The return of consciousness meant the return of pain. Viola squeezed her eyes shut and let out a low moan. Being dead hurt more than she'd thought it would. No wonder many of the ghosts she'd encountered were so pissy.
"You are not dead, Daughter."
At the unexpected sound of another voice, Viola jolted and jerked her arms. The cuffs around her wrists snapped like brittle wood. Wide, startled eyes darted around the pavilion. Her father's car was gone; her backpack was the thing besides herself on the marble floor.
She sat back on the dusty floor fished her cell phone out of her pocket. No bars. Heart aching and eyes stinging, she cradled her bruised wrists in her lap. Her backpack, and the water bottle she'd packed that morning, was within arm's reach, but she was too weak to move. Her limbs felt heavy and useless. There was a low humming in the back of her mind, and a stone had settled in her belly. She felt the first waves of panic and an impending freak out lap at her mind.
"Daddy?" She swallowed, licked her cracked and bleeding lips. "Aunt Hat? Was that you?"
"I was led to believe you were of above-average intelligence."
Viola frowned. The voice was coming from inside her head; it was the same voice she'd heard just before passing out. She'd thought it was nothing more than an auditory hallucination. "Who are you?"
"You do not listen to your elders, do you?" The voice tsked. "Such appalling behavior will not be tolerated in the future, Daughter."
"Elrachaim?" she ventured, praying she was wrong. If she was very, very, very lucky, this was nothing more than a nightmare brought on by too much ice cream the night before. Olivia had warned her about that extra scoop of butter pecan.
"The proper form of address is 'Lord Elrachaim,'" the voice corrected.
Fresh, fiery anger surged through Viola. The power slumbering in her stomach roared to life. The urge to freak out dissipated like smoke as anger took over. "Get the hell out of my head and I'll call you anything you'd like."
"That is not possible, Daughter."
"I am not your daughter."
"Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but you have been mine since conception." Elrachaim paused. A black blob in a corner of Viola's mind floated to the forefront. "Given how easily your Burke sire abandoned you, perhaps it is not as terrible as you make it sound."
Vibrating with rage, Viola shot to her feet. She snatched her backpack off the ground and stalked across the pavilion towards the grassy road. "Screw this."
"Where are you going?"
"To find someone who can evict you." A flash of silver nestled in the brown grass caught Viola's eye. Her amulet was where her father had dropped it. She crouched and reached for it.
Viola's arm froze. She tried to extend her fingers so she could grab the amulet but she couldn't move. No matter how much she willed it, she couldn't so much as wriggle her fingers.
Panic burbled in her chest. Having the demon in her head was freaky but she could have handled it. Growing up with the telepathic Tobias Duke had taught her how to protect her innermost thoughts from invaders. If Elrachaim could control her body, however, she was way out of her league.
"It's just a protection amulet. What are you afraid of?" she spat, burying the fear deep in the recess of her mind so the demon couldn't use it against her.
"It is not meant to protect. It is designed to bind the wearer's power."
"No. Dad gave it to me for my birthday last year. He said it was to protect me."
Elrachaim laughed. "It protected him more than it protected you, Daughter. You received an influx of power on the fifteenth anniversary of your birth. With my consent, he bound your power so you would not attract any unnecessary attention."
"And so I wouldn't keep him from turning me into a piece of rental property." Viola eyed the amulet contemplatively. She memorized the designs and filed them away where the demon couldn't access them. "You can let go, now. I'm not going to touch it."
Viola's arm dropped to her side. She stared at the long path and then up at the clear night sky. Where had the day gone? Had she been out of it for that long? Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that breakfast was the last meal she'd eaten. She knelt in the grass and unzipped her backpack. A thick manila envelope with her name and Elrachaim's typed on a white label was on top of her school notebooks and folders.
She tapped a finger on the corner of the envelope. She wasn't in the mood to read her father's explanations or have him kiss Elrachaim's ass. She shoved a hand deeper in the pack and pulled out a crushed chocolate chip granola bar. If she was going to walk all the way back to the city, she needed something to keep her blood sugar up.
A few moments later, she was flat on her back watching the stars twinkle merrily overhead. Elrachaim had been silent while she ate, for which she was imminently grateful. His oily, imperious voice made her nauseous.
"So," she said, crossing her ankles and shifting so that the spine of her Algebra II textbook wasn't digging into the back of her neck. "If Aunt Hat and Dad were so eager to have you cross over, or whatever, why didn't they stick around? I thought they'd have a Welcome to Our Dimension party set up for you."
"I made it clear that I wanted time alone with my new host." Disappointment dripped from Elrachaim's words. "I had hoped they would prepare you better. You are not nearly as receptive as expected."
"Well, no, I suppose I'm not. Then again, no one asked whether or not I wanted a demon stuffed in my head. It's the sort of thing one likes to be consulted on, you know?"
"You are angry."
"Gee, ya think?" Viola took a long swig from the water bottle and since she couldn't glare at Elrachaim settled for scowling at the moon.
Elrachaim was quiet for so long Viola half-hoped he'd disappeared completely. When he spoke again, his voice was softer, more contemplative. It was a tone that reminded her of her father after he'd had one too many martinis. "You wish your sire and his sister had kept you apprised of your destiny."
"Uh, no, actually I wish there wasn't a destiny or whatever in the first place." She twisted the cap back on her water bottle. "Don't think that just because you're inside my head you suddenly understand human behavior. It doesn't work that way. You're still just a demon."
"The universe works the way I decide it will work, Daughter. In time you will learn to accept that my word is law."
Viola snorted. She sat up, climbed to her feet, and brushed dirt off her jeans. The rage and unrestrained power rolling in her stomach made her restless. Her legs twitched with the need to run until she ran out of ground. She snagged the top loop of her backpack and swung it off the ground.
Her body froze. The fiery rage doubled, set the blood in her veins to boiling. Slowly, her fingers curled into tights fists. Her jaw clenched; beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. She concentrated on breaking Elrachaim's hold so hard she feared her brain would dissolve into jelly from the pressure.
After what felt like an eternity, she extended her left leg and took a small step forward. A few moments later, she was able to move her right leg. Her lungs burned and her muscles were as weak as they were after a successful track meet, but Elrachaim's surprise was worth the pain.
"Don't ever do that again," she ground out, sucking in huge gulps of brisk air.
"This body is my possession now, Daughter."
"Yeah, well I was here first." Viola clung to the glorious anger zipping through her system. She had a feeling it was the only thing that gave her the slightest edge over the demon.
"I demand to know where we are going."
"Iam going to have a very long talk with my father."
Elrachaim sighed dramatically. Viola rolled her eyes. It figured that of all the demons her family would chose to use as a dark magic well, they'd pick a drama queen. "Feel free to leave anytime you'd like. I won't be offended." She looped her arm through a backpack strap.
"I cannot. The bond between us cannot be broken."
"We'll see about that." Viola stuffed her freezing fingers in her pockets and set off towards the highway. As soon as she got a cell signal, she was calling Duke. He was one of the few people she trusted not to be in league with her lying bastard of a father. Moonlight caught the crimson glimmer in her eyes as she stepped out onto the dirt road. "We'll just see about that."