Brian races into the backyard, sword in his hand. Annabeth scarcely has time to let that register before all hell breaks loose. The fence along the alley-side of the yard explodes. Demons Annabeth doesn't recognize pour into her yard.
"Arghas!" Brian identifies. "Aim for their heads if you're going to shoot!"
Brian rushes toward them. He wields the sword like an expert, smoothly slicing through skin and muscle and bone. She's torn between helping her husband and protecting her screeching daughter. Charlie has Ellie and Skye trusts Charlie, but at the moment Annabeth's not sure she trusts anyone with Ellie's safety but herself. Not when the world is going to hell.
Ellie's arms refuse to unlock from around Charlie's neck. Annabeth maneuvers them so that his back is against the thick trunk of the oak tree. She stands in front of them, sword at the ready, in case any demons make it past Brian.
Her husband, her normal corporate lawyer husband, manages to cut the demon invasion in half. Literally. Torsos and legs and heads litter the grass. Annabeth's beloved flower garden is nothing but a trampled mess of multicolored petals and clumps of soil.
Skye runs onto the battlefield, kukri in one hand and swirling ball of black-and-purple energy in the other. Annabeth doesn't even care that Skye's revealing her magic to Brian. All that matters is killing every demon that dared attack her daughter.
To her horror, Skye doesn't leap into the fight. She hangs back, magic still swirling, and watches. Just watches.
"Skyla! Help him!" Annabeth screams.
Skye glances over at her, gives her a thumbs up. It's a brilliant sight, considering that she does it with the hand holding the magic. "Hey, B! Nice job, but you're dropping your left shoulder." She winces when Brian takes a hit to the ribs. "No, you're leaving yourself open. Your follow-through needs work. Pull up a little."
Brian takes her advice. His next swing of the sword, he shortens his follow-through. His stance shifts just enough that he manages to protect his flank from another hit. It also gives him the chance to make a quicker attack on the next demon.
"Not what I meant, Skyla," Annabeth growls. "Help. Brian."
"He's kicking ass all on his own," she says, strolling over to Annabeth. "Did you know your husband rocked?"
Annabeth drops her sword. Her hands shoot out to grab the front of Skye's t-shirt. She drags her sister forward until they are nose-to-nose. "Those things came into my yard and attacked my daughter! Your niece! Do something!" She punctuates the order with a rough shake.
Skye wriggles out of Annabeth's grasp. She smoothes out the wrinkles on her shirt, scowls at her sister. "Fine. Fine."
Brian has lost his sword. He rolls a flying foot over his shoulder and lands a solid punch to the demon's torso. He gets his hands on either side of the demon's head and gives the neck a sharp twist. The crack echoes over the din of battle. A shiver races down Annabeth's spine. Brian doesn't even kill spiders.
Skye joins the battle. More demons have arrived to replace the fallen ones. Their curved horns have wicked points and the three fingers on each hand are tipped with talons. Skye makes sure to step in clear sight of a battle-focused Brian.
"Hey, bro-in-law. Sweet moves."
"Thanks," he huffs. His face is red. His pale blue dress shirt is splattered with blood. There are rips in his brown trousers. His shoes are completely ruined. Half of his tie is missing. He smiles like he's having the time of his life.
"Here." Skye hands him the gun she'd lifted off her sister. "You take the ten on the left. I'll take the twenty on the right."
It is a good plan. Unfortunately, the flood of demons just doesn't stop. Charlie has no choice but to force Ellie into Annabeth's arms and join the fray. He tries to fight at Skye's back, but she sends him over to Brian. Though the gun means he can keep more distance between himself and the demons, it's obvious that Brian is tiring. Skye needs to make sure Charlie steps in before her brother-in-law falls.
Ellie is still screeching. The sound grates, like nails on a chalkboard, down Skye's spine. She stops in the middle of a fight with an Argha, takes a fist to the face as a result.
Everything goes still. Silent. Even Ellie has closed her mouth. A bright purple dome covers the backyard. Skye swipes a hand across her face, smears blood across her cheek.
"That's e-fucking-nough," she bites out. "I'm through with cannon fodder. I wanna talk to the big cheese."
The tall man from the store steps into the yard. It's clear that he's struggling with Skye's bubble of magic. His gait is unsteady, his movements slow. Without his ballcap, his face looks even more menacing. His eyes are black. His hair is black. His skin is pasty white. Red runes have been drawn on his high forehead.
"Beloved daughter of Wencasas?"
Skye scoffs. Magic swirls around both her clenched fists. "If you know anything about Wenscasas, you know the only thing he loves is himself."
The man turns his head to stare at Annabeth. His eyes rake up and down her frame. He gives Ellie the same treatment. "I was so certain it was the child."
"Dumbass," Skye snorts.
"Skyla!" Annabeth wishes she had her gun so she could shoot her baby sister. All the lectures she and Sam gave her about not taunting the enemy obviously fell on deaf ears.
"Well he is. Anyone with half a brain could see that Ellie has little magic. Even if you someone managed to break my bindings and wards, there isn't anything of significance in her energy." Skye rolls her eyes at the man. "Certainly nothing of Wencasas."
Because Skye and Annabeth are only half-siblings. Annabeth's and Sam's father was their mother's first husband, her high school sweetheart. Skye's father was a drunken one-night stand orchestrated by their scheming maternal grandmother. Kind, widower Mr. Wendt. A Hell King in human guise. A nightmare made flesh.
"Oh no! Oh, hell. Son of a motherfucking bitch. I am such a dumbass." Skye spins, settles tear-glazed eyes on Annabeth. "She's marked. You're marked. God, I am so stupid."
"Skye," Annabeth starts, falters. She's not sure what she's going to say. She doesn't want to blame Skyla for the attack, but, well, if they hadn't been marked by Skye's magic no one would have connected them to Wencasas. Then again, it's not really Skye's fault her father's a demon bastard, is it?
Skye nods sharply. A shutter falls across her eyes. The air around Annabeth is so cold. Shoulders squared and head held high, she stomps toward the man. She looks every inch the Hell Princess. Even Charlie takes a step backwards when she nears.
"You want to screw with Wencasas? You think you can do something for your rep by attacking his family? Stupid move, but hey, it's your ass on the line." Skye slams the man in the chest with a bolt of energy. He falls to his knees. She blasts him again. Purple-tinged smoke rises from his chest.
"You want to test yourself, you go for me. Directly. You don't fuck with my family. That's a guaranteed death sentence." She stops in front of the man, settles her hands on his head. "You come to me and you wanna play, I'll play. You go after my friends, my family, I'll make you beg for death. Beg."
She sinks her hands into his hair. Annabeth swears her fingers are in his skull. Skye freezes. Her head cocks to the side, her eyes flutter shut. All of the demons around them are still frozen.
"You have an employer," she says, lips curling up in a sly smile. "Perfect."
She squats in front of the man, hands still in his hair. "You tell your boss that if a single hair on anyone I call family is harmed, I will make his final day on earth last an eternity. I will set every nerve ending he has on fire. Drain every last drop of blood from his body. Make him watch as I extract his entrails and knit a sweater out of them. Boil the liquid in his eyeballs. Burst every, single cell in his body. Keep him awake and aware through every second of it. And that's a promise."
She stands. She pulls the man to his feet. "And if you don't deliver that message, I'll do the same to you."
The magic around them flares. Burns. Annabeth shields her eyes and covers Ellie's face with her free hand. When the heat dissipates, Annabeth cracks open one eye. All of the demons are gone. The man is gone, too. All that remains are piles of purple ash.
Skye's nose is bleeding. There's a small trickle of blood coming out of her left ear. She's pale and shaky. For the first time in her life, Annabeth sees her sister in real pain and doesn't race to make it better.
"They won't bother you again," Skye says, voice weak and raspy. She stumbles across the yard to Annabeth's side. Annabeth flinches when Skye sets a hand on her shoulder. Skye swallows but doesn't show any other reaction.
There is a small burst of magic. Annabeth feels like something inside her soul has been ripped out. Skye places a hand on Ellie and the magic bursts again. Ellie starts to sob. Annabeth wants to cry, too.
"The mark is gone." Skye tilts her chin up. Her lower lip trembles slightly. "You'll have to redo the wards. I don't think you want any trace of my magic on your house. Ellie should be safe. If you don't…," she swallows again, "if you don't trust me, you can take her to someone and have her checked."
Annabeth doesn't say anything. Skye offers up a wistful smile before turning on her heel and walking to Brian. Annabeth wants to chase after her, but her legs won't work.
Skye removes the mark from Brian. Brian pulls Skye in for a fierce hug. Even from her position by the tree, Annabeth can see the tears trickling down her sister's cheeks. She can't hear the words Brian and Skye exchange. Charlie makes his way to the pair. His arm curls around Skye's waist; she sinks against him as if her bones have turned to jelly.
Charlie leads her out into the alley. Annabeth fears that the back of Skye's bloody t-shirt is the last sight she'll have of her baby sister. She opens her mouth to call Skye back, but no sound comes out.
Brian ambles up to them. He's bloody and bruised, but glowing. Annabeth doesn't think he's ever looked more alive. Hotter.
"So, I guess we need to talk, huh?" he offers, lips quirked in a half-smile.
Suddenly, all the secrets she's been keeping don't feel like such a burden. Anyone who can behead a demon like that isn't a newbie. Plus, he's seen her sister at her most demonic and hasn't run screaming. There's hope for them. If she's lucky, maybe they can work out a joint training session. She'd love a chance to watch him with that sword again. Possibly shirtless. Oh yeah.
"Yeah, I guess we do."