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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“That’s it, Chloe. You’re almost there. Give him one last-”
Tori yelped. My eyes flew open. She was staring at a nearby oak tree, her eyes wide. Something was moving under the tree-a shapeless mat of blackish gray fur stretched over bone.
“Send it back,” Tori whispered. “Quick.”
“Ignore that and finish summoning this spirit,” Margaret said.
I turned on her in disbelief.
“Are you nuts?” Tori said. “Can you see-?”
“Yes, I can,” Margaret’s voice was eerily calm. “Apparently I was mistaken about the extent of Chloe’s powers.”
“You think?” Tori said.
I stared at Margaret. Her face was expressionless. In shock? She had to be. While she didn’t seem like the type to freak out, she’d just seen me raise a dead animal-without rituals, without ingredients, without even trying. Gaping in horror like Tori would be a perfectly reasonable response. But she only watched the thing, creeping toward us, pulling its mangled body along.
Its head lifted, as if it could sense me watching. It had no eyes, though, no snout, no ears, just a skull covered in bits of tattered fur and skin. Its head bobbed and wobbled, like it was trying to see who had called it forth.
“Chloe,” Margaret said sharply. “As horrible as that thing is”-did her voice quaver a little?-“your priority is this human ghost. Pull him through quickly.”
“B-but if I-”
She clasped my arm, panic edging into her voice. “You need to do this, Chloe. Quickly.”
The creature was closing the gap between us. It was a squirrel; I could see tufts of long, gray fur left on the ratlike tail.
It started to chatter, a horrible squeaking, rattling sound. It lifted its head, then turned its empty eye sockets my way and continued creeping forward, leaving a trail of fur and bits behind, the wind bringing the stink of rotting flesh.
Tori clapped her hand over her mouth. “Do something,” she whispered.
I shored up my nerve, closed my eyes, and plowed forward, throwing everything I had into one massive pull, imagining myself yanking the ghost-
The ground under us shook. Tori shrieked. Margaret gasped. My eyes flew open. The earth quavered and groaned and then, with an earsplitting crack, ripped open right in front of us.
Tori grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. We backpedaled as the ground yawned open with a thundering roar, dirt spilling into the crevasse and flying up, the musty stink of it billowing out.
The chasm split wider and deeper, an avalanche of dirt rushing in from all sides, tombstones swaying and rumbling. One toppled in, and still the earth split, until the top of a coffin appeared, shaking and rattling.
“Oh no,” Tori said. “No, no, no.”
She grabbed my arm again and tried to yank me backward. I brushed her off, walked to a place far enough away to be safe, then closed my eyes and concentrated on releasing the spirits. And if that sounds incredibly calm of me, let’s just say the earth wasn’t the only thing shaking. I had to drop to my knees before they gave way.
I squeezed my eyes shut and kept at it even when Margaret grabbed my shoulders. She shouted for me to get up, but I concentrated on releasing. Release, release, release…
Someone screamed. Then someone else. I leaped up and looked around, but there was no one near the crack in the earth, now at least twenty feet long, a half-dozen coffins exposed.
The ground had gone still. All I could hear was the rustling of leaves. I looked up. The tree branches were covered in tiny, new buds. That wasn’t what was making the noise.
I followed the sound to the coffins. Not a rustling, but a scratching, nails raking the inside of the caskets. Then came the faint, muffled cries of ghosts trapped in those bodies, trying to claw their way-
I dropped to my knees again.
Release them. That’s your job now. Your only job. Release those spirits before the zombies-
Another scream, this time from behind me. A group of newly arrived mourners was coming our way, the pallbearers carrying the casket toward an open grave on the edge of the old section.
They’d stopped and were staring down at the casket. I started toward them, slowly, cautiously, gaze fixed on that coffin, telling myself they’d stopped because of the earth tremors.
A gasp from the crowd. Then I heard what they did-a bump-bump from inside the casket.
Relax. Relax and release. Release, release, re-
A low moan came from the casket, and every hair on my body rose. Another moan, louder. Muffled. Then a strangled cry from within.
Two of the pallbearers dropped their handles. Their end of the coffin tipped and the other four, startled, let go. The casket plummeted, hitting a gravestone as it fell, lid popping open with a crack.
The knot of mourners blocked my view, everyone grabbing the person nearest them-some for support and others to push them out of the way as they ran.
When the throng cleared, I saw an arm on the ground, the rest of the body still hidden behind the gravestone. It just lay there, hand palm downward, arm encased in a suit sleeve. Then the fingers moved, curling clawlike, gripping the ground as the corpse pulled himself forward, turning my way, toward the one who’d summoned him and-
And the one who’ll send him back. Now!
I squeezed my eyes shut and imagined the man, a vague figure in a suit. I imagined setting his soul free, sending up an apology with it, releasing him-
“Good,” Tori whispered beside me. “It’s stopped moving. It’s-No, wait. Keep going. Keep-Okay, it stopped.” A pause. “Still stopped.” Her voice was breathless with relief. “You did it.”
Maybe so, but I didn’t open my eyes to check. As Tori went to assess the situation, I kept releasing spirits, picturing people in suits, people in dresses, people of all ages, animal spirits, spirits of every kind; and while I did, I listened, not just for the shouts and shrieks of the living, but the thumps and cracks and scratches of the living dead.
When I opened my eyes, Tori was coming along a path toward me, keeping back from the edge of the crevasse. People lined both sides now, eyeing it warily, waiting for the earth to move. But it didn’t.
“The dead are dead again,” Tori murmured as she came up beside me. “Everything’s quiet.”
Margaret stood along the chasm with the others. When I called to her, she turned slowly, eyes meeting mine, and in them I saw fear. No, not fear. Horror and revulsion.
You aren’t like her. She sees that now, what you are, what you can do, and it scares her. Scares and disgusts.
She waved us back to the car, but didn’t move herself, like she couldn’t bear to walk with me.
“Stupid bitch,” Tori muttered. “Oh, let’s take the necromancer with superpowers to the cemetery. Of course you aren’t going to raise the dead, you silly girl.”
“I’d say I showed her, but I really would have rather not.”
Tori’s laugh quavered. “We should probably get out of here before anyone starts asking questions.”
“Not too fast,” I said. “We don’t want to look like we’re running from the scene.”
As we walked, we gawked-it would seem weird if we didn’t. We gaped at the crevasse. We squinted up at the sky. We pointed at the fallen casket and whispered, all the while walking as fast as we dared, trying to look like we were as shocked and confused as everyone else.
“Girls!” a man called. “Hold on.”
I turned slowly and saw a middle-aged man bearing down on us. I tried to get Margaret’s attention, tell her we might have trouble, but she was looking the other way, leaving us to deal with it.
“ARE YOU GIRLS OKAY?” the man asked.
Tori nodded. “I think so.”
“Wh-what was that?” I said. “An earthquake?”
He nodded. “Seems so. We haven’t had even a tremor in twenty years.”
A young woman in a long leather coat came up behind him. “And we wouldn’t have had one now, if it wasn’t for the quarry reopening last summer.”
“We can’t go pointing fingers until we’re sure,” the man said.
“Oh, I’m sure. There’s a reason those environmentalists wanted to keep it closed, and a reason it shut down in the first place…after the last tremors, twenty years ago. Do you think that’s a coincidence? All that digging, knocking around the Teutonic plates. Now look-” She gestured at the chasm and scowled. “The quarry’s going to have to pay for this.”
“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “I thought I heard a scream.”
“Oh, that was just-” She waved at the casket, still upended on the ground, surrounded by mourners who were all hoping someone else was going to volunteer to return the body. “My great-uncle was being buried today; and when the ground shook, he started bumping around in the coffin, scared the guys, and they dropped it.”
The man cleared his throat, warning her that we didn’t need the gory details, but she carried on.
“The coffin busted open, Uncle Al fell out, the ground shook again, and-” She tried to suppress a snicker. “They thought he was, you know, moving.”
“Eww,” Tori said. “I’d have screamed, too.”
“Anyway,” the man cut in, “I see your grandmother wants you girls in the car. I don’t blame her. Mother Nature might not be done with us yet.”
We thanked them and headed to the parking lot, Margaret still keeping pace twenty feet behind us.
“Teutonic plates?” Tori said. “Do they bury German pottery with the dead around here?”
I had to laugh at that, but it was a bit shaky.
She continued, “To cause an earthquake the tectonic plates need a fault line, which are, like, on the other side of the country.”
“It sounded good. And that’s all that matters. Derek and Simon say that’s what people do if they see supernatural stuff-make up a logical explanation. If you didn’t know about necromancers and you saw what just happened, what would you think? A freak earthquake? Or someone raising the dead?”
“True. Still, Teutonic plates?”
This time I sat in the back with Tori. When we reached the highway, Margaret finally spoke.
“Who taught you to do that, Chloe?” she said.
Her eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. “Who taught you to raise the dead?”
“N-no one. I-I’ve never even met another necromancer before you.” Not exactly true. I’d briefly met the ghost of one, but he hadn’t been much help.
“Did the Edison Group give you books? Manuals?”
“J-just a history book that I-I skimmed through a bit. Th-there wasn’t anything on rituals.”
A moment of silence as she studied me through the mirror. “You were trying to make a point, weren’t you, Chloe?”
“I said you couldn’t raise the dead; you proved you could. You visualized returning a soul-”
“No!” My stutter fell away. “Return a ghost to a rotting corpse to make a point? I’d never do that. I was doing exactly what you asked-trying to pull that spirit through. I was summoning. But if I do that with bodies around, I can raise the dead. That’s what I tried to tell you.”
She drove for a minute, the silence heavy. Then her gaze rose to the mirror again, meeting mine.
“You’re telling me you can raise the dead simply by summoning?”
“My God,” she whispered, staring at me. “What have they done?”
Hearing her words and seeing her expression, I knew Derek had been right last night. I’d just done something worse than raising the dead-I’d confirmed her worst fears about us.
When we got to the house, Andrew was the only one around. Margaret called him into the kitchen, closing the door behind them.
There wasn’t much point in shutting that door. Margaret didn’t yell, but her voice took on a strident note that echoed through the house.
The upshot of her tirade was that I was the devil’s spawn and should be locked up in a tower before I unleashed hordes of the living dead to slaughter them all in their sleep. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
Tori smacked open the kitchen door and marched in, with me close behind. “Excuse me. Who took the genetically modified necromancer into the cemetery?”
Andrew turned to her. “Tori, please. We don’t need-”
“Chloe didn’t want to go there. Did Margaret tell you that? Did she tell you we warned her that Chloe could raise the dead? That I’d seen it? That she didn’t believe us?”
I swore I could see sparks flying from Tori’s fingertips as she waved her hands.
“Did she tell you Chloe asked over and over to stop? That Margaret made her keep going? Even after Chloe raised a dead squirrel, Margaret forced her to keep summoning.”
“I did not force-”
“You told her she’d trapped a ghost between dimensions.”
“All right,” Andrew said. “Clearly, we need to discuss-”
“Oh, we need to discuss a lot of things,” Margaret said.
Andrew shooed us out. As soon as we were gone, the fight started up again. Tori and I listened outside the door.
“We weren’t prepared,” Margaret said. “Not at all.”
“Then we need to get prepared.”
“She split open the ground, Andrew! The very earth opened to free the dead. It-it-” She took a deep, ragged breath. “It was like something out of the old stories my grandfather used to tell. Terrible stories that gave me nightmares about necromancers so powerful they could raise entire cemeteries of the dead.”