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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
No answer. My hands shook so badly the amulet knocked against my neck.
“Go on,” Simon said. “We’re right here. Anything happens, I’ll get it back on you.”
I started lifting it.
“No! Please, baby. Too dangerous. Not here. He’ll come.”
Silence. Then I thought I heard her whisper, but it was too faint for me to make out.
“She’s trying to warn me about something, but I can’t hear it,” I said.
Simon gestured for me to take off the necklace. I raised it over my head-
“What the hell are you doing?” a voice roared.
Derek strode into the room and yanked the amulet back down. “You’re summoning without your amulet? Are you crazy? A ghost lured you onto the roof this morning, could have gotten you killed.”
Simon got to his feet. “Ease off, okay? We were trying to get hold of Liz. Then a spirit wanted to warn Chloe about something, but she couldn’t hear her, so we suggested she take off the necklace, see if that would help it materialize.”
Derek’s trademark scowl didn’t waver. “Just because you suggest it doesn’t mean she needs to listen. She knows better.”
“No, but the suggestion made sense,” I said. “I was being careful. If you had stopped to watch instead of charging in here, you’d have seen that.”
Derek kept glowering, looming over me. No one looms like Derek, but I’d had enough experience to stand my ground.
“I’ll leave the necklace on,” I said, “but I’m going to try again. If she’s still here, then I might take it off.”
“Who is it?”
“I-I-” I faltered, chest seizing. “M-maybe my aunt. I-I-don’t think so, but…I should try again.”
Some of the anger drained from his face then. He ran a hand through his hair, sighed, then nodded. “Okay. You should. If she comes back and she seems to be trying to warn you, then…we’ll see what we can do about the necklace.”
I could point out that it was really my decision, but he was calming down, and I wasn’t about to crank him up again.
So I tried one more time. No luck.
“She didn’t want me summoning here,” I said.
“Yeah? Probably because you could call up that half-demon jerk.” Derek paused, then took the sarcasm down a notch. “We’ll go for a walk tomorrow, get farther from the house, and try again.”
“I’ll come,” Tori said. “And if the idiot shows up?”
She lifted her fingers. A ball of energy appeared, whirling over the tips. She grinned and whipped her hand back, throwing it like a softball. It hit the wall and exploded in a shower of sparks, scorching the faded wallpaper.
“Whoops,” she said.
Derek spun on her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Showing off. I didn’t know it’d do that.”
He strode over and wiped the wall. The marks stayed.
“No one’s going to notice it,” Tori said. “And if they do, they sure aren’t going to blame my spells.”
“I don’t care. Someone could have seen you.”
“So I’ll get in trouble for marking the wallpaper. I’ll survive.”
“You don’t get it, do you? We can’t do things like that. They’re already worried about how powerful we are. We need to tone it down or we’re going to make them so nervous they might decide we really should be locked up in a lab.”
“Now that’s going a bit far,” Simon said. When Derek turned on him, he lifted his hands and lowered his voice. “Look, I know why you’re freaking out-”
“I’m not freaking out.”
“Okay, just…I think we have to be careful, but they already know about the experiments. They don’t expect us to be normal supernaturals. Yes, you probably shouldn’t go throwing furniture and Tori should nix the fireballs, but in general…well…”
“They should know,” Tori said. “If we’re trying to convince them that the Edison Group messed us up, then they need to see the proof. They should know I can do stuff like that. They should know you can toss a couch across the room. They should know Chloe can raise the dead.”
“No.” When no one answered, Derek looked from face to face, then settled his glower on me. “Absolutely not.”
“Um, I was the one keeping my mouth shut,” I said.
“I’m just saying, for all of us, we need to tone it down. We can’t give them any reason-” He glanced up sharply. “Andrew’s coming.” One last glare at the scorched wallpaper, and he hustled us out of the bedroom.
Andrew wanted us in bed, so Simon left to check his blood sugar for the night. I went downstairs for some water and was getting out a glass when Andrew popped in.
“Simon tells me you’ve been having trouble sleeping, so I’m going to give you this.” He laid a small pill on my palm. “It’s a half dose of an over-the-counter sleep aid. I’m not telling you to take it. I’m not going to ask if you did. I’m sure you got enough sleeping pills at Lyle House. I just think it’s important for you to get a good night’s rest. If you decide to take it, there’s water in the fridge.”
He left. I stared down at the pill. Taking it seemed like a cop-out. I had to learn to deal with ghosts because they weren’t going away anytime soon. But he was right-I needed sleep. Being rested would help me train better tomorrow. And yet…
“Take the pill.”
I jumped. Derek walked over to the counter and grabbed two apples from the bowl.
“You need your sleep. Toughing it out isn’t going to impress anyone. It’s just stupid.”
Ah, Derek. Always so encouraging.
“How about you?” I said. “You thought you were close to your Change again.”
“It won’t happen tonight. But if it does, I’ll…” He shrugged and bit into an apple.
“Come get me?”
“Yeah,” he mumbled through a mouth full of apple.
I filled my glass from the pitcher in the fridge. “So what do you think-?”
I turned midsentence and found I was talking to myself as the kitchen door swung shut.
I TOOK THE PILL and fell right to sleep. When I woke up, I did feel refreshed, but the room was dark. I’d left the window shade open last night, like I always did. Tori must have pulled it down. I yawned, rolled over to check the clock…
I groaned, tried to sleep, and won again, only to wake to the sound of crying.
I sat up and looked around. The clock said 5:28.
At a snuffle to my right, I glanced over at Tori, curled up in her bed. Crying in her sleep? She mumbled, then resumed snoring, but still I heard the soft whimper of stifled crying. I peered at her. She was sound asleep.
I heard another wet snuffle, ending in a gasp, definitely coming from Tori’s bed. I went over. Her cheeks still looked dry. I even touched one to be sure.
A long, low whimper made the hair on my neck stand up. It came from under the bed.
I backed up.
Um, what do you think is down there? The bogeyman?
Yes, a monster under the bed was a terrible cliché…but that didn’t mean I was looking.
I thought you were going to stand up to ghosts from now on?
Maybe tomorrow…preferably during daylight hours.
My inner voice gave a deep, put-upon sigh.
You know who it is. Same jerk; second verse. He’s trying to trick you with the crying. You can’t go back to bed now or he might smother you with a pillow.
Gee, thanks. That’ll help me sleep.
Open the shade. The worst thing that’ll happen is you’ll wake up Tori. Serves her right for closing it.
True. As I walked over, I noticed a dark oval next to Tori’s bed. Figures. One throw rug in the room and she pulls it over to her side.
I had the shade halfway up when I caught a flicker of movement. Something was dripping off the side of Tori’s bed, but there was no soft leaky-faucet plop-the carpet must be soaking it up.
I tugged the shade again, moonlight filling the room, illuminating-
The shade slid from my fingers, flying up with a flap, flap, flap. I staggered into the nightstand. The clock crashed to the floor.
The dark oval beside Tori’s bed wasn’t a rug; it was a pool of blood. My gaze rose to the blood-soaked sheets, then up to…
The body on the bed was covered in blood, the head bashed in, the face a bloody-
I tore my gaze away, stomach heaving, Tori’s name coming out in a whimper. Then I saw the rest of the body: blood streaked but whole. It wore only pajama bottoms, bare chest leaving no doubt that it was male. A kid, maybe thirteen, fourteen, with dark blond hair streaked with blood and dotted with-
My gorge rose. I blinked hard, and the boy vanished. In his place lay Tori, sound asleep, still snoring. My gaze flew to the floor. Bare. No blood. No rug.
As I stared at that empty spot on the floor, I remembered the dripping blood. It hadn’t made any sound. A ghostly memory, like the girl at the truck stop and the man in the factory. Horrible deaths endlessly replaying like silent films.
So it can’t hurt you, right?
No, it couldn’t hurt me. It could scare me. It could upset me. It could be seared into my brain forever. But it couldn’t physically hurt me.
The moment I got back in bed, the sobbing started again. Then something that sounded like a laugh. I sat up, but the room went silent. I looked around. Another noise, this time somewhere between a sob and a laugh.
It might have been just the death scene replaying, but I didn’t usually get a soundtrack with that. I wouldn’t put it past that half-demon kid to be the director of this little scenario. If I wasn’t spooked by his poltergeist stunts, maybe a gruesome death scene would work. I started to lie down again, then stopped. Derek had given me crap earlier for toughing something out on my own. I’d already let this ghost play me for a fool. I wasn’t doing it again. I got out of bed and headed for the guys’ room.
I stopped at their not-quite-closed door. I could hear Simon’s snoring. Derek, as always, was silent. I made some noise in the hall, coughing and stamping my feet as I walked. I felt like a kid throwing pebbles at a friend’s window, seeing if he’d come out and play. No answer.
I tentatively pushed the door open a few inches and stood there, waiting. Barging into the guys’ room while they slept…well, not something I cared to do, not when I knew Derek slept in his shorts.
I coughed and shuffled a little more. When Derek still didn’t wake, I peeked inside. Simon lay on the bed closest to the door, sheets tangled around him. Derek’s bed was empty.
I checked the bathroom, but the door was open, the inside dark. I thought about the roof, but after the other night, I was saving that for last. Downstairs, then. First stop? The kitchen, naturally. I found an empty milk glass and a crumb-spotted plate neatly placed in the sink.
As I walked through the rooms on the first floor, I kept glancing down the hall at the rear door. He had said he’d call me if he went out to Change, hadn’t he? Did he go alone? A stab of hurt zinged through me.
So what if he had? That was his right. He didn’t need me to help. Except he’d seemed to appreciate having me there, and I’d liked that, being able to do something for him.
I went to the back door. Sure enough, it was unlocked. I stifled the fresh stab of disappointment and opened it. The house backed onto a tiny rear yard surrounded by forest. The sun was rising over the trees. I stepped out and peered around.
“Derek?” I called.
I took a few more steps, then called a little louder, “Derek? Are you out here?”
A branch snapped in the woods. I pictured Derek, in the middle of a Change, unable to respond, and hurried toward the forest’s edge. The noise stopped and I paused at the end of the path leading in, peering into the dark woods, listening. Another snap. Something like a groan.
“Derek? It’s me.”
I stepped in. It took only a few paces for the morning light to fade and darkness to envelop me.
I jumped as he rounded a corner down the path. I didn’t need full daylight to see the expression on his face. I didn’t even need to see his face at all to know I was in trouble, just the set of his shoulders and the long strides as he bore down on me.
“I-” I began.
“What the hell are you doing, Chloe? I said we’d come out here later and try to contact that ghost. Key word? We. If you’re here-”
I lifted my hands. “Okay, you caught me. I was sneaking out on my own, hoping no one would notice. That’s why I’ve been calling your name.”
That gave him pause.
I went on. “I had another early encounter in my room and thought, after yesterday, I’d better get backup. Tori and Simon are sleeping, but you’re up, so I was looking for you.”
“Oh.” He rubbed a hand over his mouth and muttered what could have been an apology.
“Are you Changing?” I asked.
“Hmm? Nah. I would have come to get you if I was.”
“Good. These days, the buddy system is a smart idea for both of us.”
I walked back into the yard. Derek followed. The path was narrow, but he walked beside me, so close his hand brushed my elbow a few times before he mumbled something and pulled back, letting me go ahead.
“So what were you doing?” I asked. “Early morning hike?”
“Looking around. Just…restless.”
I glanced back at him, seeing the tightness in his face, the way his gaze darted about. More anxiety than restlessness. I stepped from the forest into the yard and turned to face him.