Unmarked by Kami Garcia

  “I said if I could leave. Like if tomorrow we destroyed Andras and this whole thing was over.”

  Priest frowned as if he’d never considered the possibility.

  Alara leaned forward and propped her elbows on the back the seat, between Elle and Priest. “If we took down Andras tomorrow, I’d pack my bags and backpack around Europe for a year. Maybe two. And Asia. I’d hang around cafes all day and drink coffee, and walk the Great Wall of China. I’d get a stamp on every page of my passport. What would you do, Lukas?”

  Lukas thought about it for a moment. “Go to college, I guess?”

  “Where?” Elle asked, egging him on.

  Lukas smiled at her sheepishly. “Virginia Tech. My Advanced Calculus teacher always said I could probably get in if I stopped cutting class.”

  Jared looked surprised. “When did she say that?”

  “When you were in Algebra I with all the freshmen,” Lukas said.

  “What would you major in?” I asked.

  “Applied Mathematics. But it wouldn’t matter because I’d get recruited by the Department of Defense or Homeland Security, right after I hacked their system during senior year.”

  Priest crossed his arms and shifted in his seat. “You mean after they let you out of jail for threatening national security?”

  “They only throw you in jail if you’re an actual threat. Otherwise, hacking their mainframe is basically the job interview. I bet half the guys working there are former hackers. How about you, Priest?” Lukas asked. “You could probably walk right into a Mechanical Engineering class at Harvard and ace it, without cracking a book. You’d probably have your PhD before I even graduated.”

  Priest pressed his lips together in a tight line. “I’m not interested in going to some pretentious university to earn a worthless degree I don’t need.”

  Alara slung her arm around his neck. “I’m with you. Screw the system. Go straight to NASA or revolutionize an entire industry with one of your inventions.”

  “Like that guy who invented the star for Christmas trees that sprays water all over the tree if it catches on fire,” Elle said.

  “Of course, you’d deejay on the weekends at some exclusive club,” Alara said. “And I’d have to show up every once in a while to scare off all the girls who’d be stalking you.”

  Priest shrugged Alara’s arm off his shoulder. “If I invent anything worth remembering, it’ll be for the Legion. We can’t just walk away if we destroy Andras. What about all the vengeance spirits and dangerous paranormal entities out there? Someone has to protect people, and it’s our job.”

  “Our job is to protect the world from the malevolent spirits Andras influences, and to keep him from finding a way into this world.” Alara glanced at me awkwardly. “I mean… it was. Now our job is to destroy him. If we do that, it’s over. I’m not sticking around to be one of the Ghostbusters.”

  Priest cringed at the reference, his eyes flickering over the faces of the other Legion members. “Is that how you all feel? You’d just bail?”

  Alara twisted her eyebrow ring, and Lukas took out his coin and flipped it between his fingers.

  “Jared? Is that how you feel, too?” Priest asked.

  Jared rubbed the back of his neck. He seemed almost as uncomfortable with the conversation as Priest. “I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t part of the Legion. But I don’t want to fight vengeance spirits if I have a choice.”

  Priest stared at him, speechless. Then he put on his headphones and yanked up his hood. “Good to know. I didn’t realize I was the only one who actually believed we had a calling. That we were in this for the long haul.”

  “Over two hundred years is a pretty long haul,” Alara said, referring to how long the Legion had been in existence. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life towing that line.”

  “Yeah. I got that,” Priest snapped, turning up the music.

  Lukas reached over and squeezed Priest’s shoulder. “Come on, Priest. It was a hypothetical conversation. We don’t even know where to find Andras, let alone how to destroy him. The band isn’t exactly breaking up tomorrow.”

  Priest relaxed a little, but he didn’t respond.

  I couldn’t imagine wanting to lead a life like his forever, not if I had the choice to have a normal one. But to Priest, the Legion probably was normal. His grandfather had raised him and trained Priest from the time he was young. He was home-schooled. I didn’t even know if Priest had any friends before he met Jared, Lukas, and Alara, less than six months ago.

  He wanted to belong.

  Something I understood better than anyone.


  I’m not sleeping with the dog,” Elle said, flopping down on one of the double beds in our hotel room.

  Alara unbuckled her tool belt and dropped it on the other bed. “Don’t worry. He doesn’t want to sleep with you either.” She scratched Bear’s ears. “Do you?”

  “I hope you’re nicer to Elvis,” I said, prying off my wet boots.

  Elle had unofficially adopted my cat when I took off with the Legion. After being possessed by a vengeance spirit, he’d been traumatized enough when she found him.

  “Whatever.” She waved a hand in the air. “I treat that cat like the king that he is. I’m definitely a cat person.”

  Alara opened a pack of complimentary chocolate chip cookies and fed one to Bear. “That explains a lot.”

  Someone knocked on the door to the adjoining room. When neither of them moved, I got up and opened it.

  Jared, Lukas, and Priest wandered into the room.

  “Why is your room bigger than ours?” Priest asked. He was finally talking again after the awkward conversation in the car.

  Alara popped a cookie in her mouth. “Because I’m the one paying.”

  Jared sat down on the bed next to me. He noticed my aunt’s silver journal on the nightstand and picked it up. “I still can’t believe we found it.”

  “I know.” I opened the cover, my fingers brushing his. “Faith wasn’t exaggerating when she said it was in bad shape. Some of the pages are so faded you can’t even see the letters.”

  “You have it. That’s what matters.” He closed it, keeping my hand beneath his.

  Priest stretched out next to Alara, with Bear sandwiched between them.

  “What do you think?” she asked Priest, as the host of the show challenged the viewers to guess if a punch from a heavyweight boxer was more powerful than one from a mixed martial arts fighter. Over the course of the show, doctors and scientists would gather data from a robotic dummy to determine the answer.

  “I’m going with the cage fighter,” he said.

  Lukas stood on the other side. “Hey. I’m going down to the vending machine. Anyone hungry?” He looked over my shoulder at Elle.

  “I’ll go with you,” she said a little too quickly.

  “Of course you will.” Alara turned off the TV and scrolled through the cable channels. “I’ll take chips if they have salt and vinegar. And a Coke.”

  “I’ll come with you. Give me a minute to change,” Elle told Lukas, before she disappeared into the bathroom with her gigantic bag.

  “Wipe that dopey grin off your face,” Jared said, teasing his brother.

  “What?” Lukas looked at me like he was checking to see if Jared’s comment bothered me—and hoping it didn’t.

  I smiled at him, and he relaxed.

  “Lukas, make sure she calls her mom while you guys are down there.” Alara didn’t look up from the TV. “According to my cousin, her mom is super high maintenance.”

  Lukas nodded. “Got it.”

  The moment Elle came out of the bathroom, I knew we had a problem.

  “You cannot wear those in here.” Alara stared at Elle’s pink sweats like she was wearing raw meat.

  Elle glanced at her outfit, trying to figure out what Alara was talking about.

  “They’re pink.” Priest pointed at her sweatpants, as if that explain
ed everything.

  “And?” Elle asked.

  “And that color represents death and bad luck. I’m not sleeping in a room with anything pink in it,” Alara said. “Including you.”

  Elle stared at Alara, waiting to see if she was joking.

  She wasn’t.

  “You have serious issues.” Elle grabbed her purse. “No one told me about the color rules. Are there any others I should be aware of?” Lukas dragged her out of the room, but Elle was still ranting. “Red? Gray? Blue? Let me know.”

  “Wow. She’s sensitive.” Alara popped another cookie in her mouth.

  The mixed martial arts fighter threw a punch and knocked the head off the robotic dummy. Priest snatched a cookie. “Told you.”

  “Want to go in the other room?” Jared whispered.

  I nodded and followed him.

  “Don’t do anything a priest wouldn’t do.” Even though we left the adjoining door open, Priest couldn’t resist.

  I curled up on one of the beds under Jared’s arm “Can I ask you something?”

  He pulled me closer. “Anything.”

  “If you destroyed Andras tomorrow, what would you do?” Jared was the only Legion member who hadn’t answered the question. “Travel around like Alara? Or go to college?” I didn’t know anything about his dreams—the regular things he wanted that had nothing to do with demons and vengeance spirits.

  He bit his lip, frowning. “I’m not college material. Luke is the smart one out of the two of us.”

  “Don’t say that.” I sat up and looked down at him. “You figure out things no one else can, and you have instincts I’d kill for. And you’re brave and loyal, and you’d do anything for the people you care about. My mom used to say ‘There are always choices.’ It was kind of her way of asking me if I thought I was making the right one.” I rested my hand on his chest, right over his heart. “When it counts, you make the right ones.”

  Jared’s heartbeat sped up under my hand. His lips parted like he was about to say something. But he stayed silent. He watched me, with his eyes wide and heart hammering.

  Finally, he reached up and slid his hand behind my neck, pulling me toward him.

  I closed my eyes, anticipating the kiss.

  “Look at me, Kennedy.” His voice was thick and heavy. “You’re the only person who’s ever said anything like that to me. The only person who sees me that way.”

  Our faces were a foot apart, but it felt like Jared was so close he could hear what I was thinking

  “That’s not true—”

  “Shh.” He moved his hand and brought his finger to my lips. “I don’t care if anyone else thinks those things, as long as you do. The way I feel about you…” He bit his lip, as if he couldn’t find the right words. “Sometimes, when I look at you, I can hardly breathe.”

  I pressed my lips against his, trying to make the space between us disappear. It felt the way it always did when our lips finally touched. I sensed how much he wanted me—how much I mattered to him. Like a need I’d never be able to fill.

  But I tried until every part of me ached with exhaustion and something I only seemed to find with Jared.


  I fell asleep feeling happy, and whole.

  When I woke up the next morning still tangled in Jared’s arms, I felt stiff—and desperately in need of a shower. I wiggled out from underneath his arm and tiptoed past Priest, who was sleeping in the other bed.

  The adjoining door was still open. Alara was buried under the covers in one bed, with Bear sprawled across the bottom, and Elle and Lukas were asleep on top of the covers in the bed next to hers. Lukas was propped up and Elle was using his chest as a pillow. At some point, she’d changed out of the offensive pink sweats, and now she was wearing red ones.

  I dug through her clothes until I found a pair of skinny jeans and a T-shirt that wouldn’t look like a dress on me, and I carried them into the bathroom.

  The water barely had time to heat up when I stepped into the shower. As the soap slid down my back, I wished the guilt I felt would wash away as easily.

  Jared made it go away.

  But I needed to find a way to do it myself—to stop feeling responsible for all the horrible things happening around me for just a few minutes. My mind flipped through the mental snapshots of my life, searching for a happy memory.

  My house.

  The smell of macaroni and cheese cooking—not the orange kind from a box, but the one my mom always made, with breadcrumbs sprinkled over the top.

  A door closed upstairs, and I wait for her to come down. But it isn’t her. My father smiles at me, all green eyes and dimples and five o’clock shadow.

  “How’s my sunshine?” He takes something out of his pocket.

  I know what it is before I see the writing on the candy bar’s red and white wrapper.


  I pressed the heels of my hands against my eyelids, forcing the images to fade.

  Not him.

  My father wasn’t allowed to be a happy memory, or anything else.

  The water suddenly felt heavier, like the syrupy filth inside the well in Middle River. I didn’t need those memories coming back, too. I pulled my hands away from my eyes, and the shower floor slowly came into focus.

  First the tiles. Then the round, silver drain. Black lines blurred my vision. I blinked a few times and looked down again.

  Black streaks cut across the tile, as the letters printed on the drain came into sharp focus: MADE IN THE USA.

  Drops of inky liquid splattered onto my skin and around my feet.

  I scrambled backward, my hands slipping over the smooth, glass walls. The showerhead was directly above me now.

  Dark water ran down my body, the sticky consistency of motor oil.

  Dread and panic flooded through my system. I opened my mouth to scream, and the black liquid burned its way down my throat. Cigarette butts and gasoline were my first thought. I stumbled out of the shower, gagging.

  My black handprint dripped down the glass.

  I snatched a towel and reached for the doorknob. The moment my fingers curled around it, I stopped. A drop of clear water ran down the perfectly clean skin on my wrist. I whipped around to face the glass.

  The handprint and the black streaks were gone.

  The burning sensation in my throat and the nauseating taste in my mouth—even the smell—had all vanished. Clear water sprayed from the showerhead.

  I tugged on the T-shirt and jeans and tore out of the bathroom.

  “Something’s in here!” I yelled, slamming the door behind me.

  Lukas, Elle, and Alara were awake now, watching TV.

  Alara bolted out of bed. “What do you mean?”

  Jared and Priest ran into the room, and Jared rushed to my side. “What happened?”

  I struggled to catch my breath. “Black stuff came out of the shower. It was all over me. Then it just disappeared.”

  “Was it thick?” Jared asked.

  “Yeah.” I could still feel the slimy liquid running down my back.

  Jared and Lukas exchanged a knowing look, and Priest darted into the other room. He returned moments later with a nail gun in one hand and a kitchen fire extinguisher in the other, which I knew was filled with a rock salt and water solution.

  “That black stuff is a sign of demonic activity,” Lukas said.

  Alara walked around the room with the EMF. Priest shadowed her, weapon-ready.

  She stepped into the bathroom, and I held my breath.

  “Nothing,” she called from inside.

  “I want to get out of here.” I pulled on my boots and twisted my wet hair into a ponytail.

  Elle shoved her stuff back into her bag and grabbed her coat. “Me too.”

  We waited in the Jeep while Alara checked out, and Priest snuck Bear down the stairs the same way we’d brought him in the night before. Priest made it back first.

  Lukas turned on the radio and switched between stations. “I
want to see if anything weird was going on nearby.”

  Meteorologists continued to weigh in on the weather, citing everything from global warming to acid rain as possible causes.

  “Pretty soon, these geniuses will be saying the polar ice caps are causing it.” Priest changed the station.

  Alara jogged across the parking lot and climbed in just as the weather cut to breaking news: “The body of Father John O’Shea was discovered this morning when a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament arrived for eight o’clock mass to find the priest hanging above the altar. The police have ruled out suicide, due to what they are calling the bizarre details of the crimes.”

  “That was an hour ago,” Lukas said, pulling out of the parking space. “Where’s the church?”

  “Downtown. Ten minutes away.” Priest had already pulled up a map on his cell.

  I tried not to picture a priest hanging from the rafters of his church or the slimy, black handprint on the glass in the shower. But the more I fought to keep the images at bay, the harder my mind held onto them.

  “Think it’s him?” Lukas asked.

  We weren’t far from the church, but the police had blocked off the street thanks to the morbid crowd of onlookers gathered at the corner.

  “Yes.” Alara didn’t hesitate. “Park on the next block. We can walk.”

  Lukas guided the Jeep into a parking space, and Priest hauled one of the duffel bags from the trunk.

  The Boston sidewalk was teeming with people rushing to escape the rain. Before we turned the corner, I noticed something strange.

  On the block across from us, one man stood, unmoving.

  People pushed past him, yet he remained stock-still, water dripping from the visor of his Red Sox baseball cap. He stared through the crowd, his black eyes zeroing in on me. When I looked at him, crippling sensations rolled over me one after another like waves.

  An icy chill racing up my back—

  Black slime sliding over my body in the shower—

  The smell of ash and sulfur and rot—

  I tried to look away, but I couldn’t.

  Other people were staring at him, too, now—and at one another. A woman huddled beneath a designer umbrella bumped into him, then froze for a moment. The woman’s composed demeanor changed, and she shoved an elderly man walking beside her. Within seconds, they were screaming at each other. As people tried to squeeze past them, they accidentally brushed against the black-eyed man. I watched the anger spread through the crowd, radiating from him and rippling from one person to the next.

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