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|The Reckoning(Darkest Powers #3) by Kelley Armstrong|
His eyes gleamed, and I felt them slicing through me as if he were peering into the heart of my power, and when he did, he smiled again, and it made me shiver.
“Perhaps, but she’s a child, my lord. You know what the Berithian Treaty says about wooing youths. Quite unfair, I agree, but she will be an adult soon enough, and if you allow me to cultivate the child by completing my contract…”
He glanced in her direction. “Whatever deal you’ve made with the child can be completed another time. I’m not letting you slip away again so easily. You have a penchant for disappearing.”
“Is powerful enough to summon you when she wishes.” He turned back to me and before I could move away, his hand was under my chin, holding it, the guard’s dead fingers oddly warm. He tilted my face up to his and murmured, “Grow up strong, little one. Strong and powerful.”
A blast of hot air. Diriel whispered, “I’m sorry, child.” And then they were gone.
I jumped over the guard’s fallen body and raced to the door. The handle turned before I touched it. I looked around, ready to run, but there was no place to run to. I took out the gun and backed against the wall. The door opened. A figure peeked in.
“A-aunt Lauren,” I whispered.
My knees wobbled. There’d been a time when I’d chafed under Aunt Lauren’s constant mothering, but after two weeks of relying on myself and other kids who were as scared and lost as I was, her look of concern was like a warm blanket on a freezing night, and I wanted to throw myself into her arms and say, Take care of me. Fix this.
But I didn’t. She was the one who ran over and hugged me and as wonderful as it was, that feeling of wanting to be rescued passed, and I felt myself pulling away and heard myself saying “Come on. I know the way.”
As we hurried out, she glanced back in the room and saw the guard’s body.
She gasped. “Isn’t that-?”
Without missing a beat, I cut her off, stammering, “I-I don’t know what happened. I g-got scared and he just walked in here and-”
She hugged me, whispering, “It’s okay, hon.”
She believed me, of course. I was still her little Chloe who’d never think of raising the dead.
As we slipped into the hall, she saw the gun and took it from me before I realized what she was doing. When I protested she said, “If we need to use it, I’ll be the one who pulls the trigger.” I knew she was trying to protect me from having to shoot someone. I didn’t want to shoot anyone, but there was something about giving up the gun that chafed, the feeling of being shoved back into a role I no longer fit.
“Simon and Tori are in Dr. Davidoff’s office,” I whispered.
“We’ll go this way. It’s longer, but we’re less likely to bump into anyone.”
We turned a corner and a balding guard stepped from a room. I tried to tug Aunt Lauren back, but he’d already seen us.
“Don’t move, Alan,” Aunt Lauren said, raising the gun. “Just step back into that room and close-”
“Alan,” said a voice behind him.
He turned. A shot fired. The guard dropped. Mrs. Enright stood there, lowering a gun.
“I really do hate these things,” she said, lifting the gun. “So primitive. But I thought it might come in handy.”
I glanced at Aunt Lauren. She was frozen in a binding spell.
“Look what your aunt did, Chloe.” Mrs. Enright waved at the guard, motionless on the ground. “Such a shame. They won’t let her off with house arrest this time.”
I looked from Aunt Lauren to the dead guard.
Mrs. Enright laughed. “You’re thinking of raising him, aren’t you? Such a resourceful girl. I suppose we have you to thank for all this.” She waved her free hand at the cracks in the walls. “That’s what I like about you. Resourceful, clever, and, apparently”-she motioned at the guard again-“getting more confident in your powers each time we meet. I’d almost like to let you raise him, just to see what you’d do.”
“Let us go or-”
“I’m the one with the gun, Chloe. Your weapon takes longer to activate. If he so much as twitches, it’s good-bye to Aunt Lauren. Any bargains come from me, and I’m still quite willing to deal with you. I think we could-”
A dark shape leaped on her back. As she fell, she twisted to see a huge black wolf pinning her. She opened her mouth to cast, but Derek grabbed her by the back of the shirt and whipped her against the wall. She recovered, rolling aside and reciting words in a foreign language. He grabbed her and flung her again. She hit with a crack, then lay still.
I raced forward.
“Chloe!” Aunt Lauren shouted, freed from her binding spell.
“It’s Derek,” I said.
“I know. Don’t-”
I was already there, dropping beside him as he panted, flanks heaving, fighting for control. I grabbed handfuls of fur and buried my face against him, tears threatening.
“You’re okay,” I said. “I was so worried.”
“You weren’t the only one,” said a voice.
I glanced up to see Liz and smiled. “Thank you.”
“I just went along for the ride. After that happened-” She waved at Derek. “You know how blind people need Seeing Eye dogs? Well, apparently werewolves could really use Opening Door poltergeists.”
Derek rumbled deep in his chest and bumped me.
“We need to go. I know.”
I started getting to my feet, but he leaned against me. I could feel his racing heart. He pressed his nose against my neck, breathed deeply, shuddered, and his heart slowed. When he sniffed again, his nose went to the back of my neck, finding the blood and grumbling with concern.
“It’s just a bump,” I said. “I’m fine.”
I wrapped my hands in his fur one last time, holding him tight, then pushed to my feet. I turned to Aunt Lauren. She stood there, staring. Just staring.
“We have to go,” I said.
Her gaze lifted to mine and she stared some more, like seeing someone she didn’t recognize.
“Liz is here,” I said. “She’ll scout the way.”
“Liz…” She swallowed, then nodded. “All right.”
I gestured at Tori’s mom. “Is she…?”
“Still alive, but it was a hard blow. She should be out for a while.”
“Good. Derek? We need to get Tori and Simon. Follow me. Liz, can you go ahead and make sure the way is clear?”
She smiled. “Yes, boss.”
I took a few steps, then realized Aunt Lauren wasn’t following. I turned. She was still staring.
“I’m okay,” I said.
“You are,” she said softly. Then firmer, “You really are.”
We set out.
WE COLLECTED TORI AND Simon just as they were heading out to rescue me. After a very brief explanation about the earthquake and the wolf by my side, I asked if Simon had gotten hold of his dad. His face darkened, telling me the answer wasn’t good.
“Voice mail,” he said.
“It said he was unavailable and switched to voice mail. I left a message. He could have been out of range or on the phone or…”
He didn’t finish, but we all knew what he meant. Unavailable could mean a lot of things, not all of them as innocent as being stuck between cell towers.
“We’ll call again as soon as we’re out,” Aunt Lauren said. “Which should be soon.”
We headed for the nearest exit. We’d gone about twenty feet before Liz came racing over.
“Three of them,” she said. “Coming this way.”
“Guns?” I asked.
If it was three unarmed staff-even with supernatural powers-I’d be willing to take them on. But guns were another thing. I told the others.
“There’s an unused wing to the west,” Aunt Lauren said. “They won’t guard that exit because it’s through a secured door.”
I followed her and used the key card to get us into the wing. As soon as we were through, Derek stopped short, the hair on his back rising, lips curling in a silent growl.
“Do you smell someone?” I whispered.
He shook his head sharply, with a grunt, as if to say sorry, and we started forward again, but he was wary now, gaze flicking from side to side.
“I know this place,” Simon murmured. “I’ve been here.”
“Your dad used to bring you to work sometimes when you were little,” Aunt Lauren said.
“Yeah, I know, but this place…” He looked around, then he rubbed the back of his neck. “Creeps me out, whatever it is.”
“The exit is around the corner and down at the end,” Aunt Lauren said, ushering us on. “It leads into a yard. We’ll need to climb the wall, but that’s another reason they won’t guard it.”
We continued along. Simon and Derek weren’t the only ones getting chills. It was so quiet. An empty, dead place. Shadows hunkered along the walls, out of reach of the security lights. It stunk, too, reeking of antiseptic soaked right into the floors, like an abandoned hospital.
I glanced in the first open door and stopped short. Desks. Four tiny desks. A wall of faded posters of alphabet animals. A blackboard, still showing the ghosts of numbers. I blinked, certain I was seeing wrong.
Derek nudged my legs, telling me to get moving. I looked at him, and I looked at the classroom.
This was where Derek had grown up. Four tiny desks. Four little boys. Four young werewolves.
For a second, I could see them-three boys working at the three clustered desks, Derek alone at the fourth, pushed slightly away, hunched over his work, trying to ignore the others.
Derek nudged me again, whining softly, and I looked down to see him eyeing the room, every hair on his neck on end, anxious to get away from this place. I murmured an apology and followed the others. We passed two more doors, then Liz came running back.
“What?” Aunt Lauren said when I relayed it. “From down there? That can’t be. It’s-”
The clomp of footsteps cut her off. She looked each way, then waved to the nearest door.
“The key card, Chloe, quickly!”
I opened it and we all tumbled inside. As I closed the door behind us, the lock whirred shut. I looked around, squinting to see with only the glow of an emergency light.
We were in a huge storage room packed with boxes.
“Lots of places to hide,” I whispered. “I suggest we find one.”
We split up as footsteps echoed down the hall. I turned, nearly tripping over Derek. He hadn’t moved, just stared into the room, fur bristling.
I looked around. I saw boxes, lots of boxes, but over along the far wall, something else-four beds.
“T-this was-” I began.
“Where is everyone?” boomed a voice from the hall.
Derek snapped out of it, grabbed my sleeve between his teeth, and tugged me deep into the sea of boxes. We found a spot in the back corner where boxes were piled three high, leaving a small space for us to hide. Derek nudged me toward it. I whispered for the others as he went back to gather them up.
In a minute, we were all wedged in that space, crouched or sitting. Derek stood at the opening, guarding it, ears swiveling. As the steps drew closer, I didn’t need his hearing to pick up the voices.
“Scientists.” A man snorted. “They think they can hire a few rent-a-cop half-demons and they’re ready for something like this. Arrogant sons of…” His mutters trailed off. “How close is Mr. St. Cloud?”
“His flight will arrive in seventy-five minutes, sir.”
“Then we have an hour to clean this mess up. How many kids was it again? Four?”
“Three were recaptured. The fourth-the werewolf-wasn’t, but there was a report that he’d entered the building.”
“Great. Just great.” Their footsteps sounded outside the door. “All right, here’s the plan. I need two survivors. If you can get me two, Mr. St. Cloud will be happy. And that doesn’t include the werewolf.”
“We need a place to set up a base of operations. The team will be here in five minutes.”
“It doesn’t look as if they use this wing, sir.” A door creaked. “This room even has desks and a blackboard.”
“Good. Start setting up and get Davidoff on the radio. I want him down here now.”
I waved for Liz to go check things out.
We all strained to listen, praying they’d find some problem with the room or be offered a better one. It didn’t happen.
“At least they’re on the other side of our escape route,” Tori said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Simon said. “We’ve got a Cabal SWAT team setting up down the hall. We’re screwed.”
Liz came running back in. “There are two guys in suits and one wearing what looks like a soldier’s uniform. Plus four more like him marching up the hall.”
The clomping of boots echoed her words.
“We’ll hold tight,” I said. “They’ll send those guys searching-hopefully somewhere else. When we get a chance, we’ll run.”
Derek chuffed and slid in behind me, letting me rest against him, so warm and comfortable that I started to relax, and when I did, so did he, muscles softening, heart rate slowing.
“So you two came on your own?” I said to Liz. “How?”
“But Derek doesn’t have his license.”