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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
“ Get Dr. Fellows,” Dr. Davidoff snapped to the other guard. “Quickly.”
“I didn’t do that,” Tori said. “I didn’t.”
“It was an accident,” her mother murmured.
“No, I did not do it. I swear to God-”
“She’s right.” Everyone looked up sharply at the sound of my voice. I twisted to face Mrs. Enright. “Tori didn’t cast that spell. You did. I saw you cast-”
A sudden smack against my cheek, like an invisible slap, so hard my wheelchair rolled back. Blood spurted from my nose.
“Tori!” Mrs. Enright said. “Stop that!”
Tori froze, caught in a binding spell.
Mrs. Enright turned to Dr. Davidoff. “Now do you see what I mean? She’s completely out of control. She lashes out at enemies and friends alike and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.”
“Restrain her,” he said. “I’ll take Chloe to her room.”
AND SO, AFTER A week on the run, I ended up exactly where I began. In the same cell. Lying on the same bed. Alone.
Dr. Davidoff had hustled me out before Aunt Lauren came for the guard. I thought he might want her to check my bloodied nose, but he’d just brought me a wet cloth and a clean shirt from my closet at Lyle House, telling me I could see my aunt as soon as I was calm and ready to listen. As rewards went, spending quality time with my aunt who’d turned traitor-again-wasn’t really the incentive he thought.
For the past week, I’d dreamed of the day I’d come back here and rescue Aunt Lauren and Rae. Now I was here and there was no one to save. Aunt Lauren had returned to the fold. Rae was dead.
I squeezed my eyes shut, but tears rolled down my cheeks anyway.
I should have tried harder to persuade Rae to come with me. I should have come back for her sooner.
Rae was dead. And Tori was next. Her mother had murdered that guard to frame her. I couldn’t comprehend the evil of that, but I knew what it meant. Diane Enright wanted her daughter dead. She’d become a liability, a threat.
Tori would die and I wouldn’t be far behind. And what about Simon? And Derek? I wiped away the tears and sat up. I had two choices: escape or accept my fate. I wasn’t accepting it. Not now, not ever.
I took stock of my surroundings and what I could use. As for the room, nothing had changed. As for me, all I had were the clothes I wore-the new shirt and my jeans, still stained with Andrew’s blood. I tried not to think about that.
I patted my pockets, hoping for my ever-present switchblade. Gone.
One pocket crackled, though. Paper. I tugged it out and unfolded it. When I remembered it was the picture Simon had made for Derek, I started to refold it, but I’d already seen what he’d drawn-a sketch of me, crouching beside a black wolf, my arm around its neck, and I remembered Simon saying “Give him that. And tell him it’s okay.”
My eyes stung. I shakily refolded the message, and tucked it back into my pocket. Then I straightened and gave my head a sharp shake. I still had one very big trick up my sleeve. I pulled my legs up onto the bed, closed my eyes, and called the demi-demon.
I’d barely finished summoning her when warm air tickled the top of my head.
“Well,” whispered her tinkling voice, “this looks very familiar.”
“I need your help.”
“Now that’s new. And quite welcome, I might add. The first thing you need to do is free me. Then we’ll rain down hell on all who have wronged us.”
“I’ll free you after you help me. And we’ll skip the raining-down-hell part.”
“Oh, but it’s so much fun. All that fire and brimstone and rivers of lava. Demons beating their ragged wings and fanning the flames.” A pause, then a deep sigh. “Sarcasm is lost on the young and gullible, isn’t it? I meant it figuratively. Wreak havoc, if you will. Smite our mutual enemies.”
“You’re going to ruin all my fun, aren’t you? Fine. Free me and-”
“After you help me.”
“Details, details. I suppose you want to escape again. I’m not quite sure why, given that you seem rather fond of this place. You keep returning.”
I glared in her direction. “Yes, I want your help escaping, but we’re also going to free Simon and Tori and, if Derek’s here, he comes, too.”
“Presuming you mean the werewolf boy, he hasn’t passed through those doors since he left years ago. But if they do bring him in, I will include him in the plan. I am nothing if not fair in my dealings with mortals.”
I’d seen enough demonic-pact-gone-wrong horror movies to know I needed an iron-clad agreement. The problem was that I didn’t know exactly what I needed her to do. Get me out, sure. But how?
Not surprisingly, she had an idea. Also not surprisingly, I didn’t like it.
“Isn’t there another way?”
“There’s always another way. Personally, I would prefer that witch Diane Enright. I’m quite fond of witches, as I believe I’ve mentioned. True, she’s still alive, but that’s an obstacle easily overcome. Tell the guard you wish to speak to her and I’ll guide you through the rest. Breaking her neck is the simplest method, but you are rather small for that, so-”
“Then it’s back to my original suggestion, isn’t it?”
A minute later, I was kneeling on the carpet, doing something I’d sworn I’d never even consider. Return a human ghost to his corpse. Right now, though, it was the only way I could see to keep from becoming a corpse myself.
I focused on the memory of his face, commanding him back.
“A little more,” the demi-demon murmured. “Yes, that’s it. Now call him to you.”
I did. And I braced myself for screams.
“They’re all in the meeting room,” the demi-demon said, as if reading my mind. “Just bring him quickly.”
A minute later, the card lock clicked. The door swung open. And there stood the guard Mrs. Enright had killed.
Earlier, he’d just been “the guard.” I didn’t know his name. Didn’t want to. I’d had to struggle to recall his face for the summoning. He’d just been an anonymous minion of the Edison Group. And now, when I desperately wanted to depersonalize him again, instead I saw a man. Young. Short brown hair. Freckles. Traces of acne on his cheeks. Was he much older than me? I swallowed, and made the mistake of lifting my eyes to his. Brown eyes, dark with rage and hate. I dropped my gaze.
He still had the card key in his hand, raised, and I fixed on that. Another mistake. A wedding band sparkled on his finger.
Oh God, he had a wife. Kids? A baby maybe? One who’d never see-
I squeezed my eyes shut.
You had nothing to do with his death.
But I’d done something that felt just as bad. I’d brought him back to life. And when I glanced at his face, I saw how terrible that was-the hate, the fury, the disgust.
“Close the door,” the demi-demon whispered.
The guard watched me, eyes narrowed, card still raised, like he’d love to shove it down my throat. Watch me choke on it.
When he spoke, his words were garbled. “Whatever you want me to do, I won’t.”
The demi-demon chuckled. “Then you don’t know much about necromancers, particularly this one,” she said, though he couldn’t hear her.
“I don’t want anything,” I said. “I’m sorry-”
“Sorry?” He spat the word and stepped toward me. His coat swung open, showing a charred hole in his chest. The stink of burned meat wafted out. I gagged, and my mouth filled with bile. He stepped toward me again.
“Stop,” I said, voice quavering.
He did, and stood there, skewering me with those burning eyes.
“I might suggest you take his gun,” the demi-demon said. “To be safe.”
I looked down. His fingers rested on the butt of his pistol.
“Don’t move,” I said.
I tugged out the gun.
“You’re going to use me to escape, aren’t you? You won’t. You belong in here. They were right. You’re monsters. I hope they kill you all.” He sneered down at me. “No, actually, I hope they don’t kill you. I hope they lock you up and experiment on you. Poke and prod and test until you wish you were dead.”
A week ago, I’d have shivered at those words. Today, I wasn’t going to cower under his threats and name-calling, and I wasn’t going to shy away from what I had to do.
I told him to sit. He did. He had no choice. Then I freed his soul, envisioning not a release but an exchange. Eyes shut, I sat cross-legged, necklace on the floor, inches from my hand. I willed this to work. Please work. Just-
“Well, that’s better,” the guard said, his mumble replaced by a weirdly musical lilt. He cleared his throat. “No, that’s better,” he said, in his normal voice.
I snatched the necklace back. The guard gave a girlish laugh. His eyes glowed orange. He blinked and rolled his shoulders, then cleared his throat again and the laugh deepened. His eyes went black, then brown.
“Will I pass?” the demi-demon asked from inside the guard’s body.
I picked up the gun from the floor.
The demi-demon laughed. “Do you really think I’d shoot you and doom myself to eternity in a rotting mortal shell? I am as much your slave as the mortal, and I promise, I shall obey with far less unseemly whining.”
I rose, the gun still in my hand.
“I would suggest you keep that,” she said. “But you’ll need to find a place to hide it.”
I tucked it into the back of my waistband. Whenever I’d seen that on the big screen, I’d rolled my eyes, thinking “one wrong move and you’re going to shoot yourself in the butt.” But, right now, it was the only place I could think of.
As I adjusted my shirt over it, my fingers trembled. I took a deep breath.
“Yes, I know,” the demi-demon said. “That experience was far from pleasant, but at least he was angry about it.”
When I glanced over, her brows arched. “Would you rather he’d been grateful? Happy to be resurrected? Pleading for a few final minutes with his family?”
She had a point. I pulled the shirt down one last time, then finger-combed my hair.
“You look marvelous, my dear,” she said, and fluttered her fingers at the door. “Shall we?” She paused. “Let’s try that again.” Her voice went gruff. “Ready to go, kid?”
AS THE DEMI-DEMON HAD said, all the major players were in a meeting. Given how loath they were to admit to problems, we hoped they hadn’t rushed to tell all the other guards about the death of their colleague, so anyone we encountered wouldn’t find it odd to see him escorting the prisoners through the building.
As it turned out, the halls were empty. We made it to the security office without seeing or hearing anyone. The door was unlocked. The demi-demon opened it. A guard sat inside, his back to us as he monitored the screens. I stayed behind the demi-demon, but when the guard turned, I caught enough of a glimpse of him for my heart to sink. It was the one who’d been with us earlier.
I jerked back out of sight, and I plastered myself to the corridor wall.
“Hey, Rob,” the demi-demon said.
“Nick?” the guard said. His chair scraped the floor, as he scrambled out of it. “I thought you were-”
“So did I,” the demi-demon said. “Seems it takes more than a witch’s spell to kill me. Whatever mojo that shaman Phelps uses, it’s good stuff.”
“They called in Phelps?” The guard exhaled. “I didn’t think they would. Dr. Fellows is good, but…”
“She’s no shaman healer. A lot easier on the eyes than old man Phelps, though.”
They both laughed at that.
“Anyway, I’m back in action, and apparently, almost dying doesn’t even earn me the rest of the shift off. They want you up front, manning the door. Trudy’s nervous with those kids back.”
“I don’t blame her. Personally, I don’t know why they keep trying to rehabilitate them. After what that brat did to you, I’m ready to lock them up and throw away the key. I’ll go keep Trudy company, though.” The squeak of shoes, then a sniff: “What’s that smell?”
“Like something burned.”
“Yeah. I think Trudy burned popcorn in the microwave again.”
“No, it’s not popcorn.” Another shoe squeak. “It’s coming from-”
A gasp. Then the thump of a falling body. I raced into the room. The demi-demon was tugging the guard into the corner.
“Do you see a ghost, child?” she asked without turning.
“Then he isn’t dead, is he?” She arranged him, mostly hidden behind the chairs. Then she took my hands and pressed them to the guard’s neck where his pulse beat strong. “You’re giving me the first chance at freedom I’ve had. Do you think I’d spoil that?”
She looked at the guard, then slid a sly glance my way. “Still, this would be an excellent opportunity to obtain a far more suitable body for me, one that no one thinks is dead.”
I glared at her.
She sighed. “All right then. Find your friends.”
I scanned the monitors while she watched the door. There was no sign of Tori, but I’d expected that-it only meant she was in one of the camera-free cells. I found Simon, still in the surgery, still strapped down, an IV in his arm, no sign of a guard.