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Hannah found it was a little more difficult questioning the veracity of her own existence, when her friends didn't seem to care where she'd been born or what had gone into the mix of her cellular structure. They didn't even seem to mind that there was a body in a grave with her name on it that had been her, accepting - - with only minimal initial question - - that this new one, housed the same old her.
She still didn't understand that phenomenon, the transference of consciousness, and it appeared that her parents hadn't gotten far enough in their studies to be aware of that particular side effect. Her former self - - test subject B - - had been the first successful germination. Out of all the others, only this body - - subject D - - had also matured normally. So she supposed, she was Hannah D now.
Whether they'd actually been Satanists or just researchers with a distinct lack of ethics, she still wasn't sure, although she'd become to suspect the latter. Their observations were too clinical, and often when discussing the 'supernatural' aspects of the Book, tainted with the skeptical disbelief that people of pure reason held for the mysticism of blind faith. Any faith.
After almost a week of going through their notes, she had a good grasp of what they'd done to create her - - they'd been specific in the notations on their processes - - just not why. What if they hadn't even known the true goals of their benefactors? What if they hadn't cared, too immersed in the wonders of discovery to allow them to be concerned with the morals of their project? It was an easy slip to make in the thirst for discovery. She'd made it herself and she was barely seventeen. They'd had a lifetime.
But Curtis and Todd and Jenny had saved her from being that desperate girl, willing to go to any lengths to live up the false ideals of her parents. They accepted her now, when she appeared out of the blue like a doppelganger after they'd buried the original her. And when she looked into Curtis' eyes and saw that total trust, that total acceptance, it was hard to remember she was anything but a real girl.
It was Friday afternoon and for the first time since she'd been back - - really back - - Curtis and Todd hadn't come over directly after school and work respectively. Jenny had mentioned something about spaghetti for dinner and Hannah had offered to cook. She'd found a recipe online that looked promising. She'd make enough for the boys, assuming that sooner or later they would show up and if not, there would be leftovers for tomorrow. She liked Jenny's house. She liked the budding feeling of being a roommate instead of guest in someone else's home. That's how she'd always felt with her aunt. Which stood to reason, if the woman had been more her caretaker than a relative that had actually loved her
Her lip trembled a little at that thought. It felt like the worst sort of betrayal, pretending affection when you were really just safeguarding a project. No wonder she'd grown up awkward and emotionally stunted, more interested in science than making friends. She hadn't even noticed boys existed until she'd been sixteen and developed her first crush on Todd. She had to wonder now, if maybe that little bit of the Book fused into her very DNA hadn't been drawn to him - - sensing that he was destined to be the Book's chosen master.
She put on water to boil and stood watching the tiny bubbles form at the bottom of the pot, relieved for the moment to put her scouring of her parent's notes aside and just do something mundane and mindless. Jenny was in the living room, the television on, doing a little bit of research of her own, having taken Hannah's idea of legally removing herself from her mother's guardianship to heart.
When the doorbell rang, Hannah naturally assumed it was Curtis or Todd, or both. There was really no one else who might be calling, unless Jenny's mother had made good on her threat and called the sheriff on her. But of course, it was more likely the boys.
She listened for the sound of them, they were never particularly quiet in their arrivals - - but heard only a faint muffled thud, and silence. She canted her head questioningly, trying to focus her hearing.
"Jenny?" The water was boiling, so she put in a big handful of spaghetti, then went to peek around the kitchen door. The living room was empty. The front door halfway open.
"Jenny?" She repeated, walking towards it, thinking maybe the guys were outside and Jenny had gone out to talk to them. The yard was devoid of life, just the receding taillights of a car traveling at a good clip down the street away from the house.
Hannah frowned, a furrow gathering between her brows, a tingle of unease traveling up her spine. She walked slowly back to the house, and stopped at the front porch. The welcome mat was askew, as if someone had kicked it out of its proper place. It hadn't been that way when they'd come in earlier from the market with the fixings for supper. She knew it hadn't.
The tingle became fear and she stared in the direction the car had disappeared. Had someone taken Jenny? She wouldn't have left without telling Hannah - - not so suddenly.
Oh God. Think Hannah. What do I do? The police. Call the police. She grabbed Jenny's cell phone, which was still on the sofa table next to the open laptop and dialed 911,
"I think my friend had been kidnapped. Possibly by Satanists." Because really, other than Satanists and Book related murders, the crime rate in Crowely Heights was low. She tried to sound calm. Tried not to let the hysteria that wanted to bubble up out in her voice. She needed them to take her seriously.
But the voice on the other end of the line, after a pause, said rather peevishly. "This is the second time you've called this week about a kidnapping, Ms. Kolinsky, Don't think we don't keep records of caller ID. We don't take pranks calls and false reports lightly in Crowley Heights."
Hannah gaped disbelievingly. "But -- she was just here, and now she's gone and the door was open and there was a car - -"
"Young lady, if I have to send a deputy out there, there will be charges filed for filing a false police report."
Hannah ground her teeth, all her calm and her vaunted reason evaporating. "So you'll file charges for someone wasting your time, but you don't bother to do more than a cursory investigation of all the dozens of murders that took place in just Crowley High last year? Do you even care that this town is the crux for an age-old evil? Never mind. I'll find someone who does."
She severed the connection, clutching the phone to her breast, rather amazed at herself for that outburst. She took a deep breath, calming chaotic thoughts and made herself focus. Todd and Curtis hadn't shown up this afternoon, of all afternoons, which meant one of two things. They'd gotten distracted playing video games at one or the other's house, or they were somewhere stoned out of their minds. She recalled Curtis mentioning something yesterday about going to the 'fish store' and stocking up. Since neither one of them had an aquarium, she could only assume that was some sort of code for one of their sources for cannabis.
Since neither one of them had replaced their cell phones yet, she needed to track them down another way. She looked up Todd's home number in the Crowley Heights phone directory, but the slightly inebriated man that answered said that Todd wasn't home and hadn't been all day. She called Curtis' house next. Curtis' mother, who Hannah had only ever met once, said that no, Curtis wasn't home, but that she thought she'd seen him and his friend messing around earlier in the field out back.
So Curtis' house it was. She had Jenny's cell, Jenny's car keys and a starting point.
Atticus adjusted his cloak, looking with smug satisfaction at his reflection in the floor length mirror on the back of the closet door. Though his sewing skills were nothing to brag home about, he had done an admirable job repairing the robe. He'd added a little black satin trim to make it more ornate, and considered how he might embolden it more with a inverted pentagram on the back, but seriously doubted his embroidery skills were up to the task. Regardless, he thought he looked rather snazzy, having chosen a black sweater vest to compliment the red robe. Any stylish Satanist would be impressed to have him at their ritual. And he did need to impress upon these new thuggish followers of the Dark Lord that he was a stylin' - - he believed that was the phrase the kids used now a days - - Hooded Leader worthy of their respect if they planned on staying in Crowley Heights.
He combed his mustache, made sure his hair was immaculate, then headed out to his van. It was early yet for the midnight ritual, but he pick up a goat.
The Crowley sect had been neglectful of the ritual midnight ceremonial practices for years now, mostly due to the fact that midnight had been beyond the bedtime of most of its active members. But Atticus recalled a few from years past, where the not quite so old farts had gathered out in the forest to chant satanic verse, to offer up a goat. There'd usually been a barbeque afterwards, or at the very least a stop by the local 24-hour pancake house. Those were some of his fondest memories.
So, with the goat in the back of his van, finally rolled up the drive to the new cult's Beacon street house. There were a decent number of cars parked haphazardly in the grass, but other than what looked like a candle burning in one window, the house was dark.
Atticus eyed it warily, tightened his grip on the goat's lead, and headed towards it. When in doubt, walk purposefully, so he threw back his shoulders and put as much of a cocky saunter as he could in his stride.
Before he could take the steps up to the porch, a dark figure appeared from around the corner of the house. Atticus' heart nearly lurched up his throat at what seemed a silent materialization of the black cloaked, hooded figure.
"Well, hello. Am I early?" He ventured, attempting a suave smile.
The figure looked at him, then down to the goat, which was placidly chewing on the hem of his robe, then gestured up at the house.
"Inside. You can leave the goat."
The man turned, gliding away before Atticus could think up an argument that it was only good manners to accept house warming - - or Satanist cult warming as the case might be - - gifts. It was also rather poor manners to lurk about in the darkness, popping up on people unannounced, only disappear back into the bushes like some sort of macabre, Satanist concierge.
He jerked his robe away from destructive goat teeth, frowning at the mangled edge, then dropped the lead and climbed the rickety porch steps.
Goddamn Satanists. If Jenny had had any telepathic ability at all, the condemnation would be bouncing around inside the skulls of the guys who had grabbed her. As it was, she couldn't do more than grunt it through the gag, and do her best to kick at any body part that presented itself within her reach.
She'd gotten in a few good licks, but it didn't seem to phase them much, or hinder their efforts in the least dragging her from the car they'd shoved her into the back of, after grabbing her right off the front door of her house, driving her who knew where and hauling her into a musty smelling old house. At least she assumed it was and old house. It was hard to tell with a bandanna wrapped over her eyes, and her hands and feet tied. It was more the smell and the creak of floorboards as they moved around that hinted at age. They didn't talk to her, they didn't touch her after they'd pushed her down into a corner, on what felt like a pile of old blankets and she tried not to think what they were planning on doing to her.
It was the second goddamned time she'd been kidnapped, tied up and gagged by Satanists, though she had to admit this time was a lot, lot scarier than the last. Granted, being swamped by a shuffling, geriatric mob of devil worshipers hadn't been a cheerful experience, but they'd still been a bunch of old people led by Atticus and Atticus just hadn't inspired fear in her.
These guys, whoever they were, were different. The same ones that had taken Todd and ripped the Book out of him maybe, and if so not nice guys. If so, she'd like to get her hands on something hard and blunt and beat a few of them over the head.
The floor creaked from someone's weight close by. She sensed the closeness of a body as a form crouched in front of her, she could hear his breath and the bravado inside her head shriveled up and hid in a corner, even as she pushed herself back against the wall, drawing her knees up. A hand touched her bare foot - - she'd been in sweatpants and a tank top, curled up comfortably on her own couch when they'd rang the bell - - and she flinched, kicking out at the unwanted touch.
"Pretty. To bad Lammas day requires a blood sacrifice and not a sex one."
Someone deeper in the room chuckled and she tensed, a cold dread making her skin pimple. She'd done her reading on the darker occult practices when she'd been searching for her dad. She had a vague recollection of satanic holy days - - all of which required various sacrifices, most of which - - according to Internet sources - - consisted of blood and or sex. Not always lethal or non-consensual - - in fact she'd rather thought most of the hard-core stories were just that - - stories. After all, aside from Book related deaths, Crowley Heights was not a mecca of missing persons or runaways. But being kidnapped, tied up and brought who knew where - - those hard core stories were beginning to sound a little more legitimate.
Candlelight actually did the old house a favor, the shadows covering the dust and the cracked plaster and the accumulated unpacked junk. It smelled like alcohol though, and faintly of marijuana smoke and incense, when Atticus cautiously opened the door and poked his head in. There was no one there to greet him, just a few more candles placed sparingly here and there, a haphazard trail leading deeper into the house. It rather reminded him of a Halloween spook house the drama club at school had sat up a few years back to raise money for their annual fall production of some droll drama or another. The Satanic society had chided him relentlessly for his forced involvement, bitching and complaining that on the most sacred of their unholy nights he was overseeing a gaggle of disrespectful teenagers making a mockery of All Hallows Eve. He'd acted appropriately shamed, but honestly, it had been a pretty good haunted house and no few kids had run screaming from the exit, the drama club really sinking their teeth into their roles as ghouls and zombies and ax murderers, so it had proved more entertaining than he would have originally thought and more fun than groveling with the rest of the minions around his father while the man rattled off unholy rites. Of course this had been back before Todd had reawakened the Book and real monsters began plaguing the teenagers of Crowley High, with real, bloody results. Little wonder no one had suggested a spook house last year.
"Hello?" He ventured, hesitating to delve further into the house, until that voice inside his head suggested being a coward wouldn't win him points with these upstart Satanists. So he girded his loins and followed the trail of candles. Through the big parlor that he'd been in before, empty now, and into what might have been a formal dining room long ago when this house had been fresh and young. Now it was just a room with boxes stacked against the walls and a cobweb shrouded brass chandelier dangling like a green-splotched spider from the center of the ceiling.
He heard the faint sound of music wafting up from a doorway off what might have been a butler's pantry. A basement. A big house like this would probably have a large one. A dark, secluded place perfect for dark, secluded rituals. Atticus found he rather preferred not to venture down there.
"What's the matter, Hooded Leader?" The voice made him start. "You look a little spooked."
The young man from before, with the pointy blonde hair and the irreverent eyes, skulked in the shadows, the dark folds of a robe obscuring most of his body. The way he said 'hooded leader' was laced with the sarcasm of surly youth.
"Hardly." Atticus scoffed, waving a dismissive hand, settling into his most nonchalant stance. "I eat more frightening things for breakfast. And lunch."
The kid gave him a dubious look.
There was a muffled squeal from the shadows of a corner and Atticus took a hasty step back, thinking rats or possibly a possum that had wondered into the house. The fact that the squeal had almost sounded like a distorted version of his name only made it more unnerving. He blinked, that unnerving feeling notching up a degree or two to one of complete surprise as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he made out the shape of a girl huddled in the corner.
And most amazingly coincidental of all, this wasn't the first time he'd come upon this particular girl, bound and gagged, unexpectedly.
"Jenny Kolinsky," he spat, even as she was screaming something incomprehensible through her gag. He wasn't sure but whatever she was trying to say, seemed to predominantly consist of a great deal of cursing.
"What is she doing here?"
"You know this bitch?"
Atticus straightened, giving the kid a superior look. "This little troublemaker is part of the gang that hangs out with Todd Smith."
"You mean the Pure Evil One?"
Atticus sniffed, not liking to say it out loud. It wasn't that he was a sore loser - - but - - well, yes, damnit he was not only a sore loser, he was a bruised, battered and mentally scarred one. He waved a hand airily. "If you choose to call him that."
"She's his girlfriend."
Jenny made another muffled squeal that sounded like denial.
"I fail to see the relevance."
The kid snorted. "The boss's little squeeze came up with the idea. Best way to make the Pure Evil One bleed for his infractions is to make the people he loves bleed. I woulda rather fucked her first - - but the boss is a stickler for sticking to tradition on these Sabbath days, so alls we get to do is make her scream and little and slice her throat."
Jenny made a strangled sound. Atticus swallowed, feeling rather unsettled himself.
"But I brought a perfectly good goat."
The closest he'd ever come to human sacrifice in the service of the Crowley Sect had been the day old Wilfred Roberts had accidentally sliced his wrist when he'd been aiming to prick a finger during minor blood rites. It wasn't that he was particularly squeamish about the notion of a little judicious killing - - he'd racked up quite a list of crusty old farts himself in his rise to the top of the Crowley satanic society, but really, they'd all had it coming. And he had been gung ho for the notion of bringing about the fiery destruction of the present world, but he'd been of the belief that it would be replaced by a hellish paradise where the followers of the dark path would be treated as kings - - not the simple hell that he'd experienced beyond the pages of the Book. Slicing the throat of a teenaged girl, even if she was a sulky, bitchy teenaged girl, seemed - - well entirely satanic, but not the sort of satanic that Atticus felt comfortable with. Perhaps it was because for a while there he had been one of them - - their little gang - - and it had been a happy time for him - - before they'd booted him out. This squirming, furiously mumbling girl chief among the booters. So perhaps, she had it coming after all. No one crossed Atticus Murphy with impunity.
"Come on downstairs. Meet the whole group, before we start the ceremony. The boss is waiting for you."
He cast one more glance at Jenny, before following the spiky haired kid down into the basement. It was what one might expect of a hastily erected satanic lair. The basement was low ceilinged with cinderblock walls and impenetrable shadows leading off into nooks and cubbies that looked as if they might be a breeding ground for spiders. It was dank and smelled of mold and the sweat of too many bodies. They'd cleared the floor of the main section, laid down a huge black tarp with a white spray painted pentagram. Hastily prepared and rather frighteningly efficient if one wanted to perform blood sacrifices and then be able to gather up the evidence for disposal with as little effort as possible. Beyond that was a pedestal with a few black candles burning on it as well as the skull of some horned, hoofed animal.
There were perhaps fifteen men standing in the creeping shadows, all of whom turned eyes to him as he descended the narrow stair. Draxal Gottslayer stood behind the pedestal, leading a chant in a low, growly voice. He was shirtless under the cloak, and the contours of his chest and abdomen were a cornucopia of rolling planes and valleys of ridiculously well crafted muscle. There was a tattoo of a snarling, horned beast inside of a ragged pentagram that twitched along with his muscles as he flexed.
Gottslayer paused in his recitation and fixed Atticus with his dark gaze. Atticus only faltered a little on the last step, before he recovered from that visual slap. The man's gaze was so intimidating Atticus just knew he spent hours in front of a mirror perfecting it. Atticus put on his confident smile, the one he'd spent hours in front of his own mirror practicing himself. The one that said I'm a man to be reckoned with, I'm a powerful man and people like me, smile.
"Welcome, Atticus Murphy," Gottslayer intoned and really the voice fit the brooding glare, sort of rumbling out of his chest like he had hidden bass speakers on his person.
"Yes - - well. Nice little set up you have here. A little dusty - - and the mold could be a problem for those of us with allergies - - but really not half bad."
Fifteen sets of eyes kept staring. He had to admit the lot of them were a lot more impressive than the pool of wrinkled, doddering old Satanists he'd had to pull from. Not a one of them didn't look hale and healthy and no small bit dangerous. Really, very dangerous the way their eyes all managed to look so dead and dark. Enough to make a man's testicles contract just little.
"We're in the midst of completing the rites of U'thu Ru, then we'll cleanse our bodies and our palates in preparation of the bloodletting. Find a place in the circle and join in, if you wish."
"Ahh - - a good body and palate cleansing. Just what I was hoping for," Atticus smiled weakly, trying to recall exactly what the rites of U'thu Ru consisted of. It wasn't one of those rites that he'd ever been invited to participate in while his father ruled the Satanic society. The bloodletting, he was pretty sure he got the gist of. And annoying as she was, he couldn't quite wrap his mind around them dragging that girl down here and bleeding her dry on the handily prepared tarp. He was a respected high school councilor after all and she was a student under his responsibility. There was no reason whatsoever that the dark lord would not be perfectly happy with the blood of a goat as opposed to the blood of a teenaged girl if that teenaged girl just happened to disappear.
They were back to chanting, swaying around the edges of the pentagram, no one paying particular interest to him, their honored guest. A little insulting that - - what sort of hosts were they? But it did provide him the opportunity to edge towards the stairs. No one paid him any heed, so he crept up the stairs, wincing at the creaks.
He looked over his shoulder once, but no one had followed him up. So he hurried over to Jenny, who flinched violently as he reached for the blindfold. Angry blue eyes glared at him and she screamed something at him behind the muffling wad of her gag.
"Shut up," he hissed. "Or were you hoping to take a visit downstairs to have your throat cut?"
She continued to glare, but shut up. He loosened the gag and she immediately hissed at him. "Atticus, you prick. I should have known if there were Satanists involved, you'd have weaseled your way in with them."
She was likely the most annoyingly, unpleasant girl he'd ever had the displeasure of meeting. He glared at her and snapped. "I don't weasel and helping their Sabbath day sacrifice escape is the surest way into their hearts and minds."
She blinked at him, that sound reasoning stumping her for the moment. He untied the rope around her ankles, then as she leaned forward, the one around her wrists. "Don't you have friends who ought to be risking their necks rescuing you?"
She glowered, rubbing circulation back into her wrists. He helped her scramble up, but ungrateful brat that she was, she jerked her arm out of his grip once she was on her feet and accused. "I don't know what you're trying to pull - -but it won't work."
"Oh, won't it? If you want to sabotage my devious plan, why don't you talk a little louder and maybe you can draw them upstairs. I suggest you take the chance I've given you and run. Maybe they won't find you in the dark."
She glared, but couldn't quite hold it, eyes flickering to the door to the basement.
"And what will you be doing?" She asked suspiciously. Which was a question with merit. What would he be doing? How kindly would they take the loss of their victim? Could he get away with saying she'd been gone when he got out of the bathroom? Working his way into their good graces after this might prove difficult. Or impossible.
Nothing's impossible if you put your mind to it. The voice in his head said, but it sounded less like his father's voice this time and more like the voice on his self-help tapes. Of course, explaining to a bunch of extraordinarily hard-core devil worshippers that their human sacrifice had slipped away, and hoping they'd be willing to use a goat in her stead, as opposed to possibly slicing the throat of the only outsider among them was a toss up. Draxal Gottslayer didn't seem like the sort of man that accepted substitutions with good grace.
Stand your ground, Atticus. Show no fear and they'll respect you. He didn't a quite have the time to debate the finer points of the downside of that that argument with himself.
There was the sound of boots on the stairs, and Jenny's eyes widened a second before she ran not away from the basement door like any sane recently escaped sacrificial victim, but towards it. She slammed it shut and turned the skeleton key in the lock.
Voices rose in alarm from the other side, and fists began to pound on the door, rattling it on its ancient hinges.
"What are you doing, Murphy, you dick?" It sounded like the spiky haired boy.
Atticus glared at Jenny, who shrugged and finally took his advice and bolted for the front door. There were threats coming through that door, directed towards him and it occurred to him that she'd just dashed his chances of getting in good with this new sect. Most certainly not on the verge of midnight in a house full of them crying for a blood sacrifice.
He stomped a foot in petulant frustration and ran for the front door himself. She was still in the yard, looking about for the best route of escape, when he pelted down the front steps. The goat ignored them both, busily trimming the grass near the porch.
"Oh, get in the van," he huffed, really not caring one way or another if she chose to throw his generosity back in his face. But surprisingly enough the ungrateful little shrew jerked open the passenger door and climbed in. He backed up wildly, managed to avoid the goat and spun dirt and gravel under his wheels as he shifted into drive.
The rear view mirror showed the dark figures of no few men spilling onto the porch and out into the yard as he careened onto the main road.
He slammed a palm against the wheel, spewing unintelligible curses.
"Do you know what you've done? You've ruined my good name. You've sullied my reputation as an upstanding Satanist. They were on the verge of accepting me."
"Are you out of your freaking mind?" she gawked at him. "They were going to sacrifice me and you're worried that they're not going to invite you to their fucking bake sales? God, Atticus, you're a prick, but you were never as much of a prick as those guys."
He blinked, comeback frozen on his tongue. That had almost been a compliment. Underhanded, granted, but still, likely the most positive thing Jenny Kolinsky had ever said about him, and that was counting the time when he'd been a part of their little gang of Book hunters.
He felt the oddest lump forming in the back of his throat.
"Well -- " he coughed, trying to clear it out. "It's not the size of the prick that matters - -"
She gave him a typical teenage eye roll and looked out the side view mirror. "At least it looks like they're not following us."
Jenny leaned against the window, pressing her hands between her knees to keep Atticus to see how badly they wanted to shake. She didn't trust him, she didn't like him, but he was a better alternative than what was back at that house. She'd been attacked by a lot of crazy shit after she'd hooked up with Todd and Curtis and Hannah, batshit crazy stuff like homicidal homunculus', giant cocks that turned people to stone, flesh eating zombies and ravenous senior citizens to name a few, but none of those things had shaken her as much as tonight.
These were just guys - - murderous Satan-worshipping guys, granted - - but other than that, just a bunch of ordinary, mundane dicks and there something so much more fucked up about being attacked by something not remotely supernatural and walking away from it without feeling like your world had been turned upside down.
She didn't know if she was going to be able to sleep soundly again for a long time.
Atticus pulled up in front of her house, and it was dark, and her car was gone, which meant Hannah and probably the guys were looking for her. She felt a little better knowing that, that she had friends out there worrying about her.
"Well, " Atticus cleared his throat a little uncomfortably. "I think it might be better for everyone involved if you didn't mention my part in your little adventure.
She snorted, giving him a disbelieving look. "Are you kidding me? Do you think we don't know you're a devil worshipping freak?"
"Satan," he corrected her, as if it mattered a great deal to him. "Devil is such a generic term."
"Whatever - -" She squinted her eyes at the glare of headlights coming down the street at them fast, and for a second her heart lurched up in her throat thinking - -God they know where I live, they didn't have to chase us down, all they had to do was show up - - before she recognized her own LeBaron. It screeched to a catty cornered stop in front of the van, the doors popping open and people spilling out that Jenny was only too glad to see.
"Fuck," Atticus muttered, as Todd, who'd been driving, started stalking towards the van.
"Atticus, you dick, what did you do?"
Jenny got out, and Hannah, who was hanging behind Curtis, let out a little gasp of relief and rushed forward to hug her.
"I'm okay, guys," Jenny let Todd and Curtis know, just in case they were wondering. But Todd was sort of fixed on Atticus and Curtis was backing him up.
Atticus stepped out, judiciously getting the van door between him and possible bodily injury. "Why do you kids always assume I'm the cause of your troubles?"
"Because you usually are, asshole," Todd accused.
"You tried to kill Todd and destroy the world," Curtis added.
"I most certainly did not," Atticus denied, then gave a little half shrug when they gaped at him and relented. "Well - - maybe a little, but I was given bad advice. You can't blame me for that."
Todd raised his fists. Jenny rolled her eyes and got between them, holding up her hands. "Okay, I think we can all agree Atticus is an ass, but in this case - - he sorta saved my life."
"What happened?" Hannah was staring at her with big worried eyes. "We didn't know where to look - - we didn't know for certain who had taken you."
"Satanists," Jenny spat.
Todd's eyes flicked to her, then back to Atticus his testosterone so obviously revved up at the moment that she doubted he was getting the finer nuances of the conversation.
"Different Satanists," Jenny clarified.
"Yes, completely different," Atticus' seconded.
"The ones that went after you," Jenny tacked on, hoping it would finally get through. "Atticus helped me escape."
"I did. With great threat to my own personal safety."
Todd took a breath, swallowing, and finally tore his eyes away from Atticus to look at her and ask the important question. "Are you okay?"
She shrugged. "They didn't hurt me." She decided not to mention the threats of what some of them had wanted to do. He didn't need that imagery interfering with his rational thought when rational thought wasn't his strongest suit.
"What did they want with you?" Hannah asked.
"Now that's a fun story. Apparently I was going to be their llama day sacrifice."
"Lammas," Atticus corrected in a muted mumble. He was trying to edge his way back into the driver's seat.
"No way?" Curtis stared at her in wide-eyed astonishment. "Human sacrifice."
"Oh," Hannah wrapped her arms around herself, going pale beneath her freckles. Todd narrowed his eyes, and glared back at Atticus.
"You better not have been part of this,"
"Or what?" Atticus tried to put up a courageous face but it ended up just looked pasty and forced.
"Or I'm gonna kick your ass, is what."
Atticus scoffed, but he edged back towards the van. "I offered them a perfectly good goat. It's not my fault you've managed to piss off every satanic sect known to man or demon and they're going out of their way to make your life difficult."
"What?" Todd blinked at him.
Atticus stabbed a finger through the open window and clarified. "For two thousand years dedicated followers of Satan have been waiting for the prophesy to come to fruition and you screwed those hopes and dreams because of what - - teenaged angst? Trying to impress a girl? Some ridiculous sense of morality? Lack of the balls to follow through? Don't be surprised when people start going out of their way to screw you back and if that takes hurting the people that matter to you - - well, que sera sera."
"Is that a threat?"
Atticus rolled his eyes, throwing out his arms as if carrying on a conversation with Todd was eating away at the foundations of his patience. "You see my mouth moving, but do you comprehend the words coming out? Its not a threat - - its just how it is. I had nothing to do with it. I was vacationing inside the Book, remember?"
They stood there, all of them breathing hard for one reason or another, all of them a little pale and a little freaked out. Finally Todd asked.
"You're saying it's my fault they went after Jenny?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Shut up," Curtis snapped, stalking past Todd a little and glaring at Atticus. "You guys being major dicks have nothing to do with him."
Todd glanced at Curtis, then to Jenny with that look in his eyes that she'd seen before. The realization that being what he was, there was always the possibility that the people around him might get hurt.
"Go home, Atticus," she said, then suggested. "You might want to lock your doors from now on. You're on their shit list, too, now."
He paled a little, but she figured he'd already figured that out for himself. The way things stood, they all needed to sleep lightly and be prepared for the shit to hit the fan.
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