No Naked Ads -> Here! $urlZ
The fallen star (fallen.., p.22
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.22

           Jessica Sorensen
 
Laylen drove a 1960s Black Pontiac GTO with white racing stripes streaming down the middle of the hood. Apparently he and Alex had this thing for classic cars. Something I picked up on during a brief guy bonding moment between the two of them, when Alex had first seen the “beautiful” car.

  I was starting to figure out that guys were kind of weird.

  Their bonding moment quickly came and passed, and a few minutes later we were driving down the dirt road with nothing more than the roar of the engine to fill the silence.

  Laylen’s house was located in the middle of nowhere, so it took awhile just to get to the freeway. I was sitting in the back seat, watching the stars streak across the sky in shades of violet and silver. Alex had insisted that no one else could sit by me but him, muttering something about it being safer that way in case the Death Walkers tried to ambush us or something. But being in the back seat of a two-door vehicle during an ambush, I could see no advantage to the seating arrangement.

  To make things even more complicated, being confined in the car was causing the electricity to crackle like a wildfire. My skin was getting hot and sweaty, and I felt like I was burning up with a fever. Fortunately, I discovered that even in the desert, the air cooled during the night and chilled the windows. I had my cheek resting against the glass, on the verge of falling asleep, when Alex asked, “What are you doing?”

  “Trying to sleep,” I mumbled crankily.

  “You look like you’re burning up,” he remarked.

  I heard him shift in the seat, and the next thing I knew he was pressing the palm of his hand to my forehead. It sent a shot of heat through my body, causing me to jump. Great. It was already so freaking hot—the last thing I needed was for him to touch me.

  I turned my head to look at him. He had narrowed the distance between us so drastically that, even through the darkness, I could see his eyes assessing me.

  “What are you doing?” I asked, raising my face away from the window.

  “I’m checking to see if you have a fever.”

  “I don’t have a fever,” I argued, sliding my forehead out from under his hand.

  But his hand followed me. He dragged it gently along my temple, letting it come to rest on my cheek. “Your skin feels really warm.”

  “That’s because I am warm,” I said, my voice sharp. “And you touching me just makes it worse.” I tilted my face and his hand fell to his lap. “You’re too hot.” As soon as I said it, I immediately wanted to slap myself on the forehead. You’re too hot. What’s wrong with you, Gemma? “I-I didn’t mean it like that,” I stammered.

  It didn’t matter though. The damage had already been done. The corners of his mouth tugged upwards into a beautiful yet smug smile. “I’m too hot, huh?”

  “Oh, shut up.” Through the darkness, I fixed him with my angriest glare. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

  “Do I?” His eyebrow teased upward.

  I shook my head, frustrated. The last thing I needed was for him to think I had some kind of crush on him, because I didn’t. I swear. Well, fine. Whatever. But he didn’t need to know that.

  “What I meant to say was your skin feels too hot,” I said.

  “Okay, whatever you say.”

  I heaved an angry breath. “You are such a—” I snapped my jaw shut as the city suddenly blistered over the horizon.

  The sight was breathtaking. Flashy neon lights of every shape and color dazzled so vibrantly against the blackness of the night that I wondered if staring at it for too long would make me go blind. Giant billboards lit up the sides of the road, and uniquely shaped buildings stretched godly toward the sky. As we emerged closer to the city, the sidewalks became packed with mobs of people, the air buzzing with excitement. Now I understood why its nickname had been deemed The City that Never Sleeps. Everything was so alive and awake. Literally.

  Awestruck by the sight, I pinched my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and winced from the sting I undeniably felt.

  Alex must have seen me do it, because he leaned over and whispered, “You’re not dreaming. It’s real.”

  I rubbed the pinched spot on my arm. “I was just making sure.”

  He smiled. Clearly I was entertaining him.

  We drove by a massive glass pyramid, a giant pirate ship, and a small replica of the Eiffel tower, finally hitting the heart of the city. Laylen made an unexpected veer to the right, and the atmosphere abruptly shifted. The lights faded away, and the crowds of people thinned out. The buildings shrank from the sky, looking worn out and less exciting. I caught Aislin reaching over and locking her door. The place was definitely sketchy.

  I chewed nervously on my bottom lip and scooted away from the window to distance myself as much as I could from the outside.

  “You do realize it’s almost one o’clock?” Aislin informed Laylen. Back at the house, she had changed her clothes. She was wearing a frilly skirt and a lacy trimmed camisole. On her shoulder blade was a tattoo of a crescent moon outlined by a black star. “Is this place even going to be open so late?” Aislin asked.

  Laylen flipped the signal light on. “Yeah, it’ll be open. It’s only open at night.”

  What kind of place was only open at night? Probably one as creepy as the street we were on.

  Laylen made another turn, this time to the left, and any signs of life died instantaneously. The buildings looked dead and broken and most of the windows were boarded up. As Laylen slowed the GTO to a crawl, all I could think was, “Yes, of course this is the street we’re stopping on.” We couldn’t have just stopped back in the land of the living, where the lights shined brightly and it didn’t feel like as soon as I stepped out of the car someone was going to jump out and stab me with a knife. Or jump out and freeze me to death.

  I choked on the last thought.

  Laylen parked the car in front of a gloomy building with dingy windows. The words “Angel’s Fortress of Tattoos and Piercing” were painted sloppily across the window. No lights were on inside it or in any of the nearby buildings. The only proof of human existence was when a person wearing a black hooded jacket, cargo pants, and army boots darted out in front of the car, scurried down the street, and disappeared down a dark alleyway. It scared me so badly I seriously about peed my pants.

  Alex leaned in toward me. “Are you okay?”

  “Umm…” Did he just ask if I was okay? He even sounded like he was being sincere, which was weird. “Yeah, I think so.”

  Laylen turned off the engine, and the radio and the lights shut off. It got quiet and very dark.

  “Are you sure you’re okay?” Alex asked me again, his voice low and deep. “Because you look scared.”

  “I’m not,” I lied, clicking my seatbelt loose.

  “You don’t have to be scared,” he whispered in my ear. The heat of his breath made me shiver in a good way. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

  What was with the sudden nice guy act? Maybe the electricity was becoming too much for him too and was messing with his head or something.

  “Okay,” I said, sounding confused.

  Aislin scanned the ominous buildings surrounding us. “So which one is it?”

  Laylen didn’t reply, his eyes glued to the front window as he fiddled with his lip ring.

  Aislin turned and looked at him. “Laylen, which one is it?”

  When he finally spoke, his words dragged out. “It’s none of them.”

  Alex scooted forward in the seat and rested his arms on the console. “What do you mean, it’s none of them?”

  “I mean it’s none of them.” Laylen dropped his fingers from his lip ring. “I needed to make an extra stop.”

  Oh boy. Here we go. Alex had been very specific about going straight there and straight back. And here we were, taking a detour. I squeezed my eyes shut and massaged the sides of my temples, waiting for all hell to break loose.

  “What!” Alex shouted, slamming his fist down on the console. “I thought I told you
we weren’t supposed to stop anywhere else!”

  Laylen slid the keys out of the ignition and kept his voice calm. “Before you start freaking out, hear me out first. Trust me, you’ll want what I stopped for.”

  “Trust you?” Alex let out a cynical laugh. “Are you kidding me?” He made a gesture at the window. “I already trusted you and look where it got us.”

  No one said anything. I could hear dogs howling, and a loud bang like a garbage can toppling over echoed through the air.

  Alex threw his hands in the air. “Fine. What did we stop for?”

  Laylen tapped his fingers on top of the steering wheel. “The Sword of Immortality.”

  One…two…three seconds ticked by.

  “Dammit, Laylen!” Alex exclaimed. “You’ve had it this whole time.”

  Whatever this Sword of Immortality was had to be something important. It was obviously a sword—duh—but what kind of sword? An immortal one? That didn’t make any sense.

  “Had it,” Laylen corrected him. “I lost it during a poker game a few months ago.”

  Alex grinded his teeth. “So, let me get this straight. You stole it from us just so you could lose it.”

  “I took it for a good reason,” Laylen said. “I didn’t want to leave it in the Keepers’ hands after I turned immortal.” He paused. “You know this is why I didn’t want to tell you about to begin with. I knew you would overreact.”

  “I’m not overreacting.” Alex flopped back in the seat. “You didn’t just take something insignificant like a car. You took the Sword of Immortality.”

  No one so much as uttered a word.

  Feeling as though I might burst from the drawn-out silence, I asked, “What’s the Sword of Immortality?”

  “Exactly what it sounds like—a sword that can kill an immortal,” Alex said, still aggravated. “And it would have been real handy to have while we were on the bus being attacked by Death Walkers.”

  I gaped at him. “The Death Walkers are immortal?” No one had ever mentioned that.

  Alex dragged his fingers through his hair and nodded. “The sword is one of the few things that can kill them.”

  I shuddered at the thought. “So back on the bus, when we were being attacked, you couldn’t have killed them?”

  Alex shook his head. “Nope.”

  My eyes widened at the reality of the fact that a few hours ago I could have very easily died.

  “So how do we get it back?” Alex asked, his voice ringing hotly.

  “Well, it’s inside there, in a display case on the second floor.” Laylen pointed at an old brick building. “It’s unguarded and everything. The only problem I can think of that we might run into is breaking into the display case. It doesn’t just have a normal lock you can pick. In fact, I don’t think it even has a lock, and I’m pretty sure breaking the glass would set off an alarm.”

  Aislin bounced up and down in her seat. “I might know a spell that would work.”

  Alex leaned forward and held up his hand. “Hold on just a second. First, I need to know where here is?”

  Laylen didn’t reply, staring off of at the brick building he pointed at earlier.

  “Laylen,” Aislin said. “Where are we?”

  Laylen let out a tired sigh. “The Black Dungeon.”

  Alex cursed a sequence of too-inappropriate-to-repeat words, and then stared pensively at the building Laylen wanted us to go into. “Aislin, how quickly do you think you could do the spell?”

  “I’ll do it as quickly as I can,” she told him. “But there’s no guarantee on how fast I can get it unlocked. Magic takes time. You know that.”

  Alex pointed a finger at me. “You’ll have to stay by me at all times.”

  “I already made that promise back at the house,” I reminded him.

  “Yes, but it’s more important now.” He paused, his expression shifting from anger to worry. “There are things in there that are very…dangerous.”

  My heart thrummed loudly. “What kind of things?”

  He rubbed the back of his neck tensely. “Things that are—you know, maybe you and I should just wait in the car.”

  “I’d rather not.” My gaze drifted to the building and then to the dark alley trailing to the side of it. “This place gives me the creeps.”

  “I don’t think she’s going to be any safer sitting out here than she would be inside.” Laylen shoved the car keys in his pocket. “This neighborhood is pretty unsafe.”

  Alex glanced around, assessing the danger. “Fine, but we need to make sure we hurry.” As Laylen and Aislin climbed out of the car, he muttered, “This is such a bad idea.”

  I should have guessed we would end up having to walk down a dark alley to get to the entrance of the Black Dungeon. Why wouldn’t we, since the idea made me shiver? The only light was from the moon illuminating the puddles that spotted the asphalt. I didn’t even want to know what the puddles were, seeing as how it wasn’t raining. The air reeked of mold and wet dog. The garbage cans spilled over, oozing the ground with papers and boxes and filth that crunched beneath my shoes as I walked.

  It was gross.

  Laylen led us through the mess and stopped in front of a rusty metal door. Alex stayed close by my side, arms folded, very I’m-your-bodyguard style. The electricity was gyrating, but at least we were in open air now, making it less smothering and almost tolerable.

  Laylen held up his fist to the door. “Are we ready?”

  “Probably not,” Alex grumbled, waving his hand at the door. “But go ahead.”

  Laylen let his hand fall against the door and waited a minute before knocking again. A couple of seconds later, a small flap at the top of the door slid open, and a pair of dark eyes peered out.

  “What’s the password?” a deep voice rumbled.

  Laylen raised his forearm up to the flap, showing it to the pair of eyes.

  “Very well,” the voice grunted. A soft click and then the door swung open.

  I’m not sure what I expected to see standing behind that door, but it wasn’t this. A man barely my height, with bony arms and greased back hair, standing in a small, dimly lit room that had nothing but a metal fold-up chair to accompany it.

  Laylen greeted the little man with a nod. “Doug.”

  The man—aka Doug—muttered an unfriendly, “Hey.”

  I stared quizzically at Doug, trying to figure out how he obtained a job as a bouncer or guard or whatever the title was for this place—I wasn’t really sure, since I was still confused about what kind of place the Black Dungeon was. And not knowing terrified me to my very core.

  Doug glared at me with his dark eyes. Apparently he was a firm believer in the whole staring-is-rude thing.

  Alex gently nudged me in the back with his elbow, urging me to get a move on. I turned my attention to Laylen.

  There was only one door in the room, and Laylen strolled up to it and jerked it open. A slender hallway extended out the other side. Black lanterns hung from the dusky walls, illuminating a trail of light across the stone floor and arched brick ceiling. Laylen and Aislin started down the hallway, and I stepped through the doorway after them, Alex following closely behind me.

  The moist air dampened my skin as we zigzagged farther and farther down the hall. With every noise, my sense of fear heightened. My heart pounded in my chest, anxiously anticipating what was waiting at the end.

  As I passed by one of the lanterns hanging on the wall, I noticed it had the same black symbols that were tattooed on Laylen’s forearm. When I got a chance— hopefully I made it out of this place alive to get a chance—I would have to ask him what the symbols meant.

  Music reverberated from somewhere, a low beat that grew louder the farther down the hallway we got, until it thumped so loudly it vibrated the floors and rattled the lanterns.

  “This was such a stupid idea,” Alex mumbled from behind me, “so stupid.”

  I peeked over my shoulder at him, and he met my gaze
. Hatred was not shining from his bright green eyes like it normally did whenever he looked at me. Nothing but worry filled them. He was scared.

  So was I.

  I bit down on my bottom lip and kept walking. Laylen took us around a corner and a door popped into view. It looked like an ordinary door, but I had a feeling that whatever was on the other side of it was anything but ordinary.

  “Okay.” Laylen rubbed his hands together. “Is everybody ready for this?”

  No one responded. Aislin and I both shared the same dumbfounded expression. Alex looked annoyed. Were we ready? Ready for what exactly?

  I tugged down on the hem of my skirt while Ailsin straightened up her posture. Alex cast a glance back down the hall, bumping his shoulder into mine and erupting a fire underneath my skin. I was getting good at hiding my reaction, though. I didn’t even gasp.

  “Let’s hurry up and get this over with,” Alex said.

  Laylen nodded, turned the doorknob, and the door creaked open.

  It was a club. Like, an actual full-on dance club. And except for the gothic trend that seemed to be everywhere, everything seemed normal. I couldn’t see anything slimy, glowing, or dead. Part of me had expected to walk in and find the whole place packed with demons and monsters of all shapes, sizes, and colors, feeding off humans. But that didn’t seem to be the case.

  Dangling from the ceiling were the same black lanterns that lit the hall. People were crammed on the dance floor, swaying hypnotically to the low beat of Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right.” Scarlet lights sparkled across the midnight marble floor. Black curtains draped across the upstairs balcony. Dark clothing trended the room. Laylen, Alex, and I blended in fine with the gothic ambience, Alex in his dark grey t-shirt and black jeans, Laylen all in black, and me in my black t-shirt and a dark denim skirt. Ailsin, however, was another story. In her lacy camisole top and frilly white skirt, the girl stood out like a sore thumb.

  Laylen shoved his way through the crowd, heading for the dance floor. We all trailed behind him, the pokes and prods of stray elbows banging me in the back and sides. I cradled my arm protectively around my stitches to keep any stray body parts from jabbing them.

  The air smelled of incense overlapped by cigarette smoke and sweat. In the middle of it all was a bar, raising the question of if we were even old enough to be in here.

  At the edge of the crowd, swinging from the ceiling, was a giant life-sized bird cage. As I pushed my way out of the last of the sweaty bodies, I caught sight of what was inside the cage and came to a slamming halt. A woman was twirling gracefully around a pole. Her wavy black hair hung all the way down to the bottom of her back. A leather corset dress fitted her body, and thigh high boots laced up her legs. A velvet choker wrapped her neck, and snaking up her arm was whip. A pair of striking black-feathered wings sprouted out of her shoulder blades.

  She spun around the pole, and then locked her haunting grey eyes on me. I felt my breath catch. My body suddenly felt so warm, like I was liquefying. My limbs, my muscles, everything centered to her. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to go to her. Right now. It was imperative that I did…A matter of life or death.

  My leg lifted up and, like a puppet bound to its strings, stepped down, inching my body closer to the cage. A silent warning breezed my mind, screaming at me to stop, but my other leg rose up and touched back down to the floor, moving me to her. Another step…I was just within reach of the lock that bolted the cage’s door shut. The feather-winged woman watched me with hungry eyes as my arm extended forward, my fingers brushing the cold metal—

  Someone grabbed my arm. A zap of electricity hummed through my body.

  “Don’t,” I heard Alex say as he guided me swiftly away from the cage.

  I blinked dazedly at him.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked crossly.

  “I-I,” I stuttered. What had I been doing? Was I trying to let the woman out? It seemed like such a good idea a few seconds ago, but now…

  “If you open that up—“ he pointed a finger at the cage—“you’ll be the one trapped in there with a pair of wings growing out of your back.”

  I cringed. “I didn’t mean to…I mean, I don’t know why I was going to do it. I just couldn’t…think.” I glanced back at the cage. The woman’s pale blue lips curled into a snarl, and she let out a hiss. I jumped back, slamming my shoulder into Alex’s chest. Big mistake. Caught off-guard, I gasped from the electricity that shot through my body.

  “Sor-ry,” I stammered, stumbling away from him.

  He pressed his lips together and rolled his shoulders and neck, as if he was trying to shake off my touch. “Please watch where you’re going.”

  “I said I was sorry,” I snapped.

  He sighed and turned around, heading off in the direction of a spiral staircase. Aislin and Laylen stood at the top of it, staring down at us.

  “So what is she?” I asked, climbing up the stairs after Alex.

  He glanced over his shoulder at me. “What?”

  “The woman back there.” I gave a nod back at the cage. “She’s obviously not human. So what is she?”

  He came to an unexpected halt, and I almost ran into him. Again. “She was probably human once, until she opened up the cage for the previous Black Angel that was locked inside.”

  “A Black Angel? What, like a Fallen Angel or something?”

  “Not quite.” He shook his head. “Look Gemma, as much as I would love to stand here and explain everything to you, I really think we should get going.” And with that, he turned his back to me and trotted up the stairs.

  I sighed and grudgingly followed after him.

  “How much longer is this going to take?” Alex asked Aislin, pacing impatiently in front of the doorway of the room where the Sword of Immortality was locked inside a display case.

  “Not too much longer,” Aislin replied. “I think.”

  I was standing just outside the doorway next to Laylen. He was keeping a look out for…well, anything basically. A hallway extended out on each side of us. The florescent lighting of the lantern lights was hitting the maroon walls and tinting everything a dark shade of red. It reminded me of blood.

  And what part did I play in all of this? Absolutely nothing. I served no more purpose than the vase perched on the table in front of us. It took up space and nothing more. All I did was make the situation even more dangerous, especially if a Death Walker showed up, which Laylen informed me was a possibility. I wasn’t sure if Alex knew this or not, but I wasn’t going to be the one to break it to him.

  Laylen and I had been quiet for the most part. It wasn’t necessarily an awkward silence, though. I think we both spent our fair share of time being lonely, and silence wasn’t an unsettling thing.

  “So…do you think he’s going to wear a hole in the carpet or what?” Laylen asked, breaking our not unsettling quiet.

  I had been watching the staircase intently, waiting for someone to unexpectedly pop into view and take us by surprise. “Huh? Who?”

  “Alex.”

  I glanced at Alex. He was still pacing the floor, his eyes fixed like a hawk on Aislin.

  “Maybe,” I answered.

  Laylen laughed. “I’m almost certain he’s going to.”

  I laughed softly, the air tickling at my lungs.

  Laylen leaned against the wall and folded his arms, his muscles flexing and making his skin ripple a little.

  I stared at the tattoo tracing his forearm. “What does that mean?” I asked, pointing to his tattoo.

  He raised his arm. “What, this?”

  I nodded. “I noticed you put it up to the door outside so we could get in. And it’s also on the lanterns that are all over this place, so I’m just wondering what it is.”

  He pressed a grin back. “A tattoo.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I got that, but does the tattoo mean anything?”

  He traced his finger across the tattoo. “It’s actually th
e mark of immortality.”

  “Then it’s not a tattoo?”

  “Not exactly. It appeared on my skin when I turned into a vampire.” He paused, his Adam’s apple noticeably bobbing up and down as he swallowed hard. “It happens to everyone that turns immortal.”

  “So why did you have to show it to the man at the door? Is this place like an all exclusive club for immortals or something?”

  He laughed. “Yeah, I guess you could put it that way.”

  “So…” I snuck a peek at Alex, making sure he wasn’t listening. He was still pacing the floor and cussing at Aislin to hurry up. Aislin was hissing at him to shut up, her hand pressed to the display case where the sword was locked, the jagged silver blade and dragonhead handle glistening in the light. I leaned in toward Laylen and kept my voice low. “What’s a Black Angel?”

  Laylen cocked an eyebrow at me, surprised by my question. “Where’d that question come from?”

  I shrugged. “There was one downstairs in a cage and I asked Alex what it was, but he said he didn’t have time to explain it to me.”

  “That doesn’t surprise me.” He backed up a few steps so that he was out of view from Alex and Aislin and gestured at me to do the same. “The thing with Alex,” he began as I moved closer, “is that he has it in his head that everything is a secret.”

  “So there’s nothing important about a Black Angel.”

  “Only the fact that they’re angels from hell and not heaven.”

  “Wha—” I started to exclaim, but Laylen stopped me with a quick shake of his head. I glanced over my shoulder to check if my loudness had brought any attention to us. Both sides of the hallway still remained vacant. I turned back to Laylen and dropped my voice down a notch. “Sorry, but an angel from hell. The two, like, completely contradict each other.”

  “In this world—” he motioned around us—“a lot of things do. Take me, for instance. A Keeper turned vampire. A complete contradiction. One stands for evil, the other for good.”

  I eyed him over. His beautiful blue eyes, his warm smile. “I highly doubt you’re evil.”

  He forced a small smile. “Depends on who you’re asking.”

  I felt bad for him. He seemed so…in pain. “I don’t think you’re—”

  “Are you two enjoying yourselves?” Alex’s voice interrupted over mine.

  Laylen rolled his eyes, and I let out a tired sigh as I turned around. Alex held his classic irritated expression as he leaned against the doorway, watching us.

  “At any moment during your little huddle up, someone could have strolled up, and I’m pretty sure neither one of you would’ve noticed,” Alex said.

  “Yeah, we would’ve,” I protested. “Both of us have a clear view of each side of the hall.”

  “And it sure looked like you were keeping a close eye on them, all cuddled up with one another, talking about God knows what,” he said scathingly.

  “Alex, just relax.” Laylen’s voice was calm, but firm. “We weren’t cuddled up, and we weren’t talking about anything important.” Laylen slid me a sideways glance that I hoped Alex didn’t notice. “Jesus Christ. You can be so uptight sometimes.”

  Alex strolled up to us very cat-on-the-prowl like and pointed a finger at Laylen’s chest. “I think you’re forgetting why I’m uptight. She’s not supposed to get close to anyone.”

  “Hey,” I fumed. “That’s not—”

  Alex held a hand up, cutting me off. “This doesn’t concern you.”

  I breathed heavily, placing my hands on my hips. “If it’s about me, then it concerns me. You can’t control me just because you want to.”

  A lethal stare-down broke out between us. I fixed him with my best glare, trying to summon up as much fire in it as I could. Of course, Alex looked unbothered, his face set in a tolerant expression.

  “You know what,” Laylen said to Alex. “I really think that your being uptight has nothing to do with me at all.”

  I gave Laylen a funny look. What was that supposed to mean?

  “What exactly is it you’re trying to get at?” Alex asked sharply.

  “Oh, I think you know what it is I’m getting at,” Laylen said. “This isn’t about me talking to Gemma, or Gemma getting close to anyone. It’s about you wanting what you can’t have.”

  Alex’s expression faltered. Laylen had obviously nailed whatever was bothering him. But what a gorgeous, self-confident—and yes, extremely cocky—guy like Alex would want, but couldn’t have was beyond me.

  I noticed that Laylen was watching me closely. Alex wasn’t looking at me at all, his eyes fixed on red tinted carpet. He appeared at a loss for words, which was strange for him. He was never at a loss for words. In fact, he usually had too much to say.

  I opened my mouth. “I’m sorry, am I missing some—”

  “Got it,” Aislin announced as she bounced through doorway with the Sword of Immortality gripped in her hand. “Now, let’s go.”

  Alex let out a breath of relief. “Sounds good to me.”

  Laylen took a balled up navy blue duffel bag out of his pocket. Back at the car, he had stuffed it in there so we could smuggle out the sword without it being noticed. He shook it out and unzipped it. “Here, put the sword in here.”

  Aislin placed the sword inside the bag. “Are you sure no one’s going to be suspicious of us carrying out a bag?”

  “They would be far more suspicious if it wasn’t in the bag,” Laylen pointed out, zipping the bag up.

  “Can we just get going?” Alex snapped, backing down the hall.

  Aislin sighed. “Yeah, let’s go.”

  Laylen slid the handle of the bag over his shoulder, and then he and I followed them down the hall. The air dipped colder the closer we got to the stairs. Goose bumps polka dotted my skin. I shivered, rubbing my hands up and down my arms.

  “Are you cold?” Laylen asked, adjusting the handle of the bag.

  “Kind of,” I replied, my breath rising out in a cloud. Well, that can’t be good.

  Laylen stopped dead in his tracks, his already pale skin draining to a ghostly white.

  “What is it?” I asked him. Before he could answer, I slammed into the back of Alex.

  “Go back,” he hissed, shoving me in the direction we just came from. “They’re heading up the stairs.”

  He didn’t have to explain who “they” were. I already knew by the icy brittleness that had strangled the air. My heart hammered as we ran back into the room where the sword had just been locked up.

  Aislin bounced up and down on her toes. “Oh my God, how did they find us?”

  Laylen shrugged. “I have no idea.”

  “Is there another way out of here?” Alex asked Laylen.

  “There’s a fire escape at the end of the hall,” Laylen told him. “But it’ll probably set off the fire alarm when you open it.”

  “Well, if there’s no other way, then I guess we’ll have to risk it.” Alex crept over to the doorway and peered out into the hall. “There are two of them standing at the top of the stairs….What we need is a decoy.” He turned around, his eyes locking on Laylen. “Someone to distract them while I get Gemma out of here.”

  “And I’m assuming you want me to be that decoy.” Laylen’s tone didn’t sound bitter, but empty.

  It made my stomach ping.

  “Laylen, I’m sorry, but I just don’t see any other way,” Alex said. “I think it would be best if I was the one with—”

  Laylen cut him off. “Just go.”

  Alex hesitated, but only for a split second. Then he grabbed a hold of my hand, throwing me off balance as he yanked me toward the doorway. “Come on, Aislin.”

  Aislin didn’t budge. “No.”

  Alex stopped and gaped at her. “What do you mean, no?”

  She crossed her arms and raised her chin defiantly. “I’m not going to leave Laylen here to fend for himself. I’ll stay and help him.”

  Knots tied in my stomach. They were
staying behind to fend for themselves all because of me.

  Alex shot her a warning look. “Aislin, there’s no way—”

  “This is not a debate,” Aislin interjected. “I’m staying. Now hurry up and get out of here before you can’t.”

  It took another second of hesitation before Alex agreed. “Fine, but promise me that neither one of you will try to kill them. Just distract them long enough for me to get Gemma out of here, and then make a run for the car, okay?”

  Aislin nodded and shooed us toward the door. Alex cast one last look at Aislin and Laylen, then he tightened his grip on my hand and tugged me after him as he sprinted down the hall, leaving Aislin and Laylen behind to fight the deathly ice monsters by themselves.

  Chapter 18