Unmarked by Kami Garcia

  Alara appeared on the landing upstairs, out of breath. “None of the salt lines are broken up here, either.”

  My aunt kicked back the corner of the braided rug on the floor and worked one of the floorboards free. A modified assault weapon, right out of a video game, was nestled inside. When she flipped a switch near the trigger, a series of green lights illuminated across the top of the barrel.

  Priest’s eyes widened with awe. “That’s a masterpiece of badassery.”

  “It’s a crowd control—” Faith started.

  “A semiautomatic, airburst crowd control weapon, with a laser rangefinder,” Priest finished. “In the military, they call it ‘the Punisher.’ ”

  Jared wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “I don’t care what they call it as long as it works.” Salt water continued to hiss from the sprinklers, flooding the first floor and coating everything in a sticky film.

  “There’s nothing up here.” Lukas headed back down the stairs with Alara.

  Bear leapt ahead of them. When the dog reached the bottom stair, he froze, and Lukas almost tripped over him. Bear stared up at the ceiling, transfixed, a low growl building in his throat.

  “He probably doesn’t like the sprinklers,” Alara said.

  Faith followed the dog’s gaze and raised her weapon. “That’s not it.”

  Every light in the house switched on simultaneously.

  I shielded my eyes from the sudden brightness, expecting the bulbs to flicker at any moment. Instead, the light changed from a dingy yellow to a deep crimson.

  “What’s happening?” Elle whirled around, her skin bathed in the same bloody tint as the rest of the room.

  Red bursts bled into my peripheral vision like a strip of film removed from the darkroom too soon. Between the flashes of color, I caught glimpses of the room. Cherry-stained streaks ran down the walls like blood. My stomach lurched, and I stumbled back.

  Priest caught my elbow.

  “Is it a poltergeist?” I remembered the way my house had come to life a few months ago.

  “No.” Alara shook her head, without tearing her eyes away from the walls. “A visual haunting.”

  The room seemed to tilt, and Faith gripped the banister. “This house was clean before the six of you showed up. What did you bring in here?”

  “Nothing.” My body swayed.

  The sprinklers spluttered, as the last of the salt water choked its way out.

  “A vengeance spirit couldn’t make it through my door unless it attached itself to one of you.” The words had barely left my aunt’s lips when a clock chimed upstairs. A second later, an oven timer went off in the kitchen, and the doorbell started ringing over and over.

  “Did you come straight here from the museum?” Faith shouted over the din.

  Lukas pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids. “Yes.”

  “What about inside? Did you touch anything?”

  Jared backed away from the bleeding wall. “Of course we did. How do you think we found the map?”

  My aunt splashed through the ankle-deep water in the hallway. “The map can’t be haunted. I made it. Anything else?”

  Priest shrugged. “A giant bottle cap, and I might’ve touched a few of those dead squirrels with the swords.”

  “But you didn’t take anything from inside?”

  “No.” Priest sounded annoyed.

  “Um…” Elle stalled. “I didn’t take anything. But I did find something on the floor.” She pulled up her sleeve. A gold art deco cuff clung to her wrist.

  “Take it off.” Faith held out her hand, and Elle complied.

  All at once, the doorbell stopped ringing and the cacophony of sounds fell silent. The color flashes subsided, and the red hue blanketing the rooms faded, working its way down from the ceiling.

  Elle let out a long breath. “It’s over.”

  Jared, Lukas, and Alara seemed less convinced, scanning the room along with my aunt.

  “You never remove crap from a place like that,” Alara said. “Museums are almost as bad as yard sales. I bet half the junk people buy at those things is haunted.”

  I didn’t realize objects could be haunted, which meant Elle definitely had no idea. My experience was limited to dybbuks, demonic entities trapped in sealed containers—the real version of Pandora’s Box.

  By now, the ceiling and upper two-thirds of the walls were completely white again, as the crimson stain filtered toward the baseboards. Bear growled, his gaze fixed on the waterline along the baseboards. Within seconds, the stain seeped into the water, turning the flooded hallway into the Red Sea. The stain spread across the surface like an oil spill in the ocean, moving unnaturally fast—and headed straight for my aunt.

  “We need to burn the bracelet. It might not be enough to destroy the spirit, but maybe it will banish it.” Jared sloshed down the hall until he found a steel bowl full of batteries and emptied it.

  Faith’s eyes widened in terror. “The windows are salted, and there’s a salt circle around the house. It’s trapped in here with us. We need to get out of the house.”

  A crack snaked its way down the wall next to the front door, the moment she spoke the words, and Bear’s growl turned feral. The drywall exploded, and a thick, black wire ripped itself out of the wall.

  “Get out of the water!” Lukas yelled.

  Priest caught Elle around the waist and hurled his body against the stairs, taking her with him. Jared stood in the hallway and scanned the room, his muscles tense, until he saw me standing safely on the stairs. He jumped and caught the banister, letting his body hang over the side of the staircase.

  Faith splashed toward us.

  “Take my hand.” Alara reached for her.

  Just as their fingertips touched and my aunt’s boot hit the step, the wire reared back like a viper. It struck the water and a spray of sparks erupted from the point of contact.

  Electricity splintered through the water, the salt providing the ultimate conduit.

  The force threw Faith forward, and her body slammed against the wooden staircase. She moaned and rolled onto her side, cradling her wrist.

  Alara knelt down to help her sit up. “We have to get that bracelet out of the house.”

  The wire hovered over the water then struck again.

  “I need your pouch.” Faith pointed at the bag of salt tucked in Alara’s tool belt.

  Alara dumped out the salt and handed it to her. “What are you going to do?”

  “I’m not sure if it will work.” My aunt dropped the gold cuff from the museum into the bag and tied it closed with her good hand. “Bear. Come.”

  The Doberman darted to her side, awaiting my aunt’s next command.

  Faith glanced at the window covered in trash bags. “We need to shoot out the glass.”

  Alara slid a paintball gun from the waist of her cargo pants. “Done.”

  My aunt turned to me. “Are you a good shot?”

  “I can hit the window if that’s what you’re asking.”

  She gestured at Priest. “Give Kennedy the Punisher.”

  He lifted the heavy weapon. “I’ve got it. This thing’s gonna have some hardcore kickback.”

  Faith threw him a hard stare. “My mother used to say that girls should be seen and not heard. I say we should be seen and feared. Give her the gun.”

  Priest handed me the weapon, and my aunt explained the basics. The ammo was packed with holy water and rock salt. To ensure an accurate shot, I had to lie on my stomach sniper-style and fire from the landing.

  The wire jabbed at the water again, only a few feet from the staircase.

  “On three,” Alara said, as we aimed together. “One. Two. Three.”

  I squeezed the trigger. The butt of the Punisher rammed against my shoulder, round after round. Glass exploded from the panes, sending sheets of black plastic fluttering into the air.

  “That’s enough,” Faith called out.

  Even after I stopped firing, my muscles continued to vib
rate and the sound from the shots echoed in my ears.

  Lukas grabbed the back of Jared’s jacket and hauled him over the railing. Jared looked at me, his expression full of awe.

  Faith bent down and offered Bear the pouch. The dog took it in his mouth and waited. She slid a small metal flashlight out of her pocket and shined the light on the bench in the hallway. Bear snapped to attention, his eyes locked on Faith.

  “Jump.” The moment she said the words, the Doberman leapt from the stairs. He landed on the bench and turned toward Faith, awaiting the next command.

  This time, she shined the flashlight on the dining room table, in front of the window we had just destroyed. “Jump.”

  The dog crouched and focused on the pale circle in the center of the table. I held my breath as he sprang forward. Bear’s paws hit the wood, and he skidded across the table, leaving a trail of scratches behind him.

  My aunt didn’t waste any time. She aimed the beam through the bay window and into the dark yard beyond it. At the same moment, one of the dining room walls cracked, and another wire began to work itself free.

  Faith didn’t hesitate. “Take it outside, Bear.”

  Bear focused on the circle of light and catapulted himself toward the jagged glass jutting from the frame. The dog’s lithe body sailed through the glass jaws, and he disappeared into the darkness.

  The electrical wires slithered and twisted through the air. By now, every inch of the floor was soaked—including the staircase where we were standing. The wires reared back, the black, plastic coating pulsing from the paranormal heartbeat inside them.

  I held my breath.

  Without warning, the wires dropped into the red water like stones. The pigment began to fade.

  “Bear must’ve crossed the salt circle. He’ll take the bag into the woods and leave it there, the way he was trained.” Faith leaned against wall and exhaled slowly. “You’re lucky we were dealing with a random vengeance spirit attached to that bracelet. If it had been Andras, this could’ve been a lot worse.

  “Are we good?” Jared asked.

  Priest tossed a cold-iron round into the flooded hallway. When nothing happened, he jumped down, his green Nikes splashing in the water. “We’re good.” He opened the basement door, and a rush of clear water ran down the stairs.

  “Are you okay?” Jared stood in front me, with damp hair and anxious eyes.

  I only nodded, watching as he knelt next to Faith and examined her wrist.

  “I’m fine. There are towels upstairs, second door on the left.” My aunt climbed down the steps and waded through water. She rummaged through her survival closet until she found an emergency splint buried underneath her stash of first aid supplies, which included dental extraction instruments and a suturing field kit. She tucked it under her arm and reached for a box of ammo.

  The box slipped from her fingers, and the rounds clattered to the floor. One hit the edge of my boot, and I picked it up.

  The shell in my palm wasn’t a salt round.

  It was a bullet.

  “Bullets won’t stop a demon.” Alara picked up the shell and handed it to Faith. “You’re better off with salt rounds.”

  “Thanks for the tip,” Faith said. “But I’m not planning to use them on a demon.”

  Goose bumps pricked my arms.

  From the wind chimes and the salt ring to the stockpiled supplies and apocalyptic paintings, Faith’s paranoia marked every inch of the property and her every action. But until now, she had seemed sane.

  Maybe she isn’t.

  “Are you saying you’re going to shoot someone, Faith?” The words tumbled out, and the moment they did, I wanted to take them back. She was my only connection to the Legion and my father—no matter how much I hated him. Eccentric and anti-social and paranoid I could handle, as long as she wasn’t crazy.

  My aunt finished winding a strip of tape around the splint and retreated to the kitchen. She paused in the doorway.

  “The demon isn’t the only one hunting me.”


  We should give her a little space,” I said after my aunt disappeared into the kitchen. “She seems more stressed out than when we first got here.”

  Alara sat down on the steps next to Bear and scratched the dog’s head. “If by stressed out, you mean crazy, then I agree.”

  “She’s been on the run, moving from house to house, for more than a decade,” Priest said. “Cut her some slack.”

  “It’s more than that,” Jared said. “She was loading her gun with bullets.”

  “Maybe we should leave.” Elle glanced at the door, her voice shaky. “I don’t think she wants us here.”

  “We can’t.” Lukas appeared on the stairs and dropped a few towels over the side of the railing. “She’s still the fifth member of the Legion. Even if she won’t help us, we need to find out what else she knows about Andras.” He ran a faded gray towel over his wet hair. “And what Faith is hiding from.”

  Elle wadded up her towel and threw it at him. “The demon. Even I know that.”

  He caught it with one hand and smiled at her. “Andras has been free for less than a month. Kennedy’s aunt has been in hiding for over a decade.”

  “So we hang tight and wait until she comes back out,” Priest said, a towel still draped over his blond hair.

  All of a sudden, a loud bang came from the kitchen like someone had smashed two heavy pots together.

  “Or not,” I said.

  Priest entered the kitchen first and almost slipped. The floor was covered with black trash bags, and at least a dozen bear traps were scattered on top of them.

  “Be careful.” Faith stood by the sink, wearing a welder’s apron and a yellow dishwashing glove on her uninjured hand.

  The floral scent I’d noticed earlier was overpowering in here.

  Alara’s eyes widened. “Is that wintersweet?”

  We watched as my aunt carried a metal soup can over to one of the traps and painted the teeth with a sticky pink substance that looked like raspberry preserves. “You’re a smart girl. Most people wouldn’t recognize it.”

  Alara held out her arm, so none of us could get any closer. “Faith, people call that stuff bushman’s poison for a reason. If it spills, the sap will kill you.”

  My aunt dipped the brush in the can and painted another trap. “Then I guess I should try not to spill it.”

  Elle scrunched up her nose. “What are you gonna do with those anyway?”

  “Protect us.” Faith wrapped one of the traps in a plastic tarp and carried it to the door.

  We watched from the window as she positioned the traps around the perimeter of the house. Jared offered to help, but Faith refused. I held my breath as she unwrapped the metal teeth tainted with poison.

  When she came back inside, Priest didn’t waste any time. He pointed at the traps. “Bullets and bear traps? None of this stuff will protect you from a demon. Who are you really hiding from, Faith?”

  When my aunt realized we were all waiting for the answer, her irritation turned to shock. “You really don’t know.”

  “So tell us,” Alara said.

  “The Illuminati.”

  Priest staggered back a few steps. “Are you sure, Faith? Because I think my granddad was the last Legion member to see any of them, and that was over forty years ago.”

  My aunt pressed her lips together and swallowed hard, steeling herself. “If they kidnap me again, I’ll ask for identification. But I spent four days being interrogated by them, so I think that qualifies.”

  For a moment no one moved or said a word.

  Alara found her voice first. “Why did they kidnap you? What did they want to know?”

  My aunt started coating another trap. “Something they didn’t find out. Something I’ll take to the grave. But when I go, I’m taking some of those bastards with me.”

  “If Andras opens the Gates, I’m pretty sure he’ll kill them all for you,” Lukas said. “I know it’s a lo
ng shot, but if you help us, maybe we can stop him.”

  “I’m not going to help you kill yourselves.” Everything from Faith’s stoic expression to her rigid posture made it clear she wasn’t going to change her mind.

  “I’ll take your place,” I said automatically.

  Faith spun around, her dark hair creating a tangled mane around her face. “It doesn’t work that way, Kennedy. The duty rests with me until I die or pass it down to a successor.”

  “Then pass it down to me.” If anyone warranted a life sentence of defending the world from demons and spirits, it was me.”

  My aunt’s face turned ashen. “Your father would never want you to be part of this.”

  Rage exploded inside me like a grenade. “My father left me. He didn’t even bother to show up after my mom died. I don’t care what he’d want, and I’m already part of this.”

  Faith stared at me, speechless. “He made mistakes, Kennedy. But there are things you don’t know. I will not put his only child in harm’s way.”

  “And letting Andras get strong enough to open the Gates isn’t putting me in harm’s way?”

  Faith peeled off the yellow glove and tossed it in the sink. Then she shouldered past me without a word.

  When my aunt reached the doorway, she stopped. “Your father isn’t the man you think he is, and even if the heavens came crashing down around me, I would never pass this god forsaken curse on to you.”

  I stood in front of Faith’s bedroom door, summoning my courage. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, so many questions she might be able to answer.

  As I raised my hand to knock, the door opened.

  My aunt stood on the other side wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, her hair braided down her back. One glance around her bedroom convinced me the outfit was probably Faith’s version of pajamas. The Eye of Ever was painted on the ceiling above a four-poster bed. The bed was sandwiched between rows of metal shelves, overflowing with everything from plastic milk jugs of holy water and mason jars packed with rock salt, to dog-eared road atlases and enormous crucifixes that looked like they belonged above church altars.

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