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The fallen star (fallen.., p.30
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       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.30

           Jessica Sorensen
 
With absolutely no light, and no way to see above me, I had no clue as to what the heck was going on. There was a lot of thumping and scrapping, and all I could do was stay hidden, crossing my fingers, hoping that by some miracle Laylen would suddenly throw open the door and tell me it was okay to come out.

  Of course, that never happened.

  The noises did start to dwindle, which made me start to consider coming out. I mean, I couldn’t just hide down here forever. Laylen said to wait until it was safe. Quiet had to mean safe, right? Yeah, that might have been a little bit of a stretch, but I was going with it.

  I took a trembling breath, trying to calm my nerves. My hand quivered as I felt around and found the lock, the metal frosting my fingertips. So not a good sign. I slid the key in and unlocked the door. Okay, you can do this. I let out a breath and pushed on the door. It didn’t budge. I tried again. Nothing. Something was on top of it. That something I hoped was the rug. I put the knife back into my pocket, and using both my hands I shoved as hard as I could against the door, grunting and cursing, until the thing finally flew open, hitting the floor with a loud thud, which was not a good start. My gut twisted, and I could feel the eggs I had eaten on the verge of forcing their way back up. I waited a second, listening for any warning sounds, but everything had grown eerily still. A good sign or a bad one, I wasn’t sure. But there was only one way to find out. With shaky arms, I heaved myself out of the hole and scrambled to my feet. I did a quick scan of the room. The window was shattered and the bright sunlight was seeping inside. Books were strewn about the floor, but Laylen had done that. Most terrifying were the icicles hanging from the ceiling, long and pointy and sharp.

  I needed to come up with a plan, and quickly. I knew what I was supposed to do—run out to the car and go to Adessa’s—but the thought of leaving Laylen behind was gnawing at my insides. So instead I did something really stupid. I started for the door to go find Laylen.

  I took the knife out of my back pocket and cracked open the door. As I peeked out into the hall, my breath rose in a cloud in front of me.

  Another bad sign.

  I inched the door open and glanced up and down the hallway. The coast looked clear. I opened up the door the rest of the way and stepped out.

  The floor was glazed with ice, giving it a skating rink effect. Now, I am not Miss Coordinated by any means, so I had to brace my hand against the wall as I slowly crept down the hall, my feet slipping with every step. I made it about halfway when it occurred to me just how dumb of an idea this was. Why was it a dumb idea? Well, because a Death Walker had suddenly appeared at the end of the hallway, and at the pace I was moving it was going to take a heck of a lot of time for me to make it anywhere.

  I spun around as quickly as my legs would allow me. I lost my balance for a split second and almost ended up face planting it. Keeping my hand pressed to the wall, I glided across the icy floor, making my way back down the hall.

  The front door wasn’t that far off, but when I turned to check on the Death Walker, it was darting effortlessly toward me, and I knew there was a slim to none chance I was going to make it to the front door. Panicking, I made a hasty decision to go back inside the room. I slammed the door behind me and locked it, knowing full well that locking it wasn’t going to do much to stop the monstrous beast. All I could hope for was that it would slow it down enough for me to make it out the window and to the garage.

  But I only made it halfway across the room when the door came crashing in. I took off, running as fast as I could. I made it to the window and started to climb out, but then I heard a crackling sound float up from underneath me. I knew what that sound belonged to. Ice. And it was crawling up from beneath me and webbing its way to the window. I had to jump back to avoid being frozen over with ice.

  Seconds later, the window was completely sealed off by a thick wall of ice. I tried chipping away at the ice with my knife, but it was useless. The wall was way too thick. I was trapped.

  A cold chill shot up my spine, and I slowly turned around. The Death Walker towered ominously in front of me. My breathing faltered as I stared my death in the eyes—its yellow, soulless eyes that held the passion to kill.

  No. I couldn’t give up. Not with the fate of the world resting in my hands. Or inside me, I should say. I had to save myself in order to save the world.

  I could feel the cold handle of the knife pressing into the palm of my hand, and without a glitch of hesitation, I swung it forward, aiming the blade straight at the Death Walker’s heart, just like Laylen had told me to do. And to my utter shock, the knife actually drove into the monster’s chest.

  The Death Walker let out an ear-clawing shriek, and its eyes fired up beneath its black cloak before burning out into black holes.

  I did it. I freaking did the impossible. I was able to take one of them down.

  Or at least that’s what I thought.

  Moments later, the Death Walker lunged at me, huffing out a fog of frost-bitten air that hit me directly in the chest. Every ounce of oxygen was sucked out of me. Struggling to breathe, I collapsed to the floor, my body paralyzed with cold and fear. Lightheaded and unable to move, I waited for it to attack again, this time finishing me off.

  The monster staggered toward me, swaying like a drunken man as it tipped backwards, then forwards, before finally losing its balance altogether and toppling to the ground, landing only inches away from me.

  I let out a wheeze. Was it dead? Had I killed it? No, don’t assume anything. Laylen said that stabbing a Death Walker would only slow it down. I needed to get my butt off the floor and make a run for the car while I still could. Problem was, my legs and arms weren’t having any part of it. What on earth had the thing breathed on me? Was that what was causing me to be paralyzed? Or was I just freezing to death from the cold?

  I needed help.

  I opened my mouth to scream but only a croak escaped. I tried to get to my feet, but it was useless. Every ounce of my strength had slipped away. I was so sleepy.

  My eyelids drifted shut.

  “This was not part of the plan,” a man’s voice snarled. “We were supposed to keep her secluded from humanity. That was the deal.”

  What the…My eyes shot open. I was no longer at Laylen’s but curled up in a ball behind a chair in an unfamiliar, dark room. The walls were carved of stone, and underneath where I lay was a Persian rug. Fear skyrocketed through me. This was just like the telescope incident.

  I slowly sat up and strained my ears to listen to the voices yammering away on the other side of the chair.

  “I understand what the plan is, Demetrius.” It was from a different man’s voice, deep and low. “But you need to understand that there are obstacles I have to work around. Some of the other Keepers are becoming suspicious of me.”

  Demetrius? Keepers? From what Alex had told me, these two were complete enemies. Demetrius was the one who wanted me dead, and the one who controlled the Death Walkers. So why was a Keeper talking to him?

  “Yes, the Keepers,” the first man—Demetrius—replied. “So what is it you’ve done to make them suspicious of you, my good friend?”

  “Well, it seems that the girl’s mother has disappeared,” the other man—the Keeper—said. “And there’s been some speculation that I might have had something to do with her disappearance.”

  “Has there?” Demetrius replied thoughtfully. “Well, isn’t that interesting.”

  “Very,” the Keeper replied with laughter in his voice.

  Every part of my body tightened. Could they…could they be talking about my mother and me?

  No. There was no way. Was there?

  I had to know what this Keeper looked like. In all the other vision things I had been sucked into, no one had been able to see me. I was hoping it was the same here.

  Very carefully, I peeked around the side of the chair.

  Standing in front of a fireplace were two men. One significantly taller than the other one, with dark hair that b
rushed his shoulder tops. He had on a long black cloak that looked like the ones the Death Walkers wore. The other man—the shorter one—was dressed head to toe in black, and his black hair was slicked back. The fire cast an orange glow onto their faces, which were blurred over by a sheet of haze.

  I should have known.

  “I need you to be patient, Demetrius,” said the shorter man—the Keeper whose name I didn’t know. “I’ll make sure the girl stays safe until the time is right.”

  “You better,” the man wearing the cloak—Demetrius—warned. “Otherwise you’re out.”

  “Watch who you’re threatening,” Mr. No Name Keeper replied, pointing his finger sharply at Demetrius. “You’re walking a very thin line right now.”

  A sudden snap of light blazed across the Keeper man’s face. The haze covering his face momentarily flickered away before returning to a blur again. But the flicker lasted just long enough for me to see a faint white scar scuffing his cheek. I gasped. It was the man from my nightmares. The one who always stepped out of the shadows of the forest right after the Death Walker captured me.

  “Did you hear that?” the man with the scar asked.

  Demetrius shook his head. “Hear what?”

  Scar man held up his hand, and his head turned in my direction.

  I threw my trembling hand over my mouth and sank back behind the chair. He wasn’t supposed to be able to see me.

  Heavy footsteps trod toward me. My body shook with fear. If he caught me, I knew he would kill me, just like he did in my nightmares.

  “I could have sworn…” his voice drifted over the back of the chair.

  I shut my eyes. Please wake up. Please wake up. Please….

  “Gemma, wake up.”

  Electricity sparkled across my skin. I cracked open my eyes. I was back at Laylen’s, and Alex was there, standing over me, looking utterly terrified. But why was he looking at me like that?

  ”What the heck happened here?” His voice cracked.

  I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a wheeze. What was wrong with me? Then it all came rushing back to me. The Death Walker; its breath hitting me in the chest; being paralyzed.

  Panicking, I tried to will my cold limbs to move.

  “Stay still,” Alex told me, and turned to…Aislin—I hadn’t even noticed she was there until now. “Go see if you can find Laylen.”

  Her bright green eyes were wide. “What are you going to do?”

  “I’m not sure,” Alex said, glancing down at me. “Her skin’s already turned blue.”

  Blue! I struggled to lift my hand up so I could check out the damage, but I couldn’t move.

  Aislin had a purple duffel bag draped over her shoulder, and she let it fall to the floor. “Alex, are you going to be able to stop it from…because you know if you can’t then—”

  “Just go!” he yelled.

  She flinched and dashed out the door.

  Alex immediately went into “save Gemma mode.” He slipped off his jacket and knelt down on the floor beside me. “Okay,” he mumbled as he assessed me. He wrapped his arms around me and helped me sit up, every bone in my body feeling as though it was going to snap like a twig. Then he leaned me into him.

  Right away, the electricity started working its magic, thawing my frozen body and lifting the cold away. I could breathe again and even wiggle my fingertips a little.

  “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered.

  Well, this was a nice change. Put me on the verge of dying and he was all for being nice to me. And as strange as it was, I actually felt content. All of my problems, big or small, seemed irrelevant at the moment.

  Seconds later, my breathing returned to normal. And I was shivering, which was a good sign because that meant I was no longer paralyzed.

  He rubbed his hand up and down my back. “Well, at least you’re moving again.”

  “Yeah, at least there’s that,” I croaked.

  He laughed, his breath tickling at my neck.

  I was starting to feel better, but I made no effort to move away from him. I sat there and let him rub my back and whisper that it was all going to be okay because…well, because it felt nice. I still hadn’t forgotten about all the lies and unsolved mysteries that seemed to center around Alex. It was just that his arms being around me felt so comforting. And hey, I was only human…or at least partly human...I think.

  “Gemma,” Alex murmured.

  “What?” My voice sounded strangely euphoric.

  “Did you do that?”

  “Do what?”

  “Stab that thing.”

  I raised my head away from his shoulder and followed his gaze to the Death Walker sprawled on the floor, a knife sticking out of its chest. “Yeah, I did. Laylen told me if I ran into one of them, to stab it in the chest and run. But it breathed this cloud on me, and I couldn’t move my body anymore.”

  “That cloud is called the Chill of Death,” he said, then muttered, “I can’t believe you actually stabbed one of them.”

  Chill of Death. Well, that sounded lovely. “I think I took it off-guard or something.”

  “Still, it’s not—”

  Aislin walked into the room. When she caught sight of us, she hit a dead halt and pressed her hand over her heart. “Oh my gosh. I’m so glad you’re alright. I thought—”

  “Aislin,” Alex warned.

  I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to stop her from breaking the bad news to me that I almost died. But I figured that out the moment the Chill of Death had hit me.

  “Where’s Laylen?” Alex let go of me and rose to his feet.

  I tried not to act too disappointed about him letting me go as I struggled to get to my feet. My legs wobbled and the room spun and I almost fell right back down. Fortunately I was getting good with being dizzy, and worked my way through the spinning without falling on my butt.

  “He was just behind me,” Aislin said at the very same moment Laylen ran into the room.

  He slammed the door behind him, the icicles on the ceiling rattling in protest. He went to lock the door, but the lock was broken. “Son of a—” He smashed his fist against the door. “We need to get out of here! Now!” He hastily shoved one of the bookshelves against the door—a very heavy bookshelf, which he was able to pick up very easily. So he was strong.

  “There are more of them!” Alex cried, and I was suddenly aware that he had the Sword of Immortality gripped in his hand.

  Laylen gaped at him. “Yeah, there’s more. What did you think? That one single Death Walker showed up?”

  Alex glared at Laylen and took a threatening step toward him.

  “Guys!” Aislin stepped between them. “You can fight all you want later. Right now we need to get out of here before the rest of them find us, or that thing decides to wake up.” She pointed at the unconscious Death Walker lying on the floor.

  “That one isn’t ever going to wake up,” Alex said, yanking out the knife I had stabbed into its chest. He tossed the knife aside, the blade covered with thick black goo. Then he raised the Sword of Immortality into the air and drove it deep into the Death Walker’s chest.

  Honestly, I was expecting this big ordeal. Like the Death Walker’s eyes would shoot open, or it would jump to its feet and let out one of those horrible screams I heard it do before. But nothing happened.

  Alex heaved the sword back out and wiped the black goo off on the Death Walker’s cloak. “Can you transport us out of here?” he asked Aislin.

  “I don’t know. Four people are a lot to do at once.” She paused, mulling it over. “But if I made two trips it might work.”

  “Okay…” Alex’s gaze drifted over to Laylen, then me, before landing back on Aislin. “You should take Gemma and me first since she’s the most important one to get out of here. Then you can come back and get Laylen.” He turned to Laylen. “Is that okay with you?”

  Laylen shrugged. “Whatever. But you might want to hurry up. There w
ere a bunch of them heading across the desert right for us. I’ve already taken care of two of them, but when the rest show up, even the Sword of Immortality isn’t going to help.”

  Alex nodded and gathered up two duffel bags—one black, one grey—from off the floor.

  “Why does Laylen always have to be the one to stay behind?” I asked Alex as he swung the black duffel bag over his shoulder.

  “Because I need to be the one watching you,” he answered simply. “I leave for only a couple of hours and all hell breaks loose.”

  “That wasn’t Laylen’s fault,” I argued. “I was the one who came out of the hiding place that he told me to stay in.”

  “He was the one responsible for you, therefore it’s his fault,” Alex said, loud enough for Laylen to hear.

  Laylen didn’t say a word.

  I opened my mouth to protest, but Laylen gave me this look that told me not to even bother. I sighed. “Oh, fine. Whatever.”

  Alex gave Laylen a dirty look—I had no idea why, though, since he was the one being rude—and tossed a grey duffel bag at me. Instead of catching it, I hopped to the side. Like I’ve said, I’m not coordinated and know not to even try.

  “We picked up some of your clothes while we were at your house,” he told me, his tone clipped.

  Frowning, I swiped up the bag. The idea of Ailsin and him digging through my clothes made me squirm. “So, did you find Marco and Sophia?”

  He shook his head. “Nope.”

  “What about Stephan?”

  “Nope.”

  He was being a total jerk so I just stopped talking.

  So Aislin and Alex hadn’t been able to find anyone back in Afton. I thought back to the conversation Laylen and I had about Stephan and my mom’s “disappearance,” and how Laylen had said Alex was brainwashed. What if they had really found Marco and Sophia? What if they had really found Stephan? What if this was all a ruse to get me somewhere where they could force me to stop feeling?

  “Gemma.” Alex’s voice ripped me out of my daze. He moved over beside Aislin and motioned for me to come over.

  I scurried over as Aislin dipped the tip of the candle into the flame.

  “Wait a sec.” She pulled the crystal back out. “Where are we going?”

  “To the Hartfield Cabin,” Alex replied. “No one ever goes up there, so it should be safe for now.”

  She nodded and started twisting the crystal in the flame. “Per is calyx EGO lox lucid via,” she whispered.

  Red smoke rose up from the candle.

  I glanced back at Laylen, who was leaning against the bookshelf that was holding the door shut. I hated to leave him behind. I barely knew him, but out of everyone in my life, he was the only one who was truthful with me. And now I had to go off with Alex, the Guru of Lie Twisting.

  Laylen mouthed for me to be careful.

  I nodded, letting him know I understood what he meant—watch your back.

  “Per is calx EGO lux lucis via!” Aislin shouted. The crystal was glowing bright red. Smoke was rising wildly in the air.

  Alex unexpectedly slipped his arm around my waist, shocking me, and my muscles tensed up.

  “So you don’t fall on your face like the last time we transported,” he explained to me with a small amount of amusement in his voice.

  It was a good idea, I guess.

  I closed my eyes and grasped on to the handle of my bag. I heard a loud bang and then…I was falling. Or flying?

  I wasn’t exactly sure.

  When I opened my eyes, I was in a different room that had dusty white sheets draped over all of the furniture. A grey and tan stone fireplace layered one of the walls, and the rest of them were made of logs.

  Alex instantly let go of my waist. He had been right. Holding onto me had kept me from falling.

  Aislin relit the candle. “I’ll be right back.”

  Alex took me by the arm and guided me away from her. “Hurry, please,” he told her in an anxious voice.

  She gave him a small smile and plunged the crystal into the flame. “Per is calx EGO lux lucis via,” she said. This time she disappeared quickly.

  I dropped my bag on the floor and sat down on a marble step that extended out from the fireplace. Alex sat down too. Neither of us spoke as we waited for Aislin and Laylen to return. We waited and waited. About ten minutes ticked by, and Alex got to his feet and started pacing back and forth across room. I kept my eyes glued to the spot where Aislin had vanished and chewed on my fingernails, which was so weird since it hadn't been a previous habit of mine.

  An old grandfather clock towering in the corner struck the hour of ten, devastatingly announcing that way too much time had gone by. They should have been here by now.

  Alex stopped pacing and stared vacantly at the clock.

  I hated to say it—I hated to even think it—but I had to know. “They're not coming back, are they?”

  With the most heart-wrenching look on his face, he said, “No, I don’t think they are.”

  Chapter 25