"No," I shot back. "I wasn't thinking of that. I wasn't thinking of anything except getting home." I related the evening's events to the best of my ability, beginning with the footsteps, ending with Carter.
When I'd finished, Hugh sat down in an armchair across from me, pensive. "Pauses, huh?"
"The way you tell what happened... you got hit, pause, then another one, pause, then another one. Right?"
"Yeah, so? I don't know. Isn't that how fights work? Punch, draw back, get ready for another? Besides, we're talking about breaks of, like, a second or so. Not real breathing time."
"There was nothing like that for me. I had slashing too. It was an onslaught. A stream of blows, continuously. It defied understanding or ability. Definitely supernatural."
"Well, so was this," I countered. "Believe me, I couldn't fight against it. It wasn't some mortal mugging, if that's what you're suggesting." Hugh simply shrugged.
Silence fell, and I gave the imp a sidelong glance to the best of my limited vision's ability. "They're looking meaningfully at each other, aren't they?"
"Carter and Jerome. I can feel it." I turned to Carter, suddenly wondering if my trip last night had been for naught. "I don't suppose you salvaged the shopping bag I had on me?"
Walking over to my kitchen counter, the angel produced a bag and tossed it to me. My depth perception still off, I missed, and the bag bounced off the couch onto the floor. The book slipped out. Jerome snatched it up in an instant and read the title.
"Fuck me, Georgie. Is this why you were out skulking in dark corners? This is what you nearly got killed for? I told you to lay off the vampire hunter investigating - "
"Oh come on," cried Cody, jumping up in my defense. "None of us believe that anymore. We know there's an angel doing this - "
"An angel?" I heard heavy amusement and even a scoff in the demon's words.
"No mortal did that to me," I agreed hotly. "Or to Hugh. Or to Lucinda. Or to Duane. It was a nephilim."
"A nephi -what?" asked Hugh, startled.
"Isn't that a character on Sesame Street?" Peter spoke up for the first time.
Jerome stared silently at me for a moment, then finally demanded, "Who told you about that?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned toward the angel. "You know you're not supposed to - "
"It wasn't me," retorted Carter mildly. "I'm guessing she figured it out on her own. You don't put enough faith in your own people."
"I did find out on my own, though I had help."
I briefly detailed my string of leads, how one had led to another, from Erik to the book at Krystal Starz.
"Shit," muttered Jerome, after listening to my spiel. "Fucking Nancy Drew."
"Okay," said Peter, "compelling chase or no, you still haven't told us what a nephilopogus is."
" Nephilim," I corrected. Hesitantly, I looked at Jerome. "Can I?"
"You're asking me for permission? How quaint."
Taking that as acquiescence, I began uncertainly, " Nephilimare the offspring of angels and humans. Like in that passage in Genesis. Where the angels fell and took human wives? Nephilim are the result. They have certain abilities... I don't know all of them... strength and power... like Greek heroes..."
"Or like major nuisances," added Jerome bitterly. "Don't forget that."
"How so?" Hugh asked.
I continued when Jerome didn't. "Well... what I read said they used to cause strife and slaughter among humans."
"Yeah, but this one's not going after humans," pointed out Peter.
Carter shrugged. "They're unpredictable. They don't play by anyone's rules, and honestly, we're not really sure what this one's intentions are. It's playing a game, that's for sure, what with its attacks on random immortals and that note it sent Georgina."
"Two notes," I corrected. "I got another one just before Lucinda died, but I was with Seth all night and didn't read it until the next day."
Hugh and the vampires turned to stare at me.
"You were with Seth all night?" asked Cody, astonished.
"Which one's he again?" Hugh asked.
"The writer," provided Peter.
The imp regarded me with new interest. "What'd you do 'all night' then?"
"Can we not discuss Georgina's love life right now, fascinating though it may be?" Jerome gave me a speculative look. "Unless, of course, this Seth person is someone of strong moral character and principle whose life energy you plan on stealing soon in support of the greater cause of evil and its goals."
"Right on the first, not on the rest."
"Damn it. I need a drink."
Jerome wandered over to my liquor cabinet and sifted through its contents.
"So how can we spot this nephilim ?" asked Cody, getting us back on track.
I glanced uncertainly at Carter and Jerome. I didn't know any of the technicalities.
"You can't," the angel announced cheerfully.
"They can hide their signature too, then. Like higher immortals. "
He nodded back at me. "Yes, they have the worst characteristics of both their parents. Ample power and pseudo-angelic abilities, mixed with rebelliousness, a love of the physical world, and poor impulse control."
"How much power?" I wanted to know. "They're half-human, right? So half the power?"
"That's the clincher." Jerome looked much more cheerful with a glass of gin in hand. "It varies wildly, just as each angel has a different level of power. One thing is clear: Nephilim inherit a lot more than half their parent's power, though they can never exceed it. It's still plenty - which is why I've been trying to knock sense into all of you to stay clear. A nephilim could easily blow one of you out of the water."
"But not one of you." Peter spoke the words more as a statement than a question, despite the uncertain note lacing his voice.
Neither angel nor demon responded, and another piece clicked into place for me.
"That's why you guys are going around with your signatures masked. You're hiding from it too."
"We're merely taking appropriate precautions," Jerome protested.
"It ran from you," I reminded Carter. "You must have been stronger than it."
"Probably," he agreed. "I was more concerned with you, so I didn't get a good sense. An angel in full form will freak most beings out - it'll kill a mortal - so I could have been stronger than it or not. Hard to say."
I didn't like that answer, not at all. "What were you doing there anyway?"
The angel's trademark sarcastic smile appeared. "What do you think? I was following you around."
I started. "What? Then I was right... that day at Erik's..."
"My God," said Peter, amazed. "You really were on to something, Georgina. At least about him stalking you."
I felt semivindicated, even if Carter obviously didn't seem to be the culprit anymore. Hugh had been right in accusing me of bias. I had really wanted Carter to be the responsible party for all these attacks, as a sort of payback for all the times he'd mocked me. His timely intervention in the alley only muddled my opinion of him now.
Carter explained, "After realizing that first note was probably from this nephilim, I thought it'd be prudent to pop in once in a while since our friend here seems to have an especial interest in you. My intention was to catch him or her off-guard, not to help you, though I'm happy to have been able to. Plus, that day at Erik's..."
He looked over at Jerome. The demon threw his arms in the air. "Sure? Why not? Tell them. Tell them everything. They already know too much."
"Erik?" I prompted.
"This thing, this nephilim..." Carter paused thoughtfully. "This being knows a surprising amount about us and about the immortal community."
"Well... it's like you said, right?" asked Peter. "This nephilim would find one of us and follow him or her around."
"No. I mean, yes, that's possible, but evidence indicates this one knows much more than simple surveillance might give it..."
"For Chrissake," Jerome snapped, "if you're going to tell them, tell them. Stop speaking in riddles." The demon turned to us. "He's saying this nephilim is working with a leak. Someone's feeding it information about the immortal community here."