Chapter IX

A Cat Without Claws

Opening my mouth to have the biggest yawn ever, my eyes watered and I rubbed them tiredly. Luke was still KO'd beside me, and I could feel his breathing ruffling my hair. Thank Satan this was a double bed. I didn't know what I would do if we were closer than this. Oh, you know, maybe spontaneously combust.

He stirred, and I was afraid I would wake him up, nonetheless. So I grabbed the blanket from last night, shook it free of the grass, then just dumped myself on the chaise. Sunlight streamed in from the windows, and all I could think was aw, hell, I skipped school. Well, he did, too, so I'm taking him down with me.

I crashed almost immediately, after that little episode, then woke up maybe only an hour later, judging by the sunlight. I had a big stretch, disliking the cat aspect of it, and turned to face Luke.

Oh, he was awake alright. And staring at me like I was a new, unidentified specimen under a microscope. Damn, what have I done?! I expected something along the lines of "Hahahaha! I know your secret, you uncultured swine! And now I shall expose you to the world! Mwahahahaha!"

But what I got was him saying, without even batting an eyelash, "You have a nice ass."

I didn't know what to say to that, so all I responded was, "Um, thanks…?"

"So that was insane," he murmured, rolling over so he was on his back, staring up at the night sky painted ceiling.

"For you, maybe. For me it was relieving."

"Mmmhmm, care to share why?"

"Well, being in a human form is a major pain, since you're something so big and threatening in reality. It's like an obese person sucking in their stomach so they look super thin, but feel like they're going to burst at any second."

"That is the weirdest comparison I have ever heard in my life."

"You obviously have not lived very long."

"By the way," he said, turning to face me again. "How old are you, really?"

"Eighteen," I said, like it was stupid of him to ask.

"No, I mean, you look eighteen, but are you secretly a couple of centuries?"

"I understand where you're coming from, but no, I'm eighteen for real."

"Huh. How long is a demon's lifespan?"

"We can live forever, if we wanted to. We aren't immortal; we can get hurt just like anyone else. But it's either imprinted into your type of demon to stop aging, or you have a mage cast a never-aging spell on you. However, half demons can only live up to twice the lifespan of a human. People with only hints of demon blood tend to live only a little longer than humans."

He narrowed his eyes, thinking. "That's… a lot to take in."

"Tch, humans," I sighed.

"What did you mean, 'type of demon'?"

I sighed again, thinking of how long some of these explanations could take for a human. "You expected me to just grow some bat wings. Well, there are demons like that. There could be many kinds of demons that grow bat wings. I, however, am a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox, as you saw last night. There are werewolves, vampires, cat demons, dog demons, even rabbit demons. So when I say 'type of demon', I mean that we're not of the same race."

He nodded, but I didn't think he fully understood. "So like we have Negros, Asians, and the like…"

"We have different kinds of demons." I nodded, thinking the comparison was at least a little accurate. "However, despite your colours, humans generally have the same abilities. Different demons can have huge changes in abilities. But we generally have some in common, more strength, speed, intelligence, et cetera."

"Okay, say that like it's nothing," he muttered sarcastically.

I cocked my head to one side, confused. "It is nothing."

He shook his head. "What time is it?"

I glanced at the clock, blinking neon green on my bedside table. And then I winced. "One in the afternoon."

"Oh, well," he sighed, defeated. "I should've expected this, I guess."

"Yup," I muttered. Then I noticed something, squinting at his face. "Wait, you're a wreck. Come with me." I stood up, walked over to him, then held out my hand to help him up. Surprised at the sudden gesture, he took it somewhat shyly.

For the second time, we were crowding in the bathroom, Luke sitting as still as a statue on the counter while I cleaned a bunch of dirt and stuff off of his face.

"Sorry," I mumbled.

He just shrugged.

"Were you scared?" I asked quietly, after a moment of awkward silence.

He was quiet, too, then he shrugged again. Damn that ever present shrug. "I couldn't see you very well."

My hand froze over his left eyebrow. "What?"

"It was like… looking at you through water. You were all ripple-y and hard to see. I could see your outline, but it was like the rest of you was invisible."

Nothing was said for what felt like the longest time, my brain working and eyes narrowing. Then, setting a world record for most shocked young lad, I threw my shirt off with insane speed and made Luke squeak.

"What are you doing?!" He demanded, flushed. Then he gasped. "What the hell happened to your back?!"

"On the back of my neck," I panted, losing my breath over the concept that was forming in my mind. "Look. Is there anything there?"

Gingerly, he lifted my hair to see. Then he said, "Yeah, a blue and white tattoo of yin and yang. Didn't you know?"

I internally cussed. I should never have underestimated Onibaba. Of course she wouldn't let me into the human world without taking precautions. She thought I was young, and stupid, and premature. This was an effect from the collar, making it impossible for anyone to see my true form outside of the barrier. I should've known.

Shaking my head in disbelief (and, quite frankly, disgust), I didn't hear the door open. But I did hear Luke's breath catch, and suddenly smelt Hunter's scent.

In unison, all of us said "Uhhhhh…".

"Azul…?" Hunter asked, jaw slack.

"Yes, Hunter," I said, not paying any attention to him. I didn't get what the big deal was; I was just surprised that I didn't hear him come in.

"What's, uh, going on…?"

"Luke's here."

"Hi," Luke said, sounding totally awkward.

"Okay then," Hunter muttered robotically.

"Why are you home?" I asked,

"I felt sick," he explained, avoiding eye contact. "I needed to come home. But I think I'll just go… to Eric's." I didn't know who that was, but before I could say anything, he slammed the door. This time I did hear him storming down the stairs, slamming the front door shut, and muttering something about "not inviting her into our household just so she could have fun with evil neighbours".

"That was the most awkward situation ever," Luke sighed, collapsing against the mirror.

"I don't see why."

"Azul, for Chrissake, it's bad for girls to not wear shirts!" He yelled, all signs of patience long gone. "Teenage boys have urges. You hear me? Urges! They'll love to uncomfortably stare at you, drooling at the sign of your boobs! Do not randomly strip or be shameless ever again! Understand?! It's B. A. D!"

It seemed like silence enveloped the entire neighbourhood after that little rampage. Then I was suddenly reminded of the story of Adam and Eve.

After they ate the Forbidden Fruit, the Fruit Of Knowledge, they suddenly covered themselves in select areas, feeling the utmost of shame.

It's bad for girls to not wear shirts…

Luke was my Forbidden Fruit of Knowledge.

My face was suddenly on fire.

"Hya!" I screamed, shoving both of my hands to his face to cover his eyes. I heard the trademark "What the" then scuttled off.

Azulismiyarah Dulcina, now aware of the concept of shame. That made a mortifying journal entry.

"So," I said after that whole mess had calmed down, sitting on the couch downstairs next to where Luke was. "There's something I wanted to ask you."

He raised is eyebrow. "Shoot."

"How come you're being so accepting of all of this? I thought you'd… call me a freak, order to have me burned at the stake, or something."

It was quiet, so I looked up at him curiously. He was smiling at me. "Because you're you, regardless of being a demon or not."

If he was expecting me to blush or be flattered or something, he didn't get it. I scrunched up my face in confusion. "Okay, that's fine and dandy, but I have no personality."

"Were you trained not to have one?"

That was a weird question. "Yeah, you could say that."

"Whatever floats your boat."

I rolled my eyes. "I don't even want to try to understand you anymore. But, you were scared."

"Duh."

"You sure got used to the fact that I'm a killer quickly."

His face could've been carved from stone from how hard it had gone. "So am I."

"Right. Sorry."

"Hey, Azul."

"By the way, since when did I give you permission to address me so informally?" I demanded, not remembering if I ever said, "Just call me Azul" to him or not.

He rolled his eyes at me, and I noticed how annoying it could be. "Call me crazy, but last night, even though I couldn't see very well, it looked like you had nine tails."

"And?"

"Well!" He shrugged his shoulders exaggeratedly.

"I'm a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox. Regular fox demons are kitsune."

"Good to know that there are 'regular' demons."

Even though he didn't move, I could practically hear the air quotes around regular.

"Now that we've established that you are a demon," he started, and even he couldn't quite hide the shudder at that word, "why are you really here?"

"It's a long story," I sighed, exhaustedly letting myself slouch into the couch.

"Oh, please," he said sardonically.

"Okay. Give me a second." I darted upstairs, grabbed an easel and markers, then thumped back down the stairs.

"It all started with this," I said, quickly drawing a stick figure with a crown coming down from the sky. "Ages ago, a celestial being who called herself Kaguya came to earth to avoid a war among the gods, or so the legends say."

Surrounding her, I drew more stick figures bowing at her feet, and made some look creepy (or just plain demented) to represent demons. "Everyone respected her, humans and demons alike. They thought she was literally a goddess come to save them from all disaster. They worshipped her, lavished her with bountiful gifts, you get the gist of it."

Then I drew foxes with nine tails (or something that at least resembled them) sneering at the crowd. "But my ancestors, the first gumihos, hated any kind of democracy or something like that. They hated diplomacy, diplomats, gods, and derivatives thereof. So they went against Kaguya by playing pranks on and murdering all of her worshippers, as is in a fox's nature." I finished that sentence with a rather gory scene of foxes devouring humans and demons alike.

"For that reason, Kaguya placed a curse on them, stripping them of their freedom that they loved, so that they would have to guard and serve her for eternity. This duty has been passed down from generation to generation, then finally, to me."

I drew another stick figure with long strands of hair and fox ears. "I was being trained by Marcus, the demon who had trained all previous generations. But I was being stupid and wistful, and tried to bust out of my… facility." My hand gripped the marker dangerously tight as I started with this topic.

"These… things came after me," I continued, drawing solid black squiggly lines for the Darkness. "I don't know what they were, but it was obvious that they were malicious by how they were going to attack me." I was squeezing the marker so tight that ink was oozing down the page. "I was never a good fighter, a weakling and failure compared to other demons. Marcus had to come and save me.

"However, they were too much for him to handle, and he was… overpowered." A stick figure with wings lying in a pool of liquid. "I don't know how it happened, but I must have forced a transformation and kicked those things' asses, because before I knew it, I was big, and they were gone." A big nine tailed fox leaning over the other stick figure, tears dropping from its eyes.

"He got sick, and he still is, as far as I know. My other… 'caretaker', Onibaba-" I made her stick figure super ugly and gross on purpose "- couldn't take care of me. So she sent me to a friend of her's to do that, which is Karen, the woman of this house." I closed the cap on the marker, which was all deformed and probably couldn't be used again. "And that is why I am here."

Judging by his face, he was still letting all of it sink in, since he was staring at my diagrams.

"Well?" I asked.

"Okay, I get the gist of it, but…"

"But?"

"The presentation definitely leaves something to be desired."

I chucked the marker in his face. "It was quick, okay. Do you understand?"

Rubbing his left eye, he nodded. "And the bruise you gave me was just beginning to heal."

Distracted from my presentation, I whirled on him, face red. "You remember?!"

"Nah, only that you punched me." He rubbed his jaw, most likely because of phantom pain. "Also, you acted weird when you saw it. I'm not stupid, and it was easy to put two and two together."

"Right. Ahaha…" I trailed off awkwardly, eyes darting around like a scared animal. Thank god he didn't remember more than that.

"If I did anything to hurt or upset you, I'm sorry," he murmured honestly, and my shoulders relaxed a bit.

It's not like he did it on purpose. Let it go, Azul. It's not that big of a deal anyway.

"How do you know the curse was totally passed down to you?" Luke asked, trying to catch my eye.

I avoided that, considering. Then I walked over to the couch, rested a foot on a cushion, and started to lift up my skirt.

He immediately looked away. "I THOUGHT WE HAD THIS CONVERSATION!"

I flushed. "We did, but I can show you proof."

"Now how the hell can you do that?"

"Just look over, dammit! This would've been much easier if you had left me and my shamelessness be."

I heard him grumble "That would've meant doom for us all", but he obeyed. Then stared.

"Oh," he said, staring at my right thigh.

"That's the mark of the curse," I explained, gesturing to the tribal flower shaped mark with a spiralling design taking residence on my thigh. "Everyone in my family… did have it, but now it's just me. Oh, and maybe my grandmother, but you already know that I don't know for sure."

"It's… pretty," he offered.

"It's shameful," I scoffed. "This is the mark of my family's shame, a stigma to bear forever more. Unless we- I find a way to break the curse, but I don't see that happening."

"You have a lot of marks on your body, I've noticed."

"Those scars are from training… I'm pretty sure. Maybe I got them during the time I can't remember. The one on my neck was a spell so no one can see my true form, and I'm sincerely hoping that I get no more of these in the future, since I'm getting pretty damn sick of them."

"And the one on your hand?" He asked.

Damn, he remembered. "When we were doing the dishes at your house, a steak knife cut me. But don't worry, I drained the water immediately, so nothing's contaminated."

"Contaminated?" I had stunned him.

"If someone drinks or gets demon blood infused with them, they either become a demon of that race, or an Undead, one that's not a demon nor human, but an inbetween that's not really alive or dead. A living corpse, as you'd call it."

"So basically a zombie."

"That's the word I was looking for."

"You're not like other demons, are you," he stated suddenly.

My skirt fell from my hands, shocked from the sudden comment. "Why would you say that?"

He considered. "Would you say that demons love to kill people?"

"Yeah."

"You saved children from becoming zombies. I don't think normal malicious demons would do that. No, only a demon like you would save them."

Flattered by the comment, I flushed and looked away. "But being different isn't a good thing."

"In any world," he added, smiling sadly.

I shrugged indifferently, my mind kind of wandering. The world of humans and the world of demons didn't seem that different after all. We do what we do to survive, differences are a bad thing, finding someone to actually trust is hard.

"This sure beats going to school," he sighed, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back. "Although it kind of seems like this is demon history school. Is being a demon history instructor in your future career choices?"

I shook my head. "My life's duty is to be Kaguya's guardian. Being here right now is completely against my 'destiny'. Besides, what I just told you isn't even a fragment of demon history."

"Holy," he muttered. "I have a lot to catch up on."

Sighing, I crossed my arms and furrowed my eyebrows. "Don't think I'm going to tell you everything. The more one becomes aware about the demon world, the greater the chance is that you'll be targeted."

"… And you couldn't tell me about this before?"

"I thought it was obvious."

"What's obvious to you might not necessarily be obvious to humans."

"Regardless, the less you know, the better." I sighed, rubbing my temples. It was a long week, and the feeling of release was starting to wear off.

"What, exactly, would I be targeted by?"

"See, this is one of those things that I can't tell you. But I can tell you this: they are immensely dangerous, so I advise you to stop asking so many questions."

He clamped his mouth shut, thinking. Then, very quietly, he said, "All demons are dangerous, huh?"

"There is no such thing," I said, trying to choose my words carefully. "As a kind and sympathetic demon. Even I look down on humans by nature, disgusted to be in the same room as them, yet bewildered by their behaviour." I gave him a pointed look with the last part.

He smiled ruefully. "Good to know. That's what attracted you to me, right?"

"I don't remember saying that I was ever attracted to you," I sputtered, backing up.

"I should've figured it was you," he sighed, shaking his head. "I mean, come on, who else has naturally white hair and blue eyes?"

There was no doubt in my mind now. "It was you who I saw that night, huh. Who gasped at me."

"I'm sorry if it's not every day I see a girl in a blood-soaked dress on a roof," he scoffed. "But what happened? Were you hunting or something?"

I sat back down again, crossing one leg over the other. "You could say that. You see, there was a demon watching me, a spider demon known as a tsuchigumo. There are the eyes if the masters who contract them, silent watchers that report whatever they see back. What you think to be a regular household spider could be a tsuchigumo's minion, and humans would never know."

He shuddered. "So that's why you freaked out when you saw a spider on me. And here I thought it was a normal girl reason, like they're creepy."

"Nope. Just that they could give away your location and someone could come to kill you."

"I've never heard of someone getting randomly killed by a man with a spider."

I shot him a dumb look. "Of course you haven't. Demons are obviously living in secret, especially after the Drawing Raid."

"What's that? Sounds fun." I knew he was joking to hide the fact that he was getting creeped out.

"Hmmm, I'm wondering if I should tell you or not…" Then it came to me. "Oh yeah! I can explain my Backlash like this!"

"Your what?"

"Why I flipped out on those guys when they shot me."

"I'm pretty sure that's a normal reaction. That, or dying."

I rolled my eyes, settling into the couch for the story. "A long time ago, there were many humans who believed they could perform magic mixing the oddest ingredients together."

He nodded. "Alchemy."

"Yes, but today people have classified it as science. Back then, these people were deranged, believing they had the blood of a mage or was chosen as an apprentice at birth. So they dedicated their very lives to the 'magic'. Getting every ingredient they needed, and of course, they did perform alchemy. They didn't know what they were doing, but they thought they did.

"They didn't know the proper ingredients they needed, so they chose the most outrageous things possible, figuring that they could perform miracles. One of the main ingredients that was used was…" I trailed off, waiting for him to guess. But he sat there, engrossed in the story.

I sighed and shuddered at the same time. "Demon blood. That was the time of witch hunts, vampire burnings, werewolf killings. They drew the blood from their bodies, hence the name 'Drawing Raid'. They raided demons' bodies and homes, and then drew their blood.

"Like any animal, a demon can learn to adapt. Later demons were born with a natural defense system against blood-letting for alchemy, known as the Backlash. Whenever they shed blood by something other than their own hand, they backlash from their normal personas and powers, increasing them by many times. It depends on the demon, though.

"If the demon is already naturally strong, they will only their powers multiply by two or three. If they're middle-class, then it ranges from four, to five, to six. And if you're a weak demon, like me, your power can increase up to twenty times. Sometimes you even gain an alter ego, myself as an example again." I sighed, finishing yet another lecture. "That Backlash is also where demons got their 'mindless killing machine' names. But there are other reasons, of which I won't bother to get into."

"This is so much more interesting than human history," he murmured, fascinated. "I didn't know our race actually wounded yours and made you have to adapt."

"Humans, whether you like it or not, are destructive creatures," I growled. "Take the world, for example. Demons have countless dimensions and worlds to travel to, but you only have this one. And you're destroying it without a second thought." I made a sound of irritation deep in my throat. "And here you were wondering why I hated humans. They are lower class, destructive, careless… I could continue, but it looks like I'm offending you."

He was scowling. "You keep saying 'you' and 'you're', like I'm one of those people."

"You are part of the human race. What one does always passes on to another, like the links of a chain. I don't blame you for giving the human race a bad name, but you will always be human, as I will always be a demon."

He frowned. "You've really thought this out."

I shrugged. "There's a world between us, and I thought about it a lot. I've already come to terms long ago that I can't change that." Breaking yet another awkward silence was my stomach roaring in hunger, which Luke cut a look at.

"Are you… hungry?" He asked warily, and I knew what question he was asking without asking.

"I don't eat human flesh. I haven't for as long as I've been alive… or as far as I know. Animal flesh doesn't really… sate the need, if you get my drift. So I'm always hungry for flesh. But I can eat human food, and I'm planning to do just that soon."

He stood, reaching his hand down for me to take. I hesitated, but then I did. As he pulled me up, he said, "So you should get dressed so I can take you out for lunch."

I was shaking my head as he interjected. "I have money to spare, you know. Mom and my siblings all work so I have some for myself."

My eyebrows furrowed. "But you shouldn't be using it to treat me to lunch."

"It's my money; I do what I want with it."

We continued to stare each other down, but then I sighed and gave in. "Fine, fine, be back in a jiff."

I jogged up the stairs, repeating the words "don't trip and fall, don't trip and fall" like a mantra in my head. By the time I reached my door, I was already pulling off my shirt and skirt and dropping them down the laundry chute.

When I went in my closet to throw on something, I noticed that some of my books were messed up and strewn about. Huh. Luke must've went through them. I quickly pulled on a black knee-length dress with white ruffles and a white bow in the middle, a black leather jacket, and some white shoes that appeared to be called Converse. Just before I left, I looked to the vanity which held my choker in it, then quickly scuttled over to peek.

Then breathed a sigh of relief. It hadn't been touched. This was the last thing I ever received from my mother, and it was made personally for me. I didn't like the thought of other people touching it.

As I was going down the stairs in sock feet, I slipped and fell on my face just at the end. Luke poked his head out from the living room, trying not to laugh.

"You okay?" He snickered.

I bared my canines at him. "Just bring the damn bike and let's go."

"I want something with a lot of bacon," I said as we pulled into the parking lot of some fast food establishment called "Wendy's".

Luke sighed as he set our helmets in some compartment under the seat. "I should've figured. Come on, let's go."

He held the glass doors open for me, but he obviously didn't get the reaction he wanted because I just looked back at him oddly. I could open the door by myself. We headed towards the counter and I knew what I wanted the second I laid my eyes on it.

"That," I pointed out, staring at a picture of a meaty burger with so much bacon a human could get a heart attack.

He chuckled. "You're just like a little kid." Glare. "But sure. Want something to drink?"

"Do they have 'pop'?"

"'Course."

"Then that."

"What kind?"

You could almost hear the sound of my mind being blown. "There's more than one?"

"You're so adorable."

I huffed. "Whichever you're getting."

As he ordered, I noticed people looking over at me with strange or disgusted expressions. I heaved a large sigh. Yeah yeah, someone looks different in modern society, get over it. But then I noticed one stare that gave me the chills.

It felt cold and calculating and… demonic. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I clenched my teeth so I didn't turn around and snap at them. There was a demon in this restaurant, and they were watching us.

"Let's go," I said to Luke as he paid and grabbed our packaged food.

"Huh? …Okay." He seemed to trust what I said ever since learning what I was, and we quickly herded out of the store and hopped back onto his bike.

We drove for a while, the food probably getting cold, until we reached an entrance to a small forest by the highway. He parked in the trees so no one would notice the bike, then we hopped off and started heading in. The sun was bright and high in the sky, and it streamed through the canopy of trees in random bursts. I could hear birds chirping and some rushing water in the distance, could even smell it. I inhaled, the scent of fresh air completely rejuvenating me.

"Where is this?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Somewhere I like to come when I need to think. Hardly anyone knows about it, and you'll see why."

We walked for quite a bit, all the while trying not to trip over roots, shrubs, and twigs. The sun seemed to just keep getting hotter, so I stripped off my jacket and tied it around my waist. Luke did the same, though it looked about ten times cuter when he did it, especially with the way his muscles seemed to stretch under the cotton of his tee shirt (I think I just died a bit inside). Finally, we reached to long logs that stretched far above us in an arch, and a curtain of moss covered all the space in between. With one sniff, I knew why no one knew about the place.

"There's a small stream and waterfall behind this," I observed, fingering it lightly. "And lots of flowers. Your scent is in here, but fading, and it seems to be the only human one."

He nodded at me, satisfied. "Impressive. I guess your senses really are heightened. By the way, what do I smell like to you?"

"Like rainbows and sunshine."

"Seriously."

"Hmm, kind of like that, actually," I said on a serious note. "It's hard to explain to you, but kind of like… freshness and home. It's something that comes naturally to us, so it's hard to put it in the right words for humans." I groaned, putting one hand on my right hip and leaning into it. "No wonder no demon tells humans what they are; so many questions, such irritating little minds."

"Hey," he scolded. "I could be considered much more evolved than some humans."

"Then I pity them."

"Let's just go to the nice little meadow," he sighed. I grinned with satisfaction.

When he pulled the natural curtain aside, I saw what could only be described as something straight from a fairy tale. Prism coloured flowers covered the ground like happy little bubbles, flooding my nostrils with a variety of scents. A wall of gray rock was just north of where we stood, clear, rushing water pouring down in a small waterfall, which streamed into a small pond the clearest of blues. Trees surrounded this circular meadow on all sides, making it seem like a natural cage where only happiness existed. The rushing sound of the waterfall made my ears pop, and I smiled at the refreshing sound. It was so different from the shrine here, so free. I've never felt that before.

We sat spot in the middle of the meadow, munching on our fast food and talking about our lives. How daily shrine life and training was for me, how Luke took care of all his siblings, stuff like that. I liked it a lot. I never spoke with Marcus like this, never told him how I really felt about training. But I could tell Luke how frustrated I got with it sometimes, how much I longed to be free like this all the time. And he listened like a pro. I knew I probably shouldn't, but I felt like I could tell him anything. Like I could completely trust him with everything. That's something else I never felt before, and I didn't know what to make of it.

Because it seemed to be almost calling me, I had to go and paddle around in the small pond. It was just so clear and blue and fresh, very rare to find in the modern mundane world. I had to go swimming. I didn't care about clothes, like I always had, and just tossed my jacket on Luke's head before I went thundering in. When I jumped in the deepest part in the middle of it, the cold water hit me from all sides, and it was the most refreshing thing I had felt in a while. I came up for a gasp of air, a huge grin on my face, and slicked my hair back. Then I noticed Luke just watching from the edge, grinning like he was the one having all the fun.

I dog-paddled up to him, the easiest way I knew how to swim. "Aren't you coming?"| I asked, tilting my head to one side.

He shook his head, black hair falling in his eyes as they became sort of… void. Like he couldn't see anything, even though I was right in front of him. "I don't like the water."

I was about to ask why, when maniacal laughter suddenly echoed through the small meadow. My head whipped up to the top of the waterfall, where a very slender girl who was about average height stood, laughing like she was some sort of evil villain.

Luke gave her the most bizarre look ever, and I assumed it was because of her carrot orange hair done up in twin high pigtails and completely covering her eyes, her white lab coat billowing in the breeze, and the massive stun gun she had hitched over her shoulder.

"I've finally found you, Azul Dulcina!" She laughed in a very child-like voice, despite looking about sixteen. "Now, prepare to die!"

Then she pointed the gun, which I only realized now to be one loaded with silver bullets, straight at my white head.