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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“Chloe!” Her voice was so harsh my eyes flew open. “Not so hard…bring him.”
“Royce? I’ve dealt with him before. I want to talk to you.” I summoned again.
“Chloe!…keep…I’ll leave…shouldn’t be here…not allowed.”
“What’s not allowed?”
“You aren’t allowed to speak to her,” Derek murmured. “Necromancers aren’t supposed to be able to contact their dead relatives. I’ve heard that. I didn’t want to say anything, because I wasn’t sure. Obviously, you can contact her, just not very well. And she doesn’t want you to try harder, in case you bring Royce.”
“But I need to-”
I didn’t even get the sentence out, and the air began to shimmer, a shape taking form. My mother’s shape, so faint I could barely see it, but enough so I knew. I knew. The tears started. I blinked them back, and she disappeared again.
“It was you that night at Andrew’s,” I said. “In the woods. When they were chasing us. You tried to help. You’ve been following me.”
“Not always…can’t…tried to warn…oh, baby…run…”
“…not safe…no place safe…not for you…so many lies…get away…”
“We can’t run,” I said. “The Edison Group found us that night at-”
“No…that’s…tried to tell…” Her voice started to fade. I strained to hear, but it kept moving away. I held out my necklace.
“Um, Chloe?” Simon said. “If your mom said to leave that on-”
“She was trying to tell me something, and she’s disappearing.”
“Summon her again,” Derek said, taking the necklace, “but carefully.”
I gently pulled as I called for her. Derek stayed poised beside me, necklace stretched between his hands, ready to drop it over my head at the first hint of trouble.
“She’s gone,” I said finally. Tears prickled again. I blinked them back and cleared my throat.
“What’d she say?” Simon asked.
“That it’s not safe for us anywhere, which we already knew. But there was something else. Something she wanted to tell me about that night at Andrew’s.”
“If you want to keep trying, go on,” Derek said. “If you pull through Royce, you can send him back, right?”
I nodded. Margaret said it wasn’t safe, but I wouldn’t feel bad about shoving that particular ghost into the wrong dimension. So, still kneeling, I cranked up the power, trying to summon-
“Looking for someone, little necro?”
I jumped, losing my balance. Simon and Derek both grabbed for me, Derek catching me with one hand while awkwardly dropping the amulet ribbon over my head. I pulled it down and looked around.
“Royce,” I said. “Can I see you? Please?”
He chuckled and appeared partway, like he had before. “Liked what you saw, huh?”
They say you can’t fake a blush, but I sure tried. That was the way to deal with this jerk. Flattery, as painful as it was.
“You were right,” I said. “We need your help. Things are going wrong.”
“Were you…one of us? Part of the Genesis project?”
“I’m genetically modified, but I’m not one of you imitations.”
“Imitations?” I said.
“Of the original model. Me. Well, Austin and me.”
“I thought we were the first subjects.”
“They called it Genesis Two,” Derek murmured. “I thought they meant two as in second to the biblical one. They meant the second study. They must have done one before us.”
Royce laughed. “You kids really are idiots. Do you really think this is their only experiment? Yeah, you’re the second wave…of the Genesis project. Then there’s the Icarus project, the Phoenix project…”
Dr. Davidoff had hinted that the Edison Group was involved in other experiments, but I acted like this was all new. “How do you know all this?”
And his uncle was one of the group leaders.
“What went wrong?” I asked.
“You’re dead. Austin ’s dead. Dr. Banks is dead… Did that have anything to do with you? You and Austin?”
Anger flickered across his face.
“Something went wrong,” I pushed. “With you two. That’s how he knew-”
He feigned a yawn. “Anyone else finding this conversation really boring? Let’s liven things up with a game.” He walked over to Simon. “You joked about a secret passage earlier.”
“He can’t hear you, remember?” I said.
“Do you want to make your boyfriend happy, little girl? I’ll tell you where the secret passage is. You know there is one. In a house this big, the basement has to be just as large.”
I told the guys what Royce had said.
“Not necessarily,” Derek said. “It was common in that period not to build full basements-”
“Boring. There is a passage to another room-one they don’t want you to find. Especially you, little necromancer. They wouldn’t want you to bring those bodies back, get their stories.”
I hesitated. Simon asked what he’d said and I told them.
“I think he’s full of it,” Derek said. “But I’ll bite. Where’s the passage?”
Royce pointed and I relayed it.
“The workshop?” Derek said. “There’s nothing in there. I already checked.”
“Why do you think the door’s locked?” Royce said.
“Because you’re a genetically altered half-demon with telekinetic powers,” I said. “As a prototype, they wanted you under careful supervision, but in a normal environment. So instead of the laboratory, you lived here with your uncle Dr. Banks.”
“And your power, being telekinesis, means you can move objects with your mind, right?”
“Um, yeah. Want another demo?”
“No, just making a point. You lived here. You can move objects with your mind. Over there”-I pointed at the workshop-“is a room filled with tools. Why is it locked? I think that’s kind of obvious.”
Simon laughed. The ghost spun on him, but the scare was lost on Simon.
“Open that door,” Royce said.
“Why? So you can bring out some toys? I don’t think so.”
Simon snorted another laugh.
A broom flew from the wall, coming straight at me like a javelin. An unwieldy javelin, I might add. I easily ducked out of the way, and Derek just as easily caught it in midflight.
“Good reflexes, big guy,” the ghost said.
He strolled over to a bunch of plastic bins stacked against the wall and flipped open the top one.
“Oh, look, Uncle Todd kept my old stuff. He’s so sweet, packing my things away after he murdered me.”
“M-murdered you?” I said in spite of myself.
He rummaged through the box.
“Get ready to send him back,” Derek whispered, then to Simon, “Go upstairs.”
Simon shook his head. “I-”
Royce spun like a shot-putter, whipping something at us. I dove out of the way. Derek caught it-a bowling ball-then snarled at Simon, “Upstairs!”
“Oooh, good reflexes, superhuman strength, and a very convincing snarl. I think we have ourselves a werewolf.” He got right in Derek’s face. “How about a little one-on-one, wolf-boy? Battle of the superpowers?”
I shut my eyes and pictured Royce sailing backward. But he just kept taunting Derek.
“Maybe we should all go upstairs,” Simon said. “Get away from this creep.”
“He’d follow us,” Derek said.
“Oh, don’t listen to him,” Royce said. “Sure. Go on upstairs. There are lots of fun things to play with up there. Razors. Scissors. Knives.” He smiled and whispered in my ear. “I really like knives. There’s so much you can do with them.”
I glanced at Derek. He looked anxious, shooting glances from me to Simon, like he couldn’t decide between letting me finish banishing Royce and getting us out before we were hurt.
“I’m trying,” I said. “I’m really-”
“I know. Take your time.” He shot an arrogant look of his own in the ghost’s direction. “He’s not dangerous. Unless you can talk someone to death.”
The ghost spun and whipped a barbell. It came at us, but awkwardly, like he’d fumbled the shot. Derek moved mockingly slow and caught it before it crashed to the floor. I continued banishing Royce.
Royce started rooting around the box again. “Where’s that other dumbbell?…Oh, that’s right. I used it already.” He got in Derek’s face again. “To bash my brother’s brains in while he slept. Do you sleep, wolf-boy?”
My brain stuttered, flashing images of Austin ’s body, the blood, blood everywhere…
“Chloe?” Derek said.
“I-I’ve got it.”
“She doesn’t have anything,” Royce said. “She pulled me through and I’m not going back.”
“Simon?” Derek whispered. “Upstairs. Now.”
I had to stay here to banish Royce and Derek had to stay to protect me, but Simon was a bystander, one Royce would eventually target.
Simon left. I heard him stop on the stairs, unwilling to go too far in case we needed him.
A crash. My eyes flew open to see Derek on his feet, Royce picking up a piece of a smashed plate from the concrete floor.
“Oh, look,” Royce said, running his finger along the broken edge. “Sharp. I like sharp.”
Derek moved in front of me. I stared at his back and emptied my mind of everything except the image of Royce, sailing backward through the dimensions, through any dimensions. I concentrated until my temples throbbed. Still nothing.
You can’t do it. Stop trying and get someplace safe.
But there was no safe place. Not from this ghost. I had to get rid of him.
“How much do you know about werewolves?” Royce was saying, pacing as he turned the shard over in his hands. “We grew up on that crap, Austin and me. All part of our cultural training, my uncle said.”
“What’s he saying?” Derek asked.
“I’m trying not to listen.”
“Go ahead,” Derek said. “Tell me.”
Royce lunged at Derek, swinging the shard like a blade. Derek sidestepped out of the way, then kept going, circling wide around Royce, luring him away from me, motioning for me to resume banishing.
Royce charged. The china shard came a little too close to Derek, giving my mental shove a little panicky oomph, and Royce’s half-materialized form wavered.
Again, Royce swung too hard. This time the shard sailed from his hand. He scrabbled after it. Derek got there first, stomping the piece under his sneaker.
Royce raced for the rest of the plate. Derek managed to step on the biggest piece, but Royce snatched up another. I gave him another big push. Again he wobbled.
Royce walked backward, eyeing Derek. Derek’s gaze stayed glued to the new shard-tracking Royce.
“You like science, don’t you?” Royce said. “Well, I’m going to try an experiment of my own. Like I was asking before, how much do you know about werewolf legends?”
Again, I repeated his words. Derek still said nothing, only backing up, keeping Royce’s focus on him, letting me work at banishing the ghost.
“I don’t remember many of them,” Royce went on. “It was pretty boring stuff, at least the ones Uncle Todd told us. But he had others-books he didn’t want us to read. There was this one about werewolf trials. Seemed every medieval serial killer tried to get off with the werewolf defense. There was this one cool story about a guy who told the court he was a werewolf. Only problem was, they’d seen him kill someone-and he looked human. So do you know what he said?”
Derek motioned for me to relay the message. I did, as best I could.
“He said, my fur is on the inside,” Derek replied.
Royce laughed. “Guess I’m not the only one who likes the gory old stories. All right then, tell the little necro how it ends. What did the court do?”
I hesitated to relay the question, but Derek insisted on getting the message, then said, “Cut off his arms and legs and dissected them to check for fur inside the skin.”
Royce looked at me. “Sadly, there wasn’t any. But they’d saved themselves the fuss and bother of a trial.”
He wheeled and ran at Derek. Derek’s hands flew up to shield himself. The shard sliced the back of his hand, blood spurting.
Royce danced back. “I don’t see any fur, do you? Guess we’ll just have to keep going, to conduct a thorough experiment.”
I saw the blood dripping down Derek’s hand, shut my eyes, and gave one rage-filled shove. The shard clattered to the floor. Royce was still there, faint though, teeth gritted, tendons popping, struggling to hold on.
I walked toward him, mentally pushing, watching him fade until he was only a glimmer, and then-
“What have you done?” roared a voice behind me.
I SPUN, EXPECTING TO see Andrew, but no one was there.
A ghost popped out in front of me, so close I fell back.
Derek grabbed my arm to steady me.
“I think he’s gone,” Derek said. “Did you hear something?”