You’re up.”
Instantly, the flow of power shifted to me, a hard fist in the middle of my chest. Fingers of Crossworld poison trailed over my skin, reaching into me with claw-like insistence. Without a Watcher to drain it, my defenses were weak. Lisa had done most of the work, as usual, but I still couldn’t shake the unsettling sensation of drowning in darkness.
When there was nothing left but a few gloppy demon chunks, I collapsed next to her. “That sucked.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Maybe we should take tonight off.”
She rolled to her side just enough to shoot me a nasty look. “Maybe you should get a boyfriend.”
Play With Fire
The eastern sky had begun to lighten as we stumbled back through the French Quarter toward Lisa’s Prius. That was good news, at least. Third level subterraneans tended to dissolve in sunlight.
Cars were pouring into the Quarter now, the usual rustles and clangs echoing over the cobblestone streets. I tried not to think what would happen if someone had seen us disposing of the demon. Much as I joked, the secret nature of the Guardians’ existence was nothing to laugh at. Guardians and demons and Crossworlders had been around for thousands of years with only minimal security breaches
(thank you, Anne Rice).
It clenched my stomach imagining
might be the one to upset the delicate balance we’d struck with humanity.
“If you had a boyfriend,” Lisa said, shimmying around in the front seat until her white button-down and tartan plaid uniform skirt slid into place, “you wouldn’t need me for all your insane schemes.”
“I thought you liked my insane schemes.”
“I see value in them,” she qualified. “Doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you getting killed or expelled. I mean, for crying out loud, Amelie. This is our senior year. You can’t keep breaking rules and expect it to be okay. You’re an
. You should act like it.”
Okay. I know what you’re thinking.
Angels don’t exist.
Flawless skin, perfect hair, flowing white robes, all topped off with an adorable set of fluffy pink wings. Yeah. If you see
wandering around, you’ve probably stumbled onto the set of a Victoria’s Secret catalog shoot. Prepare to get your butt kicked by security.
I’m a Guardian.
You know, the secret race of mortal warriors, fashioned from the flesh of the archangels and charged with protecting humankind from the Crossworld, blah, blah, blah. It may sound romantic and glorious, but I’ll let you in on a secret—being a Guardian sucks. It’s dangerous. It’s lonely. The retirement plan is for crap. And the worst part is, nobody appreciates us. I’ve been trounced by demons plenty of times in combat class, but do you think I’ve ever gotten a thank you note?
Nope. Nada. Zilch.
“Hey, Lis.” I fastened the hook on my skirt and plucked one last piece of Rangor out of my hair. “What did you mean D’Arcy wasn’t killed by demons?”
Lisa frowned, her face blank.
“Before, when you said—”
“Oh, right.” She nodded. “It’s just a rumor, but you know how my mom’s on the PTA? Well, she says Templeman and Lutz got hit this month, too. No one’s confirmed it, but they think it was one of the Gray Ones.”
I squinted, thoughtful. “Right. The Gray Ones. Obviously.”
“You have no idea who that is, do you?”
“Not a clue.”
She glared at me. “Seriously, Ami. Graymasons? Wraithmakers?
of this rings a bell? Were you even conscious for Meeks’ lecture series last spring?” She stomped the brake and hit the ignition…rather violently, I thought. “Fasten your seat belt.”
I snapped the belt over my waist and slurped my lukewarm coffee. “Are you talking about Lucifer’s bloodline? I thought they were extinct.”
“The bloodline’s recessive. It must have been dormant.”
“But what would a Graymason want with Templeman and Lutz? What would he want with
Guardian? They only take human souls, right?”
“How should I know?” she said, annoyed. “And quit dripping on my upholstery. God made beverage containers for a reason, hello?”
“Sorry.” I righted my coffee cup.
To be fair, a Guardian getting killed wasn’t so unusual. I mean, every other day we heard reports of ultra-badass Enforcers getting eaten by subterraneans. But
? The man had been on faculty since bell-bottoms hit the fashion scene. Taunts about his comb-over hairdo and getting hit with spitballs at lunch should have been the worst he’d had to endure.
“Gray Ones, huh?” I asked, skeptical.
“That’s a secret, by the way, so don’t go asking around about it. Mom told me not to say anything. Especially not to you.”
“Why? I don’t gossip.”
She shrugged. “Maybe she didn’t want Bud to freak. I’m only telling you so when you hear it at school, you’ll know the Elders have it under control and you’ll
stay out of it
. Now, can we talk about something else?”
In silence, I slipped off my loafers and drew my knees up to my chest.
According to the ancient texts, Gray Ones were the soul-swallowing giants born of Lucifer’s Fallen, aka, the Anakim. We’d started calling them Graymasons a few thousand years ago because of the empty, pale husks they left of their victims. Not exactly people you’d want to mess with in a dark alley.
Dr. Gunderman once said they were the ones who’d originally cracked the mortal barriers and let the Inferni out—vampires and werecreatures and other unholy demon-hybrids. When Gabriel realized what Lucifer had created, he called the remaining archangels together to make a new race—the Guardians—a species forged of the same stuff as Lucifer’s children. Only
didn’t have to steal souls. We had souls of our own.
It took us generations to hunt down and kill them all. After a few thousand years, we’d assumed Lucifer’s line was extinct. There’d been no “giant” sightings, no deaths by soul-suckage, no seers forecasting the rise of a Gray army. The only thing left for
to do was keep the demons down, the cracks sealed, and the Inferni in check.
I did my best to listen as Lisa launched into the ever-so-fascinating rundown of her classes. Within sixty seconds, my attention had shifted to the street outside.
isn’t normally a word I’d apply to my beloved home town but this morning, with the Crossworld taint still working its way through me, I couldn’t help feeling gloomy. Brittle oak and cypress trees lined the streetcar tracks. Old New Orleans houses, which any other day might have been quaint, seemed hunched in neglect. Humans scrambled around, totally oblivious to the hell that burned beneath them. They were like children, so addicted to their toys they’d probably never notice the mortal world collapsing.
“…just need to
, Amelie, or you’ll screw things up for both of us. This year is too important and I, for one, do
want to be left behind. Got it?” Lisa’s concerned voice broke through my thoughts. She’d obviously been talking for a while, though I hadn’t heard a word of it.
“Totally,” I agreed. “You’re one hundred percent right.”
“You weren’t listening, were you?”
With an indignant sniff, she pulled into a parking spot in front of our school and killed the engine.
Just as it had for over a hundred years, the main building of St. Michael’s rose like a monolithic wedding cake out of the intricate uptown landscape. Imperious white trim hung over the gray stone exterior, a line of Corinthian columns standing sentry along the front porch. The sun had begun to peek over a cluster of magnolias on the front lawn, and its reflection in the second story windows made the main building look like it was lit from the inside with orange fire.
Unstable as my student career had been, I dearly loved my school. It even
like magic…that faint aroma of gunpowder and leaves burning in the distance. It always confused me how Smalley managed to keep enrollment limited only to Guardian bloodlines. I don’t know, maybe she put some charm up that made people think about dead puppies every time they stepped on campus. That’s what I would have done, anyway, if I were headmistress.
“Do you want to go scope the new Watcher prospects before assembly? I heard we got a senior transfer,” Lisa said as we stepped out of the air-conditioned confines of her car.
“Tempting, but no,” I replied. “I think I’ll shove bamboo shoots up my toenails instead.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll give you the lowdown later.”
As we walked together through the wrought iron main gate, a crackling sensation broke over us, the school’s protective wards flexing to allow us entry. Without a backward glance, Lisa skipped off toward a crew of smartly dressed boys.
I hurried into the main building, eager to get out of the heat and away from the throng of “date prospects.” Lisa wasn’t usually so aggressive about the hook-ups. It made me wonder if I was being a bad friend, refusing to go to the formal with her. I mean, if she was willing to get dirty for me every night the past week, the least I could do was clean up one night for her, right?
The smell of old paint and new textbooks wrapped me in a welcoming hug as I stepped into the hall where the senior locker block stood. I’d nearly made it to my locker when a
of loafers sounded behind me. “Amelie!”
I quickened my pace.
Please, not today
“Hey, Bennett, wait up!”
In a choking cloud of Drakkar Noir, Lyle Purcell descended on me. His dark hair was slicked off his forehead in meticulous waves, khaki pants perfectly pressed, and shoes polished to a shine. Gag.
“Where were you last week?” He panted, out of breath. “Didn’t you get my messages?”
“Um, messages?” I opened my locker with a clang and began briskly shoving books into it.
“Yeah. Like, six of them. And two emails.”
“Nope, no messages. See ya later.” The locker door slammed behind me as I made a beeline for the exit.
That was a lie. I did get his messages. The truth was, I’d deleted them.
Let me say for the record, I
lying, even to someone like Lyle. Rule bending? Petty theft? The occasional forced entry? Yes…yes…and if-they-didn’t-want-me-in-there-they-should-have-put-up-better-wards.
, however, is totally pointless unless you’re trying to get away with something…or if you have a darned good reason.
I, unfortunately, had a darned good reason.
Last May, at Lisa’s insistence, I’d agreed to go to dinner with Lyle. Huge mistake. What was supposed to be a fun, simple evening ended as a nightmare of Freddy Kruger proportions. He showed up late to get me, bought me Burger Barn take-out on the way back to his place, then spent three hours slobbering in my ear and trying to feel me up while I watched
reruns. For a solid week after, all I heard was rumors of how I couldn’t get enough of him. It was epic.
“Hold up. Is this because I hooked up with Veronica Manning over the summer?” He scuttled to the side, blocking my path. “I swear it was totally casual. She means nothing to me.”
“Lyle, I don’t care who you date.”
“Good, because I want you to know that thing with Skye was also a mistake. We both knew it as soon as it happened.”
I nodded. “Again with the not caring.”
“Right, so anyway, I thought if you didn’t have a date to the dance on Friday, you might want to go. With me.”
I poked at the warped binding of my Demonology text, avoiding his eyes. “Friday’s not good.”
“You sure? I rented a tux,” he said. “I can order a corsage if you want.”
“That’s not it. I have, uh, plans.” Lie number two.
“What kind of plans?”
“Family stuff.” Three.
At this rate I’d reach my daily quota of venal sin by lunchtime. “All right, let’s just assume I have big, huge, personal, top-secret family plans I can’t discuss with anyone. Now quit asking about it.”
He squinted at me. “You’re lying, aren’t you? Your lips twitch when you lie.”
I frowned and tried not to look twitchy. “Okay, Lyle, listen. You’re a really nice guy—” Four. “—and I appreciate the offer—” Five.
“—but I don’t think it’s going to work out between us. We’re very different, you and I. There’s no…zing.”
His cocky smile faltered. “No
“That’s girl-code for ‘not interested,’” I said. “Now, if you don’t mind, you’re kind of in my personal bubble.”
Enough light filtered through the transom windows that I could see annoyance flare in Lyle’s eyes. Firm but gentle, he pushed me against the locker bank and leaned forward, arms flexed in hard barriers around me.
“Amelie, what’s your problem?” he whispered. “With your family’s track record, you’ll be lucky to get a Watcher assignment at all. I’ve got great placement scores. I’ve logged more demon kills than anyone else in our class. You should be begging me to bond with you.”
“And yet, I’m not. It’s a mystery,” I said. “Now get off me.”
He didn’t move. “You’re making a mistake.”
“Maybe. But I doubt your career will.”
Instantly, my skin prickled, and
in a good way.
It might have bugged me less if what he’d said weren’t true. My future as a Guardian depended on me bonding with a Watcher. If I couldn’t manage that by graduation, well, I might as well sign up for janitorial duty.
I’d lifted my fingers, ready to summon something small, dark, and vengeful that could make Lyle bleed in interesting ways, when Headmistress Smalley’s voice shrieked out of the PA system. “Amelie Bennett, report to my office, immediately.”
“What? Why?” I shouted at the air, indignant.
“But I didn’t do anything!”
A chorus of giggles rose from the cluster of students and my face flushed pink. “I’ll see you later, Bennett. Maybe Friday?” Lyle said.
“Dream on,” I snapped.
But he just backed away, one hand flipped up in an insufferable little salute.
I paused to kick the doorjamb and swear a little, then took the stairs to the main office two at a time.
How could I possibly be in trouble so soon?
There was no way Smalley could have found out about the wharf, was there? Vamp-girl didn’t know Lisa and I were trainees and we’d gotten the demon cleaned up before human authorities showed. So what was it? Had I triggered some campus alarm system when I started to channel against Lyle? Was I getting expelled?
Smalley’s door had just creaked open when I arrived at the main hallway. With tottering steps, the pudgy, orange-haired woman backed into the hallway, her arms filled with cardboard boxes. I grabbed the door to help her.