Sara Codair © 2020
All Rights Reserved
“Prophecies are fickle and convoluted. People tried telling me that for centuries, but I still sought out the most renowned seers, Elven and Human alike. It wasn’t until I miscarried the twins and started having visions on my own did I realize how unreliable an art prophecy is.
Thankfully, the visions faded after I delivered Liam and Lucy because they caused me more stress than anything else.
I could tell Liam this a thousand times, but if he is anything like me, he won’t realize it until he experiences it. Let him follow his dreams until he discovers they are hardly probabilities, let alone definite futures. In the meantime, don’t worry over much of what he tells you. Seeing himself die the same way more than once makes it less likely to happen.”
—A letter from Niben to Seamus Evanstar, confined to the archives shortly after Liam died.
White graduation caps fell from the sky like flakes of vaporized Demon. High school was a beast, and I’d vanquished it like every monster I’d fought, with one exception—myself.
This moment deserved savoring.
Breathing deliberately, I slowed my perception of time until the caps seemed as if they were falling through cold honey on their way to the ground.
The late-spring sun beat down on me, but a breeze kept the temperature bearable. Some tassels lilted southeast—away from the towering clouds bruising the northwest sky. The weather wasn’t going to hold much longer, but I was okay with that. Thunderstorms awoke something wild in me—a pulse-racing, dance-around-like-no-one-can-see-you kind of wild—a rush of adrenaline almost as good as what I’d get from battling a Troll or sparring with Mel.
With my sense of time slowed down, the distant thunder sounded like a lion purring. The clouds glowed purple as lightning forked through them like an X-ray, temporarily revealing a mass of tentacles undulating in the clouds.
Mel, did you see that? I thought as loudly as I could, hoping my telepathic cousin would hear me.
I’d seen a lot of different Demons in the three months I’d been hunting them, but based on the stories and the Lexicon, the massive tentacled ones only materialized in oceans, and they certainly could not fly. Yet, every time lightning flashed, there they were, waving as if violent updrafts were a gentle breeze.
My heart sped up. My hands closed into fists. Mel didn’t reply.
I shut my eyes, opening my mind so I could feel all the energy around me. Most humans were blobs of buzzing heat, but Mel, a hybrid of human, Angel, and Elf, had a hotter, more intense aura with a spritz of simultaneously depressed and optimistically peppy texture. I found her near my Elven grandmother, who felt like a condensed thunderstorm.
Mel? Niben? Can you hear me? Did you see that?
Of course, there was a good chance they were both shielding. What telepath would have their mind open to other people’s thoughts when there were so many other people around?
One who hasn’t been able to properly shield in months. Mel’s melodic yet squeaky voice was a welcome presence in my mind. Shut down the hyper drive. You’re giving me a headache.
I exhaled over the course of ten seconds, willing my sense of time back to normal.
A garbled din of stretched-out voices morphed to something more akin to a clattering avalanche of pots and pans. A shoulder jostled mine. The corner of a graduation cap crashed into my head.
Erin? What had you wanted to tell me?
There were tentacles in the clouds, I thought at Mel, turning in the general direction I sensed her in.
I crashed into José, who, of course, stood right next to me.
“You okay?” he asked. Tears glistened in his midnight eyes and trickled down his sun-kissed cheeks. One snagged on the crooked tip of his nose. He clutched two graduation caps, his and mine, so tight that the scars on his knuckles were visibly stretched.
“Yeah. Are you?” I wondered if I should tell him what I’d seen. He’d been hunting Demons longer than me, but he also thrived on keeping school and the supernatural as two separate entities. And what if they hadn’t been tentacles? What if the storm had just appeared that way with the lightning in slow motion? I didn’t want to ruin his day if there wasn’t an actual threat.
“I’ll miss everyone.” He stuffed the caps under his arms and hugged me. While I wanted to celebrate because I’d made it out alive, he mourned the loss of a place that had been a haven to him for four years.
I leaned my head on his shoulder, listening to his heartbeat, trying to let his steady warmth calm the worry growing in my mind. José’s body was a rock in the sense that it was hard and athletic, but also because it anchored me when I felt as if my mind was running away.
Have you ever watched a storm with time slowed that much? asked Mel.
I shook my head before I remembered there were dozens of people between her and me. No. Do storm clouds in slow motion look like tentacles?
José kissed my hair and whispered, “Are you talking to Mel?”
“Is she okay?”
“She’s having trouble shielding. We should go meet up with her and the others anyway.” I stepped away from him and walked uphill.
Students, who wore white graduation robes, and their parents, who were dressed mostly in summer dresses, slacks, and collared shirts, were clumped all over Saint Patrick’s sprawling lawn.
José draped his arm over my shoulder as I wove around groups of people. The pressure was calming, lulling panic monsters back to sleep with its warm weight. I glanced up at the clouds. They were closer and darker. The wind sped up, stealing programs from a dozen people’s hands. The clouds lit up with lightning, but I didn’t see any tentacles.
Mel’s voice popped back into my head. I don’t sense anything in the clouds, and neither does Niben. I guess she’s been restraining the storm for half the ceremony. Perhaps you were seeing her power mingled with it?
Maybe. Some tension unraveled from my chest. I’d heard stories about my grandmother, Niben, controlling storms, but I’d never seen her do it. In fact, I’d never witnessed her do any magic unless she was modeling something she wanted me to try. She’d come on a few hunts, but she’d just watched with her unblinking feline eyes and later quizzed me on what I did right and wrong. For all I knew, her fabled storm magic could resemble tentacles.
Her magic manifests as roots or vines. Don’t let her hear you compare it to tentacles.
Mel’s bell-like laugh tickled my ears. I followed the sound around a large family and found Mel giggling under my favorite oak tree wearing a white-and-blue-floral maxi dress that covered her feet and touched the ground.
Once upon a time, looking directly at my cousin with my Sight open, my ability to see around illusions would’ve left me seeing spots, but today, only a dull thin haze of white light surrounded her. Rippled pink scars covered half her face, and her hair, once down to her waist, was just starting to regrow.
“You made it. Congrats.” Mel pushed herself off the tree and hugged me, followed by Grandpa and Niben, who had been standing to the left of her.
“Where’d everyone else go?” I asked. Mike, my aunty Lucy (Mel’s mom), and my aunt Rita (my mother’s sister) had been here earlier.
“They decided to go in before the storm got too close,” said Mel. Mentally, she added, Mom and Niben kept debating how long it was safe to hold the storm off for.
Is there anything those two don’t argue about? I thought back to Mel.
I’m happy my mother and grandmother are talking at all. For years after your dad died, they didn’t. Mel winked at me and shrugged.
“Congratulations.” Grandpa hugged me. He was as dressed up as he ever got with khaki slacks and a short-sleeved blue button-up shirt. His ocean-colored eyes squinted, and his lips twisted into something halfway between a smile and a scowl: his “why can’t you people talk out loud so I can hear you” face.
Niben, who wore the same dress as Mel only with reddish-orange flowers, glowered at the thunderclouds. Her pointy ears, which appeared as normal ears to humans who couldn’t see around her glamour, twitched. The gusts pulled strands of red hair out of the two buns she’d braided it into. The strands flailed around like tentacles writhing in the wind.
Maybe I had just seen cords of her power in the clouds. Sometimes, when I saw magical things for the first time, I saw them how my brain could most easily process the latest shift to its reality. The tentacles could’ve been ropes of magic tethering the updrafts and downdrafts.
“That storm is moving in with a vengeance now. Shall we hurry up and take pictures before we are all drenched?” Niben turned her back on the thunderheads and pulled a bulky DSLR out of her bag. She loved photography. Apparently, it wasn’t a thing in Faerie, so when she was on Earth, she had to get her picture-taking fix.
“Are you still controlling the storm?” I asked as I stood next to José, watching it over Niben’s shoulder.
She adjusted the focus on her camera. “No. The longer I hold it off, the worse it will be when it hits, and I’ve already restrained that one far longer than I should have.”
The shutter clicked.
“Stand a little closer together, and, José, stop slouching.” She took a few more pictures and asked Mel to go stand where José had been.
I counted as I exhaled, gradually slowing my perception of time, staring at the cloud behind Niben.
Mel smiled at the camera. It’s only a storm.
I slowed my perception more, so when lightning flashed, the cloud remained lit up for a whole seven seconds. There was slow movement in it like drenched, dirty cotton balls shifting in a bag as someone dumped water in it.
Lightning forked again.
Something slithered near the bottom of the cloud and vanished.
The postgraduation reception, which was supposed to happen in the tent once the chairs were packed and the stage was broken down, had been moved to the gym. The tent would’ve been fine if it were merely a passing rainstorm, but the lightning was wild, and for a few minutes, hail pounded the roof.
I made it through the whole hour without snarling, jumping, panicking, hurting myself, or simply short-circuiting in the crowd of people and their voices echoing off the floor and walls. Without the foul-tasting Elf potions I used to manage anxiety, depression, and ADHD, I would’ve been clawing at my skin ten minutes after José pulled me away from the snack table to socialize.
An hour was enough.
The severe storm had faded to a steady rain and distant rumbles of thunder. I walked halfway to the tent and just stood in the middle of the field, letting warm rain drench my curls and clothes. People rushed out of the gym in groups. Some had umbrellas. Others fled to their cars.
“You want to go hang out in the tent?” José walked up to me with his graduation robe held over his head even though it didn’t do much to shield him. His khakis pants and polo shirt were nearly as drenched as mine.
I smiled. “You don’t have to leave your friends because I’m out here.”
“I’ll see them later.” He dropped the robe and rested his hand on the small of my back. The tingling shivers it evoked kept me from cringing at the thought of having to play nice with Jenny Dunn.
For most of senior year, José’s ex-girlfriend, Jenny Dunn, had bullied me every chance she got. But since I saved her life in March, she had been trying to not only earn my forgiveness but also become my friend. I forgave her, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be her friend.
When José and I got to the tent, he draped the drenched robe over a chair and hugged me. Standing with my body touching his leached tension from every muscle. It reminded me of sinking into a hot bath on a cold night after a grueling sparring session. A few months ago, this feeling had terrified me; it had made me feel weak and powerless. Since then, I’d learned to trust José to not take things further than I wanted them to go. I’d also developed a better understanding of why I didn’t always want them to go further.
Between José and my therapist, I’d figured out I was somewhere on the ace spectrum, though I’d yet to figure out exactly where I fell. And although José was the epitome of hot, the core of my attraction to him came from the long friendship we’d had before it’d ever shifted to romantic. Don’t get me wrong, I love kissing him; however, being so psychically attracted to him didn’t necessarily equate to whether I was sexually attracted to him.
And my sexuality made up only one piece of the puzzle. The other part included the idea of sex immediately stopping me in my tracks. It wasn’t something I never wanted to have. I just couldn’t picture being so intimate with a partner if I didn’t 100 percent trust and love both my partner and myself. José had earned my love and trust, but sometimes, I still despised myself.
José pressed his forehead to mine and whispered, “I love you.”
“I know,” I said, resisting the urge to tell him he shouldn’t.
I listened to his heartbeat and felt his breath tickle my lips.
He cupped my cheeks in his hands. “Can I kiss you?”
My skin grew all warm and fuzzy as hormones chased my doubts away. I grinned. “Yes, but it’s your fault if Sister Marie dumps a bucket of holy water on us.”
“You’ll freeze it before it’s out of the bucket.” He gently pressed his lips to mine.
My face, no, my entire body hummed as I breathed him in, my lips moving with his. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer. Everything else faded away until the clanking of chairs falling like dominoes ruined the moment. I leaped away from José and shifted my weight like I would if I were being attacked.
“I’m sorry,” said Jenny Dunn, backing away from me like I was a monster ready to lunge at her. “I didn’t mean too…I just…”
“It’s okay,” I said, relaxing my posture and smoothing out the involuntary snarl the clanging had evoked. “You scared me. I’m not good with noises.”
“That’s an understatement.” José squeezed my hand. He turned to Jenny. “What’s up?”
She watched the two of us, opening and closing her mouth. Tingling cold crept through my veins, and my stomach twisted into knots. It was the feeling I always got when something I dreamed, or something related to a dream, was going to happen.
Please tell me you didn’t dream something about tentacles. A Fallen Angel plotting an apocalypse is bad enough without storm-riding cosmic monsters. Mel’s voice was a jarring intrusion.
Not all my dreams are about Demon attacks, I reminded her. Where are you?
I just passed the tent on my way to the archives.
I’m going to shield, but stay close in case this goes south.
I’ll wait in the church. Let me know when it’s okay to head downstairs.
I closed my eyes, imagining myself in a spaceship’s cockpit, and raised my deflector shields to full strength as if I was expecting a mental attack. I knew something upsetting was going to happen, and Mel had enough to deal with. She didn’t need to feel fallout from whatever emotional bomb Jenny was about to detonate.
“I—I wanted to talk to José alone,” said Jenny.
I started to step away, but José moved with me instead of letting go of my hand. “If you want to say something to me, you can say it with Erin here.”
Chills slithered through me like frozen eels.
Jenny folded her arms and stared at his feet. “José, I think it would be better if they weren’t here for this.”
“I don’t want Erin to leave.” José’s voice crackled. He stared at the ground too, looking as small and defeated as Jenny.
It broke my heart every time I saw him that way. It woke the rage monsters that lived in my gut. I wanted to find the monster that was hurting him and fight it, but I was the only monster around.
“Please? Can we just talk you and me?” asked Jenny.
The déjà-vu ice eels slithered into my brain, slapping it with their tails. They turned to snakes, hissing at me for not connecting the dots before reverting to eels, but the electric kind. The weight Jenny had gained, the way her breasts were larger, her hips wider, and her tummy stuck out a little wasn’t only because she was finally beating an eating disorder.
“I don’t hide anything from Erin. Say what you need to say,” said José.
The only things he’d ever hidden from me were the existence of Demons and the true extent of his dad’s abuse. I would’ve been fine with less details of his sex life from before we started dating and about how the first time he slept with Jenny Dunn, he’d been wasted. Maybe he had been too drunk to remember a condom.
“I…I’m…” Jenny closed her mouth and her eyes. Tears dripped down her cheeks. “I’m…”
“A little over three months pregnant,” I said, fearful she would drag it out forever.
Jenny stared at me.
José squeezed my hand like he was delivering a baby. “Pregnant? By who?”
I closed my eyes, dredging up a shard of dreamed future from my memory, one fleeting moment of peace between stretches of earth-shattering violence: Jenny smiling at a baby that had her glacial eyes with José’s dark hair and dimpled chin.
“José, it’s yours,” I said when I tired of waiting for Jenny to say it.
Jenny gaped at me like I had sprouted a glittering horn from my head. “Erin, how do you know all that?”
“You dreamed this, didn’t you?” José pulled me back to him, half laughing and half hyperventilating.
My hands curled into fists so tight my nails dug into my palms.
José kept talking. “I’m glad Erin said something because I thought this was going to be a completely different conversation. I’m an idiot, and the only thing I know about fathers is what they should never ever do. I don’t know if I will make a good dad, but I will never be like my father. I’m assuming if you’re this far along, you’re keeping it?”
“Dreamed? You’re a psychic?” Jenny stepped closer, visibly ignoring every single thing José said after he implied I had a premonition.
A hopeful smile clashed with her pained expression as she inched nearer. I flinched away, but there was nowhere to go because my back was literally pressed against José, who, despite his optimistic words, clutched me like a shield.
“I used to talk to a phone psychic, but Mom found out and made me stop. She said psychics were connected to Satan.” Jenny grinned inches away from my face.
My skin felt like electrified maggots. I wanted to rip it off, and if José weren’t holding my arms so tight, I might have. No meds and no half-truthful sessions with human therapists had equipped me to cope with this.
“They prefer to be called a prophet, not psychic,” said José.
“I prefer you not to tell anyone,” I growled through gritted teeth. I tried to step away from José, but his rigid arms were squeezing me tight.
Jenny was right in my face, staring at me like I was some kind of miracle freak. The creepy-crawly buzz trailed from my neck to my hands to my toes. I knew one way to make that stop. My heart raced. My feet frantically tapped the ground harder and harder until it was shaking both José and me.
José’s rigid muscles softened, but he didn’t let go of me. “Erin, I’m so sorry.” He took a few slow, deep breaths. “Jenny, you were right. We should talk alone. Can you give Erin some space? I need a minute with them before you and I talk.”
Half-dazed, Jenny nodded and went and sat down in a chair on the opposite end of the row.
“Erin, I’m sorry. That was the last thing I expected her to say. Are you okay?” José slid his hands off my biceps and wrapped his arms around me.
I was trapped, and my chest felt like it was going to explode. “Let go of me.”
His lips brushed my ear. “If I do, are you going to hurt yourself?”
If I answered that question honestly, he wouldn’t let me go, but I couldn’t breathe. I needed him to let go of me. I needed to hurt, but if I ran hard enough, if I went to the training room under the convent and vented my rage on one of Sister Marie’s punching bags, maybe I’d resist cutting.
“Erin, answer me.”
“They’re already hurting themself.” Mel walked into the tent in a soaked, bedraggled dress. She pointed at my hands, which were balled into fists at my side and probably bleeding. “Go talk to Jenny. I’ll make sure Erin doesn’t hurt themself worse.”
He let go.
“You know where to find us,” Mel yelled to José as she ran after me.
Mel hit a light switch, illuminating a room with a floor entirely covered in mats. My skin still buzzed, but the burning in my legs from the short sprint over here kept the urge to cut at bay. A punching bag hung from the ceiling in each corner. The walls were lined with weights, practice swords of many styles, staffs, boxing gloves, ropes, Pilates balls, yoga mats, and a couple duffle bags filled with workout clothes.
Mel opened one of the bags and threw a tank top and gym shorts at me. “Change out of your binder before you start hitting things.”
Still shaking, I turned my back to her while we changed into clothing more suitable for an intense workout. As much as I wanted to keep my binder on, I knew it wasn’t safe to exercise in it.
“Thank you,” I said to Mel, then aimed a right hook at a punching bag.
I swung at it again, not bothering to think of form.
Mel caught my wrist midswing. “You break bones when you go at punching bags like that. You’ve broken fingers, smashed up your knuckles, and one time you fractured your radius.”
I spun around, yanking my wrist from her grip, a snarl growing on my lips. “I did not.”
“You did, but you thought it was just sore.” Mel threw a bamboo practice sword at me—the ones she’d altered for lightsaber sparring matches on the beach.
I barely caught it. My nails dug into the hilt. “You’re saying I’ve broken my own bones, and instead of telling me and making me go to the hospital, you healed them even though it takes a shit ton of your Angel mojo?”
“Yes, and I don’t have enough ‘Angel mojo’ to heal you now.” Mel swung her modified Shinai at me so fast I had to jump backward because there was no way I would’ve blocked in time.
“You’re sparring with me” was all the warning she gave before whipping the sword toward my skull.
I blocked it. Barely. “Mel, I’m too upset. I could hurt you.”
She swung again. Her sword thundered against mine. “We always had the best matches when we were both out of our minds angry.”
“But, you—” I started before having to block a blow that could’ve knocked my teeth out.
“What? I’m weak?” Her sword whipped at me.
“Wounded?” She feigned a swing at my shoulder. She whacked my thigh.
I swallowed the mind-numbing rage that blow evoked.
Mel snarled and came at with a complicated series of attacks. “Everyone has been treating me like I’m glass that is going to shatter any moment. Grandpa has done a full switch and is babying me and sending you out to fight Demons with only José for backup.”
I only blocked half of them. “For someone who doesn’t want to have to heal me, you are being awfully aggressive.”
“Then stop reacting and fight back. You’d be dead if this were a real battle,” she said with her sword pressed against my throat.
She stalked over to the middle of the room. “I can feel what’s in your head. Take all that rage and confusion out on me and let me vent mine at you. I need this as much as you do. This is how we always worked through our shit.”
My breathing finally evened out, and my chest didn’t feel like it was enduring a never-ending series of heart attacks.
I grinned. “I might actually win this time.”
“Doubtful,” said Mel as she ran at me.
This time, I was ready for her.
By the time José found us, Mel and I were lying head to head on the mats, panting and laughing hysterically, surrounded by shards of bamboo.
“What the hell happened in here?” he said, starring down at the two of us with puffy red eyes. He scanned the fragments of the practice swords.
“Sparring match. Obviously.” I glanced at the shattered hilt of sword I’d practiced with for at least two years and started laughing.
José’s frown deepened as he spoke to Mel. “Hadn’t you brought those to Faerie and had Niben do something so this wouldn’t happen?”
“That was last year. Erin is stronger now.” Mel stretched her arms out, then rested her hands under her head.
José lowered himself to the ground beside me. “Does this mean you two will go more than a few days without having telepathic arguments?”
I grinned. “It means we’re going to have a lot of bruises tomorrow.”
“No, you are going to have a lot of bruises.” Mel rolled to her stomach and started stretching.
“So, Mel won?” José arched his eyebrows.
“Yes, but only I wasn’t shielding, and she wanted me to try reading her mind, which I cannot do.” I sat up and reached for my feet, savoring the burn of the stretch.
“Yet.” Mel grabbed her ankles and pulled them toward her head. “How’d the rest of the conversation with Jenny go?”
José ran his hands through his hair. “It was the most terrifying, awkward conversation I’ve ever had. I’m so scared I threw up my lunch as soon as I got away from her, but I’m also kind of happy, which makes me more scared, and, Erin, if I ever turn into my father…”
“You won’t turn into your father. You are nothing like him.” I took a few deep breaths, trying not to think about where he was going with that sentence.
José sat up, made eye contact, and held a hand out to me. “I don’t want this to be the end of us.”
I stared at his hand, at his scarred knuckles that for once in his life weren’t scabbed or bloody from fighting Demons and his father. I could take his hand and muddle through this with him. Or I could walk away.
The thought of doing the latter made it hard to breathe.
“Please. I’m sorry. I never should’ve been with her in the first place. You were my friend. She was bullying you before I started dating her, and I know that made it worse. What I did hurt both of you. But these past three months have been the happiest, and I don’t want it to end. I understand if this is too much, or if you need time but…”
“Can I kiss you?” I asked, cutting him off midsentence.
“Always.” His face lifted to a smile.
I tangled my fingers in his hair and kissed him until Mel started giggling.
My heart was beating fast when I pulled away. “José, if I left you, who’d protect you from all the other monsters out there?”
He squeezed my hand. “I should tell you what Jenny and I talked about. There are a ton more details to work out, but if you’re in this with me, I want to know what you think.”
“Yes, but not until after we go home, and I eat all the cookies you baked this morning,” I said.
He almost smiled, but then he glanced down at our hands.
Mel, sitting on the floor, studied José and me with a smirk on her lips and a glint of mischief in her eyes. “José is debating whether or not to tell you that Will and Jenny still want to go ahead with that postgraduation movie night you reluctantly agreed to.”
“We don’t have to go,” he said.
I squeezed his hand. “But we will. If we’re going to be part of this kid’s life, then I’m going to have to learn to deal with her. Plus, you want to go.”
“I just want a night out to be a normal eighteen-year-old. You’ve been training so hard, which is great, but also scary because you’re training with…” José clamped his mouth shut, but he mustn’t have stopped himself from thinking it because Mel leaped to her feet.
Mel snarled. “Fire. Erin, you lied to me.”
I stood up and crossed my arms. “Yeah, and how many times have you lied to me? How much are you still lying to me?”
“Why?” Mel gasped as she paced around the room, breathing harder with each circuit.
“I’m doing it because it’s a skill I need to learn. I lied because it gives you panic attacks about…the night you saved everyone.” I got in front of Mel and put my hands on her shoulders, recalling a memory of her winning a sparring match on the beach and projecting toward her. “Look at me. Focus on what I’m thinking.”
For a few minutes, she stared at me, tense and struggling to breathe. I closed my eyes, focusing on every detail of the memory, imagining images, smells, and feelings traveling down my arms, out through my hands, and up her neck to her brain like it was flowing through a telepathic HDMI cable. Finally, her breathing and heart rate slowed, and her shoulders relaxed.
She asked, “Do you need to siphon energy from fire?”
I put my hand on her scarred cheek. “I don’t want you to get hurt like this again. Niben says I’m a sponge for raw energy. Fire is only another form of it.”
José walked over and draped an arm over each of us, but he looked at Mel. “You don’t need to play at being Erin’s guardian Angel anymore. Let them watch your back for once.”
Mel just stared at him, and then she stared at me.
I really wished I could read her mind.
“It’s been a long day.” José closed his eyes. His arm grew heavy on my shoulder.
I worried that if one more thing happened, he’d fall apart. I was glad I hadn’t told him about the tentacles.