The daimon stilled as the glamour settled around him. He sniffed the air, eyes flaring wide. “You smell dif—”
Swinging with all my might, I slammed the bottom of the lamp into the daimon’s head. The sickening thud in made pleased me in a way that would’ve concerned guidance counselors across the nation. It wouldn’t kill him, but it sure as hell made me feel better.
I threw the busted lamp down and raced to the window. I pushed it open just as the daimon let out a string of creative cusses and threats. I wiggled into the window, perching there as I stared at the ground below, assessing my chances of landing on the awning over the small porch off the back of the house.
The part of me that had been in the mortal world too long balked at the idea of jumping from a second story window. The other part—the part that had the blood of the gods running through it—jumped.
The metal roof made a terrible sound when my feet slapped into it. I didn’t think as I went to the edge and leapt once more. I hit the grass, falling to my knees. Pushing up, I ignored the stunned looks from the neighbors who must’ve come outside to see what was going on. I did the one thing I’d been trained never to do during my time at the Covenant, the thing I didn’t want to do, but knew I had to.
With my cheeks still damp with tears and my hands stained with my mother’s blood, I ran.
A deep numbness settled over me as I stood in a gas station bathroom. I turned my hands over and rubbed them together under the rush of icy water, watching the basin turn red, and then pink, and then clear. I kept washing my hands until they, too, felt numb.
Every so often a spasm shot through my legs and my arms would twitch, no doubt a by-product of running and running until an ache had settled so far into my body that every step had jarred my bones. My eyes kept flicking to the garden spade as if I needed to assure myself that it was still within reach. I’d placed it on the edge of the sink, but it didn’t feel like it was close enough.
Turning off the faucet, I picked it up and slid it under the waistband of my jeans. The sharp edges bit into the flesh of my hip, but I tugged my shirt down over it, welcoming the little stab of pain.
I left the dingy bathroom, walking in no particular direction. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat and my legs protested the whole walking thing. I’d take a few steps, touch the handle of the spade through my shirt, walk some more and repeat.
Take the money and run…
But run where? Where was I supposed to go? We didn’t have any close friends that we’d trusted with the truth. The mortal part urged me to go to the police, but what could I say to them? By now, someone would have called 911 and her body would’ve been found. Then what? If I went to the authorities, I’d be placed in the state system even
though I was seventeen. We’d exhausted all of our money in the last three years and there were no funds left over except the few hundred dollar bills in my pocket. Lately, my mom had taken to using compulsions to get cheaper rates whenever we’d had bills to pay.
I kept walking as my brain tried to answer the question of what happens now? The sun was beginning to set. I could only hope the humidity would ease off some. My throat felt like I’d swallowed a dry sponge and my stomach grumbled unhappily. I ignored them both, continuing to put as much distance between my house and me as I could.
Where to go?
Like a sucker punch in the stomach, I saw my mom. Not how she’d looked last night, when she’d told me she loved me, that image of her escaped me. Now I kept seeing her dulled, green eyes.
A sharp stab of pain caused my step to falter. The ache in my chest, in my soul, threatened to consume me. I can’t do this. Not without her.
I had to do this.
In spite of the humidity and heat, I shivered. Wrapping my arms around my chest, I barreled down the street, scanning the crowds for the horrific face of a daimon. Several seconds would pass before the elemental magic they wielded would have an effect on me. It might give me enough time to make it run for it, but they obviously could sense the little aether I had in me. It didn’t seem likely that they’d follow me; daimons didn’t actively hunt half-bloods. They’d tag and drain us if they happened across us, but they wouldn’t seek us out. The diluted aether in us wasn’t as appealing as that of the pures.
I wandered the streets aimlessly until I spied a motel that looked somewhat decent. I needed to get off the streets before nightfall. Miami after dark wasn’t a place a lone, teenage girl skipped around happily.
After grabbing some burgers from a nearby fast food joint, I checked in at the motel. The guy behind the counter didn’t look twice at the sweaty girl standing in front of him—with no luggage and only a bag of food—asking for a room. As long as I paid in cash, he didn’t even care that I didn’t show any ID.
My room was on the first floor at the end of narrow, musty hallway. There were questionable sounds coming from some of the rooms, but I was more disturbed by the dirty carpet than the low moans.
The bottoms of my worn sneakers looked cleaner.
I shuffled the burgers and drink to my other arm as I opened the door to room 13. The irony of the number didn’t pass me by; I was just too tired and out of it to care.
Surprisingly, the room smelled good, courtesy of the peach air freshener plugged into the wall outlet. I set my stuff down on the small table and pulled out the garden spade. Lifting my shirt, I inched down the band of my pants and ran my fingers over the indentations the blade had left in my skin.
It could be worse. I could be like my mo—
“Stop it!” I hissed at myself. “Just stop it.”
But the aching pain welled up anyway. It was like feeling nothing and everything all at once. I drew in a shallow breath, but it hurt. Seeing my mom lying beside the bed still didn’t seem real. None of this did. I kept expecting to wake up and find that everything had been a nightmare.
I just hadn’t woken up yet.
I rubbed my hands on my face. There was a burning in the back of my throat, a tightness that made it hard to swallow. She’s gone. She’s gone. My mom’s gone. I grabbed the bag of burgers and ripped into them. I ate them angrily, stopping every couple of mouthfuls to take a huge gulp from my cup. After the second one, my stomach cramped. I dropped the wrapper and rushed toward the bathroom. Falling to my knees in front of the toilet, everything came back up.
My sides ached by the time I fell back against the wall, pushing the heels of my palms against my burning eyes. Every couple of seconds my mom’s blank stare flashed up, alternating with the look on the daimon’s face before he’d burst into blue powder. I opened my eyes, but I still saw her, saw the blood that’d run over the purple petals, saw the blood everywhere. My arms started to tremble.
I can’t do this.
I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my head on them. I slowly rocked, replaying not just the last twenty-four hours over and over again, but the last three years. All those times I’d had a chance to figure out a way to contact the Covenant and hadn’t. Missed opportunities. Chances I’d never get back. I could’ve tried to figure out how to reach the Covenant. One call would’ve prevented this from happening.
I wanted a do-over—just one more day to confront my mom and demand we go back to the Covenant and face whatever had sent us fleeing in the middle of the night.
Together—we could’ve done it together.
My fingers dug into my hair and I pulled. A tiny cry worked its way past my clenched jaw. I yanked on my hair, but the hot flash of pain zinging across my scalp did nothing to relieve the pressure in my chest or the yawning emptiness that filled me.
As a half-blood it was my duty to kill daimons, to protect the pure-bloods from them. I’d failed in the worst way possible. I’d failed my mother. There was no way around that.
I had failed.
And I had run.
My muscles locked up and I felt a sudden rush of fury rise inside me. Balling my hands over my eyes, I kicked out. The heel of my sneaker slammed through the cabinet door below the sink. I pulled my foot free, almost pleased when the cheap particle board scraped my ankle. And I did it again and again.
When I finally did stand and leave the bathroom, the motel room was pitched in darkness. I tugged the chain on the lamp and grabbed the spade. Each step back into the shabby room hurt after forcing my sore muscles into such a cramped position in the bathroom. I sat down on the bed, not meaning to collapse there and not get back up. I’d wanted to check the door again—maybe block it with something—but exhaustion claimed me and I drifted off into a place where I hoped no nightmares could follow me.
Night turned to day, and I didn’t move until the motel manager knocked on the door, asking for more money or for me to get out. Through a tiny crack in the door, I handed him the cash and went back to the bed.
I went on repeat for days. There was a general sense of time changing when I would get up and wobble into the bathroom. I didn’t have the energy to shower, and this wasn’t the kind of place that put out little bottles of shampoo, anyway. There wasn’t even a mirror in here, just a couple of little plastic brackets framing an empty rectangle above the sink. Either moonlight or sunshine would break through the window, and I kept count of each time the manager visited. Three times he’d come to ask for money.
During those days I thought of my mom and I cried until I gagged into my hand. The storm inside me thrashed, threatening to pull me under, and under I went. I curled up in a small ball, not wanting to talk, not wanting to eat. Part of me just wanted to lie there and fade away. The tears had long since come to an unsatisfying end and I just lay there, searching for a way out. There seemed to be an empty void looming up ahead. I welcomed it, rushed in, and sank into its meaningless depths until the manager came the fourth day.
This time he spoke to me after I handed him the cash. “You need something, kid?”
I stared at him through the gap. He was an older guy, maybe in his late forties. He seemed to wear the same pinstriped shirt every day, but it looked clean.
He glanced down the hall, running a hand through thinning brown hair. “Is there anyone I can call for you?”
I didn’t have anyone.
“Well, if you need something, just call the front desk.” He backed away, taking my silence as the answer. “Ask for Fred. That’s me.”
“Fred,” I repeated slowly, sounding like an idiot.
Fred stalled, shaking his head. When he looked back at me, his eyes met mine. “I don’t know what kind of trouble you got yourself in, kid, but you’re too young to be out here and in a place like this. Go home. Go back to where you belong.”
I watched Fred leave and I shut the door behind him, locking it. I turned around slowly and stared at the bed—at the garden spade. My fingers tingled.
Go back to where you belong.
I didn’t belong anywhere. Mom was gone now and—
I pushed away from the door, approaching the bed. I picked up the spade and ran my fingers along the sharp edges. Go back to where you belong. There was only one place I did belong and it wasn’t curled up in ball on a bed in a craptastic motel on the wrong side of Miami.