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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
I remembered what the demi-demon said. You called to your friend and the shades of a thousand dead answered, winging their way back to their rotted shells. A thousand corpses ready to become a thousand zombies. A vast army of the dead for you to control.
“She can raise the dead at fifteen,” Margaret continued. “Without training. Without ritual. Without intention.”
“Then she has to learn how to-”
“Do you know what Victoria told Gwen? She’s never learned a single spell, but she can cast them. If she sees it, she can do it. No training. No incantations. Naturally, we thought she was telling stories, but now-”
She sucked in air. “We can’t handle this. I know they’re just children, and what has happened to them is terrible and tragic. But the greater tragedy would be to tell them they can expect to lead normal lives.”
“Lower your voice,” Andrew said.
“Why? So you can keep assuring them everything will be all right? It won’t. Those children are going to need to be monitored for their entire lives. It’s only going to get worse.”
Tori tugged me away. “She knows what happened was her fault, so she’s covering her butt as fast as she can. We don’t need to listen to this.”
She was right. Margaret had screwed up and she’d been scared. She wasn’t the kind of person who could easily accept either, so she had to lay the blame elsewhere-make us out to be so bad that she couldn’t have been expected to control the situation.
These were our allies. Our only allies. We knew that Margaret and Russell had already been second-guessing Andrew’s decision to take us in. Now I’d given them exactly the ammunition they needed.
TORI AND I WERE heading for the stairs when I heard the thud of heavy footfalls. I hoped it was Simon. Prayed it was. But I knew it wasn’t. I turned to see Derek bearing down on us, scowling.
“I’ll handle him,” Tori said.
“I’ve got it.” I raised my voice as he drew near. “We had a problem-”
“I heard.” He parked himself three feet in front of me, like he was trying not to loom, but it didn’t matter. Derek could loom from across a room.
“Then you also heard it wasn’t her fault,” Tori said.
He didn’t even glance at her, the full weight of that scowl pinning me. “Did you summon in a cemetery?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You knew that was a problem?”
“Yes, I did.”
“She didn’t have a choice,” Tori said.
“She always has a choice. She can say no.”
“I tried,” I said.
“You can’t try to say no. Either you do or you don’t.” He lowered his voice, some of the fury evaporating, but the hard edge lingering. “It’s not enough to say the word, Chloe. You need to follow through and that’s the part you can’t seem to manage.”
“Whoa,” Tori said. “You’re out of line.”
“He has a point,” I murmured.
“What? You-” She struggled for a word. “Don’t put up with that, Chloe. I don’t care how big or how smart he is, he has no right to talk to you that way. You did your best.”
I’d allowed myself to be pushed into something I’d known was wrong.
“What do you think they’re talking about in there?” he said. “How to help us control our powers?”
“We know what they’re talking about, Derek. And I know what I did. Exactly what you warned us against last night. I gave everyone who doesn’t want to help us a reason not to.”
He opened his mouth. Closed it. You’d think that I’d get some credit for realizing this before he told me. But he had a point to make; and all I’d done was throw up a temporary obstacle, one that barely checked his speed before he barreled right through it.
“The word is no, Chloe. No, I will not do that. No, I don’t think it’s safe. And if you push me, well, sorry, but I just can’t seem to summon right now.”
“What if they asked me how strong I was? Do you think I’d walk in there and pick up the sofa for them?”
“That’s not what I was trying-”
“But it’s what you did. You gave them a full-out demonstration of just how powerful you are, and now they’re going to be wondering if the Edison Group had the right idea, locking us away-even killing us.”
“Oh, come on,” Tori said. “They wouldn’t-”
“Are you sure?”
I shook my head. “If you believed that, Derek, you wouldn’t still be here. You’d be upstairs with Simon, packing his bag for him.”
“Yeah? And where would I go? The Edison Group tracked us to Andrew’s cottage and we still have no idea how they managed it. And what did they do to us there? Ask us to come along nicely? Fire a few tranquilizer darts? No, they shot at us. Bullets. We’re stuck here, Chloe.”
“Whatever happened today, she didn’t do it on purpose,” Tori said.
His jaw worked, then he spun on Tori. “Why are you suddenly defending her? Trying to win her over for a reason?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t trust you, Tori.”
“Um, yeah, I got that message loud and clear long ago.”
Simon appeared in the doorway behind Tori and Derek. He waved to me and mouthed “run while you can.”
Not a bad idea. I snuck around them and zipped out the door to where Simon waited. Then I glanced back at Tori.
“Don’t worry about her,” he said. “Probably the most fun she’s had in days.” He led me into the next room. “Sadly, I can’t say the same for Derek, and as soon as he stops arguing long enough to notice you’re gone-”
“Hey!” Derek called. “Where are you two going?”
Simon took my elbow and steered me at a jog through the house as Derek’s footsteps pounded behind us. Simon kept going until we were outside.
He led me to a garden bench and we sat. I glanced toward the house.
“Relax. He won’t pull that crap in front of me.”
He eased back on the bench, arm going around my shoulders, gaze slanting my way, checking to make sure of his welcome. I moved closer and he smiled.
“Okay, so what happened with your lesson?” he said. “I know it wasn’t good, but I missed the details.”
I told him, and when I was done, he shook his head. “What was she thinking? Taking you to a cemetery for necromancy lessons?”
That was exactly what I wanted to hear, but I knew this was the easy way out. Blame someone else, like Margaret had done. Yes, she’d played her part, but so had I.
Derek was right. I should have refused. I had to take responsibility, even if it meant saying no to an authority figure, because I was the authority on me.
“Do you like ice cream?”
Simon smiled. “That got your attention.”
“Sorry, I was just-”
“Worrying. Which is why I’m taking you out for ice cream. Derek and I went for a jog earlier and saw a service station about a half-mile that way.” He pointed. “There was a sign for ice cream in the window, so that’s where we’re going after dinner.”
“I don’t think they’re going to let me go anywhere now.”
“We’ll see. So…? Yes? It’s not exactly what I had in mind for a first date, but we’re kinda stuck here and I’m kinda tired of waiting.”
He glanced over. “Is that okay?”
“Sure. Yes. Definitely.” My cheeks heated. “Okay, let’s try that again, with a little less enthusiasm.”
He grinned. “Enthusiasm is good. It’s a date then. I’ll talk to Andrew.”
I was about to go on my first date. Not just my first date with Simon. My first date ever. I wasn’t telling him that of course. Sure, he’d be cool with it, probably joke about the pressure. Being fifteen before my first date wasn’t that weird, but it felt weird, like being fifteen before my first period, and I certainly hadn’t told anyone about that.
A date, with Simon. I’d agreed quickly enough, but after we went inside for lunch, I realized what I’d done.
It felt like standing at those cemetery gates again: my gut was telling me this was a really, really bad idea. Dating while on the run for our lives? Dating one of the guys I was on the run with? What if it went badly? How would we-?
But it wouldn’t go badly. It was Simon and everything would be okay.
I just had to relax. Unfortunately, lunch didn’t help with that.
Margaret was gone, but she must have told Russell what happened, and he’d swooped in like a vulture, hoping to catch us in some terrible display of uncontrollable power.
Andrew should have shown him the door. He didn’t, probably thinking it was better to let him see that we were just normal kids. But it made all of us miserable, me most of all, feeling Russell’s gaze on me as I struggled to eat, that faint look of distaste on his face. The kid who can raise the dead. The necromancer freak.
After lunch, I fled to my room. Simon tried to lure me out, but I said I was tired and joked that I didn’t want to fall asleep on our date. Around three, Derek rapped on the door, calling a gruff “You should come out. Simon’s worried.” When I said I was napping, he went silent and I thought I heard him sigh and scuff his feet, like he wanted to say something else, so I got up and went to the door, planning to walk out and say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were still here.”
I’d hoped he did have something to say. Not an apology for chewing me out-that would be expecting too much-but an excuse to talk to him about what had happened at the cemetery, consider our options if things got worse…
Mostly I just wanted him to stop being mad at me and go back to being the other Derek, the guy I could talk to, could confide in. But when I opened the door, the hall was empty. I went back to bed.
TORI CAME IN AT four and seemed surprised to find me still in bed.
“You’ve been in here all afternoon?” she said. “I thought you were outside with the guys.”
“What’d I miss?”
“Me mopping floors.”
That made me smile.
“You think I’m kidding?” she said.
“No, I guess we’ll have to pull our weight around here. We can’t expect Andrew to clean up after us.”
She rolled her eyes. “Can you really see Andrew assigning us chores? The guy apologized for the place not already being cleaned and ready for guests. I offered to clean for him, just to be nice.”
When I didn’t say anything, she shook her head. “That last part was a joke, Chloe. Andrew’s paying me the same amount he would for the housekeeper, though it’ll probably take me twice as long. Not like we’re overscheduled, I figured, and I could use the money. So now I’m the official housekeeper, and if I find wet towels on the floor, I’ll hide them between your sheets.”
Two weeks ago, if someone had told me Tori would willingly clean a house-even for money-I’d never have believed it. I couldn’t imagine her wielding a mop. But I’d also seen how hard it had been for her when we’d been on the run, not having any cash of her own. While I was sure this wasn’t her ideal way to earn it, apparently she’d rather scrub toilets than ask for handouts.
That made me realize something. What would happen to Tori when this was over? Did she have relatives she could live with? Was she thinking the same thing? Frantically making money just in case?
“Gwen’s back,” she said. “She’s talking to Andrew first. Gotta admit, though, I was looking forward to this lesson a whole lot more before you got yours.”
“You’ll be fine. Just don’t get mad at her.”
She smiled, and I could see nervousness there, but excitement, too. She wanted to learn how to use her powers properly. We knew we were a danger and we didn’t want to be. Why didn’t anyone else see that? Why did they keep treating us like thoughtless, careless kids?
“You okay?” she asked.
She reached into her back pocket and pulled out folded sheets of paper.
“This might make you feel better.”
I opened it. Blank paper, left over from the cemetery, after I’d taken down the ghost’s message.
“I’m sure there’s a pencil around someplace,” she said.
“Uh, yeah, movie buff. What do they do in films when someone writes a note on a pad of paper and takes the top sheet?”
I smiled. “Use a pencil to bring up the impression of what was written.”
“I doubt they’ll be taking us to a post office anytime soon, but you can send a letter when we get a chance.”
She left. When I heard footsteps in the hall a little later, I thought it was Derek coming back, but Tori pushed open the door, walked to her bed, and thudded onto it.
“No lessons for me,” she said.
“Andrew’s version? The group has decided to postpone training until they better understand our abilities. In other words, we’ve totally freaked them all out.” She shook her head. “Andrew’s a nice guy, but…too nice, you know?”
“You’re a different kind of nice. I know Andrew’s trying to help, but I really wish he had more…” She struggled for a word.