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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
I could see the internal struggle on Sean’s face. Then a flash of something like grief, his gaze dropping as he nodded. He pushed back his chair and motioned me up.
As I stood, he took my elbow and started for the door. Adam fell in on my other side. It took a moment for anyone to notice. Then Agent Stein stood. “Where are you going?”
“I’m taking my sister out of here,” Sean said. “An angel tried to stop this sham of a trial. My father tried to stop it. Now a lord demon is trying to stop it. By allowing this to proceed without the Cortezes’ involvement, the intra-Cabal agency has forfeited its role as an impartial arbiter. We do not recognize its authority. We are leaving.”
“You are part of this Cabal,” Josef said. “You will not—”
“I will. Or I will no longer be part of this Cabal.” His gaze was fixed on his grandfather. “That’s your choice.”
“Don’t you threaten us,” Josef said.
Sean turned toward the door. Two of the three guards in our path stepped aside. The third hesitated, but made no move to stop us.
“Arrest him.” Josef jabbed a finger at his bodyguards. “Go.” Thomas pushed to his feet. “No. This has gone too far. Sean—”
“He’s giving you one last chance,” Severin cut in. “Will you let Savannah go?”
“Never,” Josef said.
Severin smiled. “I’ll take that as your final word on the matter.”
He walked to the middle of the room, Sierra at his side. Two of the guards pulled their guns, as if finally realizing they should do something. Then they fell to their knees, screaming, hands to their faces. Their shrieks died midnote as they collapsed, blood streaming from their eyes, their ears, their noses and mouths.
Severin’s head shot back, eyes rolling back. I knew what was happening, but I told myself it couldn’t be—they hadn’t made the proper preparations. The last time, they’d had to draw a ritual circle and recite the incantations, and without that, they couldn’t—
Severin’s chin shot down. His eyes glowed bright green.
The lord demon stopped right in front of me, and stroked warm fingers across my cheek. When Adam yanked me back, Balaam spun on him.
“Don’t give me an excuse, brat. I’ve no love for your sire these days.”
I moved between them and lifted my chin, meeting Balaam’s gaze.
“This has nothing to do with you,” I said. “I appreciate the interest, but I can handle it.”
“You shouldn’t need to, my child. I’ll do it for you.” He smiled. “Happily.”
“No—” I said, but he was already bearing down on Thomas.
Bodyguards leaped around the table. Balaam fluttered his fingers and the men’s eyes … popped. Just popped, blood streaming down their faces as they screamed. Balaam snapped his fingers and they stopped screaming. They were still alive, still writhing on the floor, mouths still open, but they made no sound.
“Do you know me, sorcerer?” Balaam said to Thomas.
“I sent a messenger to spare us both this visit. You ignored him.”
“Say my name, sorcerer.”
Thomas sat there. An old man. Such an old man, his rheumy blue eyes watery, his face little more than a death mask, skin tight over bone. No one went to him. No one could. Beside me, Sean kept rocking forward, but now it was my hand on his arm. A binding spell waited on my lips. I didn’t need it. He knew there was nothing anyone could do.
Thomas pulled himself up. He blinked and gained back a decade of his lost years, remembering who he was. His voice was steady when he said, “You are Lord Balaam, and I apologize for the misunderstanding. I meant no disrespect—”
“But disrespect me you did.”
“Not intentionally, sir. This hearing is at an end. The girl is free to go. I was saying that when you arrived—”
“It is too late. You mistreated my granddaughter. You mis-treated my daughter. You have mistreated me. There is no apology that can be made.”
He lifted his fingers. Thomas’s eyes bulged and I screamed, “No!” But Balaam didn’t blind Thomas. The old man’s eyes simply bulged in pain and shock. He wavered there a moment and I thought good, that’s it, just a warning. Then he fell forward, clutching his chest.
Sean ran to our grandfather. I tried to stop him, but he caught me off-guard. My binding spell failed. I raced after him, Adam at my heels.
Thomas Nast had dropped to his knees. Balaam grabbed the table between them and threw it, hitting several of the lawyers before they could get out of the way.
The only person left near Thomas was Josef. And he just stood there. In shock, maybe. In cowardice, probably. Only Sean ran to his grandfather, shouting for him over the commotion as everyone headed for the exits, the thunder of feet accompanied by Sierra’s laughter as she waltzed through the stampede, fingers tapping left and right, freezing as they went, her victims yelping in shock, then spinning out of the way before continuing to the doors.
Balaam stood in front of Thomas, now on his knees, one hand on the floor to brace himself, the other over his heart as he panted, eyes rolling.
Balaam put out his hand.
“No!” I screamed, Sean’s cry joining mine.
Thomas’s head shot back. His torso shot forward. His shirt split. His chest cracked open, ribs popping. His heart ripped free and sailed into Balaam’s hand.
Sean was at his grandfather’s side now, dropping to his knees and grabbing him as the old man’s eyes closed. I skidded to a stop behind Balaam, who stood there, holding Thomas’s heart. He looked down at it. He smiled. Then he crushed it, threw it aside and turned. He stopped short, seeing me there.
“You bastard,” I said. “You sick bastard.”
His brows arched. “I did it for you, my child.”
“No, you did not. This isn’t about me. None of this is about me. You used me. You used this.”
He reached out and touched my chin, his fingers hot and slick with Thomas’s blood.
“You are angry now, but you will reap the benefits, my child. You’ve seen what I can do. Reconsider my offer.” His lips curled in a smile that wasn’t a smile at all. “Think on this and reconsider my offer.”
He passed me and continued walking, cutting through the chaos, lawyers and guards tripping out of his path, Sierra falling in behind him as they left by the rear door.
I looked over at Sean, kneeling on the floor with his grandfather’s—our grandfather’s—body. I took a step toward them. A hand caught my arm. Startled, I turned to see Adam, as if he’d been there all along, right behind me.
“You can’t,” he whispered. “I know you want to go to him, but you need to get out of here. Now.”
I looked at the door. As soon as I did, Josef’s voice boomed through the room. “Arrest her. She brought Balaam here. She did this.”
There were only three uninjured guards left in the room. They seemed to have stayed put out of shock, not loyalty, but Josef’s words snapped them out of it. All three turned to me. And in all three pairs of eyes I saw fresh purpose—something they could do, an action they could take, a punishment that could be inflicted.
I glanced at Sean, but he hadn’t heard, too wrapped up in his grief. Adam took my arm. I shook him off and started for the door myself. The guards closed in. I slammed one with a knockback. Another dove at me. Adam grabbed him and the guy screamed in pain. Adam tossed him aside and we broke into a run for the door.
I was reaching for the handle when the door flew open. There stood one of the intra-Cabal guards, his gun rising.
“By order of the—”
A blur of motion behind the guard. Hands lifted him and threw him into the room, Adam and I ducking out of the way. Then hands grabbed me so fast I didn’t see who it was and I lifted my fingers for a knockback.
“Hit me with that spell and it’ll be the last time I save you,” Clay growled.
He yanked me into the hall. Elena pulled Adam through, then they slammed the door and Lucas spell-locked it.
I stood there, panting like I’d just run ten miles. A half dozen bodies littered the corridor. Some unconscious. A couple dead. One of the dead men looked as if he’d been trampled. Elena’s hair was half yanked from her ponytail and a scratch bisected her cheek. Clay had bruises rising on his face and was wincing as he stretched his bad arm. Lucas’s suit jacket lay on the floor and his white shirt was smattered with blood, more dripping from his nose.
I imagined the scene out here when the screaming started inside—Elena, Clay, and Lucas fighting to get in as everyone else fought to get out.
“Thomas,” I said. “Balaam killed—”
“Explain later,” Elena said. “From those footsteps I hear, we’re about to get hit by the second wave.”
The first guard rounded the corner before she even finished speaking. He leveled his gun. Lucas hit him with a knockback and Clay dove in to take him out. I stopped the second guy with a binding spell. It snapped before I released it, but there was enough time for Elena to send the guy flying. She threw me his gun. Clay kicked the other one our way.
I caught the first gun and stared at it a second before turning it around, finger going to the trigger—
Adam plucked it out of my hands.
“Close quarters,” he said.
In other words, not the place to learn how to shoot. He threw open the nearest door. Office storage. Now gun storage.
I was kicking in the second gun when two guards came running from the other end of the hall.
“Adam!” Elena shouted.
“See ’em!” he called back. “Lucas, can you—”
“I have this side. Savannah, cover Ad—” He stopped and turned to look at me. “Sorry, I forgot—”
“My knockback works.”
“Best thing anyway. Conserve your power.”
How many times had I heard that? If I was fighting alongside Adam, I should throw our assailants off balance with knock-backs while Adam launched the frontal attacks, as Lucas had done with Clay.
Had I ever actually done it? Of course not. I had to be on the front line. Even if it meant I probably made the fight tougher for Adam.
Spell-casters were ranged attack experts. I’d played enough video games to know that. This was the first time I actually did it in real life.
I hit one guard with a knockback. Adam slammed him in the chest with both hands, scorching through his shirt and leaving the man screaming. The second guy lifted his gun. I hit him with an energy bolt, but I wasn’t trusting it to work, so I backed it up with a kick. The guy went down. I grabbed the guns—plus another one that Lucas had kicked my way—and got them in the storage room.
Our end was clear now, but I didn’t need werewolf hearing to pick up the clomp of boots running toward us.
I looked at Adam. He was breathing deeply—his bruised face red from pain and exertion. I glanced over to where Elena, Clay, and Lucas were taking on three guards.
“I’m okay,” Adam said. “I’m using my powers more than my fists. Not sure how long it will last, but I’m good for—”
A guard came flying around the corner. Only one this time. I dispatched him with two knockbacks in succession, letting Adam take him down and disarm him.
As Lucas passed another gun to me, he called, “The ultimate goal, I believe, is to get out of the building. We can’t disarm every guard and—” He kicked one who’d begun to rise, his foot striking him in the side of the head and sending him to dreamland.
“These guys won’t stay down forever,” Elena said. “Retreat it is.” She looked both ways, then pointed in our direction. “Go that way and—”
Two shots from inside the meeting room. The door crashed open, falling off its hinges. A guard inside started firing. We dove for cover. A yelp from inside the room. Then a grunt. I couldn’t see through the doorway, but Lucas hit someone with a spell. Clay barreled in. I followed and saw Sean getting up off a guard caught in Lucas’s binding spell. Clay knocked the guard out.
“We have to go,” Sean said, running toward us. “Now.”
I looked around. Josef had left, presumably through the rear door. There were medics tending to the blinded guards, and one was bent over Thomas’s body. Sean gave one last look at his grandfather, then pulled his gaze away and straightened.
“We have to go,” he repeated. “Josef will call in every guard in the city to make sure we don’t leave this building.”
“We need to split up,” Elena said. “Clay and I will take Savannah.”
“Good,” Sean said. “Smaller groups will attract less attention.” He took out his key card and handed it to me. “Use this. All-access pass.”
“But you need—”
“I can get us out. You’re the one they really want to stop.”
He quickly told us the safest route. Then we took off through the rear exit.
Elena tried to brush a loose lock of hair from her face, only to find that it was plastered there by blood. Damn it. She touched her forehead and found the spot. Just a cut. There likely would be a few more war wounds joining it by morning—bumps and bruises and aches—but nothing serious. She glanced back at Clay. He was rubbing his right arm. The old zombie scratch acting up, as it always did after a fight. Otherwise, he seemed fine. Good. Now, to get them all to safety.
Yet another mission gone to hell. That seemed to be par for the course these days. Damn the Cabals. Damn Benicio, too. Especially Benicio. Oh, sure, just walk into Nast headquarters. Tell them she wanted to watch the proceedings. So what if they’re a rival Cabal? So what if she is a werewolf? So what if they’d taken Savannah captive on a trumped-up charge of treason. There were rules about these things and the Nasts would follow the rules and let her in.