“You what?!” Monty shrieked, jumping to his feet. Leah snarled in response, her black eyes never wavering from Clint. “You blew up a building? A building?”
“Calm down, man,” the demon insisted. “The building was empty, alright? The point was to make them think they were under attack and have them all converge to that side of town. Once I knew Jeb was away from Lizzie, I got her and got the hell out.”
“Oh.” Monty wasn’t sure what surprised him more; his willingness to take the stranger at his word, or his sudden concern for the lives of bandits. “That’s not so bad, then. Why can’t you do that again?”
As soon as the words had escaped his lips, the angel grimaced and waved off Clint’s inevitable response. “Nah, my bad. They’d expect it and react differently the second time around, wouldn’t they?”
Clint nodded. “Let’s just say you won’t ever be able to fool a bandit with the same trick twice.”
Monty sighed, running his fingers through his hair. I don’t have a lot of time left. “Why can’t I see what planet you hail from?”
Clint let out a scoff that was more of a laugh. “Because I don’t want you to know.”
“How is that even possible?”
“Let’s just say my brethren and I have learned how to alter the appearance of our souls,” he offered. “Kind of like changing clothes. We can add extra layers to ours until what we want hidden is just that.”
Monty frowned at the idea of altering his own soul, puzzled by the very notion. He pocketed his hands again, reflexively taking hold of his sketchpad. He was debating over what next to ask when the demon stood and nonchalantly walked over to Monty’s side of the table. Leah hopped up onto the table and back down onto their side, planting herself between them.
“Listen, man–as fun as it is to watch you think up twenty questions to ask me, we don’t exactly have a lot of time. I can tell you don’t even know what you should be asking, though, so I’ll give you a rundown of what’s to come.” The two swapped hardened expressions as Clint spoke.
“I know who you are–and I don’t just mean in this life. I recognize your soul, and I know the name you were given in your first life. I recognized Lizzie, too, so I figured I’d do you both a favor and deliver her to you.”
‘Deliver’? Like she’s a package? “Why?”
Clint shrugged. “I was in the neighborhood, I was feeling generous, my chief thinks you’ll hear us out–take your pick. Point is, she’s your responsibility now.”
The angel’s lips twisted in a bitter smile. “Wow. Some brother you are.”
“She and I might have been born siblings in this life, but as far as ‘first life’ relations go, that isn’t the case. She’s nothing to me,” the demon declared, stepping back toward their original meeting place. Monty ambled along with Leah between them. “You’re her guardian now, so don’t fuck things up. Give her everything she needs and don’t fight it when she eventually leaves.”
Monty froze, his eyes lowered. Clint’s words not only stung, but reminded him of something Kris had told them just hours earlier:
“Bandits don’t do well in confined spaces–they’re used to traveling by any means necessary.”
Clint took notice of Monty’s change in behavior and turned to face him. “Don’t read too much into it, man. You’ll understand what I mean when it happens.”
The royal advisor regained his composure and shrugged off the warrior’s words of consolation. “You know, for someone who claims that Lizzie means nothing to you, you sure seem to care about her.”
“I said she was nothing to me,” he reiterated as he turned back and continued walking away. “Not that she meant nothing to me. There’s a difference.”
Monty took advantage of the distance between them to pull out his sketchpad and check on Daya and Leah’s pages. Neither had sent in a report of their own accord, but with a brush of his fingers against the empty pages came information.
Target status: ACTIVE
Heart rate: 74 BPM
Monty frowned. So he’s smart enough to bring backup but stupid enough to meet an enemy without a weapon?
His eyes widened; his thoughts had triggered something the other teen had said.
“ ‘Only an idiot would meet an enemy alone,’ ” he recalled aloud.
Clint shot him a look over his shoulder. “What?”
“That’s what you told me earlier,” Monty reminded him. “That was your exact wording– ‘enemy.’ “
“Listen–” Clint spun back around and raised a hand to caution the angel–only for Leah to snap at him.
“You said you recognized my soul,” realized Monty. He took a step back and flipped over to Torben’s page. “You know who I was in my first life, you know Lizzie and I are connected somehow–but you call me your enemy.”
“Monty, whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong,” the demon countered.
“Really?” he speculated. “ ‘Cause I think you’re a member of the Nýchta Tribe, and the reason you have your memories is because your true chief was recognized.”
The angel glanced down at his sketchpad. Heart rate: 114 BPM. “I guess in this little side mission of yours you weren’t supposed to reveal your group’s identity to me.”
The air between them was thick. Suffocating. Monty couldn’t help but smirk at the tense expression worn by his opponent. This Plutonian seriously thought he had me in the dark, he mused.
Then the silence was finally broken. “Please,” Clint begged. “Don’t tell Lizzie about any of this.”
Monty’s cool mask faltered. “Seriously? You think I’m going to shelter your baby sister from the truth about you? All she’s talked about since we picked her up was you. ‘Where’s Clint?’ ‘I want Clint!’ ”
“Stop,” the warrior stressed. “Please, she can’t know anything about this.”
“Why?” The royal asked. “After everything she’s been through, the kid deserves the truth. If I were you, I’d walk into that colony and become the family that she needs–”
“I was her only family from day one!” Clint exploded with frustration. “I was the oldest of seven fucking kids. I went through everything she did first, and worse than she ever knows, all because I didn’t have an older sibling to lean on!”
Monty was speechless as the former bandit ranted. The sun began to rise from somewhere behind him, and its rays illuminated the other teen’s face. His eyes shone crimson in the light, and it was then that he finally saw the resemblance.
“I hid her when Jeb went on his rampages. I taught her to read, and fight back, and how to run away from them–”
He was interrupted by the sound of a snapping twig.
Monty’s eyes widened as Clint’s narrowed. Damn it, Torben.
“Is that one of your fake animals?” the demon inquired.
Monty nodded, his gesture assuring the other spirit. He used Clint’s relief to gain an edge, hoping to learn more before parting with the Plutonian. “Clint, why don’t you want Lizzie to know about you?”
“You don’t get it,” he said, shaking his head. “If she knows who I am, it could put her in danger. There’s a lot going on that you don’t know, that I don’t have the time to explain. There’s more to this world than what goes on within your colony, you know.”
The royal advisor’s eyebrows furrowed. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Clint scoffed. “It means you’re the sheltered one–and you won’t tell her that I was ever here, or that we met, because if you do then she’ll try to cross bandit territory to find me. I think we both know how that will go.”
Then the demon spun around and trudged off, heading in a direction that baffled the angel. “Uh, Clint? There’s only one road off the island, and it’s behind me.”
“I know,” he called out over his shoulder. “Let’s see how resourceful you are, Huggins.”
Clueless, the angel asked, “Who–?”
His question was cut off as a boom sounded not ten meters behind him. The deafening noise was followed by a crackling and a thud; the force of the explosion had felled a tree. He felt a surge of energy as he himself was thrown forward–Torben was destroyed. What the–?
The fox dashed after Clint, teeth bare as it lunged for his back. Monty scrambled to his feet. “Leah, NO!”
The creature exploded when she made contact with the demon, showering the ground in ink. Damn it!
Monty sprinted in the direction he had come from, his notebook to his lips. “Signal Frankie!”
He slammed the book shut and slid it back into his pocket as Daya let out a distant screech. Another explosion sounded behind him, too close for comfort. Beads of sweat dribbled down his face; he wiped them away with the sleeve of his hoodie as he sent out a mental plea.
There was an energy shift just ahead of him and to the left; he threw himself off to the right, catching himself with his palms to the ground as he completed a somersault, and continued on from that point. A loud boom emanated from the spot he had nearly ran through, forcing the angel to scan the landscape ahead of him with hyper-vigilance.
First he wants me to take care of his sister, now he wants to kill me! The lieutenant fumed. I’d wish that the rest of her family were different, but they’re the Jesup Gang. This is probably just a normal Saturday morning for those psychos!
Monty was distracted by his anger, so much so that he did not catch the energy shift until he was running through it. His eyes grew large as he tried to veer left, only for the intense ringing to consume him.