When Harper woke, her stomach felt dizzy, and her head throbbed. She wondered if her hangover would pass if she went back to sleep.
Her eyes snapped open as the evening's events rushed back to her. She wasn't hungover. She saw Brittney across from her, standing against a pole. Her hands were bound behind it.
"Don't try to move," an unfamiliar voice said. Harper blinked to clear her vision more and looked around, hoping to see who was speaking. There was a man nearby, and she wondered if he was a demon like those on the street.
Despite his warning, she attempted to pull free, but her hands were tied too.
"Let us go."
"No," he said. He laughed then, and the sound seemed to rattle her bones. "You didn't think it would be that simple, did you? You didn't even say please."
"What do you want with us?" Brittney asked. "Is it money? My father has money."
He gave her an amused look. "You, I might kill. Just for fun."
"Don't you dare," Harper said.
He looked back at Harper. "There's a bounty on your head, little gypsy. The man who delivers you will be rewarded beyond measure. The recognition alone, delicious."
Brittney let out a low moan. "Harper, what is this? What's he mean? I'm scared — he said he'd kill me."
The man looked between them, then slid a hand behind his back. When he brought it front and center again, he was holding a knife. The blade gleamed in the dull light of wherever they were being held. "Hmm. Who do I start with? Who will scream the loudest? With the red-haired girl, I get the satisfaction of the light leaving, but you, Harper, you'll stay alive… and suffer, and that is just tasty."
"Don't hurt her," Harper said. "She doesn't know anything about this. She's innocent."
"I love the cries of the innocent."
When he walked toward Brittney, she screamed, thrashing in her binds.
He studied her, head tilting. "You know nothing? It won't matter how fast you die then, will it?" He lifted the blade.
Before he could touch Brittney with it, another man entered. He was bigger than the other and still demonic in form. His spikes looked sharp and cruel.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm going to kill the red-haired girl," the first said, showing off his knife.
"Don't be an idiot. We need her."
His look was one of contempt. "Because she won't help us if we kill her friend. Put that knife away. The nexus is more important than your fun."
The first man sighed but slipped his knife back into the sheath at his back. "Fine. Harper, where is it?"
She lifted her chin, trying to decide how to best act. What would keep them alive the longest? Give them the best hope of surviving this? "I'm not going to tell you."
"I'll kill her if you don't," he said, jerking his thumb at Brittney.
"If you hurt her, I'll never say a word," Harper promised.
The two men moved away from her, speaking in quiet tones. Brittney wasn't struggling now but standing limply, tears running down her cheeks. Her makeup was no longer immaculate, and her hair was messed up. Harper stared at her, guilt gnawing at her stomach. If the demons hurt her friend, that was on her head.
"If you let us go, I'll help you," Harper said. "We can work something out. Why settle for a reward or recognition when you can have the nexus yourself? No need to play second fiddle, right?"
Neither acknowledged her.
"At least her," Harper called. "At least let my friend go. If you do, I'll take you to it. I'll take you to the nexus."
When they continued to whisper, ignoring her still, Harper spoke to Brittney. "Don't worry, okay? We're going to be all right."
"How do you know?" Brittney asked. "Why is this even happening? What are they talking about with this nexus thing?"
"My great-grandmother," Harper whispered. She looked down, trying to keep her voice from shaking. "Not the one you knew. My biological one. She had something once, something they want."
"They think you have it?"
"Do you?" Brittney asked, her voice hardly more than a breathed whisper.
Harper didn't answer, not knowing how well the demons could hear.
A couple of minutes later, the man who'd come in second approached. "You will tell me where the nexus is. Now, please."
"Let her go first," Harper said.
Unlike the first man, there was no humor in his voice, no casual playfulness at the prospect of violence. He walked up to Brittney, shot a dagger from his wrist, and cut her binds. She collapsed forward, almost falling. Then she caught her balance, teetered, and looked around, as though to run.
But the demon caught her arm and yanked her close. He circled her body with a powerful grip, so her back was to his chest. He put the knife to her throat and looked right at Harper. "Now."
"Tell me where it is."
"I don't know!" Harper burst out, the admission loud and terrified sounding. "I don't know, okay? I didn't know Ileana, and I didn't know about the powers or anything! Don't hurt her, please, there's no reason to hurt her!"
He paused, considering her coldly.
Brittney spoke then, her voice low. "She has friends, though. They know something about this. They can help. I guarantee it."
"Who are they?" he asked.
"I don't know," Brittney said. "There's two men and a woman. Chloe, Alec, Conner. I can take you to them. Harper said they're different; they're like you."
"Is that true?" he shot at Harper.
She didn't know what to say. But when he pressed the knife against Brittney's throat hard enough to draw a line of blood, she realized she didn't have a choice. "Yes, they can help. They have information about the nexus, and they're looking for it too."
"Are they demons?"
"Most of them. I was helping them find it."
"And now you'll help me."
"If you let her go."
He looked down at Brittney. "I'll let her go when the nexus is here with me. Until then, she's… collateral. Now, your demon friends… they'll come for you, I'm sure. We can't have that, can we?"
Harper said nothing.
"No, we can't," he told her. He took Brittney back to the pole, retied her, and then looked over at Harper. "If they're demons, they'll find you. The element of surprise does wonders, gypsy girl. We'll take care of them first, and then you'll help us."
He rejoined the other demon. The two conferred in a low voice once more, then left.
Brittney started to cry again.
"Don't," Harper said. "Brittney, don't, we'll be okay."
"You don't know that."
Harper tried to speak again, to reassure her, but the words wouldn't come out. Because Brittney was right, she didn't know. She knew nothing.
She was a gypsy who hadn't known about her powers until recently, and she wasn't sure how to use any of them… or even what most were. She knew about the Sight, but that would not help them get free. Maybe she could induce a vision. What then? She'd see herself dead? Or Brittney? A wild laugh got caught her in her throat.
Brittney gave a wan smile. "My mother signed me up for cooking classes. She said it would be a good way to spend some time together. We were supposed to go next week. So, you know, if we don't make it out of this… at least you saved me from trying to make ravioli."
Harper stared at her, then giggled. "Oh god, Brittney, I'm sorry about this."
"Don't," Brittney told her. "You'll give yourself an asthma attack with how much dust is in here. You'd think if they were going to kidnap us, they'd want to clean first. I mean, how can they even want to be here themselves? I know they're not quite… right… but can't they smell?"
"I bet demonic housekeepers would make a fortune," Harper said.
They both giggled at that, and then they were laughing. The sound was grim in the dank room, but nice too. It broke through the terror that had felt overwhelming only moments before.
Harper doubled over, eyes watering from the strength of her laughter. Only when she clutched at her sides did she realize her hands were free. Her amusement died, and she straightened, spinning around to look at the pole, confused. "The rope. Where'd the rope go?"
"The hell?" Brittney demanded. "What did you do?"
"I don't know!" She touched her wrists, wondering if she was dreaming. "I don't even…"
"Well, figure it out later," Brittney said, now impatient. "Get over here, untie me!"
Harper ran to her side and worked at the tight knots at her wrists. She cursed when her fingers couldn't find purchase.
"You're making it worse," Brittney said. "Harper, stop."
Harper moved her hands away, scowling. "I was never good at these."
"I know. Just… okay, see what you can find, just hurry."
She could hear Brittney's fear coming back and couldn't blame her. She moved around the room, looking for something that could help with the rope. There were crates against a wall and a few headless mannequins. "Is this a warehouse? I mean, it would be old, right? There's dust on those crates too, even more than the floor… where are we?"
"Come on, Harper!"
"Sorry!" Harper said, forcing herself to focus. There was an entryway that led out nearby, and while she didn't like leaving Brittney in the dark, it seemed like the best option. "I'll be back."
The room was filled with more of the crates. They were closed, but some had old packaging labels that noted them as women's clothing. Skirts, pants, dresses. Something about the place kept nagging at her mind, but she forced herself to move, looking for a box knife or crowbar or something similar.
After nearly five minutes of looking, she heard Brittney calling out again. She cursed and headed back toward her. She saw a glint of light from the corner of her eye and paused, looking for it again. There was a piece of glass on the floor, near to her. She went to it and saw a half-dozen broken shards.
"Yes!" She snatched one up and ran back.
"What took so long? Did you find something?" Brittney asked.
Harper held up the glass shard, then ducked behind her. "Be very still, all right?"
It seemed to take forever as Harper sawed at the ropes, trying not to cut herself with the jagged edge or slip and slice Brittney either. When she made it halfway through, she dropped the shard, grabbed hold of either side and yanked until it broke apart.
Brittney lurched forward, then spun around, grabbing Harper and hugging her. "Thank god!"
Harper hugged her back. Then they drew apart and looked around. "Let's get out of here."
"What if we run into more of them?" Brittney asked as they headed back into the room where Harper found the glass.
"Let's not," Harper suggested.
It was difficult to navigate the place with little light, but soon enough, they'd found another door that led into a corridor. The door at the end, presumably the exit, was locked. Both of them stood there and stared at it. Harper felt deflated.
"Back this way," Brittney said, drawing herself up taller. She ran back into the larger room and pointed upward. "See? The window."
"We can't reach that," Harper said. "It's twelve feet up, Brittney."
"Good thing there are crates," Brittney said, rolling her eyes.
Harper gave up arguing and followed her to the window. Over the next hour, they worked together to lift and move crates, building a platform they could climb. The higher it got, the more difficult it was to lift and place the boxes while staying balanced.
By the time they were ready to add the final one, both were dirty, drenched in sweat, and exhausted. Standing on the top, Brittney offered a smile. "See? I knew all the balancing in cheerleading would help me in the real world."
"I don't imagine they meant in this way," Harper said, then looked for a window latch. There was none, but there was a small lip they could use to lift it. At first, she thought it wouldn't go because no matter how hard they pulled, it didn't budge. Then there was a small creak of release, and it glided upward, fresh air hitting them in the faces.
"All right," Brittney said, looking down. "You remember how to safety drop, Harper?"
Brittney glanced down at the floor, where her heels were. They'd been too tricky to work in. She let out a low sigh. "I liked those."
"I'll buy you another pair," Harper told her.
"More likely, I'll buy you one," Brittney said, then turned to lower herself out the window.
Harper did the same, careful with how she moved so she wouldn't just drop. She had to move backward, so she could grip the ledge with her fingers and straighten her body against the wall. Only when she was entirely hanging did she let go.
The gymnast classes she and Brittney had taken until late junior high paid off when she hit the ground, dropped, and rolled back up onto her knees. She still felt the impact, but neither of her ankles were screaming, and she wasn't sporting a broken neck.
Beside her, Brittney was getting up already, having dropped at the same time.
"You okay, Harper?"
Brittney held up her hands. "Scraped. Feet, too. But it could be worse. Let's just go. We'll worry about first aid later."
Harper looked around, saw lights in the distance, and headed down the alley in that direction. They passed closed down, boarded over shops. There was graffiti on the walls, litter on the ground, and a musty smell.
As they got closer, Brittney said, "When we get back, we need to—"
"Get back? No, no, no…" a voice said from behind them.
Harper whipped around at the words and saw a demon there, a different one than before.
"Screw you," Brittney said.
Another stepped out of the shadows to join him.
"Get to the street," Harper told her friend.
She glanced back, seeing how far they were. Maybe thirty feet. They could make that. She prepared to sprint, but then more of the demons came, this time from behind, and she saw they surrounded them.
"Harper…" Brittney whispered, her voice tight. "What now?"
"I don't know," she whispered back.
"Come with us," the demon in the front said. "If you come back now, we won't hurt you too badly. Make us take you, and you'll regret it."
"Like we won't anyway," Harper said. "We're not stupid. You'll kill us either way."
"Yes, but before that death, it can be awful…"
Harper looked around at the words, but she realized almost instantly that she hadn't heard them. Not really.
"Come with us," the demon implored. "It will be over quickly this way."
"Screw you," Harper said to the demon. Then she dove at Brittney, and the two of them slammed into the ground seconds later, skidding far to the left of where they'd stood before.
The pain was severe, but sudden light flooded the area, and the roar of a vehicle distracted from all else. Harper looked around and saw an over-sized SUV tear through the chain-link fence, striking a demon in the chest while the others scattered. It slammed to a stop next to them.
The back door flew open, and Conner's voice was loud and commanding. "Get in. Now."
Brittney and Harper scrambled up and in.
Alec was driving, and he put the car in reverse, and they backed out at the same speed he'd come in at.
Once Harper had her breath back, she asked, "How did you find us?"
He spoke without looking at them. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"We don't need a lecture," Harper said. "Whose voice was that? Who said to get down?"
"That was me," Chloe said from beside her. "I can't broadcast much, not like someone with the talent, but you made the connection, so I just had to fire back. Good job on that."
Harper gave her a blank stare. "The connection? What?"
"The Old Mall," Chloe said. "You kept sending that. We all got the message. It took a while to figure out what you were talking about, but then the boxes, the brand name on that, I recognized it right away."
Brittney interrupted. "Oh my god! The Old Mall! Harper, we went there a lot when we were pre-teens, remember? Before it closed? They had that hot dog place with the hats…"
"I didn't realize I was broadcasting, though," Harper said. "I didn't even know it was the Old Mall. That's not even the name. That's just something we called it…"
"Subconscious signaling," Conner said. "I'm not surprised. Panic can bring about the use of power. Thank god for that. Are you both all right?"
"They almost weren't," Alec said, his voice cold. He wasn't looking still, just driving. "Do you realize they almost killed you, Harper? Not just you, but your friend there. They would have broken her first, then slaughtered her. Do you get that?"
"Alec," Chloe said.
"No," Harper said. "He's right, Chloe."
"Well, he might be, but that's not a reason to act like a jerk," Brittney said, her voice cutting. "Guess what, Alec? She didn't know this would happen. Okay? Good."
Alec turned to look at her, his eyes a hard glinting black.
"Jesus!" Brittney said. "What the hell are you?"
"I'm a vampire," Alec said. "And no, it's not okay. It's not good. In this world, you don't get to make mistakes like this, or you die."
Brittney didn't speak, the fierce look gone from her eyes, replaced by fear. That was something Harper couldn't take.
"Knock it off, Alec. You're mad at me, don't take it out on her."
Conner spoke before Alec could. "Let it go, all of you. It's happened. We've got to move, Alec. They came looking for us, and they will again. We need to take them out first."
"They won't be the only ones," Chloe said.
"No, but they're a start," Conner told her.
"What can I do?" Harper asked.
Alec pulled into the club VIP parking. "I'll take you up to the apartment. What can you do? Stay there. Don't make things worse than you already have."
"Jerk," Brittney muttered.
"You too," he said, ignoring the comment. "You can keep her company."
Brittney narrowed her eyes. "You think you can just tell me—"
Chloe reached out and touched Brittney's arm. Her voice was low and soft, and Harper saw her for what she was again. "Please go with her. Both of you need sleep and safety. Give us a few hours, and this will be over. Then you can yell and scream at Alec, and then things will go back to normal."
"Do you think so?" Brittney asked. The question wasn't snapped, but Harper could hear the sarcasm just under the surface.
If Chloe heard it too, she didn't comment. Instead, she just smiled. "Yeah, I do."