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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
There was none of the usual impatient snap in his voice, meaning he was really worried. And if Derek was worried, I’d better stay right where I was. I gripped the railing.
“No!” he said. “I mean, yes, hold on, but don’t put any weight on it. It’s rotted through at the base.”
Derek looked around, like he was searching for something to use. Then he stripped off his shirt. I tried not to look away. Not that he looked bad without his shirt. The opposite, actually, which is why…Let’s just say friends are really better when they’re fully dressed.
Derek got as close as he dared, then knotted a corner of the T-shirt and tossed it to me. I caught it on the second throw.
“I’m not going to pull you in,” he warned.
A good thing, because with his werewolf strength, he’d probably wrench it from my hands and I’d tumble off the roof backward.
“Pull yourself along-”
He stopped, seeing I was already doing that. I made it onto the flat part, wobbled a step, then felt my knees start to give way. Derek grabbed my arm-the one without stitches, bandages, and a bullet graze-and I lowered myself slowly.
“I-I’m just going to sit for a minute,” I said, my voice shakier than I liked.
Derek sat beside me, his shirt back on. I could feel him watching me, uncertain.
“I-I’ll be okay. Just give me a second. It’s safe to sit here, right?”
“Yeah, the slope’s only about twenty-five degrees, so-” Seeing my expression, he said, “It’s safe.”
The fog was lifting, and I could see trees stretching into the distance on all sides, a dirt road winding through them to the house.
“There was a ghost,” I said finally.
“Yeah, I figured that.”
“I-I knew I shouldn’t follow, but-” I paused, not ready for the full explanation, still shaky. “I stopped outside your door, hoping you’d hear me. I guess you did?”
“Kind of. I was dozing. Woke up confused, so it took me a while to get out here. Got a touch of fever.”
I saw it now, the flushed skin and glittering eyes.
“Are you-?” I began.
“I’m not Changing. Not for a while. I know what that feels like now, and I’ve got a ways to go. Another day, at least. Hopefully longer.”
“I bet you’ll Change completely this time,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe.” His tone said he doubted it.
As we sat there, I snuck a look at him. At sixteen, Derek was more than a foot taller than me. Solidly built, too, with broad shoulders and muscles he usually kept hidden under baggy clothes, so he wouldn’t look as intimidating.
Since he’d started Changing, Mother Nature seemed to have cut him some slack. His skin was clearing up. His dark hair didn’t look greasy anymore. It still hung in his face-nothing emo, just like he hadn’t bothered to get it cut in a while. Lately, that would have been the last thing on his mind.
I tried to relax and enjoy the fog-laced view, but Derek fidgeted and squirmed, which was more distracting than if he’d just been his usual self and demanded to know what had happened.
“So there was this ghost,” I said finally. “He said he was a Volo half-demon. Telekinetic, but a stronger type than Dr. Davidoff. Probably the same kind Liz is. He lured me out here, locked the door, then started pelting me with stuff.”
Derek looked over sharply.
“I banished him.”
“Good, but you shouldn’t have followed him at all, Chloe.”
His tone was calm, reasonable, so un-Derek-like that I stared at him, the weird idea that this wasn’t Derek creeping through my head. Before I’d escaped the Edison Group laboratory, I’d met a demi-demon, chained there as a power source. She’d possessed someone but only a ghost. Could Derek be possessed?
“What?” Derek said as I stared.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just…” He rubbed the back of his neck, wincing and rolling his shoulders. “Tired. Feeling off. Really off. Too much…” He struggled for the word. “Being here. Being safe. I’m still adjusting.”
That made sense. Derek’s werewolf protective streak had been in hyperdrive for days, keeping him awake and on guard. Having someone else to watch out for us now would be weird. Still, not blasting me for blithely following a random ghost onto a roof was so totally not Derek that I knew there was more to it.
When I asked what was bothering him, he muttered that it was nothing. I backed off and was about to explain more about the ghost when he blurted, “It’s Tori. I don’t like her story about how she got away.”
When the Edison Group had almost captured us last night, they’d nabbed Tori. Yet when they’d refocused their efforts on the biggest threat-Derek-they’d left the young witch with only a single guard. She’d locked him in a binding spell and escaped.
“You think they let her get away?”
“I’m not saying…It’s just…I don’t have any proof.”
And that’s what was making him uncomfortable, that his misgivings were based on nothing but a gut feeling. The math and science whiz really preferred dealing in facts.
“If you’re thinking she’s been a plant from the start, she hasn’t.” I lowered my voice. “Don’t tell her I told you this, okay? When she helped me escape, she only wanted to get away from the Edison Group and run back to her dad. So she called him. Instead he sent her mom-the woman we’d just escaped. Tori was hurt, really hurt. In shock even. She couldn’t have faked that.”
“I didn’t figure she was in on it from that far back.”
“Just that she cut a deal last night?”
“Would Tori turn us in for the promise of getting her old life back? It’s possible, and we should be careful, but I do buy her story. Unless her mom told them Tori was figuring out how to cast spells-which I doubt-then, as far as they know, she just has random outbursts of power. Her binding spell could have taken out a single guard. I’ve seen her use it. She doesn’t even need to say an incantation. It’s like, if she thinks it, she can do it.”
“No casting? No practicing?” He shook his head. “Don’t tell Simon that.”
“Don’t tell Simon what?” said a voice behind us.
We turned to see Simon step out of the doorway.
“That Tori doesn’t need to use incantations to cast,” Derek said.
“Seriously?” He swore. “You’re right. Don’t tell me.” He picked his way across the roof. “Better yet, don’t tell her that I need incantations and weeks of practice, and I still suck.”
“You were good with that knock-back spell last night,” I said.
He grinned. “Thanks. Now, do I dare ask what you guys are doing hiding out up here? Or is it going to make me jealous?”
Simon was smiling as he said it, but Derek glanced away with a gruff “Course not.”
“So you weren’t having another adventure?” Simon lowered himself on my other side, so close he brushed against me, hand resting on mine. “It sure looks like a good spot for one. Rooftop hideaway, old widow’s walk. That is what that is, huh? A widow’s walk?”
“Yeah. And it’s rotting, so stay off it,” Derek said.
“I did. So, adventure?”
“A small one,” I said.
“Oh, man. I always miss them. Okay, break it to me gently. What happened?”
I explained. As Simon listened, intent and concerned, he cast glances at his brother. Foster brother, I guess you’d say-one look at them and you knew they weren’t related by blood. Simon is fifteen, a half-year older than me, slender and athletic, with dark, almond-shaped eyes and spiked blond hair. When Derek was about five, he’d come to live with Simon and his dad. They were best friends and brothers, blood tie or not.
I told him as much as I’d told Derek so far. Then he looked from me to Derek.
“I must have been sound asleep if I missed all that shouting,” Simon said.
“What shouting?” Derek said.
“You mean that Chloe just told you that she followed a ghost onto a roof, and you didn’t blast her all the way to Canada?”
“He’s a little off this morning,” I said.
“More than a little, I’d say. Aren’t you going to ask her for the rest of the story? The part where she explains why she followed the ghost? Because I’m sure there was a reason.”
I smiled. “Thank you. There was. It was a teenage guy who knew about the Edison Group and the experiments.”
“What?” Derek’s head whipped around, the sound more growl than question.
“That’s why I followed him. There’s a dead kid here who might have been another subject, and if he died here…”
“Then that’s a problem,” Simon said.
I nodded. “My first thought, naturally, was ‘Oh my God, we’ve been led into a trap.’”
Simon shook his head. “Not Andrew. He’s one of the good guys. I’ve known him all my life.”
“But I haven’t, which is why I prodded the ghost, and it was clear he hadn’t recognized him. Andrew said this place was owned by the guy who started his group and was involved in the experiments. If there’s a link to this kid, I think we’ll find it there.”
“We can ask Andrew-” Simon began.
Derek cut him off. “We’ll find our own answers.”
Simon and Derek locked gazes. After a second, Simon grumbled something about making things difficult, but he didn’t argue. If Derek wanted to amuse himself playing detective, then fine. We’d be gone soon anyway, back to rescue those we’d left behind and take out the Edison Group…or so we hoped.
WE WENT DOWNSTAIRS SHORTLY after that. Derek headed straight for the kitchen to scrounge up breakfast. We might have gotten only a few hours sleep, but it was already almost noon and his stomach was, predictably, growling.
While he searched for food, Simon and I poked around our temporary new home. I read a book once about a girl in a huge English mansion with a secret room no one had found in years, because a wardrobe had been pulled in front of the door. I remember thinking that was ridiculous. My dad had friends with really big houses, and there was still no way you could lose a room. But with this place and a little stretch of the imagination, I could see it.
It wasn’t just big. It was set up weird. Like the architect just slapped rooms onto a blueprint, with no thought to how they connected. The front was simple enough. There was a main hall connecting the doors, the stairs, the kitchen, a living room, and dining room. Then it got confusing, branching into a couple of back halls, with rooms that only joined other rooms. Most were really tiny, not even ten feet square. It reminded me of a rabbit’s warren, all these little rooms going off in all directions. We even found a separate set of stairs back there, ones that looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in years.
As Simon went to see if Andrew was up, I wandered into the kitchen, where Derek was eyeing a rusty can of beans.
“That hungry?” I asked.
“I will be soon.”
He prowled the kitchen, flipping open cupboards.
“So you don’t want me asking Andrew about that kid,” I said. “You trust him, though, right?”
He took down a box of crackers and turned it over, looking for a “best before” date.
“That didn’t sound convincing,” I said. “If we’re here with someone you don’t trust…”
“Right now, the only people I really trust are you and Simon. I don’t think Andrew is up to anything. If I did, we wouldn’t be here. But I’m not taking a chance, not if we can find our own answers.”
I nodded. “That’s fine. Just…I know you don’t want to spook Simon, but…If you’re worried…” My cheeks heated. “I don’t mean you need to confide in me, just don’t…”
“Blow you off when you know something’s wrong.” He turned and met my gaze. “I won’t.”
“Is he drinking the ketchup yet?” Simon swung into the kitchen. “Ten minutes, bro. Andrew’s on his way and-”
“And he’s apologizing profusely for the lack of food.” Andrew walked in. He was about my dad’s age with really short gray hair, square shoulders, a stocky build, and a crooked nose. He clapped a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “It’s coming. One of the group is bringing breakfast and will be here any minute.”
He kept his hand on Derek’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. It was an awkward gesture, maybe because he was a half-foot shorter than Derek, but it seemed more than that. Last night, when he’d first seen Derek after a few years, a pulse of surprise and wariness crossed his face. Derek had seen it, and I knew he’d felt it-the jab of having a guy he’d known most of his life reacting like he was some teenage thug you’d cross the road to avoid.
Like Simon, Andrew was a sorcerer. He was an old friend of their dad’s, and a former employee of the Edison Group. He was also their emergency contact. Andrew and their dad had some kind of falling out a few years ago, but they’d stayed in contact, so when we’d been stuck, we’d come to him.
Andrew gave Derek’s shoulder one last squeeze, then he bustled about the kitchen, getting out plates and rinsing them off, wiping dust from the counters and the table, asking how we’d slept, apologizing again for the lack of preparation.