The idea of sitting for the next few hours made me want to break something, so I took my meager goodies and headed back outside. I kind of liked the wet smell in the air and the idea of getting rained on wasn’t too bad. It would be like a natural shower of sorts. Munching on my chips, I headed around the terminal and past a rest stop full of truckers. None of them whistled or propositioned me when they saw me.
This, in a way, totally ruined my whole image of them.
Across from the rest stop turnoff were more factories. They looked like something straight out of a haunted house reality TV show—broken or boarded up windows, weeds overflowing the cracked pavement, and vines trailing up along the walls. Before Matt had decided I was a giant freak, we’d gone to one of those carnival haunted houses. Come to think of it, I should have known he’d be a wuss. He’d screamed like a girl when the guy had come out at the end and chased us with a chainsaw.
Smiling to myself, I followed a narrow path around the rest stop and tossed my empty bottle and bag into a trash bin. The sky was full of heavy clouds and the loud purr of the tractor’s engines was comforting in an odd way. In four hours I’d be in Nashville. Four more hours and I’d find—
The sound breaking glass startled me. My heart leapt in my throat. I whirled around, expecting to be faced with a horde of daimons. Instead of found two young guys. One had thrown a rock through the window of a maintenance building.
What rebels, I thought.
I moved my hand away from where I had the spade shoved into the back of my pants, studying them. They weren’t much older—or cleaner—than me. One was wearing a red beanie… in May. I wondered if there was some kind of weather situation I was unaware of. My gaze drifted to his partner, whose eyes kept bouncing from his friend to me.
And that made me nervous.
Beanie boy smiled. The off-white shirt he wore clung to his scrawny frame. He didn’t look like he was getting three square meals a day. Neither did his friend. “How ya doin’?”
I bit my lip. “Good. You?”
His friend gave a sharp, high-pitched laugh. “We’re doing okay.”
Knots began to form in my stomach. Taking a deep breath, I started to edge around them. “Well… I’ve got a bus to catch.”
Giggles shot a quick look at Beanie Boy, and damn, Beanie Boy could book it. Within a second, he was standing in front of me and had a knife pointed right at my throat.
“We saw ya with the money back at those machines,” said Beanie Boy, “and we want it.”
I almost couldn’t believe it. On top of everything, I was being robbed.
It was official. The gods hated me.
And I hated them.
In stunned disbelief, I lifted my hands above my head and exhaled slowly.
The one without the knife gaped at his partner. “Man, what are you doing? Why’d you pull a knife? She’s just a girl. She’s not going to fight us.”
“Shut up. I’m running this show.” Beanie Boy grabbed my arm as he leered in my face, pressing the tip of the knife under my chin.
“This wasn’t part of the plan!” argued the guy who didn’t seem to want to stab me. I eyed him hopefully, but he was staring at his partner, his hands opening and closing at his sides.
Great, I thought, I’m being robbed by unorganized criminals. Someone’s definitely getting stabbed and it’s probably going to be me. Instead of fear, I felt a hot stab of annoyance. I so did not have the time for this crap. I had a bus to catch, and hopefully, a life to reclaim.
“We saw ya getting the food.” He inched the tip of the knife down my throat. “We know ya have money. A whole wad of cash, right, John? Must be a lot of hooking to get that kinda money.”
I wanted to kick myself in the face. I should’ve been more careful. I couldn’t pull out a wad of cash and expect not to be robbed. Surviving a daimon attack only to have my throat slashed for a few hundred dollars? Dammit, people sucked.
“Did ya hear me?”
I narrowed my eyes, figuring I was about five seconds from going ballistic. “Yeah, I heard you.”
His fingers dug in my skin. “Then give us the damn money!”
“You’re going to have to get it yourself.” My gaze went to his friend. “And I dare you to try it.”
Beanie Boy motioned toward John. “Get the money out of her pocket.”
His partner’s eyes darted between his friend and me. I hoped he refused, because he was so going to regret it if he didn’t. That wad of cash was all that I had. In it was my ticket for the next bus. No one was getting that.
“Which pocket?” the one holding me asked. When I didn’t answer, he shook me, and that was it.
My bitch switch was flipped and, well, my sense of self-preservation went right out the window. Everything—everything that’d happened boiled up inside me and burst. Did these wannabe gangstas actually think I was afraid of them? After everything I’d seen? My universe went red. I was going to stomp the ever-loving crap out of them.
I laughed in Beanie Boy’s face.
Bewildered by my response, he lowered the knife a fraction of an inch.
“Are you freaking serious?” I wrenched my arm free and grabbed the knife from his fingers. “You’re going to rob me?” I pointed the knife at him, half tempted to prick him with it. “Me?”
“Whoa, now.” John backed up.
“Exactly,” I waved the knife around. “If you want your bal—”
A shiver went down my spine, icy and foreboding. An innate sense kicked in and every fiber of my being screamed out a warning. It was the same thing I’d felt before I’d spotted the daimon from the balcony. Panic punched a hole in my chest.
No. They can’t be here. They can’t.
But I knew they were. The daimons had found me. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was why they had. I was just a freaking half-blood. I wasn’t even a snack pack to them. Worse yet, I was like Chinese food to them—they were going to be craving aether again in a few hours. Their time would be better spent hunting down pures. Not me. Not a half-blood.
Clearly distracted, Beanie Boy took advantage. He shot forward, grabbing and twisting my arm until I dropped the knife in his waiting hand. “You stupid bitch,” he hissed in my face.
I pushed him with my free hand as I scanned the area. “You have to go! You need to go now!”
Beanie Boy pushed back and I stumbled to the side. “I’m done messing with you. Give us the money or else!”
I gained my balance, realizing these two were too stupid to live. So was I for hanging around and trying to convince them. “You don’t understand. You have to go now. They’re here!”
“What’s she talking about?” John turned around and scanned the darkness. “Who’s coming? Red, I think we should—”
“Shut up,” Red said. Light from the moon broke free from the heavy clouds, glinting off the blade he jabbed at his friend. “She’s just trying to freak us out.”
Part of me wanted to bolt and let them deal with what I knew was coming, but I couldn’t. They were mortals—obscenely stupid mortals who’d pulled a knife on me—but there was no way they deserved the kind of death coming their way. Robbery attempt or not, I couldn’t let this happen. “The things that are coming are going to kill you. I’m not try—”
“Shut up!” yelled Red, swinging on me. Once again the knife was at my throat. “Just shut up!”
I looked at John, the saner of the two. “Please. You’ve got to listen to me! You need to go and you need to make your friend go. Now.”
“Don’t even think it, John,” warned Red. “Now get over here and get this money!”
Desperate to get them out of here, I dug in my pocket and pulled out the wad of cash. Without thinking, I shoved it at Red’s chest. “Here—take it! Just take it and go while you still can! Go!”
Red looked down, his mouth dropping open. “What the—”
A cold, arrogant laugh froze the blood in my veins. Red whirled around, squinting into the darkness. It was almost like the daimon materialized out of the shadows, because the spot had been empty a second ago. He stood a few feet from the building, his head cocked to the side and his horrific face twisted into a gruesome smile. To the boys, he looked like a yuppie in Gap jeans and a polo shirt—an easy target.
I recognized him as the daimon I’d hit over the head with a lamp.
“This is it?” John looked at Red, visibly relieved. “Man, we hit the lotto tonight.”
“Run,” I urged quietly, reaching behind me and wrapping my fingers around the handle of the garden spade. “Run as fast as you can.”
Red glanced over his shoulder at me, snickering. “Is this your pimp?”
I couldn’t even respond to that. I zeroed in on the daimon, my heart doubling over as he took a slow, lazy step forward. Something wasn’t right about the daimon. It was… too calm. When the elemental magic took over, amusement flickered over his arresting features.
Then, when I was pretty sure I couldn’t be having a crappier week, a second daimon stepped out of the shadows… and behind her stood another daimon.
I was so screwed.
My hand was still up in the air, clenching the four hundred and twenty five dollars along with my bus ticket. Perhaps it was shock that held me in that position. My brain quickly flipped through my lessons at the Covenant, the ones teaching us about pure-bloods who’d tasted aether and turned to the proverbial dark side.
Lesson number one: they didn’t work well together.
Lesson number two: they didn’t travel in packs.
Lesson number three: they didn’t share their food.
And lesson number four: they didn’t hunt half-bloods.
I was so going to kick a Covenant Instructor in the face if I ever made it back there alive.
John took a step back. “Too many people at this—”
The first daimon held up his hand and a gust of wind came rushing from the field behind the trio. It shot down the dirt path, slamming into John’s chest, sending him flying through the air. John hit the back of the rest stop, his surprised shriek cut off by the snapping of his bones. He fell into the shrubs, a dark, lifeless lump.
Red tried to move, but the wind was still coming. It pushed him back and knocked my arm down. It was like being caught in an invisible tornado. Hundred dollar bills, a bunch of singles, and my bus ticket flew up in the air, caught and tossed by the wind. A hole opened in my chest as the rushing wind took them up and up. It was almost as if the daimons knew that without those things I was trapped. Completely, freaking trapped.
Lesson number five: They could still control the elements.
At least the Covenant Instructors had gotten that part right.
“What’s going on?” Red backed up, stumbling over his own feet. “What the hell is going on?”
“You’re going to die,” said the daimon in Gap jeans. “That’s what’s going on.”