Make me, p.3

Make Me, page 3

 

Make Me
 


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  Pia nodded solemnly, and I imagine she had experienced both. Despite myself, I hurt for both of them.

  David said, “Be honest. Did you grow up in a loving family? Did they care about you, nurture your gift, help you to find others like yourself, encourage you to be all you could be?” When I remained silent, he continued, “Or were they ashamed of you, did they hide you away from the world, did they try to turn you into something you were not… stunt your powers?”

  “It was for my own good.” But I didn’t believe it, not really.

  He was only voicing the thoughts I’d had for so long. Wonder where he’d learned that?

  I glanced at Fang.

  I DIDN’T TELL HIM, Fang said defensively. I DIDN’T HAVE TO. THEY KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE.

  I sighed. “Okay, I get your point. It sucks being part demon in a human world. So?”

  “So that’s why the Demon Underground was really formed,” David said, sounding intense. “Tonight is the winter solstice. In times past, all of the part-demons who turned eighteen during the year would be brought in on this night to participate in a ritual to make them full-fledged members of the Underground. They would be kidnapped and bound to experience the horror of the past, learn about the history of our persecution, then set free to make a choice. Join the Underground and be protected… or leave and have their memories of the Underground removed, as well as the memories of everyone they’ve ever told about us.”

  “So that’s why you kidnapped me? To initiate me?”

  “One reason,” David confirmed.

  “So let’s do this ritual and get it over with.”

  David grimaced. “I can’t. I don’t know what it is. Micah does, but he’s not sharing.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Micah and the other Underground leaders throughout the US want to pretend we’re past the hatred. They won’t do what needs to be done.” David’s voice rose. “So what happens? My family is killed, Pia is maimed, and you’re left without training, bound to a family who doesn’t love you. And who eventually shunned you.”

  I wasn’t sure I’d go that far, but he had a point. “I’m sure if Micah knew—”

  “What makes you think he didn’t?” David spat. “His father knew we were in danger, but chose to leave us where we were. He knew what might happen, but decided to give the humans the benefit of the doubt.” He leaned forward. “See what happens when you do that? You get Pia, me, you. Damaged goods.”

  WHOA, DUDE, Fang said. INTENSE MUCH?

  Just what I was thinking.

  David relaxed a little. “It was preventable. If only he’d held to the old ways. The rituals and traditions were there for a purpose. They were put in place to keep us safe.”

  Standing up for Micah was getting me nowhere. “Okay. Why am I here? What do you want me to do about it?”

  “Think. You’re a victim of the new ways, just like us. We want you to stop helping the damned vampires. We want you to convince Micah to reinstate the old practices, convince him to be the leader he should be and help his people, not hurt them.”

  Pissed off now, I said, “And how are the old ways any better? You can’t make people accept you. You can’t force them to change their ways. People will still get hurt.”

  “Not demons. The only people who would get hurt are those who try to hurt part-demons who can’t help the way they were born. Do you want to see someone else maimed like Pia was?”

  I stared at the poor siren, her abilities cruelly ripped out of her by her own father. I didn’t want that to happen to anyone. I shook my head mutely.

  “Then, please, help us.”

  “Why me? Why not ask Ludwig or Tessa or someone else?” They’d been in the Underground a lot longer than I had.

  “Because you were one of those who should have been helped. And because, with the Encyclopedia Magicka, you’re a catalyst for change in both the vampire and demon communities.” He shrugged. “Or you can be, if you choose. So, will you cut all ties with the vampires and convince Micah to reinstate the old ways?”

  I watched him for a moment. He obviously believed what he was saying, and was certainly passionate about it. But I couldn’t promise anything without hearing both sides of the story. “Okay, I’ll talk to Micah before I do anything else, I swear.”

  David glanced at Fang, who told him, VAL IS TELLING THE TRUTH. SHE WON’T HARM YOU AND WON’T GO BACK ON HER WORD.

  How could I, when they’d been through so much pain already? “Okay, now let me out and I’ll talk to Micah.”

  David smiled crookedly. “Not necessary. We’ll go get him for you.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Kidnapping again? Seriously?”

  “Again, not necessary. He’s just upstairs.” He nodded at Pia who opened a door at the far end of the room and let Fang out.

  “Huh?”

  “Don’t you know where you are?” David asked.

  “No. Where?”

  “You’re in the basement of Micah’s club.”

  I knew it was the Underground’s headquarters in this city, but… “Club Purgatory?” I asked incredulously. “I-I had no idea this was here.”

  David snorted. “So ask yourself, what other secrets has he kept from you?”

  A very good question—one I was suddenly determined to learn the answer to.

  Chapter Three

  Micah finished totaling up the Club Purgatory receipts for the evening and leaned back in his desk chair, running a hand over his face. God, he was tired. And without much to show for it, either. The economy might be picking back up, but he hadn’t seen it yet in the club’s income this holiday season.

  The club had flourished under his father’s management and Micah had continued his policies after he died, but Micah doubted even his father would have been able to do any better during the recession. He’d tried everything—what else could he do? He’d stepped up the number of sets each night, hoping to entice more women to the club, and it had helped, but not enough. He couldn’t lay anyone off—the demons needed the jobs he provided. He’d been supplementing the club’s income and the Underground with his own savings, but he couldn’t continue doing that forever. Maybe—

  A scratching noise came at the door and Fang’s voice came through loud and clear. MICAH, I NEED YOUR HELP.

  Surprised, Micah rose to let the hellhound in. “What are you doing here?” He glanced down the hallway. Fang couldn’t have gotten in without someone’s assistance. And everyone else was gone for the night. “Is Val with you?”

  SORT OF. THAT’S WHY I NEED YOU. SHE’S… IN THE BASEMENT.

  The basement? Alarm gripped him. The basement and its contents were a closely-guarded secret—one of his father’s less pleasant legacies. How did the hellhound know about it?

  Fang rolled his eyes. PLEASE, DUDE. YOU DO KNOW I CAN READ YOUR MIND?

  “Yes, but how does Val know about it? Did you tell her?”

  NOT EXACTLY. BUT SHE’S LOCKED IN ONE OF THE CELLS AND NEEDS YOU TO LET HER OUT.

  What? Adrenaline spiked through him. “What the hell is going on here?”

  GO DOWNSTAIRS AND YOU’LL FIND OUT.

  Micah rushed down the stairs. Part of the basement was used to hold wine at the proper temperature, but there was a hidden door to another section that others rarely saw… and Micah knew all too well. One of the wine racks was hinged, and he swung it out from the wall, then opened the hidden door. Beyond the door, several cells stood side by side, each kept private from the others by solid walls. Val was in the closest one, clutching the bars from the inside. What the—?

  The only light came from a fat, stubby candle. He reached for the light switch, but Fang said, NO, DON’T. SHE’S BEEN DRUGGED WITH PERDO.

  Perdo? Who would want to remove her powers and lock her up… in his club’s secret basement? Alarmed, Micah grabbed the key ring on the wall and hurried to unlock her cell door. That’s when he saw David and Pia standing in the shadows.

  “You,” he said in ann
oyance. The Underground’s two biggest troublemakers. And Pia was one of the few women he couldn’t control. Incubus abilities were too similar to a siren’s for his power to work on her. “Did you do this to her?”

  “They did,” Val confirmed. “But they think they had good reason.”

  He unlocked the cell door to free her. “Oh, yeah? Like what?” And why couldn’t they have let her out instead of sending Fang after him?

  Val slipped out of the cage. “They wanted to tell me a few things, have me ask you some questions.”

  “So they locked you up?”

  Val shrugged. “There were safety concerns.”

  He glanced from Val to the two troublemakers who had yet to speak. Yeah, well, he understood how cornering Val might be a tricky proposition, but locking her in a cage… “I’ll deal with you two later. Come on, Val.” He nodded toward the stairs, not knowing how much she knew or had seen. “Let’s talk upstairs, where it’s more comfortable.”

  Val leaned back against the bars. “No, thanks, cuz. I think I’d rather do this here.”

  Hell. What did that mean? Micah’s mind whirled as he debated how he could keep her in the dark about everything that was down here.

  Fang snorted. SORRY, DUDE. AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.

  “So, how about a few questions?” Val asked.

  Annoyed, he said, “Okay, ask.”

  “Why do you have jail cells in your basement?”

  He told her a partial truth. “My father put them in, in case we needed to restrain vampires or violent demons. It’s where we held Josh and Andrew for a while after they stole the encyclopedia, until we figured out what to do with them.”

  “In a jail cell?” Val asked. Her expression was both thoughtful and uncertain.

  “Yes,” he said, hating how defensive he sounded. “Would you rather we’d turned them over to the police?” He headed toward the door. “Come on. Don’t you want to get out of here?” He knew he did.

  Stubbornly, she sat in one of the chairs outside the cell, locking her arms over her chest. “Not yet. How many people know about your dungeon?”

  He winced at her word choice. “Not many.” Too many, now that Fang and Val knew… not to mention David and Pia. He wondered how much more they’d told her.

  SHE KNOWS A LOT. BUT NOT EVERYTHING. YET.

  Was that a threat? Suddenly, Micah felt as though everything he’d tried to hide was about to become public. He turned on David. “What’s this all about?”

  The scarred demon stepped forward into the candlelight, then sat in the other chair and leaned back, giving Micah a challenging look. Pia came to stand behind him. “You know,” he said.

  Micah sighed. “That again? You think imprisoning Val would make me agree to go back to the old ways?” What was this, a play for his position? He wouldn’t put it past David.

  “No,” Val said. “He wanted me to hear both sides of the argument.”

  “Okay, fine.” Micah crossed his arms. “What do you want to know?”

  Val shrugged. “Tell me why you don’t want to go back to the old ways.”

  At least she could usually be reasoned with. He wasn’t so sure about David and Pia. Micah grabbed a chair from against the wall and dragged it over to them. Turning it backward, he straddled the ladderback and leaned forward to address Val earnestly. “My father did away with those traditions a long time ago. I agree with him. They’re archaic, no longer pertinent in today’s modern times.”

  Val shook her head. “That’s not an answer. That’s a sound bite.”

  “Outdated policies and meaningless rituals, with guys in robes standing around talking a bunch of mumbo jumbo? Come on, Val. It’s straight out of a B movie.”

  “They’re not meaningless,” David said.

  “How would you know?” Micah asked. “Have you ever seen one?”

  “No, have you?” David challenged.

  Micah shook his head. “My father did away with most of them when I was young.”

  “So you don’t really know the purpose or what they’re all about?” Val asked.

  “Yes, I do. I’ve read the Book of Rituals. Trust me, Val, the rituals are antiquated, obsolete. We need to progress with the times.”

  THEY WORKED FOR CENTURIES, Fang said.

  “Maybe. But if I tried it now, they’d laugh me out of the Underground.”

  “I doubt it,” David said. “I think they’d be glad you were reviving traditions that once protected us.”

  “Well, I don’t, and one of those rituals you love so much chose me as leader of the San Antonio Demon Underground. I make the decisions here. We’re done.” Pulling rank wouldn’t solve anything, but neither would this conversation. He stood. “Come on, it’s late. Let’s go home.”

  “Not yet,” Val said. “Sit down.”

  She looked stubborn as only Val could. And he didn’t want to leave her down here alone to explore, nor did he want to bodily carry her away. Sighing, Micah sat back down and spoke directly to Val. “David and Pia have had a hard time of it, but don’t let their bitterness and prejudice affect you. The part-demons they champion are a very small minority.”

  NOT AS SMALL AS YOU THINK, Fang said, obviously broadcasting to everyone.

  That was news to Micah. “What?”

  COME ON, DUDE, CAN’T YOU SENSE IT? DEMONS ARE GETTING RESTLESS, WORRIED ABOUT YOU AND YOUR LET’S-ALL-JUST-GET-ALONG POLICIES. SOME HAVE EVEN MOVED AWAY, TO OTHER PLACES WHERE THE UNDERGROUND IS MORE IN TUNE WITH THE OLD WAYS.

  Moved away? Seriously? He hadn’t known. Hadn’t noticed. That bothered him, but it wasn’t his fault. Progress was hard for some people. “It’s just because the vampires are all stirred up. Val has helped Alejandro get that under control, so things should calm down again.”

  NOT IF THEY COME OUT TO THE WORLD. THAT’LL STIR UP A WHOOOOLE CAULDRON FULL OF TROUBLE. AND THE WITCH HUNTS WILL BEGIN AGAIN.

  “Yeah,” David said. “It’s a holocaust waiting to happen.”

  “So that’s what this is all about?” Val asked. “You want me to stop working with Alejandro?”

  “Hell, yes,” David exclaimed. “Misery loves company. How much you wanna bet that as soon as the humans turn on them—and they will—that every vampire out there starts pointing fingers at the demons in their midst?”

  “Maybe,” Val said doubtfully. “But I have a contract with Alejandro. I promised to work with him until the vamps come out.”

  Micah kept quiet, letting Val convince herself.

  David let loose with a bitter laugh. “Some things are more important than contracts… like species survival.”

  Val looked as though a lightbulb came on. “So that’s why there are suddenly fewer vamps harassing the city. Some of them were killed by demons like you, weren’t they?”

  He shrugged. “Only the bad ones, none in the Movement. What did you expect us to do? Stand back and watch as they terrorize San Antonio? Their bloodlust threatens to reveal their existence, and by extension, ours. Humans way outnumber us. Revealing ourselves would be suicide.”

  The effect of David’s words on Val, clearly obvious from the dumbstruck look on her face, worried Micah. Could David be right? Micah knew there was a strong faction inside the Underground that didn’t want to help the vamps, but he figured it was the normal fear of change. He didn’t realize they feared for their lives. That thought was a knife in his gut, but he wasn’t ready to concede changing their ways would protect them. “You think turning vigilante is safer?”

  “Safer than doing nothing,” David retorted.

  Val held up her hands for them to stop, then turned to Micah. “Okay, you say you’re the leader, but what do you do, really? Besides throw parties and help people find jobs?”

  Is that how she saw what he did? For some reason, her defection hurt. Micah said, “I keep a watch on the city. You know that—Shade is one of my agents.”

  “And what do you do with that information?”

  “I pass it on to the SCU, so t
hey can take care of threats.” Why was she asking these questions when she knew the answers?

  “To humans?” Val persisted.

  “Yes, to humans and to demons in the Underground.”

  “So if you’re all about sharing threats and helping people, why do people like David and Pia get hurt?” She sounded half-puzzled, half-belligerent.

  Micah paused. He didn’t know their full stories, and his father was no longer around to explain what had happened. Softly, he said, “That was very unfortunate, but I’m sure my father didn’t know—”

  “He knew,” David said. “He knew trouble was brewing, and did nothing.”

  “I don’t believe that,” Micah said. But a niggling of doubt crept in. He didn’t know for sure. Not really.

  SORRY, DUDE, IT’S TRUE, Fang said, with regret in his voice. I REMEMBER. LUCAS UNDERESTIMATED THE THREATS. JUST LIKE YOU ARE NOW.

  Could it be? Micah glanced uncertainly at David.

  “And we’re not the only ones,” the scarred demon said. Before Micah could protest, David added, “What about Val?”

  “What about her? Val can take care of herself, far better than I can.”

  “No, I mean, why didn’t you take care of Val when she was growing up in that toxic household, raised by humans who treated her like crap? Why didn’t you take her away from that bitch of a mother, let her know there were others like her, reassure her that she was not alone? Why would you let any one of us suffer isolation and doubt?”

  Helplessly, Micah looked at Val to see how she was taking this.

  “Yes, why didn’t you come for me?” she asked softly.

  Such a simple question shouldn’t shake him so much, but it did. “I told you. We figured you were integrating into the human world so well, you’d be better off not knowing.”

  “Yes,” David said sarcastically. “You’re all about integration, about helping us ‘pass’ in the human world, when you should have been more concerned about keeping us safe.”

  “Val was never in danger,” Micah protested.

  “Really?” David challenged. “She didn’t know how to use her powers—was that safe for her, or the men around her?” He answered his own question. “Hell, no. And when she stalked vampires, was that safe? How about when she got kicked out of her own house, tossed into the streets like yesterday’s garbage? Do you think she was safe then?”

 
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