We were waiting for a train.
The last train of the day, in fact – the one that most normal people try to avoid in case there are junkies, drunks or (heaven forbid) teenagers on it. The train would be virtually empty which, when you’re on the run from demons, makes it a darn sight easier to watch your back. And I’m not kidding about the demon thing.
My travelling companion, Sariel, was standing a few feet away having a discussion with another of his seemingly endless supply of ‘contacts’. Using my awesomely sharp powers of deduction I figured that the conversation wasn’t exactly going swimmingly – Sariel’s hand waving, glaring and the narrowing of his lips, which I knew from past, but brief, experience were soft and hot and tasted like…
Sariel looked up at me sharply and widened his eyes in a ‘too much information’ glare. I sighed. I have a tendency to think much too loudly for Sariel’s liking, which wouldn’t be a problem if Sariel and I didn’t share this freaky psychic-link type thing. Sometimes it’s cool, like when you’re about to be eaten by a demon and want some help to talk your way out (been there, done that, seen the film, read the book and bought the t-shirt) but generally having someone read your thoughts at inappropriate moments sucks. Sariel’s teaching me to block and stuff like that but believe me – having to think about not thinking too loudly is tougher than you might think.
I decided that concentrating on Sariel’s contact, Ron, might be the way to go. Ron was, hopefully, going to provide us with transport to the channel tunnel in the morning so that we could make our escape to a safe place that Sariel knew in Italy. Ron seemed to be a fairly average guy – a little overweight, graying at the temples and with the bizarre habit of sucking on his bottom lip (something it seemed he did a lot if the angry red scourge mark beneath it was anything to go by). As I studied him he looked my way several times, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth and releasing it with a loud squeak as Sariel fought to keep his attention. Finally, shaking his head in annoyance, Sariel motioned for me to come over.
“Ron wants a proper introduction,” he told me loudly. Ron grinned and held out a hand which I dutifully shook.
“Ron Parsons,” he said.
“Uh, Emily Carson,” I replied.
“You stabbed him.” He whispered, his eyes shining.
“Asmodeus? Yeah, I did.” I said aloud and grinned at him, feeling a certain amount of pride in that achievement.
“Shh, shh, shh,” Ron panicked, looking around wildly.
“Jeez, Ron. It’s only Asmodeus, not Voldemort,” I told him, turning to grin at Sariel. Geddit? Ron? Voldemort? Sariel sighed and made an impatient twirling motion with his hand. I turned my attention back to Ron. “Nothing to worry about, Ron. I doubt if the great Asmodeus would be hanging out in a train station this close to midnight on a Tuesday. Just not his style somehow.”
I caught Sariel covering a grin with his fist but Ron was still looking around in concern, his head whipping back and forth between the platforms. “He may not be here but he has his entire house looking for you,” he wailed, “And some of the other houses have pitched in too.”
Hard to believe but a little over a year ago I didn’t know any of this stuff – demons exist and they’re organized into houses. And they have other demons working for them. And they like to have big parties. And most of them can’t sing. And they hold grudges for a mighty long time. And they’re devious backstabbers who pretend to like each other. They’re a lot like teenagers if I’m honest, which I’m allowed to say ‘cause I am one.
“Let me guess; Lillith, Anzu and Nybbas?” I asked. Ron nodded and stepped a little closer. He smelled of stale cigarettes and sweaty trainers – not a good combination.
“The others were mighty impressed with your little act of defiance, girly. You pushed your price way up.” He grinned and then his lip disappeared back into his mouth. I tried hard not to stare.
Do we really have to deal with this guy?
Si. He’s one of the good guys, Emily.
Play nice. We need him .And he’s an amico.
“Yay me,” I said brightly, smiling until my jaw hurt. So Asmodeus was going ahead with his plan to sell me to the highest bidder for the night of my eighteenth birthday and my trying to stab him just made me even more attractive to the others. Marvelous.
Ron studied me carefully and frowned. “You’re not what I was expecting,” he admitted. “I thought from the way everyone was going on about you that you’d be blonde and have…” he cupped his hands out in front of his man-boobs. I blinked but managed to keep the shiny happy smile in place. Sariel was choking on a bray of laughter. “Er, I mean, I love your accent ‘though,” Ron continued watching me closely for signs that I might consider stabbing him too. “It’s very, er, nice. Australian?”
Sariel snorted. “American,” I told Ron drily. “Although its kindda diluted now ‘cause I’ve been living in England for about five years.”
Ron made a face. “You traded in the good old U Ess of Ay for here? Isn’t Suffolk kind of dull in comparison?”
I shrugged. “Not since I turned sixteen and found out that my dad’s a demon. I mean; I’ve met a vampire who, by the way, did NOT look like Robert Pattinson; found out that ex-archangels make fab BFF’s and that the forest around Dean’s Lynn is pretty much teaming with werewolves. Seems to me Seattle can’t compete with all that.” I folded my arms.
Ron was grinning at Sariel. “Didn’t they have a problem with water sprites in Seattle a while back?” He chuckled and shook his head. “Not as sweet as they sound, right? Take your leg off as quick as look at you they would. Ever wrestled a water sprite, girly?”
I gaped at him. Water sprites?
“Er, maybe we should finalise our plans for tomorrow,” said Sariel, saving Ron and I from each other. “Train’ll be here in ten minutes and we really don’t want to miss it.” He glanced in my direction and I managed to hide a shiver of excitement.
We were going to see my mum and my twin brother, Seth. It’d been almost two weeks since we’d left Asmodeus’ house in the early hours of the morning. Asmodeus had been lying a pool of his own blood in the same cave where he’d been torturing Sariel for helping me. The fact that he’d survived being stabbed was a bummer but at least Sariel had the connections to ensure my family was taken to safety before Asmodeus could get to them. We’d been lucky.
I shifted the weight of my small gray backpack, acutely aware that before we saw Seth and mum, we’d have to make another stop. Inside the bag was a knife that belonged to the Werewolves of Dean’s Lynn. It had been stolen from them last year and used in a ritual to summon a demon by one of the kids in my year at school. David, the kid who had tried to use it, had died when his summoning attempt went wrong and Adam and I had survived. Adam.
I licked my lips and concentrated on slowing the sudden racing of my treacherous heart. I’d been in lust with Adam Farlow since the first day I’d seen him striding down the corridors of Rainey High School. He was the school hero – captain of everything and gloriously blond and tousled with clear tanned skin and dark blue eyes. He was also a slave to his dad’s wishes – that happens apparently when your dad’s the alpha male of the local wolf pack. He’d lied to me and let me down but my stomach still did flip flops whenever I thought of him.
We left Ron standing on the platform with a sorrowful expression on his round face and his bottom lip pulled into his mouth as far as he could manage it without sucking the rest of his face in there too. He’d promised transport, money and a change of clothes for both of us by mid-morning of the next day. I was skeptical that Ron could manage to find his own way back home never mind find all that we needed in such a short space of time. Sariel was more optimistic.
“Cut him some slack, Emily. Ron’s on our side,” he told me as we chose the middle carriage of the train and made ourselves comfortable. “You’re judging him on the fact that he looks like an average Joe. Ridicolo.”
For once I didn’t need him to translate. “Not ridiculous and not ‘Average Joe’, ‘Creepy Ron’,” I corrected.
“Yeah, well, Ron has no love for the likes of Asmodeus.”
“Why? Whose house does he come from then?” I punctuated my question by attempting to punch my lumpy bag into a comfortable pillow.
“None of them. Ron went rogue about 180 years ago and he’s managed to keep his family safe and hidden since. He’s helped a lot of people along the way – people like us. Give me that.” Sariel took my bag and substituted his rolled up jacket.
“Ron has a family?” I asked, stretching out across two seats and snuggling my head into my new pillow. It was still warm from Sariel and smelled delicious. Sariel sighed and busied himself with checking that the knife was still in my bag for the billionth time – why give me the thing to look after if he didn’t trust me with it?
“What are you clucking about, mother hen?” I asked sleepily.
“I tell you that Ron’s a rogue demon helping others in a kind of demon resistance movement and you’re amazed by the fact that he has a family.”
“Well, he just doesn’t look the type,” I grumbled. I closed my eyes and, just like that, I slipped into my dream world.
Sariel’s complaint followed me, echoing around the house that I had built for myself. Well, technically it was the house that I dreamed for myself because my special place didn’t exist in the real world – only in my mind. It was a kind of cool bolt hole that I could carry with me and I could travel to it anytime that I wanted - I didn’t have to be asleep to make the journey but slipping into sleep made slipping into my imagination that little bit easier.
I ignored Sariel and opened my dream eyes, feeling my tense shoulders relax and my busy brain clear. A warm breeze gently pushed my hair back from my face and I inhaled the clean, fresh tang of the ocean.
Sariel taught me how to create this place – it was a safe escape from the monstrous reality that my, until now relatively normal, existence had become. My place was a large, low house on top of a high cliff which overlooked the ocean. Far below and to the west was a sheltered bay where clear blue water lapped onto a white sandy beach. To the north and east was the vast expanse of an ocean and to the south was the real world – the waking world. When I created my house I built a wall between it and reality so that when I thought in my house - or spoke aloud, screamed, cried, danced, sang, whatever kind of mood I was in – no-one, not even Sariel, could hear it unless I wanted them to. If Sariel speaks to me telepathically I can tune him in or out which was a skill I’d become rather good at, much to his annoyance.
Inside, the house had white walls and elegant, modern furnishings; crisp, clean lines of colour flowing from one room to another. The ceilings were high, the lighting was muted and there were huge picture windows with views of the ocean.
The only room that was an exception to my minimalist rule was my library – at the centre of the house and stretching the height of it, it was my child-hood ideal of a library with shelf after shelf of books, staircases from floor to floor and a fireplace complete with a huge comfy chair on either side. It was a work in progress obviously – I was only seventeen. Sariel’s library was huge – Warehouse 13 huge – but then he was ancient so his knowledge was humungous. I probably still knew more about maths ‘though.
Thinking about maths made me wonder how my best friends and fellow nerds were doing. Annie and Dylan had befriended Seth and I on our first day at Rainey High. I’d been so nervous and quiet, sticking to Seth’s side like an Elastoplast and worrying about fitting in – we just didn’t work on any level; we were twins for a start, with American accents, uniforms from the thrift shop and above-average intelligence. We were goners before the end of the day for sure.
Cue Annie – long blonde pigtails dyed red at the tips, extra long school skirt, fringed and beaded schoolbag. She just looked like the noughties version of a flower child. I saw her eyes widen with interest when she caught sight of Seth (yep, my brother the chick magnet even at the tender age of 12) and then she saw me beside him. Her hair cocked to the side and she smiled. I smiled back (I could recognise a fellow nerd at sixty paces) and she motioned us over. Annie showed Seth and I to our next class, telling us all about the school and its pupils as she walked, her mouth working at about ninety miles an hour.
She introduced us to Dylan in History class and it was obvious straight away that we would all get along together. Dylan was a twelve year-old Einstein with a shock of dark curly hair and eyes like chocolate drops. I grinned to myself as I remembered the first words that Dylan had spoken to me.
“Why do you smell like warm sticky syrup?”
I’m sure I probably blushed several shade of tomato but I managed to keep it together long enough to respond “We had pancakes for breakfast.” Not the best come-back in history but at least my voice worked.
“Homemade pancakes?” His eyes narrowed.
“And you’re allowed to put syrup on them?”
He’d shuffled closer, his eyes sparkling as he licked his lips. “Are you two allowed to have friends round for sleep-overs yet?” he asked, his eyes darting between me and Seth. I might’ve thought he was some kind of freak with a terrible choice of pick-up lines but it soon became apparent that Dylan had a real sugar addiction. His parents had obviously discovered this too as he was forbidden from having anything with too much of the stuff in it. Our house wasn’t quite so strict so Dylan eventually became part of our furniture when mum was making her pancakes.
Would Asmodeus go after my friends to get to me?
Unnerved by the thought I wandered to the living room and stepped through the open patio doors onto the deck. The sun was warm on my face, the breeze gentle and soothing. I relaxed a little and let my gaze drift across the horizon. I frowned.
Today the horizon line was broken. I raised a hand to block the sun and squinted at the speck that was marring my perfect view. It was too small and too far away for me to be certain but it looked like a little boat.
I dropped my hand and chewed on my lip. It was time to wake up – I had questions for Sariel.