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Present Day

The memory flickered, swirled, and bled away into the rising ache of the waking world.

Why did my subconscious choose now to dredge up this particular memory? It wasn't one of my favorites, despite Rene and Blanche's welcome, and in the insentient haze I lingered between, my papé's whispered words vibrated in my heart, sinking deep and settling in my marrow.

Such strange words—words that should have dissipated with time, with his passing three years after their utterance, yet they remained, indistinct but oddly clear. and as I played those inarticulate syllables over my heavy tongue, eyes still closed.


I felt a trill of power, a spark of static prickling my skin.


Saule had said I was a mixed-blood, that I had a touch of supernatural somewhere in my lineage. In retrospect, I'd always known my grandparents to be odd, and not because they'd immigrated, or because they'd practiced the different customs of their native country. The peculiarities of my lineage must have been inherited through my grandfather—though, I wasn't sure my grandmother with her far-reaching wisdom and mischievous manners hadn't been a touch magical herself.

Maybe I was imagining it. Rene and Blanche Gaspard had been so loving, so caring, in a way Eleanor's ersatz affection never had been, it was natural for them to seem magical and unworldly.

To think that my grandparents may have been other....confused me. What place was this world when people who were possibly not fully human accepted their mixed-blood granddaughter with grace while her own human mother allowed her to run into a storm without stopping her? What place was this where humans sacrificed one another in ritualized murders to summon creatures from other realms? What place was this when the actions of my own kind were untenable and the actions of demons were done in the name of survival?

My perception of the world spiraled further into disarray.

I felt heavy, as if I'd been slogging through a mire with iron weights strapped to my chest. Minuscule notions coalesced into rivers of thought and cohesion. One moment I was delirious and lost in my dreams, the next awareness returned I was alive, groggy, and tip-toeing into consciousness like a naughty child up after bedtime.

I'm alive.

The thought buoyed me upward through the haze on a life raft of sentience.

I scrunched my nose and opened gummy eyes. The nacreous hues of predawn blurred the view of my bedroom, and every breath came in laborious, whiny huffs. Thinking required far too much effort—but I felt little pain, which was surprising, and welcomed.

Darius sat at the edge of the mattress with his back against my covered hip, his leather jacket tossed on the desk chair in the corner. He'd propped his arms on his knees and held something close to his face, inspecting it.

"That's mine," I croaked, the words awkward in my parched mouth. Thirst struck, and I almost groaned.

Darius' brow rose, and my mana ampoule swung on its leather cord from his closed fist, leaving a streak of silvery radiance in the air. The Sin tipped his arm and the ampoule swung again in an arc, landing in his palm. His fingers closed around it and blocked the soft light as he smirked, and I sighed.

Clearly, he wouldn't be returning the ampoule any time soon.

I settled into the bunched pillow with a grunt as I lifted an arm to observe it. The scrapes and bruises had been left uncovered, but judging by the tightness compressing my middle, Darius had bandaged the wound again. The absence of pain meant the demon had shoved an obscene amount of analgesics down my throat, though my mind remained remarkably clear of any narcotic haze. Strange.

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