Unmarked, p.21

Unmarked, page 21

 part  #2 of  The Legion Series

 

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For a second, I was speechless, and I couldn’t do anything except shake my head back and forth. “No. There has to be another—”

  “There’s no other way.” He dropped my wrists and pulled his arms over his head until the shackles were resting behind his neck. “If I’m going to die, I want to take him with me.”

  My throat burned and tears rolled down my face. “We have an idea. Just give us a little more time.” I couldn’t risk telling him the details, not with Andras reading his thoughts.

  Jared’s gaze trailed from the wet walls of the cell to the burns covering his chest and up to the Devil’s Trap on the ceiling. Finally, he looked at me, his face marked with pain I could see as easily as the scars. “I don’t know how much time I have left.”

  I stared back at him, trying to make sense of the words. My stomach clenched and every part of me felt empty and numb. I took a shaky breath, tears blurring my eyes.

  He moved closer, and I stepped back too fast.

  “I’m sorry,” I said, realizing what I’d done.

  He walked up to the bars, his movements slow and tentative. “I just wanted to—” His blue eyes were full of pain and confusion.

  It’s Jared. He won’t hurt me.

  If I was wrong, he could kill me.

  As long as I don’t have to kill him.

  I took a step closer, then another, until we were only a foot apart.

  “I just wanted to say goodbye.” He reached through the bars, and I didn’t move. “There are so many things I wish I’d told you. The way I feel about you…”

  My heart pounded. “Tell me now.”

  He reached through the bars and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye with his thumb. I shut my eyes. I wanted him to know I trusted him, no matter how stupid or reckless it seemed.

  Jared’s fingers curled in and touched my jaw, and he traced the path of my tears with his thumb.

  My eyes flew open and I caught his wrist, pulling it away from my face. “Don’t. The sigil will burn you.”

  His pulse thundered against my skin. “I’ve been burned before.”

  “Not like this,” I said.

  “I don’t care.”

  “But I do,” I whispered.

  Jared let his finger trail down my cheek until it reached my lips. I kept my eyes locked on his as the ash burned him. He never flinched. Then he pulled his fingers back inside the bars and held up his palm.

  I raised my own, until our hands were only inches apart—a reflection in the broken mirror that had become our lives.

  Our palms met against the iron, and he closed his hand around mine. “Every person has one thing that defines them. A truth they believe in above everything else. You are my truth.”

  Elle was sitting on her bed with a book when I opened our door. She jumped and shoved the cloth-covered volume under her blanket.

  “What are you reading?”

  Elle didn’t respond right away, and a strange expression passed over her face. Then she slid the frayed volume out from underneath the blanket and held it up.

  “Summoning Circles in Demonology: Doorways to Darkness. Where did you get that?” I asked.

  She scrambled to the end of the bed and crossed her legs like we used to do at summer camp when we stayed up late, telling secrets. “Dimitri lent it to me. I wanted to learn more about paranormal entities.”

  Paranormal entities?

  “When did you start using ghost hunting terminology?” A few days ago, she thought EMF was an acronym for Electro-Magnified Ghost Finder.

  She stiffened, which wasn’t like her. Elle never got uncomfortable; making other people feel that way was her specialty.

  “Does this have anything to do with Lukas?”

  Elle’s shoulders relaxed. “Maybe.”

  “Maybe? That’s all I get?” Usually, Elle spilled every detail related to the guy she liked, and plenty about the ones she didn’t like.

  She dropped the heavy book on the floor. “I’ve done enough reading for tonight, and you look tired. Do you think you can sleep?”

  “I hope so.”

  After I changed into sweats and crawled in bed, she turned off the lights. Part of me expected her to flip them back on and tell me everything. But she didn’t.

  I replayed my visit with Jared, focusing on the happy moments.

  His voice.

  Touching his skin.

  You are my truth.

  Thoughts of him lulled me to sleep.

  The chains are gone.

  Jared is standing in front of me, shirtless in his frayed jeans. He’s soaking wet and barefoot. His coffee-colored hair is wet, too—messy and curling at his neck.

  My eyes sweep over the scars on his chest and up to his face.

  He smiles at me, and his pale blue eyes light up beneath long black eyelashes that would be wasted on any other guy.

  He’s still in the cell, but the door is open, and I’m in here, too.

  Together.

  That’s all I can think.

  “Come here,” he says.

  I walk toward him, unable to speak.

  The nightmare is finally over.

  I can feel it in my bones—in my heart. It’s the way he’s looking at me, and the fact that the chains are gone.

  When I’m close enough, he hooks a finger through the belt loop of my jeans and pulls me closer.

  We’re a foot apart, and he holds me there. “I want to look at you.” He tucks my hair behind my ear, and the moment his fingers touch my skin, I shiver. “I never thought I’d be able to touch you again.”

  My throat burns, and I don’t try to hold back my tears. I feel happy in a way I’ve never experienced before—safe and whole. “Me too.”

  Jared slides his hand behind my neck and steps closer. Our lips are touching, but he hasn’t kissed me, yet. “I dreamed about this,” he whispers. “All those nights I spent locked in this cell. This is what I thought about.”

  I push up on my toes because he is so much taller than me, holding his shoulders for balance. I kiss him, and he relaxes against me.

  Everything is going to be okay now.

  He pulls back and looks at me, cradling my face. “On the worst nights—when I slept on the floor because it hurt to move, from Gabriel’s whip digging into my flesh and holy water burning every inch of my body—I thought about this moment.”

  Jared’s hands drift down to my neck, and his grip tightens. “And what it would feel like to be inside your skin.”

  His blue eyes are lost in shadow, the black ink filling them until every trace of the boy I am falling in love with is gone.

  Alara and Dimitri returned later that night.

  “Anything?” I asked.

  Alara shook her head slowly. Nothing more needed to be said. They hadn’t found the Shift. In a single moment, the scrap of hope I had been holding onto vanished.

  29. UNCAGED

  I waited until morning to sneak down and visit Jared again. I had to tell him the truth about the Shift—that it was the key to saving him, and we had no idea where to find it. If Andras knew what happened to it, maybe Jared knew, too. More evidence of their horrific mind meld was the last thing I wanted. But Jared was running out of time.

  One of the bulbs had burned out at the end of the tunnel, leaving parts of the cell in shadow, along with Jared. Even in the darkness, he looked broken, and I felt myself breaking.

  He doesn’t deserve this.

  Iron bars were the only things separating us.

  He didn’t look up from where he sat on the cell floor, leaning against the wall, in nothing but a pair of jeans. I glanced at the chains binding his wrists. With his head bowed, he looked exactly the same.

  But he’s not.

  I let my fingers curl around the wet metal bars. Several times a day, holy water rained from the sprinklers in the ceiling. I fought the urge to unlock the door and let him out.

  “I told you not to come down here anymore.” He hadn’t moved, but I knew he didn’t need to
see me to sense my presence. “No one else will.”

  He meant Lukas, Priest, and Alara.

  “Everyone’s trying to figure this out. They don’t know what to do about—” The words caught in my throat.

  “About me.” He rose from the floor, and walked toward me—and the bars separating us.

  As he drew closer, I counted the links in the chain hanging between his wrists. Anything to keep from looking him in the eye. But instead of moving away, I gripped the bars tighter. He reached out and wrapped his hands around the metal above mine. Close but not touching.

  “Don’t!”

  Steam rose from the cold-iron bars as the holy water seared his scarred skin. He held on too long, intentionally letting his palms burn.

  “You shouldn’t be here,” he whispered. “It’s not safe.”

  Hot tears ran down my cheeks. Every decision we’d made up to this point felt wrong now: the chains coiled around his wrists, the cell doused in holy water, the bars keeping him caged like an animal.

  “I know you’d never hurt me,” I whispered.

  The words had barely left my lips when Jared lunged at the bars. He grabbed at my throat and I jumped back, his cold fingers grazing my skin as I slipped out of reach.

  “You’re wrong about that, little dove.” His voice sounded different, cruel and soulless.

  Laughter echoed off the walls and chills rippled through me. I realized what everyone else had known all along.

  The boy I knew was gone.

  The one caged before me now was a monster.

  And I was the one who would have to kill him.

  Unless I could find a way to save him.

  30. MARKED

  The next morning, I holed up in the athenaeum with Faith’s journal, trying not the think about the way his hand had felt around my neck. I knew it wasn’t Jared, but the voice sounded exactly like his, and I kept hearing it.

  I lost myself in the journal, skimming over the older more damaged entries until I reached what had to be Faith’s handwriting. The word nightmares jumped out at me, begging me to read.

  The nightmares are getting worse. Sometimes I don’t sleep for days hoping to outrun them. But when I finally close my eyes, they’re waiting. I’ve started painting them. Once I complete a painting, the nightmare stops. But a new one always begins. I keep thinking one day, I’ll paint something and it will be over. I will fall asleep that night and I won’t even dream.

  I flipped a few pages until I reached another entry.

  My dad told me the truth about my specialty today. He saw one of my paintings—a little boy in khaki shorts and a red blazer, lying dead in the street. There’s a symbol carved into his forehead, and a shadowy figure hovering above him. In my dream, I knew it was a demon. I even knew his name.

  Azazel.

  My hand shook when I saw the demon’s name.

  Azazel.

  The name of Gabriel’s whip.

  At first, Dad seemed shocked by the painting. But he looked proud, as if I’d painted the Mona Lisa instead of a dead kid. Then he showed me the picture in the newspaper. It was my painting—every detail except the shadowy figure.

  Invocation and precognition is my specialty.

  Dad says invocation is something he can teach me, not that I want to learn to summon and command demons or angels. They seem equally alien, and I don’t want to face either one. But precognition is scarier. It’s a gift, he said. Which means it cannot be taught. If you are one of the “lucky ones,” as he calls them, images come to you. Images of a future that hasn’t happened yet. If the dreams came to him, he’d know there was nothing lucky about them.

  I tried to imagine seeing a child’s death before it happened—seeing a photograph of a scene from one of my paintings. It was a miracle Faith didn’t lose her mind and go completely crazy, carrying around that kind of burden with her. I remembered when Lukas, Jared, Priest, and Alara first told me that invocation was my specialty.

  When they thought I was one of them.

  Faith and I had such similar reactions. The ability to summon, and supposedly command, angels and demons and hadn’t seemed “special” to me either.

  It doesn’t matter. You don’t have a specialty.

  I turned back to the journal, pushing the thought away.

  Last night’s dream was strange. The words came first, which has never happened before. And I even saw a date.

  Under the wings of a hawk, a dove will be born.

  Not a black dove bound by the ties of centuries past.

  But a white dove, born in this one to break the ties that bind us.

  And set us free.

  July 30th

  The recognized the date.

  I must’ve read it wrong.

  July 30th. My birthday.

  The images came later. Alex holding a baby, with a tiny hospital bracelet around her wrist. He’s in the nursery, and I know it’s his baby because I can see the card taped to the isolette: Kennedy Rose Waters. July 30th.

  Below the entry, Faith had drawn a simple sketch of a girl, with the snow-white wings of a dove, standing at the edge of a cliff. It reminded me of the painting I was working on when my mom died. A girl standing on a ledge of a building, with gnarled sparrow wings growing out of her back too scared to fly.

  But instead of painful, unwanted wings, the girl’s wings in Faith’s drawing were breathtaking and full—the kind of wings that could carry her.

  I’m not sure how many times I re-read the page or what shocked me more; knowing Faith predicted my birth down to my name and the day, or the idea that I was the white dove. Faith’s entry made it sound important, as if I had some kind of destiny. Maybe there was still room for me somewhere in my friends’ story.

  Later that night, I went to see Jared. But this time, I didn’t go alone.

  Elle hugged her parka tighter around her thin frame. “It’s freezing down here.”

  Lukas pulled her against his shoulder, and rubbed his hand up and down her arm. “The more powerful the demon, the colder it gets.”

  Subzero temperatures couldn’t have prepared me for what waited at the end of the tunnel, inside Jared’s cell. The demon stood in the center of the Devil’s Trap, his arms outstretched like he was soaking in the sun. New scars mixed with the old ones to create a map of pain. Behind him, every inch of the cell was covered in frenzied writing—letters, characters, words, and symbols overlapping or spiraling in circles.

  Priest pointed at the script scrawled across the mattress. “That’s Assyrian for sure.”

  Gabriel stood at the bars, speechless. “Sumerian. Ammonite. Minoan. Aramaic. We need to know what the hell it says.”

  Distorted drawings of monstrous creatures marred the floor: falcon-headed wolves with human limbs, and masked creatures morphing from equestrian bodies, their claws clutching swords and battleaxes.

  “Was there anything like this in the book you were reading?” I asked Elle.

  Elle looked at me like I was crazy. “What book?”

  “The one Dimitri lent you,” I said.

  She frowned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you okay?”

  I glanced at Lukas. Maybe she didn’t want him to know.

  Alara gasped, pointing at what looked like demonic Morse code.

  “Enochian, the language of light and darkness,” Alara said. “Of angels and demon.”

  Andras turned his head slowly toward Alara. “Only a witch would use those words to describe the tongue of the Labyrinth.”

  She pulled back her shoulders and stepped closer to the bars. “I am not a witch.”

  The demon laughed, a hollow and empty sound. “You deal in spells and wards, elements and earth. Your kind met their ends in flames, in both our worlds. But in the Labyrinth, we don’t burn witches at the stake. You set fire to one another. And when your souls have burned to ash, the Dark Prince resurrects them so they can be burned again.” Andras smiled at Alara. “Your grandmother is probably there
right now, burning as we speak. I can almost smell the stench of her soul.”

  “My grandmother is not in hell,” Alara snapped.

  He cocked his head. “Are you sure?”

  Alara slipped the paintball gun from her tool belt, her delicate features contorted with rage.

  Priest grabbed her arm, guiding it back down at her side. “He’s just trying to get under your skin.”

  She pointed a shaky finger at Andras. “I’m gonna be the one who kills your miserable ass, you hear me?”

  “You’re talking about Jared,” I said softly. A fact that didn’t seem to register with her at all.

  Alara spun around, her face only inches from mine, and she pointed at the bars. “That thing is not Jared.”

  “Let’s calm down.” Gabriel scanned the tunnel for Dimitri. “Andras is the Author of Discords. He tries to incite anger and dissention. We’re giving Andras what he wants.”

  “Shut up, Gabriel,” Alara snapped.

  The demon walked toward the incomprehensible writing on the wall. As he turned, Jared’s back came into view. Every inch of his skin was covered in the same indecipherable symbols. The drawings themselves weren’t as disturbing as the placement; Jared’s lower back, between his shoulder blades—spots he couldn’t possibly reach with his wrists chained in front of him.

  Elle inched closer to Lukas. “We have officially entered The Exorcist territory.”

  Footsteps echoed behind us, and Dimitri emerged from the mouth of the tunnel.

  “What the hell took so long?” Gabriel demanded.

  “I had to add rock salt to the tank. The concentration isn’t strong enough anymore.” Dimitri unzipped a cracked, leather bag and tossed dusty journals and books with crumbling spines on the floor.

  “Did you bring the bells?”

  Dimitri unearthed a dozen chipped, wide-mouthed bells, suspended from thick loops of rope.

  “Bells?” Priest stared at Dimitri, dumbfounded. “That’s your plan?”

  Dimitri shoved one into his hands. “These are altar bells, used in some of the most revered churches in history, including the Vatican. He’s getting stronger, and we need to counteract that. The sound will weaken him.”

 
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