I kicked a stone off the side of the road and heard it crack into five trees before stopping. The north road was quiet, all gravel and silence around us. “You’re a magician, I’m a monster and that’s the all of it.”
“Wray.” There was an odd catch in his voice. “You want something else?”
“I’d like to be friends, not just some family project for you to work on. And I don’t know if you can do that.”
Bryce stopped and stared down at me. Something intense and private went across his face for a moment and he let out a sigh and slumped. “I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to. I’d like to.”
“Why?” I let my face slide away from human and glared up at him, clenching clawed fingers loosely. “I’m a broken monster that eats corpses. There’s a lot better friends for a magician to have that me.”
“The Smiths and Joneses have been at war for over a hundred years over the town of Nowhere, Wray. I don’t have friends here. I never will. Anyone could be turned into a weapon to be used against my family.”
“A hundred years ago Reginald Jones the Second founded the town of Nowhere. He was murdered by a Smith ten years later when we realized the entire town had been built as an amplifier for magic. Cast a simple spell to cause harm, amplify it, feed it back into itself and the town would boost the spell until the world itself was destroyed. We killed him and we’ve kept the Joneses from using Nowhere for that ever since.”
“And your mom has been doing that by herself for ten years.”
“Yes.” Nothing else, his pride firm enough for that word alone.
I scratched my scalp. “Then why did you take me home from the cemetery? I could be some weapon the Joneses made.”
“You bit my finger off then ran away.”
“I know that,” I growled. “But it could be long term, like a sleeper agent. You all have magic and I don’t need it and I could just come in one night and kill you all.”
“We do have weapons,” he said mildly. “And we all know how to use mundane ones as well as the magical.”
Another growl slipped out. I moved, toes digging into gravel, and hauled Bryce up into the air a moment later, driving his back into a tree across the road hard enough to knock the wind out of him. I dropped him back down to the ground a moment later and just crouched beside him, waiting as he wheezed for air.
“I am a ghoul,” I said, the words harsh even to my ears. “I can rip tombstones apart, dig through earth for bones and your magic doesn’t work on me, Bryce Smith. So, this time for real: why did you trust me enough to take me home?”
Bryce stood on his third try, staring down at me as if he’d never seen me before, breath coming in weak wheezes. I was was panting for air myself, fighting the urge to attack him as best I could. Telling myself he wasn’t prey. Trying to ignore the scent of cinnamon in his bones.
“I can’t tell you.” His voice was so soft I almost missed the words.
“What?” My voice was almost human, the ghoul-self sliding back in shock as I stared at him.
He looked over my head, not meeting my gaze. “I can’t tell you that.”