I'd thought the graveyard was just kind of creepy.
I was wrong.
It was really, really creepy. Jocelyn and I had both, on impulse, pulled out our phones when the notion that we were really lost hit us.
"No signal," she said, showing me her screen. The glow on her face made her look ghostly and ethereal.
I showed her my dark phone screen. "I forgot to charge it yesterday. I realized that just now."
She sighed. "Of all the idiots I could get stuck here with, it just had to be you."
"I'm not an idiot," I said, offended that she would bring my intellect up when we were trapped and surrounded by dead people.
"Let's just choose a direction and keep walking," I suggested. "This thing will end at some point, won't it?"
"No, it won't," Jocelyn said grimly. "I have an essay due tomorrow."
I folded my arms, even though I had no idea where she was in the dark. "Look, you can keep bitching and moaning, but that's not exactly going to help us, is it?"
"I'm only bitching and moaning because I've never met someone with so many bad ideas as you." Still, she followed me as I walked, trying to go in a straight line though I avoided all the gravestones. The entire place looked abandoned, cracks running through every available stone. We passed a figure of a snake wrapped around a scythe, and I shuddered. I'd been to cemeteries before; in ninth grade, my aunt had died and I'd gone to her funeral. The cemetery hadn't been frightening then, with flowers wreathed around white gravestones. Just sad.
"It's not like you've got anything better," I said. "You were the one who got us into this mess anyway."
"Me?" Jocelyn snapped. "Are you kidding me? This entire situation is because of you—"
"What situation? Are you going to forget that I'm the reason you got to meet Ruit?" I stumbled over something jutting out of the ground and yelped. "Did they film The Walking Dead here? This is terrifying."
"This isn't just about Ruit," Jocelyn said, exasperated, not even bothering to acknowledge my very real panic. "You're the cause of everything, Reverie. You're the reason—" She stopped, which made me stop.
"The reason what?" I asked, my voice loud in the eerie silence. That was another thing. It was never quiet in New York. Sirens, honking, tires sloshing through water were the quietest it would get.
Jocelyn didn't respond, and I checked behind me to see if she was there. "Jocelyn?" No response.
My life was turning into a horror movie. They always killed the pretty, annoying blonde first. I was totally next.
"My dear, are you lost?"
I squinted in the darkness, saw the whiteness of pale skin. A man stood in front of me, his shirtsleeves torn, his pants hanging off his waist. It didn't matter that he looked like a bum and sounded like a pedophile. He was another human being, and maybe he knew the way out.
"A little," I conceded. "If you could help me out, that'd be great. I'll pay you. I'll… Just get me out. Please."
He walked closer, the grass crunching underneath his feet. How had I not heard him coming?
"Uh," I said, backing up. "You can give me directions from where you're standing, you know. Five yards away." My back hit something cold and hard, and I looked up into the blank eyes of a stone angel. A crack ran down the side of its face, little fissures starting from the left eye and spreading down. One of its arms was raised, hand curled around a sword. That was strange too. I was pretty sure dead people didn't condone violence.
The man was still advancing towards me. "That's close enough," I said quickly. "You can, uh, navigate me from where you are."
He stepped closer, peering into my face. "You," he whispered, eyes black, nostrils flared. "You reek of life. What are you doing this side of hell?"
"Hell?" I exclaimed, not pleased and very alarmed. "But I'm not dead!"
"No, you are not." He skimmed a finger across my arm. "And what is this?" He leaned in closer, and I flinched at the stench coming from his skin. "You smell of another's soul."
"Your soul," he breathed. "You have a very old soul. Perhaps I have met you before." He gazed at me. "There is something very familiar about it…"
"Well, I mean, maybe you were in line behind me at Starbucks last week," I said weakly. "I was the girl who got the caramel frappuccino?"
"I will tell you how to leave," he said. "If you just let me have a little bit of your soul." He reached a dirty finger towards my chest, and I pressed harder against the gravestone. "It has been so long…"
We both looked up, just in time for Jocelyn to nail Tall and Creepy with a rock. "Leave my roommate alone," she said, looking sadly unintimidating in her high-waisted shorts and crop top that read My Boyfriend Doesn't Care.
He hissed, rounding on her. "Little angel, is she your ward?" he asked, "You made a big mistake letting her run around, disturbing the damned to her presence."
"And I'm going to fix that right now by putting you through the ground," she said fearlessly. "So you better tell us how to get out of your graveyard right now."
"Little angel, you seem to think I'm afraid of you," he said amusedly. "It's not my fault that your ward called to me with her soul. She is irresistible."
"You don't want to be part of this game," Jocelyn said. "Unless you want to play in the same leagues as the devil, and we all know you're too frightened to do that, you pansy-ass demon."
He glanced at me, his dark eyes going wide. "It can't be that you are the one we've all been waiting for." A grin split his marble-like face. "Well, now I must have you, if only a little bit. To think, a soul cursed by the gods and blessed by the devil! It must taste divine."
"You're making a huge mistake," Jocelyn said, her eyes darting behind me, then back. "Huge," she repeated. "Colossal, even."
She kept glancing at me, then away. I was confused, trying to understand why she looked like she needed an optometrist.
"Monumental," Jocelyn said with decisiveness. "A monumental mistake."
She gave me a glare that said, if you don't get this hint, there is no hope for you.
I flipped up my palms, looking at her with panic. Her eyes darted away again, and this time I followed her gaze.
Oh. The monument of the violent angel. The sword it was holding, the weathered quality of all the stones in this graveyard.
The rock Jocelyn had thrown at Tall and Creepy was still on the ground, and I carefully bent down, grabbing it.
"Are you going to tell on me?" he was taunting her. "To gain favor with your master in the hopes that he will forgive you for your transgression? Oh, but I forgot. There is no mercy for the likes of you."
I went on my tiptoes, weighing the rock in my hand. I really had only one chance to make this count, and my aim had never been very good. But I wanted to live. I didn't deserve to die now. I was young, and besides, I'd just kissed Ander. The very thought of him being my last kiss made me squeeze the rock tighter in my hand. It wasn't that he'd kissed me, it was the context around it. Damn it, I was about to die, and I was still overanalyzing.
Drawing on my experience with Little League, I wound back my arm and threw.
The rock smacked against the angel's hand, and the sound of crumbling rock alerted the man to mine and Jocelyn's scheming. He turned around, his mouth falling open as the hand with its sword detached and went plummeting towards him.
"Reverie, don't be an idiot!" Jocelyn yelled before she jumped at me, pushing me out of the way as the sword crashed to the ground and sticky black blood splashed on both of us.
"Oh, my God," I could dimly hear myself saying as I backed away from the mess of rocks and… parts. "Oh, my God."
"Ew, ew, ew!" Jocelyn squealed, shaking her arm like that would get the blood off her fingers. "I just bought this shirt!"
"I just killed a man, and you're worrying about your shirt?" I said incredulously. The blood didn't feel that great, but I supposed being dead would feel a lot worse. "Besides, it's false advertising. You don't even have a boyfriend."
"Shut up," she hissed, whirling on me. "This is all your fault. If you and Ander hadn't gotten into that fight, your soul wouldn't have been a freaking neon light for demons everywhere."
"What the hell?" I said, even though there was less inflection in the words. I was exhausted, and frankly, very traumatized. "You're in on this too? I didn't even know that there were this many people involved!"
"Of course you didn't, you self-centered brat—"
"Can you shut up and get us out here because this place is scaring the shit out of me?" I interrupted her. "You can be a bitch later, can't you?"
Jocelyn huffed. "We'll get out. These places disappear once their demons are dead. Just keep walking." She prodded me, muttering something under her breath about bleach and bloodstains.
Just like that, I found myself walking on solid ground. When I looked behind me, there was no trace left of the creepy cemetery. Just an empty, deserted alleyway.
"That was some seriously disturbing hocus-pocus," I said, still glancing over my shoulder and trying to understand what had just happened. Had I witlessly contributed to the death of some monster a la Wizard of Oz? "You'd better explain yourself."
"I will, once we get back. It's not safe right now. All the barriers have been disturbed."
"All my fault, I bet," I said dryly.
"Actually, yes." Jocelyn tugged me along, and we stuck to the side streets, like that was less dangerous than walking through crowds of people. "We don't want them to see the blood," Jocelyn said to me. There were dark splashes on her shirt, the only proof of what had just happened.
We got back to our flat, Jocelyn unlocked the door in a hurry, and let out a startled yelp.
"What now?" I asked, panicked.
She pointed, the shock on her face fading into irritation. "Why are you here? I've got this under control."
I groaned, pushing past her when I recognized the voice. This was my problem. He was my problem. "If you don't mind, I'm a little too tired to deal with your dramatic break-and-enter into my home. How did you get in?"
Ander had been sitting on the couch, wound up as tight as a coiled spring, and he shot up when I came in. "You're okay," he breathed, and it was like his entire body relaxed as he touched my face. It brought back memories of the kiss, the hot-bloodedness of it and the fact that I could still feel it on the lips.
"Whoa, whoa. No touchy-feely, okay?" I backed up. "I might have almost died, but you're still an asshole."
His eyes narrowed as he examined me. "Why is there blood on your clothes?" He looked at Jocelyn. "I thought you had everything under control."
"I would have, but the two of you have a hilarious tendency to taunt each other until you've alerted all the soulless to your presence."
"All?" I swiveled my head between the two of them. "I thought he was the only one? And wait, you knew all along?"
Jocelyn grimaced. "I want to shower. This blood stinks. Literally."
Ander straightened, apparently relieved and done with me now that he knew I was still in one piece. "And I'd like to sleep without thinking that I'm going to die any minute because my ward is so bad at doing her job."
"You try protecting her, then," Jocelyn hissed. "I owe you nothing. If it wasn't for that ridiculous bet, heaven and hell would not be shaking with the effort of controlling you two."
There was way too much going on here for me to understand. "You," I said, pointing at Jocelyn, "are going to explain everything to me. And you." I turned to Ander. "Get out."
"Are you this rude to anyone who cares about you?"
"You don't care about me," I said. "Now, out."
Ander sighed, running a hand through his hair. He looked shaken, like he'd been the one with the near-death experience, not me. But he didn't deny what I'd said. "Don't forget what I said," he said, his green eyes dark. "You're mine, which makes all your fuck-ups mine, too."
When he was gone, Jocelyn glanced at me. "Are you sure I can't shower? I can't be clean when I shatter everything you once believed?"
"No," I snapped. "Your showers are always an hour long."
"I'll be fast—fine," Jocelyn said, annoyed. "What do you want to know?"
"What's all this about heaven and hell that you were going on about? And… a bet?"
She sighed, sitting down. "You've met Ander. He can be charming when he wants to be, and he knows how to get what he wants."
"Already telling me things I know," I said, then remembered how Ander had spat those exact same words to me hours ago. "Continue."
"Well, he charmed the devil into taking his soul."
"Uh, why would you charm the devil into taking your soul?"
She shrugged. "He wanted immortality. He wanted to be exactly how he is for eternity, and he was willing to do anything for it. So he sold his soul to the devil in exchange. But dabbling with souls has always been a dangerous sport. It should never have happened. So the gods went after the devil to punish him."
Jocelyn waved a hand. "Religion isn't as conventional as people make it. There are so many people grappling for power in the realms of heaven and hell. There hasn't ever been anybody who can control an entire realm. Anyway, they finally caught up with the devil, but he offered them a bargain. And one of the gods took it."
"What was the bargain?"
"If the gods can make this selfish human plead for redemption, then the devil will withdraw from any trading of souls, and so will the rest of his brethren. The same day, your great-grandmother saved her daughter in exchange for her own life. Selfishness and selflessness tied you and Ander together, and his soul became yours." She stopped. "I'm thirsty. Can I have some water?"
I glowered at her, but I got up to fill a cup with water.
"So we're literally soul mates. He wasn't joking."
"Well, technically he doesn't have a soul for you to mate with." Jocelyn took the cup and drank. "You have his soul, which is why you're so drawn to him, and vice-versa. It's out of your control."
I sniffed, not liking the idea of that. "This all seems very vague. They didn't have a lawyer or anything when they drafted this thing?"
She snorted. "You're taking this really well."
"No, I'm inwardly panicking, but thank you for the compliment you just paid to my acting." I sat down. "So… what's my part in all this? What's your part? How many people are involved, exactly?"
"You're the woman who's going to make Ander want redemption. Me, and any others, are just here to help you get there."
"Yeah, but what do I get out of this?"
"What do you mean?" Jocelyn looked at me like I was crazy. "You're right smack in the middle of a huge celestial crisis. You're figuratively the soul mate of one of the hottest rock stars to grace America's music scene. You'll be legendary when this is over."
"And when will it be over?"
Jocelyn sipped casually from her water. "When Ander figures things out. Can I have some ice, too?"
I snatched the cup from her hand and stomped over to the sink. "But… he knows all this. So why is he resisting? Isn't it really simple? Redemption, and he's done? He could just say sorry right now and all this stupid dramatic godly shit would be over."
Jocelyn raised an eyebrow at me. "Don't you know him well enough by now? He's selfish. He's human. It's a terrible but all too common combination. Redemption isn't saying sorry, Reverie. Redemption is letting your guilt tear you apart and letting your wrongs bleed your eyes dry."
"That doesn't sound so great."
"Exactly. He's attracted to you, of course; you have his soul. But you're going to have to try harder to convince him that you're worth laying his heart out for." Jocelyn tapped her fingers impatiently. "There's something I can't pinpoint about him, too. There's something very… dark in him. It may have been the reason that the devil agreed to his bargain."
"Why me?" I moaned, collapsing against the countertop. "I don't even like him."
"Wrong," Jocelyn said. "There's no like in this scenario. This is the sort of fate that you had the moment you were born, and your feelings will only hinder you in fulfilling your duty."
I gaped at her. "It's not my job to make Ander fall for me."
"Thank God for that. We all know how bad you are at doing your job."
"Hey," I said, pointing at her. "It's not like you're a great college student."
"Whatever," drawled Jocelyn. "Unlike you, I don't actually have to make a living for myself. I'm an angel."
There really was no comeback for that.
"There just seem to be lots of flaws with this. Also, don't the angels and demons have something better to do than experiment on two humans?"
"Humans have been around for centuries," Jocelyn said. "And they haven't ceased to amaze. Maybe we're hoping for the same thing from you two." She flopped onto the couch. "There's no point asking me about this kind of stuff. I just do what I'm told." There was bitterness in her voice, and I was starting to see where her resentment for me stemmed. She'd essentially been given the task of babysitting me, something not even the sanest soul would enjoy.
"You should probably get some sleep. Thanks for, uh, saving my life and everything," I said, standing up.
"I'm going to attempt to bleach the blood out of this shirt first," she said. "This can't be worse than a period stain."
There was no way I was going to fall asleep. I went to the garage where Belinda was. She seemed to sense my dark mood and tried to hop away from me, but I grabbed her and held her against my cheek, making sure to stay out of the way of her claws. The cat meowed pitifully, and I smirked. If I'd known this was all I needed to ensure that she never came near me again, I should've done it earlier.
"Oh, you awful little monster," I cooed at her. "You have no idea what I've been through."
There was something off about the entire situation, a hole that I didn't think either Jocelyn or me was aware of. Ander ran hot and cold, but I couldn't believe that his innate evil was what was preventing him from ending this once and for all. There had to be something else that was keeping him from redemption, whatever that meant. Now that I was officially a part of this giant clusterfuck, I would have to figure out what it was.
I shuddered, thinking of the cemetery. If I couldn't even take a step without ending up where dead people were, how the hell was I supposed to live my life?
Clearly, this needed to be over, and soon. Ander had to fall in love with me, pronto.
A/N: Hi, guys! Sorry for taking so long to update and that this chapter is so short; I had to study for a statistics final that I failed anyway. I'll get to review replies soon, but thank you to faerie-gumdrops, fallingWish, gulistanlik, Guest, AlysonSerenaStone, and beverlyamethyst16 for your lovely comments! As always, read and tell me what you think!