Authors: Danielle Ellison
Tags: #love at first sight, #Paranormal, #teen paranormal romance, #demons, #young adult novel, #Witches, #first love
The next morning, the WNN announces a mandatory Enforcer meeting. Dad must have figured out what to say. Probably some new plan for a cover-up. They can’t keep it quiet now—it’s too late for that—but they’ll want to keep all of this as calm as possible.
“Cutting it close, William,” Dad says when I come into the kitchen.
I look at my watch. Two minutes until ten. “I was trying to miss seeing you completely. Next time I’ll be better,” I say.
Dad smirks across the table. Sometimes I really hate him.
Lucy, the current housekeeper, brings the food in. I watch her scurry around the room and steal a glance at Dad. Even though he doesn’t talk, I can see him critiquing her movements. He does this with all of the Statics he hires. The help, he calls
them, which is more insulting than calling them all Statics. Most of them have a two-month turnaround. No one wants to stay in the Prescott manor. Not even me.
“Thank you,” I say to Lucy. She nods at me. They’re always so surprised when I thank them. God knows that Dad doesn’t. I take a fork from the table, and look at my plate, filled with some kind of omelet.
Dad takes a knife to his sausage. “Do you have thoughts on the situation with the Statics?”
I groan. I hate when Dad tries to make me feel involved. It’s his job to fix the problems, not mine. “No,” I snap. Aside from telling him what the mauve demon said, I have nothing. Yet. I’m not going to trust a demon until I have hard facts. I’m not telling Victor Prescott anything else about Pen and me.
Dad takes a sip of his water, eyes on me from across the room. “You tend to have a thought about everything, so I figured this would be the same.”
It’s not like I have anything solid. I only have a feeling. “I feel that the whole thing is convenient.”
I stare at him. Last week I had to trust in my dad, even though I don’t. I had to pretend like I could. This time, I can’t do that. Not yet. There’s really no one I can talk about this with except Penelope. When we have answers, then we’ll share them. Until then, I’m playing with my cards close to the chest.
“Demons always want something,” I say. He stares at me from across the table. I hate the way he looks at me like that. “What? Say whatever it is.”
“I was thinking that you looked like your mother today.”
I drop my fork on the plate with a clash. “Why would you bring her up?” My voice is rougher than usual. But talking about Mom is too fresh. It was only a week ago when I learned she was really a demon. Only a week since she tried to turn us over to her side. I’m not ready to talk about her. Especially with him. He was the reason she chose demons and left me.
“Because you do,” he says. “I was thinking that you’re going to make a fine leader in the Triad.” I shake my head. There it is. The not-so-subtle hint that my life has a purpose. “I would do anything for you. You’re my number one priority, even above this position.”
“Are you trying to make a heartfelt moment? Because you’re not so good at them.”
“Carter, Dad, Carter. Stop trying to force it.”
“Your name is William.”
I stand at the table and my chair makes a scratching sound against the floor. “No, it’s not. And none of this is about me—it’s about you.” It all comes out in one big rush. Once I start, it’s hard to shut off. “I don’t want this. That’s you. Your whole problem is that I’m your number one priority. It should be this community, not me, not this secret.” His face changes immediately from stoic to harsh lines of disappointment and warning. The look he wears when he’s trying to remind people that he’s in charge and they’re about to cross a line. Good. I’m going to jump over that damn line and never look back.
“I’m a halfling, Dad.” I say the words slowly and purposefully. He doesn’t want to face the truth and that’s on him. My mom was already pregnant with me when she became a demon. Dad found out and kept her locked away until I was born, and then he sent her out. He told me that I was a halfling when I was nine, and he has always used it as a warning.
Stay in line, William, or everyone will know. Statics are exiled from our community. Halflings shouldn’t exist.
Me not existing, him losing his power, those are his biggest fears. The latter more than the former. I’m a piece of his game, a pawn, and he needs me around to win. “You need to accept that.”
Dad’s face falls.
Anything I can do to show him how much I don’t want to be here, that I don’t have to live my life as his, I will do it.
I toss my napkin from my lap onto my plate. He opens his mouth to speak, but I leave. I don’t want to stay to listen to any of his crap.
There’s an itch in my hand that’s only satisfied by blood. It’s always like this when I feel like I’m losing control. It’s my escape. But today, I need to fight it. To not be that person who needs to kill demons for sanity. I need something else to focus on, so I drive.
I don’t have a direction when I get in the car. It’s probably for the best, since it’s a Saturday in Washington, D.C., and traffic sucks because no one here can drive. I turn the music up and head toward Interstate 495. I only have an hour before our meeting, but it’s a short break. At least on I-495 I can go fast. Mostly. Sixty miles per hour doesn’t really satiate the need for speed.
Why did he have to mention my mom? Why?
My mom is dead.
I spent years looking for her, following clues about where she could be, and then I find her and she’s a demon. Now she’s dust.
My mom chose that as her ending. She chose being one of those as her life. She wanted this more than being with me. I can’t forgive her for that. What was so bad about me that she couldn’t stay?
Victor Prescott. He was the bad thing. He’s always the problem.
I hate him.
My phone rings and even though it’s Penelope I don’t answer it. I need a minute. I’m allowed to be angry. I’m trying to stay strong for her, encouraging and in contour. But I can’t be that right now. Not right now. I need a minute.
I don’t answer and she sends me a text.
Maple didn’t make it.
When I look up toward the road, I swear I drive past what looks like Vassago with a long white beard walking on the side of the road, but I look back in the rearview mirror, and there’s nothing there.
Carter sits next to
me at the meeting. Rafe informs the others about Maple’s passing, funeral, and offers a moment of silence. Her funeral’s tomorrow. Rafe and Sabrina switch places.
“In less than twenty-four hours, there have been thirty-four instances with registered Statics,” she says. She stands on a dais in front of us all, and I have to admit that she looks regal. “There is no common denominators, aside from their status, no expectation of when or whom or why.”
“Four hundred and seventy-nine registered Statics in our region have yet to manifest,” Rafe Ezrati adds. “We must determine an effective course of action to control the Statics.”
It’s in my head, but I feel like their eyes are on me when they speak.
Victor Prescott stands. When he does it’s like the room shifts. Everyone was paying attention before, but now they’re all hyper-focused. “Let us remind you that it is important that Non protective measures be kept intact during this time. We implore you to study the new material we added to the
Witches News Network
I look over at Carter, at the stiff line of his jaw, and as much as he hopes for a different future, I really can see him leading. It’s part of him, in some way, and we both know how hard it is to hide and deny a part of yourself. Even the parts you don’t want.
“We believe every Static is susceptible to this,” Victor says. “There does not seem to be a reason or pattern among them—as it is affecting every age group—so we must be on alert with all.”
Someone in the back of the room stands, a guy, judging by the deep timbre of his voice. “You make it sound like it’s a disease. It’s magic.”
Some murmurs flood the room, but they stop when Rafe puts up his hand. “All Statics are temporarily unstable. If you see a Static acting oddly, report it. Use your skills to keep those around you safe. You are trained Enforcers, taught to be prepared in any circumstance. We need you now.”
Thinking about the Triad and watching them in action are two totally contrasting experiences. In my head, they’re always wrong. Always smoothing things over with smiles. But in reality, they’re beacons. Sabrina and Rafe aren’t as demanding as Victor, but they might as well be the Justice League. Or the Avengers. I’d hate to be on their bad side.
There’s another comment from the back of the room. I missed it and tune in toward the end. Straining my neck to see who’s talking only reveals the top of a man’s balding head. “What if we evacuate Statics? Or Nons?”
Sabina Stone shakes her head, not even considering the question. “Evacuation is not a solution. This phenomenon could be spread worldwide. Why the Statics have magic, or how it spread, has yet to be determined, but it is clearly dangerous. Che Lin has already died. Do not let her death be in vain, but instead, rally together in this moment. Remember that the magic is uncontrollable for them without proper training.”
“So, what’s the solution then?” another Enforcer asks. No one chooses to admit it, but everyone is scared. Victor rises again, and Carter tenses beside me. He must see something in his father’s grim expression that I don’t.
“The other regions are taking preventative measures, should this spread any further. Our goal is to contain this issue until we’re able to reverse it,” Victor pauses. “There is a spell that dates back many centuries and will allow us to not only contain the magic, but keep track of the Statics who have manifested. It is called a marking.”
Murmurs spread through the crowd. I glance at Carter. “What is that?” I whisper.
His jaw is clenched but he shakes his head. I look back toward Victor, who holds a hand up to the Enforcers again. “We are evaluating the best way to use this spell. We’ll be contacting a few of you individually after the services tomorrow for Miss Lin. Until then, be on alert. If we all work as one, we can protect our people. The best and brightest witches are on this. We thank you for your service.”
My phone beeps from my pocket, and I pull it out. Poncho is summoning me to the library. Maybe he’s found information about the dagger.
I look around the room for Carter. He’s talking to Jordan Stark, but when he sees me waving he nods at me, a smile spreading across his face. The rest of our world may be a mess, but at least we’re still good. That’s pretty big, considering everything.
“Poncho,” I say, as he comes over to me.
Carter and I head toward the library without another word.
When we get upstairs, Poncho is sitting behind his desk with the cats. He perks up when we come in. “That was fast,” he says.
“We were downstairs,” Carter says, stepping toward Poncho at the desk. “What’s going on?”
Poncho puts up a finger, and leads us around to the other side of the library. I hate going into the stacks. It’s strange to be scared of a library, but they are endless, dimly-light tunnels. We stop in the middle of some row, and Poncho pulls a book of the shelf.
“What is this?” I ask, taking the book.
He stares at me. “The dagger led me to this book. Page 140.”
On the page, there’s a picture of a ritual and in the drawing what looks light pours from the person’s fingers and hands. Under the picture it reads
Image of Ryane Kahn, 1314, as depicted by an eyewitness.
“What is this?”
Poncho looks between us. “Destiny led you to each other. Your purpose and this dagger are connected.”
Poncho loves to talk of destiny, but I haven’t even had lunch yet.
“How?” Carter asks.
Poncho reaches out and turns the page. A similar picture.
Image of Sarah Vane, 1414, as depicted by an eyewitness.
He turns the page again.
I don’t need to see anymore.
“These images occur every one hundred years, as far as records show, and the time is upon us for a repeat performance,” he says.
“But what is it?” I ask again.
Poncho looks square at me. “Magic, Miss Grey. Magic that is stronger than any other.”
“And it’s connected to the dagger?”
“What is the magic?” Carter asks.
Poncho looks between us again. “It’s both good and bad and neither. It is the greatest.”
More riddles. I hate riddles. “Which is what, exactly?”
“It’s coming. The time is upon us all,” Poncho whispers, and the goosebumps form on my arm.
“For what?” I ask again.
“The gift will be known soon,” he says. There’s a moment where he’s quiet, and then Poncho looks at me again. “Matters of the heart are poisonous.” He said that to me right after I got back from De’Intero. What does it mean? And what’s the gift? Before I can ask, he walks away and leaves us in the stacks.
Carter stares at me. “What does that mean?”
“I have no idea.”
But it can’t be good.
Carter drops me off at home, but we linger outside his car a little longer. There are only a couple of lights still on in the house. Gran’s probably been waiting up for me. The WNN alert beeps and I stare at my phone.
“I don’t even want to look anymore,” Carter says.
I don’t check, either, since it’s probably another Static incident. Thousands of Statics exist worldwide, hundreds in our area alone, and if all of them manifest magic, this could never end. “What if we really did this?”
Carter takes my hand. “Then we’ll figure it out. We’ll undo it or whatever we need to do.”
“And if we can’t?”
He doesn’t respond. I need him to say that we can, that I’m being too negative, that there’s always a way. I need him to lie. But I know he won’t.
“Can’t we tell someone? Your dad—”
“Not my dad,” he snaps. His face contorts in a way that makes me wish I hadn’t suggested it. “I don’t want him involved in this. Let’s deal with it ourselves. We can figure it out.”
“Will we?” I challenge.
“Yes,” he says without hesitation. “Believe me.”
“I do,” I say. But really, I don’t. It feels bigger than even I can handle. Than we can handle.
Carter looks at me, his eyes piercing green, and I know he sees my doubt. There’s no way it’s not written all over my face. He brings a hand to my cheek.
“You’re not a good liar, either,” he says, a grin on his lips.
“Maybe you know me better,” I say back, echoing our conversation from yesterday.
“I do. So, please, let’s try this my way, and if it doesn’t work then we can try anything you want.” His eyes are so serious, so pleading, that I agree and nod against his palm. He guides my face closer to his and presses his lips to mine. His kiss holds the same fervor of desperation and desire that I saw in his eyes. We get lost in it, relish it, and let it consume us. This kiss, these moments, feel priceless and fragile in the wake of everything. As if, at any moment, we could fumble and lose each other. I won’t let that happen.
When we part, he rests his forehead against mine. Neither of us say anything else—we don’t have to. This, that, says everything.
“You should go in,” Carter says, and I sigh.
“Yes,” I say. “See you tomorrow.”
I’m at the door to my house when Carter drives away. Then, I smell sulfur—a demon. Very near. I turn around to look. Nothing.
My brain kicks into Enforcer mode. Aside from the smell, there are no flickering lights, which means the demon has been here longer than me. New arrivals make the lights flicker from the power surge. A pull gnaws at my stomach, and I move around the front yard. It’s too dark to notice if there’s any dust around, the trail a demon leaves from possession. Gran has the house warded, so I’m not worried about a demon inside.
It’s definitely here, though. I can smell that tart, rotten egg smell. With BO like that, it’s no wonder they aren’t friendlier.
Around the back of the house, a hand grabs me. I ram my elbow into whoever it is and feel the scales of a demon. I pull the demon toward me, swipe my foot across its leg, and guide the demon over my hip. In a quick movement, I roll the demon off and over my body with all the force I have. It slams into the ground, and I rip the salt off my chain.
When I look, really look, it’s the mauve demon. I squeeze its neck tighter. “What the hell?”
“Can you get that salt out of my face please?” it says. I move it closer instead. The demon snarls. “You are a hard girl to track down sometimes.”
“Really? Because you sure seem to find me pretty easily,” I snap. I don’t move my grasp or the salt. One wrong move and I will toast this thing. “What do you want?”
The demon looks past the salt and into my eyes, the green of its eyes unnatural. “To talk about your Static mystery.”
“I don’t really hang out with demons.”
“My name is Lia, and you should listen to me.”
I lower the salt and release the demon. Lia rubs her neck as she stands, and I hope that wasn’t the wrong decision. But so far, Lia is the only one who claims knowledge about the Statics and I’m interested in whatever she knows. “This isn’t really the best time or place for that,” I say.
“A few hours from now then?”
I nod. “I’ll meet you in the park.”
Lia flickers away from me, and I flee into my house, hoping I made the right decision.