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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
AFTER FOUR NIGHTS ON the run, I was finally safe, tucked into bed and enjoying the deep, dreamless sleep of the dead…until the dead decided they’d really rather have me awake. It started with a laugh that slid into my sleep and pulled me out of it. As I rose on my elbows, blinking and struggling to remember where I was, a whisper snaked around me, words indistinguishable.
I rubbed my eyes and yawned. Dull gray light shone through the curtains. The room was silent and still. No ghosts, thank God. I’d had enough in the last few weeks to last me a lifetime.
A scrape at the window made me jump. These days, every branch scratching the glass sounded like a zombie I’d raised from the dead, clawing to get in.
I went to the window and pulled back the curtains. It’d been nearly dawn by the time we got to the house, so I knew it had to be at least midmorning, but the fog outside was so thick I couldn’t see anything. I leaned closer, nose pressed to the cold glass.
A bug splattered against the window and I jumped a foot in the air. A laugh sounded behind me.
I whirled, but Tori was still in bed, whimpering in her sleep. She’d thrown off the covers and was curled up on her side, her dark hair spiked across the pillow.
Another chuckle erupted behind me. Definitely a guy’s laugh. But no one was there. No, strike that. I just couldn’t see anyone. For a necromancer, that doesn’t mean no one is there.
I squinted, trying to catch the flicker of a ghost and saw, off to the left, the flash of a hand that was gone before I could see more.
“Looking for someone, little necro?”
I spun. “Who’s there?”
A snicker answered me-the kind of snicker every fifteen-year-old girl has heard a million times from jerk boys.
“If you want to talk to me, you have to show yourself,” I said.
“Talk to you?” he said in an arrogant high school quarterback voice. “I think you’re the one who wants to talk to me.”
I snorted and headed back to bed.
“No?” His voice slid around me. “Huh. I figured you’d want to know more about the Edison Group, the Genesis experiments, Dr. Davidoff…”
He laughed. “Thought so.”
The four of us-Tori, Derek, Simon, and me-were on the run from the Edison Group after discovering we were subjects in the Genesis project, an experiment for genetically modifying supernaturals. My aunt Lauren had been one of the doctors involved, but she’d betrayed her colleagues by helping us get away. Now she was being held captive. Or so I hoped. Last night, when the Edison Group tracked us down, a ghost had tried to help me…a ghost who had looked like Aunt Lauren.
We were supposedly in a safe house owned by a group opposing the experiments. Now a teenaged ghost showed up, knowing about the project? I wasn’t about to banish him, however tempting it might be.
“Show yourself,” I said.
“Bossy little necro, aren’t you?” His voice slid behind me. “You just want to see if I’m as hot as I sound.”
I closed my eyes, pictured a vague male form, and gave a mental tug. He began to materialize-a dark-haired guy, maybe sixteen, seventeen, nothing special, but with a smarmy smile that said he thought he was. I could still see through him, like he was a hologram, so I closed my eyes to give him another pull.
“Uh-uh,” he said. “You want more, we gotta get to know each other a little better.” He disappeared again.
“What do you want?” I asked.
He whispered in my ear. “Like I said, to get to know you better. Not here, though. You’ll wake your friend. She’s cute, but not really my type.” His voice moved to the door. “I know a place we can chat in private.”
Yeah, right. Did he think I’d just started talking to ghosts yesterday? Well, close-two weeks ago, actually. But I’d already seen enough to know that while there were some ghosts who wanted to help and some who just wanted to talk, there were more who wanted to cause a little trouble, spice up their afterlife. This guy definitely fell in the last category.
Still, if he was another Edison Group subject, one who’d presumably died in this house, I needed to find out what had happened to him. But I wanted backup. Tori had no experience helping me with ghosts and, while we were getting along better, she still wasn’t anyone I wanted watching my back.
So I followed the ghost into the hall, but stopped at Simon and Derek’s door.
“Uh-uh,” the ghost said. “You don’t need to bring a guy along.”
“They’d like to talk to you, too.” I raised my voice, praying Derek would hear me. He usually woke at the slightest noise-werewolves have superhearing. All I could hear, though, was Simon’s snores. There was no one else upstairs. Andrew, the guy who’d brought us here, had taken the downstairs bedroom.
“Come on, necro girl. This is a limited-time offer.”
You know he’s up to no good, Chloe.
Yes, but I also needed to know if we were in danger here. I decided to proceed with extreme caution. My subconscious voice didn’t argue, which I took as a positive sign.
I started walking.
We’d gone straight to bed after we got here, so I hadn’t gotten a good look at our new place. I only knew that it was huge-a rambling Victorian straight out of a Gothic horror movie.
As I followed the voice down the hall, I had the weird sense I was in one of those movies, caught in an endless narrow corridor, passing closed door after closed door until I finally reached the staircase…heading up.
From what I’d seen of the house as we’d driven up, it was three stories. The bedrooms were on the second floor, and Andrew had said the third was an attic.
So the ghost was leading me to the dark, spooky attic? I wasn’t the only one who’d seen too many horror films.
I followed him up the stairs. They ended at a landing with two doors. I paused. A hand appeared through the door in front of me, beckoning. I took a second to prepare myself. No matter how dark it was in there, I couldn’t let him see my fear.
When I was ready, I grabbed the doorknob and-
It was locked. I turned the dead bolt latch and it clicked free. Another deep breath, another second of mental preparation, then I swung the door open and stepped in-
A blast of cold air knocked me back. I blinked. Ahead, fog swirled.
A dead bolt on an attic door, Chloe?
No, I was standing on the roof.
I WHEELED AS THE door swung closed behind me. I caught the edge, but something hit it, hard, and it slammed home. I grabbed the handle as the dead bolt clanked shut. I twisted the knob, sure I was mistaken.
“Leaving so soon?” he said. “How rude.”
I stared down at the handle. Only one very rare type of ghost could move stuff in the living world.
“An Agito half-demon,” I whispered.
“Agito?” He twisted the word with contempt. “I’m top-of-the-line, baby. I’m a Volo.”
Which meant nothing to me. I could only guess it was a more powerful type. In life, a telekinetic half-demon could move objects mentally. In death, they could move them physically. A poltergeist.
I took a careful step back. Wood creaked underfoot, reminding me of where I was. I stopped short and looked around. I was on a kind of walkway that circled the third floor-the attic, I presumed.
To my right was a nearly flat section littered with rusty bottle caps and beer cans, like someone had used it as a makeshift patio. That calmed me down. I wasn’t stranded on a roof, just a balcony. Annoying, but safe enough.
I rapped on the door, lightly, not really wanting to wake anyone, but hoping Derek might notice.
“No one’s going to hear you,” the ghost said. “We’re all alone. Just the way I like it.”
I lifted my hand to bang on the door, then stopped. Dad always said the best way to deal with a bully was not to let him know you were frightened. At the thought of my father, my throat tightened. Was he still looking for me? Of course, he was, and there was nothing I could do.
Dad’s advice for bullies had worked with the kids who mocked my stutter-they gave up when they couldn’t get a reaction from me. So I took a deep breath and went on the offensive.
“You said you know about the Edison Group and their experiments,” I said. “Were you a subject?”
“Boring. Let’s talk about you. Got a boyfriend? I bet you do. Cute girl like you, hanging out with two guys. You’ve gotta have hooked up with one of them by now. So which one?” He laughed. “Dumb question. The cute girl would get the cute guy. The chink.”
He meant Simon, who was half Korean. He was baiting me, seeing if I’d leap to Simon’s defense and prove he was my boyfriend. He wasn’t. Well, not yet, though we seemed to be heading that way.
“If you want me to stay and talk, I need some answers first,” I said.
He laughed. “Yeah? Doesn’t look to me like you’re going anywhere.”
I grabbed the doorknob again. A bottle cap pinged off my cheek just below my eye. I glowered in his direction.
“That was only a warning shot, little necro.” A nasty tone edged his voice. “Around here, we play my game by my rules. Now, tell me about your boyfriend.”
“I don’t have one. If you know anything about the Genesis experiment, then you know we aren’t here for a vacation. Being on the run doesn’t leave much time for romance.”
“Don’t get snarky with me.”
I banged on the door. The next bottle cap hit my eye, stinging.
“You’re in danger, little girl. Don’t you care?” His voice lowered to my ear. “Right now, I’m your best friend, so you’d better treat me good. You’ve just been led into a trap and I’m the only one who can get you out.”
“Led? By who? The guy who brought us here-” I thought up a fake name fast. “Charles?”
“No, some total stranger, and Charles just happened to bring you here. What a coincidence.”
“But he said he doesn’t work for the Edison Group anymore. He used to be their doctor-”
“He still is.”
“H-he’s Dr. Fellows? The one they were talking about at the lab?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d never forget that face.”
“Huh, well, that’s weird. First, his name isn’t Charles. Second, he’s not a doctor. Third, I know Dr. Fellows. She’s my aunt, and that guy downstairs looks nothing like her.”
The blow hit me from behind, striking hard against the back of my knees. My legs buckled and I fell on all fours.
“Don’t toy with me, little necro.”
When I tried to rise, he hit me with an old plank swung like a baseball bat. I tried to twist out of the way, but he got my shoulder and knocked me into the railing. A crack, and the railing gave way. I toppled, and for a second, all I could see was the concrete patio two stories down.
I caught another section of railing. It held and I was steadying myself when the plank swung straight for my hand. I let go and scrambled onto the walkway as the board hit the railing so hard that the top rail snapped and the plank snapped, too, splinters of rotting wood flying.
I ran toward the flat section of roof. He whipped the broken board at me. I stumbled back, bumping into the railing again.
I caught my balance and looked around. No sign of him. No sign of anything moving. But I knew he was there, watching to see what I’d do next.
I ran for the door, then feinted toward the flat part of the roof. A crash. Shards of glass exploded in front of me and the ghost appeared, lifting a broken bottle. I backpedaled.
Sure, that’s a great idea. Just keep backing into the railing, see how long it’ll hold.
I stopped. There was nowhere to run. I considered screaming. I’ve always hated that in movies-heroines who scream for help when cornered-but right now, caught between a broken-bottle-wielding poltergeist and a two-story fall, I could survive the humiliation of being rescued. Problem was, no one would get here in time.
So…what are you going to do? The superpowerful necromancer against the bullying poltergeist?
That was right. I did have a defense, at least against ghosts.
I touched my amulet. It’d been given to me by my mother. She’d said it would ward off the bogeymen I’d seen when I was little-ghosts, as I knew now. It didn’t seem to work that well, but clutching it helped me concentrate, focus on what I was.
I pictured giving the ghost a shove.
“Don’t you dare, little girl. You’ll only piss me off and-”
I squeezed my eyes shut and gave him a huge mental push.
I waited, listening, sure that when I opened my eyes, he’d be right there. After a moment, I peeked and saw only the gray sky. Still, I gripped the railing tight, ready for a broken bottle to fly at my head.
My knees shook at the shout. Footsteps thudded across the roof. Ghosts don’t make footsteps.
I looked over my shoulder to see Derek.
DEREK MADE HIS WAY across the flat section of the roof. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but his feet were bare.
“Watch out,” I called. “There’s broken glass.”
“I see it. Stay where you are.”
“It’s okay. I’ll just back up and-” The wood creaked under me. “Or maybe not.”
“Just stay there. The wood’s rotting. It’s holding your weight as long as you stand still.”
“But I walked out here, so it must be-”
“We’re not testing that theory, okay?”