Ending the world, one prophecy at a time.
Big black flappy ones, little green squirmy ones.
Unfortunately, the only thing getting slain these days is my social life. With my high school under attack, combat classes intensifying, and Academy instructors dropping right and left, I can barely get my homework done, let alone score a bondmate before prom.
Unspeakably hot, hopelessly unattainable, and dangerous in all the right ways. Sure, he's my trainer. And okay, maybe he hates me. Doesn't mean I'll ignore the wicked Guardian chemistry between us. It's crazy! Every time I'm with him, my powers explode. Awesome, right?
Now my teachers think I'm the murderous Graymason destined to bring down our whole race of angelbloods. Everyone in New Orleans is hunting me. The people I trusted want me dead. Jack and I have five days to solve the murders, prevent a vampire uprising, and thwart the pesky prophecy foretelling his death by my hand. Shouldn't be too difficult. Getting it done without falling in love. . .that might take a miracle.
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makes a habit of avoiding boredom whenever possible. She has enjoyed careers as a hand model, GAP salesgirl, movie projectionist, psychotherapist, yoga instructor, university professor, artist, dance choreographer, eating disorders specialist, psych diagnostician, book reviewer and copy editor. None of which are as much fun as writing novels.
She currently lives in Springfield, MO with two FABULOUS kids and a schizophrenic yet well-mannered cat. She can swear in Klingon, take down an alien aggressor using only her mind (or a pair of chopsticks), and kill giant spiders without getting schmutz on her shirt.
When not singing to herself, she spends time creating new worlds and thinking up ways to make this one better...
Death is a lot like prom—loud, overdone, and although the guy you came with was cool, you never know who'll end up taking you home.
Jack's soul unwound itself from mine in hesitant, twitchy movements. The space it left behind felt cold and damp, how a cloud might feel before a snowfall.
"You couldn't have stopped it, Amelie. He had to die. They all did. The prophecy says—"
I quit listening.
This wasn't fair, not one bit of it. For five days Jack and I had been chased through hell and told to be heavenly. We'd been buried alive and ordered not to scream. And for what? A stupid, semi-apocalyptic prophecy?
I brushed a kiss across his forehead where my tears had fallen. I didn't care about fairness, or prophecies, or wars. This war wasn't mine anymore.
Jack was mine.
With a violent tremor, my fingers coaxed the sword out of his lifeless grip. Yeah...things were about to get ugly.
"I'm not going to the dance, so quit asking," I announced, extending a hand to my best friend Lisa Anselmo. "Binoculars, please."
Lisa yanked a pair of black, dual-tube goggles out of her backpack and handed them over with a calculated pout. Enough to tug the heartstrings, not enough to wreck the mascara.
“You couldn’t have stopped it, Amelie. He had to die. They all did. The prophecy says—”
"Amelie, it's our senior year. We've been planning this forever.”
"You've been planning this—"
"We’ve been planning this," she insisted. "Katie and I have our dresses and everything. Don't you remember? We swore never to go to these things without each other."
"That was second grade, Lisa."
"Like that makes it okay to ditch a pinkie swear?"
Groaning, I stared through my goggles into the dimly lit, fish-scented night.
The evening had begun pretty normally. Well, normal for me, anyway. Out the window by midnight, encamped at New Orleans' Commercial Street wharf by twelve-thirty, scoping the area for demons by twelve-thirty-three. Not that there were any demons to be found. Apart from an Irish setter who tried to hump Lisa's leg, the only activity we'd seen was a drunken sorority girl stumbling along the water's edge. She looked young. Nineteen, maybe twenty. Her green sequined minidress hung off one shoulder, dyed-blond hair in rumpled disarray. Obviously trashed.
Hmm. Why would a girl like that be wandering around here?
"Seriously, Amelie, a pinkie swear is a pinkie swear. It's like BFF code. You of all people should know that." Lisa glared at me, her frosted plum lips curled down at the corners. "And don't give me any garbage about how you can't get a date."
"What about Paul? He'd go with you."
"Waterfall Paul? After the Jell-O shot incident? No, thanks." I flipped the visor down to increase the power on my new night vision binoculars. (Okay, not mine, exactly. Borrowed. Certainly not stolen.)
"How about Zeke?"
"Beer-breath. And he wears skinny pants."
"There’s always Matt," she suggested hopefully. "He doesn’t drink."
"Matt's awesome. He's also in love with you," I reminded her.
Lisa flicked a handful of thick chestnut curls over her shoulder and gave a tolerant sigh. "I don't understand why this is so hard. We're Guardians."
"Same diff. Every Guardian Channeler needs a Watcher. We're supposed to bond with them, Ami. It's like destiny or something. If our friendship means anything to you, you'll do this for me."
Uh, yeah. Like I would dignify that with a response. At this point, Lisa's friendship was less of a choice than a fact of life. It worked out well—kind of symbiotic, actually. I beat up anyone who messed with her, and she made sure my homework got done. Fair trade, right? Honestly, if not for Lisa's constant nagging, I'd probably still be crouched in our kindergarten sandbox eating glue and playing with Neferet demons.
"Are you even listening to me?" She prodded me annoyingly in the shoulder.
I swatted her away. "Look, if it means that much to you, I can ask Keller Eastman. I'll probably get herpes from holding hands with him and die a miserable, humiliating death...but for you, Lisa, it's worth it."
"Amelie Lane Bennett." She gave me that look—the one she reserves for small children and people who wear white after Labor Day. "You need to take this seriously. Guardian bond assignments go up at the end of the year. It doesn't matter how pretty you are, or how well you fight, or even how perky your boobs have gotten since last summer."
I frowned and shifted my ladies so they tucked benignly against the concrete wharf ledge. "Can we leave my boobs out of this?"
"I don't know, can we? I mean, look at you! Stained sweats, holey t-shirt, no make-up. And...this." She flicked a clump of sweaty red hair poking out the rubber band at my neck. "You have so much potential, Ami. Must you waste it?"
"Lisa!" I grumbled. "Focus! This is life and death we're dealing with."
"I know it's life and death," she insisted. "There's nothing more crucial than this dance."
"Oh, for the love of—"
"I'm just saying, your mom had a great bloodline, but there's no guarantee you'll carry it. And with your parents' history..." She trailed off, too polite to finish the sentence. "You’re lucky they let you stay at St. Michael's after your mom died. I mean, you could easily have wound up in residential. Or worse, the human sector. Would it kill you to play by the rules occasionally?"
"Probably," she admitted.
I tried to concentrate on the sorority girl, but Lisa's accusation drilled into me. Loathsome though it was, she had a point.
When my parents, Bud and Charlotte Bennett, abandoned the Guardian Community seventeen years ago, they'd tried to pretend things were normal. Not easy, since my dad had been labeled a defector and my mom a traitor to our mission. I suspect they planned to lie to me indefinitely—you know, ignore the fact that our family was about as human as the Loch Ness Monster's. They'd put me in a human preschool, hid the broadswords and spellbooks, let me have human friends...right up until the day I channeled our kindergarten class turtle into the demon realm.
Thus began my career at St. Michael's Guardian Training Academy.
My parents enrolled me mid-year with the understanding that I would be properly trained, sheltered from harm, and, most importantly, they would never hear another word about "the war on demonkind." That denial lasted two years—the exact amount of time it took Mom to get shredded by a demon at a holiday PTA event. Merry Christmas, right?
I suspect Bud still awakens each morning with the faint hope I'll transform into some tree-hugging, dirt-loving hippie daughter he can be proud of. I, by contrast, awaken each morning with a nasty urge to kill things.
Big black flappy things, little green squirmy things...We don't talk about it. It's one of many topics we don't talk about.
I lowered the extra binocular lens and tipped up my night goggles.
"Lisa, this is the third night in a row we've staked out this location. And the third night you've spent driveling about Watchers and bonds and dances. I know it's important to you but I need you to respect that this mission, sanctioned or not, is important to me. We're technically at war here. Professor D'Arcy's body was discovered not thirty feet from where we sit, and I, for one, am interested in finding out who killed him. Now, are you going to help me or not?"
She squinted her eyes, contemplative. I could practically see the thoughts processing in her head, the gravity of the situation weighing in. Finally, she spoke.
"What about Lyle? He still likes you. And he was at the top of class rankings last year. Any girl would be lucky to land him as a bondmate."
"You're not going to let this go, are you?"
I gave a weary sigh. Seriously, the girl was like a dog with a giant wad of beef jerky. "Lis, I'd rather die a cat lady than go out with Lyle Purcell again."
"There's an idea. You could borrow Brutus for the gala," she mused. "You might get a hairball off the goodnight kiss, but his kitty carrier would make a nice accessory."
"You’re hilarious. Now shut up."
I flipped the goggles back down and kept scanning the horizon. A good thing, too. Sorority Sally had collapsed, giggling, against a wrought iron bench, head lolled back and throat bared like the cover of a Gothic romance novel. I guess the greasy homeless dude napping two benches down must've had a thing for Gothic romances. As soon as he heard the giggle, he pried open a bloodshot eye, emptied his rum bottle, and hauled himself vertical. Streaks of dirt clung to his coat and his shoulder-length hair dripped with sweat as he staggered toward the girl.
"Hey, Lis, we've got a situation."
"Vamp, were, or demon?"
"Vamp, I think."
She pulled a wooden arrow out of the quiver and watched as I threaded it into my bow.
"Remember," she cautioned, "you have to wait until human blood is spilled. Any unprovoked attack on a Crossworlder violates the Peace Tenets. Do you need thermal imaging for vamp confirmation?"
"Do we have thermal imaging?"
She rummaged in the backpack. "No."
"Add it to the shopping list."
Thermals or no, I was ninety-eight percent sure this was a vamp attack. Maybe ninety-seven. My hand drew back the bow as the dude crouched over Sorority Sally, a predatory look in his eye. His fingers tapped her cheek, tenderly at first, then harder. I could see his lips forming the words, Hey, baby. Want to party?
Yeesh. After a hundred-thousand years of verbal evolution, could a guy not produce a better pick-up line than that? I barely had time to stifle a groan before the girl's eyes fluttered open. Faster than thought, her hands gripped his collar, her mouth in a vicious twist.
That's when I released the arrow. The shaft wasn't as tight or familiar as the weapons at school, but it flew straight enough.
"Bullseye," I said as it entered her shoulder.
I'm not even sure if the poor schmuck noticed, he was so wasted. She definitely noticed. Her eyes narrowed to angry slits as she turned in our direction, fangs bared. Served her right. Maybe next time she'd remember to flick some water on her face before she went hunting. Only vamps and zombies wouldn't sweat in this humidity.
"Duh, why didn't you just kill her?" Lisa asked, annoyed. "Two more seconds and it would have been justifiable vampicide."
"Lis, for all we know, she volunteers weekends at the soup kitchen. Besides, it wasn't a vampire who killed D'Arcy."
"Yeah, well," she sniffed, "it wasn’t a demon, either."
I was about to ask what she meant when I noticed a stirring in the distance.
The blond girl had shooed her would-be snack on his way and was in the process of working the arrow out of her shoulder when something dropped from a tree about fifty feet away. It scuttled toward her, razor sharp talons scraping the pavement, a bubbling snarl at its lips.
"Oh, crud. New target. UV arrow."
It took me less than two seconds to reload and take aim but by the time I did, the demon had already launched itself at the girl. Its skin was black and mottled, with coarse, oily hair along its shoulders–one part beetle, one part gorilla, three parts Sicilian mafioso.
"Uh, Lis? I need an ID."
Lisa slipped on a second pair of night goggles and started paging through the ginormous Encyclopedia O' Demons she'd brought along. Headmistress Smalley seriously needed to get that thing in an e-book format.
"Got it! Rangor demon, third level. Head shot only, everything else is armored. Left eye for the kill," she summarized aloud. "I hope you know what you're doing."
The Rangor slashed at Sorority Sally with manic glee. For a second, it looked like they might topple down the embankment into the Mississippi where I couldn't get a clear shot, but the girl recovered enough to get her arms up. She rolled to the ground, tossing the beast over her head. Not as fast as some of the vamp videos we'd seen in training class, but way faster than I could have moved in that dress. Impressive.
"Hey, Guido," I called.
Startled, the demon jumped to its feet (um, claws?) and ran toward us, gathering momentum. Arms raised, it let out a howl of fury. Its whole face seemed to fold open, rows upon rows of teeth bared in serrated ridges.
That's when I sent off the second arrow.
The shaft pierced the beast's left eye, spilling bright UV liquid down its face in a trickle of purple acid. A cry ripped through its throat. Inhuman. Screechy. Like the emergency brakes of a railway car. Lisa clamped her hands on her ears.
"Wow, this is super subtle," she yelled over the ruckus. "Maybe next time you could take out an ad in the Times Picayune?"
In hard lurches, the demon writhed and twisted on the ground. Rangors weren't known for their passive deaths, but really, it seemed to be taking longer than necessary. In the distance, horns honked and garbage trucks clanged, sure signs of human approach.
"We're so gonna get busted."
I sighed. Lisa was right. If a Guardian caught us, that would be one thing. But involving humans was a whole other enchilada.
"All right, give me a knife," I ordered.
She handed me a hooked blade about the size of a banana and stood back.
It took less than twenty seconds to separate the crucial parts, at least enough to stop the twitching. By the time I finished, my arms were scratched, my hair was clumped with mucus, and the vampire had fled into the night.
"You're welcome," Lisa yelled after her. She humphed and turned back to me. "Omigod, did you see that? Ungrateful toads, every last one of them."
"Tell me about it,” I said, wiping the demon goo off my arms. "You want to get the body or the weapons?"
"I'll get the body. You'll probably end up summoning a demon horde if you try to dismiss it. Remember Veronica's sweet sixteen?” She smirked. "Priceless. I thought she'd never get her hair back to its normal color."
I frowned. "It's not my fault I have allergies."
"Oh, is that what we’re calling it?" Lisa gestured to the boardwalk where the drunk human lay, passed out in a pool of vomit, not twenty yards from my pile o' demon. "Amelie, how many times do I have to say this? Birthday parties are one thing, but it's illegal for unbonded Channelers to mess around with Crossworld beings. Not without a Watcher present, and certainly not around humankind. Our handbook specifically says, The fist of eternal damnation shall fall heavily upon he who knowingly reveals the existence of the Guardians. Didn't you read it?"
I had read it, actually. That handbook was where I got my best ideas.
"Well, technically, we didn't channel anything. And that," I pointed 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. "Inergio."
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."
St. Michael's Guardian Training Academy is based on Cecily's alma mater, Louise S. McGehee School, in New Orleans. This is where she learned to fight demons while wearing a skirt.
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