FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24
‘Monster Mash’ woke me.
Something buzzed a beat that didn’t match the song, and the ruckus quickly got on my nerves. Then it went blissfully quiet. I had just about dozed off when the routine started up again. This time, I popped my head up from my pillow to find the source of the noise with a promise to graveyard smash it when I did. The disturbance came from my desk.
The cell phone!
I threw off the covers and sprang out of bed, missing the call by only a second. Before I could return the call, I heard a pounding on my door.
“Cybil? It’s Quinn.”
“One sec!” I said as I rushed to unlock the door. I opened it with, “What’s up? Were you just calling?”
“No; Duncan was.” His tone sounded as serious as I had ever heard him, and he appeared to have just gotten out of bed himself. His hair looked messier than usual, and the buttons on his shirt didn’t line up, never mind the fact that it didn’t match his smiley face pajama pants. “He wants us in the office ASAP.”
He shrugged. “Duncan didn’t say anything except to hurry down.”
“Okay. Just let me grab my key.” Now I couldn’t help but feel worried. Duncan had woken Quinn, tried me, and probably Morgan too. But why? Did it have something to do with last night’s unexpected visitor?
I snatched my key, threw on my trusty pair of moccasins and rushed out the door. Quinn was just hanging up a call when I joined him. Together, we rushed down the hall.
“Told Duncan he can stop calling you. He still didn’t say what in the Three Worlds was so important though.”
I hit the down button for the elevator. The doors opened within moments to reveal Morgan inside. With a pristine, white smock and heather gray pants, she had put together far better than me and Quinn. But she also looked like she had been asleep just minutes ago.
“You, too, huh?” she muttered as Quinn and I got on.
“Don’t suppose Duncan told you the reason for this crack of dawn wake-up call?” Quinn hit the button to close the doors.
Morgan shook her head negative as she stifled a yawn. She pointed to Quinn’s shirt. “Missed one.”
He looked down, rolled his eyes. “I was in a hurry.”
“We both were,” I said as I ran my fingers through my hair in an attempt to fix my bed head. I might as well have been stapling Jell-O to a tree for all the good it did.
The elevator finally stopped, and the doors opened with their friendly, little ding. The three of us rushed through the little security room and down the halls. Light surrounded his door like a halo until Morgan jerked it open.
Specter and Duncan were by the desk opposite the door, standing in wait. Duncan surprised me with how dressed down he was. His black hair fell like a curtain past his shoulders. A matching set of navy blue pajamas, wrinkled from his sleep, and bare feet made up his attire.
His usually violet eyes were yellow as he glanced at me. “You sleep like the dead.”
“So I’ve been told,” I shrugged sheepishly. “Why did you set Monster Mash as your ringtone?”
Specter failed to hide the amused snort, and Duncan shot him a look that said, ‘really?’
Ah ha! So the ghost is the culprit! “And why are your eyes suddenly yellow?”
Duncan returned his gaze to me. “I’m hungry.”
A hungry vampire? That’s not good. I really hoped that he didn’t see me as a snack.
“Care to explain the reason for the six AM wake-up?” Morgan asked rather crossly. The question effectively sobered Specter right up.
“We have a huge problem.” He hit a few glyphs, and the monitor on the wall to my left began to play the morning news.
All eyes were glued to the screen. The Asian reporter from Channel 31 was on the scene, at a house surrounded by police and rescue vehicles. In the corner of the feed were a couple of pictures. I knew both of the boys; the pimple-faced football captain at Mabon City Campus and one of his lackeys.
The reporter went on, “For those of you just joining us this morning, we are coming to you live from the scene of a tragic double murder. Jonathan Davis, the quarterback of the Mabon City Campus football team, and Louis Nettles, a forward on the school’s basketball team, were found dead in the Davis’ house earlier this morning.
“Officials have stated that the cause of the boys’ deaths is still under investigation, but could be related to the mysterious murder of Cynthia Santova earlier this week. Police are asking for an—”
The monitor clicked off.
My mind reeled from the shock.
Two of the boys who had gotten me expelled from school had been murdered on the same morning the youngest Cross girl sneaks on board? What in the world did she do? No. It had to be a coincidence. It just had to be! Sure, she had been furious enough to spit nails… But to murder someone – two someones? There was no way!
I numbly moved to look at Quinn. His moon blue eyes were studying me closely like he suspected I had something to do with the killing of those boys.
His voice was stern as he spoke. “You knew those boys. You were fighting them when we first met.”
Tears were burning my eyes, threatening to fall. He’s accusing me!
“She had nothing to do with it!” exclaimed Specter.
Quinn looked sidelong. “I’m not saying she did.” He sighed, shifted his gaze back to me. “The girl you were with that day—Would she have any reason to go after those boys if she had the power to do so?”
Reason? He meant motive. Of course she had the motive. Heck, I had a motive. I wanted to kick those brats so hard they’d hit the moon. They had harassed both me and her—the new girls—numerous times. I had the power to seek my own revenge against them, but she didn’t look like much of a fighter. That must why she had snuck on board to see Zero.
“Cybil, answer,” Duncan commanded.
I licked my lips and hoped I wouldn’t get myself or Zero into trouble for what I was about to say. “The youngest Cross girl came here a few hours ago.” I held up my hand to stop any questions or comments they were about to fire at me. “She snuck in at about midnight to see Zero. I witnessed the two of them whispering by the forward elevators. While they talked, I heard her say that those boys had beat her up earlier, and she asked Zero to sneak out to go beat them up for her.
“Trust me, that girl is not a fighter. Not like me and Zero. She doesn’t have the will or the strength to take on a ballerina, let alone two jocks from school. Anyway, Zero told her no, and she stormed off .”
Quinn’s gaze finally softened up a bit, and he looked to Duncan. “How in the Three Worlds did a human girl manage to sneak on board this ship in the middle of the night?”
“I’m checking the security feeds now,” Specter answered.
“I know how,” declared Morgan, effectively earning everyone’s attention. “She’s no human girl,” the angel glared at me. “She Jumped aboard. Your little friend is the Shadow.”
I wanted to sock Morgan in the jaw and chew her out for even suggesting that that girl is the Shadow we’ve been chasing all week. Unfortunately, it made sense. Young Cross had been visiting agilisi’s shop when the Shadow appeared in the alley. And I had seen the Cross’ station wagon heading towards the Palisades before the Shadow appeared at Cynthia’s estate. And Whatever-Her-Name-Is had been badly wounded when she snuck on board, but could holy water have caused the injuries I saw?
It all fit. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, that little girl really could be the Shadow.
“What is your friend’s full name?” Duncan asked as he crossed the room to his desk.
“I have no idea. Something Cross. It starts with an A. Why?”
He typed something in his computer, glanced at me. “I’m going to see if we have any record of her. Specter, you do the same in the cowan databases.”
“What will you do to her if she does turn out to be a demon?”
“She’s killed innocent people, Cybil,” Specter said, his voice grim. “Her sentence would be death.”
My heart skipped a beat. “But that’s only after you’ve proven she’s really the Shadow, right?” I looked at Quinn and Duncan. “I mean, it could just be a huge, royally screwed up coincidence. She could be innocent.”
“I knew it!” spat Morgan. She was suddenly looming before me, her eyes blazing with golden power. She had moved so fast that it hadn’t even registered in my brain. There still wasn’t time for it to sink in before she slammed me into the wall six feet behind where I had been standing. “This little wretch is playing us for fools! She’s in league with the Shadow!”
Duncan and Quinn immediately began playing hostage negotiator, desperately trying to get her to release me. My head started throbbing so loudly I couldn’t hear them. The angel wanted to kill me. Me. A half-Shadow who hadn’t done anything wrong except try to protect herself.
My intentions were always misunderstood.
And that seriously pissed me off.
Anger overpowered my terror in a tidal wave of rage.
I loosed a wordless roar. My first punch wasn’t as hard as I wanted it to be, but it had been enough to shock Morgan into releasing me. The second one connected with her jaw and sent her spiraling to the ground. Quinn caught my arm and pulled me back before I strike the angel a third time. I screamed my fury at her in Tsalagi as she rose to her feet.
“That’s enough!” roared Duncan. I clamped my mouth shut but continued to glare daggers at Morgan. “Morgan, once this case is closed, you are to report to your superiors in the Astral Plane for disciplinary drills.”
Her jaw dropped.
“Pull another stunt like you just did and I will personally see to it that you remain there. Are we clear?”
Her shoulders sagged, and she looked away. “Yes, sir.”
“Cybil,” the vampire turned to me, scowling.
“Uyo ayelodi,” I muttered, letting my fury evaporate. A little louder, I repeated it. “I’m sorry.”
Duncan sighed, nodded. Quinn released my arm, and I let it fall to my side.
“I vill overlook this assault on an AEON Agent as self-defense,” stated the vampire. “But please understand that if your friend is proven to be the Shadow behind the murders, her punishment vould be death. Demons like that are too much of a risk to the Mortal Realm to let them live.”
I swallowed tears of frustration, sat myself down in one of the chairs at the conference table.
“However, since she is not in our system—at least not as Aiden Marie Cross—ve vill have to figure out how to prove or disprove her innocence in the matter.”
“She may not be in the AEON system, but she has been in headlines in the cowan news,” replied Specter. Without being told, the ghost restored the feed from his sphere to the monitor on the wall. He had pulled up several articles from newspapers all over the county. Every one of them said the same thing. “Lisa Janelle Cross, mother of Anjelah and Aiden Cross was killed in this head-on crash, dated just last weekend. Aiden survived with a broken arm and some minor injuries. ”
“Holy crap!” I cried in sudden realization. “That’s what they were talking about!”
Quinn gestured for me to explain.
“Okay.” I shoved my bangs out of my face. “So Aiden and Anjie came into the MCC theater for homeroom Monday morning and sat near me. I heard them whispering about something, and, when I listened in, I felt some intense negative energy.”
The werewolf scratched his chin. “What were they talking about?”
“One of them said something about punishing someone. A woman.” I sagged with a groan. “Cynthia. They wanted to punish Cynthia.”
I looked into Duncan’s inhuman eyes. “I found it while searching online. A couple of news stories mentioned Cynthia being in a car crash. It’s gotta be the reason why they went after her. How they found out about the mirror or called up a demon, I don’t know. But there’s our motive.”
Quinn quietly agreed with me. “Wasn’t one of them sitting with you when those boys started the fight?”
“If you didn’t know her, why was she sitting with you?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a shrug. “She wanted to talk to me about something, but never got the chance. It must have been really important because she also showed up at agilisi’s store.”
“I take it she vas the girl vith the cast on her arm?”
Quinn and I chorused a yes.
“Odd,” murmured the vampire. “I didn’t sense anything from her.”
“Let me try talking to her.” I half-expected Morgan to say more crap about that, but she chose to remain silent.
I was grateful when Specter chimed in with, “Well, it could work. I mean,it might get this Aiden to drop her guard and confide in Cybil.”
Duncan fell silent as he considering things.
“If we are to set a trap,” said Quinn. “We’ll need a day to prepare. Catching Shadows isn’t like catching butterflies.”
“Tomorrow may be too late,” replied Duncan, sighing. “It vill have to be today.”
I got the impression that Quinn wanted to argue further, but chose to drop it.
“Do you have a plan?” asked Specter.
“Ve vill have to get Aiden out in public,” Duncan replied thoughtfully. “Hopefully, vith cowans around, she vill be less inclined to transform. It should also be an area vhere there’s very little darkness she can utilize as escape routes.”
I smiled, looked up at Duncan. “I know just the place.”