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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Hard to prepare when you don’t know anyone’s coming,” Simon said. “Is this going to be okay? You staying here with us? I know you’ve got work…”
“Which I’ve been doing from home for two years now. Finally built up the seniority to start telecommuting, thank God. The daily trips into New York were killing me. I go once a week now for meetings.”
Simon turned to me. “Andrew’s an editor. Books.” He glanced at Andrew. “Chloe’s a screenwriter.”
I blushed and stammered that obviously I wasn’t a real screenwriter, just a wannabe; but Andrew said he’d love to hear about what I was working on, answer any questions about writing. He even sounded like he meant it, unlike most adults, who just say things like that to humor you.
“Right now, she’s working on a comic with me,” Simon said. “A graphic journal of our adventures. Just for fun.”
“Very cool. I take it you’re doing the art? Your dad told me you’re-”
The doorbell rang.
“And that would be breakfast,” Andrew said. “Chloe? I know Tori’s probably exhausted, but she should be here for the meeting.”
“I’ll go wake her up.”
So the mysterious resistance group was here. It didn’t look like much: three people plus Andrew.
There was Margaret, who looked like a lot of the women my dad worked with-a corporate business type, tall with graying brown hair cut short. She was a necromancer.
Gwen wasn’t much taller than me and barely looked out of college. As for supernatural type, with her short blond hair, turned-up nose, and sharp chin, I started wondering if there was such a thing as a pixie, but she said she was a witch, like Tori.
The third newcomer was Russell, a bald grandfatherly guy who was a shaman paramedic, in case we needed medical attention after our ordeal. With Andrew and Margaret, he was one of the group’s founding members and had also once worked for the Edison Group.
Andrew said there were another half-dozen members in the New York City area, and twenty or so more across the country. Under the circumstances, though, it didn’t seem safe to have them all trooping up here to meet us. So they’d sent the ones who could help us the most-a necromancer and a witch. Derek was out of luck. There weren’t any werewolves in the group, not surprising given that there were maybe a couple dozen in the country, compared to hundreds of necromancers and spell-casters.
The supernaturals who joined the Edison Group weren’t evil. Most were like my aunt, who offered her services as a doctor because she wanted to help people like her brother, a necromancer who’d either committed suicide or been driven off a roof by ghosts when he was still in college.
The Edison Group believed that the answer was genetic manipulation-tweak our DNA to minimize side effects and improve our control over our powers. Things started going wrong back when we were little, and three of the werewolf subjects attacked a nurse. They were “eliminated.” Killed, by the same people who swore they were trying to help supernaturals. That’s when Simon’s dad and others, like Andrew, left.
But leaving wasn’t enough for some. Concerned about what they’d seen, they’d monitored the Edison Group, making sure they didn’t pose a threat to other supernaturals. Now we were bringing news of exactly what they’d feared most. For many of us, the genetic modification had backfired, producing kids with uncontrollable powers-witches who could cast without incantations and necromancers who could raise the dead by accident.
When those failures hadn’t proved as easy to control as the Edison Group had hoped, they’d done the same thing they’d done to the werewolf boys. Killed them.
Now, we’d come to Andrew’s group for help. We were in mortal danger and we’d left behind another subject, Rachelle, and my aunt Lauren, who were in even greater danger. We were asking this group to rescue them and end the threat against us. Were they up to it? We had no idea.
Gwen had brought the breakfast: donuts, coffee, and chocolate milk, which I’m sure she thought would be the perfect treat for teenagers. It would have been…if we hadn’t been living on junk food for three days and if one of us wasn’t diabetic.
Simon picked out a donut and a half-pint carton of chocolate milk, joking about having the excuse to eat stuff that was normally off his diet. It was Derek who complained. Andrew apologized for forgetting to warn the others about Simon and promised more nutritious food for our next meal.
Everyone was really nice and sympathetic, and maybe I was just being paranoid-Derek rubbing off on me-but behind those smiles and kind eyes, there seemed to be a touch of unease, like they couldn’t stop thinking about our messed-up powers. Like they couldn’t help but think that we were all ticking time bombs.
I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable. When we moved to the living room, Derek staked out a corner and retreated there. Simon barely said a word. Tori, who normally wanted nothing to do with us, stuck so close to me that I thought she was trying to swipe my donut.
Us versus them. The genetically modified freaks versus the normal supernaturals.
Simon and I did most of the talking. That was weird for me, the kid who always sat in the back of a group, hoping she wasn’t called on to speak because she might start stuttering. But the burden of proof lay with me and what I’d seen: the ghosts of the other kids and the files on Dr. Davidoff’s computer.
As we explained, I saw sympathy in their eyes but doubt, too. They believed that the experiment had gone wrong for some subjects-that was exactly the kind of thing they’d feared when they quit. They also believed us about Lyle House, the “group home” where the Edison Group had kept us. When the experiment screwed up, naturally the Edison Group would try to cover their tracks.
But the rest of it? Hunting us down when we escaped? Shooting at us, first with tranquilizer darts, then real bullets? Locking us up in the laboratory? Killing three kids who’d failed rehabilitation?
That sounded like something from a movie. No, strike that. As an aspiring blockbuster screenwriter/director, if I’d heard this pitch, I’d have dismissed it as too outrageous.
I could tell that Andrew believed us. Gwen did, too. I could see it from the horror in her face. But Gwen was the youngest, and her opinion didn’t seem to count for much. Russell and Margaret couldn’t hide their skepticism, and I knew convincing them to help us wasn’t going to be as easy as we’d hoped.
Finally, I blurted, “Rachelle and my aunt are in danger. They could be killed any day now, if they haven’t already been.”
“Your aunt is a valuable member of the team,” Margaret said, her severe face unreadable. “They won’t kill her. Nor does your friend seem in imminent danger. She’s happy and compliant. That’s all they’ll ask for now.”
“But if she finds out the truth, she won’t be nearly so compliant-”
Russell cut in. “Your aunt and your friend made their choices, Chloe. As harsh as that seems. They both betrayed you. I didn’t think you’d be so eager to rescue them.”
“Helped you escape, I know. But you wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for your friend’s betrayal.”
Rae had told Dr. Davidoff about our escape plans, so they’d been ready when we tried to make a run for it. She’d believed their lies about wanting to help us and thought I’d been brainwashed by the boys.
“She made a mistake. Are you saying we should let her die for it?” My voice was rising. I swallowed, trying to stay calm, reasonable. “Whatever she did, she thought it was the right thing at the time, and I won’t abandon her now.”
I glanced at the others. Simon agreed quickly and vehemently. Derek mumbled a gruff “Yeah, she screwed up, but stupidity isn’t a capital crime.”
We all looked at Tori. I held my breath, feeling the weight of the adults’ gazes on us, knowing we needed consensus on this.
“Since we’re already going back for Chloe’s aunt, then Rae should be rescued,” Tori said. “And they both need to be rescued ASAP. The Edison Group might not be a bunch of vindictive homicidal maniacs, but my mother is the exception, and when we left, she really wasn’t happy with Dr. Fellows.”
“I don’t think-” Russell began.
“Now it’s time to move on to the boring discussion part,” Andrew interjected. “Why don’t you kids go upstairs and check out the other rooms. I’m sure you’d each like one of your own.”
“We’re good,” Simon said.
Andrew looked at the others. They wanted us out of the room so they could discuss whether they were going to help us or not.
I wanted to scream, What is there to discuss? The people you used to work for are killing kids. Isn’t this your mission-to make sure their work doesn’t hurt anyone? Stop chowing down on donuts and do something!
“Why don’t you-?” Andrew began.
“We’re good.” It came out as a growl. That was just Derek’s I’m serious tone, but the room suddenly went very still. All eyes turned toward him, every gaze wary.
Derek glanced away and mumbled, “You want us to leave?”
“Please,” Andrew said. “It would be easier-”
Derek led us out.
IN THE HALL, DEREK turned. “You guys go see about finding a new bedroom for Tori. I’m getting more donuts.”
Simon and I exchanged a look. As much as Derek loved to eat, the last thing on his mind right now would be filling his stomach. What he meant was take Tori and get out of here, so I can listen in on the meeting. Werewolf hearing meant he could eavesdrop from the kitchen.
“Save me a chocolate dipped,” Simon said, leading Tori and me to the stairs.
“You aren’t supposed to have-”
“Just winding you up,” Simon tossed back. “Come on, Tori. Let’s get you a room of your own.”
As it turned out, Tori wanted to stay with me. Not that she said that, of course. She checked out the other options, bitched and moaned about how dusty they were and how it seemed she was stuck with me after all. I offered to take another one. She lit into me about being too nice and how I had to learn to stand up for myself. I decided it was time for a shower.
A shower would also give me a chance to wash the temporary dye from my hair. When we’d run away from Lyle House, my dad was told I’d done just that-run away. He had no idea I’d been caught almost immediately and taken to the Edison Group lab. He didn’t know what the Edison Group was or what a necromancer was. To him, his schizophrenic daughter had run away from her group home and was now living on the streets of Buffalo. So he’d offered a reward. A half-million-dollar reward.
I wanted to let him know I was okay. God, I wanted to. But Aunt Lauren said he was safer not knowing the truth and Derek agreed. So, for now, I tried really hard not to think about how worried he must be. I’d get a message to him as soon as it was safe. In the meantime, his reward was a problem.
My strawberry blond hair was distinctive, even more so with the red streaks I’d added before I got shipped off to Lyle House. So Derek bought me temporary dye. Black dye. I was way too pale for black, and now I looked exactly like you’d picture a necromancer: white skin and harsh black hair. Uber-Goth. But now, thankfully, the color was fading. Or so I thought.
Tori followed me down the hall, offering tips about how to get the dye out, being Miss Helpful two minutes after calling me a wimp. These days, that seemed par for the course with Tori. She’d start inching toward friendship, then remember we were supposed to be mortal enemies.
Now she was in friendly mode. “Don’t wash it more than three times or your hair will be like straw. I saw conditioner in there. Make sure you use that and let it sit.”
“Right now, dry hair is better than black hair.”
Simon poked his head out of his room. “You’re washing out the color?”
“As fast as I can.”
He hesitated, the look in his eyes telling me he was about to say something he really didn’t want to. “I know you want it gone, but…Well, if we go out…”
“At this point, I’ll take house arrest over black hair.”
“It’s not that bad.”
Tori mock-whispered, “Simon’s thinking the Goth girl look is kinda hot.”
He glowered at her. “No. I just want-” An impatient look at Tori, telling her to get lost. When she stood her ground, he leaned down to my ear, his fingers entwining with mine. “I know you want to get rid of it. I’ll ask Andrew to get you a better color. I don’t care what your hair looks like; I just want you to be safe.”
“That’s so sweet,” Tori said.
Simon moved to stand between us, his back to her. “You can check with Andrew. Maybe I’m overreacting-”
“No, you’re not. I still need that shower, but I won’t try washing out the color.”
“Good. Oh, and Derek said you were asking about self-defense lessons. How about we try that after?”
I wasn’t really in the mood for that, but he was smiling, obviously eager to do something nice for me after vetoing my hair fix. It wasn’t like we had anything better to do, so I said, “Sure.”
“Sounds good,” Tori said. “Yes, I know, you weren’t inviting me, but we could both use the training. And, no, I’m not trying to get between you guys. I’m over you, Simon. I think you and Chloe make the most nauseatingly cute couple ever. But you can gaze soulfully into each other’s eyes another time. Right now, I need self-defense lessons. So I’ll meet you out back.”