Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
“It was freaky, Dax. He was actually kind of a dick.” There was a snap, and a flame flickered to life from the tip of Alex’s lighter. Lifting a cigarette to his lips, he took a long pull and said, “More so than normal, I mean.”
“Alex,” Ginger warned. I figured she’d tell him to put out the cigarette because she hated the smell, but instead she waved her empty cup back and forth. “I’m not getting any younger here.”
He rolled his eyes and disappeared with the cup—cigarette still between his lips—to refill her drink.
After Kale and Kiernan left, we’d gone back into the party to find Jade. Miraculously, she hadn’t heard the screaming or its resulting chaos. I was pretty sure she was the only one and that it had something to do with the fact that she’d been flirting hardcore with Tom Bozeman, Parkview High’s basketball captain.
I’d wanted to follow Kale, but Alex wasn’t having it. He threatened to throw me over his shoulder if I tried. I decided that, since he was bigger he’d probably win, and besides the embarrassment factor, it was probably for the best.
Aside from his inexplicable personality adjustment and nifty new use of his ability, Kale was dangerous. Denazen trained him to be an unstoppable killing machine from the time he could walk. The fact that Kiernan seemed to have him wrapped around her sleazy little finger and convinced I was the enemy only made it ten times worse. We needed to approach this situation with caution.
“They did something to him. That wasn’t Kale.” It was the first thing I said since getting back to home base—AKA the cabin Dax had moved us to. Every eye in the room turned to me. They probably thought I was going into some kind of shock or something. “I mean, obviously it
Kale, but they scrambled his brain. Confused things. Kiernan told him
name was Kiernan, and he was calling her Roz.”
“That makes sense, Dez.” Alex reappeared with Ginger’s cup. He blew out a puff of smoke and handed her the drink, then turned to me. I didn’t like his expression. Pity and something else. Sympathy. It didn’t look right on him. Not that Alex was unsympathetic or cold, but he didn’t normally sugarcoat things. “As much as I hate to say this, I’m betting nothing anyone could ever do to that freak could erase you completely from his mind. I saw it right away; I don’t know how you missed it.”
“Missed what?” As Alex sat down, Dax pulled the cigarette from his fingers and took a long drag before handing it back.
“The blond hair. The black tips. The way Kiernan was dressed. Hell, even the name she’s using.
? Come on…”
“Cross swapped them,” Ginger said, banging her cane against the floor. She lifted the cup to her lips and took a sip. “Of course.”
“It’s an identity theft nightmare,” Alex agreed. “He gave Kiernan’s name to Dez’s face and Dez’s name to Kiernan’s face.”
If that were the case, it’d explain why there was so much hate in his eyes when Kiernan mentioned her own name. Somewhere deep inside, Kale must remember she’d help create this mess. And if that was true, then he was still in there. There was hope. “But
did they do it?”
“Another Six, maybe?” Mom chimed in. She was sitting across from me, next to Dax.
“But that doesn’t explain the change in his ability,” Alex interjected. “It was wicked. I can’t see that being the result of another Six’s power.”
“We need more information.” Whatever they did to Kale, it could be undone. It had to be. I just needed to figure out how.
“Need to be careful, though.” Alex dropped the butt of his cigarette into an empty Coke can. It gave the tiniest hint of a sizzle. “Judging from the way he was all over—” He frowned and tapped the table. “I mean,
Kiernan shows he’s ten times more dangerous than he used to be. He’s got control over it now. That allows him to move around more freely. We can’t go rushing in until we know what we’re up against. This is a game changer.”
“Agreed,” Mom said. “Plus, we still don’t know where they are.”
Ginger downed the remaining contents of her cup and turned to Dax. “Call Henley. Tell him I need an update. Have him here first thing in the morning.”
“Henley? Who’s Henley?”
Ginger heaved herself out of the seat and flashed me an impish smile. “We have a man on the inside.”
I woke the next morning with a stiff neck and an uneasy stomach. Dreams of Kale had haunted me the entire night. The way he killed that guy. The look in his eyes as he turned to me. It was cold and so incredibly distant. A voice deep in the back of my mind whispered horrible things. A rush of scenarios that came to light in my worst nightmares kicked their way to the surface.
Kale fought so hard against the person Denazen wanted him to be. What if this change meant they’d finally succeeded in creating the monster they’d always wanted? An unstoppable killing machine loyal to their cause. What would happen if he never remembered me? If I’d lost him forever? No. I couldn’t think like that. This wasn’t the time to be negative. Not when I’d finally found him.
I slid out of bed and stumbled down the hall toward the kitchen. It was early. The clock on the wall above the door read 7:12, but someone was always up around here. It made me think of Rosie, the desk clerk killed in the Sanctuary fire. She’d never slept.
Thinking about Rosie made me think about coffee. We’d always butted heads, but the girl had an appreciation for coffee rivaled only by my own. I rounded the corner of the kitchen, intent on beelining to make a pot, but someone had beaten me to it.
“Deznee.” Ginger raised her mug and gave it a little wiggle. It was an old white ceramic thing with Chippendales dancers on the front. Knowing her, it was full of fruit punch, not coffee. “Good morning.”
I stopped in the doorway and took in the room. Ginger wasn’t alone. Dax was there with Mom, as well as Vince, a Six Kale and I met over the summer while visiting the names on the list my cousin Brandt had given us. A Denazen raid had destroyed Vince’s home shortly after we’d lost Kale, but thankfully I’d given him Dax’s cell number and we were able to bring him in safely. He’d been with us ever since and had started taking more of an active role in things. In recent weeks, he’d gone out with Alex and several of the others in search of new Sixes. He felt the need to pay forward the favor we’d done to him by warning others.
“Morning, Dez.” Vince nodded.
“Come in. Sit down.” Ginger pointed to the other end of the table at the one person I didn’t know. A tall guy with black hair and linebacker shoulders. Our eyes met and for a second, I was sure I’d seen him somewhere before, but then he spun away. “Deznee, this is Henley.”
I circled the table and pulled my Xtream Scream mug down from the cabinet with a nod in his general direction. “Oh, yeah. You’re the man on the inside, right?” The smell of the coffee was comforting, and when I sat down across from Mom and took that first heavenly sip, for one brief moment all was right with the world.
Then that Henley guy opened his mouth.
“So anyway, they’ve decided to terminate them. The order went out early this morning.”
I let the cup thunk to the table. Cream-colored liquid sloshed over the edge, collecting in a puddle at the base. “See, that’s not the kinda thing I really wanna hear first thing in the morning. Who ordered what terminated? Someone catch me up here.”
Dax sighed. “Denazen has been playing in the kitchen again. They’ve officially started the third Supremacy trial.”
“Officially?” I laid my hand across the table, right at the rim, to keep the spill from going over. Mom, with a roll of her eyes, tossed me a paper towel. “I didn’t even know there was an unofficial.”
“There is,” Henley said with a frown. “And it seems they got it right—for the most part. Incompatibility for the new drug seems to be sitting at fifty percent. And what’s worse? They don’t need babies anymore. Any age will do.”
“Wow.” I took another sip and set the mug down. “Way to ruin a morning, dude.”
“That’s me,” he said with a wink. Pulling something from his pocket—a Reese’s peanut butter cup—he unwrapped it and popped the small candy into his mouth. “Always happy to bring the sunshine.”
Mom frowned. This was a touchy subject for her. She and I were part of the second trial—one that, so far, had proved unsuccessful. While pregnant with me, she’d been given a drug to enhance my Six ability. It worked—but with some hefty side effects: an increase in abilities, followed by insanity, and then eventually death. Sometimes I thought she felt guilty about the whole thing. She was the one given the drug, and yet I was the one with the pendulum swinging over my head. “So they’ve started using it? The new drug?”
Henley opened his mouth, but I beat him to it when something dawned on me. “Oh my God. That’s it. They used it on Kale! That explains the difference in his ability.”
Henley finished chewing his candy and swallowed. “I can’t say for sure, but from what Ginger told me, yeah—though it shouldn’t have messed with his memory. Either way, he’s lucky to be alive. Like I said, there’s only a fifty percent survival rate.” He frowned. “But the new trial isn’t the only bad news.”
“Aren’t you just a ball of happy,” I mumbled, downing the entire cup of coffee in four long pulls. “Can’t say I’m really thrilled to make your acquaintance at this point…”
Henley flashed an apologetic smile and kept going. “This morning they declared all the old models obsolete. They’re not going to wait for the rest to turn eighteen. They’ve ordered them—”
“Terminated,” I finished for him. That’s where I’d walked in on the conversation. Perfect. “How many are there?”
Mom leaned back. “Including you? Twelve.”
“That’s a lot of potential crazies to hunt down,” Alex said, leaning back in his chair. “With all the resources Denazen has, we’ll never get to them all in time.”
Henley nodded and pulled out another piece of candy. I resisted the urge to jump up and snatch it away. The smell of peanut butter was making me sick. “Twelve total—but you have two already, so, really, only ten. And not all of them are still out there. Some have already been terminated.”
“Two—me and who else?”
Henley turned, pinning me with a look that sent chills down my spine. “Me.”
This kept getting better and better. “Do we know which of the ten are already dead?”
He shook his head. “Unfortunately, not without going to check on each one. We have someone else on the inside. She’s good with a computer, but they’re keeping the info pretty close to the cuff. They erased all the files. Our guess is they’re playing it safe and using paper.”
Wonderful. “Do we have names? Addresses?” I glanced back at the coffee machine. Vince had just poured the last of the pot into his cup. Perfect. I was going to need more caffeine to deal with this. Like,
more. “Please tell me we have something to go on because otherwise this is going to be an epic needle-in-a-haystack thing.”
Henley looked uncomfortable. “We have the names and last-known locations, but that’s no guarantee you’ll find them there. I’m pretty sure it’s an old list.”
“And we can’t get an updated one because they’re not keeping it on the computers anymore. What about you?” I nodded to Henley. “Can’t you go in and dig something up? Isn’t that what you’re there for?”
Ginger shook her head. “Henley’s position on the inside is no longer viable. He’s here to stay.”
Henley stood. “I’ve got a massive headache. Do you mind if I crash?”
“Of course,” Ginger said, standing as well. “Deznee, could you please show Henley to five twelve?”
“No,” he said, glancing at me from the corner of his eye. “You can just tell me where it is. I can find my own way.”
Ginger narrowed her eyes. “Deznee will take you.” Without another word, she turned and exited the kitchen through the door on the opposite end, Dax following close behind. Mom hung back for a moment, then left as well, leaving Vince at the table shoveling away at an enormous bowl of cereal. I’d never seen anyone eat as much as he did. Anytime I saw him, he was chewing on something. The guy’s metabolism must operate on triple speed because he was thin as a rail.
“Well, I guess you’re showing me to my room.” Henley turned and started for the door. As he stepped away from the table, I noticed something bulky in his side pocket. Something round—like a wheel. There was only one person I knew who carried a wheel with them everywhere they went.
I waited until we were down the hall, past the common room, before I stepped in front of him. “So that’s it? You’re not planning on saying anything?”
He stopped just short of crashing into me, eyes wide. “Huh?”
“Really? You’re gonna play dumb? With
“I don’t understand. What are you—”
is sticking out of your pocket, brain trust.” The wheel was from his favorite skateboard. It was the one and only thing he’d taken before leaving Parkview behind.
He patted his hip like he’d forgotten it was there—totally unlikely, since he never went anywhere without the damn thing—and cursed. “I can explain.”
“I doubt it,” I said, bitter. One foot in front of the other, I started walking again, a confusing mix of anger and elation twisting my gut into a knot. “I haven’t seen you since before Kale left. I waited—you obviously knew what was going on. You had to know I needed you.”
“What could you possibly have to say, Brandt?” I was angry, but more than that, I was hurt. Whenever the bad crap went down in my life, Brandt always had my back. He was a Soul Jumper, which meant that when my cousin’s body died, his life force jumped into the nearest person. In the event that person was a Six, he inherited their abilities.
Brandt had obtained incriminating information about Denazen, and Dad had him killed. They didn’t know it—and hopefully never would—but he was alive and well. After his first death, he’d jumped into Sheltie’s body, the Six who’d murdered him. Sheltie could invade your dreams, so even though my cousin had to stay out of sight, he was in my dreams when I really needed him.