“You’re really a witch?” I said, sounding kind of stupid. “I thought most of your kind had died off.” Like during the Middle Ages...
A wry smile formed on Gerald’s lips. “We’re still kicking.” Rolling down his sleeve, his gaze shifted to Roth. “But we’re careful.”
“Understandable,” replied Roth. He finally removed his arm, and I put about a foot of space between us. “Wardens have never looked too kindly on witches, now have they?”
I frowned, and it intensified when Gerald nodded and said, “No, sir.”
“Why?” There wasn’t much known about witches. Or at least I hadn’t put the effort into discovering more about them.
“Witches aren’t rocking all-human DNA.” Roth eyed Gerald with a measure of respect. “Although they don’t claim their other half, witches have demonic blood in them.”
My head swung toward him sharply. “What?”
Roth nodded. “Witches are the offspring of demons and humans, shortie. Not that they’re exceptionally proud of that little fact. Sometimes they’re first generation, and other times, they had a demon in the family somewhere way back. The blood might not be as strong, but it’s there. How else do you think they get such awesome magical abilities?”
I blinked rapidly. “Did not know that.”
“How about you?” Roth leaned forward. “Gerald? Are you first generation or was it a great-grandpappy dipping the quill where he wasn’t supposed to?”
I thought it was strange that Roth didn’t automatically know what Gerald was with all his awesome demon greatness.
Gerald must’ve read my mind, because his grin went up a notch. “Demons can’t sense us. We have charms preventing that, because we really aren’t on Team Demon. More like Team Mother Earth, but to answer your question, it was a grandmother—a Fiend. Had a child who was a witch. That witch was my mom.”
Roth rocked back as he folded his arms across his chest. “Cool. Anyway. Back to the whatever this is.” He jerked his head toward the creepy cocoon. “I’m assuming you realize that ain’t normal?”
He laughed drily. “Far from it. I’ve been keeping an eye on it since I found it—about two and a half, three weeks ago.” His gaze landed on me, and my shoulders slumped. “Not sure what it is. No one in my coven knows either, but that’s not all.”
“It’s not?” murmured Roth. “Oh, goody.”
“Nope.” He turned. “Follow me.”
I glanced at Roth and he nodded. Deciding to see this through, I followed Gerald back into the main room. It was a little odd that Gerald knew what we were—what I was. It shouldn’t make me feel weird, but I’d always had the upper hand before when it came to sniffing out the not-so-normal.
Gerald stepped around the slime coating a bench and stopped in front of a closed locker. “All this ectoplasm can’t be good, right? At first I thought it had to do with that thing in there, but I’m not so sure now.”
Roth stepped forward, straining his neck. “Why not?”
“Easier to just show you.” Stepping to the side, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a red hanky. Using it, he carefully and very slowly opened the door.
“Hell,” muttered Roth.
Being incredibly short, I couldn’t see around either of them. Sighing, I moved to Roth’s other side and immediately wished I hadn’t.
Crammed into the locker was a thing—a creature I’d never seen before. Its body was the color of spoiled milk—off white and sort of lumpy looking. No visible hair or definition on its slender and tall frame. Looked to be about six feet tall and no wider than two feet. Arms were folded across its chest and its head was bowed down. No facial features at all. We’d found the source of the slime. The gunky white liquid dripped from barely formed feet.
My stomach turned. “What in the Hell is that?”
“Good question.” Gerald closed the door quietly. “It’s not the only one. Almost every locker down here has one in it.”
“Oh...” My eyes widened. “And you didn’t think about saying something?”
“To who?” Gerald turned to us, eyes sharp. “The Wardens would likely kill us on the spot for the blood we carry and demons would likely kill us for sport. And I have no idea what these things are. Neither does anyone in our coven. We’re not about indiscriminately killing things.”
“Tree huggers,” muttered Roth, which earned him a hard glare. “What’s in that locker isn’t Santa Claus or the damn Easter Bunny.”
A shiver danced down my spine. I had a really bad feeling about this.
“And maybe if you knew what that cocoon was, then you’d understand that this—” Roth continued, waving his hand at the lockers “—isn’t something you want infesting a school full of humans.”
Gerald’s shoulders stiffened.
“That cocoon is from a Lilin being birthed.”
When those words left his mouth, the blood drained from Gerald’s face and he looked faint. “The Lilin?”
“You know of the Lilin?” I asked, jumping on that. “Any specifics?”
He nodded eagerly. “Some of the covens, the more extreme ones—not ours, but others—believed that Lilith got the crappy end of the deal. That she is the mother of us all.”
I arched a brow at that.
“We don’t worship Lilith—not us, but...” He glanced back through the doorway leading to the shower stalls. “A Lilin here?”
“We believe so. For obvious reasons, we’d like to find it.” Roth’s eyes narrowed. “But what, Gerald? You were going to say something else.”
He swallowed, suddenly nervous. “There is a coven near Bethesda that worships Lilith. If anyone knows of a Lilin...”
“Or if a Lilin has sought refuge...” My heart jumped with excitement. “It’d go to them, because maybe they’d sympathize with it.”
Gerald started to sweat. “But you don’t understand. They aren’t like me or like my coven.”
I glanced at Roth and he smiled, flashing a row of white teeth. “In other words, they’re the wicked witches of the west.”
“Yes, and I know what you’re thinking—about going to them. I wouldn’t advise it. They’d welcome him.” He nodded at Roth. “But you? You’re part Warden. I can tell. They’d skin you alive.”
I started to tell him that I was also Lilith’s daughter, so they should totally love and hug me, but Roth shot me a look of warning. “How would we find this coven?”
He inhaled deeply. “They have a club near the Row Cinema. You’ll know which one by the symbol.” Gerald pointed at the mark his sleeve now concealed. “Who you need to speak to—their crone—will be there during the next full moon. And don’t even think about bringing a Warden in with you guys. She’ll be bad enough.”
Roth’s lips curled up in a delicious smirk as he turned golden, dancing eyes on me. “That’s perfect.”
“But back to those things in the lockers?” All serious-faced again, Roth pinned Gerald with a hard look. “They’re Nightcrawlers in metamorphosis, and I hate to think how many of them might be ripe.”
My stomach dropped as horror punched straight through my stomach. Nightcrawlers, like Hellions and Rack demons, were demonic creatures that were created in Hell and forbidden to be topside. Besides the obvious fact they didn’t look human by a long shot, they were extraordinarily dangerous. Like Hellions, they were strong and ferocious, but even worse was the venom they carried in their saliva, which could paralyze their victims.
So that the Nightcrawler could feed on them while alive. That’s what they did down below, torturing their prey for an eternity in Hell.
And they weren’t biters like Poser demons were. They had this impressive projectile-spitting thing going on, like those creepy little dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies. If their saliva got on your skin, stuff went downhill fast.
Gerald glanced over his shoulder. “I didn’t know. None of us knew what these things were.”
“Obviously,” Roth muttered. “We need to seal this area off and—”
A loud crash startled us. Spinning around, my breath caught as I sought out the source of the noise. The sound had echoed, making it difficult to determine where it was coming from.
“Could anyone else be down here?” I asked, already fearing the answer.
“No.” Gerald wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. “No one comes down here. I only did by accident when I discovered this.”
Roth frowned at the sound of metal creaking, a tick-tacking of old hinges. A shudder worked its way through me. There was a beat of silence, and then the sound of heavy, even footfalls.
“You got any superspecial witch powers we should be aware of?” Roth asked.
Gerald shook his head. “I’m just good with charms and spells—like love and fortune stuff.”
Love spells? That perked my interest for some weird reason, but now really wasn’t the time to investigate that further. The footsteps drew closer, tracking down the other row of lockers, and Roth dropped his chin. “Then you better get your ass out of here.”
I took a step back, avoiding the slime on the floor. His eyes glowed a fiery amber as they met mine. “And you need to leave, too.”
“No,” I said, drawing in a deep breath. “I’m trained, you— Whoa.”
The thing had rounded the end of the lockers, and it was completely, buck-ass naked. Not like that was the most disturbing thing about the creature.
It was shaped like a man, standing nearly seven feet tall. Muscles rippled under shiny, moonstone-colored skin. Two thick horns jutted from the top of its head, curving inward. The points were sharp, and I had no doubt that if this Nightcrawler head-butted someone, it wouldn’t end prettily. Pupils shaped like a feline’s were set in irises the color of blood. And it smiled, flashing two razor-sharp fangs.
Roth was so damn fast.
Whipping down, he pulled two long, slender instruments out of the sides of his boots. Iron blades. I had no idea. Wow. The fact that he carried something so deadly to his own kind...was really sort of badass.
He slammed into the Nightcrawler, shoving his blades into its midsection. The Nightcrawler roared, knocking Roth to the side. He hit a locker with a grunt. Metal gave way, and he dropped the blades. One landed in the gunk, the other skidded across the floor.
“Blessed be,” muttered Gerald, backing up.
Pushing down the bitter fear that was useless, I darted across the floor, swiping up a blade. Roth had wrapped a black cloth along the handle, but I could still feel the heat of the iron as I rose.
Roth shouted at me, and my adrenaline kicked my senses into high gear as the Nightcrawler whirled on me. It cocked its head to the side, sniffing the air through bull-shaped nostrils, as if it couldn’t figure out what I was.
Charging the Nightcrawler, I came up short when it simply vanished and then reappeared behind me. I spun around. Two puncture holes in its heavily muscled stomach bled a white substance.
I swung on the Nightcrawler, and it popped out of existence, reappearing a few steps to the left. Dropping down like Zayne had taught me, I went for the creature’s legs, remembering just then that the thing was really, legitimately naked.
Before my kick could connect, the Nightcrawler dipped to the side, opening its mouth. I lurched to the right as a stream of white acidic-smelling liquid shot from its mouth. Momentarily distracted by that, I didn’t move quickly enough when it swung out with a heavy, clawed hand. I jumped back, but its claws ripped through the front of my sweater, snagging me. The air went out of my lungs as my eyes locked with the thing. There was a quick burning sensation, and then the Nightcrawler stumbled to the side.
It spun on Roth. Moving disturbingly fast, it caught the other blade Roth now held in his hand and snapped it into two.
“Crap,” muttered Roth.
Then it had its hand around Roth’s throat, lifting him off the ground. Its body vibrated as it cocked back its head, baring lethal fangs, preparing another venomous spray. Gripping the meaty wrists, Roth pulled his legs up and used the Nightcrawler’s chest as a springboard. The action broke the creature’s hold, and Roth hit the floor, springing back to his feet.
I rushed around the rotted bench, hitting the stunned Nightcrawler in the back with the kind of kick Zayne would’ve been proud of. I swung back the hand that held the blade, prepared to deliver the jerk back to Hell with a direct stab to the heart.
The Nightcrawler popped out, and I hit the floor, catching myself at the last second before I face-planted in a bunch of muck. Reappearing above me, it grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and lifted me right off my feet.
Bambi shifted across my stomach as pain exploded down my spine from the tight grip, but I swung my leg back, connecting my foot where it counted. Howling, the Nightcrawler dropped me and bent over, cupping itself.
I landed on my feet and swung around, seeing Roth coming up behind it. Not wasting a moment of having the upper hand, I slammed the iron blade into its chest, jerking back quickly. White mist streamed out of the wound, fizzing in the air. The Nightcrawler’s howl ended abruptly as it burst into flames. Within seconds, nothing remained but a patch of scorched floor.
Breathing heavily, I staggered back a step as I lowered the blade. My eyes met Roth’s. He looked shell-shocked as he stared at me. “What?” I huffed out.