Authors: Jennifer Quintenz
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” She glanced up the side of the building. “I could have died!”
I pushed myself up to my hands and knees, groaning. It didn’t feel like anything was broken, but I’d be pretty sore in the morning. I planted one foot on the ground and stood, feeling more than a little wobbly.
Amber scrambled back away from me, alarmed. “Stay away from me.”
“Sure. Next time I’ll just let the Lilitu kill you.”
Amber’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what you’re—”
I heard a dull impact on the awning above. The sound sent spikes of fear shooting through me. Amber’s gaze lifted. Horror washed the color out of her cheeks. I didn’t have time to think things through. I grabbed Amber’s arm, propelling her forward.
“Don’t look back!” I raced for the main street, hauling Amber with me. At least she wasn’t fighting me anymore. We reached the edge of the building and burst out onto the main street. There wasn’t much foot traffic at this hour; the streets seemed eerily quiet, save the pounding of our feet as we ran.
One of the other Lilitu rounded the far edge of the herbalist’s shop. Her eyes latched onto us and she sprinted forward.
“Move!” I yanked Amber around, changing our trajectory. It cost us too much time. Another Lilitu caught up to us. They were hemming us in. There was only one way to go. I dragged Amber forward, realizing too late that the demons had corralled us into a blind alley.
Amber and I skidded to a stop in the alley.
“What did you do?!” Amber stared at our prison, then ran for the steel door embedded in one wall. She hauled on it, but it didn’t budge. She pounded her fists against the metal, desperate for any way out of the trap.
The three Lilitu reached the edge of the alley, walking now. They had all the time in the world, and they knew it.
I shoved Amber behind me and faced the Lilitu, fumbling to pull my daggers out of my deep coat pocket. I felt steadier with the hilts in my hands. The blades gleamed wickedly in the streetlights. Amber made a low growl of fear behind me, but I didn’t turn around.
The brown-haired Lilitu walked into the alley, eyeing my daggers with disdain.
“How did you get past the Guard?” I asked, clenching the daggers tighter.
“Is that her?” One of the other Lilitu tilted her head, examining me curiously.
The brown-haired Lilitu glanced back, silencing her comrade with a look.
“How?” I asked again. “We never leave the Seal unguarded. How did you escape?”
Her beautiful lips curved up in a cruel smile. “Stand aside, and I’ll tell you.” Her eyes slid over my shoulder, fixing on Amber behind me.
“Elyia,” one of the other Lilitu said, her voice sharp. The brown-haired Lilitu turned, irritated. “The spotter comes. Be quick.”
“Elyia, is it?” I adjusted my stance, ready for a fight. “You and your friends might want to take off before Gretchen gets here. She’s having a bad night. She’s already missed her favorite TV show. If you’re still here when she arrives, she’s going to take it out on you.”
Elyia’s eyes darkened. “I’ve got a job to do.”
I saw her center of balance shift, so I was ready when she rocketed forward. I stabbed out with the first dagger, catching the edge of her shirt. She twisted aside, and the blade tore open a long gash along the side of her shirt, parting the simple cotton with no effort at all. Elyia kicked out, catching my thigh and shoving me back.
I wheeled around, regaining my balance and facing Elyia—but she’d managed to slip behind me, placing me between her and the other two Lilitu.
Amber pressed herself up against the alley wall, sliding back as far as she could from the fight. Her eyes whipped to the mouth of the alley behind me. I saw the urge to run in her face, but she’d never make it past the Lilitu.
“Braedyn, behind you!” Gretchen’s voice rang through the alley, half a second before one of the Lilitu gave a horrible shriek. I risked a glance back. Gretchen had sliced a long gash across one Lilitu’s arm. The second Lilitu was just steps away from me, her claws extended. Gretchen whipped her arm and I saw something flash in the streetlights. The dull thud of impact stopped the Lilitu cold. She fell, face forward, one of Gretchen’s daggers buried to the hilt in the base of her neck.
I spun back for Elyia. She stared at her fallen peer, and when she dragged her gaze up I saw hatred burning in her eyes.
Before I could reach her, Elyia had sprung. She caught Amber by the hair, dragging her away from the wall.
Amber gave a full-throated scream. Elyia backhanded her, sending Amber whimpering to her knees.
“Enough!” I charged. Elyia spun to face me, her human aspect falling away. Dark eyes seemed to draw light in. Her sneer revealed a mouth full of pointed teeth, gleaming weirdly with an almost metallic sheen.
We connected. Elyia’s clawed hands fastened around my wrists. I dropped one of my daggers, grabbing Elyia by the collar and trying to pull her closer, trying to leverage my other hand out of her grip.
Another horrible shriek sounded behind us. Elyia’s eyes darted over my shoulder. Whatever she saw seemed to stop her cold.
“Another time, sister,” she whispered into my ear. And then she kicked me off of her. As I slid into the alley wall, I saw Gretchen racing toward us. The last of the Lilitu had turned tail and fled.
Behind me, Elyia grabbed Amber by the scruff of her jacket and shoved her at Gretchen. Gretchen reached out to catch Amber before she slammed into the alley wall. I rolled to my feet, scrambling to collect my daggers, but by the time I stood, Elyia was gone.
Gretchen examined the shaking Amber quickly. “Are you hurt? Did she claw you anywhere?”
“She’s fine,” I said, sheathing my daggers.
Amber turned at the sound of my voice. “Why?” Her voice trembled. “You’re one of them. Why did they attack you?”
I grimaced. “Because I’m their enemy, Amber.”
Amber’s eyes were round pools of fear. “What’s the Guard?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
I glanced at Gretchen, but any hope I’d had of Gretchen’s keeping the Guard’s secret faded when I saw her face. Gretchen was eyeing Amber with that same protective attention I’d seen her show Lucas when he was hurt or troubled.
“Don’t worry.” Gretchen bent to retrieve her dagger from the back of the dead Lilitu’s neck. “You’re about to find out.”
A small fire crackled in the fireplace of the Guard’s living room. I huddled next to it, perched glumly on the stone hearth, watching the Guard surround Amber. She sat on the couch, clutching her sweater around herself. Gretchen regarded her, excitement virtually bubbling out of her. Matt hadn’t been more than a step away from Gretchen since we’d returned. He watched her closely, smiling at her evident joy.
“She’s a spotter.” Gretchen’s words sent another wave of dread through me. “Can you believe it? Another spotter right here in town and we didn’t even know it.” Matt gave her shoulder a squeeze. She beamed at him.
Hale and Dad eyed Amber with interest. Recognition flickered across Dad’s face. “You go to Coronado Prep.”
Amber looked up at him, still shell-shocked from our encounter with the Lilitu. “What?”
“Give her some space, Murphy. We had a rough night.” Gretchen sat on the couch beside Amber.
“What happened at the meeting?” Hale lowered himself into one of the armchairs on either side of the couch.
“We might have a bigger problem than we—” but Gretchen stopped as the back door opened.
Lucas and Cassie entered, carrying armfuls of freshly chopped wood for the fire. Lucas froze when he saw Amber, then his eyes sought me out.
“You told them?”
“What?” Gretchen turned to face Lucas, but an instant later she spun on me. Spots of rosy anger colored her cheeks. “You knew? You knew she was a spotter and you didn’t tell us?”
“She tried to have Lucas killed,” I said.
Gretchen’s anger cooled. She turned on Amber, her eyes sharpening. “The car accident?”
Amber’s eyes found mine.
“She was trying to send me a message.” I kept my voice level, afraid of letting my anger through.
The Guard froze, studying Amber. A sudden chill descended over the room. Matt, still standing beside the couch, eyed Gretchen warily. But Gretchen didn’t strike, as I might have anticipated. Instead, she clenched her fists in her lap and took a deep breath.
“You sent those boys after my little brother?” Gretchen stared Amber down, waiting for a response. I felt a surge of jealousy. Gretchen hadn’t known anything about me when we’d met, but she’d assumed I was evil because I had a Lilitu for a mother. Now, faced with the truth of Amber’s sociopathic nature, she was still willing to hear Amber’s side of the story?
“She’s a demon,” was all Amber said. “And he was helping her.”
Gretchen sat back, troubled.
“Wait, hold on.” Lucas dropped the wood he was carrying next to the fireplace. “She as good as admitted to attempted murder, and you’re going to let it
Gretchen met Lucas’s anger calmly. “She didn’t know you were Guard. She didn’t know Braedyn was on our side. If I’d been in her shoes—” She let the thought trail off. Lucas and I exchanged a stunned look.
“Spotters,” Matt offered, seeing our dismay. “They share more than the ability to see cloaked demons.”
His words sent a shock through my system. Of course. Gretchen would know that Amber had lost someone to a demon—it was how spotters gained their abilities in the first place. How could she turn on another who’d experienced the same kind of agony she had when she’d lost Eric to that Lilitu? As painful as it was for me to admit it, spotters shared a bond that wouldn’t be easily broken.
Cassie glanced at me, clearly uneasy. I knew she hated conflict; she must be wishing she could melt through the walls right about now. I gestured for her to join me at the hearth. She sat beside me gratefully, stacking her logs next to the fireplace.
“Still,” Thane said, glancing toward Lucas and me. “You should have told us what she was as soon as you learned of her abilities.”
“You don’t want her help,” Lucas growled. “Trust me. She’s a scorpion.”
“Alright. Let’s table this for now.” Gretchen stood abruptly. She glanced at Amber, clearly conflicted. “Like I said, we had a rough night—”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone entering the living room from the foyer. Karayan, wearing a light grey hoodie for warmth against the cool evening air, eyed Amber with suspicious curiosity.
” Amber sprang off the couch, pointing straight at Karayan.
Amber’s panic flashed through the room like wildfire. The Guard sprang into action, instinct and adrenaline driving them before they had time to think. Karayan’s hoodie covered her distinctive honey-blond hair—in the panic of the moment, all the Guard saw was an intruder. Gretchen pulled Amber behind her and drew her daggers in one fluid motion. Hale leapt to his feet, spinning to face the threat with a dagger in each hand—
“Stop!” I was on my feet, but too far away to reach Hale as he stabbed his daggers forward.
Karayan recoiled back into the wall, her wings half-extended in fear. But the look on her face—it was a sort of recognition, like she’d been expecting this for a long time.
Hale recognized her just in time. He adjusted, stabbing his daggers harmlessly into the wall on either side of her—there was no way he could have stopped his own momentum. He stood there, face to face with the breathless Karayan for a long moment, then strained to pull the daggers out of the wall.
“Karayan.” Hale lowered his daggers, breathing hard. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was you.”
Karayan, struggling to recover, didn’t move for a moment. Her eyes sought me out, and I felt a stab of empathy for her. In that instant, I understood. For one agonizing second, she believed the Guard had turned on her again. After she’d helped me fight Seth, she’d as good as declared her allegiance to the Guard. The Lilitu would never welcome her back. For Karayan, the Guard was her last option. I glanced around the room. No one else seemed to understand her predicament.
Karayan straightened. She forced a smile, shifting her gaze back to Hale. “‘Cause all us demons look alike, right?”
Hale gave her a half-smile in return. “I really am sorry.”
Karayan shrugged. “If it happens again, don’t be surprised if I kick you in the tender bits.”
Hale sheathed his daggers with a rueful chuckle. “Fair enough.”
“She’s one of you, too?” Amber’s voice was strained. She eyed the Guardsmen with disdain. “How many demons are you keeping around here?”
“Just these two,” Hale said, trying to hide an amused smile.
“That’s funny to you?” Amber’s eyes narrowed. “One of those
killed my boyfriend. And she—” Amber stabbed her finger at me, “she tried to get my friend to kill himself.”
Thane stepped forward, raising a hand in a calming gesture. “No one thinks this is funny, child.”
“Why are you hanging out with them? You should be fighting them.” Amber glanced at Gretchen, looking for an ally. “You saw. There were Lilitu all over that meeting tonight. What are you doing to stop them?”