Sweet Venom
Page 19

 Tera Lynn Childs

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Before they spot me—or notice that I’ve spotted them—I duck back into the techno room to regroup. Two monsters? That’s impossible. They can only get out of their realm one at a time. It’s one of the first things Ursula taught me when I followed her out of that warehouse four years ago.
She’d led the way to a nearby diner, not uttering another word to me until the waitress set a steaming bowl of stew at my place. Ursula waited until I had a spoonful in my mouth before saying, “I know you see monsters.”
My only response was a brief hesitation before swallowing and taking another bite. If this lady was going to tell me I was nuts, just like Phil and Barb always did, I’d just take the hot meal and then take off.
“I also know you are not insane.”
At that point I didn’t think anything could shock me more. I set down the spoon and asked, “How do you know that?”
“Because,” she said with a warm smile, “I see them too.”
I was wrong. That shocked the life out of me.
“You—” I couldn’t even speak. Someone like me. I never knew how much I wanted that—needed that—until right then. I balled my fists in my lap and asked, “What are we?”
“You belong to an elite lineage of guardians,” she explained. “Destined to hunt down the monsters that escape into our realm and send them back to theirs.”
I can’t remember how long we sat in that diner, me asking questions and her answering. It felt like years. Sometimes her answers were cryptic; some questions she refused to answer at all, promising all would be revealed in time.
As she explained about my heritage, about my destiny to keep the human world safe from the kind of monsters most people think exist only in ancient myths, I was scared. Fine, terrified. How could I, a lone twelve-year-old girl, stop all these awful things from prowling the streets?
She smiled at me, her gray eyes full of caring and compassion—two emotions that had been in short supply when she found me living on the street—and said, “You are stronger than you think.”
“But what if they surround me?” I asked. “What if a bunch of them gang up on me? I could never win.”
She reached out with her elegantly wrinkled hand and gently patted mine. “Millennia ago, when your ancient ancestor Medusa was slain, the doorway to the abyss was left inadequately guarded and the world faced the great danger of being overrun by monsters. The gods convened a council to decide how to proceed.”
The gods. Like the ones in action movies and old myths. She said it like they were real, like they were sitting around somewhere deciding people’s fates. And, as crazy as it sounded, I somehow knew she was telling me the truth.
“Some wished to see that realm sealed completely,” she continued, “though doing so would have caused the death of every creature inside.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Didn’t seem like such a bad plan to me, considering the kind of nasty beasts I’d seen prowling the streets. “The monsters are bad. Why shouldn’t they die?”
Slowly shaking her head, she said, “Things are not that simple.” She let out a small sigh. “Others thought the gateway should be thrown open, allowing monsters of all varieties to walk free among humans.”
What morons thought that was a good idea?
“To appease all sides, the gods left a gap.” Ursula smiled at me. “A tiny and ever-moving window that allows but a single monster at a time to leave their realm. The gods knew there would always be one of our kind on hand to defend the opening.”
I sighed with relief. That was somewhat reassuring. One at a time seemed a lot more manageable than all at once. For the first time, I believed that I could actually do this, I could actually be the huntress. For the last four years, Ursula has been right. The rules have remained in effect, and I’ve never seen more than one creature per night. Ever.
Until tonight.
“Something’s out of whack.” First Ursula takes off out of cell phone range without leaving a note. Now two monsters are prowling the same club at the same time. “Something is definitely—”
For the love of Medusa. I’d forgotten number three on my list of out-of-the-ordinary. Nick. The boy who won’t leave me alone.
At least this one doesn’t have anything to do with myth.
My first instinct is to ignore him. Any normal male would read that as a neon sign saying Go away!, but Nick has proven himself incapable of common male normalcy. If I ignore him and get on with my fight, he’ll probably follow me out into the courtyard and wind up getting himself killed.
I need to throw him off the scent once and for all so I can go about my business in peace. Direct orders don’t seem to work. Instead, I try for disdain.
“What do you want?”
“Nice to see you too,” he teases, unfazed by my verbal venom. “Funny running into you here. I didn’t know you—”
“Yeah, it’s a riot.” I jab my fists to my hips. “Look, I was just—”
“Can I get you a drink?”
My brain screams. Nothing works with this boy.
“Are you deficient?” I ask, throwing off all pretense of any kind and being as straightforward as I can without telling him my secret. “What about me has ever said, ‘Yes, please keep hitting on me’?”
A slow, suggestive smile spreads across his frustrating lips.