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I felt a slight jolt. "Hey, wake up."
X sat on the bed next to me, his lower back pressed against my hip as he sank into the thick, 2010s mattress. I guess Grandma and Grandpa never really found any point in buying new ones for the upstairs bedrooms once Dad moved out. Occasionally, Jeremy and I would visit for a few weeks, and as kids, we never minded the lumps or the hollows. But as I got older, those flaws became much too noticeable, and I tended to toss all night, hardly sleeping at all. I didn't have any trouble this time, though. In fact, I'd never recalled sleeping so soundly, which was odd under the circumstances. The stress of those last two days must have driven me past the point of exhaustion. And now, I had a gorgeous man watching me wake, most likely noticing every bit of my bedhead and droopy-eyed, drool face.
Giving a soft groan, I rolled on my side to face him, noting his unruffled features. Did he always look that good? It was clear he'd been up for a while, and he wore a red, three-quarter sleeve shirt and a pair of deep-dyed jeans. He was so close I could feel the heat rolling off his body, and I suddenly had the urge to reach for his soft skin. I resisted, only because he might think me too forward, but that didn't ebb my desire. He calmly observed me, and I returned this attention, noticing how he radiated serenity in the quiet room. He shot me the tiniest smile, and his breathtaking eyes, less haunting to me then, drifted down my body . . . until he realized his mistake and turned his blushing face toward the door. Come on, you can look all you want. Goosebumps crawled over my skin, and the fluttering of my heart and stomach made me breathless. We were out from under Jeremy's watchful eye, and I couldn't help wanting something more with X, believing that he did as well. I had to distract myself for the mission.
"What time is it?" I stammered.
His gaze seized me again. "It's eleven."
Standing and grabbing my hand, he pulled me to my feet, holding me close to him for a brief moment. I could feel his hot breath as he exhaled, our faces merely inches apart. He locked his eyes on my lips and seemed to play with an idea he had. Sighing, he gave a mischievous grin, and his charming dimples almost caused my knees to turn to jelly.
Yes, do it.
"I think we better head downstairs. Your brother has already been tossing blades for two hours, and honestly, I'm worried I might end up being his next target if he notices I've been gone too long." X seemed to be joking, but I knew he was right. He stepped backward toward the door, letting his hand gently slide from mine as he placed distance between us. I blew out a slow breath as he turned to round the wall and descended the creaky stairs.
One minute he wanted me, the next he didn't. What's a girl to do? By that point, you would think I would have had some sort of conniption.
I changed into clean denim shorts and a crisp, white tank top, and then pulled my hair back into a pony-tail. After I slipped on the brown safety boots that I had packed—I figured I needed durable shoes—I made my way to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water from the lunch pack and flew out the back door to find Jeremy and X. I was pumped. Nervous, but strangely optimistic.
Once outside, I heard thumps coming from the barn and the chatter of my two companions, one giving instruction and praise while the other cursed. Feeling I had fallen behind, I rushed inside and saw X sitting on the old tractor that had been rusting in its place for two years. Its tires had gone flat and were cracked, just like everything else on the property.
Jeremy stood directly in the middle of the cleared space, holding some kind of throwing knife that looked like it came straight out of a ninja movie. He had his index finger placed on the edge of the handle, his thumb and other fingers on the sides. Drawing his arm up, he cocked his wrist back, and in one fluid movement, he hurled the knife, releasing it right at the end of the extension. Before I had time to follow the path of the blade, I heard the muted stick as it pierced its target. The unburied demon. How appropriate. As I was horrified at the sight of the already decaying corpse hanging from the rafters, my mouth dropped open. The guys had tied rope around the beast's neck to raise it, and its stiffened body dangled like a fish on a line, swaying a bit each time a blade struck its flesh. The demon’s eyes had begun to bulge out of the lolling head, and dark, coagulated blood pooled underneath it on the dirt below.
"Hmph." I gave both men a disgusted look. Jeremy turned around with arrogance blemishing his face. He winked at me. I knew the demon was our enemy, but did we really need to abandon our humanity?
"I thought you guys were going to bury it."
X hopped off the red tractor and walked to the target, pulling the blade from its chest. "Well, we found a better use for it. I mean, honestly Eve, I want you guys to train in the most realistic conditions possible. Unfortunately, this won't prepare you to deal with their speed and strength, but if you can understand the best way to kill them then I feel like you have the upper hand."
"You won't believe how we have to take these guys down, Sis. Tell her." Jeremy's eyes lit up as he urged the half-breed to reveal his tactics. He reminded me of some kid at Christmas begging Santa to dump out his bag of secrets.
"It's pretty clear that we have to stab them." I crossed my arms and lifted my brow in disapproval of my brother's excitement. It wasn't something we should treat lightly.
X brought the knife over to me and placed it in my hand. Gross. "Not so easy. I've only found one way to kill a demon, and it isn't as simple as what it might seem. There is one critical step that must be taken first. You have to prepare the blade."
"Prepare it? Like coat it with poison?"
X cocked his head to the side and raised the corner of his mouth as he said, "In a sense." He led me over to a work bench where at least twenty knives of all shapes and sizes were arranged. Some were coated with crusts of dried blood. However, the blood on those knives was much lighter in color when compared to the blood of the demon that was on the knife in my hand. I turned it over, observed the difference and tried to understand what was being shown to me.
I looked over my shoulder at Jeremy, and he raised his hand, facing his palm toward me. I finally noticed his hand was wrapped in gauze. "What happened?" But as I was asking him, the answer dawned on me. It was Jeremy's fresh blood on many of the blades.
This is sick. Just sick! If they expected me to spill my own blood they were crazy.
"During my studies with Sister Norene, I came across a short passage of ancient text that discussed the art of killing demons. Unfortunately, it only told that a sacrifice must be made. At the time, I didn't know what kind of sacrifice, so once I came into contact with the creatures, I had to come up with the answer. I feared that a life might need to be taken, but by some stroke of genius, I got the idea to try surrendering some of my own blood. What I found was that sacrificed human blood is like a potent toxin to the demons, and any amount will suffice in destroying whatever energy drives them."
No. Surely there had to be an easier way.
"What happened to holy water and crosses? Or maybe sacrificed animal blood could do the same thing."
He shook his head. "No, regrettably. Holy water and relics only stand as barriers, not weapons. And I substituted the blood of a raven once when I wanted to experiment—almost got myself killed. It was pure luck that my bag was open and I was close enough to snatch another of the blades." Pausing for a moment and staring out into the late morning light, he looked lost in the memory. Then, he slightly nodded toward my brother. "A willing sacrifice is the only way. But fortunately, it doesn't take much. Once, I only scratched one with a bloody blade, and he began to convulse, dying within a few minutes. That's all it takes Eve, just a scratch. You don't even have to know how to toss one of these babies at their flesh. You just need the perfect opportunity to stab them." X picked up a clean blade and stuck it into the wood, flashing me a satisfied grin.
We were really doing this.
Sure, I was a bit relieved that it was actually so easy to kill them, but what if they got me first? Still, I couldn't let on that I was weak at this point. "What? You don't think I can fling a knife at someone and actually hit them?" After grabbing a clean blade, I stalked over to where Jeremy stood and gently shoved him out of the way. Even though I didn't want to have to look at the dangling body again, I knew I had to force myself to see those beings as the enemy. Plus, I couldn't let these guys show me up. I let out a slow breath and positioned myself directly in front of the demon about eight feet away. For the first time, I noticed the stench beginning to emanate from its direction, filling the barn with an air of death. Holding the weapon the way I had seen my brother do, I awkwardly slung it toward the target. Rather than sticking into the creature, however, it struck, handle down, and bounced off, hitting the dirt with a thud. The body slightly quaked on the end of its line from the impact.
Oh, wow. I sucked.
X and Jeremy, who now stood next to one another by the workbench, watching me with great interest, burst out laughing at the exact same time, slapping their thighs and hunching over while they grabbed their stomachs. How rude! I couldn't believe I had just made a fool out of myself, but it was my fault for being so arrogant. Their guffaws only stoked my humiliation. I could feel the fire in my face.
Embarrassed, I scowled and yelled, "Shut up! I didn't know it would be that hard!"
My anger didn't last, though, because I realized the situation wasn't worth it. I calmed myself, but they still chuckled, apologizing over and over, taking their time. I actually found some satisfaction in seeing them laugh. It was the first time I had seen my brother so amused in a long time, and, having never seen X so, it sparked a sense of wonderment within me because I never would have thought a Daemoni could be so happy. The laughter had broken the tension of the situation we were in, and nothing else could have been so helpful at that moment.
But I was still as stubborn as a mule.
Jeremy leaned with one hand on a wooden pillar while X waltzed over to me, trying to force himself to stop smiling. I rolled my eyes. He coughed as if it would help him focus. "You just need a little practice. Here. Let me show you how." Stepping behind me, I could tell he intended to reposition my arm as if I were a mannequin and guide me through the entire process. But as he began to lift my right elbow, I sidestepped and put my hands on my hips.
"Sure. Right after we go into town to get some damn food and find a place to take a shower." I wasn't quite ready to mortify myself again, but I did want to cater to my beckoning stomach. I stomped out of the barn, kicking up dust behind me just for show.