Penelope Fletcher - The Demon Girl

By Lewis Sanders,2014-11-02 14:17
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Penelope Fletcher - The Demon Girl



    Copyright 2010 Penelope Fletcher.

    Smashwords Edition


    ISBN: 978-1-4523-7321-8

    Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England &Wales


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    Chapter One


    The day I learnt I was a demon was the worst day of my life. I won’t lie. I spent most the dayterrified of dying, or losing a limb.

    The first thing I heard, and thought about when I woke that morning was of demons. A were-catscream echoed for a beat, before an answering scream, higher in pitch called in the distance.It sounded like the packs were fighting; a territorial dispute most likely. There was a Pridenot too far from the Temple. A muffled shriek drifted up through the floorboards, and I rolledmy eyes when it happened on the next scream. I buried my head under the pillow, pulling myblanket up. New Disciple’s thought the world was ending every time a demon passed nearby. Ittook them long to understand, if the Wall was breached the klaxon went off to warn us.

    I rolled out of bed, tripped over the mountains of fabric and crushed cans that littered thefloor of my room, and head butted the wardrobe door. It bounced back. Clothes flung over thetop and spilling out the bottom had stopped it from clicking shut. I was not a dirty person,but a messy one. I was the kind of person who could make mess in an empty four by ten box.Stood in my fraying bra and panties, I groggily scratched at my knee, trying to pull myselftogether. It took a lot of rummaging around before I pulled on my ragged jeans and faded teeshirt, some pre Rupture band on the front. Not the best gear for running, but I was going tohave to go straight to class afterwards. I put my boots on and headed outside.

    It was dark. Dawn was hours away, and the grounds were eerily quiet. Fire drums set alongsidethe pathway flickered, and weak flames cast a sick flush over the cold ground. Electricity washard to generate, so the Sect cut corners where it could. Resources during the day, and afterdark, focused on Wall hotspots, places difficult for the Clerics to easily defend, like steepravines and cliff faces. These were the places demons too often breached. My eyes skipped overthe Temple grounds, and every graffiti wall, battered trashcan was colored fondly in my mind’seye. The Temple was an army base, before the Rupture, but now it was the stomping ground of theSect Clerics and their Disciples. It was home. Safety. My eyes settled on the Wall in the neardistance, peeking out from the forest bordering the region. Past that electric fence wasOutside. Past that fence roamed the demons.

    I started at a jog. In no time I was at the main gate whistling to the security guard whobarely looked up from his book. I wondered where he’d gotten that. Books made purely forentertainment were as rare as plain paper. The Sect had a library of course, right here atTemple, but you had to have serious pull with the Priests to be able to rent one. We luckyDisciples got to feel the smooth pages of a book on a regular basis, even if they wereeducational, and my envy was brief. The guard caught me eyeing up the pages and placed it onhis lap. He waved me on as the gate cracked to let me out.

    Leaving Temple, I was soon on a wide and flat lane gravitating toward the forest. I reached theWall and stared at it. Each time I came here I asked myself the same question; was defying SectDoctrine and stepping past this point worth it? The excited thump of my heart told me theanswer. I glanced behind to scan the roadside and check I was not in sight. Confident I wasalone; I slid through the sliver of space between the charged wires then held my breath for abeat. There was nothing but silence. I had no idea how I’d done it, but one morning I wastired of plodding the same ground, and I’d looked out into the forest with its thick treetrunks, jutting roots, and seen a thrilling new route to push myself harder and faster. I hadstood, and stared at the webbing of steel then wished for a hole to climb through. The wireshad just unraveled without setting off the klaxon. I remembered thinking with a horrible kindof panic that I had somehow done witchcraft, and was convinced I was the blackest kind of evil.Then I realized how ridiculous I was being, and figured it was a coincidental gift from theuniverse, or something. Now every morning I had a new obstacle course to enjoy.

    The trees were tall, and the air was fresh and clean and free. I ran, racing the beat of my ownfootfalls. Cold wind whipped past pushing hair into my face. Gods, how I loved to run and revelin the illusion of freedom it gave. I was the fastest Disciple at the Temple, and the best atcross-country; it took a lot to tire me out. I ran until the forest became too dense for me tosprint without tripping over roots. My chest rising and falling was a pleasant feeling I rarelygot to experience, and only could experience when I ran Outside. Pushing at the long and darktangle of my hair, I wished there was less of it. I snapped off a knobby twig from a shrub atmy heel and pulled it back into a messy bun, using the twig to pin it there. I was distracted,and only because a raven boldly cutting past drew my attention from the task of managing myhair, did I see a movement at the corner of my eye.

    A figure strode away from me up a leafy incline, into the light side of the daybreak.

    “Hai?” I called my voice low.

    The retreating shape paused, only to dart deeper into the gloom. Cresting the slope it winkedout of sight. I ran after it. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. Skidding to a stop atthe slope summit, I let out a surprised grunt. I could see down and far out into the forest.There was nobody down there, nothing but more trees. Fear whispered in my ear no humans are

     , but I shook it off. Such a thing was surely nothing but mysupposed to be Outside

    imagination. No demon would be this close to the Temple. It would be like a human who wanted tolive a long life doing a jig with their eyes closed on the edge of a cliff.

    Then I saw it again. The shadowed figure was there when I turned around, but was at the bottomof the slope. My feet skipped back then there was no more floor.

    I remembered the same time my head moved to where my feet had been, that I’d been standing onthe apex of a steep and high slope. I went down . I tumbled backward and ended up rolling and

    rolling. The world churned around me, but leveled out abruptly as I crashed into the base of atree at the slopes underside.

    My arse was up in the air and my shins mashed against my forehead. Oh gods it hurt. I rocked mybody until I fell onto my side, and pulled my legs back to curl them under me. I breathed inand out slowly, mentally checking myself over. Nothing felt broken. I sat up and stretched itout. No, nothing was broken. The pendant I wore around my neck pressed into my collarboneawkwardly. I fiddled with it until it hung properly, and the leather cord was no longer chokingme.

    I stood and rubbed at my head, then tried to get my bearings.

    The slope was too steep to climb back up and I wasn’t much into rock climbing. Like mostpeople I was reasonably tolerable of heights, up to a certain point and tolerable with deepwater, up to a certain point. And even agreeable with confined spaces. Up to a certain point.Heights especially high were a stickler with me, despite my love of the things you could dowhen you were especially high. I had a way of pretending the floor was much closer than ittruly was. Nevertheless, the slope was too high to pretend, so I was either going left orright. Determined to stay calm, I ignored the first curls of fear in my stomach. I hadn’texplored this far out into the forest yet and based on how long I had run for, I was at leastten miles from the Wall. I was not worried about the time; I could still get back for breakfastand with enough time to walk to class with Alex. Looking to the east the sky was lightening toblue, but the sunrise was always painfully slow. Classes did not start until the sun was in thesky.

    I picked the straightest line through the trees as I could, and started off, my boots slappingmuddy puddles riddling the way. In the early morning the forest was empty of human presenceapart from its familiar visitor in me, but it was creepy now, like someone was watching.

    A short while later it was clear I’d done something wrong. The trees were getting denser, andmore closely packed together, like I was going further into the forest. I stopped and spunaround. My first instinct was to go back. I was walking in a straight line, and I could go backto the slope base and start again. I had been walking in a straight line, hadn’t I? Those

    nasty curls of fear tickled my insides again. I started to walk back, but stopped after lessthan half a mile. I scanned the ground. Horrified at what I did not see, I knelt down to get abetter look. To my dismay I could not see any footprints or other evidence I had passed thisway. All Clerics were master trackers, bested only by shifters who changed into predators likebig cats. As a Disciple I had been trained in the basics of tracking, of course, and at thatmoment I felt the bitter sting of failure. What I should have done the moment I felt lost isliterally retraced my steps and started again. But I hadn’t done that. I’d let the fear getone up on me, and plunged into the forest without thinking. I needed to calm down and focus. Ifigured if I went high, I could see further around me.

    I strode back a pace, and took a running jump at a broad oak trunk. I reached the lowest branchstarting five feet or so above my head, and dug my fingertips into the bark. Tree climbing waseasy, and in no time I hauled my body over the highest bough that would hold my weight. Ibalanced on my toes, hands to knees. Exhaling my breath was visible plumes of wispy vapor, andfor a few seconds I chugged circular globules to amuse myself.

    It was cold, it being the end of autumn, but the cooler days didn’t bother me. It was awelcome change since my body had always run hot.

    The clouds on the horizon were dark with rain, darker than the sky now. They rolled low andblocked out the coming light. There was a thick hum in the air, a sure sign a storm was blowingin. My heart did a jig in my chest, and my mood picked up, for I simply loved a good storm. Theclean scent of crushed needle leaf on the breeze was refreshing, and a nice change to the ashysmell that saturated everything at the Temple.

    Getting back on track, I looked around in a wide circle. I bit my lip and looked the circleagain, slower this time. I was in trouble. I couldn’t see the Wall or the end of the forest. Imust have run much further than I usually did before I’d fallen. Then I’d walked even furtherin the wrong direction.

    I stood, clasped the branch overhead and skipped to the edge of my perch. Loosening my holdabove, I pushed back with my foot and both my arms stretched back. I arced into a crescent andwas momentarily suspended in the air. The crown of my head raced to catch my arms as my legscoiled and flew overhead. The world was crazy for a second; up was down, down was up. Pointedfeet followed my legs around and then I was falling. Feet a foot apart, my knees bent to absorbimpact as I landed, arms extended either side of me for balance.

    That bit of fun helped chase away some of my distress. I was good at identifying my emotionsand could control them with distractions if I caught them early enough. There were severalnotable times I’d allowed myself to fall into foul rages, where I’d thrown things about andpunched walls, laughing as I did so. The most frequent were bouts of manic happiness whereeverything was funny. The worst and hardest to control were the dark humors. Sometimes thetwisted things my imagination threw at me were only scary, and off-colour to think about onceI’d snapped out of it. I’d always been odd, different to the girls around me, and those timeswhere I’d lost control made some people suspicious and afraid of me.

    Oh yes, I’d become good at controlling myself.

    Back down below the forest canopy it was dark. The sunrays had not broken through the leaves,and the understory had a monochromatic look. Silver bark, grey leaves and black spaces between.I pushed some hair out of my eyes that had gotten loose from my makeshift bun, and breathed in.Smells of the forest, nutty sycamore maples and sweet night flowers releasing the last of theirfragrance, were strangely comforting. I was deep into wild and civilization was far behind, butI knew panicking would only make things worse.

    A faint rustle ahead made me pause and swiftly reconsider panicking. Another, louder rustlemade me tense. A tingle of fear ran down the back of my legs. The forest was full of animals ofcourse, deer, badgers and more birds than I could name, though the most popular was the raven.

    The thought I’d been consciously avoiding until now, making me want to lie where I was thendie quietly and run shrieking in the opposite direction, was that I was in demon territory.

    A flicker of light illuminated the leaf edges in the darkness. I heard a low murmur of sound,hushed and urgent. Instinctively crouching down, I crawled forward and was scared. Voices.Demons spoke, of course. They were bloodthirsty and evil, but intelligent too. Like a rationalindividual, I could have gone the other way, but then I would not know what kind of demon wasclose by. If they were shifters with tracking skills, I was no better than a dead body anyway.Soon, I saw the pale glare of artificial light and inched closer, keeping myself low to thefloor. My knees scrapped sharp twigs, hard stones. The prickly leaves of low grown shrubsstroked my cheeks, and forehead, as I pushed forward. My breathing sounded too loud in my ears,and I tried to breathe shallow. I kept my moves small and stealthy, like I was taught inSubterfuge when learning how to track demons for the element of surprise.

    Ahead of me, there was a small clearing and three bodies in it.

    Two were human, Clerics, identified by the peculiar hooded crimson blazers they wore with blacktails that flowed to their knees. The wide, pointed hood could cover your face to the nose, andthe well-known white-eye sigil stitched on their breast pockets, commanded fear from demons andsubmission from Disciples. The one facing me was female with her hood down. She was skeletalwith mud colored hair and pinched lips, but would be attractive if you like women with up-tilted eyes and a mean-looking disposition. The other had his back to me and was a well-builtmale. Small but compact with big arms and calves.

    To my horror the feeling that surged through me was not relief. These Clerics would take meback to the compound, and I would get into heaps of trouble having to somehow explain the holein the Wall. But that versus being caught by a demon and killed was preferable, right? No. Isat in my hiding place and quaked in my boots. My stomach twisted into a double knot and myteeth chattered, because something bad was happening.

    The third body in the clearing was a demon. A kind I had never seen before in my life, meaningshe could only be one thing. Green skin damp and scarlet hair wild, the fairy was sprawledacross the forest floor in a tangle of her own gawky limbs. It was clear to me she wasterrified. Her vibrant skin looked sallow and her eyes blood shot. A tazer probe buzzed in hershoulder blade, another on her upper thigh. She was crying, a pitiful high keen that was sofrail I could barely hear it.

    The Lady Cleric twisted the probe deeper into the fairy’s leg. “Why do you spy on theAcademy?” she asked with chilling calm.

    The fairy-girl cringed back. “I mean you no harm.”

    “And here I thought a fairy could tell no lie.”

    “I can’t.” The high chime of her voice shook on each word. “I speak the truth. Let me go,you don’t understand what will happen. My brothers–”

    The Lord Cleric punched her. Her head flew back and a spray of blood wet the dry mud andspattered over the leaves concealing me. Face wet with tears and whimpering, she tried to crawltoward the trees and dragged up clumps of earth with her fingernails.

    “You must let me go.” The words sounded muffled, like she had a mouthful of something foul.

    The Lord Cleric executed a neat half turn and stamped on her thigh. There was a sharp snap,like I’d picked up a twig and yanked on the ends until the fibers split apart and crackedopen. The fairy’s leg buckled into an unnatural shape and she screamed. The sound wasguttural, a direct translation of pain to sound. I slapped a hand over my mouth to smother myown shriek. Not because of the broken bone, I’d seen and heard tons of those, but because I’dcaught the Lord Clerics profile and recognized the handsome face. The Lord Cleric dragged thefairy back into the centre of the clearing and brought a knife to her face. Clamping a glovedhand over her mouth, he slashed the blade across her cheek. Blood seeped from the wound andstrangely, the smell of sizzling flesh seeped into the air. I gagged.

    It was then my body reacted. It was something natural hidden deep within, you see. I know itnow, but didn’t know it then, so my actions made no sense to me.

    Lurching forward, I snapped twigs beneath me and reached out to her. The Lady Cleric spun and abig, blocky thing appeared in her hands. A gun. I crouched and froze. She peered into the treesfor the source of the noise, and I stepped back, snapping another twig underfoot.

    The fairy’s red irises twitched to me. We locked gazes and recognition made her eyes blaze,her face crease with panic.

    She whispered, “Run.”

    The Lady Cleric’s gun swung, jerked, and a gunshot cracked the air. The fairy-girl convulsedthen was still, so still.

    I was frozen, horrified. I’d seen demons bagged and tagged before when they had dared tobreach the Wall and threaten human society, but we were Outside. This was their territory.

    What could she, a fairy-girl child, have possibly done to deserve torture and execution?

    “Show yourself,” commanded the Lady Cleric. She stepped forward this time and her eyes roamedthe space. She clutched the gun more securely between her hands. “Show yourself, I say. Comeout so we can look at you.”

    When a Cleric asked you a question you answered, and if they bade you to do something, you didit. They upheld Sect Doctrine. The Sect was the single most powerful organization humankindinvested their faith and security in. If a Cleric told you to do something, the Sect wastelling you to do something. And you did it without question, without thinking. They commandedand you obeyed.

    I knew if I did as she asked, I was as dead as the fairy-girl on the floor not ten feet fromme. Her word echoed in my ear. Run . It was the only plan I had. I stood from my hiding place,wheeled on the spot, and bolted into the darkness.

    The sound of another bullet split the air. Something whipped past my arm and left a hot sting.Feet stumbling, the tears streamed down my face. Thorny branches tore at my clothes and hair. Icrashed through the undergrowth, not caring how loud I was or that they would be able to trackme I needed to get away. Run, run and hide. I had witnessed something hidden, and knew if theycaught me, they would kill me.

    A dark shape jumped into my path and brought the butt of a gun hurtling toward my face. Oneforearm came up to protect my head and jerked violently. Then I cranked back my fist andsnapped it forward. The answering grunt told me it was the Lady Cleric. As she staggered thegun swung again, barrel first and forced me to drop and roll. Using the force of my bodypopping up, I spun, cocked my leg and kicked like mule. My heel connected with her upper backand sent her off-kilter-stance to hell. She flew toward a tree, spindly arms and legs flailingto hit an oak trunk hard. She collapsed to the floor in a messed up heap.

    I’d struck a Cleric. Something crazy people with death wishes did. It was dark and I frettedshe saw my face and would recognize me in a crowd. People had always said my hazel eyes were anoutlandish shade hard to disregard and off-putting.

    Loud footfalls pounded behind me, getting closer. I ran again.

    Short violent barks turned my blood to ice. Hounds, they had bloodhounds. I forced strengthinto moving my feet one in front of the other. Hands fisted, my arms alternated pumping backand forth. The air was solid resistance I needed to punch out of the way as much as the treebranches riddling my path. But I was tired. For the first time I felt my abnormal strength andstamina waning. There was a growl behind me, too close, and a snap of jaws at my heel.

    My mind emptied and my heart skipped a thump as unexpected energy trilled through my body likean electric shock. The dark deepened into new dimensions. Shades of electric blue and purpletinted my vision, and I could see everything. Power exploded from my centre, filling my body tothe brim. A sound like guck choked out of my throat in ecstasy, I felt so animated. I shotforward like a comet and the forest blurred into flowing lines I distinguished as if standingstill. Air glided out my way as I hurtled forward, and my feet glanced effortlessly off thefloor, not leaving the slightest imprint in the earth beneath me.

Taken by shock, I planted my feet and slammed to still.

    The landscape shifted dramatically, and my sense of direction was completely disoriented. Itrembled at the thrumming of air crashing into the collapsing void I’d created behind. Then myeyes started to hurt, opened too wide. The lash of pain on my arm flared painfully then dulledinto nothing. I wiped at it. Again and again, crying out and scrubbing at my arm in paniclooking for the graze. There was nothing but clammy skin and a dried smear of blood where a cut

     be. should

    It was then the fear took hold of me and I lost control. My chest heaved and I choked a sob.The crazy sound smashing my ears had me seeing double, and my own breath razed across myeardrums. Racked with shivers, I curled into a ball at the base of a tree. My body spasmed oncethen the convulsions were frequent and uncontrollable. I kept my teeth clenched to avoid bitingmy tongue and tucked my arms into my sides. The position, though safe was not comforting. Iburied my face in the leaves and scrunched my legs into my chest. I cried out at each lash ofpain. My muscles kept up this hedonistic clench and release until they cramped into bunches.Waves of heat shot down my spine, and splinters of ice burrowed into the space between mypores. Each assault was more painful than the last. I shivered as the wind fluttered my sweatsoaked my clothes. What hurt most was my head, the pumping of blood in my ears, ringing betweenmy eyes, and the overwhelming scent of my own fear clogging my nose.

    Gradually the pain subsided and breathing became easier. My heart took it down a notch and Iwas grateful, for I was not sure it could take much more. Quivering, my muscles relaxed andstayed relaxed. With a great measure of wonder, I realized there was no longer pain, but anoverwhelming sense of all things. Despite my emotional exhaustion my body felt better, and Ifelt different. Strong.

    “Have you calmed down now?” asked an amused voice above me. “I have been told an awakeningis easier if you are calm.”

    I sprung up to defend myself. My hands were fisted and my face fierce.

    At first sight all I made out was a male shape, an impression of someone tall and built. In thelightening dark all I could see were his eyes, wide and cold eyes touched with mad, framed by atangle of thick lashes. His grey irises were so light they could be silver. They burned,scorched me as his gaze flicked over my face and body. He wore dark, faded jeans and that wasthat. Feet and chest bare, he was the least civilized boy I’d seen. His skin, pale and coveredwith intricate tattoos, scintillated even in the absence of light. During my steady appraisalmy hands had dropped and relaxed, but they clenched again. Boys slid their eyes up and down youbefore whistling to catch your attention. They did not stare at you until your insides felt

    like outsides. The directness of his gaze had me mystified, and I was already under theinfluence of so many emotions the only way I could react to something I could not understand,was with violence.

    However, he remained close and did not look alarmed at my aggressive posture. Belittling thetense atmosphere, his face lit up with a smile.

    “Rae,” he murmured and stepped closer.

    He lifted his arms as if to embrace me. One more step would close the distance between uscompletely.

    I was scared, so scared. I couldn’t speak. There were no words or coherent thoughts in myhead. It was a jumble of panic and cautious interest. Who was he? Was he another Cleric? Wouldhe kill me now? Oh gods. I would become one of the faceless and nameless that went missingevery year. To be forgotten as my body rotted or was left to become a demon dinner. I couldn’thandle it, nor could my body functions manage the full-scale meltdown. My legs buckled and theworld went a funny gray colour. I fainted, but told myself I didn’t have time to faint, andcame to in the next second. Not that my actions meant anything, or my revival is what stoppedmy ass hitting the ground. The boy darted forward so fast his body blurred, and something hardand invisible shunted into me. So hard it knocked the breath from my lungs. Pushed off centre,

my legs flew up and the sky swung into view.

    He’d caught me.

    “Stop talking,” he said. Then smiled.

    I stared up at him dumbly. Was he making a joke? I hadn’t said a word. In fact I think I’dforgotten to breathe since I saw him, and that’s what caused my half fainting spell.

    I shifted. My top rode up some and his fingers touched my back. Something hot and powerfulinvaded me. It charged through my body until every muscle was tense and straining, not pleasantafter the baptism of ice and fire I’d been an intimate and unwilling subject of before. Andthen it was gone, dissipating into nothing. I relaxed so completely it felt like my bones hadunhinged, and my muscles liquefied.

    The boy’s face was blank with shock. Had he felt the painful heat too? I hoped so, because Iwas sure it was his fault.

    There was a fracas nearby, getting closer and louder. My heart did a good job of clamberinginto my throat and blocking my airway. The party hunting me crashed past and kept on going. Theboy, who had crouched down with me on his knee whilst I had worked on breathing right, duckedhis head down and tensed. I felt better because he too was barely breathing. My heart thunderedand my thoughts raced. The bloodhounds were trained to follow the weakest of trails. Whydidn’t they smell me when my scent would have led them right to us? This brought me round tothe daunting thought of how I got so far ahead, was able to roll around on the floor, andencounter a strange boy before they had caught up. Again, who was this boy, over whose arm andknee, I was draped? Not that it was uncomfortable, but he’d put his hands on me so easily, andheld me close and it felt…good. The shock had me relaxing and looking down at his hands. Theywere big, hard and somehow elegant as they curled around me.

    The hunting party passed out of sight and hearing range. My stomach unclenched, and my heartslid back down to rest uneasily in my chest. The boy remained as he was and peered into myface. My heart raced at how tall and how strong he was. Hair cut close to his head the generalimpression was hardness. A heavy top brow, and sharp cheekbones rested high on a sculpted face.His nose was the opposite of the distinctive aquiline bridge most boy Disciples had, and Iliked it. His bold eyebrows and masculine lips added depth to a face that needed no flattering.The scent of soil and sunlight reached me as I watched his silver eyes flick from my face, tothe leather cord at my neck.

    “We’ve been looking for you,” he said.

    The first words I’d spoken all day were, “Nobody looks for me, and how do you know my name?”Taken aback by the feeble quality of my own voice, I lifted my chin and added some gusto. “Imean, put me down. Now.”

    He did no such thing and he did not answer my question. But he did smile again, and what aspectacular show it was. His body was heavy and hot. Through the fabric of my clothes I feltthe hard lines of him, and the slow thump of his heart over mine. Without thinking, I reachedto touch his jaw and it felt like strength. My fingertips glided over a raised slash of skin,and a quick tug tilted his head so I could see more of his profile. I traced a scar followingthe line of his jaw, curving up to his cheekbone. The skin was puckered, rough. His eyes metmine and I shrugged, the scar made him real to me. I snaked my hands up his bare, solidshoulders and jumped off him so I stood on my own two feet.

    I knew without a shadow of doubt this boy would rather die than hurt me.

    “Rae,” he said softly. I shivered from silky soft calling of my name, but then he finishedwith, “My name is Breandan, and you are mine.”

    My whole body jolted. Then my startled laugh broke the short silence. Needing space to thinkand breathe, I pushed away from him.

    “In your dreams ,” I said and spun around.

    I tried to pin down a direction to run toward. I realized at that moment my solution wasdownright silly and ineffective. See bad, scary or confusing thing, turn and run from bad,scary or confusing thing until you bump into another bad, scary or confusing thing. I was

    getting nowhere fast.

    “You wouldn’t say such a thing if you knew the truth. And since I saw you first you have tobe mine. The white witch was right, and now I’ll never hear the end of it. I didn’t think youwould come out here so soon and so freely. I tried to ignore you, even when you got lost, butwhen I heard you running away from them I had to help. They would have caught you.”

    I’d stopped moving in the middle of this rationalization. His voice was awfully attractive. Icould never describe how it sounded because it would only ever sound perfect to me, and no oneelse. Once I’d gotten past hearing the words I thought over the meaning. In delayed

    reaction my chest puffed out and I bristled.

    “The hell I do. People don’t belong to one another, and I certainly do not belong to you,even if you did see me first…whatever that means. What stupid–”

    He moved closer then I could see nothing but his eyes again. Mouth suddenly dry, I was unableto finish my scathing rebuttal, and it took a moment to un-stick my tongue from the roof of mymouth. A warm rolling sensation formed in the pit of my stomach and lodged there. It was an oddsensation, it even hurt a little, but it was a nice pain. I breathed in deeply through my noseand expelled the breath through my mouth. The whole deep breathing thing was helping.

    “Okay then, Breandan,” I said serenely but my heart thumped too hard and he coked his head asif he could hear it. I went on nonetheless, “What do you want? Why are you in the forest,alone?” The best defense is a good offence, and I could give as good as I got. “This is demonterritory y’know. I can admit I was freaked and a bit off course.” He snorted a laugh and mytemper bloated into righteous indignation. “It’s dark out here. I was running away from theClerics because… they had dogs.” My eyes darted to and from his now, uncomfortable with thelie. “And I…don’t like dogs. They bark. Loudly. And how do you know my name?”

    There was a beat of silence as his eyes held mine. “You will have to get out of the habit oflying. You won’t be able to do that for much longer. And anyway, you don’t have to explainanything to me. I understand. I know you, and that is why we have come for you.”

    “Are you from the slums?”

    For a bad moment there I had assumed he was from the Sect. I would be in a world trouble ifanyone saw me out here. I was beyond the Wall, which was forbidden, and I had seen… I didn’twant to think about the horror I’d seen, and how I’d been foolish enough to get caught seeingthe thing I saw. I had disobeyed a direct order from a Cleric, something I, a Disciple trainingto be a Cleric, should never do. No, I was not so sure anymore. If Breandan was from the Secthe’d have called to the Clerics, not hidden me from them. If he was a civilian, I didn’t seehow he could come to be lost Outside. After all, you would have to get past the Wall to make itout here. There was not a human alive that didn’t understand the dangers of going over theWall and into demon territory.

    I felt stupid then. If there was not a human alive who didn’t know how dangerous it wasOutside, what the hell was I doing Outside? I was going to have very serious words withmyself.

    “Coming for you is not something I chose, and believe me, if I could change it I would.” Hepaused and shook his head. “We are stuck. You belong to me,” he repeated. “And I to you. Nowwe have touched it is sealed. Alright?”

    Sealed my ass. I decided then and there, I did not like this boy.

    “You cannot appear next to me in the middle of demon territory and say such silly things,” Isaid, strained. “You’re beginning to scare me.”

    That was another lie. I was beyond sacred now. My body couldn’t keep up a constant pitch ofterror, so it had simply gone beyond terror and pressed a big reset button. I was too afraidoutside to be anything but calm inside. Voice unattractively shrill, I lowered my clenched fist

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