Fallen Academy: Year One Page 2

“Who’s there? Is that you, Bri?” Bernie sniffed the air. It was pelting rain, but somehow he always knew it was me.

I grinned. Bernie was homeless and blind as a bat, but he was sweeter than sugar. The nicest man I’d ever met. He once tried to offer me his only coat when I was cold.

Pulling a blueberry muffin from my bag, that I had stashed their earlier, I plopped it in his hand. “I have my Awakening ceremony today. Can’t talk now, but I’ll come by later and bring you dinner.”

He patted my hand and smiled, showcasing the three teeth he had left. Ripping a piece of the muffin off, he gave it to Maximus.

“May you be angel blessed,” he said and nodded to me.

Angel blessed. Yeah right. Odds were unlikely, seeing as though my mother was demon gifted. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because I was going to Tainted Academy whether I was angel blessed or not.

“Thanks, Bern. I’m late,” I told him again. I knew he didn’t have anyone to talk to and he cherished our chats, but I really couldn’t be late.

“Run like the wind, child!” he shouted, shooing me. Maximus barked for full effect.

Turning on my heels, I dashed out into the pelting rain and nearly slammed right into a tiny Snakeroot demon. I was able to sidestep him at the last minute but still got a whiff of his natural scent—sulfur, acid and raw sewage. Yuck. Their red beady eyes and threaded black horns gave me the creeps, but they were beauty queens compared to other demons I’d seen roaming around the hood. The top of my left foot was scarred from a Snakeroot demon. Long story, but it was Shea’s fault.

As I turned the corner onto Rosecrans Boulevard, I grinned when I saw Shea’s dark brown curly ponytail hanging out the bus’s front door, her boot on the curb. “I said hold the bus for one more goddamn minute!” she roared.

My best friend was half black, half Puerto Rican, and she didn’t mess around. You either did what she said, or you did what she said.

“I’m here!” I yelled.

Shea turned to meet my eyes and shook her head. “Always late.”

I just smiled, and we both rushed onto the bus to meet the glare of a demon slave woman who sat behind the wheel, her red crescent tattoo glaring on her forehead above hateful eyes.

“Next time I’ll shut the door on your pretty foot!” she snarled at Shea.

Shea shrugged as if she didn’t care. She really probably didn’t. A broken ankle would get her out of work detail for a few days until a healer demon could fix it, and that would be awesome. After Shea’s mom ran off when she was thirteen, it left her slave contract broken, which meant if she ever stepped foot in Demon City again, she was dead on arrival. They had better things to do than go chasing after a junkie to make them live out their contract. So instead, they’d made Shea pick up her mom’s post. She’d been working for demons ever since.

“How was work?” I made small talk, trying to get my mind off what was about to happen. Shea and I would both officially be slaves to the demons. Forever. We didn’t have our tattoos yet, so the demons couldn’t technically do that to us until we had gone through the Awakening. She’d been working off the books for the Grimlock demon who owned her contract. It kept her alive and fed, so she didn’t complain much.

She shrugged. “The usual. Master Grim had me interview some new ‘dancers’ for his club, and after that I scrubbed the leather seats with bleach and water. Fun times.” The way she did air quotes around the word dancer always cracked me up.

“How exactly does one interview a ‘dancer’?” Grim, her boss and the demon who held her contract, was also the owner of five strip clubs in Demon City. He made big money, and had more slaves than I’d ever seen. Shea was his personal assistant.

She pushed her breasts together, batting her eyelashes, and I laughed even more. Even when the world had gone to shit, Shea could always make me laugh. “That’s it? A nice rack and you’re in?”

Hmm, maybe that would be my backup plan if my new post didn’t pay well. Necros made good money, but if I was a Gristle, I was screwed. My boss would barely pay me enough to eat. My mom wouldn’t be able to work forever. Necro work was hard and soul-draining, so I’d have to eventually take care of her, Mikey, and maybe even Shea too.

Shea’s face fell and clouded over. “It’s sad. Most of the girls are barely eighteen. Some have kids to support or contracts to fulfill. I’m lucky Grim doesn’t make me dance. I’m surprised he hasn’t noticed that I was blessed with incredibly amazing boobs.”

I grinned. “And a nice booty.”

She chortled, turning to look behind her. “It is nice,” she agreed, making me smile wider.

“Are you nervous?” I inquired, changing the topic. “What if we’re both Gristles?”

Shea shrugged and reached over to hold my hand. “Then we’ll be the best damn Gristles Demon City has ever seen.”

I smiled again but it didn’t reach my eyes. On a day when we were supposed to be getting special powers and new careers, we were selling our souls to the wrong side.

“Do you think the war will ever stop, that one side will win? That the fallen might win?” I asked her. The sunlight was shining up ahead as the bus made its way to the border of Angel City. The place I had once lived in, until my dad got sick. I barely remembered it now, but I recalled that the majority of people were happy.

Shea’s gaze followed the rain streak down the window, her blue eyes looking out behind her bronze skin. She let go of my hand. “I dunno. I try not to hope anymore. It only leads to disappointment.”

Wasn’t that the damn truth. We could pass for normal on the streets now, but after today, a red crescent moon slave mark would mar our looks for eternity. Would show everyone who we were, and what we’d signed up for.

The bus slowed as it reached the border gate, and a security guard stepped out from behind the tall cement wall that closed off the two warring cities. After a few words and a scan of the driver’s badge, we rolled on through. The sunlight burst through the windows and heated my chilly skin. Driving into Angel City was an immediate mood lifter. I took a deep breath as I felt the tension in my shoulders recede.

Shea chuckled. “You love this place.”

“Don’t you?” Angel City was the normal side, the side with the good people.

“It’s not home to me like it is to you,” she added with a shrug. “I don’t feel any different about either side.”

That was true. Shea was from New Orleans, and after moving here, she’d only ever known Demon City as home. She loved the rain and gloomy days, whereas I was dying for a sunny day at the beach.

The bus stopped in front of the Awakening Center, and Shea and I disembarked. My hands clung to my messenger bag tightly, as we crossed the busy downtown street, and made our way to the line of teenagers walking into the open double doors.

“I saw a Lakers game here once with my dad. I barely remember, but we have a picture,” I told Shea.

“The Awakening waits for no one!” a slender woman, in her twenties, called out to us as the last of the kids went through the double doors.

“Why do they insist on dressing us up? This isn’t prom,” Shea muttered, running to catch up. I didn’t want to know what happened if you didn’t make it on time to the Awakening. I’d heard stories and they weren’t good.

“Because it gives them something to do,” I whispered back, then was met with a glare from the female officer holding the door. I looked down at the silver spiral insignia on her jacket. She was a Light Mage. She also had a silver FA patch right beneath it, the logo of the Fallen Army.

The line of my fellow Awakening ceremony companions began to tighten as we walked single file back to the dressing rooms. The fallen angels who hosted the ceremony every year insisted we dress up, and after we had our Awakening, they threw a big catered party for everyone, even the demon bound.

“I heard there’s a chocolate fountain at the party after.” Shea’s eyes lit up as she told me the rumor. She was obsessed with chocolate—and guys, but mostly chocolate.

The Fallen Army officer hung back until she was walking with Shea and me, giving us a side glance as she tsked through her teeth.

Shea pinned her with a glare as we walked. “Can I help you?” she asked her in the bitchiest tone possible. The fallen and all of their officers were high and mighty, acting better than everyone, especially better than us. The demon bound.

The woman shrugged. “It’s a shame to see so many firstborns pledge their lives to the demons.”

Another woman up ahead had started roll call at a set of double doors. Shea stopped and faced the officer. Her blood was boiling. I could see that in the way she clenched her fists, and I hoped I didn’t have to hold her back, if you struck an officer, it was a criminal offense.

How did she even know we were slave bound? She’d probably looked at all of the files beforehand, specifically looking for the ones like us.

“You think we pledge ourselves? Wow, you’re stupider than you look,” Shea spat.

I froze, unsure what the woman’s reaction would be. I didn’t spend a lot of time around the Fallen Army and their human consort. I’d heard they were more forgiving than the demon patrol officers that roamed our streets, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

“No.” The officer stepped closer to my best friend. “What’s stupid is that your mothers, the people in charge of your safety and security, pledged your life to a demon for their own gains.”

I stepped out of the line, ready to give this girl a piece of my mind, but the officer at the front called Shea’s name then.

“Shea Hallowell. Demon bound.”

Shea gave the officer before her one last glare before stepping in line and raising her hand.

The officer at the front typed something into her tablet and pointed for Shea to step out of the line. There was a small group of three others I recognized from Demon City. All demon bound.

“Brielle Atwater. Demon bound.”

The way she said ‘demon bound,’ like it was dirty, made me hate them more. The self-righteous Fallen Army.

I raised my hand, and held my chin high. Yes, my mother sold herself to a lifetime of demon slavery to save my father’s life, but what other choice did we have? That’s what you did for love, for family. The fallen angels didn’t heal the dying—free will, destiny, and all of that bullshit. They said the humans who were terminal were meant to pass, and no one should interfere. Pious bastards.

I stepped out of line and followed Shea to stand with the others from Demon City. Five of us. The rest were free souls and would exit stage right and be recruited to enter Fallen Academy. Mages, the Sighted, Centaurs, and of course, the rare and mythical Celestials were all of the Angel Blessed powers and were looked at as the ‘good ones.’ There hadn’t been a Celestial in five years. It was said they were endowed with so much angel energy during The Falling, that they were kin to the fallen angels themselves. They were easy to spot with their big large white wings, smaller yet identical to the wings of the fallen. The only difference was that the Celestials could retract their wings at will, and the fallen couldn’t.

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