“That the number of hours you play video games per day equals the number of more years you’ll be a virgin?” she asked.
“Ha. No. Did you guys know that Mel Blanc—the guy who voiced Bugs Bunny—was allergic to carrots?”
We stared at him.
His cheeks flushed. “What? It’s true and it’s also ironic. I mean, Bugs Bunny ran around all the time with a damn carrot in his hand.”
“You are such a fountain of random knowledge,” Stacey murmured, somewhat awestruck. “Where do you keep it all?”
Sam ran a hand through his hair. “In my brain. You have one, too, I think.”
The two kept up the bickering, and after lunch, I spent the rest of the day expecting Roth to pop up and snap my neck, but I didn’t see him at all. I could only hope he’d gotten run over or something.
After the last class of the day, I shoved my books into my locker and hurried outside. Don’t tag? Ha. I was going to be a tagging maniac.
I was just going to be a little more careful about it.
Paying close attention to the demons I spotted as I wandered the D.C. streets, I waited until I was absolutely positive the suckers weren’t going to whip around and morph into waxy, soulless Seekers. In other words, I was being a total stalker. Within an hour, I’d already bagged a Poser and three Fiends.
Fiends were the most common demon topside and they always appeared to be young. Although no less dangerous than Posers or Seekers, they were more into creating mayhem wherever they went than fighting. Their abilities were a smorgasbord of messed-up-ness. Some were little pyro-heads, able to create fires with a snap of their fingers. Others were into mechanical things. Well, they were into breaking down mechanical things, which they could do with just a touch. I could usually find them loitering near construction sites or power grids.
I lit them up, every single one I came across, knowing full well the Wardens would find them later that night. Sometimes, but not often, I wondered if it was unfair that the demons had no clue that after I “accidentally” knocked into them, they had a bull’s-eye on them. But it didn’t stop me.
Demons were evil, no matter how normal they might look.
I just didn’t know what category I fell into.
Tagging three more Fiends by five, I decided it was time to call it a night and found a pay phone. Morris answered with his normal silence, and I asked him to pick me up. He hit the keypad twice, signaling a yes. My totals for the evening weren’t astronomical, but I felt good about them, and as I waited at my usual bench, relief eased the muscles in my neck. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The tagging had been run-of-the-mill.
Since no one tried to play grabby with my head, it proved that Roth was full of it. Now I just needed to figure out what to do about the punk demon. From the moment I’d first begun tagging, I’d been ordered never to interact with Upper Level demons and required to report any possible sighting. Roth was the first one I’d ever seen.
But if I told Abbot about Roth, he would pull me out of school.
I couldn’t have that. School was my only real link to normalcy. High school was Hell on Earth for most, but I loved it. I could pretend to be normal there. And I refused to let a demon—or even Abbot himself—take that from me.
As I waited for Morris, I wished my cell phone wasn’t floating somewhere in the sewers. Damn Roth. Without my cell, I couldn’t even play solitaire. Instead all I could do was people watch, and I’d been doing that since I left school.
Sighing, I sat on my bench and kicked my feet out. I ignored the looks I was getting from an old lady sitting on the other side.
The first tingle that danced along the nape of my neck didn’t really raise any warnings, but as the sensation increased, so did the feeling of restlessness. Twisting around, I scanned the crowd of people hurrying down the sidewalk. A pretty parade of souls hummed along, but in the mix, standing back under the alcove of a thrift store, was a void where no color shone through.
I sat up straight and turned around so quickly that the old lady gasped. I caught a glimpse of a dark suit, pale skin and hair that seemed to stand straight up. It was definitely a demon, but not Roth. The height and width of the man was larger, but there was a flash of golden eyes.
An Upper Level demon.
My heart rate tripled and then a horn blew, causing me to jump. I looked away for only a second, long enough to see that Morris had arrived, but by the time I turned back to where the demon had been standing, he was gone.
* * *
I actually waited for Morris to park the car before I jumped out this time. As we entered the kitchen through the garage, I heard childish giggles and shrieks.
Curious, I turned back to Morris. “Did we turn into a day-care center since this morning?”
Morris slunk past me, smiling.
“Wait. Is Jasmine here with the twins?”
He nodded, which was the best answer I’d get from him.
A big smile pulled at my lips. I forgot about the mess that had been today. Jasmine lived in New York with her mate, and since she’d had the twins, they’d rarely traveled. Female gargoyles were a rarity. Most of them died giving birth, like Zayne’s mother had. And the demons loved to pick them off. Because of that, the females were heavily guarded and well cared for.
Kind of like living in a bejeweled prison, even if they didn’t see it that way.
On the flip side, I did understand the males’ perspective. Without the females, our race couldn’t survive. And without the gargoyles acting as Wardens and keeping the demons in check, what would happen? Demons would take over, plain and simple. Or the Alphas would destroy everything. Happy times.
Thankfully I wasn’t under any kind of protection order. That was why I was able to attend public school when none of the other gargoyles could. Being only half-Warden meant I wasn’t mating material. My purpose in life wasn’t to continue the race. And even if I could mate with a Warden—without taking their soul accidentally—the demonic blood I carried would be passed down, just like the Warden DNA.
And no one wanted that hot mess in their bloodline.
I was more than happy to be able to come and go as I pleased and to help the cause in any way I could, but it was...well, it was hard. I would never truly be a part of the Wardens. And no matter how badly I wanted it, I’d never really be their family.
Something else Roth had been spot-on about.
My chest squeezed as I set my bag on the kitchen table and followed the sound of laughter to the living room. I stepped into the room just as a pint-sized blur of white and gray zoomed past my face. Jumping back, I felt my mouth drop open as a young, dark-haired woman rushed past me, her luminescent spirit trailing behind her.
“Isabelle!” Jasmine yelled. “Get down from there right now!”
The little thing’s soul faded enough for me to see her actual body. Isabelle had ahold of the ceiling fan. One wing flapped while the other drooped to the side as the fan spun her around. Her curly red hair seemed out of place on her chubby gray face. So did the fangs and horns.
Jasmine stopped and faced me, out of breath. “Oh, Layla. How are you doing?”
I flipped off the switch to the ceiling fan. “Good. You?”
Isabelle giggled as the fan slowed, still flapping that one wing. Jasmine stepped beneath her. “Oh, you know. The twins are two and just learning how to shift. It’s been a real joy.” She grabbed one of Isabelle’s stumpy legs. “Let go—Izzy, let go this instant!”